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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Manners and Fashion
By Herbert Spencer (1820–1903)
 
From ‘Illustrations of Universal Progress’

WHOEVER has studied the physiognomy of political meetings cannot fail to have remarked a connection between democratic opinions and peculiarities of costume. At a Chartist demonstration, a lecture on Socialism, or a soirée of the Friends of Italy, there will be seen many among the audience, and a still larger ratio among the speakers, who get themselves up in a style more or less unusual. One gentleman on the platform divides his hair down the centre, instead of on one side; another brushes it back off the forehead, in the fashion known as “bringing out the intellect”; a third has so long forsworn the scissors that his locks sweep his shoulders. A considerable sprinkling of mustaches may be observed; here and there an imperial; and occasionally some courageous breaker of conventions exhibits a full-grown beard. 1 This nonconformity in hair is countenanced by various nonconformities in dress, shown by others of the assemblage. Bare necks, shirt-collars à la Byron, waistcoats cut Quaker fashion, wonderfully shaggy great-coats, numerous oddities in form and color, destroy the monotony usual in crowds. Even those exhibiting no conspicuous peculiarity frequently indicate, by something in the pattern or make-up of their clothes, that they pay small regard to what their tailors tell them about the prevailing taste. And when the gathering breaks up, the varieties of head-gear displayed—the number of caps, and the abundance of felt hats—suffice to prove that were the world at large like-minded, the black cylinders which tyrannize over us would soon be deposed.  1
  The foreign correspondence of our daily press shows that this relationship between political discontent and the disregard of customs exists on the Continent also. Red republicanism has always been distinguished by its hirsuteness. The authorities of Prussia, Austria, and Italy, alike recognize certain forms of hat as indicative of disaffection, and fulminate against them accordingly. In some places the wearer of a blouse runs the risk of being classed among the suspects; and in others, he who would avoid the bureau of police must beware how he goes out in any but the ordinary colors. Thus democracy abroad, as at home, tends towards personal singularity.  2
  Nor is this association of characteristics peculiar to modern times, or to reformers of the State. It has always existed; and it has been manifested as much in religious agitations as in political ones. Along with dissent from the chief established opinions and arrangements, there has ever been some dissent from the customary social practices. The Puritans, disapproving of the long curls of the Cavaliers, as of their principles, cut their own hair short, and so gained the name of “Roundheads.” The marked religious nonconformity of the Quakers was marked by an equally marked nonconformity of manners,—in attire, in speech, in salutation. The early Moravians not only believed differently, but at the same time dressed differently and lived differently, from their fellow-Christians.  3
  That the association between political independence and independence of personal conduct is not a phenomenon of to-day only, we may see alike in the appearance of Franklin at the French court in plain clothes, and in the white hats worn by the last generation of radicals. Originality of nature is sure to show itself in more ways than one. The mention of George Fox’s suit of leather, or Pestalozzi’s school name, “Harry Oddity,” will at once suggest the remembrance that men who have in great things diverged from the beaten track, have frequently done so in small things likewise. Minor illustrations of this truth may be gathered in almost every circle. We believe that whoever will number up his reforming and rationalist acquaintances, will find among them more than the usual proportion of those who in dress or behavior exhibit some degree of what the world calls eccentricity.  4
  If it be a fact that men of revolutionary aims in politics or religion are commonly revolutionists in custom also, it is not less a fact that those whose office it is to uphold established arrangements in State and church are also those who most adhere to the social forms and observances bequeathed to us by past generations. Practices elsewhere extinct still linger about the headquarters of government. The monarch still gives assent to Acts of Parliament in the old French of the Normans; and Norman French terms are still used in law. Wigs such as those we see depicted in old portraits, may yet be found on the heads of judges and barristers. The Beefeaters at the Tower wear the costume of Henry VII.th’s body-guard. The university dress of the present year varies but little from that worn soon after the Reformation. The claret-colored coat, knee-breeches, lace shirt frills, ruffles, white silk stockings, and buckled shoes, which once formed the usual attire of a gentleman, still survive as the court dress. And it need scarcely be said that at levées and drawing-rooms, the ceremonies are prescribed with an exactness, and enforced with a rigor, not elsewhere to be found.  5
  Can we consider these two series of coincidences as accidental and unmeaning? Must we not rather conclude that some necessary relationship obtains between them? Are there not such things as a constitutional conservatism, and a constitutional tendency to change? Is there not a class which clings to the old in all things; and another class so in love with progress as often to mistake novelty for improvement? Do we not find some men ready to bow to established authority of whatever kind; while others demand of every such authority its reason, and reject it if it fails to justify itself? And must not the minds thus contrasted tend to become respectively conformist and nonconformist, not only in politics and religion but in other things? Submission, whether to a government, to the dogmas of ecclesiastics, or to that code of behavior which society at large has set up, is essentially of the same nature; and the sentiment which induces resistance to the despotism of rulers, civil or spiritual, likewise induces resistance to the despotism of the world’s opinion. Look at them fundamentally, and all enactments, alike of the legislature, the consistory, and the saloon,—all regulations formal or virtual,—have a common character: they are all limitations of man’s freedom. “Do this—Refrain from that,” are the blank formulas into which they may all be written: and in each case the understanding is that obedience will bring approbation here and paradise hereafter; while disobedience will entail imprisonment, or sending to Coventry, or eternal torments, as the case may be. And if restraints, however named, and through whatever apparatus of means exercised, are one in their action upon men, it must happen that those who are patient under one kind of restraint are likely to be patient under another; and conversely, that those impatient of restraint in general, will on the average tend to show their impatience in all directions.  6
