A couple of years ago I was browsing the hidden depths on the internet when discovered excerpts from a fascinating book, it appeared to be a guide to etiquette published in 1875 and written by a woman named, Florence Hartley.
The book has perhaps the longest title I have ever come across:
‘THE LADIES’ BOOK OF ETIQUETTE, AND MANUAL OF POLITENESS;
A COMPLETE HANDBOOK FOR THE USE OF THE LADY IN POLITE SOCIETY
FULL DIRECTIONS FOR CORRECT MANNERS, DRESS, DEPORTMENT, AND CONVERSATION;
RULES FOR THE DUTIES OF BOTH HOSTESS AND GUEST
IN MORNING RECEPTIONS, DINNER COMPANIES, VISITING, EVENING
PARTIES AND BALLS; A COMPLETE GUIDE FOR LETTER
WRITING AND CARDS OF COMPLIMENT; HINTS
ON MANAGING SERVANTS, ON THE PRESERVATION
OF HEALTH, AND ON ACCOMPLISHMENTS.
USEFUL RECEIPTS FOR THE COMPLEXION, HAIR, AND WITH HINTS
AND DIRECTIONS FOR THE CARE OF THE WARDROBE’.
Intrigued I tracked the book down (in other words I did a quick successful Amazon search) and had it in my basket before you could say ‘How do you do’.
Its pages are now well thumbed, paragraphs highlighted and sentences underlined. It never sits on a book case for long because I am always getting it out to read experts to friends and family, and window cleaners that are too polite to take the money and run.
This book is an excellent source of entertainment, reflection and wisdom. Some of the advice and offered is completely useless outside of the 1800s polite American society, but many of the principals and values contained are still relevant.
I am quite fond of my growing collection of etiquette books and I thought I might do a little series on some of my favourite quotes and thoughts from my collection starting with the wonderful opening words of Mrs Florence Hartley:
In preparing a book of etiquette for ladies, I would lay down as the first rule, “Do unto others as you would others should do to you.
Isn’t that a perfect place to start? The foundation of all good manners treating others as you would like to be treated. She goes on to explain that if women commit to this rule they will inevitably become polite even if they do not understand or follow all the intricate rules of etiquette.
Politeness is goodness of heart put into daily practice: there can be no true politeness without kindness, purity, singleness of heart, and sensibility.
Politeness is a matter of heart and character more than it is about rules and terms of address. It is about aspiring to virtues rather than the perfect cutlery arrangement. Some people can appear to have impeccable manners and leave you feeling cold, and others might use language that would make a sailor blush but you would never want to miss out on their company.
The difference comes down to that elusive ‘goodness of heart’, I guess that other old saying covers this too; ‘it’s what’s inside, that counts.’ I think this was most excellently summed up by The Mighty Boosh in song format: