March 20, 2010

19th Century Etiquette for Gentlemen

Civil War Etiquette
 This post is kind of long. I was reading about etiquette for gentlemen in the 1860s. A surprising amount of polite customs still survive today, and some don't but should. Reading about it really sparks the imagination. Was there really a time when people were this considerate of other people? I feel that modern times have emphasized the individual so much that we are beginning to feel self-important and slightly ignorant of the plights of others. In a time before personal computers, ipods, cell phones and instant messaging, people used to have to use niceties and inner strength to learn to get along with each other. I feel that we use digital media to distance ourselves from others. If we don't want to talk to a friend, we don't pick up the phone. We leave notes on people's websites and and send email but rarely make phone calls or make visits. Today, if you do not have a Facebook, you might as well not exist. Is this avoidant behavior really good for our relationships? Remember how fun it used to be to get a heartfelt letter in the mail or when a friend knocked on the door? :D We could all use a reminder in "the art of getting along with people."

 Some excerpts from: The Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness By Cecil B. Hartley (1860.)
    Civil War Reenacting Etiquette
  • “A gentleman will be always polite, in the parlor, dining-room, and in the street. This Last clause will especially include courtesy towards ladies, no matter what may be their age or position. A man who will annoy or insult a woman in the street, lowers himself to a brute, no matter whether he offends by look, word, or gesture, (page 66.)”
  • “In a crowd never rudely push aside those who impede your progress, but wait patiently until the way is clear, (66.)” “If obliged to cross a plank, or narrow path, let any lady or old person who may also be passing, precede you. In case the way is slippery or in any way unsafe, you may, with perfect propriety, offer to assist either a lady or elderly person in crossing it, (67.) 
  • “Do not smoke in the street until after dark, and then remove your cigar from your mouth, if you meet a lady, (67.)” 
  • “In case of a sudden fall of rain, you may, with perfect propriety, offer jour umbrella to a lady who is un-provided with one. If she accepts it, and asks your address to return it, leave it with her; if she hesitates, and does not wish to deprive you of the use of it, you may offer to accompany her to her destination, and then, do not open a conversation ; let your manner be respectful, and when you leave her, let her thank you, assure her of the pleasure it has given you to be of service, bow, and leave her (67-68.)” 
  • “In meeting a lady friend, wait for her to bow to you, and in returning her salutation, remove your hat. To a gentleman you may bow, merely touching your hat, if he is alone or with another gentleman; but if he has a lady with him, raise your hat in bowing to him. If you stop to speak to a lady, hold your hat in your hand, until she leaves you, unless she requests you to replace it. With a gentleman you may replace it immediately, (68.) 
  • “When you are escorting a lady in the street, politeness does not absolutely require you to carry her bundle or pa-rasol, but if you are gallant you will do so, (68.)"
  • “A true gentleman never stops to consider what may be the position of any woman whom it is in his power to aid in the street. He will assist an Irish washerwoman with her large basket or bundle over a crossing, or carry over the little charges of a distressed negro nurse, with the same gentle courtesy which he would extend toward the lady who was stepping from her private carriage. The true spirit of chivalry makes the courtesy due to the sex, not to the position of the individual, (68.) 
  • “Offer your seat in any public conveyance, to a lady who is standing. It is often quite as great a kindness and mark of courtesy to take a child in your lap, (70.)"
  • “Where there are several ladies, and you are required to escort one of them, select the elderly, or those whose personal appearance will probably make them least likely to be sought by others. You will probably be repaid by finding them very intelligent, and with a fund of conversation. If there are more ladies than gentlemen, you may offer an arm to two, with some jest about the difficulty of choosing, or the double honor you enjoy, (70.)” 
  • “His position as a man in society obliges him to call, … Upon any lady who has accepted his services as an escort, either for a journey or the return from a ball or evening party ; this call must be made the day after he has thus escorted the lady; (75-76.)” 
  • “Never make a call upon a lady before eleven o'clock in the morning, or after nine in the evening, (78.)"
  • “If a lady enters the room where you are making a call, rise, and remain standing until she is seated. Even if she is a perfect stranger, offer her a chair, if there is none near her. You must rise if a lady leaves the room, and remain standing until she has passed out, (84.) I hope this means “passed out of the room”, you’d have to wait forever for her to “pass out” naturally, unless her corset is too tight. :D
  • “In inviting a lady to dance with you, the words, "Will you honor me with your hand for a quadrille?" or, "Shall I have the honor of dancing this set with you?" are more used now than "Shall I have the pleasure ?" or, " Will you give me the pleasure of dancing with you ? (93.)"
  • “Let your hostess understand that you are at her service for the evening, that she may have a prospect of giving her wall flowers a partner, and, however unattractive these may prove, endeavor to make yourself as agreeable to them as possible, ( 94.)"
  • “WHEN you wish to invite a lady to accompany you to the theatre, opera, a concert, or any 'other public place of amusement, send the invitation the day previous to the one selected for taking her, and write it in the third person. If it is the first time you have invited her, include her mother, sister, or some other lady in the invitation. If she accepts your invitation, let it be your next care to secure good seats, for it is but a poor compliment to invite a lady to go to the opera, and put her in an uncomfortable seat, where she can neither hear, see, nor be seen, (294.)"
  • “One may smoke in a railway-carriage in spite of by-laws, if one has first obtained the consent of every one present; but if there be a lady there, though she give her consent, smoke not. In nine cases out of ten, she will give it from good nature, (304.)"
  • “But if you smoke, or if you are in the company of smokers, and are to wear your clothes in the presence of ladies afterwards, you must change them to smoke in. A host who asks you to smoke, will generally offer you an old coat for the purpose. You must also, after smoking, rinse the mouth well out, and, if possible, brush the teeth, (304.)"
  • “If you are ever tempted to speak against a woman, think first—" Suppose she were my sister!" You can never gain anything by bringing your voice against a woman, even though she may deserve contempt, and your forbearance may shame others into a similar silence. It is a cowardly tongue that will take a woman's name upon it to injure her; though many men do this, who would fear,—absolutely be afraid, to speak against a man, or that same woman, had she a manly arm to protect her, (319.)" 
The whole book is very interesting and contains a lot of the things that we still consider polite today. It is worth taking a look at. 


