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The Laws of Etiquette, by A Gentleman

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Title: The Laws of Etiquette

Author:  A Gentleman

Release Date: May, 2004  [EBook #5681]
[Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule]
[This file was first posted on August 7, 2002]

Edition: 10

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


This eBook was produced by Holly Ingraham

Summary: A short book on manners and proper behavior for a
gentleman, as opposed to a man of fashion. The mood is cool and
self-serving, with the self-restraint, even two-facedness, of the
time (1836). Notable for the funny short chapter on travelling in
a public coach and a very large chapter mostly of Beau Brummel
Short Rules and Reflections

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1836,
By Carey, Lea, and Blanchard,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the Eastern
District of Pennsylvania.

Haswell & Barrington, Printers,
St. James Street.

The author of the present volume has endeavoured to embody,
in as short a space as possible, some of the results of his
own experience and observation in society, and submits the
work to the public, with the hope that the remarks which are
contained in it, may prove available for the benefit of
others. It is, of course, scarcely possible that anything
original should be found in a volume like this: almost all
that it contains must have fallen under the notice of every
man of penetration who has been in the habit of frequenting
good society. Many of the precepts have probably been
contained in works of a similar character which have appeared
in England and France since the days of Lord Chesterfield.
Nothing however has been copied from them in the compilation
of this work, the author having in fact scarcely any
acquaintance with books of this description, and many years
having elapsed since he has opened even the pages of the
noble oracle. He has drawn entirely from his own resources,
with the exception of some hints for arrangement, and a few
brief reflections, which have been derived from the French.
The present volume is almost apart from criticism. It has no
pretensions to be judged as a literary work--its sole merit
depending upon its correctness and fitness of application.
Upon these grounds he ventures to hope for it a favourable
The great error into which nearly all foreigners and most
Americans fall, who write or speak of society in this
country, arises from confounding the political with the
social system. In most other countries, in England, France,
and all those nations whose government is monarchical or
aristocratic, these systems are indeed similar. Society is
there intimately connected with the government, and the
distinctions in one are the origin of gradations in the
other. The chief part of the society of the kingdom is
assembled in the capital, and the same persons who legislate
for the country legislate also for it. But in America the two
systems are totally unconnected, and altogether different in
character. In remodelling the form of the administration,
society remained unrepublican. There is perfect freedom of
political privilege, all are the same upon the hustings, or
at a political meeting; but this equality does not extend to
the drawing-room or the parlour. None are excluded from the
highest councils of the nation, but it does not follow that
all can enter into the highest ranks, of society. In point of
fact, we think that there is more exclusiveness in the
society of this country, than there is in that even of
England--far more than there is in France. And the
explanation may perhaps be found in the fact which we hate
mentioned above. There being there less danger of permanent
disarrangement or confusion of ranks by the occasional
admission of the low-born aspirant, there does not exist the
same necessity for a jealous guarding of the barriers as
there does here. The distinction of classes, also, after the
first or second, is actually more clearly defined, and more
rigidly observed in America, than in any country of Europe.
Persons unaccustomed to look searchingly at these matters,
may be surprised to hear it; but we know from observation,
that there are among the respectable, in any city of the
United States, at least ten distinct ranks. We cannot, of
course, here point them out, because we could not do it
without mentioning names.
Every man is naturally desirous of finding entrance into the
best society of his country, and it becomes therefore a
matter of importance to ascertain what qualifications are
demanded for admittance.
A writer who is popularly unpopular, has remarked, that the
test of standing in Boston, is literary eminence; in New
York, wealth; and in Philadelphia, purity of blood.
To this remark, we can only oppose our opinion, that none of
these are indispensable, and none of them sufficient. The
society of this country, unlike that of England, does not
court literary talent. We have cases in our recollection,
which prove the remark, in relation to the highest ranks,
even of Boston. Wealth has no pretensions to be the standard
anywhere. In New York, the Liverpool of America, although the
rich may make greater display and _bruit,_ yet all of the
merely rich, will find that there does exist a small and
unchanging circle, whether above or below them, 'it is not
ours to say,' yet completely apart from them, into which they
would rejoice to find entrance, and from which they would be
glad to receive emigrants.
Whatever may be the accomplishments necessary to render one
capable of reaching the highest platform of social eminence,
and it is not easy to define clearly what they are, there is
one thing, and one alone, which will enable any man to
_retain_ his station there; and that is, GOOD BREEDING.
Without it, we believe that literature, wealth, and even
blood, will be unsuccessful. By it, if it co-exist with a
certain capacity of affording pleasure by conversation, any
one, we imagine, could frequent the very best society in
every city of America, and _perhaps the very best alone._ To
obtain, then, the manners of a gentleman is a matter of no
small importance.
We do not pretend that a man will be metamorphosed into a
gentleman by reading this book, or any other book. Refined
manners are like refined style which Cicero compares to the
colour of the cheeks, which is not acquired by sudden or
violent exposure to heat, but by continual walking in the
sun. Good manners can certainly only be acquired by much
usage in good company. But there are a number of little
forms, imperiously enacted by custom, which may be taught in
this manner, and the conscious ignorance of which often
prevents persons from going into company at all.
These forms may be abundantly absurd, but still they _must_
be attended to; for one half the world does and always will
observe them, and the other half is at a great disadvantage
if it does not. Intercourse is constantly taking place, and
an awkward man of letters, in the society of a polished man
of the world, is like a strong man contending with a skilful
fencer. Mr. Addison says, that he once saw the ablest
mathematician in the kingdom utterly embarrassed, from not
knowing whether he ought to stand or sit when my lord duke
drank his health.
Some of the many errors which are liable to be committed
through ignorance of usage, are pleasantly pointed out in the
following story, which is related by a French writer.
The Abbé Cosson, professor in the _College Mazarin,_
thoroughly accomplished in the art of teaching, saturated
with Greek, Latin, and literature, considered himself a
perfect well of science: he had no conception that a man who
knew all Persius and Horace by heart could possibly commit an
error--above all, an error at table. But it was not long
before he discovered his mistake. One day, after dining with
the Abbé de Radonvillers at Versailles, in company with
several courtiers and marshals of France, he was boasting of
the rare acquaintance with etiquette and custom which he had
exhibited at dinner. The Abbé Delille, who heard this eulogy
upon his own conduct, interrupted his harangue, by offering
to wager that he had committed at least a hundred
improprieties at the table. "How is it possible!" exclaimed
Cosson. "I did exactly like the rest of the company."
"What absurdity!" said the other. "You did a thousand things
which no one else did. First, when you sat down at the table,
what did you do with your napkin?" "My napkin? Why just what
every body else did with theirs. I unfolded it entire]y, and
fastened it to my buttonhole." "Well, my dear friend," said
Delille, "you were the only one that did _that,_ at all
events. No one hangs up his napkin in that style; they are
contented with placing it on their knees. And what did you,
do when you took your soup?" "Like the others, I believe. I
took my spoon in one hand, and my fork in the other--" "Your
fork! Who ever eat soup with a fork?--But to proceed; after
your soup, what did you eat?" "A fresh egg." "And what did
you do with the shell?" "Handed it to the servant who stood
behind my chair." "With out breaking it?" "Without breaking
it, of course." "Well, my dear Abbé, nobody ever eats an egg
without breaking the shell. And after your egg--?" "I asked
the Abbé Radonvillers to send me a piece of the hen near
him." "Bless my soul! a piece of the _hen_? You never speak
of hens excepting in the barn-yard. You should have asked for
fowl or chicken. But you say nothing of your mode of
drinking." "Like all the rest, I asked for _claret_ and
_champagne._" "Let me inform you, then, that persons always
ask for _claret wine_ and _champagne wine._ But, tell me, how
did you eat your bread?" "Surely I did that properly. I cut
it with my knife, in the most regular manner possible."
"Bread should always be broken, not cut. But the coffee, how
did you manage it?" "It was rather too hot, and I poured a
little of it into my saucer." "Well, you committed here the
greatest fault of all. You should never pour your coffee
into the saucer, but always drink it from the cup." The poor
Abbé was confounded. He felt that though one might be master
of the seven sciences, yet that there was another species of
knowledge which, if less dignified, was equally important.
This occurred many years ago, but there is not one of the
observances neglected by the Abbé Cosson, which is not
enforced with equal rigidness in the present day.
The formalities of refined society were at first established
for the purpose of facilitating the intercourse of persons of
the same standing, and increasing the happiness of all to
whom they apply. They are now kept up, both to assist the
convenience of intercourse and to prevent too great
familiarity. If they are carried too far, and escape from the
control of good sense, they become impediments to enjoyment.
Among the Chinese they serve only the purpose of annoying to
an incalculable degree. "The government," says De Marcy, in
writing of China, "constantly applies itself to preserve, not
only in the court and among the great, but among the people
themselves, a constant habit of civility and courtesy. The
Chinese have an infinity of books upon such subjects; one of
these treatises contains more than three thousand articles.--
Everything is pointed out with the most minute detail; the
manner of saluting, of visiting, of making presents, of
writing letters, of eating, etc.: and these customs have the
force of laws--no one can dispense with them. There is a
special tribunal at Peking, of which it is one of the chief
duties, to ensure the observance of these civil ordinances?"
One would think that one was here reading an account of the
capital of France. It depends, then, upon the spirit in which
these forms are observed, whether their result shall be
beneficial or not. The French and the Chinese are the most
formal of all the nations. Yet the one is the stiffest and
most distant; the other, the easiest and most social.
"We may define politeness," says La Bruyére, "though we
cannot tell where to fix it in practice. It observes received
usages and customs, is bound to times and places, and is not
the same thing in the two sexes or in different conditions.
Wit alone cannot obtain it: it is acquired and brought to
perfection by emulation. Some dispositions alone are
susceptible of politeness, as others are only capable of
great talents or solid virtues. It is true politeness puts
merit forward, and renders it agreeable, and a man must have
eminent qualifications to support himself without it."
Perhaps even the greatest merit cannot successfully straggle
against unfortunate and disagreeable manners. Lord
Chesterfield says that the Duke of Marlborough owed his first
promotions to the suavity of his manners, and that without it
he could not have risen.
La Bruyére has elsewhere given this happy definition of
politeness, the other passage being rather a description of
it. "Politeness seems to be a certain care, by the manner of
our words and actions, to make others pleased with us and
We must here stop to point out an error which is often
committed both in practice and opinion, and which consists in
confounding together the gentleman and the man of fashion. No
two characters can be more distinct than these. Good sense
and self-respect are the foundations of the one--notoriety
and influence the objects of the other. Men of fashion are to
be seen everywhere: a pure and mere gentleman is the rarest
thing alive. Brummel was a man of fashion; but it would be a
perversion of terms to apply to him "a very expressive word
in our language,--a word, denoting an assemblage of many real
virtues and of many qualities approaching to virtues, and an
union of manners at once pleasing and commanding respect,--
the word gentleman."* The requisites to compose this last
character are natural ease of manner, and an acquaintance
with the "outward habit of encounter"--dignity and self-
possession--a respect for all the decencies of life, and
perfect freedom from all affectation. Dr. Johnson's bearing
during his interview with the king showed him to be a
thorough gentleman, and demonstrates how rare and elevated
that character is. When his majesty expressed in the language
of compliment his high opinion of Johnson's merits, the
latter bowed in silence. If Chesterfield could have retained
sufficient presence of mind to have done the same on such an
occasion, he would have applauded himself to the end of his
days. So delicate is the nature of those qualities that
constitute a gentleman, that there is but one exhibition of
this description of persons in all the literary and dramatic
fictions from Shakespeare downward. Scott has not attempted
it. Bulwer, in "Pelham," has shot wide of the mark. It was
reserved for the author of two very singular productions,
"Sydenham" and its continuation "Alice Paulet"--works of
extraordinary merits and extraordinary faults--to portray
this character completely, in the person of Mr. Paulet
* Charles Butler's Reminiscences
First impressions are apt to be permanent; it is therefore of
importance that they should be favourable. The dress of an
individual is that circumstance from which you first form
your opinion of him. It is even more prominent than manner,
It is indeed the only thing which is remarked in a casual
encounter, or during the first interview. It, therefore,
should be the first care.
What style is to our thoughts, dress is to our persons. It
may supply the place of more solid qualities, and without it
the most solid are of little avail. Numbers have owed their
elevation to their attention to the toilet. Place, fortune,
marriage have all been lost by neglecting it. A man need not
mingle long with the world to find occasion to exclaim with
Sedaine, "Ah! mon habit, que je vous remercie!" In spite of
the proverb, the dress often _does_ make the monk.
