S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
If we look into the manners of the most remote ages of the world, we discover human nature in her simplicity; and the more we come downward towards our own times, may observe her hiding herself in artifices and refinements, polished insensibly out of her original plainness, and at length entirely lost under form and ceremony, and (what we call) good breeding. Read the accounts of men and women as they are given us by the most ancient writers, both sacred and profane, and you would think you were reading the history of another species.
The true art of being agreeable is to appear well pleased with all the company, and rather to seem well entertained with them, than to bring entertainment to them. A man thus disposed perhaps may not have much learning, nor any wit; but if he has common sense and something friendly in his behaviour, it conciliates mens minds more than the brightest parts without this disposition. It is true, indeed, that we should not dissemble and flatter in company; but a man may be very agreeable, strictly consistent with truth and sincerity, by a prudent silence where he cannot concur, and a pleasing assent where he can. Now and then you meet with a person so exactly formed to please, that he will gain upon every one that hears or beholds him: this disposition is not merely the gift of nature, but frequently the effect of much judgment of the world, and a command over the passions.
It is a point of cunning to wait upon him with whom you speak with your eye, as the Jesuits give it in precept: for there be many wise men that have secret hearts and transparent countenances: yet this would be done with a demure abasing of your eye sometimes, as the Jesuits also do use.
Some mens behaviour is like a verse, wherein every syllable is measured: how can a man comprehend great matters that breaketh his mind too much to small observations? Not to use ceremonies at all is to teach others not to use them again; and so diminisheth respect to himself: especially they be not to be omitted to strangers and formal natures: but the dwelling upon them, and exalting them above the moon, is not only tedious, but doth diminish the faith and credit of him that speaks: and, certainly, there is a kind of conveying of effectual passages amongst compliments, which is of singular use, if a man can hit upon it. Amongst a mans peers a man shall be sure of familiarity; and therefore it is good a little to keep state: amongst a mans inferiors one shall be sure of reverence; and therefore it is good a little to be familiar. He that is too much in anything, so that he giveth another occasion of society, maketh himself cheap.
Men had need beware how they be too perfect in compliments; for be they never so sufficient otherwise, their enemies will be sure to give them that attribute to the disadvantage of their greater virtues. It is loss also in business to be too full of respects, or to be too curious in observing times and opportunities. Solomon saith, He that considereth the wind shall not sow, and he that looketh to the clouds shall not reap. A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds. Mens behaviour should be like their apparel, not too strait or point-device, but free for exercise or motion.
Gentleness, which belongs to virtue, is to be carefully distinguished from the mean spirit of cowards, and the fawning assent of sycophants. It removes no just right from fear; it gives up no important truth from flattery; it is, indeed, not only consistent with a firm mind, but it necessarily requires a manly spirit and a fixed principle in order to give it any real value.
But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which by a bland assimilation incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded, as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.
Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790.
We are but too apt to consider things in the state in which we find them, without sufficiently adverting to the causes by which they have been produced, and possibly may be upheld. Nothing is more certain than that our manners, our civilization, and all the good things which are connected with manners and with civilization, have, in this European world of ours, depended for ages upon two principles, and were, indeed, the result of both combined: I mean the spirit of a gentleman, and the spirit of religion. The nobility and the clergy, the one by profession, and the other by patronage, kept learning in existence, even in the midst of arms and confusions, and whilst governments were rather in their causes than formed. Learning paid back what it received to nobility and priesthood, and paid it with usury, by enlarging their ideas, and by furnishing their minds. Happy, if they had all continued to know their indissoluble union, and their proper place! Happy, if learning, not debauched by ambition, had been satisfied to continue the instructor, and not aspired to be the master! Along with its natural protectors and guardians, learning will be cast into the mire and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.
Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them, in a great measure, the laws depend. The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and colour to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.
As to politeness, many have attempted definitions of it. I would venture to call it benevolence in trifles, or the preference of others to ourselves, in little, daily, hourly occurrences in the commerce of life. A better place, a more commodious seat, priority in being helped at table, etc., what is it but sacrificing ourselves in such trifles to the convenience and pleasure of others? And this constitutes true politeness. It is a perpetual attentionby habit it grows easy and natural to usto the little wants of those we are with; by which we either prevent or remove them.
