Traditional Values

Vintage Advice for Gentleman: Etiquette for the Date, Hanging With the Boys, or Just Chillin’ Alone

BY Epoch Inspired Staff TIMEFebruary 18, 2023 PRINT

Here is an excerpt from “The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness” by Cecil B. Hartley, published by Locke & Bubier in 1875. 


WHEN you wish to invite a lady to accompany you to the theatre, opera, a concert, or any other public place of amusement, send the invitation the day previous to the one selected for taking her, and write it in the third person. If it is the first time you have invited her, include her mother, sister, or some other lady in the invitation.

If she accepts your invitation, let it be your next care to secure good seats, for it is but a poor compliment to invite a lady to go to the opera, and put her in an uncomfortable seat, where she can neither hear, see, nor be

Although, when alone, you will act a courteous part in giving your seat to a strange lady, who is standing, in a crowded concert room, you should not do so when you are with a lady. By giving up your place beside her, you may place a lady next her, whom she will find an unpleasant companion, and you are yourself separated from her, when the conversation between the acts makes one of the greatest pleasures of an evening spent in this way. In case of accident, too, he deprives her of his protection, and gives her the appearance of having come alone. Your first duty, when you are escorting a lady, is to that lady before all others.

When you are with a lady at a place of amusement, you must not leave your seat until you rise to escort her home. If at the opera, you may invite her to promenade between the acts, but if she declines, do you too remain in your seat.

Let all your conversation be in a low tone, not whispered, nor with any air of mystery, but in a tone that will not disturb those seated near you.

Any lover-like airs or attitudes, although you may have the right to assume them, are in excessively bad taste in public.

If the evening you have appointed be a stormy one, you must call for your companion with a carriage, and this is the more elegant way of taking her even if the weather does not make it absolutely necessary.

When you are entering a concert room, or the box of a theatre, walk before your companion up the aisle, until you reach the seats you have secured, then turn, offer your hand to her, and place her in the inner seat, taking the outside one yourself; in going out, if the aisle is too narrow to walk two abreast, you again precede your companion until you reach the lobby, where you turn and offer your arm to her.

Loud talking, laughter, or mistimed applause, are all in very bad taste, for if you do not wish to pay strict attention to the performance, those around you probably do, and you pay but a poor compliment to your companion in thus implying her want of interest in what she came to see.

Secure your programme, libretto, or concert bill, before taking your seat, as, if you leave it, in order to obtain them, you may find some one else occupying your place when you return, and when the seats are not secured, he may refuse to rise, thus giving you the alternative of an altercation, or leaving your companion without any protector. Or, you may find a lady in your seat, in which case, you have no alternative, but must accept the penalty of your carelessness, by standing all the evening.

In a crowd, do not push forward, unheeding whom you hurt or inconvenience, but try to protect your companion, as far as possible, and be content to take your turn.

If your seats are secured, call for your companion in time to be seated some three or four minutes before the performance commences, but if you are visiting a hall where you cannot engage seats, it is best to go early.

If you are alone and see ladies present with whom you are acquainted, you may, with perfect propriety, go and chat with them between the acts, but when with a lady, never leave her to speak to another lady.

At an exhibition of pictures or statuary, you may converse, but let it be in a quiet, gentlemanly tone, and without gesture or loud laughter. If you stand long before one picture or statue, see that you are not interfering with others who may wish to see the same work of art. If you are engaged in conversation, and wish to rest, do not take a position that will prevent others from seeing any of the paintings, but sit down, or stand near the centre of the room.

Never, unless urgently solicited, attach yourself to any party at a place of amusement, even if some of the members of it are your own relatives or intimate friends.

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