To the Manner
(Hamlet, act 1,
scene 4, line 15)
by Vicki Betts
Ever since the United States was founded, proper manners in a republican
society have been debated and discussed. How
did one avoid the rigid European class structure in a land where supposedly
"all men are created equal" but at the same time preserve the grace
and courtesy which allowed people to live together harmoniously with some
recognition of various levels of social and economic achievement?
The Tidewater areas of Virginia and the South Carolina Low Country provided the social model for the early South, and this ideal was reinforced by the cult of chivalry. The Southern gentleman was supposed to be hospitable and generous, putting all at their ease, but at the same time he maintained his position as the social, economic and political leader of his region. The Southern lady was manners personified, limited to the narrow sphere of "proper" behavior. As almost a goddess on a pedestal, her position required that all of the men around her remain on their best behavior, too.
This ideal, although basically only a fantasy, set the standards which were accepted as desirable for the wealthy and well-bred, as well as for anyone else who wished to attain that distinction. It followed the Southern pioneer west to Alabama, Mississippi, and eventually all of the way to Texas. Almost as soon as the Indian problems were solved, the stumps cleared, and the first crops harvested, the ambitious settlers set about learning the etiquette necessary to give them at least the appearance of being genteel, an attribute which they felt should go along with the economic position they were working to achieve. It was not an easy thing to do. Texans felt the disdain of the Alabamians who in turn felt that the Virginians viewed them as parvenus or nouveaux riches. Those who already had the qualities of a "natural" gentleman "thirsted to know the little things, the graceful finishing touches, which they associated with persons to the manner born." They turned to etiquette books to teach them the little "marks of identification, passwords and phrases, inflections and gestures, likes and dislikes" that indicated to the world that they had made it into the inner circle of Society. Twenty-eight different etiquette manuals were published in the 1830's, thirty-six in the 1840's, and thirty-eight more in the 1850's, all of which took the South dominated Washington, D. C. as their model. Advice on the importance of manners appeared also in the local press, including the Bellville (Texas) Countryman, although the emphasis there was more on etiquette based on simple courtesy. Throughout this period, the South took manners and decorum so seriously that the defense of her code of behavior warranted violence, by caning, tar and feathering, or the duel.
The following are excerpts from etiquette manuals of the mid-Victorian era. The numbers in parentheses indicate the source from the list at the end of the article.
Politeness has been defined as an "artificial good-nature;" but
it would be better said that good-nature is natural politeness. It inspires us with an unremitting attention, both to please
others and to avoid giving them offence. Its
code is a ceremonial, agreed upon and established among mankind, to give each
other external testimonies of friendship or respect.
Politeness and etiquette form a sort of supplement to the law, which
enables society to protect itself against offences which the law cannot touch.
Good breeding has been very justly defined to be the result of much good sense, some good nature, and a little self-denial for the sake of others, and with a view to obtain the same indulgence from them. It cannot be attended to too soon or too much; it must be acquired while young, or it is never quite easy. Good breeding alone can prepossess people in our favor at first sight; more time being necessary to discover greater talents. It is of greater value than beauty or unpolished talent, making a deeper impression than either. In fine, it is a passport to the best society, where its possessor is unaffectedly welcomed for his personal merits. (4)
By attention to the rules of good breeding, and more especially to its leading principle, "the poorest man will be entitled to the character of a gentleman, and by inattention to them, the most wealthy person will be essentially vulgar. Vulgarity signifies coarseness or indelicacy of manner, and is not necessarily associated with poverty or lowliness of condition. Thus an operative artisan may be a gentleman, and worthy of our particular esteem; while an opulent merchant may be only a vulgar clown, with whom it is impossible to be on terms of friendly intercourse." (2)
The most obvious mark of good breeding and good taste is a regard for the feeling of our companions. True courtesy is founded on generosity, which studies to promote the happiness and comfort of others. It is more winning than grace or beauty, and creates sentiments of love at first sight. (4)
If you wish to be agreeable, which is certainly a good and religious desire, you must both study how to be so, and take the trouble to put your studies into constant practice. The fruit you will soon reap. You will be generally liked and loved. The gratitude of those to whom you have devoted yourself will be shown in speaking well pf you; you will become a desirable addition to every party, and whatever your birth, fortune, or position, people will say of you, "He is a most agreeable and well-bred man," and be glad to introduce you to good society. But you will reap a yet better reward. You will have in yourself the satisfaction of having taken trouble and made sacrifices in order to give pleasure and happiness for the time to others. How do you know what grief or care you may not obliterate, what humiliation you may not alter to confidence, what anxiety you may not soften, what—last, but really not least—what dullness you may not enliven? If this work assist you in becoming an agreeable member of good society, I shall rejoice at the labor it has given me. (6)
Before the Ball
A lady, invited to an evening party, may request a gentleman to accompany
her, even though he may not have received an invitation from the hostess.