Bowing, ceremonious formal compliments, stiff civilities, will never be politeness: that must be natural, unstudied, manly, noble. And what will give this, but a mind benevolent, and perpetually attentive to exert that amiable disposition in trifles towards all you converse and live with? Benevolence in greater matters takes a higher name, and is the queen of virtues.
Good manners are to particular societies what good morals are to society in generaltheir cement and their security. And as laws are enacted to enforce good morals, or at least to prevent the ill effects of bad ones, so there are certain rules of civility, universally implied and received, to enforce good manners and punish bad ones. And indeed there seems to me to be less difference both between the crimes and punishments than at first one would imagine. The immoral man, who invades anothers property, is justly hanged for it; and the ill-bred man, who by his ill manners invades and disturbs the quiet and comforts of private life, is by common consent as justly banished society.
Know, then, that as learning, honour, and virtue are absolutely necessary to gain you the esteem and admiration of mankind, politeness and good breeding are equally necessary to make you welcome and agreeable in conversation and common life. Great talents, such as honour, virtue, learning, and parts, are above the generality of the world; who neither possess them themselves nor judge of them rightly in others: but all people are judges of the lesser talents, such as civility, affability, and an obliging, agreeable address and manner; because they feel the good effects of them, as making society easy and pleasing.
A vulgar man is captious and jealous; eager and impetuous about trifles. He suspects himself to be slighted, thinks everything that is said meant at him; if the company happens to laugh, he is persuaded they laugh at him; he grows angry and testy, says something very impertinent, and draws himself into a scrape by showing what he calls a proper spirit, and asserting himself.
As there are none so weak that we may venture to injure them with impunity, so there are none so low that they may not at some time be able to repay an obligation. Therefore what benevolence would dictate, prudence would confirm. For he that is cautious of insulting the weakest, and not above obliging the lowest, will have attained such habits of forbearance and of complacency as will secure him the good will of all that are beneath him, and teach him how to avoid the enmity of all that are above him. For he that would not abuse even a worm will be still more cautious how he treads upon a serpent.
The person who screams, or uses the superlative degree, or converses with heat, puts whole drawing-rooms to flight. If you wish to be loved, love measure. You must have genius or a prodigious usefulness if you will hide the want of measure. This perception comes in to polish and perfect the part of the social instrument. Society will pardon much to genius and special gifts; but being in its nature a convention, it loves what is conventional or what belongs to coming together. That makes the good and bad of manners, namely, what helps or hinders fellowship. For fashion is not good sense absolute, but relative; not good sense private, but good sense entertaining company. It hates corners and sharp points of character; hates quarrelsome, egotistical, solitary, and gloomy people; hates whatever can interfere with total blending of parties; whilst it values all particularities as in the highest degree refreshing which can consist with good fellowship. And, besides the general infusion of wit to heighten civility, the direct splendour of intellectual power is ever welcome in fine society, as the costliest addition to its rule and its credit.
I soon found the advantage of this change in my manners: the conversations I engaged in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevailed with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right. And this mode, which I at first put on with some violence to natural inclination, became at length easy, and so habitual to me that perhaps for the last fifty years no one has ever heard a dogmatical expression escape me.
The tendency of pride to produce strife and hatred is sufficiently apparent from the pains men have been at to construct a system of politeness, which is nothing more than a sort of mimic humility, in which the sentiments of an offensive self-estimation are so far disguised and suppressed as to make them compatible with the spirit of society: such a mode of behaviour as would naturally result from an attention to the apostolic injunction: Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but, in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves. But if the semblance be of such importance, how much more useful the reality! If the mere garb of humility be of such indispensable necessity that without it society could not subsist, how much better still would the harmony of the world be preserved were the condescension, deference, and respect so studiously displayed a true picture of the heart!
