Victorian Etiquette and Deportment - Compiled by Laura Evans
“A good moral character is the first essential. It is highly important not only to be learned but to be virtuous.” ~ George Washington
According to the legendary Emily Post, etiquette is today what it has always been: a code of behavior based on kindness, consideration and unselfishness. This is something that must never change. Manners, which are derived from etiquette, should be maintained even in an ever changing world. Etiquette is for persons at every stage of life regardless of age, income, or position in society or business. Good manners are just as important for the youngest child as they are for the older adult – and that includes teenagers.
As such modern expressions of attitude as
“Reliance on, like, a strict set of rules is, kind of, a sign of immaturity, in the sense that you need someone to tell you how to act, that you can’t think of your own ways to respect people.”
“It’s just your personality, and what you want to do, and the way that you want to do it.”
“You should be yourself regardless, there should not be a reason for you to act like somebody else wants you to act.”
come more and more into the mainstream of our culture, a society of rudeness has developed.
However, for past generations, as demonstrated by Washington and his contemporaries, character was important – and it did not mean self expression. In those days, young people were not only expected to behave properly, but they understood the value of demonstrating general courtesies, manners and morals. George Washington’s first lessons in good breeding came from a book of precepts entitled Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, which listed 110 rules of etiquette for young men. The Rules of Civility were originally compiled and published in 1595 by French Jesuits. In 1645, this code of conduct was translated into an English version called Francis Hawkins’ Youths Behavior, or Decency in Conversation Amongst Men, and was reprinted at least eleven times until 1672. One copy of this English translation came into Washington’s possession in 1744, when he was 12 years old. Sometime before he turned 16, Washington carefully hand-copied the rules into a notebook as an exercise in penmanship. At the same time, these rules taught him the proper behavior that we call etiquette including how to dress, walk, talk, and eat. They also conveyed a moral message of humility and paying attention to others. The teenage Washington took these rules to heart and they profoundly influenced the development of his character. While some of the rules may seem a little silly and outdated today in the way they are phrased, most are valuable and timeless lessons for us all.
The following “Rules of Civility” have been specially selected to use for copywork and/or memorization. Practice writing these rules in a notebook as an exercise in penmanship – just like George Washington did!
George Washington's 55 Rules of Civility
- Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.
- 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.
- Sleep not when others speak; sit not when others stand; speak not when you should hold your peace walk not on when others stop.
- Shift not yourself in the sight of others, nor gnaw your nails.
- 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 man's face with your spittle when you speak.
- Turn not your back to others, especially in speaking; jog not the table or desk on which another reads or writes; lean not upon anyone.
- Keep your nails clean and short, also your hands and teeth clean, yet without showing any great concern for them.
- Do not puff up the cheeks, loll out the tongue, rub the hands or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them, or keep the lips too open or too close.
- Be no flatterer, neither play with any that delight not to be played withal.
- Read no letter, books, or papers in company; come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them, or give your opinion of them unasked; also look not when another is writing.
- Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.
- Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
- When you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased; but show pity to the suffering offender.
- Superfluous compliments and all affectation of ceremonies are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be neglected.
- If any one come to speak to you while you [are] sitting, stand up, though he be your inferior, and when you present seats, let it be to everyone according to his degree.
- When you meet with one of greater quality than yourself, stop, and retire, especially if it be at a door or any straight place, to give way for him to pass.
- In speaking to men of quality do not lean nor look them full in the face, nor approach too near them at left. Keep a full pace from them.
- Strive not with your superior in argument; always submit your argument with modesty.
- Do not express joy before one sick in pain, for that contrary passion will aggravate his misery.
- When a man does all he can, though it succeed not well, blame not him that did it.
- Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in public or in private, and presently or at some other time; in what terms to do it; and in reproving do it with all sweetness and mildness.
- Take all admonitions thankfully in what time or place so ever given.
- Mock not nor jest at anything of importance - and if you deliver anything witty and pleasant, abstain from laughing at yourself.