If you escort a lady to a ball you may carry her a bouquet if you will,
this is optional. A more elegant
way of presenting it is to send it in the afternoon with your card, as, if you
wait until evening, she may think you do not mean to present one, and provide
one for herself.
Arriving at the Ball
To a public-ball, go a little before nine o'clock, as that is the usual
hour for commencing to dance. to a
private ball, the time of going depends on the invitation.
The appointed hour should be adhered to as nearly as possible, as those
who are punctual feel uncomfortable until the other guests arrive.
When you enter at a late hour, you appear to be of great importance in
your own estimation. (4)
When a gentleman accompanies a lady to a ball he will at once proceed with her to the door of the ladies' dressing-room, there leaving her; and then repair to the gentlemen's dressing-room. In the mean time, the lady, after adjusting her toilet, will retire to the ladies' sitting-room, or wait at the door of the dressing-room, according as the apartments may be arranged. After the gentleman has divested himself of hat, etc., and placed the same in the care of the man having charge of the hat-room, receiving therefore a check, and after arranging his toilet, he will proceed to the ladies' sitting room, or wait at the entrance to the ladies' dressing-room for the lady whom he accompanies, and with her enter the ballroom. (4)
The ladies' dressing-room is a sacred precinct, into which no gentleman should ever presume to look; to enter it would be an outrage not to be overlooked or forgiven. (4)
When ladies or gentlemen enter a private ball-room their first care should be to salute the host or hostess. But on entering a public ball-room, the gentleman merely conducts the lady to a seat. (4)
Give your lady your let arm and escort her to the ballroom; find the hostess and lead your companion to her. When they have exchanged greetings, lead your lady to a seat, and then engage her for the first dance. Tell her while you will not deprive others of the pleasure of dancing with her, you are desirous of dancing with her whenever she is not more pleasantly engaged, and before seeking a partner for any other set, see whether your lady is engaged or is ready to dance again with you. (2)
The First Dance
At the commencement of a ball, it is customary for the band to play a
march, while the company makes a grand entree and march around the room; at the
conclusion of which, the company, or as many as convenient, should be seated.
