Family & Education

A Primer on Politeness, From the ‘Complete Handbook for the Use of the Lady in Polite Society’

BY Florence Hartley TIMEApril 5, 2022 PRINT

In preparing a book of etiquette for ladies, I would lay down as the first rule, “Do unto others as you would others should do to you.” You can never be rude if you bear the rule always in mind, for what lady likes to be treated rudely? True Christian politeness will always be the result of an unselfish regard for the feelings of others, and though you may err in the ceremonious points of etiquette, you will never be impolite.

Politeness, founded upon such a rule, becomes the expression, in graceful manner, of social virtues. The spirit of politeness consists in a certain attention to forms and ceremonies, which are meant both to please others and ourselves, and to make others pleased with us; a still clearer definition may be given by saying that politeness is goodness of heart put into daily practice; there can be no true politeness without kindness, purity, singleness of heart, and sensibility.

Many believe that politeness is but a mask worn in the world to conceal bad passions and impulses, and to make a show of possessing virtues not really existing in the heart; thus, that politeness is merely hypocrisy and dissimulation. Do not believe this; be certain that those who profess such a doctrine are practising themselves the deceit they condemn so much. Such people scout politeness, because, to be truly a lady, one[4] must carry the principles into every circumstance of life, into the family circle, the most intimate friendship, and never forget to extend the gentle courtesies of life to every one. This they find too much trouble, and so deride the idea of being polite and call it deceitfulness.

True politeness is the language of a good heart, and those possessing that heart will never, under any circumstances, be rude. They may not enter a crowded saloon gracefully; they may be entirely ignorant of the forms of good society; they may be awkward at table, ungrammatical in speech; but they will never be heard speaking so as to wound the feelings of another; they will never be seen making others uncomfortable by seeking solely for their own personal convenience; they will always endeavor to set every one around them at ease; they will be self-sacrificing, friendly, unselfish; truly in word and deed, polite. Give to such a woman the knowledge of the forms and customs of society, teach her how best to show the gentle courtesies of life, and you have a lady, created by God, only indebted for the outward polish to the world.

It is true that society demands this same unselfishness and courtesy, but when there is no heart in the work, the time is frittered away on the mere ceremonies, forms of etiquette, and customs of society, and this politeness seeks only its own ends; to be known as courteous, spoken of as lady-like, and not beloved as unselfish and womanly.

Etiquette exists in some form in all countries, has existed and will exist in all ages. From the rudest savage who dares not approach his ignorant, barbarous ruler without certain forms and ceremonies, to the most polished courts in Europe, or the home circles of America, etiquette reigns.

True politeness will be found, its basis in the human heart, the same in all these varied scenes and situations, but the outward forms of etiquette will vary everywhere. Even in the same scene, time will alter every form, and render the exquisite polish of last year, obsolete rudeness next year.

Politeness, being based upon real kindness of heart, cannot exist where there is selfishness or brutality to warp its growth.[5] It is founded upon love of the neighbor, and a desire to be beloved, and to show love. Thus, where such pure, noble feelings do not exist, the mere forms of politeness become hypocrisy and deceit.

Rudeness will repel, where courtesy would attract friends.

Never by word or action notice the defects of another; be charitable, for all need charity. Remember who said, “Let him that is without fault cast the first stone.” Remember that the laws of politeness require the consideration of the feelings of others; the endeavor to make every one feel at ease; and frank courtesy towards all. Never meet rudeness in others with rudeness upon your own part; even the most brutal and impolite will be more shamed by being met with courtesy and kindness, than by any attempt to annoy them by insolence on your part.

Politeness forbids any display of resentment. The polished surface throws back the arrow.

Remember that a favor becomes doubly valuable if granted with courtesy, and that the pain of a refusal may be softened if the manner expresses polite regret.

Kindness, even to the most humble, will never lose anything by being offered in a gentle, courteous manner, and the most common-place action will admit of grace and ease in its execution.

Let every action, while it is finished in strict accordance with etiquette, be, at the same time, easy, as if dictated solely by the heart.

To be truly polite, remember you must be polite at all times, and under all circumstances.

