Arts & Culture

‘Where Are All the Men?’ This Vintage Manual on Manners From the 1880s Can Make a Gentleman Out of You

TIMEDecember 31, 2021

The following 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 menyoung and olderin today’s sometimes unbalanced and undisciplined world.

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Our Manners.

A rude person, though well meaning, is avoided by all. Manners, in fact, are minor morals; and a rude person is often assumed to be a bad person. The manner in which a person says or does a thing, furnishes a better index of his character than what he does or says, for it is by the incidental expression given to his thoughts and feelings, by his looks, tones and gestures, rather than by his words and deeds, that we prefer to judge him, for the reason that the former are involuntary. The manner in which a favor is granted or a kindness done, often affects us more than the deed itself. The deed may have been prompted by vanity, pride, or some selfish motive or interest; the warmth or coldness with which the person who has done it speaks to you, or grasps your hand, is less likely to deceive. The manner of doing any thing, it has been truly said, is that which stamps its life and character on any action. A favor may be performed so grudgingly as to prevent any feeling of obligation, or it may be refused so courteously as to awaken more kindly feelings than if it had been ungraciously granted.

THE TRUE GENTLEMAN.

Politeness is benevolence in small things. A true gentleman must regard the rights and feelings of others, even in matters the most trivial. He respects the individuality of others, just as he wishes others to respect his own. In society he is quiet, easy, unobtrusive, putting on no airs, nor hinting by word or manner that he deems himself better, or wiser, or richer than any one about him. He never boasts of his achievements, or fishes for compliments by affecting to underrate what he has done. He is distinguished, above all things, by his deep insight and sympathy, his quick perception of, and prompt attention to, those small and apparently insignificant things that may cause pleasure or pain to others. In giving his opinions he does not dogmatize; he listens patiently and respectfully to other men, and, if compelled to dissent from their opinions, acknowledges his fallibility and asserts his own views in such a manner as to command the respect of all who hear him. Frankness and cordiality mark all his intercourse with his fellows, and, however high his station, the humblest man feels instantly at ease in his presence.

THE TRUE LADY.

Calvert says: “Ladyhood is an emanation from the heart subtilized by culture;” giving as two requisites for the highest breeding, transmitted qualities and the culture of good training. He continues: “Of the higher type of ladyhood may always be said what Steele said of Lady Elizabeth Hastings, ‘that unaffected freedom and conscious innocence gave her the attendance of the graces in all her actions.’ At its highest, ladyhood implies a spirituality made manifest in poetic grace. From the lady there exhales a subtle magnetism. Unconsciously she encircles herself with an atmosphere of unruffled strength, which, to those who come into it, gives confidence and repose. Within her influence the diffident grow self-possessed, the impudent are checked, the inconsiderate are admonished; even the rude are constrained to be mannerly, and the refined are perfected; all spelled, unawares, by the flexible dignity, the commanding gentleness, the thorough womanliness of her look, speech and demeanor. A sway is this, purely spiritual. Every sway, every legitimate, every enduring sway is spiritual; a regnancy of light over obscurity, of right over brutality. The only real gains ever made are spiritual gains—a further subjection of the gross to the incorporeal, of body to soul, of the animal to the human. The finest and most characteristic acts of a lady involve a spiritual ascension, a wing out of herself. In her being and bearing, patience, generosity, benignity are the graces that give shape to the virtues of truthfulness.”

Here is the test of true ladyhood. Whenever the young find themselves in the company of those who do not make them feel at ease, they should know that they are not in the society of true ladies and true gentlemen, but of pretenders; that well-bred men and women can only feel at home in the society of the well-bred.

THE IMPORTANCE OF TRIFLES.

Some people are wont to depreciate these kind and tender qualities as trifles; but trifles, it must be remembered, make up the aggregate of human life. The petty incivilities, slight rudenesses and neglects of which men are guilty, without thought, or from lack of foresight or sympathy, are often remembered, while the great acts performed by the same persons are often forgotten. There is no society where smiles, pleasant looks and animal spirits are not welcomed and deemed of more importance than sallies of wit, or refinements of understanding. The little civilities, which form the small change of life may appear separately of little moment, but, like the spare pennies which amount to such large fortunes in a lifetime, they owe their importance to repetition and accumulation.

VALUE OF PLEASING MANNERS.

The man who succeeds in any calling in life is almost invariably he who has shown a willingness to please and to be pleased, who has responded heartily to the advances of others, through nature and habit, while his rival has sniffed and frowned and snubbed away every helping hand. “The charming manners of the Duke of Marlborough,” it is said, “often changed an enemy to a friend, and to be denied a favor by him was more pleasing than to receive one from another. It was these personal graces that made him both rich and great. His address was so exquisitely fascinating as to dissolve fierce jealousies and animosities, lull suspicion and beguile the subtlest diplomacy of its arts. His fascinating smile and winning tongue, equally with his sharp sword, swayed the destinies of empires.” The gracious manners of Charles James Fox preserved him from personal dislike, even when he had gambled away his last shilling, and politically, was the most unpopular man in England.