When a gentleman escorts a lady to a ball, he should dance with her first, or offer so to do; and it should be his care to see that she is provided with a partner whenever she desires to dance. (6)
When entering a private ball or party, the visitor should invariably bow to the company. although the entrance to a large assembly may be unnoticed by all present, its observance is not the less necessary. (4)
Asking a Lady to Dance
In inviting a lady to dance with you, the words, "Will you honor me
with your hand for a quadrille?" or, "Shall I have the honor of
dancing this set with you?" are more used now than "Shall I have the
pleasure?" or, "Will you give me the pleasure of dancing with
It is improper to engage or re-engage a lady to dance without the permission of her partner. (4)
It is not considered proper to ask a married lady to dance, when her husband is present, without having previously ascertained whether it be agreeable to him. (4)
In tendering an invitation to the lady to dance, allow her to designate what set it shall be, and you are expected to strictly fulfill the engagement. (3)
At a public ball, if a gentleman, without a proper introduction, ask a lady to dance, she should positively refuse. (4)
When a gentleman, having been properly introduced, requests the honor of dancing with a lady, she should not refuse without explaining her reason for so doing. (4)
When a young lady declines dancing, it is her duty to give him a reason therefore. No matter how frivolous the excuse may be, it is simply an act of courtesy to offer it; while, on the other hand, a gentleman ought not to compromise his dignity by appearing to be even slightly offended when seeing the lady who has rejected him dance with some one else; but he would certainly be justified in not again soliciting her as a partner during the evening. (4)
A young lady should be very careful how she refuses to dance with a gentleman; and above all she must take care not to accept two gentlemen for one dance. Many duels have resulted from this thoughtlessness. (1)
If she answers that she is engaged, merely request her to name the earliest dance for which she is not engaged, and when she will do you the honor of dancing with you. (6)
If a lady refuse to dance with you, bear the refusal with becoming grace; and if you perceive her afterwards dancing with another, seem not to notice it, for in these matters ladies are exempt from all explanations. (4)
You will pay a delicate compliment and one that will certainly be appreciated, if, when a lady declines your invitation to dance on the plea of fatigue or fear o fatigue, you do not seek another partner, but remain with the lady you have just invited, and thus imply that the pleasure of talking with, and being near her, is greater than that of dancing with another. (2)
Do not form an engagement during a dance, or while the lady is engaged with another. Never whisper to a lady, nor lounge on chairs or sofas while the dance is proceeding. (4)
Never wait until the music commences before inviting a lady to dance with you. (2)
When a gentleman goes alone to a ball, he should make application to the
Master of Ceremonies or to one of the managers, who will, if possible, without
infringing on formal rights and etiquette, introduce him to a lady with whom to
dance; and a gentleman thus introduced should not be refused by the lady if she
be not already engaged, for her refusal would be a breach of good manners, as
the Master of Ceremonies is supposed to be careful to introduce only gentlemen
who are unexceptionable. (4)
There are some young gentlemen so very fastidious in a ball-room as to consider it a condescension on their part to dance with ladies who may not be very pretty or remarkably interesting. These young exquisites rarely bring ladies with them, and are constantly annoying their friends and managers to be introduced to the best dancers or the handsomest young ladies in the room; and are more frequently the cause of trouble than any other class of dancers. (4)
A gentleman having two ladies in charge may, in the absence of friends, address a stranger, and offer him a partner, asking his name previous to an introduction, and mentioning that of the lady to him or not, as he may think proper. (4)
Favoritism in the Ball-room
Ladies should not dance exclusively with the same partners, if by so
doing they exclude others from desirable company.
We may, however, without impropriety ask a lady to join us the second
time in a dance. We should treat all courteously; and not manifesting preference
for any one in particular, be ready to dance with whoever may need a partner.
Whatever preference may be felt, none should be shown in a public assembly, which ought to resemble a large family where universal urbanity makes itself generally agreeable. Favoritism is suitable only for private life. Lovers are apt to forget this in the ball-room and make themselves disagreeable, and sometimes particularly offensive, by their devotion to one another. The ball-room is not the proper place for making love, but for general and agreeable association. Ladies, especially, ought to remember this, as no lady, however beautiful, accomplished, dignified, or opulent, can afford to lose the good opinion of the society in which she moves. Moreover, beauty without good manners speedily creates feelings very different from those of love. (4)
