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DECORUM IN AMERICA (1878)

 

Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society (1878; J.A. Ruth, New York)

 

Conversing with Ladies (p. 68): If you are a gentleman, never lower the intellectual standard of your conversation in addressing ladies. Pay them the compliment of seeming to consider them capable of an equal understanding with gentlemen. You will, no doubt, be somewhat surprised to find in how many cases the supposition will be grounded on fact, and in the few instances where it is not the ladies will be pleased rather than offended at the delicate compliment you pay them. When you “come down” to commonplace or small-talk with an intelligent lady, one of two things is the consequence, she either recognizes the condescension and despises you, or else she accepts it as the highest intellectual effort of which you are capable, and rates you accordingly.’

 

At the Table (98): ‘Avoid picking your teeth, if possible, at the table, for however agreeable such a practice might be to yourself, it may be offensive to others. The habit which some have of holding one hand over the mouth, does not avoid the vulgarity of teeth-picking at table.’

 

On Dancing (p. 112): ‘Dance with grace and modesty, neither affect to make a parade of your knowledge; refrain from great leaps and ridiculous jumps, which would attract the attention of all towards you.’

 

On Ladies Rowing (p. 157):Of late years ladies have taken very much to rowing; this can be easily managed in a quiet river or private pond, but it is scarcely to be attempted in the more crowded and public parts of our rivers – at any rate, unless superintended by gentlemen. In moderation, it is a capital exercise for ladies, but when they attempt it they should bear in mind that they should assume a dress proper for the occasion. They should leave their crinoline at home, and wear a skirt barely touching the ground; they should also assume flannel Garibaldi shirts and little sailor hats – add to these a good pair of stout boots, and the equipment is complete.’

 

On Washington Etiquette (pp. 240, 241):On the days appointed for the regular “levees” the doors of the White House are thrown open, and the world is indiscrimately invited to enter them. No special dress is required to make one’s appearance at this republican court, but every one dresses according to his or her own taste or fancy. The fashionable carriage or walking-dress is seen side-by-side with the uncouth homespun of the backwoodsman and his wife. Nor are there any forms or ceremonies to be complied with to gain admittance to the presidential presence. You enter, an official announces you, and you proceed directly to the President and his wife and pay your respects. They exchange a few words with you, and then you pass on, to make room for the throng that is pressing behind you. You may loiter about the rooms for a short time, chatting with acquaintances or watching the shifting panorama of faces, and then go quietly out, and the levee is ended for you. . . . If you wish to make a private call upon the President, you will find it necessary to secure the company and influence of some official or special friend of the President. Otherwise, though you will be readily admitted to the White House, you will probably fail in obtaining a personal interview.’

 

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