50 Tips for Cultivating Gentlemanly Manners and Conduct From an 1800s Handbook on Etiquette

50 Tips for Cultivating Gentlemanly Manners and Conduct From an 1800s Handbook on Etiquette
A combination image compiled and designed by The Epoch Times using images in the Public Domain and from Paladin12/Shutterstock.
Epoch Inspired Staff
The following is an excerpt from “The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness” by Cecil B. Hartley, published by Locke & Bubier in 1875. 
  1. ALWAYS avoid any rude or boisterous action, especially when in the presence of ladies. It is not necessary to be stiff, indolent, or sullenly silent, neither is perfect gravity always required, but if you just let it be with quiet, gentlemanly wit, never depending upon clownish gestures for the effect of a story. Nothing marks the gentleman so soon and so decidedly as quiet, refined ease of manner.
  2. Never allow a lady to get a chair for herself, ring a bell, pick up a handkerchief or glove she may have dropped, or, in short, perform any service for herself which you can perform for her, when you are in the room. By extending such courtesies to your mother, sisters, or other members of your family, they become habitual, and are thus more gracefully performed when. abroad.
  3. Never perform any little service for another with a formal bow or manner as if conferring a favor, but with a quiet gentlemanly ease as if it were, not a ceremonious, unaccustomed performance, but a matter of course, for you to be courteous.
  4. It is not necessary to tell all that you know; that were mere folly; but what a man says must be what he believes himself, else he violates the first rule for a gentleman’s speech—Truth.
  5. Avoid gambling as you would poison. Every bet made, even in the most finished circles of society, is a species of gambling, and this ruinous crime comes on by slow degrees. Whilst a man is minding his business, he is playing the best game, and he is sure to win. You will be tempted to the vice by those whom the world. calls gentlemen, but you will find that loss makes you angry, and an angry man is never a courteous one; gain excites you to continue the pursuit of the vice; and, in the end you will lose money, good name, health, good conscience, light heart, and honesty; while you gain evil associates, irregular hours and habits, a suspicious, fretful temper, and a remorseful, tormenting conscience. Someone must lose in the game; and, if you win it, it is at the risk of driving a fellow creature to despair.
  6. Cultivate tact! In society it will be an invaluable aid. Talent is something, but tact is everything. Talent is serious, sober, grave, and respectable; tact is all that and more too. It is not a sixth sense, but it is the life of all the five. It is the open eye, the quick car, the judging taste, the keen smell, and the lively touch; it is the interpreter of all riddles—the surmounter of all difficulties—the remover of all obstacles. It is useful in all places, and at all times; it is useful in solitude, for it shows a man his way into the world; it is useful in society, for it shows him his way through the world. Talent is power—tact is skill; talent is weight—tact is momentum; talent knows what to do-tact knows how to do it; talent makes a man respectable—tact will make him respected; talent is wealth—tact is ready money. For all the practical purposes of society tact carries against talent ten to one.
  7. Nature has left every man a capacity of being agreeable, though all cannot shine in company; but there are many men sufficiently qualified for both, who, by a very few faults, that a little attention would soon correct, are not so much as tolerable. Watch and avoid such faults.
  8. Habits of self-possession and self-control acquired early in life, are the best foundation for the formation of gentlemanly manners. If you unite with this the constant intercourse with ladies and gentlemen of refinement and education, you will add to the dignity of perfect self command, the polished ease of polite society.
  9. Avoid a conceited manner. It is exceedingly ill-bred to assume a manner as if you were superior to those around you, and it is, too, a proof, not of superiority but of vulgarity. And to avoid this manner, avoid the foundation of it, and cultivate humility. The praises of others should be of use to you, in teaching, not what you are, perhaps, but in pointing out what you ought to be.
  10. Avoid pride, too; it often miscalculates, and more often misconceives. The proud man places himself at a distance from other men; seen through that distance, others, perhaps, appear little to him; but he forgets that this very distance causes him also to appear little to others.
  11. A gentleman’s title suggests to him humility and affability; to be easy of access, to pass by neglects and offences, especially from inferiors; neither to despise any for their bad fortune or misery, nor to be afraid to own those who are unjustly oppressed; not to domineer over inferiors, nor to be either disrespectful or cringing to superiors; not standing upon his family name, or wealth, but making these secondary to his attainments in civility, industry, gentleness, and discretion.