Why does a young woman of prepossessing appearance, glossy hair, and neat attire, taken from any station of life and put behind the counter of a Refreshment Room on an English Railroad, conceive the idea that her mission in life is to treat me with scorn? Why does she disdain my plaintive and respectful solicitations for portions of pork-pie or cups of tea? Why does she feed me like a hyena? What have I done to incur the young ladys displeasure? Is it that I have come there to be refreshed? It is strange that she should take that ill, because her vocation would be gone if I and my fellow-travellers did not appear before her, suing in humility to be allowed to pay out a little money. Yet I never offered her any other injury. Then, why does she wound my sensitive nature by being so dreadfully cross to me? She has relations, friends, acquaintances, with whom to quarrel. Why does she pick me out for her natural enemy?
But I know menI am sure they are tyrants at home, bully their servants, pester their wives, and beat their childrenwho seem to take a delight in harassing, badgering, objurgating the waiter; setting pitfalls in the reckoning that he may stumble, and giving him confused orders that he may trip himself up. These are the men who call in the landlord and demand the waiters instant dismissal because their mutton-chop has a curly tail; these are the pleasant fellows who threaten to write to the Times because the cayenne pepper wont come out of the caster. These are the jocund companions who quarrel with the cabmen and menace them with ruin and the treadmill.
But I do confess that if there be one character more than another that rouses my usually bland temper into combativeness, it is the character of the patter-down upon system. In his atmosphere of forked lightning and thunder my milk of human kindness naturally curdles. If he be a complete master of fence, I dislike him all the more. I have a prejudice against duellists in general, but I feel positive aversion to him who is profuse in his challenges because he never misses his man. The professed putter-down, if urged by the love of display, is ungenerous; if by the love of combativeness, is ungenial; if by the love of causing pain, is cowardly. The last is the bravo of society.
There is a certain artificial polish, a commonplace vivacity, acquired by perpetually mingling in the beau monde, which, in the commerce of the world, supplies the place of a natural suavity and good humour, but is purchased at the expense of all original and sterling traits of character. By a kind of fashionable discipline, the eye is taught to brighten, the lip to smile, and the whole countenance to irradiate with the semblance of friendly welcome, while the bosom is unwarmed by a single spark of genuine kindness and good will.
Some young people do not sufficiently understand the advantages of natural charms, and how much they would gain by trusting to them entirely. They weaken these gifts of Heaven, so rare and fragile, by affected manners and an awkward imitation. Their times and their gait are borrowed; they study their attitudes before the glass until they have lost all trace of natural manner, and, with all their pains, they please but little.
If their minds are well principled with inward civility, a great part of the roughness which sticks to the outside for want of better teaching, time and observation will rub off; but if ill, all the rules in the world will not polish them.
Silence, therefore, and modesty are very advantageous qualities in conversation; and one should train up this boy to be sparing, and a good husband of his talent of understanding, when once acquired; and to forbear taking exceptions at, or reproving, every idle saying, or ridiculous story, is spoke or told in his presence: for it is a rudeness to controvert everything that is not agreeable to our own palate. Let him be satisfied with correcting himself, and not seem to condemn everything in another he would not do himself, nor dispute against common customs. Let him be wise without arrogancy, without envy. Let him avoid these vain and uncivil images of authority, this childish ambition of coveting to appear better bred, and more accomplished, than he really will by such carriage discover himself to be, and, as if opportunities of interrupting and reprehending were not to be omitted, to desire from thence to derive the reputation of being something more than ordinary.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xxv.
The manner of saying or of doing anything goes a great way in the value of the thing itself. It was well said of him that called a good office that was done harshly and with an ill will, a stony piece of bread: it is necessary for him that is hungry to receive it, but it almost chokes a man in the going down.
Manners are the shadows of virtues; the momentary display of those qualities which our fellow-creatures love and respect. If we strive to become then what we strive to appear, manners may often be rendered useful guides to the performance of our duties.
How often may we meet with those who are one while courteous, but within a small time after are so supercilious, sharp, troublesome, fierce, and exceptions that they become the very sores and burdens of society!
