My wife home-educated all of our children and the last remaining child we have at home. We have two graduated from college now. As part of her networking, she has hosted a six part practicum for fellow home-educators on Manners and Etiquette in the past. I remembered that George Washington had devised a rather comprehensive list and tried to find it. Well, I found it and I rather liked the list even though some are rather dated.
Manners are the lubricant of civilization and as the always handsomely turned out Fred Astaire said: “The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.” For the men in the readership, please get a copy of Brad Miner’s book, “The Compleat Gentleman“, for a wonderful treatment on why being kind and mannerly is not emasculating. -BB
I hold George Washington in rather low esteem for being one of the most over-rated “Great Captains of History” and a revered father of the maximum state with his championing of the poisonous Constitution. He was a military amateur at best and a horrific despot who held the first political office under the aegis of that fetid documents and proudly led an army against tax evaders a mere three years after being in office. So I offer these in no way as an endorsement of Washington whom I consider an extraordinarily destructive force in American freedom and liberty. Manners are indeed critical to an armed and polite society.
This may be the sole contribution that GW ever made toward liberty and freedom. By age sixteen, Washington had copied out by hand, 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. They are based on a set of rules composed by French Jesuits in 1595. Presumably they were copied out as part of an exercise in penmanship assigned by young Washington’s schoolmaster. The first English translation of the French rules appeared in 1640, and is ascribed to Francis Hawkins the twelve-year-old son of a doctor.
Today many, if not all of these rules, sound a little fussy if not downright silly. It would be easy to dismiss them as outdated and appropriate to a time of powdered wigs and quills, but they reflect a sentiment that is increasingly difficult to find. They all have in common a focus on other people rather than the narrow concentration of our own self-interests that we find so prevalent today. Fussy or not, they represent more than just manners. They are the small sacrifices that we should all be willing to make for the good of all and the sake of living together.
I suppose it may be the sole contribution to civilization I am proud of George Washington for apart from his vast laundry list of crimes against liberty and freedom. Even for this, he was a mere scribe.
These rules proclaim our respect for others and in turn give us the gift of self-respect and heightened self-esteem. They can all be summed up in the Golden Rule.
For me, it is summed up in one of the most elegant words in the Italian tongue – sprezzatura.
Richard Brookhiser, in his book on Washington wrote:
“[A]ll modern manners in the western world were originally aristocratic. Courtesy meant behavior appropriate to a court; chivalry comes from chevalier – a knight. Yet Washington was to dedicate himself to freeing America from a court’s control. Could manners survive the operation? Without realizing it, the Jesuits who wrote them, and the young man who copied them, were outlining and absorbing a system of courtesy appropriate to equals and near-equals. When the company for whom the decent behavior was to be performed expanded to the nation, Washington was ready. Parson Weems got this right, when he wrote that it was ‘no wonder every body honoured him who honoured every body.”
1st Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.
2nd When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usually Discovered.
3rd Show Nothing to your Friend that may affright him.
4th In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.
5th If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkerchief or Hand before your face and turn aside.
6th Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.
7th Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Dressed.
8th At Play and at Fire its Good manners to Give Place to the last Commer, and affect not to Speak Louder than Ordinary.
9th Spit not in the Fire, nor Stoop low before it neither Put your Hands into the Flames to warm them, nor Set your Feet upon the Fire especially if there be meat before it.
10th When you Sit down, Keep your Feet firm and Even, without putting one on the other or Crossing them.
11th Shift not yourself in the Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails.
12th Shake not the head, Feet, or Legs roll not the Eyes lift not one eyebrow higher than the other wry not the mouth, and bedew no mans face with your Spittle, by approaching too near him when you Speak.
13th Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks &c in the Sight of Others, if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexterously upon it if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own Cloths return Thanks to him who puts it off.
14th Turn not your Back to others especially in Speaking, Jog not the Table or Desk on which Another reads or writes, lean not upon any one.
15th Keep your Nails clean and Short, also your Hands and Teeth Clean yet without Showing any great Concern for them.
16th Do not Puff up the Cheeks, Loll not out the tongue rub the Hands, or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them or keep the Lips too open or too Close.
17th Be no Flatterer, neither Play with any that delights not to be Play’d Withal.
18th Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave: come not near the Books or Writings of Another so as to read them unless desired or give your opinion of them unasked also look not nigh when another is writing a Letter.
19th Let your Countenance be pleasant but in Serious Matters Somewhat grave.
20th The Gestures of the Body must be Suited to the discourse you are upon.