Regular readers will know that I love old books on etiquette for their combination of timeless, rock-solid advice and things that have turned into baffling absurdities with the passage of decades or centuries. The passages quoted here are from The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness by Cecil B. Hartley, 1860. Its publication in Boston shows how, at the time and right through into the twentieth century, upper class English manners were held up as the ideal to which all others should aspire if they were to be thought of as cultured and civilised.
The “hideous Newgate frill” he writes of at one point (see below) is a beard grown only under the jaw line, with shaved chin, cheeks, and upper lip. It was and is indeed hideous. He’s also correct to say that “the moustache should be kept within limits.”
Another thing worthy of note is a writer in 1860 clearly connecting the smoking of tobacco with cancer, in contradiction of the usual (particularly in the USA) false narrative of “nobody knew it was bad for us until 19nn”.
“To make your politeness part of yourself, inseparable from every action, is the height of gentlemanly elegance and finish of manner.”
“I have more than once seen such cases terminate fatally with malignant disease of the stomach and liver. Great smokers, also, especially those who employ short pipes and cigars, are said to be liable to cancerous affections of the lips.”
More excited than is becoming to a gentleman
“Be careful that your individual opinion does not lead you into language and actions unbecoming a gentleman. Listen courteously to those whose opinions do not agree with yours, and keep your temper. A man in a passion ceases to be a gentleman. Even if convinced that your opponent is utterly wrong, yield gracefully, decline further discussion, or dextrously turn the conversation, but do not obstinately defend your own opinion until you become angry, or more excited than is becoming to a gentleman. Many there are who, giving their opinion, not as an opinion but as a law, will defend their position by such phrases, as: “Well, if I were president, or governor, I would,” &c.—and while by the warmth of their argument they prove that they are utterly unable to govern their own temper, they will endeavor to persuade you that they are perfectly competent to take charge of the government of the nation. Retain, if you will, a fixed political opinion, yet do not parade it upon all occasions, and, above all, do not endeavor to force others to agree with you. Listen calmly to their ideas upon the same subjects, and if you cannot agree, differ politely, and while your opponent may set you down as a bad politician, let him be obliged to admit that you are a gentleman.”
“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.”
“Never speak of a man’s virtue before his face, nor of his faults behind his back.”
“The man who would write an anonymous letter, either to insult the person addressed, or annoy a third person, is a scoundrel, “whom ’twere gross flattery to name a coward.” None but a man of the lowest principles, and meanest character, would commit an act to gratify malice or hatred without danger to himself. A gentleman will treat such a communication with the contemptuous silence which it deserves.”
“Never endeavor to attract the attention of a friend by nudging him, touching his foot or hand secretly, or making him a gesture. If you cannot speak to him frankly, you had best let him alone; for these signals are generally made with the intention of ridiculing a third person, and that is the height of rudeness.”