  12. Chesterfield says, “All ceremonies are, in themselves, very silly things; but yet a man of the world should know them. They are the outworks of manners, which would be too often broken in upon if it were not for that defence which keeps the enemy at a proper distance. It is for that reason I always treat fools and coxcombs with great ceremony, true good breeding not being a sufficient barrier against them.”
  13. When you meet a lady at the foot of a flight of stairs, do not wait for her to ascend, but bow, and go up before her.
  14. In meeting a lady at the head of a flight of stairs, wait for her to precede you in the descent.
  15. Avoid slang. It does not beautify, but it sullies conversation. “Just listen, for a moment, to our fast young man, or the ape of a fast young man, who thinks that to be a man he must speak in the dark phraseology of slang. If he does anything on his own responsibility, he does it on his own ‘hook.’ If he sees anything remarkably good, he calls it a ’stunner,‘ the superlative of which is a ’regular stunner.’ If a man is requested to pay a tavern bill, he is asked if he will ’stand Sam.‘ If he meets a savage-looking dog, he calls him an ’ugly customer.‘ If he meets an eccentric man, he calls him a ’rummy old cove.‘ A sensible man is a ’chap that is up to snuff.‘ Our young friend never scolds, but ’blows up;‘ never pays, but ’stumps up;’ never finds it too difficult to pay, but is ‘hard up.’ He has no hat, but shelters his head beneath a ’tile.‘ He wears no neckcloth, but surrounds his throat with a ’choker.‘ He lives nowhere, but there is some place where he ’hangs out.‘ He never goes away or withdraws, but he ’bolts’—he ’slopes’—he ’mizzles’—he ’makes himself scarce’—he walks his chalks’—he ’makes tracks’—he ‘cuts stick’—or, what is the same thing, he ’cuts his lucky!‘ The highest compliment that you can pay him is to tell him that he is a ’regular brick.’ He does not profess to be brave, but he prides himself on being ‘plucky.’ Money is a word which he has forgotten, but he talks a good deal about ’tin,‘ and the ’needful,‘ ’the rhino,’ and ’the ready.‘ When a man speaks, he ’spouts;’ when he holds his peace, he ’shuts up;‘ when he is humiliated, he is ’taken down a peg or two,’ and made to ’sing small.‘ Now, besides the vulgarity of such expressions, there is much in slang that is objectionable in a moral point of view. For example, the word ’governor,' as applied to a father, is to be reprehended. Does it not betray, on the part of young men, great ignorance of the paternal and filial relationship, or great contempt for them? Their father is to such young men merely a governor,— merely a representative of authority. Innocently enough the expression is used by thousands of young men who venerate and love their parents; but only think of it, and I am sure that you will admit that it is a cold, heartless word when thus applied, and one that ought forthwith to be abandoned.”
  16. There are few traits of social life more repulsive than tyranny. I refer not to the wrongs, real or imaginary, that engage our attention in ancient and modern history; my tyrants are not those who have waded through blood to thrones, and grievously oppress their brother men. I speak of the petty tyrants of the fireside and the social circle, who trample like very despots on the opinions of their fellows. You meet people of this class everywhere; they stalk by your side in the streets; they seat themselves in the pleasant circle on the hearth, casting a gloom on gayety; and they start up dark and scowling in the midst of scenes of innocent mirth, to chill and frown down every participator. They “pooh! pooh!” at every opinion advanced; they make the lives of their mothers, sisters, wives, children, unbearable. Beware then of tyranny. A gentleman is ever humble, and the tyrant is never courteous.
  17. Cultivate the virtues of the soul, strong principle, incorruptible integrity, usefulness, refined intellect, and fidelity in seeking for truth. A man in proportion as he has these virtues will be honored and welcomed everywhere.
  18. Gentility is neither in birth, wealth, or fashion, but in the mind. A high sense of honor, a determination never to take a mean advantage of another, adherence to truth, delicacy and politeness towards those with whom we hold intercourse, are the essential characteristics of a gentleman.
  19. A little attention to your mother, your wife, and your sister, will beget much love. The man who is a rude husband, son, and brother, cannot be a gentleman; he may ape the manners of one, but, wanting the refinement of heart that would make him courteous at home, his politeness is but a thin cloak to cover a rude, unpolished mind.
  20. At the table, always eat slowly, but do not delay those around you by toying with your food, or neglecting the business before you chat, till all the others are ready to leave the table, but must wait until you repair your negligence, by hastily swallowing your food.
  21. Are you a husband? Custom entitles you to be the “lord and master” over your household. But don’t assume the master and sink the lord. Remember that noble generosity, forbearance, amiability, and integrity are the lordly attributes of man. As a husband, therefore, exhibit the true nobility of man, and seek to govern your household by the display of high moral excellence.