  That Law, Religion, and Manners are thus related—that their respective kinds of operation come under one generalization—that they have in certain contrasted characteristics of men a common support and a common danger—will, however, be most clearly seen on discovering that they have a common origin. Little as from present appearances we should suppose it, we shall yet find that at first the control of religion, the control of laws, and the control of manners, were all one control. However incredible it may now seem, we believe it to be demonstrable that the rules of etiquette, the provisions of the statute-book, and the commands of the Decalogue, have grown from the same root. If we go far enough back into the ages of primeval Fetishism, it becomes manifest that originally Deity, Chief, and Master of the Ceremonies were identical. To make good these positions, and to show their bearing on what is to follow, it will be necessary here to traverse ground that is in part somewhat beaten, and at first sight irrelevant to our topic. We will pass over it as quickly as consists with the exigencies of the argument.  7
  That the earliest social aggregations were ruled solely by the will of the strong man, few dispute. That from the strong man proceeded not only monarchy, but the conception of a God, few admit; much as Carlyle and others have said in evidence of it. If, however, those who are unable to believe this will lay aside the ideas of God and man in which they have been educated, and study the aboriginal ideas of them, they will at least see some probability in the hypothesis. Let them remember that before experience had yet taught men to distinguish between the possible and the impossible, and while they were ready on the slightest suggestion to ascribe unknown powers to any object and make a fetish of it, their conceptions of humanity and its capacities were necessarily vague, and without specific limits. The man who, by unusual strength or cunning, achieved something that others had failed to achieve, or something which they did not understand, was considered by them as differing from themselves; and as we see in the belief of some Polynesians that only their chiefs have souls, or in that of the ancient Peruvians that their nobles were divine by birth, the ascribed difference was apt to be not one of degree only, but one of kind.  8
  Let them remember next, how gross were the notions of God, or rather of gods, prevalent during the same era and afterwards: how concretely gods were conceived as men of specific aspects dressed in specific ways; how their names were literally “the strong,” “the destroyer,” “the powerful one”; how, according to the Scandinavian mythology, the “sacred duty of blood revenge” was acted on by the gods themselves; and how they were not only human in their vindictiveness, their cruelty, and their quarrels with each other, but were supposed to have amours on earth, and to consume the viands placed on their altars. Add to which, that in various mythologies—Greek, Scandinavian, and others—the oldest beings are giants; that according to a traditional genealogy, the gods, demigods, and in some cases men, are descended from these after the human fashion; and that while in the East we hear of sons of God who saw the daughters of men that they were fair, the Teutonic myths tell of unions between the sons of men and the daughters of the gods.  9
  Let them remember, too, that at first the idea of death differed widely from that which we have; that there are still tribes who on the decease of one of their number attempt to make the corpse stand, and put food into his mouth; that the Peruvians had feasts at which the mummies of their dead Incas presided, when, as Prescott says, they paid attention “to these insensible remains as if they were instinct with life”; that among the Fejees it is believed that every enemy has to be killed twice; that the Eastern Pagans give extension and figure to the soul, and attribute to it all the same substances, both solid and liquid, of which our bodies are composed; and that it is the custom among most barbarous races to bury food, weapons, and trinkets along with the dead body, under the manifest belief that it will presently need them.  10
  Lastly, let them remember that the other world, as originally conceived, is simply some distant part of this world; some Elysian fields, some happy hunting-ground,—accessible even to the living, and to which, after death, men travel in anticipation of a life analogous in general character to that which they led before. Then, co-ordinating these general facts,—the ascription of unknown powers to chiefs and medicine-men; the belief in deities having human forms, passions, and behavior; the imperfect comprehension of death as distinguished from life; and the proximity of the future abode to the present, both in position and character,—let them reflect whether they do not almost unavoidably suggest the conclusion that the aboriginal god is the dead chief; the chief not dead in our sense, but gone away, carrying with him food and weapons to some rumored region of plenty, some promised land whither he had long intended to lead his followers, and whence he will presently return to fetch them.  11
  This hypothesis, once entertained, is seen to harmonize with all primitive ideas and practices. The sons of the deified chief reigning after him, it necessarily happens that all early kings are held descendants of the gods; and the fact that alike in Assyria, Egypt, among the Jews, Phœnicians, and ancient Britons, kings’ names were formed out of the names of the gods, is fully explained.  12
  From this point onwards these two kinds of authority, at first complicated together as those of principal and agent, become slowly more and more distinct. As experience accumulates, and ideas of causation grow more precise, kings lose their supernatural attributes; and instead of God-king, become God-descended king, God-appointed king, the Lord’s anointed, the vicegerent of Heaven, ruler reigning by divine right. The old theory, however, long clings to men in feeling after it has disappeared in name; and “such divinity doth hedge a king” that even now, many on first seeing one feel a secret surprise at finding him an ordinary sample of humanity. The sacredness attaching to royalty attaches afterwards to its appended institutions,—to legislatures, to laws. Legal and illegal are synonymous with right and wrong; the authority of parliament is held unlimited; and a lingering faith in governmental power continually generates unfounded hopes from its enactments. Political skepticism, however, having destroyed the divine prestige of royalty, goes on ever increasing, and promises ultimately to reduce the State to a purely secular institution, whose regulations are limited in their sphere, and have no other authority than the general will. Meanwhile, the religious control has been little by little separating itself from the civil, both in its essence and in its forms….  13
  Thus alike in authority, in essence, and in form, political and spiritual rule have been ever more widely diverging from the same root. That increasing division of labor which marks the progress of society in other things, marks it also in this separation of government into civil and religious; and if we observe how the morality which forms the substance of religions in general is beginning to be purified from the associated creeds, we may anticipate that this division will be ultimately carried much further.  14