The Art of Conversation

The art of conversation consists in the exercise of two fine qualities. You must originate, and you must sympathize; you must possess at the same time the habit of communicating and of listening attentively. The union is rare but irresistible. None but an excessively ill-bred person will allow her attention to wander from the person with whom she is conversing; and especially she will never, while seeming to be entirely attentive to her companion, answer a remark or question made to another person, in another group. Unless the conversation be general among a party of friends, confine your remarks and attention entirely to the person with whom you are conversing. Steele says, “I would establish but one great general rule in conversation, which is this—that people should not talk to please themselves, but those who hear them. This would make them consider whether[12] what they speak be worth hearing; whether there be either wit or sense in what they are about to say; and whether it be adapted to the time when, the place where, and the person to whom, it is spoken.”

Be careful in conversation to avoid topics which may be supposed to have any direct reference to events or circumstances which may be painful for your companion to hear discussed; you may unintentionally start a subject which annoys or troubles the friend with whom you may be conversing; in that case, do not stop abruptly, when you perceive that it causes pain, and, above all, do not make the matter worse by apologizing; turn to another subject as soon as possible, and pay no attention to the agitation your unfortunate remark may have excited. Many persons will, for the sake of appearing witty or smart, wound the feelings of another deeply; avoid this; it is not only ill-bred, but cruel.

Remember that having all the talk sustained by one person is not conversation; do not engross all the attention yourself, by refusing to allow another person an opportunity to speak, and also avoid the other extreme of total silence, or answering only in monosyllables.

If your companion relates an incident or tells a story, be very careful not to interrupt her by questions, even if you do not clearly understand her; wait until she has finished her relation, and then ask any questions you may desire. There is nothing more annoying than to be so interrupted. I have heard a story told to an impertinent listener, which ran in this way:—

“I saw a fearful sight——”



“I was about to tell you; last Monday, on the train——”

“What train?”

“The train from B——. We were near the bridge——”

“What bridge?”

“I will tell you all about it, if you will only let me speak. I was coming from B——”

“Last Monday, did you say?”

and so on. The story was interrupted at every sentence, and the relator condemned as a most tedious story-teller, when, had he been permitted to go forward, he would have made the incident interesting and short.

Never interrupt any one who is speaking. It is very ill-bred. If you see that a person to whom you wish to speak is being addressed by another person, never speak until she has heard and replied; until her conversation with that person is finished. No truly polite lady ever breaks in upon a conversation or interrupts another speaker.

Never, in speaking to a married lady, enquire for her husband, or, if a gentleman, ask for his wife. The elegant way is to call the absent party by their name; ask Mr. Smith how Mrs. Smith is, or enquire of Mrs. Jones for Mr. Jones, but never for “your husband” or “your wife.” On the other hand, if you are married, never speak of your husband as your “lord,” “husband,” or “good man,” avoid, also, unless amongst relatives, calling him by his Christian name. If you wish others to respect him, show by speaking of him in respectful terms that you do so yourself. If either your own husband or your friend’s is in the army or navy, or can claim the Dr., Prof., or any other prefix to his name, there is no[14] impropriety in speaking of him as the colonel, doctor, or whatever his title may be.

It is a mark of ill-breeding to use French phrases or words, unless you are sure your companion is a French scholar, and, even then, it is best to avoid them. Above all, do not use any foreign word or phrase, unless you have the language perfectly at your command. I heard a lady once use a Spanish quotation; she had mastered that one sentence alone; but a Cuban gentleman, delighted to meet an American who could converse with him in his own tongue, immediately addressed her in Spanish. Embarrassed and ashamed, she was obliged to confess that her knowledge of the language was confined to one quotation.

Never anticipate the point or joke of any anecdote told in your presence. If you have heard the story before, it may be new to others, and the narrator should always be allowed to finish it in his own words. To take any sentence from the mouth of another person, before he has time to utter it, is the height of ill-breeding. Avoid it carefully.

Never use the phrases, “What-d-ye call it,” “Thingummy,” “What’s his name,” or any such substitutes for a proper name or place. If you cannot recall the names you wish to use, it is better not to tell the story or incident connected with them. No lady of high breeding will ever use these substitutes in conversation.

Be careful always to speak in a distinct, clear voice; at the same time avoid talking too loudly, there is a happy medium between mumbling and screaming. Strive to attain it.