Your dress should always be consistent with your age and your
natural exterior. That which looks outré on one man, will be
agreeable on another. As success in this respect depends
almost entirely upon particular circumstances and personal
peculiarities, it is impossible to give general directions of
much importance. We can only point out the field for study
and research; it belongs to each one's own genius and
industry to deduce the results. However ugly you may be, rest
assured that there is some style of habiliment which will
make you passable.
If, for example, you have a stain upon your cheek which
rivals in brilliancy the best Chateau-Margout; or, are
afflicted with a nose whose lustre dims the ruby, you may
employ such hues of dress, that the eye, instead of being
shocked by the strangeness of the defect, will be charmed by
the graceful harmony of the colours. Every one cannot indeed
be an Adonis, but it is his own fault if he is an Esop.
If you have bad, squinting eyes, which have lost their lashes
and are bordered with red, you should wear spectacles. If the
defect be great, your glasses should be coloured. In such
cases emulate the sky rather than the sea: green spectacles
are an abomination, fitted only for students in divinity,--
blue ones are respectable and even _distingue._
Almost every defect of face may be concealed by a judicious
use and arrangement of hair. Take care, however, that your
hair be not of one colour and your whiskers of another; and
let your wig be large enough to cover the _whole_ of your red
or white hair.
It is evident, therefore, that though a man may be ugly,
there is no necessity for his being shocking. Would that all
men were convinced of this! I verily believe that if Mr. --
in his walking-dress, and Mr. -- in his evening costume were
to meet alone, in some solitary place, where there was
nothing to divert their attention from one another, they
would expire of mutual hideousness.
If you have any defect, so striking and so ridiculous as to
procure you a _nickname_ then indeed there is but one
remedy,--renounce society.
In the morning, before eleven o'clock even if you go out, you
should not be dressed. You would be stamped a _parvenu_ if
you were seen in anything better than a reputable old frock
coat. If you remain at home, and are a bachelor, it is
permitted to receive visitors in a morning gown. In summer,
calico; in winter, figured cloth, faced with fur. At dinner,
a coat, of course, is indispensable.
The effect of a frock coat is to conceal the height. If,
therefore, you are beneath the ordinary statue, or much above
it, you should affect frock coats on all occasions that
etiquette permits.
Before going to a ball or party it is not sufficient that you
consult your mirror twenty times. You must be personally
inspected by your servant or a friend. Through defect of
this, I once saw a gentleman enter a ball-room, attired with
scrupulous elegance, but with one of his suspenders curling
in graceful festoons about his feet. His glass could not show
what was behind.
If you are about to present yourself in a company composed
only of men, you may wear boots. If there be but one lady
present, pumps and silk-stockings are indispensable.
There is a common proverb which says, that if a man be well
dressed as to head and feet, he may present himself
everywhere. The assertion is as false as Mr. Kemble's voice.
Happy indeed if it were necessary to perfect only the
extremities. The coat, the waistcoat, the gloves, and, above
all, the cravat, must be alike ignorant of blemish.
Upon the subject of the cravat--(for heaven's sake and
Brummel's, never appear in a stock after twelve o'clock)--We
cannot at present say anything. If we were to say anything,
we could not be content without saying all, and to say all
would require a folio. A book has been published upon the
subject, entitled "The Cravat considered in its moral,
literary, political, military, and religious attributes."
This and a clever, though less profound, treatise on "The art
of tying the Cravat," are as indispensable to a gentleman as
an ice at twelve o'clock.
When we speak of excellence in dress we do not mean richness
of clothing, nor manifested elaboration. Faultless propriety,
perfect harmony, and a refined simplicity,--these are the
charms which fascinate here.
It is as great a sin to be finical in dress as to be
Upon this subject the ladies are the only infallible oracles.
Apart from the perfection to which they must of necessity
arrive, from devoting their entire existence to such
considerations, they seem to be endued with an inexpressible
tact, a sort of sixth sense, which reveals intuitively the
proper distinctions. That your dress is approved by a man is
nothing;--you cannot enjoy the high satisfaction of being
perfectly comme il faut, until your performance has received
the seal of a woman's approbation.
If the benefits to be derived from cultivating your exterior
do not appear sufficiently powerful to induce attention, the
inconveniences arising from too great disregard may perhaps
prevail. Sir Matthew Hale, in the earlier part of his life,
dressed so badly that he was once seized by the press-gang.
Not long since, as I entered the hall of a public hotel, I
saw a person so villainously habited, that supposing him to
be one of the servants, I desired him to take my luggage
upstairs, and was on the point of offering him a shilling,
when I discovered that I was addressing the Honorable Mr. * *
*, one of the most eminent American statesmen.
The salutation, says a French writer, is the touchstone of
good breeding. According to circumstances, it should be
respectful, cordial, civil, affectionate or familiar:--an
inclination of the head, a gesture with the hand, the
touching or doffing of the hat.
If you remove your hat you need not at the same time bend the
dorsal vertebræ of your body, unless you wish to be very
reverential, as in saluting a bishop.
It is a mark of high breeding not to speak to a lady in the
street, until you perceive that she has noticed you by an
inclination of the head.
Some ladies _courtesy_ in the street, a movement not
gracefully consistent with locomotion. They should always
If an individual of the lowest rank, or without any rank at
all, takes off his hat to you, you should do the same in
return. A bow, says La Fontaine, is a note drawn at sight. If
you acknowledge it, you must pay the full amount. The two
best-bred men in England, Charles the Second and George the
Fourth, never failed to take off their hats to the meanest of
their subjects.
Avoid condescending bows to your friends and equals. If you
meet a rich parvenu, whose consequence you wish to reprove,
you may salute him in a very patronizing manner: or else, in
acknowledging his bow, look somewhat surprised and say,
If you have remarkably fine teeth, you may smile
affectionately upon the bowee, without speaking.
In passing ladies of rank, whom you meet in society, bow, but
do not speak.
If you have anything to say to any one in the street,
especially a lady, however intimate you may be, do not stop
the person, but turn round and walk in company; you can take
leave at the end of the street.
If there is any one of your acquaintance, with whom you have
a difference, do not avoid looking at him, unless from the
nature of things the quarrel is necessarily for life. It is
almost always better to bow with cold civility, though
without speaking.
As a general rule never _cut_ any one in the street. Even
political and steamboat acquaintances should be noticed by
the slightest movement in the world. If they presume to
converse with you, or stop you to introduce their companion,
it is then time to use your eye-glass, and say, "I never knew
If you address a lady in the open air, you remain uncovered
until she has desired you _twice_ to put on your hat. In
general, if you are in any place where _etiquette_ requires
you to remain uncovered or standing, and a lady, or one much
your superior, requests you to be covered or to sit, you may
how off the command. If it is repeated, you should comply.
You thereby pay the person a marked, but delicate,
compliment, by allowing their will to be superior to the
general obligations of etiquette.
When two Americans, who "have not been introduced," meet in
some public place, as in a theatre, a stagecoach, or a
steamboat, they will sit for an hour staring in one another's
faces, but without a word of conversation. This form of
unpoliteness has been adopted from the English, and it is as
little worthy of imitation as the form of their government.
Good sense and convenience are the foundations of good
breeding; and it is assuredly vastly more reasonable and more
agreeable to enjoy a passing gratification, when no sequent
evil is to be apprehended, than to be rendered uncomfortable
by an ill-founded pride. It is therefore better to carry on
an easy and civil conversation. A snuff-box, or some polite
accommodation rendered, may serve for an opening. Talk only
about generalities,--the play, the roads, the weather. Avoid
speaking of persons or politics, for, if the individual is of
the opposite party to yourself, you will be engaged in a
controversy: if he holds the same opinions, you will be
overwhelmed with a flood of vulgar intelligence, which may
soil your mind. Be reservedly civil while the colloquy lasts,
and let the acquaintance cease with the occasion.
When you are introduced to a gentleman do not give your hand,
but merely bow with politeness: and if you have requested the
introduction, or know the person by reputation, you may make
a speech. I am aware that high authority might easily be
found in this country to sanction the custom of giving the
hand upon a first meeting, but it is undoubtedly a solecism
in manners. The habit has been adopted by us, with some
improvement for the worse, from France. When two Frenchmen
are presented to one another, each _presses_ the other's hand
with delicate affection. The English, however, never do so:
and the practice, if abstractly correct, is altogether
inconsistent with the caution of manner which is
characteristic of their nation and our own. If we are to
follow the French, in shaking hands with one whom we have
never before seen, we should certainly imitate them also in
kissing our _intimate_ male acquaintances. If, however, you
ought only to bow to a new acquaintance, you surely should do
more to old ones. If you meet an intimate friend fifty times
in a morning, give your hand every time,--an observance of
propriety, which, though worthy of universal adoption, is in
this country only followed by the purists in politeness. The
requisitions of etiquette, if they should be obeyed at all,
should be obeyed fully. This decent formality prevents
acquaintance from being too distant, while, at the same time,
it preserves the "familiar" from becoming "vulgar." They may
be little things, but
"These little things are great to little men."
The grand object for which a gentleman exists, is to excel in
company. Conversation is the mean of his distinction,--the
drawing-room the scene of his glory.
When you enter a drawing-room, where there is a ball or a
party, you salute the lady of the house before speaking to
any one else. Even your most intimate friends are enveloped
in an opaque atmosphere until you have made your bow to your
entertainer. We must take occasion here to obelize a custom
which prevails too generally in this country. The company
enter the back door of the back parlour, and the mistress of
the house is seated at the other extremity of the front
parlour. It is therefore necessary to traverse the length of
two rooms in order to reach her. A voyage of this kind is by
no means an easy undertaking, when there are Circes and
Calypsos assailing one on every side; and when one has
reached the conclusion, one cannot perhaps distinguish the
object of one's search at a _coup d'oeil._ It would be in
every point of view more appropriate if the lady were to
stand directly opposite to the door of the back parlour. Such
is the custom in the best companies abroad. Upon a single
gentleman entering at a late hour, it is not so obligatory to
speak first to the mistress of the ceremonies. He may be
allowed to converge his way up to her. When you leave a room
before the others, go without speaking to any one, and, if
possible, unseen.
Never permit the sanctity of the drawing-room to be violated
by a boot.
Fashionable society is divided into _sets,_ in all of which
there is some peculiarity of manner, or some dominant tone of
feeling. It is necessary to study these peculiarities before
entering the circle.
In each of these sets there is generally some _gentleman,_
who rules, and gives it its character, or, rather, who is not
ruler, but the first and most favoured subject, and the prime
minister of the ladies' will. Him you must endeavour to
imitate, taking care not to imitate him so well as to excel
him. To differ in manner or opinion from him is to render
yourself unfit for that circle. To speak disrespectfully of
him is to insult personally every lady who composes it.
In company, though none are "free," yet all are "equal." All
therefore whom you meet, should be treated with equal
respect, although interest may dictate toward each different
degrees of attention. It is disrespectful to the inviter to
shun any of her guests. Those whom she has honoured by asking
to her house, you should sanction by admitting to your
If you meet any one whom you have never heard of before at
the table of a gentleman, or in the drawing-room of a lady,
you may converse with him with entire propriety. The form of
"introduction" is nothing more than a statement by a mutual
friend that two gentlemen are by rank and manners fit
acquaintances for one another. All this may be presumed from
the fact, that both meet at a respectable house. This is the
theory of the matter. Custom, however, requires that you
should take the earliest opportunity afterwards to be
regularly presented to such an one.
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 professions. Do not talk of politics with 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. The one
considers that "Tous les hommes sont égaux devant la
politesse:" the other remembers that though it may be
agreeable to be patronised and assisted, yet it is still more
agreeable to be treated as if you needed no patronage, and
were above assistance.
Sir Joshua Reynolds once received from two noblemen
invitations to visit them on Sunday morning. The first, whom
he waited upon, welcomed him with the most obsequious
condescension, treated him with all the attention in the
world, professed that he was so desirous of seeing him, that
he had mentioned Sunday as the time for his visit, supposing
him to be too much engaged during the week, to spare time
enough for the purpose, concluded his compliments by an
eulogy on painting, and smiled him affectionately to the
door. Sir Joshua left him, to call upon the other. That one
received him with respectful civility, and behaved to him as
he would have behaved to an equal in the peerage:--said
nothing about Raphael nor Correggio, but conversed with ease
about literature and men. This nobleman was the Earl of
Chesterfield. Sir Joshua felt, that though the one had said
that he respected him, the other had proved that he did, and
went away from this one gratified rather than from the first.
