Manners are different in every country; but true politeness is everywhere the same. Manners,
which take up so much of our attention, are only artificial helps which ignorance assumes in
order to imitate politeness, which is the result of good sense and good nature. A person
possessed of those qualities, though he had never seen a court, is truly agreeable; and if
without them, would continue a clown, though he had been all his life a gentleman usher. He
who assumes airs of importance exhibits his credentials of insignificance. There is no policy
like politeness; and a good manner is the best thing in the world to get a good name, or to
supply the want of it. Good manners are a part of good morals, and it is as much our duty as
our interest to practice in both. Good manners is the art of making those around us easy.
Whoever makes the fewest persons uneasy is the best bred man in the company. Good manners
should begin at home. Politeness is not an article to be worn in all dress only, to be put on
when we have a complimentary visit. A person never appears so ridiculous by the qualities he
has, as by those he affects to have. He gains more by being contented to be seen as he is, than
by attempting to appear what he is not. Good manners is 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. "Manners make the man," says the proverb. It may be true that some
men's manners have been the making of them; but as manners are rather the expression of the
man, it would be more proper to say - the man makes the manners. Social courtesies should
emanate from the heart, for remember always that the worth of manners consists in their
being the sincere expression of feelings. Like the dial of the watch, they should indicate that
the work within is good and true.
The young should be mannerly, but they feel timid, bashful and self-distrustful the moment
they are addressed by a stranger, or appear in company. There is but one way to get over this
feeling, and acquire easy and graceful manners, and that is to do the best they can at home as
well as abroad. Good manners are not learned so much as acquired by habit. They grow upon
us by use. WE must be courteous, agreeable, civil, kind, gentlemanly, and manly at home, and
then it will become a kind of second nature everywhere. A coarse, rough manner at home,
begets a habit of roughness, which we cannot lay off if we try, when we go among strangers.
The most agreeable persons in company are those who are the most agreeable at home. Home
is the school for all the best things.
Good manners are an essential part of life-education, and their importance cannot be too
largely magnified, when w consider that they are the outward expression of an inward virtue.
And who often is this exhibition of the virtues of frankness, gentleness and sweet simplicity, the
safest and surest recommendation of those who come to us as strangers in quest of friendly aid.
It is quite marvellous, from the fact that by no special training, no aristocratic examples, no
conventionalities but those of nature, the gifts of good sense, a true sense of propriety and
native tact, are sufficient qualifications to enable us to glide freely and irreproachably among
the elaborated subjects of a regal court. A foreigner once remarked to me, "An American is
received in any circle in England," but were we boorish in manner, and without mental
accomplishments, this privilege would not be accorded us.
The true art of being agreeable is to appear well pleased with all the company, and rather to
seem well entertained with them, than to bring entertainment to them. A man thus disposed,
perhaps, may not have much sense, learning, nor any wit, but if he have common sense and
something friendly in his behavior, it conciliates men's minds more than the brightest parts
without this disposition; it is true indeed that we should not dissemble and flatter in company;
but a man may be very agreeable, strictly consistent with truth and sincerity, by a prudent
silence where he cannot concur, and a pleasing assent where he can. Now and then you meet
with a person so exactly formed to please that he will gain upon every one who hears or
beholds him; this disposition is not merely the gift of nature, but frequently the effect of much
knowledge of the world, and a command over the passions.
It is unfortunate that the agreeable should be so often found in unison with the frivolous, for
frivolity makes great encroachments upon dignity.
Levity of manners is prejudicial to every virtue. Avoid all sourness and austerity of manners.
Virtue is a pleasant and agreeable quality, and gay and civil wisdom is always engaging.
There are a thousand pretty, engaging little ways, which every person may put on, without
running the risk of being deemed either affected or foppish. The sweet smile; the quiet, cordial
bow; the earnest movement in addressing a friend - more especially a stranger - whom one
may recommend to our good regards; the inquiring glance; the graceful attention, which is so
captivating when united with self-possession; these will secure us the good regards of even a
churl. Above all, there is a certain softness of manner which should be cultivated, and which,
in either man or woman, addes a charm that always entirely compensates for a lack of beauty.
Lord Chatham, who was almost as remarkable for his manners as for his eloquence and public
spirit, has thus defended good breeding: "Benevolence is trifles, or a preference of others to
ourselves in the little daily occurrences of life."
