Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

"These books are written exclusively for gentlemen and ladies. Now, as you know, my young friends, gentleman and lady, in our country, are rather indefinite terms. If you ask what Mr. So and So's profession or business is, you may be told 'he has not any he is a gentleman!' Others limit the term to those who belong to the professional and mercantile walks. They will tell you, in speaking of an assembly, there were no gentlemen there, only farmers, mechanics, and so on.' Others more generous, or less nice in their application of the term, will talk of 'colored gentlemen and ladies,' or designate a beggar at the door as that ‘old lady,' or 'old gentleman.' If, then, these terms are so uncertain in their application as to be quite indefinite, had we not best reject them altogether, and speak of what we all understand, and all respect, well-bred men and women ?"

She considers the circumstances of this country as peculiarly favorable to the general diffusion of good manners, quoting Miss Martineau's testimony, that "the manners of the Americans are the best she ever saw."

"There is no country where such an equality of rights and condition exists, as in our Northern States. There is no other where the rewards of fortune are so certain to the industrious and ingenius, nor where the just poverty that follows idleness and imbecility is so sure. Of course, we have no barriers that are either impassable, or difficult to be passed, from one condition to another.

"The English are of the same race (the Saxon) as ourselves. They too, are a free people. Most of the insolence that disgraces the upper classes in England, and the servility that degrades the inferior ones, may be ascribed to the fixedness of the barriers that separate them.

"Whence, think you, come the manliness, frankness, independence, and selfrespect, of the manners of the mechanic and common farmer? They are intelligent men, and, to a certain degree, educated. They feel that they stand on even ground with the professional man, and a little above the rich idle gentleman. They know that their sons have an equal chance for the first stations in the land. They feel no provocation to rudeness, and no motive for servility.

"Equality of rights and fluctuation of conditions restrain the temper, and inspire mutual kindness and forbearance, for there are none above the manifestation of our good dispositions, and none below it.

"The mingling of all classes is favorable to good manners. We know it is not deemed so by those who still cling to the aristocracy of our fathers' days, and who would have one class polished, while the other rusts-one class marked by prescribed observations, of which their inferiors in condition are quite ignorant; but surely, good manners to the greatest number is preferable to a high-bred manner to the few.

"The mingling of all conditions gives, to those who are least educated, an opportunity of associating with those whose refinement and delicacy of manner is the sign of the high cultivation and refinement of their minds.

"The habit of travelling that prevails, and is increasing among our people, is favorable to good manners. In our steamboats and railroad cars, the humblest, and hitherto most sequestered individual, sits side by side, eats at the same table, and sleeps in the same apartment, with the most highly educated and polished. Very dull must those be who cannot, if they will, profit by a good model.

"But the circumstance above all others favorable to our national manners, is the general exercise of mind among us. In Prussia, where the government is despotic, the common schools are said to be better than ours, but the mind of the people is not called forth. It is the awakened, active mind, that gives form and expression to the manners.

"Manners, like every thing else in our character and conduct, should be based on religion. 'Honor all men,' says the Apostle. This is the spring of good manners. It strikes at the very root of selfishness. It is the principle by which we render to all ranks and ages their due.

"A respect for your fellow-beings, a reverence for them as God's creatures and your brethren, will inspire that delicate regard to their rights and feelings, of which good manners is the sign.

"If you have truth, not the truth of policy, but religious truth, your manners will be sincere. They will have earnestness, simplicity, and frankness-the best qualities of manners. They will be free from assumption, pretence, affectation, flattery, and obsequiousness, which are all incompatible with sincerity. If you have a goodly sincerity, you will choose to appear no other, no better than you are-to dwell in a true light.

"If, my young friends, you are benevolent, your manners will be attentive and kind. If you are disinterested, you will prefer the accommodation and convenience of others, in small, every day and every hour matters, to your own. This is what the world calls politeness, and what politeness only imitates.

“Mr. Hallam, in defining courtesy, as understood in the days of chivalry, says, 'this word expressed the most highly refined good breeding, founded less upon a knowledge of ceremonious politeness-though this was not to be omitted-than on the spontaneous modesty, self-denial, and respect for others, which ought to spring from the heart.'

"There can be no better definition of good manners than this; and if you strike out of it the ceremonious politeness,' you will perceive that it is not necessary to live in the polite world to learn good manners; and that as essentially good manners may be found in the country farm-house, as in the city drawing-room.

"And so is the fact. I have never seen better models of manners, (the essentials of manners, 'spontaneous modesty, self-denial, and respect for others,') than in the home of a New England farmer, where the parents, respected and self-respecting, were fountains of kindness to their household; where the children blended in their manners to their parents filial reverence with social equality; where the strong bond of love between brothers and sisters was manifest in reciprocal devotion graced with courtesy, and where the guest was received with a manner that no code nor instructor could have produced, because it expressed conscious dignity, independence, and a pains-taking benevolence."