Reader, there is wisdom in this anecdote. Mark, learn, and
inwardly digest it: and let this be the moral which you
deduce,--that there is distinction in society, but that there
are no distinctions.
The great business in company is conversation. It should be
studied as art. Style in conversation is as important, and as
capable of cultivation as style in writing. The manner of
saying things is what gives them their value.
The most important requisite for succeeding here, is constant
and unfaltering attention. That which Churchill has noted as
the greatest virtue on the stage, is also the most necessary
in company,--to be "always attentive to the business of the
scene." Your understanding should, like your person, be armed
at all points. Never go into society with your mind _en
deshabille._ It is fatal to success to be all absent or
_distrait._ The secret of conversation has been said to
consist in building upon the remark of your companion. Men of
the strongest minds, who have solitary habits and bookish
dispositions, rarely excel in sprightly colloquy, because
they seize upon the _thing_ itself,--the subject abstractly,--
instead of attending to the _language_ of other speakers,
and do not cultivate _verbal_ pleasantries and refinements.
He who does otherwise gains a reputation for quickness, and
pleases by showing that he has regarded the observation of
It is an error to suppose that conversation consists in
talking. A more important thing is to listen discreetly.
Mirabeau said, that to succeed in the world, it is necessary
to submit to be taught many things which you understand, by
persons who know nothing about them. Flattery is the
smoothest path to success; and the most refined and
gratifying compliment you can pay, is to listen. "The wit of
conversation consists more in finding it in others," says La
Bruyére, "than in showing a great deal yourself: he who goes
from your conversation pleased with himself and his own wit,
is perfectly well pleased with you. Most men had rather
please than admire you, and seek less to be instructed,--nay,
delighted,--than to be approved and applauded. The most
delicate pleasure is to please another."
It is certainly proper enough to convince others of your
merits. But the highest idea which you can give a man of your
own penetration, is to be thoroughly impressed with his.
Patience is a social engine, as well as a Christian virtue.
To listen, to wait, and to he wearied are the certain
elements of good fortune.
If there be any foreigner present at a dinner party, or small
evening party, who does not understand the language which is
spoken, good breeding requires that the conversation should
be carried on entirely in his language. Even among your most
intimate friends, never address any one in a language not
understood by all the others. It is as bad as whispering.
Never speak to any one in company about a private affair
which is not understood by others, as asking how _tha_t
matter is coming on, &c. In so doing you indicate your
opinion that the rest are _de trop._ If you wish to make any
such inquiries, always explain to others the business about
which you inquire, if the subject admit of it.
If upon the entrance of a visitor you continue a conversation
begun before, you should always explain the subject to the
If there is any one in the company whom you do not know, be
careful how you let off any epigrams or pleasant little
sarcasms. You might be very witty upon halters to a man whose
father had been hanged. The first requisite for successful
conversation is to know your company well.
We have spoken above of the necessity of relinquishing the
prerogative of our race, and being contented with recipient
silence. There is another precept of a kindred nature to be
observed, namely, not to talk too well when you do talk. You
do not raise yourself much in the opinion of another, if at
the same time that you amuse him, you wound him in the nicest
point,--his self-love. Besides irritating vanity, a constant
flow of wit is excessively fatiguing to the listeners. A
witty man is an agreeable acquaintance, but a tiresome
friend. "The wit of the company, next to the butt of the
company," says Mrs. Montagu, "is the meanest person in it.
The great duty of conversation is to follow suit, as you do
at whist: if the eldest hand plays the deuce of diamonds, let
not his next neighbour dash down the king of hearts, because
his hand is full of honours. I do not love to see a man of
wit win all the tricks in conversation."
In addressing any one, always look at him; and if there are
several present, you will please more by directing some
portion of your conversation, as an anecdote or statement, to
each one individually in turn. This was the great secret of
Sheridan's charming manner. His bon-mots were not numerous.
Never ask a question under any circumstances. In the first
place it is too proud; in the second place, it may be very
inconvenient or very awkward to give a reply. A lady lately
inquired of what branch of medical practice a certain
gentleman was professor. He held the chair of _midwifery_!
It is indispensable for conversation to be well acquainted
with the current news and the historical events of the last
few years. It is not convenient to be quite so far behind the
rest of the world in such matters, as the Courier des Etats-
Unis. That sapient journal lately announced the dethronement
of Charles X. We may expect soon to hear of the accession of
Louis Philippe.
In society never quote. If you get entangled in a dispute
with some learned blockhead, you may silence him with a few
extemporary quotations. Select the author for whom he has the
greatest admiration, and give him a passage in the style of
that writer, which most pointedly condemns the opinion he
supports. If it does not convince him, he will be so much
stunned with amazement that you can make your escape, and
avoid the unpleasant necessity of knocking him down.
The ordinary weapons which one employs in social encounter,
are, whether dignified or not, always at least honourable.
There are some, however, who habitually prefer to bribe the
judge, rather than strengthen their cause. The instrument of
such is flattery. There are, indeed, cases in which a man of
honour may use the same weapon; as there are cases in which a
poisoned sword may be employed for self-defence.
Flattery prevails over all, always, and in all places; it
conquers the conqueror of Danäe: few are beneath it, none
above it: the court, the camp, the church, are the scenes of
its victories, and all mankind the subjects of its triumphs.
It will be acknowledged, then, that a man possesses no very
contemptible power who can flatter skillfully.
The power of flattery may be derived from several sources. It
may be, that the person flattered, finding himself gratified,
and conscious that it is to the flatterer that he is indebted
for this gratification, feels an obligation to him, without
inquiring the reason; or it may be, that imagining ourselves
to stand high in the good opinion of the one that praises us,
We comply with what he desires, rather than forfeit that
esteem: or, finally, flattery may be only a marked
politeness, and we submit ourselves to the control of the
flatterer rather than be guilty of the rudeness of opposing
Flattery never should be direct. It should not be stated, but
inferred. It is better acted than uttered. Flattery should
seem to be the unwitting and even unwilling expression of
genuine admiration. Some very weak persons do not require
that expressions of praise and esteem toward them should be
sincere. They are pleased with the incense, although they
perceive whence it arises: they are pleased that they are of
importance enough to have their favour courted. But in most
eases it is necessary that the flattery should appear to be
the honest offspring of the feelings. _Such_ flattery _must_
succeed; for, it is founded upon a principle in our nature
which is as deep as life; namely, that we always love those
who we think love us.
It is sometimes flattery to accept praises.
Never flatter one person in the presence of another.
Never commend a lady's musical skill to another lady who
herself plays.
It has often, however, a good effect to praise one man to his
particular friend, if it be for something to which that
friend has himself no pretensions.
It is an error to imagine that men are less intoxicated with
flattery than women. The only difference is that esteem must
be expressed to women, but proved to men.
Flattery is of course efficacious to obtain positive
benefits. It is of, more constant use, however, for purposes
of defence. You conquer an attack of rudeness by courtesy:
you avert an attack of accusation by flattery. Every:one
remembers the anecdote of Dr. Johnson and Mr. Ewing.
"Prince," said Napoleon to Talleyrand, "they tell me that you
sometimes speculate improperly in the funds. "They do me
wrong then," said Talleyrand. "But how did you acquire so
much money!" "I bought stock the day before you were
proclaimed First Consul," replied the ex-bishop, "and I sold
it the day after."
Compliments are light skirmishes in the war of flattery, for
the purpose of obtaining an occasional object. They are
little false coins that you receive with one hand and pay
away with the other. To flatter requires a profound knowledge
of human nature and of the character of your subject; to
compliment skillfully, it is sufficient that you are a pupil
of Spurzheim.
It is a common practice with men to abstain from grave
conversation with women. And the habit is in general
judicious. If the woman is young, gay and trifling, talk to
her only of the latest fashions, the gossip of the day, etc.
But this in other cases is not to be done. Most women who are
a little old, particularly married women -- and even some who
are young -- wish to obtain a reputation for intellect and an
acquaintance With science. You therefore pay them a real
compliment, and gratify their self-love, by conversing
occasionally upon grave matters, which they do not
understand, and do not really relish. You may interrupt a
discussion on the beauty of a dahlia, by observing that as
you know that they take an interest in such things you
mention the discovery of a new method of analyzing curves of
double curvature. Men who talk only of trifles will rarely be
popular with women past twenty-five.
Talk to a mother about her children. Women are never tired of
hearing of themselves and their children.
If you go to a house where there are children you should take
especial care to conciliate their good will by a little manly
_tete-a-tete,_ otherwise you may get a ball against your
skins, or be tumbled from a three-legged chair.
To be able to converse with women you must study their
vocabulary. You would make a great mistake in interpreting
_never, forever,_ as they are explained in Johnson.
Do not be for ever telling a woman that she is handsome,
witty, etc. She knows that a vast deal better than you do.
Do not allow your love for one woman to prevent your paying
attention to others. The object of your love is the only one
who ought to perceive it.
A little pride, which reminds you what is due to yourself,
and a little good nature, which suggests what is due to
others, are the pre-requisites for the moral constitution of
a gentleman.
Too much vivacity and too much inertness are both fatal to
politeness. By the former we are hurried too far, by the
latter we are kept too much back.
_Nil admirari,_ the precept of stoicism, is the precept for
conduct among gentlemen. All excitement must be studiously
avoided. When you are with ladies the case is different.
Among them, wonder, astonishment, ecstacy, and enthusiasm,
are necessary in order to be believed.
Never dispute in the presence of other persons. If a man
states an opinion which you cannot adopt, say nothing. If he
states a fact which is of little importance, you may
carelessly assent. When you differ let it be indirectly;
rather a want of assent than actual dissent.
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."
Never ask a lady a question about anything whatever.
It is a point of courtly etiquette which is observed
rigorously by every one who draws nigh, that a question must
never be put to a king.
Never ask a question about the price of a thing. This
horrible error is often committed by a _nouveau riche._
If you have accepted an invitation to a party never fail to
keep your promise. It is cruel to the lady of the house to
accept, and then send an apology at the last moment.
Especially do not break your word on account of bad weather.
You may be certain that many others will, and the inciter
will be mortified by the paucity of her guests. A cloak and a
carriage will secure you from all inconvenience, and you will
be conferring a real benefit.
Women, particularly women a little on the decline, are those
who make the reputation of a young man. When the lustre of
their distinction begins to fade, a slight feeling of less
wonted leisure, perhaps a little spite, makes them observe
attentively those who surround them. Eager to gain new
admirers, they encourage the first steps of a _debutant_ in
the career of society, and exert themselves to fit him to do
honour to their patronage.
A young man, therefore, in entering the world, cannot be too
attentive to conciliate the goodwill of women. Their
approbation and support will serve him instead of a thousand
good qualities. Their judgment dispenses with fortune,
talent, and even intelligence. "Les hommes font les lois: les
femmes font les reputations."
The desire of pleasing is, of course, the basis of social
connexion. Persons who enter society with the intention of
producing an effect, and of being distinguished, however
clever they may be, are never agreeable. They are always
tiresome, and often ridiculous. Persons, who enter life with
such pretensions, have no opportunity for improving
themselves and profiting by experience. They are not in a
proper state to _observe_: indeed, they look only for the
effect which they produce, and with that they are not often
gratified. They thrust themselves into all conversations,
indulge in continual anecdotes, which are varied only by dull
disquisitions, listen to others with impatience and
heedlessness, and are angry that they seem to be attending to
themselves. Such men go through scenes of pleasure, enjoying
nothing. They are equally disagreeable to themselves and
others. Young men should, therefore, content themselves with
being natural. Let them present themselves with a modest
assurance: let them observe, hear, and examine, and before
long they will rival their models.
The conversation of those women who are not the most lavishly
supplied with personal beauty, will be of the most advantage
to the young aspirant. Such persons have cultivated their
manners and conversation more than those who can rely upon
their natural endowments. The absence of pride and pretension
has improved their good nature and their affability. They are
not too much occupied in contemplating their own charms, to
be disposed to indulge in gentle criticism on others. One
acquires from them an elegance in one's manners as well as
one's expressions. Their kindness pardons every error, and to
instruct or reprove, their acts are so delicate that the
lesson which they give, always without offending, is sure to
be profitable, though it may be often unperceived.
