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- The Laws of Etiquette - 3/14 -
subject, entitled "The Cravat considered in its moral, literary, political, military, and religious attributes." This and a clever, though less profound, treatise on "The art of tying the Cravat," are as indispensable to a gentleman as an ice at twelve o'clock.
When we speak of excellence in dress we do not mean richness of clothing, nor manifested elaboration. Faultless propriety, perfect harmony, and a refined simplicity,--these are the charms which fascinate here.
It is as great a sin to be finical in dress as to be negligent.
Upon this subject the ladies are the only infallible oracles. Apart from the perfection to which they must of necessity arrive, from devoting their entire existence to such considerations, they seem to be endued with an inexpressible tact, a sort of sixth sense, which reveals intuitively the proper distinctions. That your dress is approved by a man is nothing;--you cannot enjoy the high satisfaction of being perfectly comme il faut, until your performance has received the seal of a woman's approbation.
If the benefits to be derived from cultivating your exterior do not appear sufficiently powerful to induce attention, the inconveniences arising from too great disregard may perhaps prevail. Sir Matthew Hale, in the earlier part of his life, dressed so badly that he was once seized by the press-gang. Not long since, as I entered the hall of a public hotel, I saw a person so villainously habited, that supposing him to be one of the servants, I desired him to take my luggage upstairs, and was on the point of offering him a shilling, when I discovered that I was addressing the Honorable Mr. * * *, one of the most eminent American statesmen.
CHAPTER III. SALUTATIONS.
The salutation, says a French writer, is the touchstone of good breeding. According to circumstances, it should be respectful, cordial, civil, affectionate or familiar:--an inclination of the head, a gesture with the hand, the touching or doffing of the hat.
If you remove your hat you need not at the same time bend the dorsal vertebr' of your body, unless you wish to be very reverential, as in saluting a bishop.
It is a mark of high breeding not to speak to a lady in the street, until you perceive that she has noticed you by an inclination of the head.
Some ladies _courtesy_ in the street, a movement not gracefully consistent with locomotion. They should always _bow._
If an individual of the lowest rank, or without any rank at all, takes off his hat to you, you should do the same in return. A bow, says La Fontaine, is a note drawn at sight. If you acknowledge it, you must pay the full amount. The two best-bred men in England, Charles the Second and George the Fourth, never failed to take off their hats to the meanest of their subjects.
Avoid condescending bows to your friends and equals. If you meet a rich parvenu, whose consequence you wish to reprove, you may salute him in a very patronizing manner: or else, in acknowledging his bow, look somewhat surprised and say, "Mister--eh--eh?"
If you have remarkably fine teeth, you may smile affectionately upon the bowee, without speaking.
In passing ladies of rank, whom you meet in society, bow, but do not speak.
If you have anything to say to any one in the street, especially a lady, however intimate you may be, do not stop the person, but turn round and walk in company; you can take leave at the end of the street.
If there is any one of your acquaintance, with whom you have a difference, do not avoid looking at him, unless from the nature of things the quarrel is necessarily for life. It is almost always better to bow with cold civility, though without speaking.
As a general rule never _cut_ any one in the street. Even political and steamboat acquaintances should be noticed by the slightest movement in the world. If they presume to converse with you, or stop you to introduce their companion, it is then time to use your eye-glass, and say, "I never knew you."
If you address a lady in the open air, you remain uncovered until she has desired you _twice_ to put on your hat. In general, if you are in any place where _etiquette_ requires you to remain uncovered or standing, and a lady, or one much your superior, requests you to be covered or to sit, you may how off the command. If it is repeated, you should comply. You thereby pay the person a marked, but delicate, compliment, by allowing their will to be superior to the general obligations of etiquette.
When two Americans, who "have not been introduced," meet in some public place, as in a theatre, a stagecoach, or a steamboat, they will sit for an hour staring in one another's faces, but without a word of conversation. This form of unpoliteness has been adopted from the English, and it is as little worthy of imitation as the form of their government. Good sense and convenience are the foundations of good breeding; and it is assuredly vastly more reasonable and more agreeable to enjoy a passing gratification, when no sequent evil is to be apprehended, than to be rendered uncomfortable by an ill-founded pride. It is therefore better to carry on an easy and civil conversation. A snuff-box, or some polite accommodation rendered, may serve for an opening. Talk only about generalities,--the play, the roads, the weather. Avoid speaking of persons or politics, for, if the individual is of the opposite party to yourself, you will be engaged in a controversy: if he holds the same opinions, you will be overwhelmed with a flood of vulgar intelligence, which may soil your mind. Be reservedly civil while the colloquy lasts, and let the acquaintance cease with the occasion.
When you are introduced to a gentleman do not give your hand, but merely bow with politeness: and if you have requested the introduction, or know the person by reputation, you may make a speech. I am aware that high authority might easily be found in this country to sanction the custom of giving the hand upon a first meeting, but it is undoubtedly a solecism in manners. The habit has been adopted by us, with some improvement for the worse, from France. When two Frenchmen are presented to one another, each _presses_ the other's hand with delicate affection. The English, however, never do so: and the practice, if abstractly correct, is altogether inconsistent with the caution of manner which is characteristic of their nation and our own. If we are to follow the French, in shaking hands with one whom we have never before seen, we should certainly imitate them also in kissing our _intimate_ male acquaintances. If, however, you ought only to bow to a new acquaintance, you surely should do more to old ones. If you meet an intimate friend fifty times in a morning, give your hand every time,--an observance of propriety, which, though worthy of universal adoption, is in this country only followed by the purists in politeness. The requisitions of etiquette, if they should be obeyed at all, should be obeyed fully. This decent formality prevents acquaintance from being too distant, while, at the same time, it preserves the "familiar" from becoming "vulgar." They may be little things, but
"These little things are great to little men."
CHAPTER IV. THE DRAWING-ROOM. COMPANY. CONVERSATION.
The grand object for which a gentleman exists, is to excel in company. Conversation is the mean of his distinction,--the drawing-room the scene of his glory.
When you enter a drawing-room, where there is a ball or a party, you salute the lady of the house before speaking to any one else. Even your most intimate friends are enveloped in an opaque atmosphere until you have made your bow to your entertainer. We must take occasion here to obelize a custom which prevails too generally in this country. The company enter the back door of the back parlour, and the mistress of the house is seated at the other extremity of the front parlour. It is therefore necessary to traverse the length of two rooms in order to reach her. A voyage of this kind is by no means an easy undertaking, when there are Circes and Calypsos assailing one on every side; and when one has reached the conclusion, one cannot perhaps distinguish the object of one's search at a _coup d'oeil._ It would be in every point of view more appropriate if the lady were to stand directly opposite to the door of the back parlour. Such is the custom in the best companies abroad. Upon a single gentleman entering at a late hour, it is not so obligatory to speak first to the mistress of the ceremonies. He may be allowed to converge his way up to her. When you leave a room before the others, go without speaking to any one, and, if possible, unseen.
Never permit the sanctity of the drawing-room to be violated by a boot.
Fashionable society is divided into _sets,_ in all of which there is some peculiarity of manner, or some dominant tone of feeling. It is necessary to study these peculiarities before entering the circle.
In each of these sets there is generally some _gentleman,_ who rules, and gives it its character, or, rather, who is not ruler, but the first and most favoured subject, and the prime minister of the ladies' will. Him you must endeavour to imitate, taking care not to imitate him so well as to excel him. To differ in manner or opinion from him is to render yourself unfit for that circle. To speak disrespectfully of
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