  1. I wish some of those mannerisms were observed today, though I'd probably be really creeped out if someone took, say my little brother in his lap on a bus!

    I love your blog, thanks for the comment on mine :)

  2. :D yes, that might be a little creepy. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Firstly, thank you for commenting on my blog post about family history, Stephanie Ann.

    I can relate to your enjoyment and appreciation of such a book as this. I've always felt this way about "The Ladies' Book of Etiquette, Fashion and Manual of Politeness" and in particular, the section on letter writing. I love how the art of letter-writing is described: to wit, "long enough to interest...not to tire;... condensed to keep the attention, and not tedious...detailed enough to afford satisfaction; ...correct in grammatical construction, properly a clear, legible hand, with...all in the proper place; utter defiance to spelling-book rules; in short, a well-written letter."

    I think to myself, "Oh, is that all?"

  4. I wish more people followed these rules. Great posts. I only recently discovered your blog, and am now going from oldest to newest post. Fascinating entries. Glad I stumbled upon it.

  5. What a wonderful blog article! So many misconceptions that I have had on the etiquette for men during the Civil War! This was well written and informative and I thank you kindly for sharing it. I was doing research for a novel, and the details here will go a long way in the behavior of my characters. Much appreciated. Love the site as well. The design and look of it is appeasing and adds to the charm of 19th century living. Well done!

  6. What a wonderful blog article! So many misconceptions that I have had on the etiquette for men during the Civil War! This was well written and informative and I thank you kindly for sharing it. I was doing research for a novel, and the details here will go a long way in the behavior of my characters. Much appreciated. Love the site as well. The design and look of it is appeasing and adds to the charm of 19th century living. Well done!

  7. What a wonderful blog post! This has cleared up many misconceptions I had about etiquette during the Civil War. This information will go a long way in helping with my research to my novel in regards to the behavior of my male characters. Surely society today could use some of these mannerisms and customs! You blog site as well is very aesthetic to the eye and you have captured the look and feel of the period which your blogs compliment so nicely! I will definitely be coming back to read often!
    Thank you! Well Done!

  8. Very neat! This helped me so much with a British Literature 19th Century Assignment I had.
    Well done! Although, I wish men still did this.

  9. Very neat! This really helped with a British Literature 19th Century Etiquette Assignment I had.
    Well done! Although I wish men still did this.

  10. I came here looking for information about how a gentleman would escort a lady to a ball in 19th Century France but was delighted with the authentic look back at the way the Victorian Age viewed gender, as seen through this etiquette book. I do like the idea of offering a friend an old coat to wear if you should allow him to smoke in your house.

  11. I finally understand how trash life must have been, ugh here comes the people complaining about their century, like you'd last a day in another century 😉


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