A domineering spirit—a fault-finding petulance-impatience of trifling delays-and the exhibition of unworthy passion at the slightest provocation can add no laurel to your own “lordly” brow, impart no sweetness to home, and call forth no respect from those by whom you may be surrounded. It is one thing to be a master, another to be a man. The latter should be the husband’s aspiration; for he who cannot govern himself, is ill-qualified to rule others. You can hardly imagine how refreshing it is to occasionally call up the recollection of your courting days. How tediously the hours rolled away prior to the appointed time of meeting; how swift they seemed to fly, when met; how fond was the first greeting; how tender the last embrace; how fervent were your vows; how vivid your dreams of future happiness, when, returning to your home, you felt yourself secure in the confessed love of the object of your warm affections! Is your dream realized?—are you so happy as you expected?—why not? Consider whether as a husband you are as fervent and constant as you were when a lover. Remember that the wife’s claims to your unremitting regard-great before marriage, are now exalted to a much higher degree. She has left the world for you the home of her childhood, the fireside of her parents, their watchful care and sweet intercourse have all been yielded up for you. Look then most jealously upon all that may tend to attract you from home, and to weaken that union upon which your temporal happiness mainly depends; and believe that in the solemn relationship of HUSBAND is to be found one of the best guarantees for man’s honor and happiness.

  1. Perhaps the true definition of a gentleman is this: “Whoever is open, loyal, and true; whoever is of humane and affable demeanor; whoever is honorable in himself, and in his judgment of others, and requires no law but his word to make him fulfill an engagement; suck a man is a gentleman, be he in the highest or lowest rank of life, a man of elegant refinement and intellect, or the most unpolished tiller of the ground.”
  2. In the street, etiquette does not require a gentleman to take off his glove to shake hands with a lady, unless her hand is uncovered. In the house, however, the rule is imperative, he must not offer a lady a gloved hand. In the street, if his hand is very warm or very cold, or the glove cannot be readily removed, it is much better to offer the covered hand than to offend the lady’s touch, or delay the salutation during an awkward fumble to remove the glove.
  3. Sterne says, “True courtship consists in a number of quiet, gentlemanly attentions, not so pointed as to alarm, not so vague as to be misunderstood.” A clown will terrify by his boldness, a proud man chill by his reserve, but a gentleman will win by the happy mixture of the two.
  4. Use no profane language, utter no word that will cause the most virtuous to blush. Profanity is a mark of low breeding; and the tendency of using indecent and profane language is degrading to your minds. Its injurious effects may not be felt at the moment, but they will continue to manifest themselves to you through life. They may never be obliterated; and, if you allow the fault to become habitual, you will often find at your tongue’s end some expressions which you would not use for any money. By being careful on this point you may save yourself much mortification and sorrow.

“Good men have been taken sick and become delirious. In these moments they have used the most vile and indecent language. When informed of it, after a restoration to health, they had no idea of the pain they had given to their friends, and stated that they had learned and repeated the expressions in childhood, and though years had passed since they had spoken a bad word, the early impressions had been indelibly stamped upon the mind.”

Think of this, ye who are tempted to use improper language, and never let a vile word disgrace you. An oath never falls from the tongue of the man who commands respect.

Honesty, frankness, generosity, and virtue are noble traits. Let these be yours, and do not fear. You will then claim the esteem and love of all.

  1. Courteous and friendly conduct may, probably will, sometimes meet with an unworthy and ungrateful return; but the absence of gratitude and similar courtesy on the part of the receiver cannot destroy the self-approbation which recompenses the giver. We may scatter the seeds of courtesy and kindness around us at little expense. Some of them will inevitably fall on good ground, and grow up into benevolence in the minds of others, and all of them will bear the fruit of happiness in the bosom whence they spring. A kindly action always fixes itself on the heart of the truly thoughtful and polite man.
  2. Learn to restrain anger. A man in a passion ceases to be a gentleman, and if you do not control your passions, rely upon it, they will one day control you. The intoxication of anger, like that of the grape, shows us to others, but hides us from ourselves, and we injure our own cause in the opinion of the world when we too passionately and eagerly defend it. Neither will all men be disposed to view our quarrels in the same light that we do; and a man’s blindness to his own defects will ever increase in proportion as he is angry with others, or pleased with himself. An old English writer says:—

“As a preventative of anger, banish all tale-bearers and slanderers from your conversation, for it is these blow the devil’s bellows to rouse up the flames of rage and fury, by first abusing your ears, and then your credulity, and after that steal away your patience, and all this, perhaps, for a lie. To prevent anger, be not too inquisitive into the affairs of others, or what people say of yourself, or into the mistakes of your friends, for this is going out to gather sticks to kindle a fire to burn your own house.”