Gentlemen should not show marked preference to particular ladies, either by devoting their undivided attentions to, or dancing exclusively with, them. Too often the belle of the evening, with no other charms than those of physical beauty, monopolizes the regard of a circle of admirers, while modest merit of less personal attraction is overlooked or neglected. A gentleman will never contend with a bevy of beaux for the attention of a favorite belle. He will select that lady among his acquaintances who seems to lack the courtesies of the other sex; and will study to be agreeable to her. (4)
A gentleman should not dance with his wife, and not too often with the lady to whom he is engaged. (4)
In private parties where dancing is the chief part of the entertainment, it is not in conformity with the rules of etiquette for a young lady to dance with one gentleman repeatedly, to the exclusion of al others who may solicit her hand, even though the favored man be her suitor. However complimentary to the lady to be the recipient of a gentleman's undivided attention, or however gratifying it may be for him to manifest his devotion to the lady of his choice, such a course is an exhibition of selfishness which ought not to be displayed in an assembly of ladies and gentlemen who have congregated for mutual enjoyment. (4)
If you have come alone to a ball, do not devote yourself entirely to any one lady. Divide your attentions amongst several, and never dance twice in succession with the same partner. (2)
Do not introduce one person to another without knowing that it is
agreeable to both. Gentlemen are
introduced to ladies, not ladies to gentlemen; in other cases, the younger to
the elder. (4)
When an introduction to a lady is solicited by a gentlemen, the consent of the lady to make his acquaintance should be asked, that she may have an opportunity of declining. At a public ball, before an introduction be given, the lady's permission and that of the gentleman accompanying her should be obtained. (4)
In introducing a gentleman to a lady, address her first, thus: "Miss Mason, permit me to present you to Mr. Kent;" or "Mr. Trevor, I have the pleasure of presenting to you Mr. Marlow." When one lady is married, and the other single, present the single lady to the matron—"Miss Harris, allow me to introduce you to Mrs. Martin." (6)
If by any misfortune you have been introduced to a person whose acquaintance you do not desire, you can merely make the formal bow of etiquette when you meet him, which, of itself, encourages no familiarity; but the bow is indispensable, for he cannot be thought a gentleman who would pass another with a vacant stare, after having been formally presented to him. On introduction in a room, a married lady generally offers her hand, a young lady not; in a ball-room, where the introduction is to dancing, not to friendship, you never shake hands; and as a general rule, an introduction is not followed by shaking hands—only a bow. It may perhaps be laid down, that the more public the place of introduction, the less hand-shaking takes place; but if the introduction be particular, if it be accompanied by personal recommendation, such as "I want you to know my friend Jones," then you give Jones your hand, and warmly too. (6)
An introduction in the ball-room for the purpose of dancing, does not entitle you to afterwards claim acquaintance with a partner. All intimacy should end with the dance. it is proper, however, for a lady to recognize the gentleman, if such be her wish; he, of course, not failing to return the salutation. (4)
Men of all sorts of occupations meet in society.
As they go there to unbend their minds and escape from the fetters of
business, you should never, in an evening, speak to a man about his profession.
Do not talk of politics to a journalist, of fevers to a physician, of
stocks to a broker,--nor, unless you wish to enrage him to the utmost, of
education to a collegian. The error
which is here condemned is often committed from mere good nature and a desire to
be affable. But it betrays to a
gentleman, ignorance of the world,--to a philosopher, ignorance of human nature.
It is not in good taste for a lady to say "Yes, sir," and "No, sir," to a gentleman, or frequently to introduce the word "Sir," at the end of her sentence, unless she desires to be exceedingly reserved toward the person with whom she is conversing. (6)
When conversing with your partner, let it be done in a quiet tone, avoiding all affectation, frowning, quizzing, or the slightest indication of ill-temper, and particularly, criticising the dress or appearance of others. (4)
If you wish to inquire about anything, do not do it by asking a question; but introduce the subject, and give the person an opportunity of saying as much as he finds it agreeable to impart. do not even say, "How is your brother to-day?" but "I hope your brother is quite well." (6)