[15]Overlook the deficiencies of others when conversing with them, as they may be the results of ignorance, and impossible to correct. Never pain another person by correcting, before others, a word or phrase mispronounced or ungrammatically constructed. If your intimacy will allow it, speak of the fault upon another occasion, kindly and privately, or let it pass. Do not be continually watching for faults, that you may display your own superior wisdom in correcting them. Let modesty and kind feeling govern your conversation, as other rules of life. If, on the other hand, your companion uses words or expressions which you cannot understand, do not affect knowledge, or be ashamed of your ignorance, but frankly ask for an explanation.

In conversing with professional gentlemen, never question them upon matters connected with their employment. An author may communicate, voluntarily, information interesting to you, upon the subject of his works, but any questions from you would be extremely rude. If you meet a physician who is attending a friend, you may enquire for their progress, but do not expect him to give you a detailed account of the disease and his manner of treating it. The same rule applies to questioning lawyers about their clients, artists on their paintings, merchants or mechanics of their several branches of business. Professional or business men, when with ladies, generally wish for miscellaneous subjects of conversation, and, as their visits are for recreation, they will feel excessively annoyed if obliged to “talk shop.” Still many men can converse on no other subject than their every day employment. In this case[16] listen politely, and show your interest. You will probably gain useful information in such conversation.

Never question the veracity of any statement made in general conversation. If you are certain a statement is false, and it is injurious to another person, who may be absent, you may quietly and courteously inform the speaker that he is mistaken, but if the falsehood is of no consequence, let it pass. If a statement appears monstrous, but you do not know that it is false, listen, but do not question its veracity. It may be true, though it strikes you as improbable.

Never attempt to disparage an absent friend. It is the height of meanness. If others admire her, and you do not, let them have their opinion in peace; you will probably fail if you try to lower her in their esteem, and gain for yourself the character of an ill-natured, envious person.

In conversing with foreigners, if they speak slightingly of the manners of your country, do not retort rudely, or resentfully. If their views are wrong, converse upon the subject, giving them frankly your views, but never retaliate by telling them that some custom of their own country is worse. A gentleman or lady of true refinement will always give your words candid consideration, and admit that an American may possibly know the customs of her country better than they do, and if your opponent is not well-bred, your rudeness will not improve his manners. Let the conversation upon national subjects be candid, and at the same time courteous, and leave him to think that the ladies in[17] America are well-bred, however much he may dislike some little national peculiarity.

Avoid, at all times, mentioning subjects or incidents that can in any way disgust your hearers. Many persons will enter into the details of sicknesses which should be mentioned only when absolutely necessary, or describe the most revolting scenes before a room full of people, or even at table. Others speak of vermin, noxious plants, or instances of uncleanliness. All such conversation or allusion is excessively ill-bred. It is not only annoying, but absolutely sickening to some, and a truly lady-like person will avoid all such topics.

I cannot too severely censure the habit of using sentences which admit of a double meaning. It is not only ill-bred, but indelicate, and no person of true refinement will ever do it. If you are so unfortunate as to converse with one who uses such phrases, never by word, look, or sign show that you understand any meaning beyond the plain, outspoken language.

Avoid always any discussion upon religious topics, unless you are perfectly certain that your remarks cannot annoy or pain any one present. If you are tête-à-tête with a friend, and such a discussion arise, inquire your companion’s church and mention your own, that you may yourself avoid unpleasant remarks, and caution him.

Never, when advancing an opinion, assert positively that a thing “is so,” but give your opinion as an opinion. Say, “I think this is so,” or “these are my views,” but remember that your companion may be better informed upon the subject under discussion, or, where it is[18] a mere matter of taste or feeling, do not expect that all the world will feel exactly as you do.

Never repeat to a person with whom you converse, any unpleasant speech you may have heard concerning her. If you can give her pleasure by the repetition of a delicate compliment, or token of approval shown by a mutual friend, tell her the pleasant speech or incident, but do not hurt her feelings, or involve her in a quarrel by the repetition of ill-natured remarks.

Amongst well-bred persons, every conversation is considered in a measure confidential. A lady or gentleman tacitly confides in you when he (or she) tells you an incident which may cause trouble if repeated, and you violate a confidence as much in such a repetition, as if you were bound over to secrecy. Remember this.