- Use no reproachful language against any one; neither curse nor revile.
- Wear not your clothes foul, or ripped, or dusty, but see they be brushed once every day at least and take heed that you approach not to any uncleanness.
- In your apparel be modest and endeavor to accommodate nature, rather than to procure admiration.
- Play not the peacock, looking every where about you, to see if you be well decked, if your shoes fit well, if your stockings sit neatly and clothes handsomely.
- Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for 'tis better to be alone than in bad company.
- Let your conversation be without malice or envy.
- Never express anything unbecoming, nor act against the rules before your inferiors.
- Laugh not alone, nor at all without occasion; deride no man's misfortune though there seem to be some cause.
- Speak not injurious words neither in jest nor earnest; scoff at none though they give occasion.
- Be not forward but friendly and courteous, the first to salute, hear, and answer; and be not pensive when it's a time to converse.
- Detract not from others, neither be excessive in commanding.
- Go not thither, where you know not whether you shall be welcome or not; give not advice without being asked, and when desired do it briefly.
- Reprehend not the imperfections of others, for that belongs to parents, masters, and superiors.
- Gaze not on the marks or blemishes of others and ask not how they came.
- Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.
- When another speaks, be attentive yourself; and disturb not the audience. If any hesitate in his words, help him not nor prompt him; interrupt him not, nor answer him till his speech has ended.
- While you are talking, point not with your finger at him of whom you discourse, nor approach too near him to whom you talk especially to his face.
- Whisper not in the company of others.
- Be not curious to know the affairs of others, neither approach those that speak in private.
- Undertake not what you cannot perform but be careful to keep your promise.
- When you deliver a matter do it without passion and with discretion, however mean the person be you do it to.
- When your superiors talk to anybody neither speak nor laugh.
- In company of those of higher quality than yourself, speak not 'til you are asked a question, then stand upright, put off your hat and answer in few words.
- Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.
- Feed not with greediness; lean not on the table; neither find fault with what you eat.
- If you soak bread in the sauce, let it be no more than what you put in your mouth at a time and blow not your broth at table; let it stay till it cools of itself.
- Neither spit forth the stones of any fruit pie upon a dish nor cast anything under the table.
- Put not another bite into your mouth till the former be swallowed; let not your morsels be too big.
- Drink not nor talk with your mouth full.
- Be not angry at whatever happens and if you have reason to be so, show it not but on a cheerful countenance especially if there be strangers.
- When you speak of God or his Attributes, let it be seriously.
- Reverence, honor and obey your natural parents although they be poor.
- Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
Victorian Tea, Table and Napkin Etiquette
- Etiquette is SUPPOSED to be about the comfort and happiness of everyone involved, and not about making anyone uncomfortable. So please play nice!
- Normally the host or hostess pours the tea and serves the food.
- The spout of the teapot and the tea kettle faces the hostess or pourer.
- Cups are served three quarters full.
- As the head of the table, you must, before taking anything upon your own plate, fill a cup for each one of the guest or family and pass them round.
- If you have a visitor, pass the cup with the tea or coffee alone in it and hand with the cup the sugar bowl and cream pitcher, that these may be added in the quantity preferred.
- After the cups have been filled and passed round, you may take the bread, butter and other food upon your own plate before guest are served.
- Milk is served with tea, not cream.
- One puts the sugar in first and stirs the tea while it is still hot to dissolve the sugar. The lemon is added after the sugar is dissolved.
- When serving lemon with tea, lemon slices are preferable, not wedges and never to add lemon with milk. Do not press or squeeze the lemon slice after it has been placed in the cup.
- Tea is always taken by the guest directly from the hands of the pourer.
• The pourer asks guests if they prefer strong or weak tea?
o Strong tea—pour the cup ¾ full, then ask milk, sugar, lemon?
o Weak tea—pour cup ½ full leaving space for the addition of hot water. Then ask milk, sugar, lemon?
