Friday, January 7, 2011

Etiquette for American Ladies 1840 - The Propriety of Deportment


Etiquette for Ladies: With Hints on the Preservation, Improvement, and Display of Female Beauty. Published by Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia. 1838-1840

Propriety of deportment...is a happy union of the moral and the graceful, and should be considered in two points of view; it ought, therefore, to direct us in our important duties, as well as in our more trifling enjoyments.

When we regard it only under this last aspect, some contend that mere intercourse with the world gives a habit and taste for those modest and obliging observances which constitute true politeness; but this is an error. Propriety of deportment is the valuable result of a knowledge of one's self, and of respect for the rights of others; it is a feeling of the sacrifices which are imposed on self esteem by our own social relations; it is, in short, a sacred requirement of harmony and affection.

But the usage of the world is merely the gloss, or rather the imitation of propriety; and when not based upon sincerity, modesty, and courtesy, it consists in being inconstant in every thing, and amusing itself by playing off its feelings and ridicule against the defects and excellencies of others. Thanks to custom, — it is sufficient, in order to be recognised as amiable, that she who is the subject of a malicious pleasantry may laugh as well as the author of it.

The usage of the world is, therefore, often nothing: more than a skilful calculation of vanity, a futile game, a superficial observance of form, a false politeness, which would lead to frivolity or perfidy, did not true politeness animate it with delicacy, reserve, and benevolence. Would that custom had never been separated from this virtuous amiability! We should then never see well intentioned, and good people, suspicious of politeness; and when victims to the deceitful, justly exclaim with bitterness, "This is your woman of politeness!" nor should we ever have made a distinction between the fixed principles of virtue, and what is fit and expedient.

The love of good, in a word, virtue, is then the soul of politeness; and the feeling of a just harmony, between our interest and our social relations, is indispensable to this agreeable quality. Excessive gaiety, extravagant joy, great depression, anger, love, jealousy, avarice, and generally all the passions, are too often dangerous shoals to propriety of deportment.
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