Never criticise a companion’s dress, or indeed make any remark whatever upon it. If a near friend, you may, if sincere, admire any article, but with a mere acquaintance let it pass unnoticed. If, however, any accident has happened to the dress, of which she is ignorant, tell her of it, and assist her in repairing the mischief.

To be able to converse really well, you must read much, treasure in your memory the pearls of what you read; you must have a quick comprehension, observe passing events, and listen attentively whenever there is any opportunity of acquiring knowledge. A quick tact is necessary, too, in conversation. To converse with an entirely uneducated person upon literature, interlarding your remarks with quotations, is ill-bred. It places them in an awkward situation, and does not add to your popularity. In conversing with persons of refinement[19] and intelligence, do not endeavor to attract their admiration by pouring forth every item of your own information upon the subject under consideration, but listen as well as talk, and modestly follow their lead. I do not mean, to assent to any opinion they may advance, if you really differ in your own tastes, but do not be too ready to show your superior judgment or information. Avoid argument; it is not conversation, and frequently leads to ill feeling. If you are unfortunately drawn into an argument, keep your temper under perfect control, and if you find your adversary is getting too warm, endeavor to introduce some other topic.

Avoid carefully any allusion to the age or personal defects of your companion, or any one who may be in the room, and be very careful in your language when speaking of a stranger to another person. I have heard a lady inquire of a gentleman, “who that frightful girl in blue could be,” and receive the information that the lady in question was the gentleman’s own sister.

Be careful, when traveling, not to wound the feelings of your friends in another country or city, by underrating their native place, or attempting to prove the superiority of your own home over theirs.

Very young girls are apt to suppose, from what they observe in older ones, that there is some particular manner to be put on, in talking to gentlemen, and, not knowing exactly what it is, they are embarrassed and reserved; others observe certain airs and looks, used by their elders in this intercourse, and try to imitate them, as a necessary part of company behaviours, and, so become affected, and lose that first of charms, simplicity,[20] natural grace. To such, let me say, your companions are in error; it requires no peculiar manner, nothing to be put on, in order to converse with gentlemen, any more than with ladies; and the more pure and elevated your sentiments are, and the better cultivated your intellect is, the easier will you find it to converse pleasantly with all. One good rule can be always followed by young ladies; to converse with a lady friend as if there were gentlemen present, and to converse with a gentleman as if in the room with other ladies.

Avoid affectation; it is the sure test of a deceitful, vulgar mind. The best cure is to try to have those virtues which you would affect, and then they will appear naturally.

Polite Deportment and Good Manners

Lord Chesterfield says, “Good sense and good nature suggest civility in general; but in good breeding there are a thousand little delicacies which are established only by custom.”

It is the knowledge and practice of such “little delicacies” which constitutes the greatest charm of society.

Manner may be, and, in most cases, probably is, the cloak of the heart; this cloak may be used to cover defects, but is it not better so to conceal these defects, than to flaunt and parade them in the eyes of all whom we may meet?

Many persons plead a love of truth as an apology for rough manners, as if truth was never gentle and kind, but always harsh, morose, and forbidding. Surely good manners and a good conscience are no more inconsistent with each other than beauty and innocence, which are strikingly akin, and always look the better for companionship. Roughness and honesty are indeed sometimes found together in the same person, but he is a poor judge of human nature who takes ill-manners to be a guarantee of probity of character. Some persons object to politeness, [143]that its language is unmeaning and false. But this is easily answered. A lie is not locked up in a phrase, but must exist, if at all, in the mind of the speaker. In the ordinary compliments of civilized life, there is no intention to deceive, and consequently no falsehood. Polite language is pleasant to the ear, and soothing to the heart, while rough words are just the reverse; and if not the product of ill temper, are very apt to produce it. The plainest of truths, let it be remembered, can be conveyed in civil speech, while the most malignant lies may find utterance, and often do, in the language of the fishmarket.

Many ladies say, “Oh, I am perfectly frank and outspoken; I never stop to mince words,” or, “there is no affectation about me; all my actions are perfectly natural,” and, upon the ground of frankness, will insult and wound by rude language, and defend awkwardness and ill-breeding by the plea of “natural manners.”