  Passing now to the third species of control, that of manners, we shall find that this too while it had a common genesis with the others, has gradually come to have a distinct sphere and a special embodiment. Among early aggregations of men before yet social observances existed, the sole forms of courtesy known were the signs of submission to the strong man; as the sole law was his will, and the sole religion the awe of his supposed supernaturalness. Originally, ceremonies were modes of behavior to the God-king. Our commonest titles have been derived from his names. And all salutations were primarily worship paid to him. Let us trace out these truths in detail, beginning with titles.  15
  The fact already noticed, that the names of early kings among divers races are formed by the addition of certain syllables to the names of their gods,—which certain syllables, like our Mac and Fitz, probably mean “son of,” or “descended from,”—at once gives meaning to the term Father as a divine title. And when we read, in Selden, that “the composition out of these names of Deities was not only proper to Kings: their Grandes and more honorable Subjects” [no doubt members of the royal race] “had sometimes the like,”—we see how the term Father, properly used by these also, and by their multiplying descendants, came to be a title used by the people in general. And it is significant, as bearing on this point, that among the most barbarous nations of Europe, where belief in the divine nature of the ruler still lingers, Father in this higher sense is still a regal distinction. When, again, we remember how the divinity at first ascribed to kings was not a complimentary fiction but a supposed fact; and how, further, under the Fetish philosophy the celestial bodies are believed to be personages who once lived among men,—we see that the appellations of Oriental rulers, “Brother to the Sun,” etc., were probably once expressive of a genuine belief; and have simply, like many other things, continued in use after all meaning has gone out of them. We may infer too that the titles God, Lord, Divinity, were given to primitive rulers literally; that the nostra divinitas applied to the Roman emperors, and the various sacred designations that have been borne by monarchs, down to the still extant phrase “Our Lord the King,” are the dead and dying forms of what were once living facts. From these names, God, Father, Lord, Divinity,—originally belonging to the God-king, and afterwards to God and the king,—the derivation of our commonest titles of respect is clearly traceable.  16
  There is reason to think that these titles were originally proper names. Not only do we see among the Egyptians, where Pharaoh was synonymous with king, and among the Romans, where to be Cæsar meant to be emperor, that the proper names of the greatest men were transferred to their successors, and so became class names; but in the Scandinavian mythology we may trace a human title of honor up to the proper name of a divine personage. In Anglo-Saxon, bealdor or baldor means Lord; and Balder is the name of the favorite of Odin’s sons—the gods who with him constitute the Teutonic Pantheon. How these names of honor became general is easily understood. The relatives of the primitive kings—the grandees described by Selden as having names formed on those of the gods, and shown by this to be members of the divine race—necessarily shared in the epithets, such as Lord, descriptive of superhuman relationships and nature. Their ever multiplying offspring inheriting these, gradually rendered them comparatively common. And then they came to be applied to every man of power: partly from the fact that in these early days, when men conceived divinity simply as a stronger kind of humanity, great persons could be called by divine epithets with but little exaggeration; partly from the fact that the unusually potent were apt to be considered as unrecognized or illegitimate descendants of “the strong, the destroyer, the powerful one”; and partly also from compliment and the desire to propitiate.  17
  Progressively as superstition diminished, this last became the sole cause. And if we remember that it is the nature of compliment, as we daily hear it, to attribute more than is due; that in the constantly widening application of “esquire,” in the perpetual repetition of “your Honor” by the fawning Irishman, and in the use of the name “gentleman” to any coalheaver or dustman by the lower classes of London, we have current examples of the depreciation of titles consequent on compliment; and that in barbarous times, when the wish to propitiate was stronger than now, this effect must have been greater,—we shall see that there naturally arose an extensive misuse of all early distinctions. Hence the facts that the Jews called Herod a god; that Father, in its higher sense, was a term used among them by servants to masters; that Lord was applicable to any person of worth and power. Hence too the fact that in the later periods of the Roman Empire, every man saluted his neighbor as Dominus and Rex.  18
  But it is in the titles of the Middle Ages, and in the growth of our modern ones out of them, that the process is most clearly seen. Herr, Don, Signior, Seigneur, Señor, were all originally names of rulers—of feudal lords. By the complimentary use of these names to all who could on any pretense be supposed to merit them, and by successive degradations of them from each step in the descent to a still lower one, they have come to be common forms of address. At first the phrase in which a serf accosted his despotic chief, mein herr is now familiarly applied in Germany to ordinary people. The Spanish title Don, once proper to noblemen and gentlemen only, is now accorded to all classes. So too is it with Signior in Italy. Seigneur and Monseigneur, by contraction in Sieur and Monsieur, have produced the term of respect claimed by every Frenchman. And whether Sire be or be not a like contraction of Signior, it is clear that, as it was borne by sundry of the ancient feudal lords of France,—who, as Selden says, “affected rather to be stiled by the name of Sire than Baron, as Le Sire de Montmorencie, Le Sire de Beaulieu, and the like,”—and as it has been commonly used to monarchs, our word Sir, which is derived from it, originally meant lord or king. Thus too is it with feminine titles. Lady—which according to Horne Tooke means exalted, and was at first given only to the few—is now given to all women of education. Dame—once an honorable name, to which in old books we find the epithets of “high-born” and “stately” affixed—has now, by repeated widenings of its application, become relatively a term of contempt. And if we trace the compound of this, Ma Dame, through its contractions,—Madam, ma’am, mam, mum,—we find that the “Yes’m” of Sally to her mistress is originally equivalent to “Yes, my Exalted,” or “Yes, your Highness.” Throughout, therefore, the genesis of words of honor has been the same. Just as with the Jews and with the Romans, has it been with the modern Europeans. Tracing these every-day names to their primitive significations of lord and king, and remembering that in aboriginal societies these were applied only to the gods and their descendants, we arrive at the conclusion that our familiar Sir and Monsieur are, in their primary and expanded meanings, terms of adoration.  19