When asking questions about persons who are not known to you, in a drawing-room, avoid using adjectives; or you may enquire of a mother, "Who is that awkward, ugly girl?" and be answered, "Sir, that is my daughter." (2)
Never ask a lady a question about anything whatever. (6)
By all means, avoid the use of slang terms and phrases in polite company. No greater insult can be offered to polite society than to repeat the slang dictums of bar-rooms and other low places. If you are willing to have it known that you are familiar with such company yourself, you have no right to treat a party of ladies and gentlemen as though they were, too. (6)
Do not endeavor to shine in all companies. Leave room for your hearers to imagine something within you beyond all you have said. And remember, the more you are praised, the more you will be envied. (6)
The really witty man does not shower forth his wit so indiscriminately; his charm consists in wielding his powerful weapon delicately and easily, and making each highly polished witticism come in the right place and moment to be effectual. (2)
If you give a jest, take one. Let all your jokes be truly jokes. Jesting sometimes ends in sad earnest. (6)
Be careful in society never to play the part of buffoon, for you will soon become known as the "funny" man o the party, and no character is so perilous to your dignity as a gentleman. You lay yourself open to both censure and ridicule, and you may feel sure that, for every person who laughs with you, two are laughing at you, and for one who admires you, two will watch your antics with secret contempt. (2)
By all means, shun the vulgar habit of joking at the expense of women. The man who does not respect woman, exposes himself to the suspicion of associating generally with the fallen portion of the sex. And besides, he has no right to make a respectable parlor or drawing-room the theater of such vulgar jokes and railing against the sex as go down in low society. (6)
There is no surer sign of vulgarity than the perpetual boasting of the fine things you have at home. If you speak of your silver, of your jewels, of your costly apparel, it will be taken for a sign that you are either lying, or that you were, not long ago, somebody's washerwoman, and cannot forget to be reminding everybody that you are not so now. (6)
One of the first rules for a guide in polite conversation, is to avoid political or religious discussions in general society. Such discussions lead almost invariably to irritating differences of opinion, often to open quarrels, and a coolness of feeling which might have been avoided by dropping the distasteful subject as soon as marked differences of opinion arose. (2)
If you are drawn into such a discussion without intending to be so, 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. (2)
Never become involved in a dispute, if it be possible to avoid it. Give your opinions, but do not argue them. Do not contradict, and, above all, never never offend by endeavoring to correct seeming inaccuracies of expression. Never lose control of temper, or openly notice a slight. Never seem to be conscious of an affront, unless it be of an unmistakably gross character. Do not give hints or innuendoes. Speak frankly or not at all. Do not speak in a loud tone, indulge in boisterous laughter, nor tell long stories. Be careful not to speak upon subjects of which you are ill-informed. Never seem to understand indelicate expressions, much less use them. Avoid slang phrases and pet words. Use good English words and not fantastic phrases. Call all things by their proper names; the vulgarity is in avoiding them. (4)
Never repeat in one company any scandal or personal history you have heard in another. (4)
Avoid gossip; in a woman it is detestable; but in a man it is utterly despicable. (2)
Need I say that no gentleman will ever soil his mouth with an oath. Above all, to swear in a drawing-room or before ladies is not only indelicate and vulgar in the extreme, but evinces a shocking ignorance of the rules of polite society and good breeding. (2)
Deportment While Dancing
Learn to dance. You will
find it one of the very best plans for correcting bashfulness. (2)
A gentleman who goes to a ball should dance frequently; if he does not, he will not receive many invitations afterward; he is not invited to ornament the wall and "wait for supper." (3)
If a lady be engaged when you request her to dance, and you have obtained her promise for the succeeding dance, be sure to be in attendance at the proper time, and thus avoid even the appearance of neglect. (4)
Be very careful not to forget an appointment. It is an unpardonable breach of politeness to ask a lady to dance with you, and neglect to remind he of her promise when the time to redeem it comes. (6)
After the march and when the music for the promenade has ceased, all of the dancers will take their places on the floor at the sound of a cornet or some other signal from the orchestra, or by the announcement of the Master of Ceremonies. But no position would be taken by any of the dancers until the signal to do so has been given. (4)