Women observe all the delicacies of propriety in manners, and
all the shades of impropriety, much better than men; not only
because they attend to them earlier and longer, but because
their perceptions are more refined than those of the other
sex, who are habitually employed about greater things. Women
divine, rather than arrive at, proper conclusions.
The whims and caprices of women in society should of course
be tolerated by men, who themselves require toleration for
greater inconveniences. But this must not be carried too far.
There are certain limits to empire which, if they themselves
forget, should be pointed out to them with delicacy and
politeness. You should be the slave of women, but not of all
their fancies.
Compliment is the language of intercourse from men to women.
But be careful to avoid elaborate and common-place forms of
gallant speech. Do not strive to make those long eulogies on
a woman, which have the regularity and nice dependency of a
proposition in Euclid, and might be fittingly concluded by Q.
E. D. Do not be always undervaluing her rival in a woman's
presence, nor mistaking a woman's daughter for her sister.
These antiquated and exploded attempts denote a person who
has learned the world more from books than men.
The quality which a young man should most affect in
intercourse with gentlemen, is a decent modesty: but he must
avoid all bashfulness or timidity. His flights must not go
too far; but, so far as they go, let them be marked by
perfect assurance.
Among persons who are much your seniors behave with the
utmost respectful deference. As they find themselves sliding
out of importance they may be easily conciliated by a little
By far the most important thing to be attended to, is ease of
manner. Grace may be added afterwards, or be omitted
altogether: it is of much less moment than is commonly
believed. Perfect propriety and entire ease are sufficient
qualifications for standing in society, and abundant
prerequisites for distinction.
There is the most delicate shade of difference between
civility and intrusiveness, familiarity and common-place,
pleasantry and sharpness, the natural and the rude, gaiety
and carelessness; hence the inconveniences of society, and
the errors of its members. To define well in conduct these
distinctions, is the great art of a man of the world. It is
easy to know what to do; the difficulty is to know what to
Long usage--a sort of moral magnetism, a tact acquired by
frequent and long associating with others--alone give those
qualities which keep one always from error, and entitle him
to the name of a thorough gentleman.
A young man upon first entering into society should select
those persons who are most celebrated for the propriety and
elegance of their manners. He should frequent their company
and imitate their conduct. There is a disposition inherent,
in all, which has been noticed by Horace and by Dr. Johnson,
to imitate faults, because they are more readily observed and
more easily followed. There are, also, many foibles of manner
and many refinements of affectation, which sit agreeably upon
one man, which if adopted by another would become unpleasant.
There are even some excellences of deportment which would not
suit another whose character is different. For successful
imitation in anything, good sense is indispensable. It is
requisite correctly to appreciate the natural differences
between your model and yourself, and to introduce such
modifications in the copy as may be consistent with it.
Let not any man imagine, that he shall easily acquire these
qualities which will constitute him a gentleman. It is
necessary not only to exert the highest degree of art, but to
attain also that higher accomplishment of concealing art. The
serene and elevated dignity which mark that character, are
the result of untiring and arduous effort. After the
sculpture has attained the shape of propriety, it remains to
smooth off all the marks of the chisel. "A gentleman," says a
celebrated French author, "is one who has reflected deeply
upon all the obligations which belong to his station, and who
has applied himself ardently to fulfil them with grace."
Polite without importunity, gallant without being offensive,
attentive to the comfort of all; employing a well-regulated
kindness, witty at the proper times, discreet, indulgent,
generous, he exercises, in his sphere, a high degree of moral
authority; he it is, and he alone, that one should imitate.
Always remember that the terms of compliment at the close of
a letter--"I have the honour to be your very obedient
servant," etc. are merely forms--"signifying nothing." Do not
therefore avoid them on account of pride, or a dislike to the
person addressed. Do not presume, as some do, to found
expectations of favour or promotion from great men who
profess themselves your obliged servant.
In writing a letter of business it is extremely vulgar to use
satin or glazed gold-edged paper. Always employ, on such
occasions, plain American paper. Place the date at the top of
the page, and if you please, the name of the person at the
top also, just above the 'Sir;' though this last is
In letters to gentlemen always place the date at the end of
the letter, below his name. Use the best paper, but not
figured, and never fail to enclose it in an envelope.
Attention to these matters is indispensable.
To a person whom you do not know well, say Sir, not 'Dear
Sir.' It formerly was usual in writing to a distinguished man
to employ the form 'Respected Sir,' or something of the kind.
This is now out of fashion.
There are a great many forms observed by the French in their
letters, which are necessary to be known before addressing
one of that nation. You will find them in their books upon
such subjects, or learn them from your French master. One
custom of theirs is worthy of adoption among us: to
proportion the distance between the 'Sir' and the first line
of the letter, to the rank of the person to whom you write.
Among the French to neglect attending to this would give
mortal offence. It obtains also in other European nations.
When the Duke of Buckingham was at the court of Spain, some
letters passed between the Spanish minister Olivez and
himself,--the two proudest men on earth. The Spaniard wrote a
letter to the Englishman, and put the 'Monsieur' on a line
with the beginning of his letter. The other, in his reply,
placed the 'Monsieur' a little below it.
A note of invitation or reply is always to be enclosed in an
Wafers are now entirely exploded. A letter of business is
sealed with red wax, and marked with some common stamp.
Letters to gentlemen demand red wax sealed with your arms. In
notes to ladies employ coloured wax, but not perfumed.
Of visits there are various sorts; visits of congratulation,
visits of condolence, visits of ceremony, visits of
friendship. To each belong different customs.
A visit and an insult must be always returned.
Visits of ceremony should be very short. Go at some time when
business demands the employment of every moment. In visits of
friendship adopt a different course.
If you call to see an acquaintance at lodgings, and cannot
find any one to announce you, you knock very lightly at the
door, and wait some time before entering. If you are in too
great a hurry, you might find the person drawing off a night-
Respectable visitors should be received and treated with the
utmost courtesy. But if a tiresome fellow, after wearying all
his friends, becomes weary of himself, and arrives to bestow
his tediousness upon you, pull out your watch with
restlessness, talk about your great occupations and the value
of time. Politeness is one thing; to be made a convenience of
is another.
The style of your conversation should always be in keeping
with the character of the visit. You must not talk about
literature in a visit of condolence, nor about political
economy in a visit of ceremony.
When a lady visits you, upon her retiring, you offer her your
arm, and conduct her to her carriage. If you are visiting at
the same time with another lady, you should take leave at the
same time, and hand her into her carriage.
After a hall, a dinner, or a concert, you visit during the
Pay the first visit to a friend just returned from a voyage.
Annual visits are paid to persons with whom you have a cool
acquaintance, They visit you in the autumn, you return a card
in the spring.
In paying a visit under ordinary circumstances, you leave a
single card. If there be residing in the family, a married
daughter, an unmarried sister, a transient guest, or any
person in a distinct situation from the mistress of the
house, you leave two cards, one for each party. If you are
acquainted with only one member of a family, as the husband,
or the wife, and you wish to indicate that your visit is to
both, you leave two cards. Ladies have a fashion of pinching
down one corner of a card to denote that the visit is to only
one of two parties in a house, and two corners, or one side
of the card, when the visit is to both; but this is a
transient mode, and of dubious respectability.
If, in paying a morning visit, you are not recognized when
you enter, mention your name immediately. If you call to
visit one member, and you find others only in the parlour,
introduce yourself to them. Much awkwardness may occur
through defect of attention to this point.
When a gentleman is about to be married, he sends cards, a
day or two before the event, to all whom he is in the habit
of visiting. These visits are never paid in person, but the
cards sent by a servant, at any hour in the morning; or the
gentleman goes in a carriage, and sends them in. After
marriage, some day is appointed and made known to all, as the
day on which he receives company. His friends then all call
upon him. Would that this also were performed by cards!
When you make an appointment, always be exact in observing
it. In some places, and on some occasions, a quarter of an
hour's _grace_ is given. This depends on custom, and it is
always better not to avail yourself of it. In Philadelphia it
is necessary to be punctual to a second, for there everybody
breathes by the State-house clock If you make an appointment
to meet anywhere, your body must be in a right line with the
frame of the door at the instant the first stroke of the
great clock sounds. If you are a moment later, your character
is gone. It is useless to plead the evidence of your watch,
or detention by a friend. You read your condemnation in the
action of the old fellows who, with polite regard to your
feelings, simultaneously pull out their vast chronometers, as
you enter. The tardy man is worse off than the murderer. _He_
may be pardoned by one person, (the Governor); the unpunctual
is pardoned by none. _Haud inexpectus loquor._
If you make an appointment with another at your own house,
you should be invisible to the rest of the world, and
consecrate your time solely to him.
If you make an appointment with a lady, especially if it be
upon a promenade, or other public place, you must be there a
little before the time.
If you accept an appointment at the house of a public
officer, or a man of business, be very punctual, transact the
affair with despatch, and retire the moment it is finished.
The hour of dinner has been said, by Dr. Johnson, to be the
most important hour in civilized life. The etiquette of the
dinner-table has a prominence commensurate with the dignity
of the ceremony. Like the historian of Peter Bell, we
commence at the commencement, and thence proceed to the
moment when you take leave officially, or vanish unseen.
In order to dine, the first requisite is--to be invited. The
length of time which the invitation precedes the dinner is
always proportioned to the grandeur of the occasion, and
varies from two days to two weeks. To an invitation received
less than two days in advance, you will lose little by
replying in the negative, for as it was probably sent as soon
as the preparations of the host commenced, you may be sure
that there will be little on the table fit to eat. Those
abominations, y'clept "plain family dinners," eschew like the
You reply to a note of invitation immediately, and in the
most direct and unequivocal terms. If you accept, you arrive
at the house rigorously at the hour specified. It is equally
inconvenient to be too late and to be too early. If you fall
into the latter error, you find every thing in disorder; the
master of the house is in his dressing-room, changing his
waistcoat; the lady is still in the pantry; the fire not yet
lighted in the parlour. If by accident or thoughtlessness you
arrive too soon, you may pretend that you called to inquire
the exact hour at which they dine, having mislaid the note,
and then retire to walk for an appetite. If you are too late,
the evil is still greater, and indeed almost without a
remedy. Your delay spoils the dinner and destroys the
appetite and temper of the guests; and you yourself are so
much embarrassed at the inconvenience you have occasioned,
that you commit a thousand errors at table. If you do not
reach the house until dinner is served, you had better retire
to a restaurateurs, and thence send an apology, and not
interrupt the harmony of the courses by awkward excuses and
cold acceptances.
When the guests have all entered, and been presented to one
another, if any delay occurs, the conversation should be of
the lightest and least exciting kind; mere common-places
about the weather and late arrivals. You should not amuse the
company by animated relations of one person who has just cut
his throat from ear to ear, or of another who, the evening
before, was choked by a tough beef-steak and was buried that
When dinner is announced, the inviter rises and requests all
to walk to the dining-room. He then leads the way, that they
may not be at a loss to know whither they should proceed.
Each gentleman offers his arm to a lady, and they follow in
solemn order.
The great distinction now becomes evident between the host
and the guests, which distinction it is the chief effort of
good breeding to remove. To perform faultlessly the honours
of the table, is one of the most difficult things in society:
it might indeed be asserted without much fear of
contradiction, that no man has as yet ever reached exact
propriety in his office as host, has hit the mean between
exerting himself too much and too little. His great business
is to put every one entirely at his ease, to gratify all his
desires, and make him, in a word, absolutely contented with
men and things. To accomplish this, he must have the genius
of tact to perceive, and the genius of finesse to execute;
ease and frankness of manner; a knowledge of the world that
nothing can surprise; a calmness of temper that nothing can
disturb, and a kindness of disposition that can never be
exhausted. When he receives others, he must be content to
forget himself; he must relinquish all desire to shine, and
even all attempts to please his guests by conversation, and
rather, do all in his power to let them please one another.
He behaves to them without agitation, without affectation; he
pays attention without an air of protection; he encourages
the timid, draws out the silent, and directs conversation
without Sustaining it himself. He who does not do all this,
is wanting in his duty as host; he who does, is more than
When all are seated, the gentleman at the head of the table
sends soup to every one, from the pile of plates which stand
at his right hand. He helps the person at his right hand
first, and at his left next, and so through the whole.
There are an immensity of petty usages at the dinner table,
such as those mentioned in the story of the Abbé Delille and
the Abbé Cossen in the Introduction to this volume, which it
would be trifling and tedious to enumerate hers, and which
will be learned by an observing man after assisting at two or
three dinners.
