The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
A Chat With Nurse: Good Manners.

Volume 15, 1904, pg. 358-362

"As you are not busy, nurse, we might have our finishing 'chat' this evening. I think we agreed it should be on Manners. How strangely quiet the house feels when the older children are out visiting! The perfect quiet has its charm, but I do not altogether like it," said Mrs. Earnest.

"They got very excited before starting, didn't they, ma'am? I hope none of them will take cold this frosty night. I gave them many instructions to behave themselves properly and be sure to take bread and butter first," replied Janet.

"I expect they will forget all your words, Janet, and, like children, will naturally do exactly as they are accustomed to do every day in their own home; for what child, who is not specially shy or overawed, pauses to think what to do and say when the excitement and joy of change takes hold of him?"

"I am sure they are taught to mind their manners so far as I can teach them. Since you told me to, I always make Master Jack get my chair to the tea table, and do many things that I would sooner be about myself."

"I know it is often less trouble to do, than to insist on the children doing, and it is perhaps the hardest part of your work to stand aside, patiently waiting, and checking your energy; but the children are better trained early even into acquired habits of politeness or, in fact, into any good habit. For all that, Janet, a person may be very polite," Mrs. Earnest continued to explain, "and yet hardly be called well-mannered; for one instinctively feels when the politeness is only on the surface, and we find ourselves wondering what lies below."

"A polite man may raise his hat, spring to open the door, and place you on the protected side of the pavement, rise from his seat to give it to you, because he has learnt that these little actions are correct, and, having acquired these habits, they are as much a part of his life as eating his food is, and he is equally conscious about both that to leave them out will be detrimental to self.

"So we must not confound polish and good manners. It is possible to find a well-mannered person unpolished, and a polished person ill-mannered; because, though the former might lack in refinement, he would consider your feelings entirely, whilst the latter might say and do very prettily and yet give you a feeling of discomfort and mistrust."

"For instance, Janet, you may meet what is called a common working man who has good manners. He has never lived in a home of refinement where he could imitate polished people nor does he know that he is acting in a becoming and charming way. How is it that he is so well-mannered then? Because manners are the outward expression of the inward thought, and if he were feeling evilly and selfishly he would so act and speak, never having been educated to hide his true feelings. Why does this man open the door for you, place a seat for you, remove something out of you way? Because he desires only your comfort, self is forgotten. Thus the best-mannered children are those who are anxious not to give trouble to those about them, who are thoughtful to spare their elders, who, forgetful of self and their own constant pleasure, think of and for mother, father, nurse, brothers, sisters, and schoolfellows.

"You know what veneer is, do you not, the polished surface which a cabinet maker lays over cheaper wood to improve the outward appearance of the furniture he is making? You could take a tool and easily chip it off, laying bare the inferior wood beneath, but take your tool and cut deeper and deeper into a piece of solid polished oak and you will find it genuine and beautifully marked to the very core. So Janet, since we are to talk on nursery manners, the very beginning of our children's behavior, it is well to understand in a clear way what is the foundation of the whole matter, so that we can safely pilot them."

"I fear I am the wrong person to do that," Janet said. "I was brought up very homely and no one had time to do anything except to work hard at our house. I'm sure I was never taught manners."

"You mean you were not taught any fixed and stated laws on the subject which we call etiquette, or the laws of polite society, as the books have it. Unfortunately, 'polite society' is not always well-mannered, but very vulgar, being full of observances without the essential. Now we want to give our children during nursery days the essential, for the polish could be learnt later; but it is a harder matter to alter the inward thought when once the mind is attuned.

"You are well-mannered, Janet, or I should not have you here with the children. Are not your days spent in kindly thought for us all? Your unselfishness does not spring from any thoughts of self, from the fact that you have your living to make, but because you cannot bear to see me troubled, or the children wanting help. If we started forth to seek for good manners we should have to enter the stately mansion, the modest house, and the peasant's cottage indiscriminately, and from each are we should sometimes return disappointed, sometimes having found what we sought. When in doubt on this subject, say to yourself, 'Is that unselfish, is it kind, should I like to be treated as Nora is just now treating Elsie?' If you decide that you would not, be quite sure at once that the word or act is ill-mannered as causing discomfort or pain to another.'

"You have a simple guide before you, in the golden rule of the Savior's teaching, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.'"

"It seems quite easy all at once; I never thought to work hard all my life, and then be told I could teach young ladies and gentlemen their manners. I feel proud," said Janet, her heart aglow.

"Since there was a general upset in the house this morning through unpunctuality in the nursery, I might tell you that there is no greater rudeness than this; so many people are thrown out and upset by this household crime, as I might almost call it, it is so entirely selfish to be anything but punctual in our lives. It is next to impossible to 'catch up,' especially for busy people, and can even amount to cruelty in some cases. This morning your master was cross, and I was put out, the servants thrown with their regular work, the day has hardly yet righted itself, all because one person chose to be unkind, and therefore ill-mannered. I did not blame you, Janet, when I heard that you had had an uneasy night with Nora's toothache, but it was very bad of Anne to let you sleep so late, to avenge what she considered her wrongs."

"I am bound to scold her sometimes, ma'am, when she comes home late," said Janet.

"There is another fault common in children which comes under the heading of ill-manners, that is carelessness over other people's property, especially in the shape of books. They take them out of their places to read or look at pictures by kind permission, and then forget to replace them and treat them carefully. This is very vexing to the possessor, and since it causes both labour and expense where it should not, certainly comes under the heading of ill-manners. Children sometimes think that if books and toys are their own they can destroy them as they please, but they must be made to understand that they cost money and that money has to be earned by someone or other. Apart from this it is vexing to see even toys wantonly broken."

"Children must be taught to restrain themselves on occasions, for instance in church where their fidgetting is sure to cause discomfort to those around them, even though it cost them a great effort to sit still; for it is this discipline in thought for others that we have agreed is the essence of good manners."

"How often are the children of refined parents pert to their elders and to the servants of the house? Generally because they have been over much indulged and waited upon and made to feel very important by both, and have not thus learnt who is in authority over them, and where their respect is demanded."

"I think one of the most pronounced misdeeds of chatterful and high-spirited children is their trick of interrupting you with their tale of joy, woe, or want, regardless that your voice has not ceased. It is a fault hard to cure and is more likely to disappear as their age and politeness increase."

"I must say a few words about manners at the table, Janet. Children know quite well that to mess, reach, and be rough at table is unpleasant for those seated with them, and, after being checked and praised alternately through a short course of training, should not often forget themselves, if our unselfish foundation of consideration for others is being firmly laid. It is necessary in this particular however to begin the teaching very early. After three years the children should only need to wear feeders [bib?] as a punishment for making spots on a previous occasion. Steady and continuous lessons for a few weeks on the proper holding of the spoon, that the food may not drop before reaching the mouth, is important at the very beginning of the self-feeding age, for we must also remember that habit is closely wrapped up with manners. I could of course give you a long list of fixed laws for the development of the children's manners or, shall I say, for their polishing, but will refrain, since it is for us to see most to our own behavior, for they will not neglect to imitate us. We are to the children what the sun is to the earth. Every ray we send forth increases their growth towards bearing good fruit or bad."

"You talk of having worked all your days, Janet; so do most people, though their training is different. Now our paths meet on holy ground, where the children's feet tread, and we find our mission is the same. We must by our example and leading fulfill it faithfully. The issues from the nursery are so great that seemingly trivial details of the daily life are not beneath our greatest care and consideration."

Typed by Erica Shirley, August, 2023; Proofread by LNL, August, 2023