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MANNERS AND PERSONAL APPEARANCE.

A charming manner not only enhances personal beauty, but even hides ugliness and makes plainness agreeable. An ill-favored countenance is not necessarily a stumbling-block, at the outset, to its owner, which cannot be surmounted, for who does not know how much a happy manner often does to neutralize the ill effects of forbidding looks? The fascination of the demagogue Wilkes’s manner triumphed over both physical and moral deformity, rendering even his ugliness agreeable; and he boasted to Lord Townsend, one of the handsomest men in Great Britain, that “with half an hour’s start he would get ahead of his lordship in the affections of any woman in the kingdom.” The ugliest Frenchman, perhaps, that ever lived was Mirabeau; yet such was the witchery of his manner, that the belt of no gay Lothario was hung with a greater number of bleeding female hearts than this “thunderer of the tribune,” whose looks were so hideous that he was compared to a tiger pitted with the small-pox.

FORTUNES MADE BY PLEASING MANNERS.

Pleasing manners have made the fortunes of men in all professions and in every walk of life—of lawyers, doctors, clergymen, merchants, clerks and mechanics—and instances of this are so numerous that they may be recalled by almost any person. The politician who has the advantage of a courteous, graceful and pleasing manner finds himself an easy winner in the race with rival candidates, for every voter with whom he speaks becomes instantly his friend. Civility is to a man what beauty is to a woman. It creates an instantaneous impression in his behalf, while gruffness or coarseness excites as quick a prejudice against him. It is an ornament, worth more as a means of winning favor than the finest clothes and jewels ever worn. Lord Chesterfield said the art of pleasing is, in truth, the art of rising, of distinguishing one’s self, of making a figure and a fortune in the world. Some years ago a drygoods salesman in a London shop had acquired such a reputation for courtesy and exhaustless patience, that it was said to be impossible to provoke from him any expression of irritability, or the smallest symptom of vexation. A lady of rank learning of his wonderful equanimity, determined to put it to the test by all the annoyances with which a veteran shop-visitor knows how to tease a shopman. She failed in her attempt to vex or irritate him, and thereupon set him up in business. He rose to eminence in trade, and the main spring of his later, as of his earlier career, was politeness. Hundreds of men, like this salesman, have owed their start in life wholly to their pleasing address and manners.

CULTIVATION OF GOOD MANNERS.

The cultivation of pleasing, affable manners should be an important part of the education of every person of whatever calling or station in life. Many people think that if they have only the substance, the form is of little consequence. But manners are a compound of spirit and form—spirit acted into form. The first law of good manners, which epitomizes all the rest is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” True courtesy is simply the application of this golden rule to all our social conduct, or, as it has been happily defined, “real kindness, kindly expressed.” It may be met in the hut of the Arab, in the courtyard of the Turk, in the hovel of the freedman, and the cottage of the Irishman. Even Christian men sometimes fail in courtesy, deeming it a mark of weakness, or neglecting it from mere thoughtlessness. Yet when we find this added to the other virtues of the Christian, it will be noted that his influence for good upon others has been powerfully increased, for it was by this that he obtained access to the hearts of others. An old English writer said reverently of our Saviour: “He was the first true gentleman that ever lived.” The influence of many good men would be more than doubled if they could manage to be less stiff and more elastic. Gentleness in society, it has been truly said, “is like the silent influence of light which gives color to all nature; it is far more powerful than loudness or force, and far more fruitful. It pushes its way silently and persistently like the tiniest daffodil in spring, which raises the clod and thrusts it aside by the simple persistence of growing.”

POLITENESS.

Politeness is kindness of manner. This is the outgrowth of kindness of heart, of nobleness, and of courage. But in some persons we find an abundance of courage, nobleness and kindness of heart, without kindness of manner, and we can only think and speak of them as not only impolite, but even rude and gruff. Such a man was Dr. Johnson, whose rudeness secured for him the nickname of Ursa Major, and of whom Goldsmith truthfully remarked, “No man alive has a more tender heart; he has nothing of the bear about him but his skin.” To acquire that ease and grace of manners which is possessed by and which distinguishes every well-bred person, one must think of others rather than of himself, and study to please them even at his own inconvenience. “Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you”—the golden rule of life—is also the law of politeness, and such politeness implies self-sacrifice, many struggles and conflicts. It is an art and tact, rather than an instinct and inspiration. An eminent divine has said: “A noble and attractive every-day bearing comes of goodness, of sincerity, of refinement. And these are bred in years, not moments. The principle that rules our life is the sure posture-master. Sir Philip Sidney was the pattern to all England of a perfect gentleman; but then he was the hero that, on the field of Zutphen, pushed away the cup of cold water from his own fevered and parched lips, and held it out to the dying soldier at his side.” A Christian by the very conditions of his creed, and the obligations of his faith is, of necessity, in mind and soul—and therefore in word and act—a gentleman, but a man may be polite without being a Christian.

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