(Editor’s Note: More history! My grandmother gave me this book on etiquette and manners decades ago. I’ve kept it because I love history and the perspective the passing of time offers. This 1884 book is 424 pages, so this series will offer only small excerpts, those that are amusing and/or quaint by today’s standards as well as those touching on the timeless rules we’re in danger of forgetting. Fun fact: Rock Hudson had a copy of Our Deportment in his collection, offered for sale by his estate at $275 so clearly in better condition than mine.)

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The author’s copy, tattered and missing its back cover.

Our Deportment, or the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society; Including Forms for Letters, Invitations, Etc., Etc. Also, Valuable Suggestions on Home Culture and Training.

Compiled from the latest reliable authorities, by John H. Young, A.M.

Revised and Illustrated. Publisher: F. B. Dickerson & Co., Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis: 1884.

Fly page poem:

To go through this life with good manners possessed,

As to be kind unto all, rich, poor and oppressed,

For kindness and mercy are balms that will heal

The sorrows, the pains, and the woes that we feel.

Copyrighted by Freeman B. Dickerson, 1879 and 1881.

Preface: No one subject is of more importance to people generally than a knowledge of the rules, usages and ceremonies of good society, which are commonly expressed by the word “Etiquette.” Its necessity is felt wherever men and women associate together, whether in the city, village, our country town, at home or abroad. To acquire a thorough knowledge of these matters, and to put that knowledge into practice with perfect ease and self-complacency, is what people call good breeding. To display an ignorance of them, is to subject the offender to the opprobrium of being ill-bred.

In the compilation of this work, the object has been to present the usages and rules which govern the most refined American society, and to impart that information which will enable any one, in whatever circumstances of life to acquire the perfect ease of a gentleman, or the gentle manners and graceful deportment of a well-bred lady, whose presence will be sought for, and who, by their graceful deportment will learn the art of being at home in any good society.

…As the work is not the authorship of any one individual, and as no individual, whatever may be his acquirements, could have the presumption to dictate rules for the conduct of society in general, it is therefore only claimed that it is a careful compilation from all the best and latest authorities upon the subject of etiquette and kindred matters, while such additional material has been embraced within its pages, as, it is hoped will be found of benefit and interest to every American household.

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CHAPTER I. Introductory

(… )        In all civilized countries the influence of the best society is of great importance to the welfare and prosperity of the nation, but in no country is the good influence of the most refined society more powerfully felt than in our own, “the land of the future, where mankind may plant, essay, and resolve all social problems.” These rules make social intercourse more agreeable, and facilitate hospitalities, when all members of society hold them as binding rules and faithfully regard their observance. They are to society what our laws are to the people as a political body, and to disregard them will give rise to constant misunderstandings, engender ill-will, and beget bad morals and bad manners.

(… )        Originally a gentleman was defined to be one who, without any title of nobility, wore a coat of arms. And the descendants of many of the early colonists preserve with much pride and care the old armorial bearings which their ancestors brought with them from their homes in the mother country. Although despising titles and ignoring the rights of kings, they still clung to the “grand old name of gentleman.” But race is no longer the only requisite for a gentleman, nor will race united with learning and wealth make a man a gentleman, unless there are present the kind and gentle qualities of the heart, which find expression in the principles of the Golden Rule. Nor will race, education and wealth combined make a woman a true lady if she shows a want of refinement and consideration of the feelings of others.

Good manners are only acquired by education and observation, followed up by habitual practice at home and in society, and good manners reveal to us the lady and the gentleman. He who does not possess them, though he bear the highest title of nobility, cannot expect to be called a gentleman; nor can a woman, without good manners, aspire to be considered a lady of ladies. Manners and morals are indissolubly allied, and no society can be good where they are bad. It is the duty of American women to exercise their influence to form so high a standard of morals and manners that the tendency of society will be continually upwards, seeking to make it the best society of any nation.

(… )        Can any one fancy what our society might be, if all its members were prefect gentlemen and true ladies, if all the inhabitants of the earth were kind-hearted; if, instead of contending with the faults of our fellows we were each to wage war against our own faults? Every one needs to guard constantly against the evil from within as well as from without, for as has been truly said, “a man’s greatest foe dwells in his own heart.”

A recent English writer says: “Etiquette may be defined as the minor morality of life. No observances, however minute that tend to spare the feelings of others, can be classed under the head of trivialities; and politeness, which is but another name for general amiability, will oil the creaking wheels of life more effectually than any of those unguents supplied by mere wealth and station.

