Traditional Values

A Gentleman’s Rules for Cultivating Moral Values in the Home—From an 1880s Manual on Manners

BY Epoch Inspired Staff TIMEMarch 19, 2023 PRINT

Home Culture.

The work of home culture should be made a matter of great importance to every one, for upon it depends the happiness of earthly homes, as well as our fitness for the enjoyment of the eternal home in heaven. The sufferings endured here, friend for friend, parents for children, unrequited sacrifices, cares and tears, all tend to discipline us, and prepare us for the recompense which eternity brings.


Moral courage will be cultivated in your children as they observe that you say and do whatever you conscientiously believe to be right and true, without being influenced by the views of others; thus showing them that you fear nothing so much as failing to do your duty. Perhaps this may be difficult to do, but every mother can at least show her appreciation of moral courage when she sees it exhibited by others, and in this way incite its growth in the souls of her children. Moral courage is a rare endowment, and those who possess it are able to act with perfect independence of the opinions of others, and govern themselves only by the laws of propriety, uprightness and charity.


If you would preserve your children from the pernicious influence of indolence and all its corrupting tendencies, you must be earnest in purpose, active, energetic and fervent in spirit. Earnestness sharpens the faculties; indolence corrodes and dulls them. By the former we rise higher and higher, by the latter we sink lower and lower. Indolence begets discontent, envy and jealousy, while labor elevates the mind and character. Cultivate in your children habits of thought which will keep their minds occupied upon something that will be of use or advantage, and prevent them from acquiring habits of idleness, if you would secure their future well-being.

It has been said that he who performs no useful act in society, who makes no human being happier, is leading a life of utter selfishness—a life of sin—for a life of selfishness is a life of sin. There is nowhere room for idleness. Work is both a duty and a necessity of our nature, and a befitting reward will ever follow it. To foster and encourage labor in some useful form, is a duty which parents should urge upon their children, if they should seek their best good.


It is the mother’s duty to see that her children protect themselves from the many pit-falls which surround them, such as malice, envy, conceit, avariciousness, and other evils, by being clad in the armor of self-respect; and then they will be able to encounter temptation and corruption, unstained and unpolluted. This feeling of self-respect is something stronger than self-reliance, higher than pride. It is an energy of the soul which masters the whole being for its good, watching with a never-ceasing vigilance. It is the sense of duty and the sense of honor combined. It is an armor, which, though powerless to shield from sorrows that purify and invigorate, yet will avert all hostile influences that assail, from whatever source they come. The mother having once made her children conscious that always and everywhere they carry with them such an angel to shield, warn and rescue them, may let them go out into the world, and fear nothing from the wiles and temptations which may beset them.


The laws of good-breeding in no place bear more gratifying results than in the home circle. Here, tempered with love, and nurtured by all kindly impulses, they bear the choicest fruit. A true lady will show as much courtesy, and observe the duties of politeness as unfailingly, toward every member of her family as toward her most distinguished guest. A true gentleman will feel bound to exercise courtesy and kindness in his intercourse with those who depend upon him for protection and example. Children influenced by such examples at home, will never fail to show to their elders the respect due them, to their young companions the same consideration for their feelings which they expect to meet with in return, nor to servants that patience which even the best too often require. In such a home peace and good will are the household gods.


The oil of civility is required to make the wheels of domestic life run smoothly. The habit of fault-finding and grumbling indulged in by some, is an exceedingly vexatious one, and will, in time, ruffle the calmest spirit and the sweetest temper. It is the little annoyances, perplexities and misfortunes which often render life a burden; the little omission of minor duties and the committing of little faults that perpetually scourge us and keep the heart sore. Constant fault-finding, persistent misrepresentations of motives, suspicions of evil where no evil was intended, will complete the work in all but the finest and most heroic natures. They alone can stand the fiery test, coming out purer and stronger for the ordeal. Children who habitually obey the commandment, “Be kind to one another,” will find in mature life, how strong the bonds of affection may be that bind the members of the household together.


Whatever may be the family disagreements, they should never be made known outside of the home circle, if it can be avoided. Those who expose the faults of the members of their family are severely judged by the world, and no provocation can be a good excuse for it. It is exceedingly vulgar, not to say unchristianlike, for the members of the same family to be at enmity with one another.


One of the greatest disciplines of human life, is that which teaches us to yield our wills to those who have a claim upon us to do so, even in trifling, every-day affairs; the wife to the husband, children to parents, to teachers and to one another. In cases where principle is concerned, it is, of course, necessary to be firm, which requires an exercise of moral courage.


Conflicting interests are a fruitful source of family difficulties. The command of Christ to the two brothers who came to Him with their disputes, “Beware of covetousness,” is as applicable among members of the same family now, as it was when those words were spoken. It is better that you have few or no business transactions with any one who is near and dear to you, and connected by family ties. In business relations men are apt to be very exact, because of their habits of business, and this exactness is too often construed by near friends and relatives as actuated by purely selfish motives. Upon this rock many a bark of family love has been wrecked.


It is well to remember that every blessing of our lives, every joy of our hearts and every ray of hope shed upon our pathway, have had their origin in religion, and may be traced in all their hallowed, healthful influences to the Bible. With the dawn of childhood, then, in the earliest days of intelligence, should the mind be impressed and stored with religious truth, and nothing should be allowed to exclude or efface it. It should be taught so early that the mind will never remember when it began to learn; it will then have the character of innate, inbred principles, incorporated with their very being.


If you would not have all your instructions and counsels ineffectual, teach your children to obey. Government in a family is the great safeguard of religion and morals, the support of order and the source of prosperity. Nothing has a greater tendency to bring a curse upon a family than the insubordination and disobedience of children, and there is no more painful and disgusting sight than an ungoverned child.


Never forget that the first book children read is their parents’ example—their daily deportment. If this is forgotten you may find, in the loss of your domestic peace, that while your children well know the right path, they follow the wrong.

Childhood is like a mirror, catching and reflecting images all around it. Remember that an impious, profane or vulgar thought may operate upon the heart of a young child like a careless spray of water upon polished steel, staining it with rust that no efforts can thoroughly efface.

Improve the first ten years of life as the golden opportunity, which may never return. It is the seed time, and your harvest depends upon the seed then sown.


Few mothers can over-estimate the influence which the companionship of books exerts in youth upon the habits and tastes of their children, and no mother who has the welfare of her children at heart will neglect the important work of choosing the proper books for them to read, while they are under her care. She should select for them such as will both interest and instruct, and this should be done during the early years, before their minds shall have imbibed the pernicious teachings of bad books and sensational novels. The poison imbibed from bad books works so secretly that their influence for evil is even greater than the influence of bad associates. The mother has it in her power to make such books the companions and friends of her children as her good judgment may select, and to impress upon them their truths, by conversing with them about the moral lessons or the intellectual instructions they contain. A taste may be easily cultivated for books on natural science and for history, as well as for those that teach important and wholesome lessons for the young, such as are contained in the works of Mrs. Edgeworth, Mrs. Child, Mrs. Yonge, and many other books written for the young.

The above is an excerpt from “Our Deportment,” a code of manners, conduct, and dress of refined society by John H. Young A.M., published in 1881. We offer it in hopes of promoting gentlemanly conduct among men—young and older—in today’s sometimes unbalanced and undisciplined world.

Epoch Inspired staff cover stories of hope that celebrate kindness, traditions, and triumph of the human spirit, offering valuable insights into life, culture, family and community, and nature.
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