- It is important not to place personal items, such as purses, cell phone, keys, and glasses on the table.
- The proper way to hold the vessel of a cup with no handle is to place one’s thumb at the six o'clock position and one’s index and middle fingers at the twelve o'clock position, while gently raising one’s pinkie up for balance. The pinkie should be gently arched to keep it from getting burnt by the body of the teacup, but it should not point anywhere.
- Do not pour coffee or tea from your cup into your saucer and do not blow either of these or soup.
- Take the seat pointed out by your hostess as soon as it is offered.
- It is considered rude to sip tea (or coffee, for that matter) from a spoon.
- Be careful that your chair does not stand upon the dress of the lady next you.
- Sit gracefully at the table.
- Conversation is general, still avoid and air of secrecy or mystery.
- Place your tea spoon at the six o'clock position and softly fold the liquid towards the twelve o'clock position two or three times. Never leave your tea spoon in your tea cup. When not in use, place your tea spoon on the right side of the tea saucer.
- Do not tip up the cup too much when drinking tea, but keep it at a slight angle.
- Never wave or hold your tea cup in the air.
- If you are at the side of the table, pass the bread, butter, etc., to the lady at the head, when you see that she has sent the cups to those seated at the table.
- If a utensil isn’t provided, assume that it’s a finger food.
- Split the scone with a knife. Spread the jam, curds, and clotted cream onto your scone. Never use the serving spoon for this task.
- Be sure to take small bites.
- Never lay a serving utensil on the tablecloth or table.
- Eat your soup quietly. To make any noise in eating is simply disgusting.
- Do not break bread into your soup.
- Never eat every morsel that is upon your plate and surely no lady will ever scrape her plate or pass the bread round it.
- Do not eat so fast to be done before others, nor so slowly as to keep them waiting.
- If you have something stuck in your teeth, quietly excuse yourself to remove it in the restroom.
- Don’t touch your face or head during teatime.
- Never dunk biscuits (cookies) in your tea.
- Swallow your food before you sip your tea.
- When the finger-glasses are passed round, dip the ends of your fingers into them and wipe them upon your napkin; then do not fold your napkin, but place it beside your plate upon the table.
- To carry away fruit or bonbons from the table is a sign of low breeding.
- After returning to the parlor, remain in the house at least an hour after dinner is over.
Proper Napkin Etiquette
- Once all the guests have arrived, the hostess will be seated. At that time, she will remove the napkin from the table and place it on her lap.
- When you have finished with your tea and meal, you should place your napkin to the right of the plate on the table. If for some reason you need to leave the table, you should place your napkin on your seat until you return.
- When the tea party is over, the hostess will place her napkin on the table.
- Don’t wipe your mouth with the napkin, blot it.
- Lipstick is never blotted on a cloth napkin; discreetly blot the lipstick onto a tissue before you begin to eat.
- Don’t use the napkin as a handkerchief.
- The napkin should remain on the lap during the tea.
- Never dip your napkin into your water glass.
- It is improper to dine with ones gloves on. Remove your gloves before sitting down to dine. The exception is for long, formal gloves with buttons at the wrist. It is acceptable to unbutton, remove ones fingers and hands and fold back, to the wrist, the lower portion of the glove without removing the upper portion from your arm. If the gloves have no wrist buttons, the gloves should be removed in their entirety before dining.
- The protocols for wearing gloves are the same, whether one is attending an afternoon tea or any other event where foods and beverages are served.
- While gloves are often highly designed with decorations and adornments, their sole purpose is to cover and protect ones hands from the elements.
- When greeting another, remove the glove from the right hand, place the removed glove in your left hand and shake hands skin to skin.
More Etiquette Links
Mass Historia - Manners for the Victorian Gentleman
7th Michigan Etiquette Manual
About Laura Evans
Laura Evans is the wife of Keystone Battery commander Ron Evans and is Treasurer of Keystone Battery.