The Rules of Etiquette Circa 1866
Being a gentleman is complicated business, but at some point in the last few decades, people got squeamish about explaining how to do it. So in search of a proper etiquette guide, we had to go all the way back to 1866, with Martine’s Hand-Book of Etiquette, and Guide to True Politeness.
It’s a single guide to every situation a gentleman might face—from dressing well to encountering unattended ladies in the street (a novel experience at the time). And since you’re too busy to peruse the full 163 pages, we’ve pulled out 30 of the most useful tidbits. Here’s a taste:
An unassuming simplicity in dress should always be preferred, as it prepossesses everyone in favor of the wearer.
The modest man is seldom the object of envy.
Think like the wise; but talk like ordinary people.
It is a great and difficult talent to be a good listener, but it is one which the well-bred man has to acquire, at whatever pains.
There is a graceful manner of holding a hat, which every well-bred man understands.
Well-bred people do not often dress in what is called the “height of the fashion,” as that is generally left to dandies and pretenders. But still it is undoubtedly a great point gained to be well-dressed.
“All affectation in dress,” says Lord Chesterfield, “implies a flaw in the understanding.”
Learning is like bank-notes. Prudence and good behavior are like silver, useful upon all occasions.
Carving is an art which every parent should teach his sons and daughters. Nothing can be more disagreeable and unpleasant than to be placed before any particular dish without being able to help it properly.
“Dancing is, in itself, a very trifling and silly thing: but it is one of those established follies to which people of sense are sometimes obliged to conform.” [quoting Lord Chesterfield again]
Where dancing is expected to take place, no one should go without new kid gloves; nothing is so revolting as to see one person in an assembly ungloved, especially where the heat of the room and the exercise together are sure to make the hands redder than usual.
If you accompany your wife to a dancing party, be careful not to dance with her, except perhaps the first set.
The ladies’ dressing-room is a sacred precinct, into which no gentlemen should ever presume to look.
Gentlemen will not get together in groups to the neglect of the ladies.
In ascending a staircase with ladies, go at their side or before them.
Ladies may walk unattended in the streets, being careful to pass on as becomes their station—neither with a hurried pace, nor yet affecting to move slowly. Be careful not to observe to narrowly the dresses of such ladies as may pass you.
In receiving guests, your first object should be to make them feel at home. Begging them to make themselves at home is not sufficient.
If you have been once in company with an idle person, it is enough. You need never go again. You have heard all he knows.
Never nod to a lady in the street, neither be satisfied with touching your hat, but take it off—it is a courtesy her sex demands.
For a man to go into the street with a lady on his arm and a cigar in his mouth is a shocking sight, which no gentleman will ever be guilty of exhibiting; for he inevitably subjects the woman to the very worst of suspicions.
No gentleman will stand in the doors of hotels, nor on the corners of the streets, gazing impertinently at the ladies as they pass.
When a man marries, it is understood that all former acquaintanceship ends, unless he should intimate a desire to renew it.
Be not selfish, but complying, in small things.
The English have a rule of etiquette, that if you are introduced to a person of higher position in society than yourself, you must never recognize him when you meet until you see whether he intends to recognize you.
If you cannot sing, or do not choose to, say so with seriousness and gravity, and put an end to the expectation promptly.
Never commend a lady’s musical skill to another lady who herself plays.
To indulge in ridicule, whether the subject be present or absent, is to descend below the level of gentlemanly propriety. Your skill may excite laughter, but will not insure respect.
Never read in company.
In private, watch your thoughts; in your family, watch your temper; in society, watch your tongue.
The chain which binds society together is formed of innumerable links. Let it be your part to keep those links uniformly bright; and to see that neither dust nor rust accumulate upon them.
- — Russell Brandom