Victorian ladies and gentlemen: The art of etiquette

It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. This description is both refined and, as far as it goes, accurate. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him; and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself.
His benefits may be considered as parallel to what are called comforts or conveniences in arrangements of a personal nature: like an easy chair or a good fire, which do their part in dispelling cold and fatigue, though nature provides both means of rest and animal heat without them.

The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause ajar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast; all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make every one at their case and at home.

He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. He makes light of favours while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring.

He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets everything for the best.

He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out. From a long-sighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend.

He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned, on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it is his destiny. If he engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blunder.

A real gentility never swears or talks uproariously. He should never fail to raise his hat politely to an acquaintance of either sex. If he should bump into someone or step upon a lady’s dress he must “beg their pardon”, and at no time should he lose his temper nor attract attention by excited conversation.

It is proper to offer a lady his arm, particularly in the evening and it should always be the right arm. People passing should observe the law of “turn to the right” and in this way the lady would not be jostled. It is always proper for a gentleman walking alone to give the lady or a gentleman with a lady, the inside of the walk.

A lady should be quiet in her manners, natural and unassuming in her language, careful to wound no one’s feelings, but giving generously and freely from the treasures of her pure mind to her friends. Scorning no one openly, she should feel gentle pity for the unfortunate, the inferior and the ignorant, at the same time carrying herself with an innocence and single heartedness which disarms ill nature, and wins respect and love from all.

The most appropriate morning dress for a lady upon first rising is a small muslin cap, to hide the hair papers, and a loose robe. Once breakfast is finished the dress should always be adapted to the occasion. Nothing is more proper for the morning than a loosely made dress, high in the neck, with sleeves fastened as the wrist with a band, and belt. For walking dress, the skirt should be allowed only just to touch the ground.

If a lady has a special day for the reception of calls, her dress must be of silk, or other goods suitable to the season, or to her position, but must be of quiet colors and plainly worn. Lace collars and cuffs should be worn with this dress, and a certain amount of jewelry is also admissible.

The material for a dress for a drive through the public streets of a city cannot be too rich. Silks, velvets and laces, are all appropriate, with rich jewelry and costly furs in cold weather.

The full dinner dress for guests admits of great splendor. It may be of any thick texture of silk or velvet for winter or light rich goods for summer, and should be long and sweeping. The fan should be perfect in its way, and the gloves should be quite fresh. Diamonds are used in broaches, pendants, earrings and bracelets. All the light neutral tints, and black, dark blue, purple, dark green, garnet, brown and fawn are suited for dinner wear.

Costly cashmere, very rich furs, and diamonds, as well as many other brilliant ornaments, are to be forbidden a young unattached lady.

The true lady walks the street, wrapped in a mantle of proper reserve, so impenetrable that insult and coarse familiarity shrink from her, while she, at all times, carries with her a congenial atmosphere which attracts all, and puts all at their ease.

A lady walks quietly through the streets, seeing and hearing nothing that she ought not to, recognizing acquaintances with a courteous bow, and friends with words of greeting. She is always unobtrusive, never talks loudly, or laughs boisterously, or does anything to attract the attention of the passers-by. She walks along in her own quiet, lady-like way, and by her preoccupation is secure from any annoyance. A true lady in the street, as in the parlor is modest, discreet, kind and obliging.

It is proper that the lady should first recognize the gentleman. A gentleman will never fail to bow in return to a lady; but a lady may not feel at liberty to return a gentleman’s bow, which places him in a rather unpleasant position. Therefore, a lady should give the first smile or bow. She must refrain, at all times, from using the gentleman’s Christian name.