“True Christian politeness will always be the result of an unselfish regard for the feelings of others, and though you may err in the ceremonious points of etiquette, you will never be impolite.”

“If you wish to be a well-bred lady, you must carry your good manners everywhere with you. It is not a thing that can be laid aside. True politeness is uniform disinterestedness trifles, accompanied by the calm self-possession which belongs to a noble simplicity of purpose; and this must be the effect of a Christian spirit running through all you do, or say, or think; and, unless you cultivate it and exercise it, upon all occasions and towards all persons, it will never be a part of yourself.”

The Ladies Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness

Author: Florence Hartley Published: 1860


Chapter I.


Chapter II.


Chapter III.


Chapter IV.

How to Behave at a Hotel

Chapter V.

EVENING Parties--etiquette for the Hostess

Chapter VI.

EVENING Parties--etiquette for the Guest

Chapter VII.

Visiting--etiquette for the Hostess

Chapter VIII.

Visiting--etiquette for the Guest

Chapter IX.

MORNING RECEPTIONS OR Calls--etiquette for the Hostess

Chapter X.

MORNING RECEPTIONS OR Calls--etiquette for the Caller

Chapter XI.

DINNER Company--etiquette for the Hostess

Chapter XII.

DINNER Company--etiquette for the Guest

Chapter XIII.

Table Etiquette

Chapter XIV.

Conduct in the Street

Chapter XV.

Letter Writing

Chapter XVI.

Polite Deportment and Good Habits

Chapter XVII.

Conduct in Church

Chapter XVIII.

BALL ROOM Etiquette--for the Hostess

Chapter XIX.

BALL ROOM Etiquette--for the Guest

Chapter XX.

Places of Amusement

Chapter XXI.


Chapter XXII.


Chapter XXIII.

On a Young Lady's Conduct When Contemplating Marriage

Chapter XXIV.

Bridal Etiquette

Chapter XXV.

Hints on Health

Chapter XXVI.



For the Complexion



Lord Chesterfield says, "Good sense and good nature suggest civility in general; but in good breeding there are a thousand little delicacies which are established only by custom."

It is the knowledge and practice of such "little delicacies" which constitutes the greatest charm of society.

Manner may be, and, in most cases, probably is, the cloak of the heart; this cloak may be used to cover defects, but is it not better so to conceal these defects, than to flaunt and parade them in the eyes of all whom we may meet?

Many persons plead a love of truth as an apology for rough manners, as if truth was never gentle and kind, but always harsh, morose, and forbidding. Surely good manners and a good conscience are no more inconsistent with each other than beauty and innocence, which are strikingly akin, and always look the better for companionship. Roughness and honesty are indeed sometimes found together in the same person, but he is a poor judge of human nature who takes ill-manners to be a guarantee of probity of character. Some persons object to politeness, that its language is unmeaning and false. But this is easily answered. A lie is not locked up in a phrase, but must exist, if at all, in the mind of the speaker. In the ordinary compliments of civilized life, there is no intention to deceive, and consequently no falsehood. Polite language is pleasant to the ear, and soothing to the heart, while rough words are just the reverse; and if not the product of ill temper, are very apt to produce it. The plainest of truths, let it be remembered, can be conveyed in civil speech, while the most malignant lies may find utterance, and often do, in the language of the fishmarket.

Many ladies say, "Oh, I am perfectly frank and outspoken; I never stop to mince words," or, "there is no affectation about me; all my actions are perfectly natural," and, upon the ground of frankness, will insult and wound by rude language, and defend awkwardness and ill-breeding by the plea of "natural manners."

If nature has not invested you with all the virtues which may be desirable in a lady, do not make your faults more conspicuous by thrusting them forward upon all occasions, and at all times. "Assume a virtue if you have it not," and you will, in time, by imitation, acquire it.

By endeavoring to appear generous, disinterested, self-sacrificing, and amiable, the opposite passions will be brought into subjection, first in the manner, afterwards in the heart. It is not the desire to deceive, but the desire to please, which will dictate such a course. When you hear one, who pretends to be a lady, boast that she is rough, capricious, and gluttonous, you may feel sure that she has never tried to conquer these faults, or she would be ashamed, not proud, of them.