You should never ask a gentleman or lady at the table to help
you to any thing, but always apply to the servants.
Your first duty at the table is to attend to the wants of the
lady who sits next to you, the second, to attend to your own.
In performing the first, you should take care that the lady
has all that she wishes, yet without appearing to direct your
attention too much to her plate, for nothing is more ill-bred
than to watch a person eating. If the lady be something of a
_gourmande,_ and in ever-zealous pursuit of the aroma of the
wing of a pigeon, should raise an unmanageable portion to her
mouth, you should cease all conversation with her, and look
steadfastly into the opposite part of the room.
In France, a dish, after having been placed upon the table
for approval, is removed by the servants, and carved at a
sideboard, and after. wards handed to each in succession.
This is extremely convenient, and worthy of acceptation in
this country. But unfortunately it does not as yet prevail
here. Carving therefore becomes an indispensable branch of a
gentleman's education. You should no more think of going to a
dinner without a knowledge of this art, than you should think
of going without your shoes. The gentleman of the house
selects the various dishes in the order in which they should
be cut, and invites some particular one to perform the
office. It is excessively awkward to be obliged to decline,
yet it is a thing too often occurring in,his country. When
you carve, you should never rise from your seat.
Some persons, in helping their guests, or recommending dishes
to their taste, preface every such action with an eulogy on
its merits, and draw every bottle of wine with an account of
its virtues. Others, running into the contrary extreme,
regret or fear that each dish is not exactly as it should be;
that the cook, etc., etc. Both of these habits are grievous
errors. You should leave it to your guests alone to approve,
or suffer one of your intimate friends who is present, to
vaunt your wine. When you draw a bottle, merely state its age
and brand, and of what particular vintage it is.
Do not insist upon your guests partaking of particular
dishes, never ask persons more than once, and never put
anything by force upon their plates. It is extremely ill-
bred, though extremely common, to press one to eat of
anything. You should do all that you can to make your guests
feel themselves at home, which they never can do while you
are so constantly forcing upon their minds the recollection
of the difference between yourself and them. You should never
send away your own plate until all your guests have finished.
Before the cloth is removed you do not drink wine unless with
another. If you are asked to take wine it is uncivil to
refuse. When you drink with another, you catch the person's
eye and bow with politeness. It is not necessary to say
anything, but smile with an air of great kindness.
Some one who sits near the lady of the house, should,
immediately upon the removal of the soup, request the honor
of drinking wine with her, which movement is the signal for
all the others. If this is not done, the master of the house
should select some lady. _He_ never asks gentlemen, but they
ask him; this is a refined custom, attended to in the best
If you have drunk with every one at the table, and wish more
wine, you must wait till the cloth is removed. The decanter
is then sent round from the head of the table, each person
fills his glass, and all the company drinks the Health of all
the company. It is enough if you bow to the master and
mistress of the house, and to your opposite neighbour. After
this the ladies retire. Some one rises to open the door for
them, and they go into the parlour, the gentlemen remaining
to drink more wine.
After the ladies have retired, the service of the decanters
is done. The host draws the bottles which have been standing
in a wine cooler since the commencement of the dinner. The
bottle goes down the left side and up the right, and the same
bottle never passes twice. If you do not drink, always pass
the bottle to your neighbour.
At dinner never call for ale or porter; it is coarse, and
injures the taste for wine.
It was formerly the custom to drink _porter_ with cheese. One
of the few real improvements introduced by the "Napoleon of
the realms of fashion" was to banish this tavern liquor and
substitute _port._ The dictum of Brummell was thus
enunciated: "A gentleman never _malts,_ he _ports._"
A gentleman should always express his preference for some one
sort of wine over others; because, as there is always a
natural preference for one kind, if you say that you are
indifferent, you show that you are not accustomed to drink
wines. Your preference should not of course be guided by your
real disposition; if you are afflicted by nature with a
partiality for port, you should never think of indulging it
except in your closet with your chamber-door locked. The only
index of choice is fashion;--either permanent fashion (if the
phrase may be used), or some temporary fashion created by the
custom of any individual who happens to rule for a season in
society. Port was drunk by our ancestors, but George the
Fourth, upon his accession to the regency, announced his
royal preference for sherry. It has since been fashionable to
like sherry. This is what we call a _permanent_ fashion.
Champagne wine is drunk after the removal of the first cloth;
that is to say, between the meats and the dessert. One
servant goes round and places before each guest a proper-
shaped glass; another follows and fills them, and they are
immediately drunk. Sometimes this is done twice in
succession. The bottle does not again make its appearance,
and it would excite a stare to ask at a later period for a
glass of champagne wine.
If you should happen to be blessed with those rely nuisances,
children, and should be entertaining company, never allow
them to be brought in after dinner, unless they are
particularly asked for, and even then it is better to say
they are at school. Some persons, with the intention of
paying their court to the father, express great desire to see
the sons; but they should have some mercy upon the rest of
the party, particularly as they know that they themselves
would be the most disturbed of all, if their urgent entreaty
was granted.
Never at any time, whether at a formal or a familiar dinner
party, commit the impropriety of talking to a servant: nor
ever address any remark about one of them to one of the
party. Nothing can be more ill-bred. You merely ask for what
you want in a grave and civil tone, and wait with patience
till your order is obeyed.
It is a piece of refined coarseness to employ the fingers
instead of the fork to effect certain operations at the
dinner table, and on some other similar occasions. To know
how and when to follow the fashion of Eden, and when that of
more civilized life, is one of the many points which
distinguish a gentleman from one not a gentleman; or rather,
in this case, which shows the difference between a man of the
world, and one who has not "the tune of the time."* Cardinal
Richelieu detected an adventurer who passed himself off for a
nobleman, by his helping himself to olives with a fork. He
might have applied the test to a vast many other things. Yet,
on the other hand, a gentleman would lose his reputation, if
he were to take up a piece of sugar with his fingers and not
with the sugar-tongs.
* Shakspeare
It is of course needless to say that your own knife should
never be brought near to the butter, or salt, or to a dish of
any kind. If, however, a gentleman should send his plate for
anything near you, and a knife cannot be obtained
immediately, you may skillfully avoid all censure by using
_his_ knife to procure it.
When you send your plate for anything, you leave your knife
and fork upon it, crossed. When you have done, you lay both
in parallel lines on one side. A render who occupies himself
about greater matters, may smile at this precept. It may,
indeed, be very absurd, yet such is the tyranny of custom,
that if you were to cross your knife and fork when you have
finished, the most reasonable and strong-minded man at the
table could not help setting you down, in his own mind, as a
low-bred person. _Magis sequor quam probo._
The chief matter of consideration at the dinner table, as
indeed everywhere else in the life of a gentleman, is to be
perfectly composed and at his ease. He speaks deliberately,
he performs the most important act of the day as if he were
performing the most ordinary. Yet there is no appearance of
trifling or want of gravity in his manner; he maintains the
dignity which is becoming on so vital an occasion. He
performs all the ceremonies, yet in the style of one who
performs no _ceremony_ at all. He goes through all the
complicated duties of the scene, as if he were "to the manner
Some persons, who cannot draw the nice distinction between
too much and too little, desiring to be particularly
respectable, make a point of appearing unconcerned and quite
indifferent to enjoyment at dinner. Such conduct not only
exhibits a want of sense and a profane levity, but is in the
highest degree rude to your obliging host. He has taken a
great deal of trouble to give you pleasure, and it is your
business to be, or at least to appear, pleased. It is one
thing, indeed, to stare and wonder, and to ask for all the
delicacies on the table in the style of a person who had
lived all his life behind a counter, but it is quite another
to throw into your manner the spirit and gratified air of a
man who is indeed not unused to such matters, but who yet
esteems them at their fall value.
When the Duke of Wellington was at Paris, as commander of the
allied armies, he was invited to dine with Cambaceres, one of
the most distinguished statesmen and _gourmands_ of the time
of Napoleon. In the course of the dinner, his host having
helped him to some particularly _recherche_ dish, expressed a
hope that he found it agreeable. "Very good," said the hero
of Waterloo, who was probably speculating upon what he would
have done if Blucher had not come up: "Very good; but I
really do not care what I eat." "Good God!" exclaimed
Cambaceres,--as he started back and dropped his fork, quite
"frighted from his propriety,"--"Don't care what you eat!
What _did_ you come here for, then?"
After the wine is finished, you retire to the drawing-room,
where the ladies are assembled; the master of the house
rising first from the table, but going out of the room last.
If you wish to go before this, you must vanish unseen.
We conclude this chapter by a word of important counsel to
the host:--Never make an apology.
It is an extremely difficult affair to travel in a coach,
with perfect propriety. Ten to one the person next to you is
an English nobleman _incognito_; and a hundred to one, the
man opposite to you is a brute or a knave. To behave so that
you may not be uncivil to the one, nor a dupe to the other,
is an art of some niceness.
As the seats are assigned to passengers in the order in which
they are booked, you should send to have your place taken a
day or two before the journey, so that you may be certain of
a back seat. It is also advisable to arrive at the place of
departure early, so that you assume your place without
When women appear at the door of the coach to obtain
admittance, it is a matter of some question to know exactly
what conduct it is necessary to pursue. If the women are
servants, or persons in a low rank of life, I do not see upon
what ground of politeness or decency you are called upon to
yield your seat. _Etiquette,_ and the deference due to ladies
have, of course, no operation in the case of such persons.
Chivalry--(and the gentleman is the legitimate descendant of
the knight of old)--was ever a devotion to rank rather than
to sex. Don Quixotte, or Sir Piercy Shafestone would not
willingly have given place to servant girls. And upon
considerations of humanity and regard to weakness, the case
is no stronger. Such people have nerves considerably more
robust than you have, and are quite as capable of riding
backwards, or the top, as yourself. The only reason for
_politeness_ in the case is, that perhaps the other
passengers are of the same standing with the women, and might
eject you from the window if you refuse to give place.
If _ladies_ enter--and a gentleman distinguishes them in an
instant--the case is altered. The sooner you move the better
is it for yourself, since the rest will in the end have to
concede, and you will give yourself a reputation among the
party and secure a better seat, by rising at once.
The principle that guides you in society is politeness; that
which guides you in a coach is good humour. You lay aside all
attention to form, and all strife after effect, and take
instead, kindness of disposition and a willingness to please.
You pay a constant regard to the comfort of your. fellow-
prisoners. You take care not to lean upon the shoulder of
your neighbour when you sleep. You are attentive not to make
the stage wait for you at the stopping-places. When the
ladies get out, you offer them your arm, and you do the same
when the coachman is driving rapidly over a rough place. You
should make all the accommodations to others, which you can
do consistently with your own convenience; for, after all,
the individuals are each like little nations; and as, in the
one case, the first duty is to your country, so in the other,
the first duty is to yourself.
Some surly creatures, upon entering a coach, wrap about their
persons a great coat of cloth, and about their minds a mantle
of silence, which are not thrown off during the whole
journey. This is doing more harm to themselves than to
others. You should make a point of conversing with an
appearance of entire freedom, though with real reserve, with
all those who are so disposed.
One purpose and pleasure of travelling is to gain
information, and to observe the various characters of
persons. You will be asked by others about the road you
passed over, and it will be awkward if you can give no
account of it. Converse, therefore, with all. Relate amusing
stories, chiefly of other countries, and even of other times,
so as not to offend any one. If engaged in discussion--and a
coach is almost the only place where discussion should _not_
be avoided--state facts and arguments rather than opinions.
Never answer impudent questions-and never ask them.
At the meals which occur during a journey, you see beautiful
exemplification of the _dictum_ of Hobbes, "that war is the
natural state of man." The entire scene is one of
unintermitted war of every person with every other person,
with the viands, and with good manners. You open your mouth
only to admit edibles and to bellow to the waiters. Your sole
object is yourself. You drink wine without asking your
neighbour to join you; and if he should be so silly as to ask
you to hand him some specified dish, you blandly comply; but
in the passage to him, you transfer the whole of its contents
to your own plate. There is no halving in these matters.
Rapacity, roaring, and rapidity are the three requisites for
dining during a journey. When you have resumed your seat in
the coach, you are as bland as a morning in spring.
Never assume any unreal importance in a stage-coach, founded
on the ignorance of your fellows, and their inability to
detect it. It is excessively absurd, and can only gratify a
momentary and foolish vanity; for, whenever you might make
use of your importance, you would probably be at once
discovered. There is an admirable paper upon this point in
one of Johnson's Adventurers.