  Further to illustrate this gradual depreciation of titles, and to confirm the inference drawn, it may be well to notice in passing that the oldest of them have, as might be expected, been depreciated to the greatest extent. Thus, master—a word proved by its derivation and by the similarity of the connate words in other languages (Fr., maître for master; Russ., master; Dan., mester; Ger., meister) to have been one of the earliest in use for expressing lordship—has now become applicable to children only; and under the modification of “Mister,” to persons next above the laborer. Again, knighthood, the oldest kind of dignity, is also the lowest; and Knight Bachelor, which is the lowest order of knighthood, is more ancient than any other of the orders. Similarly too with the peerage: Baron is alike the earliest and least elevated of its divisions. This continual degradation of all names of honor has from time to time made it requisite to introduce new ones, having that distinguishing effect which the originals had lost by generality of use; just as our habit of misapplying superlatives has, by gradually destroying their force, entailed the need for fresh ones. And if, within the last thousand years, this process has produced effects thus marked, we may readily conceive how, during previous thousands, the titles of gods and demigods came to be used to all persons exercising power; as they have since come to be used to persons of respectability.  20
  If from names of honor we turn to phrases of honor, we find similar facts. The Oriental styles of address applied to ordinary people—“I am your slave,” “All I have is yours,” “I am your sacrifice”—attribute to the individual spoken to, the same greatness that Monsieur and My Lord do: they ascribe to him the character of an all-powerful ruler, so immeasurably superior to the speaker as to be his owner. So likewise with the Polish expressions of respect,—“I throw myself under your feet,” “I kiss your feet.” In our now meaningless subscription to a formal letter, “Your most obedient servant,” the same thing is visible. Nay, even in the familiar signature “Yours faithfully,” the “yours,” if interpreted as originally meant, is the expression of a slave to his master.  21
  All these dead forms were once living embodiments of fact—were primarily the genuine indications of that submission to authority which they verbally assert; were afterwards naturally used by the weak and cowardly to propitiate those above them; gradually grew to be considered the due of such; and by a continually wider misuse, have lost their meanings as Sir and Master have done. That like titles they were in the beginning used only to the God-king, is indicated by the fact that like titles they were subsequently used in common to God and the king. Religious worship has ever largely consisted of professions of obedience, of being God’s servants, of belonging to him to do what he will with. Like titles, therefore, these common phrases of honor had a devotional origin.  22
  Perhaps, however, it is in the use of the word you as a singular pronoun that the popularizing of what were once supreme distinctions is most markedly illustrated. This speaking of a single individual in the plural, was originally an honor given only to the highest; was the reciprocity of the imperial “we” assumed by such. Yet now, by being applied to successively lower and lower classes, it has become all-but universal. Only by one sect of Christians, and in a few secluded districts, is the primitive thou still used. And the you, in becoming common to all ranks, has simultaneously lost every vestige of the honor once attaching to it.  23
  But the genesis of manners out of forms of allegiance and worship is above all shown in men’s modes of salutation. Note first the significance of the word. Among the Romans, the salutatio was a daily homage paid by clients and inferiors to superiors. This was alike the case with civilians and in the army. The very derivation of our word, therefore, is suggestive of submission. Passing to particular forms of obeisance (mark the word again), let us begin with the Eastern one of baring the feet. This was primarily a mark of reverence, alike to a god and a king. The act of Moses before the burning bush, and the practice of the Mahometans, who are sworn on the Koran with their shoes off, exemplify the one employment of it; the custom of the Persians, who remove their shoes on entering the presence of their monarch, exemplifies the other. As usual, however, this homage, paid next to inferior rulers, has descended from grade to grade. In India it is a common mark of respect; a polite man in Turkey always leaves his shoes at the door, while the lower orders of Turks never enter the presence of their superiors but in their stockings; and in Japan, this baring of the feet is an ordinary salutation of man to man.  24
  Take another case. Selden, describing the ceremonies of the Romans, says:—“For whereas it was usual either to kiss the images of their gods, or adoring them, to stand somewhat off before them, solemnly moving the right hand to the lips and then casting it, as if they had cast kisses, to turne the body on the same hand (which was the right forme of Adoration), it grew also by custom, first that the emperors, being next to Deities, and by some accounted as Deities, had the like done to them in acknowledgment of their greatness.” If now we call to mind the awkward salute of a village schoolboy, made by putting his open arm up to his face, and describing a semicircle with his forearm; and if we remember that the salute thus used as a form of reverence in country districts is most likely a remnant of the feudal times,—we shall see reason for thinking that our common wave of the hand to a friend across the street represents what was primarily a devotional act.  25
  Similarly have originated all forms of respect depending upon inclinations of the body. Entire prostration is the aboriginal sign of submission. The passage of Scripture “Thou hast put all under his feet,” and that other one, so suggestive in its anthropomorphism, “The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool,” imply, what the Assyrian sculptures fully bear out, that it was the practice of the ancient God-kings of the East to trample upon the conquered. And when we bear in mind that there are existing savages who signify submission by placing the neck under the foot of the person submitted to, it becomes obvious that all prostration, especially when accompanied by kissing the foot, expressed a willingness to be trodden upon—was an attempt to mitigate wrath by saying, in signs, “Tread on me if you will.” Remembering further that kissing the foot, as of the Pope and of a saint’s statue, still continues in Europe to be a mark of extreme reverence; that prostration to feudal lords was once general; and that its disappearance must have taken place, not abruptly, but by gradual modification into something else,—we have ground for deriving from these deepest of humiliations all inclinations of respect, especially as the transition is traceable. The reverence of a Russian serf who bends his head to the ground, and the salaam of the Hindoo, are abridged prostrations; a bow is a short salaam; a nod is a short bow.  26
