( Originally Published 1898 )
"Homo sum : humani nail a me alienum pun,. "
WHEN Terence electrified the philosophy of his age with this magnanimous sentiment, the social arts were only just beginning to exereise a refining influence on the intellectual and sympathetic feeling of mankind ; and we who live in the nineteenth century should be grateful that we can enjoy the results of such influence, without the necessity of passing throngh the varions stages and transitions from barbarism to civilization.
I think it cannot be intelligently disputed, that the natural forces of mind and heart, as developed by education and association, have done more to elevate and polish the human family than all the artificial laws enacted by senates, or the cumbersome precedents established by courts of law.
Society itself— that is to say, the spontaneous amalgamation of individual interests for the common benefit of all — is the highest court of law and equity known in our temporal policy. In other words, as members of society, We have an almost absolute free agency ; and, as no man may justly claim credit for doing what he is obliged to do, an instinctive delicacy, developed by intellectual and emotional progress, has prompted the establishment of codes of etiquette and of courtesy, founded solely on magnanimity and generosity.
One of the most striking examples of this great principle of magnanimity is found in the story of an encounter between a French and English officer, during a fierce and desperate battle. They met in a charge, in the thickest of the fight. The Frenchman raised his sabre, and was in the act of letting it fall with all the force and dexterity of his arm, when he observed that one of the sleeves of the Englishman's coat was empty ! Tie had but ow, arm, and that was employed in the management of his fiery horse. Instantly lowering his weapon, and settling himself again in his saddle, the French officer " presented arms," and, with a smile in which admiration and courtesy were equally blended, wheeled his horse, and sought another part of the field.
How frequently do we, even in the ordinary course of our daily affairs, have opportunities to display a chivalrous forbearance with the misfortunes and weaknesses of others, equal in kind to the noble courtesy of this brave Frenchman And — alas for the pride and egotism of human nature ! — notwithstanding our nineteen hundred years of progress and enlightenment, how seldom do we act fully up to such an excellent standard!
We know that there are people in this wonderful world who arc so instinctively coarse in their habits, thoughts, and desires, that to extend to them any of the refinements of a delicate courtesy, wonld seem to be an extravagant waste of sentiment. Tt is like dropping pebbles in a stagnant lake : it will create, perhaps, a ripple on the surface and then sink down to be lost or forgotten, buried in the fantastic mass of fungi at the bottom. Following only their idols of selfishness, they mingle in the company of their fellow-beings, and go through life with sensibilities blnnted and deadened to all its higher duties ; confer no pleasure on others, and themselves experience only such happiness as can be derived from the gratification of animal appetites and human passions.
When circumstances of necessity or of policy bring us in contact with such as these, we are tempted to exclaim, " Ephraim is joined to his idols : leave him alone ; " and yet such an application of the spirit of indifference would do violence to the noble philosophy of Terence, and to the laws of spontaneous courtesy. That unique saying of the French, "Noblesse oblige " (for which the English language has no equivalent), contains a whole treatise in two words. 'With Frenchmen the term was originally meant to convey the idea, that people of rank were obliged by the conventional requirements of such rank, to evince greater fortitude under trial, greater generosity in giving alms, and a more lavish display of riches, than people who had not the same advantages of wealth, position, and power. Although a fine sentiment, and, to a degree, a just policy, its meaning and application were narrow and contracted, compared to that with which it is applied by the men and women of Terence's school of philosophy, and the French officer's code of courtesy ; who understand the sentiment to mean that there is a nobility of nature confined to no particular class or condition, an attribute inherent in man from his Maker, and that it is the mission of those who have knowledge, wealth, and power, to develop, assist, and sustain this " nobility of accident," by worthy precept, practice, and example.
Finally. what more can be said on the subject of courtesy, than to repeat to ourselves, with every transaction of our lives, that most beautiful and peculiar clause in the whole Christian constitution, " Do unto others as you would they should do unto you " ?
Balzae has said, " If those who are the enemies of innocent amusement had the direction of the world, they would take away both spring and youth ; the one from the year, and the other from human life ; " and the philosopher might have truthfully added, that they would also rob the winter of its snowflakes, and old age of its cheerfulness. But, happily for the progress and culture of our rising generations, Puritanism has almost strangled itself in its own coils, under the outside moral and intellectual pressure of free institutions. There are no longer laws eonfining ladies to the use of " bone lace " for trimmings, and gentlemen to the use of " round caps " and woollen mittens. Mental and physical graces may be cultivated, as well as moral thoughts and language. Ladies and gentlemen may nowadays sit " in meeting " together, without needing the supervision of an " elder " or a " deacon." In short, the religion of courtesy has done much more than the religion of Puritanism to elevate the mental and moral tone of societies ; and it is respectfully submitted that dancing academies have had some influence in bringing about the good result.
Dancing At Home And Abroad:
The Glide, Or Dodworth's Boston
The German, Or Cotillon
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