The friendship which has subsisted between travellers
terminates with the journey. When you get out, a word, a bow,
and the most unpleasant act of life is finished and
Invitations to a ball should be issued at least ten days in
advance, in order to give an opportunity to the men to clear
away engagements; and to women, time to prepare the artillery
of their toilet. Cards of invitation should be sent--not
Upon the entrance of ladies, or persons entitled to
deference, the master of the house precedes them across the
room: he addresses compliments to them, and will lose his
life to procure them seats.
While dancing with a lady whom you have never seen before,
you should not talk to her much.
The master of the ceremonies must take care that every lady
dances, and press into service for that purpose these young
gentlemen who are hanging round the room like fossils. If
desired by him to dance with a particular lady you should
refuse on no account.
If you have no ear, that is, a false one, never dance.
To usurp the seat of a person who is dancing is the height of
Never go to a public ball.
When any member of a family is dead, it is customary to send
intelligence of the misfortune to all who have been connected
with the deceased in relations of business or friendship. The
letters which are sent contain a special invitation to assist
at the funeral.
An invitation of this sort should never he refused, though,
of course, you do not send a reply, for no other reason that
I know of, excepting the impossibility of framing any formula
of acceptance.
You render yourself at the house an hour or two after the
time specified. If you were to sit long in the mournful
circle you might be rendered unfit for doing any thing for a
Your dress is black, and during the time of waiting you
compose your visage into a "tristful 'haviour," and lean in
silent solemnity upon the top of your cane, thinking about--
last night's party. This is a necessary hypocrisy, and
assists marvellously the sadness of the ceremony. You walk in
a procession with the others, your carriage following in the
street. The first places are yielded to the relations of the
The coffins of persons of distinction are carried in the
hands of bearers, who walk with their hats off.
You walk with another, in seemly order, and converse in a low
tone; first upon the property of the defunct, and next upon
the politics of the day. You walk with the others into the
church, where service is said over the body. It is optional
to go to the grave or not. When you go away, you enter your
carriage and return to your business or your pleasures.
A funeral in the morning, a ball in the evening,"--so runs
the world away."
Servants are a necessary evil. He who shall contrive to
obviate their necessity, or remove their inconveniences, will
render to human comfort a greater benefit than has yet been
conferred by all the useful-knowledge societies of the age.
They are domestic spies, who continually embarrass the
intercourse of the members of a family, or possess themselves
of private information that renders their presence hateful,
and their absence dangerous. It is a rare thing to see
persons who are not controlled by their servants. Theirs,
too, is not the only kitchen cabinet which begins by serving
and ends by ruling.
If we judge from the frequency and inconvenience of an
opposite course, we should say that the most important
precept to be observed is, never to be afraid of your
servants. We have known many ladies who, without any reason
in the world, lived in a state of perfect subjugation to
their servants, who were afraid to give a direction, and who
submitted to disobedience and insult, where no danger could
be apprehended from discharging them.
If a servant offends you by any trifling or occasional
omission of duty, reprove the fault with mild severity; if
the error be repeated often, and be of a gross description,
never hesitate, but discharge the servant instantly, without
any altercation of language. You cannot easily find another
who will serve you worse.
As for those precautions which are ordinarily taken, to
secure the procurence of good servants, they are, without
exception, utterly useless. The author of the Rambler has
remarked, that a written _character_ of a servant is worth
about as much as a discharge from the Old Bailey. I never,
but once, took any trouble to inquire what reputation a
servant had held in former situations. On that occasion, I
heard that I had engaged the very Shakespeare of menials,--
Aristides was not more honest,--Zeno more truth-telling,--nor
Abdiel more faithful. This fellow, after insulting me daily
for a week, disappeared with my watch and three pair of
Those offices which profess to recommend good domestics, are
"bosh,--nothing." In nine cases out of ten, the keepers are
in league with the servants; and in the tenth, ignorance,
dishonesty, or carelessness will prevent any benefit
resulting from,their "intelligence." All that you can do is,
to take the most decent creature who applies; trust in
Providence, and lock every thing up.
Never speak harshly, or superciliously, or hastily to a
servant. There are many little actions which distinguish, to
the eye of the most careless observer, a gentleman from one
not a gentleman; but there is none more striking than the
manner of addressing a servant. Issue your commands with
gravity and gentleness, and in a reserved manner. Let your
voice be composed, but avoid a tone of familiarity or
sympathy with them. It is better in addressing them to use a
higher key of voice, and not to suffer it to fall at the end
of a sentence. The best bred man whom we ever had the
pleasure of meeting, always employed, in addressing servants,
such forms of speech as these--"I'll thank you for so and
so,"--" Such a thing, if you please,"--with a gentle tone,
but very elevated key. The perfection of manner, in this
particular, is, to indicate by your language, that the
performance is a favour, and by your tone that it is a matter
of course.
While, however, you practise the utmost mildness and
forbearance in your language, avoid the dangerous and common
error of exercising too great humanity in action. No servant,
from the time of the first Gibeonite downwards, has ever had
too much labour imposed upon him; while thousands have been
ruined by the mistaken kindness of their masters.
Servants should always be allowed, and indeed directed, to go
to church on Sunday afternoon. For this purpose, dinner is
served earlier on that day than usual. If it can be
accomplished, the servants should be induced to attend the
same church as the family with whom they live; because there
may be reason to fear that if they profess to go elsewhere,
they may not go to church at all; and the habit of wandering
about the streets with idlers, will speedily ruin the best
servant that ever stood behind a chair.
Servants should be directed to announce visitors. This is
always done abroad, and is a convenient custom.
Never allow a female servant to enter a parlour. If all the
male domestics are gone out, it is better that there should
be no attendance at all.
Some ladies are in the habit of amusing their friends with
accounts of the difficulty of getting good servants, etc.
This denotes decided ill breeding. Such subjects should never
be made topics of conversation.
If a servant offends you by any grossness of conduct, never
rebuke the offence upon the spot, nor indeed notice it at all
at the time; for you cannot do it without anger, and without
giving rise to a _scene._ Prince Puckler Muskaw was, very
properly, turned out of the Travellers' Club for throwing a
fork at one of the waiters.
In the house of another, or when there is any company present
in your own, never converse with the servants. This most
vulgar, but not uncommon, habit, is judiciously censured in
that best of novels,--the Zeluco of Dr. Moore.
Fashion is a tyranny founded only on assumption. The
principle upon which its influence rests, is one deeply based
in the human heart, and one which has long been observed and
long practised upon in every department of life. In the
literary, the religious, and the political world, it has been
an assured and very profitable conclusion, that the public,
"Like women, born to be controlled, Stoops to the forward and
the bold."
"Qui sibi fidit, dux regit examen," is a maxim of universal
truth. Pococurante, in Candide, was admired for despising
Homer and Michel Angelo; he would have gained little
distinction by praising them. The judicious application of
this rule to society, is the origin of fashion. In despair of
attaining greatness of quality, it founds its distinction
only on peculiarity.
We have spoken elsewhere of those complex and very rare
accomplishments, whose union is requisite to constitute a
gentleman. We know of but one quality which is demanded for a
man of fashion,--impudence. An impudence (self-confidence
"the wise it call") as impenetrable as the gates of
Pandemonium--a coolness and imperturbability of self-
admiration, which the boaster in Spencer might envy--a
contempt of every decency, as such, and an utter
imperviousness to ridicule,--these are the amiable and
dignified qualities which serve to rear an empire over the
weakness and cowardice of men.
To define the character of that which is changing even while
we survey it, is a task of no small difficulty. We imagine
that there is only one means by which it may be always
described, viz., that it consists in an entire avoidance of
all that is natural and rational. Its essence is affectation;
effeminacy takes the place of manliness; drawling stupidity,
of wit; stiffness and hauteur, of ease and civility; and
self-illustration, of a decent and respectful regard to
A man of fashion must never allow himself to be pleased.
Nothing is more decidedly _de mauvais ton_ than any
expression of delight. He must never laugh, nor, unless his
penetration is very great, must he even smile; for he might
by ignorance smile at the wrong place or time. All real
emotion is to be avoided; all sympathy with the great or the
beautiful is to be shunned; yet the liveliest feeling may be
exhibited upon the death of a poodle-dog.
At the house of an acquaintance, he must never praise, nor
even look, at the pictures, the carpets, the curtains, or the
ottomans, because if he did, it might be supposed that he was
not accustomed to such things.
About two years ago, it began to be considered improper to
pay compliments to women, because if they are not paid
gracefully they are awkward, and to pay them gracefully is
difficult. At the present time it is considered dangerous to
a man's pretensions to fashion, in England, to speak to women
at all. Women are voted bores, and are to be treated with
refined rudeness.
There is no possible system of manners that will serve to
exhibit at once the uncivility and the high refinement which
should characterize the man of fashion. He must therefore
have no manners at all. He must behave with tame and passive
insolence, never breaking into active effrontery excepting
towards unprotected women and clergymen. Persons of no
importance he does not see, and is not conscious of their
existence; those who have the same standing, he treats with
easy scorn, and he acknowledges the distinction of superiors
only by patronizing and protecting them. A man of fashion
does not despise wealth; he cannot but think _that_ valuable
which procures to others the honour of paying for his
Fashion is so completely distinguished from good breeding,
that it is even opposed to it. It is in fact a system of
refined vulgarity. What, for example can be more vulgar than
incessantly _talkin_g about forms and customs? About silver
forks and French soup? A gentleman follows these conventional
habits; but he follows them as matters of course. He looks
upon them as the ordinary and essential customs of refined
society. French forks are to him things as indispensable as a
table-cloth; and he thinks it as unnecessary to insist upon
the one as upon the other. If he sees a person who eats with
his knife, he concludes that that person is ignorant of the
usages of the world, but he does not shriek and faint away
like a Bond-street dandy. If he dines at a table where there
are no silver forks, he eats his dinner in perfect propriety
with steel, and exhibits, neither by manner nor by speech,
that he perceives any error. To be sure, he forms his own
opinion about the rank of his entertainer, but he leaves it
to such new-made gentry as Mr. Theodore Hook, in his vulgar
fashionable novels, to harangue about such delinquencies. The
vulgarity of insisting upon these matters is scarcely less
offensive than the vulgarity of neglecting them. Lady Frances
Pelham is but one remove better than a Brancton.
A man of fashion never goes to the theatre; he is waiting for
the opera.
He, of course, goes out of town in the summer; or, if he
cannot afford to do so, he merely closes his window-shutters,
and appears to be gone.
Fashion makes all great things little, and all little things
It is commonly said, that it requires more wit to perform the
part of the fool in a farce than that of the master. Without
intending any offence to the fool by the comparison, we may
remark, that qualities of an elevated character are required
for the support of the _rol_e of a man of fashion in the
solemn farce of life. He must have invention, to vary his
absurdities when they cease to be striking; he must have wit
enough to obtain the reputation of a great deal more; and he
must possess tact to know when and where to crouch, and where
and when to insult.
Brummel, whose career is one of the most extraordinary on
record, must have exercised, during the period of his social
reign, many qualities of conduct which rank among the highest
endowments of our race. For an obscure individual, without
fortune or rank, to have conceived the idea of placing
himself at the head of society in a country the most
thoroughly aristocratic in Europe, relying too upon no other
weapon than well-directed insolence; for the same individual
to have triumphed splendidly over the highest and the
mightiest--to have maintained a contest with royalty itself,
and to have come off victorious even in that struggle--for
such an one no ordinary faculties must have been demanded. Of
the sayings of Brummel which have been preserved, it is
difficult to distinguish whether they contain real wit, or
are only so sublimely and so absurdly impudent that they look
like witty.
We add here a few anecdotes of Brummel, which will serve to
show, better than any precepts, the style of conduct which a
man of fashion may pursue.
When Brummel was at the height of his power, he was once, in
the company of some gentlemen, speaking of the Prince of
Wales as a very good sort of man, who behaved himself very
decently, _considering circumstances_; some one present
offered a wager that he would not dare to give a direction to
this very good sort of man. Brummel looked astonished at the
remark, and declined accepting a wager upon such point. They
happened to be dining with the regent the next-day, and after
being pretty well fortified. with wine, Brummel interrupted a
remark of the prince's, by exclaiming very mildly and
naturally, "Wales, ring the bell!" His royal highness
immediately obeyed the command, and when the servant entered,
said to him, with the utmost coolness and firmness, "Show Mr.