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CHAPTER II. Our Manners

(… )        Experience of every day life teaches us, if we would but learn, that civility is not only one of the essetials of high success, but that it is almost a fortune of itself, and that he who has this quality if perfection, though a blockhead, is almost sure to succeed where, without it, even men of good ability fail.

(… )        Manner an Index of Character. A rude person, though well meaning, is avoided by all. Manners, in fact, are minor morals; and a rude person is often assumed to be a bad person. The manner in which a person says or does a thing, furnishes a better index of his character than what he does or ways, for it is by the incidental expression given to his thoughts and feelings, by his looks, tones and gestures, rather than by his words and deeds, that we prefer to judge him, for the reason that the former are involuntary.

(… )        The True Gentleman. Politeness is benevolence in small things. A true gentleman must regard the rights and feelings of others, even in matters the most trivial. He respects the individuality of others, just as he wishes others to respect his own. In society he is quiet, easy, unobtrusive, putting on no airs, nor hinting by word or manner that he deems himself better, or wiser, or richer than any one about him. He never boasts of his achievements, or fishes for compliments by affecting to underrate what he has done. He is distinguished, above all things, by his deep insight and sympathy, his quick perception of, and prompt attention to, those small and apparently insignificant ghints that may cause pleasure or pain to others.

(… )        The True Lady. From the lady there exhales a subtle magnetism. Uncounciously she encircles herself with an atmosphere of unruffled strength, which, to those who come into it, gives confidence and repose. Within her influence the diffident grow self-possessed, the impudent are checked, the inconsiderate are admonished; even the rude are constrained to be mannerly, and the refined are perfected; all spelled, unawares, by the flexible dignity, the commanding gentleness, the thorough womanliness of her look, speech and demeanor.

…Here is the test of true ladyhood. Whenever the young find themselves in the company of those who do not make them feel at ease, they should know that they are not in the society of true ladies and true gentlemen, but of pretenders; that well-bred men and women can only feel at home in the society of the well-bred.

The Importance of Trifles. Some people are wont to depreciate these kinds and tender qualities as trifles; but trifles, it must be remembered, make up the aggregate of human life. The petty incivilities, slight rudenesses and neglects of which men are guilty, without thought, or from the lack of foresight or sympathy, are often remembered, while the great acts performed by the same persons are often forgotten. There is no society where smiles, pleasant looks and animal spirits [natural exuberance] are not welcomed and deemed of more importance than sallies of wit, or refinements of understanding.

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Mirabeau portrait and caricature, courtesy Wikipedia.

(… )        Manners and Personal Appearance. A charming manner not only enhances personal beauty, but even hides ugliness and makes plainness agreeable. An ill-favored countenance is not necessarily a stumbling-block, at the outset, to its owner, which cannot be surmounted, for who does not know how much a happy manner often does to neutralize the ill effects of forbidding looks?… The ugliest Frenchman, perhaps, that ever lived was Mirabeau¹; yet such was the witchery of his manner, that the belt of no gay Lothario was hung with a greater number of bleeding female hearts than this “thunderer of the tribune,” whose looks were so hideous that he was compared to a tiger pitted with the small-pox.

(… )        Cultivation of Good Manners. The cultivation of pleasing, affable manners should be an important part of the education of every person of whatever calling or station in life. …The first law of good manners, which epitomizes all the rest is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” True courtesy is simply the application of this golden rule to all our social conduct, or, as it has been happily defined, “real kindness, kindly expressed.” …Gentleness in society, it has been truly said, “is like the silent influence of light which gives color to all nature; it is far more powerful than loudness or force, and far more fruitful. It pushes its way silently and persistently like the tiniest daffodil in spring, which raises the clod and thrusts it aside by the simple persistence of growing.”

(1. From Wikipedia: “Known as Barrel Mirabeau (Mirabeau-Tonneau) because of his “rotundity” and voluminous taste for drink….”)

About the author

Rebecca Wallick

Rebecca is a freelance writer and publisher living near McCall, Idaho. A Seattle native and recovering attorney, she much prefers the quiet, slow pace, and distinct seasons of the West Central Mountains, enjoying the skiing, hiking and running opportunities provided by the nearby Payette National Forest. Rebecca is a Contributing Editor with Bark magazine, and the author of Growing Up Boeing: The Early Jet Age Through the Eyes of a Test Pilot’s Daughter (Feb 2014).

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