Sets should be formed with as little confusion as possible. Running to obtain a position should be carefully avoided, and all should strictly refrain from volunteering directions about the dance, unless by request of the Master of Ceremonies. (4)
The customary honors of a bow and courtesy should be given at the commencement and conclusion of each dance. (4)
A smile is essential. A dance is supposed to amuse, and nothing is more out of place in it than a gloomy scowl, unless it be an ill-tempered frown. The gaiety of a dance is more essential than the accuracy of its figures, and if you feel none yourself, you may, at least, look pleased by that of those around you. (2)
Great care should be given to prevent the appearance of awkward bashfulness. Assume a modest confidence and all will pass smoothly. (4)
Give your partner your whole attention when dancing with her. To let your eyes wander round the room, or to make remarks betraying your interest in others, is not flattering, as she will not be unobservant of your want of taste. (2)
While dancing, a lady should consider herself engaged to her partner, and therefore not at liberty to hold a flirtation, between the figures, with another gentleman; and should recollect that it is the gentleman's part to lead her, and hers to follow his directions. (4)
Pay strict attention to the dance, but not so marked as to appear as if that attention were necessary to prevent a mistake. (4)
Such persons as may dislike any dance that is called, instead of interrupting its performance or endeavoring to have it altered, should retire to their seats. (4)
In giving hands for Ladies' Chain, or any other figures in the quadrille, you should accompany it with an inclination of the head in the manner of a salutation. (4)
The quadrille is pronounced to be essentially a conversational dance, but, inasmuch as the figures are perpetually calling you away from your partner, the first necessity for dancing a quadrille is to be supplied with a fund of small talk, in which you can go from subject to subject like a bee from flower to flower. (2)
When dancing with a lady to whom you are a stranger, be cautious in your conversation, saying as little as possible, without risking being considered unsociable. Be mild in your deportment, leading your partner gently through the dance, and simply taking, not rudely grasping, her hand. At the end of the dance conduct your partner to her seat, and as she occupies it, politely bow and retire. (4)
Lead the lady through the quadrille; do not drag her, nor clasp her hand as if it were made of wood, lest she, not unjustly, think you a bear. (6)
If a lady waltz with you, beware not to press her waist; you must only lightly touch it with the palm of your hand, lest you leave a disagreeable impression not only on her ceinture, but on her mind. (6)
No gentleman should use his bare hand to press the waist of a lady in the waist. If without gloves carry a handkerchief in the hand. (3)
Dance quietly, from the hips downward. Do not jump, caper, or sway your body. (4)
No gentleman should play the clown in the ball-room. Dancing a breakdown, making unusual noise, dressing in a peculiar style, swaggering, swinging the arms about, etc., are simply the characteristics of the buffoon. (3)
Deportment Between or After Dances
When the dance is over, offer your arm to your partner, and enquire
whether she prefers to go immediately to her seat, or wishes to promenade.
If she chooses the former, conduct her to her seat, stand near her a few
moments, chatting, then bow, and give other gentlemen an opportunity of
addressing her. If she prefers to
promenade, walk with her until she expresses a wish to sit down.
Enquire, before you leave her, whether you can be of any service. (2)
You must watch your lady during the evening, and while you do not force our attentions upon her, or prevent others from paying her attention, you must never allow her to be alone, but join her whenever others are not speaking to her. (2)
In walking up and down the room, the lady should always be accompanied by a gentleman, it being very improper for her to do so alone. (4)
Do not cross a room in an anxious manner, or force your way to a lady to merely receive a bow, as by so doing you attract the attention of the company to her. If you are desirous of being noticed by any particular person, put yourself in their way as if by accident, and do not let it be seen that you have sought them out; unless, indeed, there be something very important to communicate. (4)
In ascending a staircase with ladies, go at their side or before. (4)
Marks of a Lady
Modesty of deportment should be the shining and preeminent characteristic
of woman. She should be modest in
her attire, in language, in manners and general demeanor.
Beauty becomes irresistible when allied to this lodestone of attraction;
plainness of features is overlooked by it, even positive homeliness is rendered
agreeable by its influence. (4)
Beauty of person and elegance of manners in woman will always command more admiration from the other sex than costliness of clothing.
Marks of a Gentleman
Gentility is neither in birth, manner, nor fashion—but in the Mind.