  1. Keep good company or none. You will lose your own self-respect, and habits of courtesy sooner and more effectually by intercourse with low company, than in any other manner; while, in good company, these virtues will be cultivated and become habitual.
  2. Keep your engagements. Nothing is ruder than to make an engagement, be it of business or pleasure, and break it. If your memory is not sufficiently retentive to keep all the engagements you make stored within it, carry a little memorandum book and enter them there. Especially, keep any appointment made with a lady, for, depend upon it, the fair sex forgive any other fault in good breeding, sooner than a broken engagement.
  3. Avoid personality; nothing is more ungentlemanly. The tone of good company is marked by its entire absence. Among well-informed persons there are plenty of topics to discuss, without giving pain to any one present.
  4. Make it a rule to be always punctual in keeping an appointment, and, when it is convenient, be a little beforehand. Such a habit ensures that composure and ease which is the very essence of gentlemanly deportment; want of it keeps you always in a fever and bustle and no man who is hurried and feverish appears so well as he whose punctuality keeps him cool and composed.
  5. It is right to cultivate a laudable ambition, but do not exaggerate your capacity. The world will not give you credit for half what you esteem yourself. Some men think it so much gained to pass for more than they are worth; but in most cases the deception will be discovered, sooner or later, and the rebound will be greater than the gain. We may, therefore, set it down as a truth, that it is a damage to a man to have credit for greater powers than he possesses.
  6. Be ready to apologize when you have committed a fault which gives offence. Better, far better, to retain a friend by a frank, courteous apology for offence given, than to make an enemy by obstinately denying or persisting in the fault.
  7. An apology made to yourself must be accepted. No matter how great the offence, a gentleman cannot keep his anger after an apology has been made, and thus, amongst truly well-bred men, an apology is always accepted.
  8. Unless you have something of real importance to ask or communicate, do not stop a gentleman in the street during business hours. You may detain him from important engagements, and, though he may be too well-bred to show annoyance, he will not thank you for such detention.
  9. If, when on your way to fulfil an engagement, a friend stops you in the street, you may, without commit. ting any breach of etiquette, tell him of your appointment, and release yourself from a long talk, but do so in a courteous manner, expressing regret for the necessity.
  10. If, when meeting two gentlemen, you are obliged to detain one of them, apologize to the other for so doing, whether he is an acquaintance or a stranger, and do not keep him waiting a moment longer than is necessary.
  11. Have you a sister? Then love and cherish her with all that pure and holy friendship which renders a brother so worthy and noble. Learn to appreciate her sweet influence as portrayed in the following words:

“He who has never known a sister’s kind administration, nor felt his heart warming beneath her endearing smile and love-beaming eye, has been unfortunate indeed. It is not to be wondered at if the fountains of pure feeling flow in his bosom but sluggishly, or if the gentle emotions of his nature be lost in the sterner attributes of mankind.

“‘That man has grown up among affectionate sisters,' I once heard a lady of much observation and experience remark.

“‘And why do you think so?' said I.

“‘Because of the rich development of all the tender feelings of the heart.’

“A sister’s influence is felt even in manhood’s riper years; and the heart of him who has grown cold in chilly contact with the world will warm and thrill with pure enjoyment as some accident awakens within him the soft tones, the glad melodies of his sister’s voice; and he will turn from purposes which a warped and false philosophy had reasoned into expediency, and even weep for the gentle influences which moved him in his earlier years.”

The man who would treat a sister with harshness, rudeness, or disrespect, is unworthy of the name of gentleman, for he thus proves that the courtesies he extends to other ladies, are not the promptings of the heart, but the mere external signs of etiquette; the husk without the sweet fruit within.