The following pertinent anecdote is related in a note:

"A young English woman, who has been for many years a resident in America, went last year to England. A friend at Liverpool, who put her into the rail-car there for Birmingham, told her, on her arrival at the inn in that city, to sent Boots (a servant) to the mail-coach office, to take her passage for London, to pay for it, and have her name booked, which would secure it to her. She complied exactly with his directions. At the hour of departure, she was at the inn from which the coach started; and, on being notified by the coachman that all was ready, she took her place. The coach carries four inside passengers. The number was completed by three gentlemen taking their seats with her. The coach drove for ten minutes about Birmingham, and then stopped, when a gentleman appeared at the coachdoor, and said he was entitled to a place. Yes,' said a stander-by, 'Lord -'s place has been booked for a month.' A person came forward with a way-bill, and asked the gentlemen's names. They were given, and were all down. And yours, ma'am,' he asked, appealing to the lady. She told him. He said it was not down. Her name was rather a long and unusual one, and probably was not written correctly; but, as there was but one woman, there could be no mistake as to her right. Feeling herself a stranger in the country, and alone, and having driven far from the inn from which she started, and lost sight of the servant who had been her agent, she had no one to verify her claim, and naturally confused and alarmed, she turned to the gentlemen, and said, 'What am I to do?' Two were silent, and one replied, 'Get out as fast as you can, ma'am, and take off your luggage.' She did get out, and Lord C without one word of counsel, apology, or regret, got in,

'

and took her place. She hesitated for a moment-her baggage was on the coach, and her friends in London were anxiously expecting her, but the day was one of the coldest of an English winter, the mercury not being more than seven or eight degrees above zero; and she, clad for a close English mail coach, was ill fitted to encounter the keen blasts on the outside. The image of a dear relative awaiting her, to meet whom she had made a winter's passage across the Atlantic, turned the scale, and she mounted to the top of the coach.

"There were two outside passengers, probably not lords, and possibly not highbred gentlemen; but they appeared struck with the exposure of a delicate lady to the cold, and arranged their seats so as to protect her as far as in their power. Soon after, the coachman handed her a balance due to her, being the difference between the price of an outside and inside place. When within fifty miles of London, she became so ill from exposure that she left the mail, and hired a post-chaise. There is a well known law in England, where the laws carefully guard the rights of the upper classes, made with reference to such cases as our friend's. If more than the number prescribed for a mail-coach is booked, the passenger unprovided with a seat may call for a post-chaise, and the proprietor is compelled to furnish it. This Lord с and his three companions must have known, but without taking the trouble to suggest the remedy, or to open their lips, these gentlemen, lord and all, permitted an unprotected, solitary woman to get out of the coach on a most inclement day, and shift for herself.

"But these were gentlemen, trained by aristocratic institutions; and probably, in a London drawing-room, they would not have offended against one of the conventional laws of politeness.

"When the lady in question left her own home in the interior of America to embark for Europe, she travelled for some distance in a stage-coach without a protector. She needed none. There were seven or eight passengers, strangers to her, men of perfectly unpolished manners, it must be confessed, who secured to her the best seat, and whatever comfort the coach admitted; who assisted her whenever they alighted; and, when they returned to the coach, stood aside and awaited with all deference till she was well placed; and, when her luggage was to be transferred to the steamer, relieved her of all the trouble of it.

"If, as Tocqueville says, 'to refine the habits, and embellish the manners, do not belong to a democratic government,' let us be careful to retain the humanities and social kindness which do. Better the unpolished gold, than the glittering of false coin."

We are again tempted to make another short quotation:

"Courtesy, I repeat, is confined to no age or condition. A very helpless party of invalids and children were driving out of New York. An alarming accident occurred. The carriage was badly broken. A man came forward, and, after bestowing much pains and time, rendered effective aid. 'We are very much obliged to you,' said one of the frightened party to this Samaritan. 'You are as welcome as you are obliged,' he replied. He was a blacksmith, one of that class designated by the ultra aristocrats of the Old World as 'the swinish multitude.'

"I said courtesy was confined to no age. A very graceful courtesy was rendered to Washington by a little girl. He was paying a visit at her mother's house. When he went away, she opened the door to let him out. 'I wish you a better office, my dear,' he said. 'Yes, sir-to let you in.'

"Discourtesy is not limited to country bred, or uneducated persons. We have seen a plain, respectable man, on the deck of a crowded steamboat, rise and give his chair (when chairs were in alarming disproportion to sitters) to a fashionable woman, and she take it without the slightest acknowledgment, when, if the person doing her the favor had been what she called a gentleman, she would have said, you are very kind, sir!' or, 'pray, sir, do not let me deprive you of your seat!'

Surely, the most exact etiquette would be no compensation for such superciliousness."