A high sense of honor—a determination never to take a mean advantage of
another—an adherence to truth, delicacy, and politeness toward those with whom
you may have dealings—are the essential and distinguishing characteristics of
a gentleman. (6)
A gentleman may and will treat his washerwoman with respect and courtesy, and his boot-black with pleasant affability, yet preserve perfectly his own position. To really merit the name of a polite, finished gentleman, you must be polite at all times and under all circumstances. (4)
In the familiar intercourse of society, a well-bred man will be known by the delicacy and deference with which he behaves towards females. Woman looks, and properly looks, for protection to man. Every man should be the champion and lover of every woman. Not only should he be willing to protect, but desirous to please, and willing to sacrifice much of his own personal care and comfort, if, by doing so, he can increase those of any female in whose company he may find himself. (2)
Never forget that ladies are to be first cared for, to have the best seats, the places of distinction, and are entitled in all cases to your courteous protection. (4)
So I would say to you, Cultivate your heart. Cherish there the Christian graces, love for the neighbor, unselfishness, charity, and gentleness, and you will be truly a gentleman; add to those the graceful forms of etiquette and you then become a perfect gentleman. (2)
Gross Violations of Good Breeding
Some persons absurdly seek notoriety by a display of exclusiveness, or by
making audible comments on the dress, manners, style of dressing, etc., of those
present; which are gross violations of good breeding, and should be instantly
rebuked by the Master of Ceremonies. (4)
Nothing is more indicative of vulgarity than the habit of beating time with the feet or hands during the performance of an orchestra. It should be borne in mind that, however agreeable to one's self, it is extremely annoying to the company. (4)
Loud conversation, profanity, stamping the feet, writing on the wall, smoking tobacco, spitting or throwing anything on the floor, are strictly forbidden. (4)
The practice of chewing tobacco and spitting on the floor, is not only nauseous to ladies, but is injurious to their dresses. They who possess self-respect, will surely not be guilty of such conduct. (4)
Never enter a room, in which there are ladies, after smoking, until you have purified both your moth, teeth, hair, and clothes. If you wish to smoke just before entering a salon, wear an old coat and carefully brush your hair and teeth before resuming your own. (2)
It is only the most arrant coxcomb who will boast of the favor shown him by a lady, speak of her by her first name, or allow others to jest with him upon his friendship or admiration for her. (2)
As soon as supper is announced, the host or hostess will give the signal
for leaving the ball-room, and in all probability you will be requested to
escort one of the ladies to the table. If
this should occur, offer the lady your left arm, and at the table remain
standing until every lady is seated, then take the place assigned to you by the
hostess. When you leave the
ball-room, pass out first, and the lady will follow you, still lightly holding
your arm. At the door of the
dining-room, the lady will drop your arm. You
should then pass in, and wait at one side of the entrance until she passes you.
Having arrived at the table, each gentleman respectfully salutes the lady
whom he conducts, who in her turn, also bows and takes her seat. (4)
If there be a supper, the gentleman should conduct to the supper-room his last partner, unless he have a prior engagement, or is asked by the host to do otherwise. In the latter case, he should provide his partner with a substitute, at the same time making a handsome apology. (4)
Before entering the supper-room, it is necessary for the managers to designate which end of the room is to be for the head of the table, and then form the company for a march. When ready, direct the first couple how to proceed. But if no particular arrangements are made, the company will proceed to the farther end of the room. While marching to the supper-room, each couple should keep their position in the line, so that all may take their places at the table in regular order. (4)
The company should be so arranged that a gentleman will be beside each lady to assist her. (4)
It is the duty of a gentleman to see that the ladies near him are properly attended. (4)
Neither ladies no gentlemen ever wear gloves at table, unless their hands, from some cause, are no fit to be seen. (6)
Put your napkin in your lap, covering your knees. It is out of date, and now looked upon as a vulgar habit to put your napkin up over your breast. (2)
If a gentleman is seated by the side of a lady or elderly person, politeness requires him to save them all trouble of pouring out for themselves to drink and of obtaining whatever they are in want of at the table. He should be eager to offer them whatever he thinks to be most to their taste. (6)
Watch that the lady whom you escorted to the table is well helped. Lift and change her plate for her, pass her bread, salt, and butter, give her orders to the waiter, and pay her every attention in your power. (2)
Never pile the food on your plate as if you were starving, but take a little at a time; the dishes will not run away. (2)
Never hitch up your coat-sleeves or wristbands as if you were going to wash your hands. Some men do this habitually, but it is a sign of very bad breeding. (2)
Always wipe your mouth before drinking, as nothing is more ill-bred than to grease your glass with your lips. (2)
When taking coffee, never pour it into your saucer, but let it cool in the cup, and drink from that. (2)
Never use your knife to convey your food to your mouth, under any circumstances; it is unnecessary, and glaringly vulgar. Feed yourself with a fork or spoon, nothing else—a knife is only to be used for cutting. (6)
Avoid too slow or too rapid eating; the one will appear as though you did not like your dinner, and the other as though you were afraid you would not get enough. (6)
If in the leaves of your salad, or in a plate of fruit you find a worm or insect, pass your plate to the waiter, without any comment, and he will bring you another. (2)
If you ask the waiter for anything, you will be careful to speak to him gently in the tone of a request, and not of command. To speak to a waiter in a driving manner will create, among well-bred people, the suspicion that you were sometime a servant yourself, and are putting on airs at the thought of your promotion. (6)
Never commit the vulgarism of speaking when you have any food in your mouth. (6)
Any unpleasant peculiarity, abruptness, or coarseness of manners, is especially offensive at table. People are more easily disgusted at that time than at any other. All such acts as leaning over on one side of your chair, placing your elbows on the table, or on the back of your neighbor's chair, gaping, twisting about restlessly in your seat, are to be avoided as heresies of the most infidel stamp at table.
