.. a noble privilege which has been sadly prostituted; and what I want to tell you is, that the humblest man in Leeds, who has the coarsest work to do, yet, if his heart be tender, and pure, and true, can be, in the most emphatic sense of the word, ‘a gentleman.’ We all know that there are those in our midst who object to politeness, or polite phrases, because, as they say, the language is false and unmeaning. And company manners is a scornful term frequently applied to the courteous demeanor, and many polite sentences which are often uttered, and are so very desirable, in well-bred society. In the common compliments of civilized life, there is no falsehood uttered, because there is no intention to deceive. And polite language is always agreeable to the ear, and lends a soothing influence to the heart, while unkind and rough words, harshly uttered, are just the reverse.
Children and animals recognize this truth quite as readily as adults.A baby will cry at the sound of harsh language; and your horse, cow, dog, or cat, are all most amenable to kind words and caressing motions. And although: — ‘Tis only man can words create, And cut the air to sounds articulate By Nature’s special charter, yet kindness is a language which the dumb can speak and the deaf can understand.
We can convey the plainest of truths in a civil speech; and the most malignant of lies can be also wrapped in specious words. But we cannot consider a love of truth any apology for rude and uncouth manners; truth need not be made harsh, unlovely and morose; but should appear kind and gentle, attractive and pleasing. Roughness and honesty are, however, often met with in the same person; but we are not competent judges of human nature; if we take ill-manners to be a guarantee of probity of heart, or think a stranger must be a knave because he possesses the outward seeming of a gentleman.Doubtless there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing in our land, but that does not decrease the value of gentleness and courtesy in the least. Good manners and a good conscience are very often twin-sisters, and are always more attractive for the companionship.
Bad manners are frequently a species of bad morals; and Goethe tells us, there is no outward sign of courtesy that does not rest on a deep, moral foundation. Good manners are a very essential characteristic of religion also, as well as a fundamental part of civilization; and we are all in duty bound to treat those with whom we come in contact, with consideration, respect and deference. In the Epistle of St.
James, we read the first Code of Etiquette and Good manners which was ever given to man from high authority.The Greeks and Romans, to be sure, were strictly devoted to etiquette — but it was not the kind which springs from a conscience void of offence against God and man. The Chinese are the most minute of all nations in their forms of etiquette, etc.; and they have hundreds of books which treat upon politeness and good-breeding. One of their treatises upon these subjects is said to contain over three thousand articles.
The custom of salutations, of visiting, of eating, of making presents, of introductions, writing letters, and the like, are all strictly defined, and they are enforced like our laws — no one being permitted to transgress them. We have been inclined to consider the Chinese as barbarians, while in fact they are a far more polite nation than our own. La Bruyre, a famous French writer, thus defines politeness: We may define politeness, 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.
Politeness may also be said to be the embodiment of the golden rule; and without its aid, without the amenities of society, life is an arid waste, a barren plain.Gold will not supply the deficiencies of a pleasing deportment; and we can assure our readers that they will find courtesy in all times and at all places the cheapest and most available of commodities. In Europe, good manners are most highly esteemed, and most assiduously inculcated both in the highest and the lowest classes; and the children are taught that it is very essential for them to show respect to their superiors and elders, and to be always kind and courteous to their inferiors. In America, politeness and etiquette are well taught in those families who possess culture and refinement; but among the masses rarely taught at all.
Our district schools were nurseries of good manners thirty or forty years ago, compared to what they are at the present day. Then the country children were taught to bow to strangers passing by; now they would be more likely to salute them with profanity or vulgarity.Good manners are surely at a discount in the United States. We cannot disguise this fact — it is seen by all who travel through the country, who frequent the city, who sail upon our rivers and our lakes, or whirl rapidly along our railways. The lower officials are often cross and surly — the higher sometimes extremely discourteous; and the want of good-breeding is everywhere noted.
Surely we should ask ourselves the question — Whence has this condition of affairs arisen? Our democratic principles should not be allowed to lead us to indulge in discourtesy, and thus throw a shadow of disgrace upon our institutions. And those who consider the rules which regulate society needless and absurd, would, if they were laid aside, soon desire their restoration, as they are a needful barrier against rudeness and vulgarity.There are, doubtless, many eccentricities of fashion, yet they soon pass away; but some prescribed regulations for conduct are essential for the preservation of order and dignity. Etiquette is intended to guard us from some of the inconveniences of a large acquaintance, and by settling certain points, it permits us to maintain a ceremonious acquaintance with a circle much too large for social visiting. Therefore let us: — Study with care, politeness that must teach The modest forms of gesture and of speech; In vain formality, with matron mien, And pertness apes with her familiar grin; They against nature for applauses strain, Distort themselves, and give all others pain.