  Should any hesitate to admit this conclusion, then perhaps on being reminded that the lowest of these obeisances are common where the submission is most abject; that among ourselves the profundity of the bow marks the amount of respect; and lastly, that the bow is even now used devotionally in our churches,—by Catholics to their altars, and by Protestants at the name of Christ,—they will see sufficient evidence for thinking that this salutation also was originally worship.  27
  The same may be said too of the curtsy—or courtesy, as it is otherwise written. Its derivation from courtoisie, courteousness,—that is, behavior like that at court,—at once shows that it was primarily the reverence paid to a monarch. And if we call to mind that falling upon the knees, or upon one knee, has been a common obeisance of subjects to rulers; that in ancient manuscripts and tapestries, servants are depicted as assuming this attitude while offering the dishes to their masters at table; and that this same attitude is assumed towards our own Queen at every presentation,—we may infer, what the character of the curtsy itself suggests, that it is an abridged act of kneeling. As the word has been contracted from courtoisie into curtsy, so the motion has been contracted from a placing of the knee on the floor to a lowering of the knee towards the floor. Moreover, when we compare the curtsy of a lady with the awkward one a peasant girl makes,—which if continued would bring her down on both knees,—we may see in this last a remnant of that greater reverence required of serfs. And when from considering that simple kneeling of the West, still represented by the curtsy, we pass eastward and note the attitude of the Mahometan worshiper, who not only kneels but bows his head to the ground, we may infer that the curtsy also is an evanescent form of the aboriginal prostration.  28
  In further evidence of this, it may be remarked that there has but recently disappeared from the salutations of men an action having the same proximate derivation with the curtsy. That backward sweep of the foot with which the conventional stage sailor accompanies his bow—a movement which prevailed generally in past generations, when “a bow and a scrape” went together, and which, within the memory of living persons, was made by boys to their schoolmaster, with the effect of wearing a hole in the floor—is pretty clearly a preliminary to going on one knee. A motion so ungainly could never have been intentionally introduced, even if the artificial introduction of obeisances were possible. Hence we must regard it as the remnant of something antecedent: and that this something antecedent was humiliating may be inferred from the phrase “scraping an acquaintance”; which, being used to denote the gaining of favor by obsequiousness, implies that the scrape was considered a mark of servility,—that is, of serf-ility.  29
  Consider, again, the uncovering of the head. Almost everywhere this has been a sign of reverence, alike in temples and before potentates; and it yet preserves among us some of its original meaning. Whether it rains, hails, or shines, you must keep your head bare while speaking to the monarch; and on no plea may you remain covered in a place of worship. As usual, however, this ceremony, at first a submission to gods and kings, has become in process of time a common civility. Once an acknowledgment of another’s unlimited supremacy, the removal of the hat is now a salute accorded to very ordinary persons; and that uncovering, originally reserved for entrance into “the house of God,” good manners now dictates on entrance into the house of a common laborer.  30
  Standing, too, as a mark of respect, has undergone like extensions in its application. Shown by the practice in our churches to be intermediate between the humiliation signified by kneeling and the self-respect which sitting implies, and used at courts as a form of homage when more active demonstrations of it have been made, this posture is now employed in daily life to show consideration; as seen alike in the attitude of a servant before a master, and in that rising which politeness prescribes on the entrance of a visitor.  31
  Many other threads of evidence might have been woven into our argument. As, for example, the significant fact that if we trace back our still existing law of primogeniture; if we consider it as displayed by Scottish clans, in which not only ownership but government devolved from the beginning on the eldest son of the eldest; if we look further back, and observe that the old titles of Lordship, Signior, Seigneur, Señor, Sire, Sieur, all originally mean senior or elder; if we go Eastward, and find that Sheik has a like derivation, and that the Oriental names for priests—as Pir, for instance—are literally interpreted old man; if we note in Hebrew records how primeval is the ascribed superiority of the first-born, how great the authority of elders, and how sacred the memory of patriarchs; and if then we remember that among divine titles are “Ancient of Days,” and “Father of Gods and Men”;—we see how completely these facts harmonize with the hypothesis that the aboriginal god is the first man sufficiently great to become a tradition, the earliest whose power and deeds made him remembered; that hence antiquity unavoidably became associated with superiority, and age with nearness in blood to “the powerful one”; that so there naturally arose that domination of the eldest which characterizes all history, and that theory of human degeneracy which even yet survives….  32
  A similar relationship of phenomena was exhibited in Europe during the Middle Ages. While all its governments were autocratic, while feudalism held sway, while the Church was unshorn of its power, while the criminal code was full of horrors and the hell of the popular creed full of terrors,—the rules of behavior were both more numerous and more carefully conformed to than now. Differences of dress marked divisions of rank. Men were limited by law to a certain width of shoe-toes; and no one below a specified degree might wear a cloak less than so many inches long. The symbols on banners and shields were carefully attended to. Heraldry was an important branch of knowledge. Precedence was strictly insisted on. And those various salutes of which we now use the abridgments were gone through in full. Even during our own last century, with its corrupt House of Commons and little-curbed monarchs, we may mark a correspondence of social formalities. Gentlemen were still distinguished from lower classes by dress; people sacrificed themselves to inconvenient requirements,—as powder, hooped petticoats, and towering head-dresses,—and children addressed their parents as Sir and Madam.  33