The way to make yourself pleasing to others, is to show that you care for them. The whole world is like the miller at Mansfield, "who cared for nobody--no, not he--because nobody cared for him." And the whole world will serve you so, if you give them the same cause. Let every one, therefore, see that you do care for them, by showing them, what Sterne so happily calls, "the small, sweet courtesies of life," those courtesies in which there is no parade; whose voice is too still to tease, and which manifest themselves by tender and affectionate looks, and little, kind acts of attention, giving others the preference in every little enjoyment at the table, in the field, walking, sitting, or standing.

Thus the first rule for a graceful manner is unselfish consideration of others.

By endeavoring to acquire the habit of politeness, it will soon become familiar, and sit on you with ease, if not with elegance. Let it never be forgotten, that genuine politeness is a great fosterer of family love; it allays accidental irritation, by preventing harsh retorts and rude contradictions; it softens the boisterous, stimulates the indolent, suppresses selfishness, and by forming a habit of consideration for others, harmonizes the whole. Politeness begets politeness, and brothers may be easily won by it, to leave off the rude ways they bring home from school or college. Sisters ought never to receive any little attention without thanking them for it, never to ask a favor of them but in courteous terms, never to reply to their questions in monosyllables, and they will soon be ashamed to do such things themselves. Both precept and example ought to be laid under contribution, to convince them that no one can have really good manners abroad, who is not habitually polite at home.

If you wish to be a well-bred lady, you must carry your good manners everywhere with you. It is not a thing that can be laid aside and put on at pleasure. True politeness is uniform disinterestedness in trifles, accompanied by the calm self-possession which belongs to a noble simplicity of purpose; and this must be the effect of a Christian spirit running through all you do, or say, or think; and, unless you cultivate it and exercise it, upon all occasions and towards all persons, it will never be a part of yourself.

It is not an art to be paraded upon public occasions, and neglected in every-day duties; nor should it, like a ball-dress, be carefully laid aside at home, trimmed, ornamented, and worn only when out. Let it come into every thought, and it will show forth in every action. Let it be the rule in the homeliest duties, and then it will set easily when in public, not in a stiff manner, like a garment seldom worn.

I wish it were possible to convince every woman that politeness is a most excellent good quality; that it is a necessary ingredient in social comfort, and a capital assistant to actual prosperity. Like most good things, however, the word politeness is often misunderstood and misapplied; and before urging the practical use of that which it represents, it may be necessary to say what it means, and what it does not mean.

Politeness is not hypocrisy:--cold-heartedness, or unkindness in disguise. There are persons who can smile upon a victim, and talk smoothly, while they injure, deceive, or betray. And they will take credit to themselves, that all has been done with the utmost politeness; that every tone, look, and action, has been in perfect keeping with the rules of good breeding. "The words of their mouth are smoother than butter, but war is in their heart: their words are softer than oil, yet are they drawn swords." Perish for ever and ever such spurious politeness as this!

Politeness is not servility. If it were so, a Russian serf would be a model of politeness. It is very possible for persons to be very cringing and obsequious, without a single atom of politeness; and it often happens that men of the most sturdy independence of character, are essentially polite in all their words, actions, and feelings. It were well for this to be fully understood, for many people will abstain from acts of real politeness, and even of common civility, for fear of damaging their fancied independence.

True politeness, as I understand it, is kindness and courtesy of feeling brought into every-day exercise. It comprehends hearty good will towards everybody, thorough and constant good-humor, an easy deportment, and obliging manners. Every person who cultivates such feelings, and takes no pains to conceal them, will necessarily be polite, though she may not exactly know it; while, on the other hand, a woman essentially morose and selfish, whatever may be her pretensions, must be very far from truly polite.