Brummel to his carriage." The dandy was not in the least
dejected by his expulsion; but meeting the prince regent,
walking with a gentleman, the next day in the street, he did
not bow to him, but stopping the other, drew him aside and
said, in a loud whisper, "Who is that FAT FRIEND of ours?" It
must be remembered that the object of this sarcasm was at
that time exceedingly annoyed by his increasing corpulency;
so manifestly so, that Sheridan remarked, that "though the
regent professed himself a Whig, he believed that in his
heart he was no friend to _new measures._"
Shortly after this occurrence at Carlton-House, Brummel
remarked to one of his friends, that "he had half a mind to
cut the young one, and bring old George into fashion."
In describing a short visit which he had paid to a nobleman
in the country, he said, that he had only carried with him a
night-cap and a silver basin to spit in, "Because, you know,
it is utterly impossible to spit in clay."
Brummel was once present at a party to which he had not been
invited. After he had been some time in the room, the
gentleman of the house, willing to mortify him, went up to
him and said that he believed that there must be some
mistake, as he did not recollect having had the honour of
sending him an invitation. "What is the name?" said the other
very drawlingly, at the same time affecting to feel in his
waistcoat pocket for a card. "Johnson," replied the
gentleman. "Jauhnson?" said Brummel, "oh! I remember now that
the name was Thaunson (Thompson); and Jauhnson and Thaunson,
Thaunson and Jauhnson, you know, are so much the same kind of
Brummel was once asked how much a year he thought would be
required to keep a single man in clothes. "Why, with
tolerable economy," said he, "I think it might be done for
He once went down to a gentleman's house in the country,
without having been asked to do so. He was given to
understand, the next morning, that his absence would be more
agreeable, and he took his departure. Some one having heard
of his discomfiture, asked him how he liked the
accommodations there. He replied coolly, that "it was a very
decent house to spend a single night in."
We have mentioned that this dreaded arbiter of modes had
threatened that he would put the prince regent out of
fashion. Alas! for the peace of the British monarch, this was
not an idle boast. His dangerous rival resolved in the
unfathomable recesses of a mind capacious of such things, to
commence and to carry on a war whose terror and grandeur
should astound society, to administer to audacious royalty a
lesson which should never be forgotten, and finally to
retire, when retire he must, with mementos of his tremendous
power around him, and with the mightiest of the earth at his
feet. Inventive and deliberate were the counsels which he
meditated; sublime and resolute was the conduct he adopted.
He decided, with an originality of genius to which the
conqueror of Marengo might have vailed, that the _neck_ of
the foe was the point at which the first fatal shaft of his
excommunicating ire should be hurled. With rapid and decisive
energy he concentrated all his powers for instantaneous
action. He retired for a day to the seclusion of solitude, to
summon and to spur the energies of the most self-reliant mind
in Europe, as the lion draws back to gather courage for the
leap. As, like the lion, he drew back; so, like the lion, did
he spring forward upon his prey. At a ball given by the
Duchess of Devonshire, when the whole assembly were
conversing upon his supposed disgrace, and insulting by their
malevolence one whom they had disgusted by their adulation,
Brummel suddenly stood in the midst of them. Could it be
indeed Brummel? Could it be mortal who thus appeared with
such an encincture of radiant glory about his neck? Every eye
was upon him, fixed in stupid admiration; every tongue, as it
slowly recovered from its speechless paralysis, faltered
forth "what a cravat!" What a cravat indeed! Hundreds that
had, a moment before, exulted in unwonted freedom, bowed
before it with the homage of servile adoration. What a
cravat! There it stood; there was no doubting its entity, no
believing it an illusion. There it stood, smooth and stiff,
yet light and almost transparent; delicate as the music of
Ariel, yet firm as the spirit of Regulus; bending with the
grace of Apollo's locks, yet erect with the majesty of the
Olympian Jove: without a wrinkle, without an indentation.
What a cravat! The regent "saw and shook;" and uttering a
faint gurgle from beneath the wadded bag which surrounded his
royal thorax, he was heard to whisper with dismay, "D--n him!
what a cravat!" The triumph was complete.
It is stated, upon what authority we know not, that his royal
highness, after passing a sleepless night in vain
conjectures, despatched at an early hour, one of his privy-
counsellors to Brummel, offering _carte blanche_ if he would
disclose the secret of that mysterious cravat. But the
"_atrox animus Catonis_" disdained the bribe. He preferred
being supplicated, to being bought, by kings. "Go," said he
to the messenger, with the spirit of Marius mantling in his
veins, "Go, and tell _you_r master that you have seen _his_
For the truth of another anecdote, connected with this
cravat, we have indisputable evidence. A young nobleman of
distinguished talents and high pretensions as to fortune and
rank, saw this fatal band, and eager to advance himself in
the rolls of fashion, retired to his chamber to endeavour to
penetrate the method of its construction. He tried every sort
of known, and many sorts of unknown stiffeners to accomplish
the end--paper and pasteboard, and wadding, shavings, and
shingles, and planks,--all were vainly experienced. Gargantua
could not have exhibited a greater invention of expedients
than he did; but vainly. After a fortnight of the closest
application, ardour of study and anxiety of mind combined,
brought him to the brink of the grave. His mother having
ascertained the origin of his complaint, waited upon Brummel,
who was the only living man that could remove it. She
implored him, by every human motive, to say but one word, to
save the life of her son and prevent her own misery. But the
tyrant was immoveable, and the young man expired a victim of
his sternness.
When, at length, yielding to that strong necessity which no
man can control, Brummel was obliged, like Napoleon, to
abdicate, the mystery of that mighty cravat was unfolded.
There was found, after his departure to Calais, written on
sheet of paper upon his table, the following epigram of
scorn: "STARCH IS THE MAN." The cravat of Brummel was merely--
starched! Henceforth starch was introduced into every cravat
in Europe.
Brummel still lives, an obscure consul in a petty European
Physically there is something to command our admiration in
the history of a man who thus lays at his mercy all ranks of
men,--the lofty and the low, the great, the powerful and the
vain: but morally and seriously, no character is more
despicable than that of the mere man of fashion, Seeking
nothing but notoriety, his path to that end is over the ruins
of all that is worthy in our nature. He knows virtue only to
despise it; he makes himself acquainted with human feelings
only to outrage them. He commences his career beyond the
limits of decency, and ends it far in the regions of infamy.
Feared by all and respected by none, hated by his worshippers
and despised by himself, he rules,--an object of pity and
contempt: and when his power is past, his existence is
forgotten; he lives on in an, oblivion which is to him worse
than death, and the stings of memory goad him to the grave.
The devotee of fashion is a trifler unworthy of his race; the
_mere_ gentleman is a character which may in time become
somewhat tiresome; there is a just mean between the two,
where a better conduct than either is to be found. It is that
of a man who, yielding to others, still maintains his self-
respect, and whose concessions to folly are controlled by
good sense; who remembers the value of trifles without
forgetting the importance of duties, and resolves so to
regulate his conduct that neither others may be offended by
his stiffness, nor himself have to regret his levity.
Live therefore among men--to conclude our homily after the
manner of Quarles--live therefore among men, like them, yet
not disliking thyself; and let the hues of fashion be
reflected from thee, but let them not enter and colour thee
There is nothing more ill bred in the world than continual
talking about good breeding.
You should never employ the word "_genteel_;" the proper word
is "_respectable._"
If you are walking down the street with another person on
your arm, and stop to say something to one of your friends,
do not commit the too common and most awkward error of
introducing such persons to one another. Never introduce
morning visitors, who happen to meet in your parlour without
being acquainted. If _you_ should be so introduced, remember
that the acquaintance afterwards goes for nothing: you have
not the slightest right to expect that the other should ever
speak to you.
If you wish to be introduced to a lady, you must always have
her consent previously asked; this formality it is not
necessary to observe in the case of gentlemen alone.
Presents are the gauge of friendship. They also serve to
increase it, and give it permanence.
Among friends presents ought to be made of things of small
value; or, if valuable, their worth should be derived from
the style of the workmanship, or from some accidental
circumstance, rather than from the inherent and solid
richness. Especially never offer to a lady a gift of great
cost: it is in the highest degree indelicate, and looks as if
you were desirous of placing her under an obligation to you,
and of buying her good will. The gifts made by ladies to
gentlemen are of the most refined nature possible: they
should be little articles not purchased, but deriving a
priceless value as being the offspring of their gentle skill;
a little picture from their pencil, or a trifle from their
To persons much your superiors, or gentlemen whom you do not
know intimately, there is but one species of appropriate
If you make a present, and it is praised by the receiver, you
should not yourself commence undervaluing it. If one is
offered to you, always accept it; and however small it may
be, receive it with civil and expressed thanks, without any
kind of affectation. Avoid all such deprecatory phrases, as
"I fear I rob you," etc.
To children, the only presents which you offer are sugar-
plums and bon-bons.
Avoid the habit of employing French words in English
conversation; it is in extremely bad taste to be always
employing such expressions as _ci-devant,_ _soi-disant,_ _en
masse,_ _couleur de rose,_ etc. Do not salute your
acquaintances with _bon jour,_ nor reply to every
proposition, _volontiers._
In speaking of French cities and towns, it is a mark of
refinement in education to pronounce them rigidly according
to English rules of speech. Mr. Fox, the best French scholar,
and one of the best bred men in England, always sounded the x
in _Bourdeaux,_ and the s in Calais, and on all occasions
pronounced such names just as they are written.
In society, avoid having those peculiar preferences for some
subjects, which are vulgarly denominated. "_hobby horses._"
They make your company a _bore_ to all your friends; and some
kind-hearted creature will take advantage of them and _trot_
you, for the amusement of the company.
A certain degree of reserve, or the appearance of it, should
be maintained in your intercourse with your most intimate
friends. To ordinary acquaintances retain the utmost reserve--
never allowing them to read your feelings, not, on the other
hand, attempting to take any liberties with them. Familiarity
of manner is the greatest vice of society. "Ah! allow me, my
dear fellow," says a rough voice, and at the same moment a
thumb and finger are extended into my snuff-box, which, in
removing their prey drop half of it upon my clothes,--I look
up, and recognize a person to whom I was introduced by
mistake last night at the opera. I would be glad to have less
fellowship with such _fellows._ In former times great
philosophers were said to have demons for familiars,--thereby
indicating that a familiar man is the very devil.
Remember, that all deviations from prescribed forms, on
common occasions, are vulgar; such as sending invitations, or
replies, couched in some unusual forms of speech. Always
adhere to the immemorial phrase,--"Mrs. X. requests the
honour of Mr, Y.'s company," and "Mr. Y. has the honour of
accepting Mrs. X.'s polite invitation." Never introduce
persons with any outlandish or new-coined expressions; but
perform the operation with mathematical precision--"Mr. A.,
Mr. A'; Mr. A', Mr. A."
When two gentlemen are walking with a lady in the street,
they should not be both upon the same side of her, but one of
them should walk upon the outside and the other upon the
When you walk with a lady, even if the lady be young and
unmarried, offer your arm to her. This is always done in
France, and is practised in this country by the best bred
persons. To be sure, this is done only to married women in
France, because unmarried women never walk alone with
gentlemen, but as in America the latter have the same freedom
as the former, this custom should here be extended to them.
If you are walking with a woman who has your arm, and you
cross the street, it is better not to disengage your arm, and
go round upon the outside. Such effort evinces a palpable
attention to form, and _that_ is always to be avoided.
A woman should never take the arms of two men, one being upon
either side; nor should a man carry a woman upon each arm.
The latter of these iniquities is practised only in Ireland;
the former perhaps in Kamskatcha. There are, to be sure, some
cases in which it is necessary for the protection of the
women, that they should both take his arm, as in coming home
from a concert, or in passing, on any occasion, through a
When you receive company in your own house, you should never
be much dressed. This is a circumstance of the first
importance in good breeding.
A gentleman should never use perfumes; they are agreeable,
however, upon ladies.
Avoid the use of proverbs in conversation, and all sorts of
cant phrases. This error is, I believe, censured by Lord
Chesterfield, and is one of the most offensively vulgar
things which a person can commit. We have frequently been
astonished to hear such a slang phrase as "the whole hog"
used by persons who had pretensions to very superior
standing. We would be disposed to apply to such an expression
a criticism of Dr. Johnson's, which rivals it in Coarseness:
"It has not enough salt to keep it from stinking, enough wit
to prevent its being offensive." We do not wish to advocate
any false refinement, or to encourage any cockney delicacy:
but we may be decent without being affected. The stable
language and raft humour of Crockett and Downing may do very
well to amuse one in a morning paper, but it exhibits little
wit and less good sense to adopt them in the drawing-room.