  A further corollary naturally following this last, and almost indeed forming part of it, is that these several kinds of government decrease in stringency at the same rate. Simultaneously with the decline in the influence of priesthoods, and in the fear of eternal torments,—simultaneously with the mitigation of political tyranny, the growth of popular power, and the amelioration of criminal codes,—has taken place that diminution of formalities and that fading of distinctive marks, now so observable. Looking at home, we may note that there is less attention to precedence than there used to be. No one in our day ends an interview with the phrase “your humble servant.” The employment of the word Sir, once general in social intercourse, is at present considered bad breeding; and on the occasions calling for them, it is held vulgar to use the words “Your Majesty,” or “Your Royal Highness,” more than once in a conversation. People no longer formally drink each other’s healths; and even the taking wine with each other at dinner has ceased to be fashionable. The taking-off of hats between gentlemen has been gradually falling into disuse. Even when the hat is removed, it is no longer swept out at arm’s length, but is simply lifted. Hence the remark made upon us by foreigners, that we take off our hats less than any other nation in Europe; a remark that should be coupled with the other, that we are the freest nation in Europe.  34
  As already implied, this association of facts is not accidental. These titles of address and modes of salutation, bearing about them as they all do something of that servility which marks their origin, become distasteful in proportion as men become more independent themselves, and sympathize more with the independence of others. The feeling which makes the modern gentleman tell the laborer standing bareheaded before him to put on his hat; the feeling which gives us a dislike to those who cringe and fawn; the feeling which makes us alike assert our own dignity, and respect that of others; the feeling which thus leads us more and more to discountenance all forms and names which confess inferiority and submission,—is the same feeling which resists despotic power and inaugurates popular government, denies the authority of the Church and establishes the right of private judgment.  35
  A fourth fact, akin to the foregoing, is that these several kinds of government not only decline together but corrupt together. By the same process that a Court of Chancery becomes a place not for the administration of justice, but for the withholding of it; by the same process that a national church, from being an agency for moral control, comes to be merely a thing of formulas and titles and bishoprics,—by this same process do titles and ceremonies that once had a meaning and a power become empty forms.  36
  Coats of arms which served to distinguish men in battle, now figure on the carriage panels of retired grocers. Once a badge of high military rank, the shoulder-knot has become on the modern footman a mark of servitude. The name Banneret, which once marked a partially created Baron—a Baron who had passed his military “little-go”—is now, under the modification of Baronet, applicable to any one favored by wealth or interest or party feeling. Knighthood has so far ceased to be an honor that men now honor themselves by declining it. The military dignity Escuyer has, in the modern Esquire, become a wholly unmilitary affix. Not only do titles and phrases and salutes cease to fulfill their original functions, but the whole apparatus of social forms tends to become useless for its original purpose,—the facilitation of social intercourse. Those most learned in ceremonies, and most precise in the observance of them, are not always the best behaved: as those deepest read in creeds and scriptures are not therefore the most religious; nor those who have the clearest notions of legality and illegality the most honest. Just as lawyers are of all men the least noted for probity; as cathedral towns have a lower moral character than most others: so, if Swift is to be believed, courtiers are “the most insignificant race of people that the island can afford, and with the smallest tincture of good manners.”  37
  But perhaps it is in that class of social observances comprehended under the term Fashion, which we must here discuss parenthetically, that this process of corruption is seen with the greatest distinctness. As contrasted with Manners, which dictate our minor acts in relation to other persons, Fashion dictates our minor acts in relation to ourselves. While the one prescribes that part of our deportment which directly affects our neighbors, the other prescribes that part of our deportment which is primarily personal, and in which our neighbors are concerned only as spectators. Thus distinguished as they are, however, the two have a common source. For while, as we have shown, Manners originate by imitation of the behavior pursued towards the great, Fashion originates by imitation of the behavior of the great. While the one has its derivation in the titles, phrases, and salutes, used to those in power, the other is derived from the habits and appearances exhibited by those in power.  38
  The Carrib mother who squeezes her child’s head into a shape like that of the chief; the young savage who makes marks on himself similar to the scars carried by the warriors of his tribe (which is probably the origin of tattooing); the Highlander who adopts the plaid worn by the head of his clan; the courtiers who affect grayness, or limp, or cover their necks, in imitation of their king; and the people who ape the courtiers,—are alike acting under a kind of government connate with that of Manners; and like it too, primarily beneficial. For notwithstanding the numberless absurdities into which this copyism has led the people, from nose-rings to ear-rings, from painted faces to beauty-spots, from shaven heads to powdered wigs, from filed teeth and stained nails to bell-girdles, peaked shoes, and breeches stuffed with bran,—it must yet be concluded that as the strong men, the successful men, the men of will, intelligence, and originality, who have got to the top, are on the average more likely to show judgment in their habits and tastes than the mass, the imitation of such is advantageous.  39
  By-and-by, however, Fashion, corrupting like these other forms of rule, almost wholly ceases to be an imitation of the best, and becomes an imitation of quite other than the best. As those who take orders are not those having a special fitness for the priestly office, but those who see their way to a living by it; as legislators and public functionaries do not become such by virtue of their political insight and power to rule, but by virtue of birth, acreage, and class influence: so the self-elected clique who set the fashion, gain this prerogative not by their force of nature, their intellect, their higher worth or better taste, but gain it solely by their unchecked assumption. Among the initiated are to be found neither the noblest in rank, the chief in power, the best cultured, the most refined, nor those of greatest genius, wit, or beauty; and their reunions, so far from being superior to others, are noted for their inanity. Yet by the example of these sham great, and not by that of the truly great, does society at large now regulate its goings and comings, its hours, its dress, its small usages. As a natural consequence, these have generally little or none of that suitableness which theory of fashion implies they should have. But instead of a continual progress towards greater elegance and convenience, which might be expected to occur did people copy the ways of the really best, or follow their own ideas of propriety, we have a reign of mere whim, of unreason, of change for the sake of change, of wanton oscillations from either extreme to the other—a reign of usages without meaning, times without fitness, dress without taste. And thus life à la mode, instead of being life conducted in the most rational manner, is life regulated by spendthrifts and idlers, milliners and tailors, dandies and silly women.  40