It is very true there are those whose position in society compels them to observe certain rules of etiquette which pass for politeness. They bow or courtesy with a decent grace; shake hands with the precise degree of vigor which the circumstances of the case require; speak just at the right time, and in the required manner, and smile with elegant propriety. Not a tone, look, or gesture, is out of place; not a habit indulged which etiquette forbids; and yet, there will be wanting, after all, the secret charm of sincerity and heart kindness, which those outward signs are intended to represent; and, wanting which, we have only the form, without the essence, of politeness.

Let me recommend, therefore, far beyond all the rules ever penned by teachers of etiquette, the cultivation of kind and loving feelings. Throw your whole soul into the lesson, and you will advance rapidly towards the perfection of politeness, for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," and the movements of your form and the words you utter will follow faithfully the hidden springs of action within.

There cannot be genuine good breeding to any happy degree, where there is not self-respect. It is that which imparts ease and confidence to our manners, and impels us, for our own sake, as well as for the sake of others, to behave becomingly as intelligent beings.

It is a want of true politeness that introduces the discord and confusion which too often make our homes unhappy. A little consideration for the feelings of those whom we are bound to love and cherish, and a little sacrifice of our own wills, would, in multitudes of instances, make all the difference between alienation and growing affection. The principle of genuine politeness would accomplish this; and what a pity it is that those whose only spring of rational enjoyment is to be found at home, should miss that enjoyment by a disregard of little things, which, after all, make up the sum of human existence!

What a large amount of actual discomfort in domestic life would be prevented, if all children were trained, both by precept and example, to the practice of common politeness! If they were taught to speak respectfully to parents, and brothers, and sisters, to friends, neighbors, and strangers, what bawlings, and snarlings would be stilled! If their behavior within doors, and especially at the table, were regulated by a few of the common rules of good breeding, how much natural and proper disgust would be spared! If courtesy of demeanor, towards all whom they meet in field or highway, were instilled, how much more pleasant would be our town travels, and our rustic rambles! Every parent has a personal interest in this matter; and if every parent would but make the needful effort, a great degree of gross incivility, and consequent annoyance, would soon be swept away from our hearths and homes.

Whilst earnestly endeavoring to acquire true politeness, avoid that spurious imitation, affectation. It is to genuine politeness and good breeding, what the showy paste is to the pure diamond. It is the offspring of a sickly taste, a deceitful heart, and a sure proof of low breeding.

The certain test of affectation in any individual, is the looking, speaking, moving, or acting in any way different when in the presence of others, especially those whose opinion we regard and whose approbation we desire, from what we should do in solitude, or in the presence of those only whom we disregard, or who we think cannot injure or benefit us. The motive for resisting affectation is, that it is both unsuccessful and sinful. It always involves a degree of hypocrisy, which is exceedingly offensive in the sight of God, which is generally detected even by men, and which, when detected, exposes its subject to contempt which could never have been excited by the mere absence of any quality or possession, as it is by the false assumption of what is not real. The best cure for affectation is the cultivation, on principle, of every good, virtuous, and amiable habit and feeling, not for the sake of being approved or admired, but because it is right in itself, and without considering what people will think of it. Thus a real character will be formed instead of a part being assumed, and admiration and love will be spontaneously bestowed where they are really deserved. Artificial manners are easily seen through; and the result of such observations, however accomplished and beautiful the object may be, is contempt for such littleness.

Many ladies, moving, too, in good society, will affect a forward, bold manner, very disagreeable to persons of sense. They will tell of their wondrous feats, when engaged in pursuits only suited for men; they will converse in a loud, boisterous tone; laugh loudly; sing comic songs, or dashing bravuras in a style only fit for the stage or a gentleman's after-dinner party; they will lay wagers, give broad hints and then brag of their success in forcing invitations or presents; interlard their conversation with slang words or phrases suited only to the stable or bar-room, and this they think is a dashing, fascinating manner. It may be encouraged, admired, in their presence, by gentlemen, and imitated by younger ladies, but, be sure, it is looked upon with contempt, and disapproval by every one of good sense, and that to persons of real refinement it is absolutely disgusting.

