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From: The True Citizen How To Become One
(Category: The Youth)


Conduct is three fourths of life.--Matthew Arnold

There is no policy like politeness.--Magoon

Life is not so short but there is time enough for courtesy.--Emerson

Men, like bullets, go farthest when they are smoothest.--Richter

Nothing can constitute good breeding that has not good-nature for its

True courtesy consists in that gentle refinement and grace of manner
displayed toward others, which springs not so much from polite culture
as from a genuine goodness of heart. It is the honor due to man as man,
and especially to woman. It is a grace which is too often unrecognized
and undervalued; but, when of the true order, it is a jewel of great

It is to be found in all lands, and in every grade or order of society,
as shown by the following examples:

A Chinaman was rudely pushed into the mud by an American. He picked
himself up very calmly, shook off some of the mud, bowed very politely,
and said in a mild, reproving tone of voice, "You Christian; me heathen;
alle samee, good-bye." Courtesy, as a Christian duty, has been sorely
neglected by Americans. "If a civil word or two will make a man happy,"
said a French king, "he must be wretched indeed who will not give them
to him."

The first Duke of Marlborough "wrote English badly and spelled it
worse," yet he swayed the destinies of empires. The charm of his manner
was irresistible and influenced all Europe. His fascinating smile and
winning speech disarmed the fiercest hatred, and made friends of the
bitterest enemies.

A habit of courtesy is like a delicate wrapping, preventing one
personality from rubbing and chafing against another. It is perhaps most
of all proper from the young toward those who are older than themselves.
There is too little of this in our day. Boys and girls speak to their
elders, perhaps even to their parents, with rude familiarity, such as
would be hardly proper among playmates.

One should also show courtesy to his companions. Boys, even in their
play, should be courteous to one another. One who is always pushing for
the best, without regard to others, shows his ill breeding. A "thank
you" and a "please" on proper occasions, are not out of place even among
the closest companions.

Perhaps in the family, courtesy is more important than anywhere else.
There people are thrown more closely together; and, thus, nowhere do
they need more the protection of courtesy. From all this, it appears
that courtesy is simply an expression of thoughtfulness for others; and
that rudeness and boorishness, though sometimes they spring from
ignorance, are more often the expression of selfishness, which forgets
the feelings and the tastes of others.

When Edward Everett took a professor's chair at Harvard, after five
years of study in Europe, he was almost worshiped by the students. His
manner seemed touched by that exquisite grace seldom found except in
women of rare culture. His great popularity lay in a courteous and
magnetic atmosphere which every one felt, but no one could fully
describe, and which never left him throughout his long and useful life.

Courtesy, then, may be defined as "good manners." At present we use the
word "manners," simply to express the outward relations of life. We
speak of "good manners" or "bad manners," meaning by the words that a
person conforms more or less perfectly to what are called the "usages of
good society." Thus a man may have good morals and bad manners, or he
may have good manners and bad morals, or both his manners and his morals
may be either good or bad.

Etiquette originally meant the ticket or tag tied to a bag to indicate
its contents. If a bag had this ticket it was not examined. From this
the word passed to cards upon which were printed certain rules to be
observed by guests. These rules were "the ticket" or the etiquette. To
be "the ticket," or, as it was sometimes expressed, "to act or talk by
the card," became the thing with the better classes.

A fine manner more than compensates for all the defects of nature. The
most fascinating person is always the one of most winning manners, not
the one of greatest physical beauty. The Greeks thought beauty was a
proof of the peculiar favor of the gods, and considered that beauty
only worth adorning and transmitting which was unmarred by outward
manifestations of hard and haughty feeling. According to their ideal,
beauty must be the expression of attractive qualities within--such as
cheerfulness, benignity, contentment, and love.

On a certain occasion, Queen Victoria sent for Thomas Carlyle, who was
a Scotch peasant, offering him the title of nobleman, which he declined,
feeling that he had always been a nobleman in his own right. He
understood so little of the manners at court that, when presented to the
queen, after speaking to her a few minutes, being tired, he said, "Let
us sit down, madam, and talk it over;" whereat the courtiers were ready
to faint. But the queen was equal to the occasion and gave a gesture
that seated all her attendants in a moment.

