The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Manners Makyth Man .

by E. C. McKechnie.
Volume 15, 1904, pg. 207-213

William of Wykehm's famous motto, "Manners Makyth Man," gives to the word manners a deeper meaning than we usually attach to it. When we use it at the present day, it is to signify the superficial side of conduct almost exclusively. The old meaning implied the internal aspect, that which underlies all outward manners and has its seat in the heart. It meant conduct in the full sense of the word, apart from a knowledge of social observances. We must not limit ourselves entirely to the modern meaning or we shall reap little benefit from a consideration of the subject.

To take "manners" first in its widest sense, as meaning conduct, we realize that it involves our spiritual outlook on life, our ethical standards, in fact all that makes us the men and women we are. Our manners are thus all-important as our daily habits or manners react on our characters. We know how the brain registers habits, and how much easier some lines of thought or action are to us than others because we have frequently indulged in them. If we cultivate good vigorous healthy thoughts, good manners will result, and our characters will be correspondingly strengthened. Parents do not realize how important their manners are to their children, who are daily forming unconscious ideals under the mother's and father's example. It does not matter what they are taught in words; what they do learn is from their parents' lives. And how touchingly lasting these early influences are! A recent writer expressed a significant idea when he said, that however a man might describe his theology in middle life, what he really would believe when he was old was the creed learnt at his mother's knee. That is, of course, provided it was a creed that was lived as well as taught. We must all have noticed how older people cite their parents and hold them up to a younger generation as worthy of all imitation. They even prefer the pattern of china of their mother's tea-cups! Although this seems a trivial matter, it may show us that we influence our children's tastes very much. Therefore we ought to try to have for them only such pictures and ornaments as we should like them to admire. This ethical side of our subject is so wide as to be beyond the scope of a short paper, so we may pass on to the consideration of manners as an external grace, and apart from its foundation in morals.

Good manners are very important in all who have the care of children, be they parents, teachers, or nurses. They are also very important in employers towards dependents, and mere manner can create much good or bad feeling in a household. If a lady habitually speaks in a cold formal way to her servants, merely giving her orders and the necessary amount of reproof, she may be respected but she will not be loved, and there will be no desire to render her any service beyond what can actually be claimed. She may compel them to go one mile, but they will not go with her twain.

Some people are born with a good manner, while others labour in vain to attain it. We all know children who seem always to understand by instinct what is the graceful and gratifying reply to make to older people, and we have met the enfant terrible who is in everybody's way. Manner must be largely unconscious in children and we would not have it otherwise. Some of them suffer keenly through their own little mistakes and often without knowing the cause. A little boy had been looking forward for days in delighted anticipation to the visit of a friend some years older than himself, who was quite a hero in his eyes. David (the friend) had arrived and all were seated round the table having tea, when suddenly the awful thought occurred to the little boy that David would have to go home before long, and he felt he must know the worst at once. He had been too shy to speak to David since his arrival and had been content to listen to the conversation of the older boys. But now he broke in with:--"I say, David, when are you going away?" Then the wrath of the elder brothers descended on the little fellow for his rudeness to a guest; and he was banished to the nursery, where he cried dismally over being so grossly misunderstood. He had really been feeling that it would be a very sad thing to part with this guest and now David would think he wished him to go at once.

Fortunately, children's sorrows are short-lived or they could hardly endure them, not having our wider outlook over the past and on to the future. With them, the present is all in all. We wish to preserve their childish unconsciousness as long as possible, yet we must being to explain their little errors of manners to them, even for their own sakes, as the above anecdote makes clear; and once they begin to realize that they are in a critical world, self-consciousness is apt to appear. We may manage to curb this by giving them as much as possible an objective view of their manners rather than a subjective one. We should try to let them see how their conduct can be of use to others, and not how they personally will appear to others.

"Manners Makyth Man" is often proved to be true in a practical way. People who have little to recommend them but a naturally charming manner, quick wits, and the art of saying the right thing, pass in the race of life many others who have solid qualities and perhaps great acquirements, but who lack this passport to the general favour. We all know the truth of the saying:--"One man can steal a horse, while the other may not look over the hedge." The charming genially selfish man or woman goes smiling through life, suiting himself or herself without the slightest consideration of the point of view of others. The sad thing is that such people escape without offending others or having their own thick skin of insensibility pierced, because it is so impossible to be on bad terms with them and one feels that it would have been absurd to expect them to act in a quixotic way. On the other hand, the abrupt person may be honest as the noon-day, but if he is half as selfish as our charming friend we will have none of him, and all enlarge on his bad qualities. Fortunately, there are many people who are both good and charming and whose manners are an index to their character. "All the day he dealt graciously" (Ps. xxxvii. 26, R.V.) might describe for us the most beautiful type to which we can aspire.

No doubt manners, in the sense of good breeding, can be cultivated in childhood by the inculcation of principles of consideration for others, which will prevent any thoughtless hurting of susceptible feelings; and if the foundation of good manners be that true courtesy which springs from the heart, then "Manners Makyth Man" indeed in the best sense.

Points of etiquette should not be felt to be entirely an essential part of good breeding, because we know what different standards are, and a man may be a true gentleman who knows very little of the usages of polite society in small matters, and we all probably have friends who either through carelessness or absent-mindedness omit many little observances usually thought correct, and yet we should be indignant if they were not considered well-bred. At the same time, we must admit that it would have been better both for themselves and their friends if such people had realized the importance of conforming to custom; and some such points as the following may be instanced in which definite training ought always to be given to children.