  To these several corollaries—that the various orders of control exercised over men have a common origin and a common function, are called out by co-ordinate necessities and co-exist in like stringency, decline together and corrupt together—it now only remains to add that they become needless together. Consequent as all kinds of government are upon the unfitness of the aboriginal man for social life, and diminishing in coerciveness as they all do in proportion as this unfitness diminishes, they must one and all come to an end as humanity acquires complete adaptation to its new conditions. The discipline of circumstances which has already wrought out such great changes in us, must go on eventually to work out yet greater ones. That daily curbing of the lower nature and culture of the higher, which out of cannibals and devil-worshipers has evolved philanthropists, lovers of peace, and haters of superstition, cannot fail to evolve out of these, men as much superior to them as they are to their progenitors. The causes that have produced past modifications are still in action; must continue in action as long as there exists any incongruity between man’s desires and the requirements of the social state; and must eventually make him organically fit for the social state. As it is now needless to forbid man-eating and Fetishism, so will it ultimately become needless to forbid murder, theft, and the minor offenses of our criminal code. When human nature has grown into conformity with the moral law, there will need no judges and statute-books; when it spontaneously takes the right course in all things, as in some things it does already, prospects of future reward or punishment will not be wanted as incentives; and when fit behavior has become instinctive, there will need no code of ceremonies to say how behavior shall be regulated.  41
  Thus then may be recognized the meaning, the naturalness, the necessity of those various eccentricities of reformers which we set out by describing. They are not accidental; they are not mere personal caprices, as people are apt to suppose. On the contrary, they are inevitable results of the law of relationship as above illustrated. That community of genesis, function, and decay, which all forms of restraint exhibit, is simply the obverse of the fact at first pointed out, that they have in two sentiments of human nature a common preserver and a common destroyer. Awe of power originates and cherishes them all; love of freedom undermines and periodically weakens them all. The one defends despotism and asserts the supremacy of laws, adheres to old creeds and supports ecclesiastical authority, pays respect to titles and conserves forms; the other, putting rectitude above legality, achieves periodical installments of political liberty, inaugurates Protestantism and works out its consequences, ignores the senseless dictates of Fashion and emancipates men from dead customs….  42
  There needs then a protestantism in social usages. Forms that have ceased to facilitate and have become obstructive—whether political, religious, or other—have ever to be swept away; and eventually are so swept away in all cases. Signs are not wanting that some change is at hand. A host of satirists, led on by Thackeray, have been for years engaged in bringing our sham festivities and our fashionable follies into contempt; and in their candid moods, most men laugh at the frivolities with which they and the world in general are deluded. Ridicule has always been a revolutionary agent. That which is habitually assailed with sneers and sarcasm cannot long survive. Institutions that have lost their roots in men’s respect and faith are doomed; and the day of their dissolution is not far off. The time is approaching, then, when our system of social observances must pass through some crisis, out of which it will come purified and comparatively simple.  43
  How this crisis will be brought about, no one can with any certainty say. Whether by the continuance and increase of individual protests, or whether by the union of many persons for the practice and propagation of some better system, the future alone can decide. The influence of dissentients acting without co-operation seems, under the present state of things, inadequate. Standing severally alone, and having no well-defined views; frowned on by conformists, and expostulated with even by those who secretly sympathize with them; subject to petty persecutions, and unable to trace any benefit produced by their example,—they are apt one by one to give up their attempts as hopeless. The young convention-breaker eventually finds that he pays too heavily for his nonconformity. Hating, for example, everything that bears about it any remnant of servility, he determines, in the ardor of his independence, that he will uncover to no one. But what he means simply as a general protest, he finds that ladies interpret into a personal disrespect. Though he sees that from the days of chivalry downwards, these marks of supreme consideration paid to the other sex have been but a hypocritical counterpart to the actual subjection in which men have held them,—a pretended submission to compensate for a real domination,—and though he sees that when the true dignity of woman is recognized, the mock dignities given to them will be abolished, yet he does not like to be thus misunderstood, and so hesitates in his practice.  44
  In other cases, again, his courage fails him. Such of his unconventionalities as can be attributed only to eccentricity, he has no qualms about; for on the whole he feels rather complimented than otherwise in being considered a disregarder of public opinion. But when they are liable to be put down to ignorance, to ill-breeding, or to poverty, he becomes a coward. However clearly the recent innovation of eating some kinds of fish with knife and fork proves the fork-and-bread practice to have had little but caprice as its basis, yet he dares not wholly ignore that practice while fashion partially maintains it. Though he thinks that a silk handkerchief is quite as appropriate for drawing-room use as a white cambric one, he is not altogether at ease in acting out his opinion. Then, too, he begins to perceive that his resistance to prescription brings round disadvantageous results which he had not calculated upon. He had expected that it would save him from a great deal of social intercourse of a frivolous kind,—that it would offend the fools but not the sensible people; and so would serve as a self-acting test by which those worth knowing would be separated from those not worth knowing. But the fools prove to be so greatly in the majority, that by offending them, he closes against himself nearly all the avenues through which the sensible people are to be reached. Thus he finds that his nonconformity is frequently misinterpreted; that there are but few directions in which he dares to carry it consistently out; that the annoyances and disadvantages which it brings upon him are greater than he anticipated; and that the chances of his doing any good are very remote. Hence he gradually loses resolution, and lapses step by step into the ordinary routine of observances.  45
