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How to behave : a pocket manual of etiquette, and guide to correct personal habits

How to behave: a pocket manual of etiquette, and guide to correct personal habits ( 1857) by  Samuel Roberts Wells

How to behave: a pocket manual of etiquette

Someone has denned politeness as "only an elegant form of justice;" but it is something more. It is the result of the combined action of all the moral and social feelings, guided by judgment and refined by taste.

One cannot commit a greater mistake than to make politeness a mere matter of arbitrary forms. It has as real and permanent a foundation in the nature and relations of men and women, as have government and the common law. The civil code is not more binding upon us than is the code of civility. Portions of the former become, from time to time, inoperative mere dead letters on the statute-book, on account of the conditions on which they were founded ceasing to exist; and many of the enactments of the latter lose their significance and binding force from the same cause. Many of the forms now in vogue, in what is called fashionable society, are of this character. Under the circumstances which called them into existence, they were appropriate and beautiful; under changed circumstances, they are the same absurd. There are other forms or observances over which time and place have no influence which is always and everywhere binding.

Politeness itself is always the same. The rules of etiquette, which are merely the forms in which it finds expression, vary with time and place. Sincere regard for the rights of others, in the smallest matters as well as the largest, genuine kindness of heart; good taste, and self-command, which are the foundations of good manners, are never out of fashion; and a person who possesses them can hardly be rude or discourteous, however far he may transgress conventional usages: lacking these qualities, the most perfect knowledge of the rules of etiquette and the strictest observance of them will not suffice to make one truly polite.

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