Avoid picking your teeth, if possible, at table, for however agreeable such a practice might be to yourself, it may be offensive to others. (6)
when you have occasion to change or pass y our plate during dinner, be careful and remove your knife and fork, that the plate alone may be taken, but after you have finished your dinner, cross the knife and fork on the plate, that the servant may take all away, before bringing you clean ones for dessert. (6)
Upon leaving the table, lay your napkin beside your plate, but do not fold it. (6)
It is generally the custom in this country for ladies to retain their seats at the table till the end of the feast, but if they withdraw, the gentlemen all rise when they leave the table, and remain standing until they have left the room. (6)
Do not leave the table until the lady of the house gives the signal, and when you leave offer your arm to the lady whom you escorted to the table. (6)
Before rising from the supper-table, be assured that the majority are prepared to leave. Should there be insufficient room for presenting your arm to the lady, let her precede you; conduct her to the ball-room or ladies' sitting-room, as she may prefer; and as soon as dancing is resumed, be prepared to take part with your partner. (4)
Leaving the Ball
No gentleman should offer his services to conduct a lady home, without
being acquainted with her, unless he have been requested so to do by the host.
From a private ball retire quietly, unobserved. It is not necessary even to say good-night, for when people are seen to be leaving, it often breaks up the party. An opportunity, however, may previously be sought of intimating to the hostess your intention to retire, which is more respectful. A gentleman must be ready to leave the party whenever his companion wishes to do so. (2)
(1) Hale, Sarah J. Manners; or, Happy Homes and Good Society All the Year
J. E. Tilton and Co., 1868.
(2) Hartley, Cecil B. The Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness. Boston: G. W. Cottrell, 1860.
(3) Hill, Thomas E. Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms: A Guide to Correct Writing. Chicago: Hill Standard Book Co., 1886.
(4) Hillgrove, Thomas. A Complete Practical Guide to the Art of Dancing, Containing Descriptions of All Fashionable and Approved Dances, Full Directions for Calling the Figures, the Amount of Music Required; Hints on Etiquette, the Toilet, etc. New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1868.
(5) Lunettes, Henry (pseud. of Margaret C. Conkling). The American Gentleman's Guide to Politeness and Fashion. New York: Derby & Jackson, 1858.
(6) Martine, Arthur. Martine's Hand-book of Etiquette, and Guide to True Politeness. New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1866, in Civil War Era Etiquette: Martine's Handbook & Vulgarisms in Conversation. Edited by R. L. Shep. Mendocino, Ca.: R. L. Shep, 1988.
Kasson, John F. Rudeness
and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth
Century Urban America. New
York: Hill and
Schlesinger, Arthur M. Learning How to Behave: A Historical Study of American Etiquette Books. New
York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1968.
Wecter, Dixon. The Saga of American Society: A Record of Social Aspiration, 1806-1937. New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1937.
Wilson, Charles Reagan. "Manners" in Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and
William Ferris. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
For a selection of online 19th century dance manuals,