I. Courtesy in letter writing.. It is really so little trouble to write a letter or a kind note that one wonders at the slovenly habits of many people in regard to their correspondence. When a letter is received which requires some consideration before a final reply can be given, a waiting letter should be sent, acknowledging the one received and intimating that a reply will follow. Thus suspense and annoyance to others can be avoided. It is usually the case that the busiest people are the most prompt in answering their letters. They know that if each day's post is not disposed of as it comes in, time will never be found to make up arrears.

As to the manner of writing, perhaps the best plan is to put oneself in imagination in the position of the person receiving the letter. If one does so, there will be no showing off at the expense of others, no clever and pithy but slightly offensive remarks. It may seem unnecessary to say this, but there are people who cannot resist being brilliant even in a letter, and the unfortunate recipient, who does not know the writer is only thinking of himself, imagines that there is a strong personal animus against him.

What a very definite impression one can receive from the shortest note, either a feeling of disagreeable abruptness or a gracious geniality that helps us on our way and remains with us like an agreeable perfume! Children should be taught the importance of good manners in letter writing, and such small points as at once acknowledging the receipt of photograph or little present should be insisted upon. It is quite a pleasure to a child as soon as he can write to do this for himself, and he has a tremendous feeling of importance as he posts the first letter which he has addressed.

Needless to say, all invitations should be promptly answered so as to enable hostesses to complete their arrangements. This is specially the case when an invitation to dinner cannot be accepted. When a refusal is sent at once, the hostess has time to invite a substitute. While such points are mere matters of course to people who entertain, it is surprising how often quite young people do not realize their importance and leave invitations unanswered till the last possible moment.

II. Respect towards others is too little taught. We ought to respect one another's individuality, for we have all some trace, albeit very faint, of the Divine image.

      "Hence in a season of calm weather,
      Though inland far we be,
      Our sounds have sight of that immortal sea
      Which brought us hither."

We should respect little children, for to them much is revealed which is hidden from the wise and prudent.

      "Thou whose exterior semblance doth belie
      Thy soul's immensity;
      Thou best philosopher, who yet does keep
      Thy heritage, thou eye among the blind,
      That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep
      Haunted for ever by the eternal mind--
      Mighty prophet! Seer blest!
      On whom those truths do rest
      Which we are toiling all our lives to find."

Our Saviour has said, "Take heed lest ye offend one of these little ones"--and let us have a care lest through our misunderstanding or roughness, the "shades of the prison house begin to close" around the child, for all too soon the "vision splendid" will "fade into the light of common day," and if this occur before the years have come "that bring the philosophic mind," there will be an inevitable loss and deterioration of character. So let our manners be gentle to the little ones, that they may say of us what two dear children said to their friends:--"We know some people who have such sweet hearts."

Children should be taught to show and feel respect for older people. A want of reverence in this direction is not likely to increase a child's veneration for sacred things. Parents ought to insist on a little deference towards themselves, and this ought not to be inconsistent with the comradeship which prevails between the modern parent and child. Parents of older children often seem to sacrifice one to obtain the other. They are content to be treated with little or no respect in order to retain their children's confidence, to share their secrets and enjoy their companionship. If [Ivan] Turgenieff is to be believed, this self-sacrificing love fails of its object. He is at pains to show, in Fathers and Sons, that the spirit of one generation is irreconcilable with that of the next, and that however much parents may strive to keep abreast of the times on their children's account, there will be an inevitable difference of opinion between them and a distaste on the children's part for their parents' society. Let us hope that this is an extreme view even of Russian family life. If it proves anything, it is that parents must not sacrifice their children's respect for themselves; as, if that is lost, their opinion will not be valued and will therefore be of no use to the children, whose confidence will very probably be given to some teacher or friend who is less able to guide them. Thus the parents will have abrogated a most sacred charge and got nothing in return.

Little respectful habits should be inculcated, such as getting up to offer the most comfortable chair to older people, always to look at the person to whom one is speaking, always to reply when an order is given and so forth. It is an immense help to a mother if her children's governess is herself particular in all these little matters. It is extraordinary how many well-educated girls are a little deficient in breeding and do not realize that if they wish their pupils to be well-behaved, they must see to it that their own manners are as much as possible above reproach.

III. Definite teaching ought to be given to young people to guide them when paying visits. They often transgress the rules of a friend's house through sheer ignorance. If they are always late for meals, if they make plans with friends in the neighbourhood without consulting their hostess' convenience, if when their visit is at an end they fail to write acknowledging the kindness which has been shown them--their hostess feels that their visit was not to her and that as her house is not a hotel she does not care to repeat her invitation. And the guest who has possibly sinned through want of thought may be saying at home--"I wonder why I was not asked back to the So-and-so's where I had such a delightful time last year!"

IV. Good manners in public places such as lecture or concert rooms ought to form a part of training. It is very trying after one has taken expensive seats for a series of concerts to find that one's immediate neighbours talk and giggle while the music is being played, with intervals of eating sweets and rattling papers. All such conduct arises from a want of consideration for others, and all the minor matters of politeness should be taught from the standpoint of the golden rule.

V. There is just one other point which may be mentioned, and that is international politeness. We have much to learn from the manners of the French in this respect. They always speak so kindly of the country in which they find themselves (although no doubt they prefer their own), while we and our American cousins are inclined to point out the great superiority of our own countries to others in manners, morals, education, climate and every other advantage; forgetting that we are meantime transgressing the laws of politeness and reserve which form the basis of true courtesy.

These scattered suggestions on the wide subject of manners are necessarily very incomplete and will find amplification in everyone's experiences. However opinions may vary, we can all say with [Laurence] Sterne:--"Hail! ye small sweet courtesies of life, for smooth do ye make the road of it, like Grace and Beauty which beget inclinations to love at first sight; 'tis ye who open the door and let the stranger in." [From "A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy"]

Typed by Blossom Barden, June, 2023; Proofread by LNL, June, 2023