We see a world of pains taken, and the best years of life spent, in collecting a set of thoughts in a college for the conduct of life, and, after all, the man so qualified shall hesitate in his speech to a good suit of clothes, and want common sense before an agreeable woman. Hence it is that wisdom, valour, justice, and learning cannot keep a man in countenance that is possessed with these excellences, if he wants that inferior art of life and behaviour, called good breeding. A man endowed with great perfections, without this, is like one who has his pockets full of gold, but always wants change for his ordinary occasions.
With the greatest softness and benevolence imaginable, he is impartial in spite of all importunity, even that of his own good nature. He is ever clear in his judgment: but in complaisance to his company speaks with doubt; and never shows confidence in argument, but to support the sense of another. Were such an equality of mind the general endeavour of all men, how sweet would be the pleasures of conversation! He that is loud would then understand that we ought to call a constable; and know that spoiling good company is the most heinous way of breaking the peace.
As it is the part of justice never to do violence, it is of modesty never to commit offence. In the last particular lies the whole force of what is called decency; but this quality is more easily comprehended by an ordinary capacity than expressed with all his eloquence. This decency of behaviour is generally transgressed among all orders of men; nay, the very women, though themselves created as it were for ornament, are often very much mistaken in this ornamental part of life.
The desire of pleasing makes a man agreeable or unwelcome to those with whom he converses, according to the motive from which that inclination appears to flow. If your concern for pleasing others arises from an innate benevolence, it never fails of success; if from a vanity to excel, its disappointment is no less certain. What we call an agreeable man, is he who is endowed with the natural bent to do acceptable things from a delight he takes merely as such; and the affectation of that character is what constitutes a fop.
Nothing is more silly than the pleasure some people take in speaking their minds. A man of this make will say a rude thing for the mere pleasure of saying it, when an opposite behaviour, full as innocent, might have preserved his friend, or made his fortune.
Kindness and cordiality of manner are scarcely less pleasing to the feelings than express compliment, and they are the more safe for both parties, since they afford no foundation for building up expectations; a species of architecture sufficiently notorious for the weakness of the foundations that support an enormous superstructure.
Sourness of disposition, and rudeness of behaviour, censoriousness, and sinister interpretation of things, all cross and distasteful humours, render the conversation of men grievous and uneasy to one another.
[The Franks] were honourably distinguished from the Gauls and degenerate Romans, among whom they established themselves, by their independence, their love of freedom, their scorn of a lie; and thus it came to pass that by degrees the name Frank, which may have originally indicated merely a national, came to involve a moral, distinction as well.
The over-formal often impede, and sometimes frustrate, business by a dilatory, tedious, circuitous, and (what in colloquial language is called) fussy way of conducting the simplest transactions. They have been compared to a dog, which cannot lie down till he has made three circuits round the spot.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Seeming Wise.
There are many (otherwise) sensible people who seek to cure a young person of that very common complaint [shyness] by exhorting him not to be shy,telling him what an awkward appearance it has,and that it prevents his doing himself justice, etc. All which is manifestly pouring oil on the fire to quench it. For the very cause of shyness is an over-anxiety as to what people are thinking of you; a morbid attention to your own appearance. The course, therefore, that ought to be pursued is exactly the reverse. The sufferer should be exhorted to think as little as possible about himself, and the opinion formed of him,to be assured that most of the company do not trouble their heads about him,and to harden him against any impertinent criticisms that he supposed to be going on,taking care only to do what is right, leaving others to think and say what they will.
And the more intensely occupied any one is with the subject-matter of what he is saying,the business itself that he is engaged in,the less will his thoughts be turned on himself, and on what others think of him.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Discourse.
Good manners are a part of good morals; and when form is too much neglected, true politeness suffers diminution: then we are obliged to bring some back; or we find the want of them . The opposite extreme of substituting the external form for the thing signified is not more dangerous or more common than the neglect of that form. It is all very well to say, There is no use in bidding Good-morrow, or Good-night, to those who know I wish it; of sending ones love, in a letter, to those who do not doubt it, etc. All this sounds very well in theory, but it will not do for practice. Scarce any friendship, or any politeness, is so strong as to be able to subsist without any external supports of this kind; and it is even better to have too much form than too little.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Ceremonies and Respects.