If nature has not invested you with all the virtues which may be desirable in a lady, do not make your faults more conspicuous by thrusting them forward upon all occasions, and at all times. “Assume a virtue if you have it not,” and you will, in time, by imitation, acquire it.

By endeavoring to appear generous, disinterested, self-sacrificing, and amiable, the opposite passions will be brought into subjection, first in the manner, afterwards in the heart. It is not the desire to deceive, but the desire to please, which will dictate such a course. When you hear one, who pretends to be a lady, boast that she is rough, capricious, and gluttonous, you may feel sure[144] that she has never tried to conquer these faults, or she would be ashamed, not proud, of them.

The way to make yourself pleasing to others, is to show that you care for them. The whole world is like the miller at Mansfield, “who cared for nobody—no, not he—because nobody cared for him.” And the whole world will serve you so, if you give them the same cause. Let every one, therefore, see that you do care for them, by showing them, what Sterne so happily calls, “the small, sweet courtesies of life,” those courtesies in which there is no parade; whose voice is too still to tease, and which manifest themselves by tender and affectionate looks, and little, kind acts of attention, giving others the preference in every little enjoyment at the table, in the field, walking, sitting, or standing.

Thus the first rule for a graceful manner is unselfish consideration of others.

By endeavoring to acquire the habit of politeness, it will soon become familiar, and sit on you with ease, if not with elegance. Let it never be forgotten, that genuine politeness is a great fosterer of family love; it allays accidental irritation, by preventing harsh retorts and rude contradictions; it softens the boisterous, stimulates the indolent, suppresses selfishness, and by forming a habit of consideration for others, harmonizes the whole. Politeness begets politeness, and brothers may be easily won by it, to leave off the rude ways they bring home from school or college. Sisters ought never to receive any little attention without thanking them for it, never to ask a favor of them but in courteous terms, never to reply to their questions in monosyllables, and[145] they will soon be ashamed to do such things themselves. Both precept and example ought to be laid under contribution, to convince them that no one can have really good manners abroad, who is not habitually polite at home.

If you wish to be a well-bred lady, you must carry your good manners everywhere with you. It is not a thing that can be laid aside and put on at pleasure. True politeness is uniform disinterestedness in trifles, accompanied by the calm self-possession which belongs to a noble simplicity of purpose; and this must be the effect of a Christian spirit running through all you do, or say, or think; and, unless you cultivate it and exercise it, upon all occasions and towards all persons, it will never be a part of yourself.

It is not an art to be paraded upon public occasions, and neglected in every-day duties; nor should it, like a ball-dress, be carefully laid aside at home, trimmed, ornamented, and worn only when out. Let it come into every thought, and it will show forth in every action. Let it be the rule in the homeliest duties, and then it will set easily when in public, not in a stiff manner, like a garment seldom worn.

I wish it were possible to convince every woman that politeness is a most excellent good quality; that it is a necessary ingredient in social comfort, and a capital assistant to actual prosperity. Like most good things, however, the word politeness is often misunderstood and misapplied; and before urging the practical use of that which it represents, it may be necessary to say what it means, and what it does not mean.

[146]Politeness is not hypocrisy:—cold-heartedness, or unkindness in disguise. There are persons who can smile upon a victim, and talk smoothly, while they injure, deceive, or betray. And they will take credit to themselves, that all has been done with the utmost politeness; that every tone, look, and action, has been in perfect keeping with the rules of good breeding. “The words of their mouth are smoother than butter, but war is in their heart: their words are softer than oil, yet are they drawn swords.” Perish for ever and ever such spurious politeness as this!

Politeness is not servility. If it were so, a Russian serf would be a model of politeness. It is very possible for persons to be very cringing and obsequious, without a single atom of politeness; and it often happens that men of the most sturdy independence of character, are essentially polite in all their words, actions, and feelings. It were well for this to be fully understood, for many people will abstain from acts of real politeness, and even of common civility, for fear of damaging their fancied independence.

True politeness, as I understand it, is kindness and courtesy of feeling brought into every-day exercise. It comprehends hearty good will towards everybody, thorough and constant good-humor, an easy deportment, and obliging manners. Every person who cultivates such feelings, and takes no pains to conceal them, will necessarily be polite, though she may not exactly know it; while, on the other hand, a woman essentially morose and selfish, whatever may be her pretensions, must be very far from truly polite.