This matter should be "reformed altogether."
If a plate be sent to you, at dinner, by the master or
mistress of the house, you should always take it, without
offering it to all your neighbours as was in older times
considered necessary. The spirit of antique manners consisted
in exhibiting an attention to ceremony; the spirit of modern
manners consists in avoiding all possible appearance of form.
The old custom of deferring punctiliously to others was
awkward and inconvenient. For, the person, in favor of whom
the courtesy was shown, shocked at the idea of being exceeded
in politeness, of course declined it, and a plate was thus
often kept vibrating between two bowing mandarins, till its
contents were cold, and the victims of ceremony were deprived
of their dinner. In a case like this, to reverse the decision
which the host has made as to the relative standing of his
guests, is but a poor compliment to him, as it seems to
reprove his choice, and may, besides, materially interfere
with his arrangements by rendering _unhelped_ a person whom
he supposes attended to.
The same avoidance of too much attention to yielding place is
proper in most other cases. Shenstone, in some clever verses,
has ridiculed the folly; and Goldsmith, in his "Vicar," has
censured the inconvenience, of such outrageous formality.
These things are now managed better. One person yields and
another accepts without any controversy.
When you are helped to anything at a dinner table, do not
wait, with your plate untouched, until others have begun to
eat. This stiff-piece of mannerism is often occurring in the
country, and indeed among all persons who are not thoroughly
bred. As soon as your plate is placed before you, you should
take up your knife and arrange the table furniture around
you, if you do not actually eat.
As to the instruments by which the operation of dining is
conducted, it is a matter of much consequence that entire
propriety should be observed as to their use. We have said
nothing about the use of silver forks, because we do not
write for savages; and where, excepting among savages, shall
we find any who at present eat with other than a French
fork?. There are occasionally to be found some ancients,
gentlemen of the old school, as it is termed, who persist in
preferring steel, and who will insist on calling for a steel
fork if there is none on the table. They consider the modem
custom an affectation, and deem that all affectation should
be avoided. They tread upon the pride of Plato, with more
pride. There is often affectation in shunning affectation. It
is better in things not material to submit to the established
habits, especially when, as in the present case, the balance
of convenience is decidedly on the part of fashion. The
ordinary custom among well bred persons, is as follows:--soup
is taken with a spoon. Some foolish _fashionables_ employ a
fork! They might as well make use of a broomstick. The fish
which follows is eaten with a fork, a knife not being used at
all. The fork is held in the right hand, and a piece of bread
in the left. For any dish in which cutting is not
indispensable, the same arrangement is correct. When you have
upon your plate, before the dessert, anything partially
liquid, or any sauces, you must not take them up with a
knife, but with a piece of bread, which is to be saturated
with the juices, and then lifted to the mouth. If such an
article forms part of the dessert, you should eat it with a
spoon. In carving, steel instruments alone are employed. For
fowls a peculiar knife is used, having the blade short and
the handle very long. For fish a broad and pierced silver
blade is used.
A dinner--we allude to _dinner-parties_--in this country, is
generally despatched with too much hurry. We do not mean,
that persons commonly eat too fast, but that the courses
succeed one another too precipitately. Dinner is the last
operation of the day, and there is no subsequent business
which demands haste. It is usually intended, especially when
there are no ladies, to sit at the table till nine, ten, or
eleven o'clock, and it is more agreeable that the _eating_
should be prolonged through a considerable portion of the
entire time. The conveniences of digestion also require more
deliberation, and it would therefore not be unpleasant if an
interval of a quarter of an hour or half an hour were allowed
to intervene between the meats and the dessert.
At dinner, avoid taking upon your plate too many things at
once. One variety of meat and one kind of vegetable is the
_maximum._ When you take another sort of meat, or any dish
not properly a vegetable, you always change your plate.
The fashion of dining inordinately late in this country is
foolish. It is borrowed from England without any regard to
the difference in circumstances between the two nations. In
London, the whole system of daily duties is much later. The
fact of parliament's sitting during the evening and not in
the morning, tends to remove the active part of the day to a
much more advanced hour. When persons rise at ten or two
o'clock, it is not to be expected that they should dine till
eight or twelve in the evening. There is nothing of this sort
in France. There they dine at three, or earlier. We have
known some fashionable dinners in different cities in this
country at so late an hour as eight or nine o'clock. This is
absurd, where the persons have all breakfasted at eight in
the morning. From four o'clock till five varies the proper
hour for a dinner party here.
Never talk about politics at a dinner table or in a drawing
When you are going into a company it is of advantage to run
over in your mind, beforehand, the topics of conversation
which you intend to bring up, and to arrange the manner in
which you will introduce them. You may also refresh your
general ideas upon the subjects, and run through the details
of the few very brief and sprightly anecdotes which you are
going to repeat; and also have in readiness one or two
brilliant phrases or striking words which you will use upon
occasion. Further than this it is dangerous to make much
preparation. If you commit to memory long speeches with the
design of delivering them, your conversation will become
formal, and you will be negligent of the observations of your
company. It will tend also to impair that habit of readiness
and quickness which it is necessary to cultivate in order to
be agreeable.
You must be very careful that you do not repeat the same
anecdotes or let off the same good things twice to the same
person. Richard Sharpe, the "conversationist" as he was
called in London, kept a regular book of entry, in which he
recorded where and before whom he had uttered severally his
choice sayings. The celebrated Bubb Doddington prepared a
manuscript book of original _facetiæ,_ which he was
accustomed to read over when he expected any distinguished
company, trusting to an excellent memory to preserve him from
If you accompany your wife to a ball, be very careful not to
dance with her.
The lady who gives a ball dances but little, and always
selects her partners.
If you are visited by any company whom you wish to drive away
forever, or any friends whom you wish to alienate, entertain
them by reading to them your own productions.
If you ask a lady to dance, and she is engaged, do not prefer
a request for her hand at the next set after that, because
she may be engaged for that also, and for many more; and you
would have to run through a long list of interrogatories,
which would be absurd and awkward.
A gentleman must not expect to shine in society, even the
most frivolous, without a considerable stock of knowledge. He
must be acquainted with facts rather than principles. He
needs no very sublime sciences; but a knowledge of biography
and literary history, of the fine arts, as painting,
engraving, music, etc., will be of great service to him.
Some men are always seen in the streets with an umbrella
under their arm. Such a foible may be permitted to such men
as Mr. Southey and the Duke of Wellington: but in ordinary
men it looks like affectation, and the monotony is
exceedingly _boring_ to the sight.
To applaud at a play is not _fashionable_; but it is
_respectable_ to evince by a gentle concurrence of one finger
and a hand that you perceive and enjoy a good stroke in an
If you are at a concert, or a private musical party, never
beat time with your feet or your cane. Nothing is more
Few things are more agreeable or more difficult, than to
relate anecdotes with entire propriety. They should be
introduced gracefully, have fit connexion with the previous
remarks, and be in perfect keeping with the company, the
subject and the tone of the conversation; they should be
short, witty and eloquent, and they should be new but not
In rapid and eager discourse, when persons are excited and
impatient, as at a ball or in a promenade, repeat nothing but
the spirit and soul of a story, leaping over the particulars.
There are however many places and occasions in which you may
bring out the details with advantage, precisely, but not
tediously. When you repeat a true story be always extremely
exact. Mem. Not to forget the point of your story, like most
When you are telling a flat anecdote by mistake, laugh
egregiously, that others may do the same: when you repeat a
spirited and striking bon mot, be grave and composed, in
order that others may not be the same.
For one who has travelled much, to hit the proper medium
between too much reserve and too much intrusion, on the
subject of his adventures, is not easy. Such a person is
expected to give amusement by pleasant histories of his
travels, and it is agreeable that he should do so, yet with
moderation; he should not reply to every remark by a memoir,
commencing, "When I was in Japan."
Rampant witticisms which require one to laugh, are apt to
grow fatiguing: it is better to have a sprightly and amusing
vein running through your conversation, which, betraying no
effort, allows one to be grave without offence, or to smile
without pain.
Punning is now decidedly out of date. It is a silly and
displeasing thing, when it becomes a habit. Some one has
called it the wit of fools. It is within the reach of the
most trifling, and is often used by them to puzzle and
degrade the wise. Whatever may be its merits, it is now out
of fashion.
It is respectable to go to church once on Sunday. When you
are there, behave with decency. You should never walk in
fashionable places on Sunday afternoon. It is notoriously
vulgar. If your health requires you to take the air, you
should seek some retired street.
In conversation avoid such phrases as "My _dear_ sir or
A gentleman is distinguished as much by his composure as by
any other quality. His exertions are always subdued, and his
efforts easy. He is never surprised into an exclamation or
startled by anything. Throughout life he avoids what the
French call _scenes,_ occasions of exhibition, in which the
vulgar delight. He of course has feelings, but he never
exhibits any to the world. He hears of the death of his
pointer or the loss of an estate with entire calmness when
others are present.
It is very difficult for a literary man to preserve the
perfect manners and exact semblance of a gentleman. He must
be able to throw aside all the qualities which authorship
tends to stamp so deeply upon him, and thoroughly to despise
the cant of the profession. Yet this must be done without any
affectation. Upon the whole, unless he has rare tact, he will
please as much by going into company with all the marks of
his employment upon his manners, than by awkwardly attempting
to throw off his load. One would rather see a man with his
fingers inked, than to see him nervously striving to cover
them with a tattered kid glove. As to literary ladies, they
make up their minds to sacrifice all present and personal
admiration for future and abiding renown.
It is not considered fashionable to carry a watch. What has a
fashionable man to do with time? Besides he never goes into
those obscure parts of the town where there are no public
clocks, and his servant will tell him when it is time to
dress for dinner. A gentleman carries his watch in his
pantaloons with a plain black ribbon attached. It is only
worthy of a shop-boy to put it in his waistcoat pocket.
Custom allows to men the privilege of taking snuff, however
unneat this habit may appear. If you affect the "tangible
smell," always take it from a box, and not from your
waistcoat pocket or a paper. The common opinion, that
Napoleon took snuff from his pocket, (which fact, by the way,
is denied by Bourrienne,) has for ever driven this convenient
custom from the practice of gentlemen, for the same reason
that Lord Byron's anti-neckcloth fashion has compelled every
man of sense to bind a cravat religiously about his throat.
As to taking snuff from a paper, it is vile.
Women should abstain most scrupulously from tobacco, for
nothing can be more fatal to their divinity: they should at
least avoid it until past fifty;--that is to say, if a woman
past fifty can anywhere be found. Chewing is permitted only
to galley-slaves and metaphysicians.
It was a favourite maxim of Rivarol, "Do you wish to succeed?
Cite proper names." Rivarol is dead in exile, having left
behind him little property and less reputation. Judging from
all experience, if we were to frame an extreme maxim, it
should be, "If you wish to succeed never cite a proper name."
It will make you agreeable and hated. Your conversation will
be listened to with interest, and your company shunned with
horror. You will obtain the reputation of a gossip and a
scandal-bearer, and you will soon be obliged either to
purchase a razor or apply for a passport. If you are holding
a tete-a-tete with a notorious Mrs. Candour, then, indeed,
your tongue should be as sharp and nimble as the forked
lightning. You must beat her at her own weapons, and convince
her that it would be dangerous to traduce your character to
A bachelor is a person who enjoys everything and pays for
nothing; a married man is one that pays for everything and
enjoys nothing. The one drives a sulky through life, and is
not expected to take care of any one but himself: the other
keeps a carriage, which is always too full to afford him a
comfortable seat. Be cautious then how you exchange your
sulky for a carriage.
In ordinary conversation about persons employ the expressions
_men_ and _women_; _gentleman_ and _lady_ are _distinctive_
appellations, and not to be used upon general occasions.
You should say _forte-piano,_ not _piano-forte_: and the
_street door,_ not the _front door._
"A man may have virtue, capacity, and good conduct," says La
Bruyére, "and yet be insupportable; the air and manner which
we neglect, as little things, are frequently what the world
judges us by, and makes them decide for or against us."
In your intercourse with the world you must take persons as
they are, and society as you find it. You must never oppose
the one, nor attempt to alter the other. Society is a
harlequin stage, upon which you never appear in your own
dress nor without a mask. Keep your real dispositions for
your fireside, and your real character for your private
friend. In public, never differ from anybody, nor from
anything. The _agreeable_ man is one who _agrees._

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