( Originally Published 1884 )
Manner the Grace of Character.—Influence of Manner.—Politeness.—" Etiquette."—True Courtesy.—Practical Unpoliteness.--Indications of Self-respect.
"We must be gentle, now we are gentlemen."—SHAKSPEARE.
"Manners are often too much neglected; they are most important to men, no less than to women. . . . Life is too short to get over a bad manner; besides, manners are the shadows of virtues."
Rev. SYDNEY SMITH.
MANNER is one of the principal external graces of character. It is the ornament of action, and often makes the commonest offices beautiful by the way in which it performs them. It is a happy way of doing things, adorning even the smallest details of life, and contributing to render it, as a whole, agreeable and pleasant.
Manner is not so frivolous or unimportant as some may think it to be; for it tends greatly to facilitate the business of life, as well as to sweeten and soften social intercourse. " Virtue itself," says Bishop Middleton, '" offends, when coupled with a forbidding manner."
Manner has a good deal to do with the estimation in which men are held by the world; and it has often more influence in the government of others than qualities of much greater depth and substance. A manner at once gracious and cordial is among the greatest aids to success, and many there are who fail for want of it; for a great deal depends upon first impressions; and these are usually favorable or otherwise according to a man's courteousness and civility.
While rudeness and gruffness bar doors and shut hearts, kindness and propriety of behavior, in which good manners consist, act as an open sesame" every-where. Doors unbar before them, and they are a passport to the hearts of every body, young and old.
There is a common saying that " Manners make the man;" but this is not so true as that " Man makes the manners." A man may be gruff, and even rude, and yet be good at heart and of sterling character; yet he would doubtless be a much more agreeable, and probably' a much more useful man, were he to exhibit that suavity of disposition and courtesy of manner which al. ways gives a finish to the true gentleman.
A man's manner, to a certain extent, indicates his character. It is the external exponent of his inner nature. It indicates his taste, his feelings, and his temper, as well as the society to which he has been accustomed. There is a conventional manner, which is of comparatively little importance; but the natural manner, the outcome of natural gifts, improved by careful self-culture, signifies a great deal.
Artificial rules of politeness are of' very little use.
What passes by the name of " Etiquette" is often of the essence of unpoliteness and untruthfulness. It consists in a great measure of posture-making, and is easily seen through. Even at best, etiquette is but a substitute for good manners, though it is often but their mere counterfeit.
Good manners consist, for the most part in courteousness and kindness. Politeness has been described as the art of showing, by external signs, the internal regard we have for others. But one may be perfectly polite to another without necessarily having a special regard for him. Good manners are neither more nor less than beautiful behavior. It has been well said that " a beautiful form is better than a beautiful face, and a beautiful behavior is better than a beautiful form; it gives a higher pleasure than statues or pictures it is the finest of the fine arts."
The truest politeness comes of sincerity. It must be the outcome of the heart, or it will make no lasting impression; for no amount of polish can dispense with truthfulness. The natural character must be allowed to appear, freed of its angularities and asperities. Though politeness, in its best form, should (as St. Francis de Sales says) resemble water—" best when clearest, most simple, and without taste "—yet genius in a man will always cover many defects of manner, and much will be excused to the strong and the original. Without genuineness and individuality, human life would lose much of its interest and variety, as well as its manliness and robustness of character.
True courtesy is kind. It exhibits itself in the disposition to contribute to the happiness of others, and in refraining from all that may annoy them. It is grateful as well as kind, and readily acknowledges kind actions.
True politeness especially exhibits itself in regard for the personality of others. A man will respect the individuality of another if he wishes to be respected himself. He will have due regard for his views and opinions, even though they differ from his own. The well-mannered man pays a compliment to another, and sometimes even secures his respect, by patiently listening to him. He is simply tolerant and forbearant, and refrains from judging harshly; and harsh judgments of others will almost invariably provoke harsh judgments of ourselves.
It has been said that men succeed in life quite as much by their temper as by their, talents. However this may be it is certain that their happiness depends mainly on their temperament, especially upon their disposition to be cheerful; upon their complaisance, kindliness of manner, and willingness to oblige others details of conduct which are like the small change in the intercourse of life, and are always in request.
Men may show their disregard of others in various unpolite ways as, for instance, by neglect of propriety in dress, by the absence of cleanliness, or by indulging in repulsive habits. The slovenly, dirty person, by rendering himself physically disagreeable, sets the tastes and feelings of others at defiance, and is rude and uncivil, only under another form.
The perfection of manner is ease that it attracts no man's notice as such, but is natural and unaffected. Artifice is incompatible with courteous frankness of manner. Rochefoucauld has said that " nothing so much prevents our being natural as the desire of appearing so." Thus we come round again to sincerity and truthfulness which find their outward expression in graciousness, urbanity, kindliness, and consideration for the feelings of others. The frank and cordial man sets those about him at their ease. He warms and elevates them by his presence, and wins all hearts. Thus manner, in its highest form, like character, becomes a genuine motive power.
Good manners are usually supposed to be the peculiar characteristic of persons gently born and bred, and of persons moving in the higher rather than in the lower spheres of society. And this is no doubt to a great extent true, because of the more favorable surroundings of the former in early life. But there is no reason why the poorest classes should not practice good manners towards each other as well as the richest.