  1. When walking with a friend in the street, never leave him to speak to another friend without apologizing for so doing.
  2. If walking with a lady, never leave her alone in the street, under any circumstances. It is a gross violation of etiquette to do so.
  3. The most truly gentlemanly man is he who is the most unselfish, so I would say in the words of the Rev. J. A. James:

“Live for some purpose in the world. Act your part well. Fill up the measure of duty to others. Conduct yourselves so that you shall be missed with sorrow when you are gone. Multitudes of our species are living in such a selfish manner that they are not likely to be remembered after their disappearance. They leave behind them scarcely any traces of their existence, but are forgotten almost as though they had never been. They are while they live, like one pebble lying unobserved amongst a million on the shore; and when they die, they are like that same pebble thrown into the sea, which just ruffles the surface, sinks, and is forgotten, without being missed from the beach. They are neither regretted by the rich, wanted by the poor, nor celebrated by the learned. Who has been the better for their life? Who has been the worse for their death? Whose tears have they dried up? whose wants supplied? whose miseries have they healed? Who would unbar the gate of life, to re-admit them to existence? or what face would greet them back again to our world with a smile? Wretched, unproductive mode of existence! Selfishness is its own curse; it is a starving vice. The man who does no good, gets He is like the heath in the desert, neither yielding fruit, nor seeing when good cometh-a stunted, dwarfish, miserable shrub.”

  1. Separate the syllables of the word gentleman, and you will see that the first requisite must be gentleness— gentle-man. Mackenzie says, “Few persons are sufficiently aware of the power of gentleness. It is slow in working, but it is infallible in its results. It makes no noise; it neither invites attention, nor provokes resistance; but it is God’s great law, in the moral as in the natural world, for accomplishing great results. The progressive dawn of day, the flow of the tide, the lapse of time, the changes of the seasons—these are carried on by slow and imperceptible degrees, yet their progress and issue none can mistake or resist. Equally certain and surprising are the triumphs of gentleness. It assumes nothing, yet it can disarm the stoutest opposition; it yields, but yielding is the element of its strength; it endures, but in the warfare victory is not gained by doing, but by suffering.”
  2. Perfect composure of manner requires perfect peace of mind, so you should, as far as lies in human power, avoid the evils which make an unquiet mind, and first of all, avoid that cheating, swindling process called “running in debt.” Owe no man anything; avoid it as you would avoid war, pestilence, and famine. Hate it with a perfect hatred. As you value comfort, quiet, and independence, keep out of debt. As you value a healthy appetite, placid temper, pleasant dreams, and happy wakings, keep out of debt. It is the hardest of all task-masters; the most cruel of all oppressors. It is a mill-stone about the neck. It is an incubus on the heart. It furrows the forehead with premature wrinkles. It drags the nobleness and kindness out of the port and bearing of a man; it takes the soul out of his laugh, and all stateliness and freedom from his walk. Come not, then, under its crushing dominion.
  3. Speak gently; a kind refusal will often wound less than a rough, ungracious assent.
  4. “In private, watch your thoughts, in your family, watch your temper; in society, watch your tongue.”
  5. The true secret of pleasing all the world, is to have an humble opinion of yourself. True goodness is invariably accompanied by gentleness, courtesy, and humility. Those people who are always “sticking on their dignity,” are continually losing friends, making enemies, and fostering a spirit of unhappiness in themselves.
  6. Are you a merchant? Remember that the counting-house is no less a school of manners and temper than a school of morals. Vulgarity, imperiousness, peevishness, caprice on the part of the heads, will produce their corresponding effects upon the household. Some merchants are petty tyrants. Some are too surly to be fit for any charge, unless it be that of taming a shrew. The coarseness of others, in manner and language, must either disgust or contaminate all their subordinates. In one establishment you will encounter an unmanly levity, which precludes all discipline. In another, a mock dignity, which supplies the juveniles with a standing theme of ridicule. In a third, a capriciousness of mood and temper, which reminds one of the prophetic hints of the weather in the old almanacks—“windy”—”cool”—“very pleasant”—”blustering”—"look out for storms”—and the like. And, in a fourth, a selfish acerbity, which exacts the most unreasonable services, and never cheers a clerk with a word of encouragement. —These are sad infirmities. Men ought not to have clerks until they know how to treat them. Their own comfort, too, would be greatly enhanced by a different deportment.
  7. If you are about to enter, or leave, a store or any door, and unexpectedly meet a lady going the other way, stand aside and raise your hat whilst she passes. If she is going the same way, and the door is closed, pass before her, saying, “allow me,” or, “permit me,” open the door, and hold it open whilst she passes.
  8. In entering a room where you will meet ladies, take your hat, cane, and gloves in your left hand, that your right may be free to offer to them.
  9. Never offer to shake hands with a lady; she will, if she wishes you to do so, offer her hand to you, and it is an impertinence for you to do so first.
Stay tuned for the sequel to this article, featuring 50 more gentlemanly tips. 
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.
Related Topics