Monday, April 14, 2014

Return Engagement: The School of Manners

Monday, April 14, 2014
Loretta reports:

In the 1750s, during a dinner with foreign dignitaries, Henry Fox’s toddler son Charles was brought in--to be admired by the guests, undoubtedly.  The boy said he wanted to bathe in the huge bowl of cream sitting on the table.   His father had the bowl put on the floor and little Charles put into the bowl to splash around.  I think about scenes like that when I encounter manners-challenged children.  Overindulgent parents are nothing new.

Thus the need for THE SCHOOL OF MANNERS or RULES for Childrens Behaviour.  I think this 1701 publication offers interesting insights into the culture of earlier times, some amusing bits, some curiosities and puzzlers, and many proofs that the fundamentals of manners haven’t changed all that much. 

CHAP. I.  Short and mixt Precepts.
3.  Reverence thy Parents.
4.  Submit to thy Superiors
5.  Despise not thy inferiors.
6.  Be courteous with thy Equals.

CHAP. III  Of Behaviour at Home1.  Always bow at coming Home; and be immediately uncovered.
3.  Never sit in the presence of thy Parents without bidding, though no Strangers be present.
4.  If thou pass by thy Parents or by any place where thou seest them, either by themselves or with Company, bow towards them.
6.  Never speak to thy Parents, without some Title of Respect, viz. Sir, Madam, Forsooth; &c.

CHAP. IV  Of Behaviour at the Table.
5.  Ask not for any thing, but tarry till it be offered thee.
8.  Feed thy self with thy two Fingers and the Thumb of the left hand.
9.  Speak not at the Table; if thy Superiors be discoursing, meddle not with the matter.
19.  Take not salt with a greazy Knife.
25.  Smell not thy Meat, nor move it to thy Nose; turn it not the other side upward to view it upon the Plate.

View at source
CHAP V.  Rules for Behaviour in Company.3.  Put not thy hand in the presence of others to any part of thy body, not ordinarily discovered.
6.  Stand not wriggling with thy body hither and thither, but steddy and upright.
9.  When thou blowest thy Nose, let thy Handkerchief be used, and make not a noise in so doing.

CHAP. VIII  Rules for Behaviour Abroad.

5.  Always give the Wall to thy Superiors, that thou meetest; or if thou walkest with thy elder, give him the upper-hand, but if three walk together, the middle place is most Honorable.  [And if anyone can figure this one out, please enlighten me.  L.]

Painting: Arthur Devis, The John Bacon Family (1742-43), courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection  


Pai said...

"5. Always give the Wall to thy Superiors, that thou meetest; or if thou walkest with thy elder, give him the upper-hand, but if three walk together, the middle place is most Honorable."

My interpretation is: When on a street, give an elder the side away from the curb (traffic), not sure about the second part, and lastly if three people are walking together the highest ranked person should be in the middle.

Diane said...

As you say, the fundamentals have really not changed at all.

Helena said...

I seem to remember that the Fox children were thought at the time to be badly spoiled. Charles went on to become a notorious drinker and womaniser, and to waste a fortune gambling (his father spent incredible amounts paying off his debts, more than once). But he was also a active politician for decades, apparently from a sense of duty.

Sarah said...

the rules for walking haven't changed at all; the younger person passes on the side of the pavement[sidewalk] nearest the road, to catch any splashes from passing vehicles, with the elder towards the safer wall. Ladies too should be on the inside, and gentlemen on the outside. The middle position with 3 abreast is for the person of most respected status/need of protection, since they are guarded from splashes from the road, and carelessly emptied chamberpots from above. In theory, anyway. My husband always walks outside; it's automatic if you've been brought up nicely to cede the better place to a lady or older person.

SLK in SF said...

If I recall correctly Dr. Johnson (via Boswell) mentioned ceding the wall as a marker of politeness.

LorettaChase said...

Thank you for the translations of 18th C speak! I'm still puzzling about giving someone the "upper hand." Unless this means the position of rank/seniority? And yes, Sarah, the rules of civility really haven't changed, although not everybody has learned them or respects them. My dh's gentlemanly manners definitely helped win my heart!

Beth Elliott said...

Am somewhat bemused by the instructions on table manners. I just tried eating with two fingers and thumb of the left hand and didn't find it easy... As for smelling [or not] your meat, I have read that food poisoning was a frequent problem. Manners clash with hygiene on this one. A fascinating post.

Anonymous said...

give the wall To yield the safest place; to allow another to walk on the walled side of a street. This expression is derived from an old custom which compelled pedestrians to surrender the safer, inner path bordering a roadway to a person of higher social rank. Modern social etiquette still requires a man to walk on the streetside of a female when walking along a sidewalk. A related expression, take the wall, describes the adamant perambulator who assumes the safer path closer to the wall. The inevitable friction between “givers” and “takers” is discussed by James Boswell in his Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides (1773):

In the last age … there were two sets of people, those who gave the wall, and those who took it; the peaceable and the quarrelsome.… Now it is fixed that every man keeps to the right; or, if one is taking the wall, another yields it, and it is never a dispute.

Unknown said...

okay, but what is the "upper hand"? my interpretation is to pause while the person with the "upper hand" chooses.

QNPoohBear said...

This pamphlet is great! I picked up a reproduction copy at Plimoth Plantation years ago. I have to pass it on to my siblings to teach their children some manners.

Anonymous said...

Re the upper hand. In those days a man would offer his arm to a lady and she would place her hand on top of the arm. I should think it would be mannerly to offer the same help with balance to the elderly regardless of sex.

Julia said...

Dang. I felt so clever about having the "give the wall" and "upper hand" figured out and then so many people know that already. When I walk with my elderly great aunt, I always make sure to hold my arm so she can put her hand on it for extra stability if needed.

The thing with the "give the wall" reminded me of a scene in Persuasion (Jane Austen of course) where Anne Elliot's perennially attention-starved sister is complaining that during a walk, she has the hedge side (so, branches, nettles, the wrong sort of shade ;) ) while Anne hasn't.

The thing with "highest ranking person in the middle" - if it's elderly versus young, it could again be a matter of having two helpers ready.

But I think that it's one of those human instincts: the most important person is lit. in the center of attention. Compare to being part of the "In crowd", on the margins versus in the center of things, having center stage... and wether 300 year old paintings or modern family/wedding pictures: Who's in the middle? The most important person/couple.

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