And she thus concludes this capital chapter, which contains some strictures upon some of the most common practices of ill-breeding amongst Americans, well worthy of the attention of vast numbers of all classes:

"We return to the elements of good manners, and repeat again 'real elegance of demeanor springs from the mind.' 'Keep your heart with all diligence,' and its good feelings and emotions, if naturally expressed, will have the most attractive grace.

"As general rules, I would say to you, cultivate self-possession. Avoid imitation-and avoid equally shyness and forwardness. Modesty of manners, once lost, is irrecoverable. Be frank, for frankness is the sign and natural expression of that most noble quality, truth. Cherish benevolence, for it will shine through your manner like light from heaven, gladdening your home, and lighting the paths of those you greet by the wayside.

"Youth passes, beauty decays, but good manners are the perennial charm of every period of life-the only external charm that time does not impair."

The chapters on "Dress," "Conversation," "Books," "Love of Nature," "Charity," are all excellent, replete with the kindly and cheerful wisdom which is the most charming characteristic of our amiable author; and the concluding chapter touches slightly on a subject which is now rising into prominent interest among the many social reforms called for by the awakened philanthropy and intelligence of the age-the rights of women. Upon this she speaks certainly very sensibly; and in reference to the reforms in the laws and social usages demanded by the champions of the sex, to admit women to a greater degree of equality with men in various occupations from which they are now practically excluded, and in the rights of property, &c., in the relation of marriage, Miss Sedgwick cautions her young friends from appearing as the bold assertors of their own rights, and the noisy proclaimers of their own powers;" and contents herself with advising them to qualify themselves by education, self-training, and habits of self-reliance, for the exercise of higher powers than women have yet possessed, in the full assurance that then they cannot and will not be long withheld from them.

<<

For our part, we are content to take our place unequivocally on the female side of this question; and we trust that the attention which is now directing itself to it will ere long begin to make itself practically felt in our halls of legislation. It is a curious illustration of the familiar truth, that absolute power cannot be entrusted to any human hands without being abused to promote the selfish interests of the possessors-by an unconscious process even when not openly and flagrantly-to observe how oppressively the whole course of legislation, which has been absolutely under the control of the male sex, has been made to bear upon the weaker partner of the fortunes, joys, and griefs of the former. For this a pseudodevotion of romantic chivalry, which on a broad scale has very little practical influence on the relations of the two sexes, is no compensation at all. This is one of the worst consequences of the barbarism out of which our civilization is yet slowly and painfully working its way.

The helpless dependence of woman on the absolute ascendency of man in the connection of marriage, both with respect to rights of property, and, within all the limits that fall short of cases of extremity, to her personal relations, is certainly very iniquitous and oppressive. A much greater facility of separation, in cases of ill treatment and incompatibility of character, with rights equal to those of the husband in respect to the disposal of children and property, would not only be just in itself, but very wise in elevating and purifying the matrimonial relation-redeeming the husband himself from the dangerous influence on his own character of possessing an unfairly absolute authority, and the wife from the correlative bad effects of inferiority and too utter dependence and greatly diminishing the amount of matrimonial unhappiness, and the frequency of separations which would actually take place. To what extent this facility should be carried, we are not quite prepared to say; nor is it necessary, while proposing the application of experimental reform, to define precisely at the outset the extent to which experience and the onward progress of opinion may hereafter, on deliberate conviction, induce us to proceed. It is very certain that the institution of marriage-resting as it does on a great fundamental law of nature, and sustained equally by natural and revealed religion, and by a public opinion and universal sentiment, having all the influence of an all-pervading social atmospheredoes not stand in need of all the legal barriers with which, under pretence of guarding its sanctity from the approach of danger, we in reality sadly cramp and distort its natural and healthy action. The public ear has recently been pained and disgusted with the exposition of details of domestic evil and wretchedness, in conspicuous cases, to which it is unnecessary to allude more distinctly, but which appear clearly traceable to the cause we have here indicated as the ingredient of poison and bitterness in the very fountain.

And apart from the relation of marriage, in the common pursuits and employments of life, how shamefully are women oppressed by the impalpable though overpowering tyranny of the stronger sex. How selfishly are they excluded from a countless variety of occupations, by which they might earn an easy and comfortable maintenance, for which they are naturally at least as well, and in many cases far better, qualified than men. We have heard of one instance of an actual extensive strike among' one set of mechanics, (compositors in a printing office,) accompanied with riotous and most unmanly conduct, to prevent the employment of women at a work so properly adapted to their physical powers as well as to their natural quickness and dexterity. In this case the dastardly attempt was successful; though the practice of employing women at the compositor's case is now, we are pleased to learn, gradually making its way in spite of the opposition with which it has been resisted. This is the same spirit which works, with equal effect, while less palpably, in the case of an endless variety of employments which will readily suggest themselves to the mind of every reader. Its effect is seen in the depressed scale of female wages comparatively with those of men, and with the

« ZurückWeiter »