Other ladies, taking quite as mistaken a view of real refinement, will affect the most childish timidity, converse only in whispers, move slowly as an invalid, faint at the shortest notice, and on the slightest provocation; be easily moved to tears, and profess never to eat, drink, or sleep. This course is as absurd as the other, and much more troublesome, as everybody dreads the scene which will follow any shock to the dear creature's nerves, and will be careful to avoid any dangerous topics.

Self-respect, and a proper deference for our superiors in age or intellect, will be the best safeguards against either a cringing or insolent manner.

Without self-respect you will be apt to be both awkward and bashful; either of which faults are entirely inconsistent with a graceful manner. Be careful that while you have sufficient self-respect to make your manner easy, it does not become arrogance and so engender insolence. Avoid sarcasm; it will, unconsciously to yourself, degenerate into pertness, and often downright rudeness. Do not be afraid to speak candidly, but temper candor with courtesy, and never let wit run into that satire that will wound deeply, whilst it amuses only slightly.

Let your carriage be at once dignified and graceful. There are but few figures that will bear quick motion; with almost every one its effect is that of a jerk, a most awkward movement. Let the feet, in walking or dancing, be turned out slightly; when you are seated, rest them both on the floor or a footstool. To sit with the knees or feet crossed or doubled up, is awkward and unlady-like. Carry your arms, in walking, easily; never crossing them stiffly or swinging them beside you. When seated, if you are not sewing or knitting, keep your hands perfectly quiet. This, whilst one of the most difficult accomplishments to attain, is the surest mark of a lady. Do not fidget, playing with your rings, brooch, or any little article that may be near you; let your hands rest in an easy, natural position, perfectly quiet.

Never gesticulate when conversing; it looks theatrical, and is ill-bred; so are all contortions of the features, shrugging of shoulders, raising of the eyebrows, or hands.

When you open a conversation, do so with a slight bow and smile, but be careful not to simper, and not to smile too often, if the conversation becomes serious.

Never point. It is excessively ill-bred.

Avoid exclamations; they are in excessively bad taste, and are apt to be vulgar words. A lady may express as much polite surprise or concern by a few simple, earnest words, or in her manner, as she can by exclaiming "Good gracious!" "Mercy!" or "Dear me!"

Remember that every part of your person and dress should be in perfect order before you leave the dressing-room, and avoid all such tricks as smoothing your hair with your hand, arranging your curls, pulling the waist of your dress down, or settling your collar or sleeves.

Avoid lounging attitudes, they are indelicate, except in your own private apartment. Nothing but ill health will excuse them before company, and a lady had better keep her room if she is too feeble to sit up in the drawing-room.

Let your deportment suit your age and figure; to see a tiny, fairy-like young girl, marching erect, stiff, and awkwardly, like a soldier on parade, is not more absurd than to see a middle-aged, portly woman, aping the romping, hoydenish manners of a school-girl.

Let the movements be easy and flexible, and accord with the style of the lady.

Let your demeanor be always marked by modesty and simplicity; as soon as you become forward or affected, you have lost your greatest charm of manner.

You should be quite as anxious to talk with propriety as you are to think, work, sing, paint, or write, according to the most correct rules.

Always select words calculated to convey an exact impression of your meaning.

Let your articulation be easy, clear, correct in accent, and suited in tone and emphasis to your discourse.

Avoid a muttering, mouthing, stuttering, droning, guttural, nasal, or lisping, pronunciation.

Let your speech be neither too loud nor too low; but adjusted to the ear of your companion. Try to prevent the necessity of any person crying, "What? What?"

Avoid a loquacious propensity; you should never occupy more than your share of the time, or more than is agreeable to others.

Beware of such vulgar interpolations as "You know," "You see," "I'll tell you what."

Pay a strict regard to the rules of grammar, even in private conversation. If you do not understand these rules, learn them, whatever be your age or station.

Though you should always speak pleasantly, do not mix your conversation with loud bursts of laughter.

Never indulge in uncommon words, or in Latin and French phrases, but choose the best understood terms to express your meaning.

Above all, let your conversation be intellectual, graceful, chaste, discreet, edifying, and profitable.

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