Friday, August 1, 2014

Mandatory Finishing-School

Appendix 3.

In our previous installment, all the way back in Chapter 10, we discussed the importance of deportment and etiquette to be a well-rounded, as well as a well-dressed, person. Actually, the phrase I used was, "We seem to be desperately, hopelessly in need of mandatory finishing-schools." I left you at the end of that essay with the exhortation, "You can do something about you. Start with you."

Well, for those of you who have been left hanging by that rather broad, vague dictum, I have a couple of books to share with you. Think of it as a virtual finishing-school, that will help put the polish on your actions. Both books are included here for your use: old and musty, but still full of the classic goodness that modern men need to know.

There's also, amongst the useful bits, a fair amount of antiquated curiositae, and detailed regulations for activities and events that simply don't exist anymore; so I'll summarize each book first by their chapter headings. You can then skip to the relevant sections, or read the less-relevant passages for the historical interest.

(These books are currently hosted and imbedded with GoogleDrive; if bandwidth limits prevent them appearing below, click the "download" link in the window, which will switch the window from a GoogleDrive viewer to a PDF viewer. If this continues to be a problem, I'll try to find a more suitable hosting service.)

First, we have the  
Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette 
and Manual of Politeness, 
written by Cecil B. Hartley. The publishers specialized in books for young men, with a focus on history and self-improvement. Because it's geared toward young men just entering society, it's exceptionally easy-reading for a book published in 1873. Tellingly, Hartley notes that etiquette may seem unnatural, but stiffness is not the same as politeness. This is utterly at variance to what most people today think of mid-19th century manners!

Chapter 1, covering "Conversation," (p.11) is useful no matter what the era, and just as applicable to the social-media driven world of today, as well as the oft-neglected art of face-to-face communication.

Chapter 2, "Politeness," (p.31) is defined as how we treat those that we find personally disagreeable, and is distinguished from etiquette; one being internal thought, the other the external manifestation of rules. There are several good thoughts in this chapter that would be good to internalize, (although it tends to run a bit long into the Quality of a Gentleman that today rings a tad rustic.)

Chapter 3, about "Table Etiquette," (p.50) at first blush seems hopelessly dated in the details, but it contains so much common-sense wisdom, and is written so well, it is worth a read to take the spirit of the chapter to heart.

Chapter 4, "Etiquette In the Street," (p.66) is largely antiquated today in its detail, beyond the observations of general courtesy; and chapter 5, "Etiquette for Calling," (p.75) is a mere historical oddity -- the shorthand of calling cards were the Victorian equivalent of instant messaging.

Chapter 6, "Etiquette for the Ballroom," (p.91) although the specifics are far past their sell-date, contains many useful tips for proper deportment when entertaining in general. (If one is into ballroom dancing, some of the details are historically enlightening.)

Chapter 7, on "Dress," (p.115) is the one that should be mandatory reading for all men. A more concise summary of the attitude of proper dress, and its attendant hygiene, has rarely been written. Even taking into account the peculiarities of whiskers, hairstyles, and subtle classism, the wisdom underlying the words remains.

Chapter 8 concerns itself with "Manly Exercises." (p.154) Today we're if anything over-educated on rigorous exercise programs, but this look at some more practical and enjoyable 19th century pursuits, like riding and driving, boxing, sailing, hunting, skating, swimming, and yes, even cricket, is worth a read.

Chapter 9, "Traveling," (p.176) is deceptively useful, whether you actually travel regularly or not.

Chapter 10, "Etiquette in Church," (p.183) is a good general guide when you are in any unfamiliar situation, church or not.

Chapter 11 is "One Hundred Hints for Gentlemanly Deportment." (p.186) This is another mandatory chapter, and indeed could be a separate book in its own right. Some 'hints' are summaries of points previously mentioned in detail, and some are 'catch-all' generalities that don't fit into neat categories. Each point is short, to the point, and most of them are general enough to be just as true today as much as they were in 1870.

Chapter 12, "Parties," (p.222) has become passè in its detail for the most part, as the sort of soirèe described is not seen today outside the realm of historical re-creationists. Similarly, chapter 13, "Courtesy at Home," (p.228) presents antiquated specifics of keeping house, and is only relevant today in its broadest strokes, which are amply covered by other chapters.

Chapter 14, "True Courtesy," (p.244) is an elegant presentation of politeness without affectation, native dignity without vulgarity -- this chapter is essential reading.

Chapter 15, "Letter Writing," (p.252) is almost shockingly relevant, in this world of e-mails, tweets, and IMs.

Chapter 16, "Wedding Etiquette," (p.280) is somewhat out of the sphere of common use, but weddings are so poorly done today, following this chapter would be a vast improvement. Chapter 17, "Etiquette for Places of Amusement," (p.294) is along the same vein. Going to the theatre or opera are not now commonplace...but if you were to go, this is how to go about it and not look like Larry the Cable Guy.

And finally, chapter 18 is a "Miscellaneous" (p.298) melting-pot of ideas, some relevant, some less so, and a couple bordering on ridiculousness.

The second example we'll look at is
Martine's Hand-Book of Etiquette 
and Guide to True Politeness
written by Arthur Martine in 1866.  In counterpoint to the well-ordered chapters of Hartley, Martine's sections, written only a decade earlier, read like collections of 'bullet points,' which hit wide targets like scattershot through a musket.

Martine's is pointed to both men and women, and is more noticeably dated because of it. The suggestions given to men are the more timeless, fortunately, and should not be shunned because of the old-fashioned advice he gives to the gals.

"The Art of Conversation" (p.8) and "General Rules for Conversation" (p.24) are excellent companion pieces to Chapter 1 of Hartley's book.

"On Dress" (p.48) treats mostly of women, but the words to men echo Chapter 7 of Hartley nicely.

"Introductions" (p.57) and "Letters of Introduction" (p.61) have largely passed into history, and there is little here to recommend it to the modern reader.

Martine has much to say about eating. "Dinner Parties" (p.63) are seldom given today, and when they are, are usually not given well. If you are inclined to attempt them, it's a useful section.

However, "Habits At Table" (p.67) "Wine At Table" (p.74) and "Carving" (p.82) are equal parts surprising common-sense and high manners to modern sensibilities, and are an essential read, superior to Hartley's Chapter 3.

"Etiquette of the Ball and Assembly Room" (p.93) and "Evening Parties" (p.104) are best read as adjuncts to Hartley's Chapters 6 and 12: useful for re-enactments, but little else today. "Visiting" (p.113) is interesting only as a historical curiosity--but it's very interesting, as is "Street Etiquette" (p.127)

"Traveling" (p.133) has some good pointers for those who still use public or mass transit.

"Marriage" (p.136) and "Domestic Etiquette and Duties" (p.144) are addressed primarily to the chicks, and of all the sections in Martine's, suffers the most from outdated standards -- but there are still good-intentioned ideas for men to glean as regards La Bonheur Domestique that is applicable to modern life.

"On General Society" (p.154) is a mixed bag, out of which may be plucked the occasional plum.


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