Courtesy is not, however, always found in high places. Even royal courts
furnish many examples of bad manners. At an entertainment given by the
Prince of Wales, to which, of course, only the very cream of society was
admitted, there was such pushing and struggling to see the Princess, who
was then but recently married, that, as she passed through the reception
rooms, a bust of the princess Eoyal was thrown from its pedestal and
damaged, and the pedestal upset; and the ladies, in their eagerness to
see the princess, actually stood upon it.

Courtesy does not necessarily conflict with sincerity. It is a great
mistake to suppose that righteousness is bound up with bluntness and
criticism. Perfect courtesy and perfect honesty are often combined in
the same person. We can be amiable without being weak. We are able to
criticise errors and wrongs by holding up what is right and true, which
is the most forcible way; and still, through it all, our gentleness and
courtesy may remain unstained.

Where this course is departed from, we are very apt to fall into
trouble. A New York lady had just taken her seat in a car on a train
bound for Philadelphia, when a somewhat stout man sitting just ahead of
her lighted a cigar. She coughed and moved uneasily; but the hints had
no effect, so she said tartly: "You probably are a foreigner, and do not
know that there is a smoking-car attached to the train. Smoking is not
permitted here." The man made no reply, but threw his cigar out of the
window. What was her astonishment when the conductor told her, a moment
after, that she had entered the private car of General Grant. She
withdrew in confusion, but the same line courtesy which led him to give
up his cigar, was shown again as he spared her the mortification of
even a questioning glance, still less of a look of amusement, although
she watched his dumb, immovable figure with apprehension until she
reached the door.

Let us not be so busy as to forget the gracious acts and delicate
courtesies of everyday life. As Dr. Bartol says: "These friendly
good-mornings, these ownings of mutual ties, take on, in their mass, a
character of the sublime. The young owe respect to their elders. There
is a great deal of affection shown in our day, but the expression of
reverence is not so common. Good manners are not simply 'a fortune' to
a young person; they are more. They constitute the proof of a noble


In selecting Ralph Waldo Emerson as our special example, we are sure of
an admirable illustration. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on the
25th of May, 1803, the second of five sons. His father was the Rev.
William Emerson, minister of the First Church, in Boston. One of his
schoolmates says that as a youth, "it was impossible that there should
be any feeling about him but of regard and affection." His course and
graduation at Harvard College are remembered by his friends as marked
chiefly by amiability, meditation, and faultless conduct. He taught
school a short time and "made all the boys love him"; holding perfect
control beneath courteous manners.

Later on Emerson entered the ministry and became pastor of a church in
Boston. He was greatly beloved by all who knew him. The cause of this
universal affection was not solely in the books he produced, but in the
wonderful courtesy of his character, as it faced toward life in every

His son, Edward W. Emerson, says: "My father's honor for humanity, and
respect for humble people and for labor, were strong characteristics. To
servants, he was kindly and delicately considerate; always fearful lest
their feelings might be wounded. He built his own fires, going to the
woodpile in the yard in all weather for armfuls of wood as occasion
required." He then adds, "Nothing could be better than his manner to
children and young people; affectionate, and with a marked respect for
their personality."

Never patronizing, always appreciative, he touched everybody with
courtesy, and was, as Matthew Arnold said, "The friend of those who live
in the spirit of high, generous standards." We see in his example what
deep, real courtesy is. Courtesy, to him, was sincerity, and fairness,
and good-will, all round. He welcomed shy merit, encouraged clumsyyouth,
and smiled on good intentions, however poorly expressed. He did
all this day after day at the cost of time and patience and strength. As
a scholar, he might have secluded himself and simply written great
books; but the power he is, and is to be, could not have been obtained
that way.

[Footnote: See "Ralph Waldo Emerson," by O. W. Holmes (Boston, 1884);
"Emerson at Home and Abroad," by H. D. Conway; and F. B. Sanborn's
"Homes and Haunts of Emerson."]


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