[147]It is very true there are those whose position in society compels them to observe certain rules of etiquette which pass for politeness. They bow or courtesy with a decent grace; shake hands with the precise degree of vigor which the circumstances of the case require; speak just at the right time, and in the required manner, and smile with elegant propriety. Not a tone, look, or gesture, is out of place; not a habit indulged which etiquette forbids; and yet, there will be wanting, after all, the secret charm of sincerity and heart kindness, which those outward signs are intended to represent; and, wanting which, we have only the form, without the essence, of politeness.

Let me recommend, therefore, far beyond all the rules ever penned by teachers of etiquette, the cultivation of kind and loving feelings. Throw your whole soul into the lesson, and you will advance rapidly towards the perfection of politeness, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” and the movements of your form and the words you utter will follow faithfully the hidden springs of action within.

There cannot be genuine good breeding to any happy degree, where there is not self-respect. It is that which imparts ease and confidence to our manners, and impels us, for our own sake, as well as for the sake of others, to behave becomingly as intelligent beings.

It is a want of true politeness that introduces the discord and confusion which too often make our homes unhappy. A little consideration for the feelings of those whom we are bound to love and cherish, and a little sacrifice of our own wills, would, in multitudes of instances,[148] make all the difference between alienation and growing affection. The principle of genuine politeness would accomplish this; and what a pity it is that those whose only spring of rational enjoyment is to be found at home, should miss that enjoyment by a disregard of little things, which, after all, make up the sum of human existence!

What a large amount of actual discomfort in domestic life would be prevented, if all children were trained, both by precept and example, to the practice of common politeness! If they were taught to speak respectfully to parents, and brothers, and sisters, to friends, neighbors, and strangers, what bawlings, and snarlings would be stilled! If their behavior within doors, and especially at the table, were regulated by a few of the common rules of good breeding, how much natural and proper disgust would be spared! If courtesy of demeanor, towards all whom they meet in field or highway, were instilled, how much more pleasant would be our town travels, and our rustic rambles! Every parent has a personal interest in this matter; and if every parent would but make the needful effort, a great degree of gross incivility, and consequent annoyance, would soon be swept away from our hearths and homes.

Whilst earnestly endeavoring to acquire true politeness, avoid that spurious imitation, affectation. It is to genuine politeness and good breeding, what the showy paste is to the pure diamond. It is the offspring of a sickly taste, a deceitful heart, and a sure proof of low breeding.

The certain test of affectation in any individual, is the[149] looking, speaking, moving, or acting in any way different when in the presence of others, especially those whose opinion we regard and whose approbation we desire, from what we should do in solitude, or in the presence of those only whom we disregard, or who we think cannot injure or benefit us. The motive for resisting affectation is, that it is both unsuccessful and sinful. It always involves a degree of hypocrisy, which is exceedingly offensive in the sight of God, which is generally detected even by men, and which, when detected, exposes its subject to contempt which could never have been excited by the mere absence of any quality or possession, as it is by the false assumption of what is not real. The best cure for affectation is the cultivation, on principle, of every good, virtuous, and amiable habit and feeling, not for the sake of being approved or admired, but because it is right in itself, and without considering what people will think of it. Thus a real character will be formed instead of a part being assumed, and admiration and love will be spontaneously bestowed where they are really deserved. Artificial manners are easily seen through; and the result of such observations, however accomplished and beautiful the object may be, is contempt for such littleness.

Many ladies, moving, too, in good society, will affect a forward, bold manner, very disagreeable to persons of sense. They will tell of their wondrous feats, when engaged in pursuits only suited for men; they will converse in a loud, boisterous tone; laugh loudly; sing comic songs, or dashing bravuras in a style only fit for the stage or a gentleman’s after-dinner party; they will lay[150] wagers, give broad hints and then brag of their success in forcing invitations or presents; interlard their conversation with slang words or phrases suited only to the stable or bar-room, and this they think is a dashing, fascinating manner. It may be encouraged, admired, in their presence, by gentlemen, and imitated by younger ladies, but, be sure, it is looked upon with contempt, and disapproval by every one of good sense, and that to persons of real refinement it is absolutely disgusting.