  Abortive as individual protests thus generally turn out, it may possibly be that nothing effectual will be done until there arises some organized resistance to this invisible despotism by which our modes and habits are dictated. It may happen that the government of Manners and Fashion will be rendered less tyrannical, as the political and religious governments have been, by some antagonistic union. Alike in church and State, men’s first emancipations from excess of restriction were achieved by numbers, bound together by a common creed or a common political faith. What remained undone while there were but individual schismatics or rebels, was effected when there came to be many acting in concert. It is tolerably clear that these earliest installments of freedom could not have been obtained in any other way; for so long as the feeling of personal independence was weak, and the rule strong, there could never have been a sufficient number of separate dissentients to produce the desired results. Only in these later times, during which the secular and spiritual controls have been growing less coercive, and the tendency toward individual liberty greater, has it become possible for smaller and smaller sects and parties to fight against established creeds and laws; until now men may safely stand even alone in their antagonism.  46
  The failure of individual nonconformity to customs, as above illustrated, suggests that an analogous series of changes may have to be gone through in this case also. It is true that the lex non scripta differs from the lex scripta in this,—that being unwritten it is more readily altered, and that it has from time to time been quietly ameliorated. Nevertheless we shall find that the analogy holds substantially good. For in this case, as in the others, the essential revolution is not the substituting of any one set of restraints for any other, but the limiting or abolishing the authority which prescribes restraints. Just as the fundamental change inaugurated by the Reformation was not a superseding of one creed by another, but an ignoring of the arbiter who before dictated creeds; just as the fundamental change which Democracy long ago commenced was not from this particular law to that, but from the despotism of one to the freedom of all,—so the parallel change yet to be wrought out in this supplementary government of which we are treating, is not the replacing of absurd usages by sensible ones, but the dethronement of that secret irresponsible power which now imposes our usages, and the assertion of the right of all individuals to choose their own usages. In rules of living, a West End clique is our Pope; and we are all papists, with but a mere sprinkling of heretics. On all who decisively rebel comes down the penalty of excommunication, with its long catalogue of disagreeable and indeed serious consequences.  47
  The liberty of the subject asserted in our Constitution, and ever on the increase, has yet to be wrested from this subtler tyranny. The right of private judgment, which our ancestors wrung from the Church, remains to be claimed from this dictator of our habits. Or as before said, to free us from these idolatries and superstitious conformities, there has still to come a protestantism in social usages. Parallel therefore as is the change to be wrought out, it seems not improbable that it may be wrought out in an analogous way. That influence which solitary dissentients fail to gain, and that perseverance which they lack, may come into existence when they unite. That persecution which the world now visits upon them, from mistaking their nonconformity for ignorance or disrespect, may diminish when it is seen to result from principle. The penalty which exclusion now entails may disappear when they become numerous enough to form visiting circles of their own. And when a successful stand has been made, and the brunt of the opposition has passed, that large amount of secret dislike to our observances which now pervades society may manifest itself with sufficient power to effect the desired emancipation.  48
  Whether such will be the process, time alone can decide. That community of origin, growth, supremacy, and decadence, which we have found among all kinds of government, suggests a community in modes of change also. On the other hand, nature often performs substantially similar operations in ways apparently different. Hence these details can never be foretold.  49
  Meanwhile let us glance at the conclusions that have been reached. On the one side, government (originally one, and afterwards subdivided for the better fulfillment of its functions) must be considered as having ever been, in all its branches,—political, religious, and ceremonial,—beneficial, and indeed absolutely necessary. On the other side, government under all its forms must be regarded as subserving a temporary office, made needful by the unfitness of aboriginal humanity for social life; and the successive diminutions of its coerciveness in State, in church, and in custom, must be looked upon as steps towards its final disappearance. To complete the conception, there requires to be borne in mind the third fact,—that the genesis, the maintenance, and the decline of all governments, however named, are alike brought about by the humanity to be controlled; from which may be drawn the inference that on the average, restrictions of every kind cannot last much longer than they are wanted, and cannot be destroyed much faster than they ought to be.  50
  Society in all its developments undergoes the process of exuviation. These old forms which it successively throws off have all been once vitally united with it; have severally served as the protective envelopes within which a higher humanity was being evolved. They are cast aside only when they become hindrances,—only when some inner and better envelope has been formed; and they bequeath to us all that there was in them good. The periodical abolitions of tyrannical laws have left the administration of justice not only uninjured but purified. Dead and buried creeds have not carried with them the essential morality they contained,—which still exists, uncontaminated by the sloughs of superstition. And all that there is of justice and kindness and beauty, embodied in our cumbrous forms of etiquette, will live perennially when the forms themselves have been forgotten.  51
 
Note 1. This was written before mustaches and beards had become common. [back]
 
 
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