Says Emerson, "I wish cities would teach their best lesson - of quiet manners." It is the foible
especially of American youth - pretension. The mark of the man of the world is absence of
pretension. He does not make a speech; he takes a low business tone, avoids all brag, is
nobody, dresses plainly, promises not at all, performs much, speaks in monosyllables, hugs his
facts. He calls his employment by its lowest name, and so takes from evil tongues their sharpest
weapon. His conversation clings to the weather and the news, yet he allows himself to be
surprised into thought, and the unlocking of his learning and philosophy.
One of the most marked tests of character is the manner in which we conduct ourselves
toward others. A graceful behavior toward superiors, inferiors, and equals, is a constant
source of pleasure. It pleases others because it indicates respect for their personality, but it
gives tenfold more pleasure to ourselves. Every man my to a large extent be a self-educator in
good behavior, as in everything else; he can be civil and kind, if he will, though he have not a
penny in his purse.
If dignity exist in the mind, it will not be wanting in the manners. When no seat was offered to
the Indian chief Tecumseh, in the council, and he exclaimed, in a spirit of elevated but
offended pride, (at the same time wrapping his blanket around him), "The sun is my father,
and the earth is my mother, I will recline upon her bosom," and then seated himself upon the
ground, he displayed a striking instance of genuine and manly dignity. He might have stood
for centuries, making Parisian attitudes and grimaces,
"With studied gestures or well-practiced smiles,"
and not have been half so noble, commanding and dignified, as by this sublime expression and
this simple act.
Dr. Hall says: "The language of a man is a reasonable good index of his character: the triffler
abounds in slang words and slang phrases; the vulgar and low bred use most glibly the
depreciative adjective; they revel in the expletives of liar, scoundrel, swindler; the educated,
the cultivated, and the refined, speak softly, quietly, gently; every word is uttered with
composure, even under circumstances of aggravation; if annoyed, their severest reproof is
expressive silence; and always they maintain their self-respect."
Manners are the ornament of action; and there is a way of speaking a kind word, or of doing a
kind thing, which greatly enhances their value. What seems to be done with a grudge, or as an
act of condescension, is scarcely accepted as a favor. Yet there are men who pride themselves
upon their gruffness; and though they may possess virtue and capacity, their manner is often
formed to render them almost insupportable. It is difficult to like a man who, though he may
not pull your nose, habitually wounds your self-respect, and takes a pride in saying
disagreeable things to you. There are others who are dreadfully condescending, and cannot
avoid seizing upon every small opportunity of making their greatness felt.
The cultivation of manner - though in excess it is foppish and foolish - is highly necessary in a
person who has occasion to negotiate with others in matters of business. Affability and good
breeding may even be regarded as essential to the success of a man in any eminent station and
enlarged sphere of life; for the want of it has not unfrequently been found in a great measure
to neutralize the results of much industry, integrity, and honesty of character. There are, no
doubt, a few strong tolerant minds which can bear with defects and angularities of manner,
and look only to the more genuine qualities; but the world at large is not so forbearing, and
cannot help forming its judgements and likings mainly according to outward conduct.
Agreeable manners contribute wonderfully to a man's success. Take two men, possessing equal
advantages in every other respect; but let one be gentlemanly, kind, obliging and conciliating;
the other disobliging, rude, harsh and insolent, and the one will become rich while the other
Good manners are not only an embellishment to personal charms, but an excellent substitute
for them when they do not exist. When the attractions of beauty have disappeared, there
should be an elegance and refinement of manner to supply their place. Beauty is the gift of
nature, but manners are acquired by cultivation and practice; and the neglect of them is
seldom pardoned by the world, which exacts this deference to its opinions, and this conformity
to the least mistakable of its judgments.
The accomplishments so much esteemed in some part of the world, may be disregarded
elsewhere, but wisdom and virtue, intelligence and worth, are universally respected and
appreciated, and exhibit that kind of deportment which is everywhere approved and honored.
If Christianity had no higher recommendation that this, that it makes a man a gentleman, it
would still be an invaluable element. The New Testament inculcates good manners. Our Savior
was courteous even to his persecutors. Look at Paul before Agrippa! His speech is a model of
dignified courtesy as well as of persuasive eloquence. A spirit of kindly consideration for all
men characterized the Twelve. The same mild, self-sacrificing spirit which pervaded the
sayings and doings of the early disciples is exhibited by the true followers of the cross at the
present day. A man, it is true, may be superficially polite without being a Christian; but a
Christian, by the very conditions of his creed and the obligations of his faith, is necessarily in
mind and soul - and therefore in word and act - a gentleman.
The Royal Path of Life - Aims and Aids to Success and Happiness - 1882 by T.L. Haines & L.W. Yaggy