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- The Laws of Etiquette - 6/14 -
But be careful to avoid elaborate and common-place forms of gallant speech. Do not strive to make those long eulogies on a woman, which have the regularity and nice dependency of a proposition in Euclid, and might be fittingly concluded by Q. E. D. Do not be always undervaluing her rival in a woman's presence, nor mistaking a woman's daughter for her sister. These antiquated and exploded attempts denote a person who has learned the world more from books than men.
The quality which a young man should most affect in intercourse with gentlemen, is a decent modesty: but he must avoid all bashfulness or timidity. His flights must not go too far; but, so far as they go, let them be marked by perfect assurance.
Among persons who are much your seniors behave with the utmost respectful deference. As they find themselves sliding out of importance they may be easily conciliated by a little respect.
By far the most important thing to be attended to, is ease of manner. Grace may be added afterwards, or be omitted altogether: it is of much less moment than is commonly believed. Perfect propriety and entire ease are sufficient qualifications for standing in society, and abundant prerequisites for distinction.
There is the most delicate shade of difference between civility and intrusiveness, familiarity and common-place, pleasantry and sharpness, the natural and the rude, gaiety and carelessness; hence the inconveniences of society, and the errors of its members. To define well in conduct these distinctions, is the great art of a man of the world. It is easy to know what to do; the difficulty is to know what to avoid.
Long usage--a sort of moral magnetism, a tact acquired by frequent and long associating with others--alone give those qualities which keep one always from error, and entitle him to the name of a thorough gentleman.
A young man upon first entering into society should select those persons who are most celebrated for the propriety and elegance of their manners. He should frequent their company and imitate their conduct. There is a disposition inherent, in all, which has been noticed by Horace and by Dr. Johnson, to imitate faults, because they are more readily observed and more easily followed. There are, also, many foibles of manner and many refinements of affectation, which sit agreeably upon one man, which if adopted by another would become unpleasant. There are even some excellences of deportment which would not suit another whose character is different. For successful imitation in anything, good sense is indispensable. It is requisite correctly to appreciate the natural differences between your model and yourself, and to introduce such modifications in the copy as may be consistent with it.
Let not any man imagine, that he shall easily acquire these qualities which will constitute him a gentleman. It is necessary not only to exert the highest degree of art, but to attain also that higher accomplishment of concealing art. The serene and elevated dignity which mark that character, are the result of untiring and arduous effort. After the sculpture has attained the shape of propriety, it remains to smooth off all the marks of the chisel. "A gentleman," says a celebrated French author, "is one who has reflected deeply upon all the obligations which belong to his station, and who has applied himself ardently to fulfil them with grace."
Polite without importunity, gallant without being offensive, attentive to the comfort of all; employing a well-regulated kindness, witty at the proper times, discreet, indulgent, generous, he exercises, in his sphere, a high degree of moral authority; he it is, and he alone, that one should imitate.
CHAPTER VI. LETTERS.
Always remember that the terms of compliment at the close of a letter--"I have the honour to be your very obedient servant," etc. are merely forms--"signifying nothing." Do not therefore avoid them on account of pride, or a dislike to the person addressed. Do not presume, as some do, to found expectations of favour or promotion from great men who profess themselves your obliged servant.
In writing a letter of business it is extremely vulgar to use satin or glazed gold-edged paper. Always employ, on such occasions, plain American paper. Place the date at the top of the page, and if you please, the name of the person at the top also, just above the 'Sir;' though this last is indifferent.
In letters to gentlemen always place the date at the end of the letter, below his name. Use the best paper, but not figured, and never fail to enclose it in an envelope. Attention to these matters is indispensable.
To a person whom you do not know well, say Sir, not 'Dear Sir.' It formerly was usual in writing to a distinguished man to employ the form 'Respected Sir,' or something of the kind. This is now out of fashion.
There are a great many forms observed by the French in their letters, which are necessary to be known before addressing one of that nation. You will find them in their books upon such subjects, or learn them from your French master. One custom of theirs is worthy of adoption among us: to proportion the distance between the 'Sir' and the first line of the letter, to the rank of the person to whom you write. Among the French to neglect attending to this would give mortal offence. It obtains also in other European nations. When the Duke of Buckingham was at the court of Spain, some letters passed between the Spanish minister Olivez and himself,--the two proudest men on earth. The Spaniard wrote a letter to the Englishman, and put the 'Monsieur' on a line with the beginning of his letter. The other, in his reply, placed the 'Monsieur' a little below it.
A note of invitation or reply is always to be enclosed in an envelope.
Wafers are now entirely exploded. A letter of business is sealed with red wax, and marked with some common stamp. Letters to gentlemen demand red wax sealed with your arms. In notes to ladies employ coloured wax, but not perfumed.
CHAPTER VII. VISITS.
Of visits there are various sorts; visits of congratulation, visits of condolence, visits of ceremony, visits of friendship. To each belong different customs.
A visit and an insult must be always returned.
Visits of ceremony should be very short. Go at some time when business demands the employment of every moment. In visits of friendship adopt a different course.
If you call to see an acquaintance at lodgings, and cannot find any one to announce you, you knock very lightly at the door, and wait some time before entering. If you are in too great a hurry, you might find the person drawing off a night- cap.
Respectable visitors should be received and treated with the utmost courtesy. But if a tiresome fellow, after wearying all his friends, becomes weary of himself, and arrives to bestow his tediousness upon you, pull out your watch with restlessness, talk about your great occupations and the value of time. Politeness is one thing; to be made a convenience of is another.
The style of your conversation should always be in keeping with the character of the visit. You must not talk about literature in a visit of condolence, nor about political economy in a visit of ceremony.
When a lady visits you, upon her retiring, you offer her your arm, and conduct her to her carriage. If you are visiting at the same time with another lady, you should take leave at the same time, and hand her into her carriage.
After a hall, a dinner, or a concert, you visit during the week.
Pay the first visit to a friend just returned from a voyage.
Annual visits are paid to persons with whom you have a cool acquaintance, They visit you in the autumn, you return a card in the spring.
In paying a visit under ordinary circumstances, you leave a single card. If there be residing in the family, a married daughter, an unmarried sister, a transient guest, or any person in a distinct situation from the mistress of the house, you leave two cards, one for each party. If you are acquainted with only one member of a family, as the husband, or the wife, and you wish to indicate that your visit is to both, you leave two cards. Ladies have a fashion of pinching down one corner of a card to denote that the visit is to only one of two parties in a house, and two corners, or one side of the card, when the visit is to both; but this is a transient mode, and of dubious respectability.
If, in paying a morning visit, you are not recognized when you enter, mention your name immediately. If you call to visit one member, and you find others only in the parlour, introduce yourself to them. Much awkwardness may occur through defect of attention to this point.
When a gentleman is about to be married, he sends cards, a day or two before the event, to all whom he is in the habit of visiting. These visits are never paid in person, but the cards sent by a servant, at any hour in the morning; or the gentleman goes in a carriage, and sends them in. After marriage, some day is appointed and made known to all, as the day on which he receives company. His friends then all call upon him. Would that this also were performed by cards!
CHAPTER VIII. APPOINTMENTS AND PUNCTUALITY.
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