Manners maketh the man

Man was not intended to live like a bear or a hermit, apart from others of his own nature, and, philosophy and reason will each agree with me, that man was born for sociability and finds his true delight in society. Society is a word capable of many meanings, and used here in each and all of them. Society, par excellence; the world at large; the little clique to which he is bound by early ties; the companionship of friends or relatives; even society tete a tete with one dear sympathizing soul, are pleasant states for a man to be in.

This society, composed, as it is, of many varying natures and elements, where each individual must submit to merge his own identity into the universal whole, which makes the word and state, is divided and subdivided into various cliques, and has a pastime for every disposition, grave or gay; and with each division rises up a new set of forms and ceremonies to be observed if you wish to glide down the current of polite life, smoothly and pleasantly.

Book of Etiquette

There is in my opinion no escaping the seemingly foppish recommendation that “manners maketh the man”. It confronts manliness at every turn, far exceeding the once equally novel and niminy-piminy capacities to read or write (talent reserved for lawyers or the clergy). It was my prep school mantra at St. Andrew’s College. I learned by error that when for example one is disposed or inclined, whether through deliberate intention or inadvertently or other social confusion, to communicate with others in less than a “correct” or “proper” demeanour, be warned of the possible nasty repercussions. They are predictable if even only upon subsequent reflection.  There is nonetheless a caveat; and that, which significantly was professed by no less than James Carmen Mainprize (considered at boarding school to be the master with the utmost knowledge of etiquette), is that manners are only required when the going gets tough.  Basically when the hackles begin to bristle it’s time to recollect  proper social civility.

If politeness is but a mask, as many philosophers tell us, it is a mask which will win love and admiration, and is better worn than cast aside.

I am pleased to observe that under the heading of “Manly Exercises”, the author Cecil B. Hartley of the book of etiquette has amusingly included the practice of “driving” which in his era (1860) was limited to horse back riding or riding in a carriage. The applicability to the modern motor vehicle is not however far removed.

In the indulgence of this beautiful pastime there are many points of care and attention to be observed; they will render to the driver himself much gratification by the confidence they will inspire in his companion, by having the knowledge that he or she is being driven by a careful horseman, and thus knowing that half of what danger may attend the pleasure, is removed.

Popularly I am known as an inveterate driver. Admittedly it often occurs to me that my obsession with automobiles is not merely artistic or entertaining; it may by moderate expansion give me an opportunity to either overlook or bluntly ignore other more compelling enterprises in life. Nonetheless at 75 years of age I am not about to dilute my unending satisfaction with the North American passenger automobile (though I am less enthused by foreign manufactures).

As an addict of the written word it interested me as well to read the author’s comments on letter writing which understandably was as close as he might reasonably be expected to approach the wider avenue related to publication.

There is no branch of a man’s education, no portion of his intercourse with other men, and no quality which will stand him in good stead more frequently than the capability of writing a good letter upon any and every subject. In business, in his intercourse with society, in, I may say, almost every circumstance of his life, he will find his pen called into requisition. Yet, although so important, so almost indispensable an accomplishment, it is one which is but little cultivated, and a letter, perfect in every part, is a great rarity.

Chesterfield, in his advice to his son, says:

“I come now to another part of your letter, which is the orthography, if I may call bad spelling orthography. You spell induce, enduce; and grandeur, you spell grandure; two faults of which few of my housemaids would have been guilty. I must tell you that orthography, in the true sense of the word, is so absolutely necessary for a man of letters, or a gentleman, that one false spelling may fix ridicule upon him for the rest of his life; and I know a man of quality, who never recovered the ridicule of having spelled wholesome without the w.

This was at the time no doubt as harsh a condemnation of poor literary skills as Professor Henry Higgins’ rebuke of Lisa Doolittle’s accent in My Fair Lady. But both have the identical objective; namely, preservation of appearances. Small wonder the achievements are so regularly associated with lawyers and clergy for whom the preservation of propriety and purity is considered imperative.

Finally let me mention the author’s insight into travel. I’ll bypass etiquette for the ball room.

Your pocket, too, will be the gainer by the power to arrange your own affairs. If you travel with a courier and depend upon him to arrange your hotel bills and other matters, you will be cheated by every one, from the boy who blacks your boots, to the magnificent artist, who undertakes to fill your picture gallery with the works of the “old masters.” If Murillo, Raphael, and Guido could see the pictures brought annually to this country as genuine works of their pencils, we are certain that they would tear their ghostly hair, wring their shadowy hands, and return to the tomb again in disgust. Ignorant of the language of the country you are visiting, you will be swindled in the little villages and the large cities by the inn-keepers and the hack-drivers, in the country and in the town, morning, noon, and evening, daily, hourly, and weekly; so, again I say, study the languages if you propose going abroad.

This is not the reason we prefer travelling in North America.  It does by contrast adequately illustrate how times have changed.  Something which is increasingly universal is the English language.  Someone told me recently that in Europe French and English have overtaken the popularity of German.  Chinese will foreseeably gain traction in western society.  My only comment is that I strongly approve bilingualism.