Friday, September 11, 2009

1. Beautiful Behavior.—Politeness has been described as the art of showing, by external signs, the internal regard we have for others. But one may be perfectly polite to another without necessarily paying a special regard for him. Good manners are neither more nor less than beautiful behavior. It has been well said that "a beautiful form is better than a beautiful face, and a beautiful behavior is better than a beautiful form; it gives a higher pleasure than statues or pictures—it is the finest of the fine arts."

2. True Politeness.—The truest politeness comes of sincerity. It must be the outcome of the heart, or it will make no lasting impression; for no amount of polish can dispense with truthfulness. The natural character must be allowed to appear, freed of its angularities and asperities. Though politeness, in its best form, should resemble water—"best when clearest, most simple, and without taste"—yet genius in a man will always cover many defects of manner, and much will be excused to the strong and the original. Without genuineness and individuality, human life would lose much of its interest and variety, as well as its manliness and robustness of character.

3. Personality of Others.—True politeness especially exhibits itself in regard for the personality of others. A man will respect the individuality of another if he wishes to be respected himself. He will have due regard for his views and opinions, even though they differ from his own. The well-mannered man pays a compliment to another, and sometimes even secures his respect by patiently listening to him. He is simply tolerant and forbearant, and refrains from judging harshly; and harsh judgments of others will almost invariably provoke harsh judgments of ourselves.

4. The Impolite.—The impolite, impulsive man will, however, sometimes rather lose his friend than his joke. He may surely be pronounced a very foolish person who secures another's hatred at the price of a moment's gratification. It was a saying of Burnel, the engineer—himself one of the kindest-natured of men—that "spite and ill-nature are among the most expensive luxuries in life." Dr. Johnson once said: "Sir, a man has no more right to say a rude thing to another than to knock him down."
[pg 71, ToC]

5. Feelings of Others.—Want of respect for the feelings of others usually originates in selfishness, and issues in hardness and repulsiveness of manner. It may not proceed from malignity so much, as from want of sympathy, and want of delicacy—a want of that perception of, and attention to, those little and apparently trifling things, by which pleasure is given or pain occasioned to others. Indeed, it may be said that in self-sacrifice in the ordinary intercourse of life, mainly consists the difference between being well and ill bred. Without some degree of self-restraint in society a man may be found almost insufferable. No one has pleasure in holding intercourse with such a person, and he is a constant source of annoyance to those about him.

6. Disregard of Others.—Men may show their disregard to others in various impolite ways, as, for instance, by neglect of propriety in dress, by the absence of cleanliness, or by indulging in repulsive habits. The slovenly, dirty person, by rendering himself physically disagreeable, sets the tastes and feelings of others at defiance, and is rude and uncivil, only under another form.

7. The Best School of Politeness.—The first and best school of politeness, as of character, is always the home, where woman is the teacher. The manners of society at large are but the reflex of the manners of our collective homes, neither better nor worse. Yet, with all the disadvantages of ungenial homes, men may practice self-culture of manner as of intellect, and learn by good examples to cultivate a graceful and agreeable behavior towards others. Most men are like so many gems in the rough, which need polishing by contact with other and better natures, to bring out their full beauty and lustre. Some have but one side polished, sufficient only to show the delicate graining of the interior; but to bring out the full qualities of the gem, needs the discipline of experience, and contact with the best examples of character in the intercourse of daily life.

8. Captiousness of Manner.—While captiousness of manner, and the habit of disputing and contradicting every thing said, is chilling and repulsive, the opposite habit of assenting to, and sympathizing with, every statement made, or emotion expressed, is almost equally disagreeable. It is unmanly, and is felt to be dishonest. "It may seem difficult," says Richard Sharp, "to steer always between bluntness and plain dealing, between merited praises and lavishing indiscriminate flattery; but it is very easy—good humor, kindheartedness, and perfect simplicity, being all that are requisite to do what is right in the right way. At the same time many are impolite, not because they mean to be so, but because they are awkward, and perhaps know no better."

9. Shy People.—Again many persons are thought to be stiff, reserved, and proud, when they are only shy. Shyness is characteristic of most people of the Teutonic race. From all that can be learned of Shakespeare, it is to be inferred that he was an exceedingly shy man. The manner in which his plays were sent into the world—for it is not known that he edited or authorized the publication of a single one of them,—and the dates at which they respectively appeared, are mere matters of conjecture.

10. Self-Forgetfulness.—True politeness is best evinced by self-forgetfulness, or self-denial in the interest of others. Mr. Garfield, our martyred president, was a gentleman of royal type. His friend, Col. Rockwell, says of him: "In, the midst of his suffering he never forgets others. For instance, to-day he said to me, 'Rockwell, there is a poor soldier's widow who came to me before this thing occurred, and I promised her, she should be provided for. I want you to see that the matter is attended to at once.' He is the most docile patient I ever saw."

11. Its Bright Side.—We have thus far spoken of shyness as a defect. But there is another way of looking at it; for even shyness has its bright side, and contains an element of good. Shy men and shy races are ungraceful and undemonstrative, because, as regards society at large, they are comparatively unsociable. They do not possess those elegancies of manner acquired by free intercourse, which distinguish the social races, because their tendency is to shun society rather than to seek it. They are shy in the presence of strangers, and shy even in their own families. They hide their affections under a robe of reserve, and when they do give way to their feelings, it is only in some very hidden inner chamber. And yet, the feelings are there, and not the less healthy and genuine, though they are not made the subject of exhibition to others.

12. Worthy of Cultivation.—While, therefore, grace of manner, politeness of behavior, elegance of demeanor, and all the arts that contribute to make life pleasant and beautiful, are worthy of cultivation, it must not be at the expense of the more solid and enduring qualities of honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness. The fountain of beauty must be in the heart more than in the eye, and if it does not tend to produce beautiful life and noble practice, it will prove of comparatively little avail. Politeness of manner is not worth much, unless it is accompanied by polite actions.