Other ladies, taking quite as mistaken a view of real refinement, will affect the most childish timidity, converse only in whispers, move slowly as an invalid, faint at the shortest notice, and on the slightest provocation; be easily moved to tears, and profess never to eat, drink, or sleep. This course is as absurd as the other, and much more troublesome, as everybody dreads the scene which will follow any shock to the dear creature’s nerves, and will be careful to avoid any dangerous topics.

Self-respect, and a proper deference for our superiors in age or intellect, will be the best safeguards against either a cringing or insolent manner.

Without self-respect you will be apt to be both awkward and bashful; either of which faults are entirely inconsistent with a graceful manner. Be careful that while you have sufficient self-respect to make your manner easy, it does not become arrogance and so engender insolence. Avoid sarcasm; it will, unconsciously to yourself, degenerate into pertness, and often downright rudeness. Do not be afraid to speak candidly, but temper candor with courtesy, and never let wit run into that[151] satire that will wound deeply, whilst it amuses only slightly.

Let your carriage be at once dignified and graceful. There are but few figures that will bear quick motion; with almost every one its effect is that of a jerk, a most awkward movement. Let the feet, in walking or dancing, be turned out slightly; when you are seated, rest them both on the floor or a footstool. To sit with the knees or feet crossed or doubled up, is awkward and unlady-like. Carry your arms, in walking, easily; never crossing them stiffly or swinging them beside you. When seated, if you are not sewing or knitting, keep your hands perfectly quiet. This, whilst one of the most difficult accomplishments to attain, is the surest mark of a lady. Do not fidget, playing with your rings, brooch, or any little article that may be near you; let your hands rest in an easy, natural position, perfectly quiet.

Never gesticulate when conversing; it looks theatrical, and is ill-bred; so are all contortions of the features, shrugging of shoulders, raising of the eyebrows, or hands.

When you open a conversation, do so with a slight bow and smile, but be careful not to simper, and not to smile too often, if the conversation becomes serious.

Never point. It is excessively ill-bred.

Avoid exclamations; they are in excessively bad taste, and are apt to be vulgar words. A lady may express as much polite surprise or concern by a few simple, earnest words, or in her manner, as she can by exclaiming “Good gracious!” “Mercy!” or “Dear me!”

Remember that every part of your person and dress[152] should be in perfect order before you leave the dressing-room, and avoid all such tricks as smoothing your hair with your hand, arranging your curls, pulling the waist of your dress down, or settling your collar or sleeves.

Avoid lounging attitudes, they are indelicate, except in your own private apartment. Nothing but ill health will excuse them before company, and a lady had better keep her room if she is too feeble to sit up in the drawing-room.

Let your deportment suit your age and figure; to see a tiny, fairy-like young girl, marching erect, stiff, and awkwardly, like a soldier on parade, is not more absurd than to see a middle-aged, portly woman, aping the romping, hoydenish manners of a school-girl.

Let the movements be easy and flexible, and accord with the style of the lady.

Let your demeanor be always marked by modesty and simplicity; as soon as you become forward or affected, you have lost your greatest charm of manner.

You should be quite as anxious to talk with propriety as you are to think, work, sing, paint, or write, according to the most correct rules.

Always select words calculated to convey an exact impression of your meaning.

Let your articulation be easy, clear, correct in accent, and suited in tone and emphasis to your discourse.

Avoid a muttering, mouthing, stuttering, droning, guttural, nasal, or lisping, pronunciation.

Let your speech be neither too loud nor too low; but adjusted to the ear of your companion. Try to prevent the necessity of any person crying, “What? What?”

[153]Avoid a loquacious propensity; you should never occupy more than your share of the time, or more than is agreeable to others.

Beware of such vulgar interpolations as “You know,” “You see,” “I’ll tell you what.”

Pay a strict regard to the rules of grammar, even in private conversation. If you do not understand these rules, learn them, whatever be your age or station.

Though you should always speak pleasantly, do not mix your conversation with loud bursts of laughter.

Never indulge in uncommon words, or in Latin and French phrases, but choose the best understood terms to express your meaning.

Above all, let your conversation be intellectual, graceful, chaste, discreet, edifying, and profitable.


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