Wednesday, August 19, 2015

An 19th Century Handbook of Etiquette

From the antique book shelf of Carla Olson Gade -

In my library I have an original copy of a little book of manners written in 1884. The 4 1/2 x 6 inch handbook is packed full of etiquette for those seeking to improve their manners in the late 19th century. The book is entitled,“Don’t: A Manual of Mistakes and Improprieties More or Less Prevalent in Conduct and Speech”. The author’s pseudonym is Censor, though a later publication tells his true name as Oliver Bell Bunce.

You and I both will be thankful that we no longer must conform to these rules of etiquette, although today’s society could stand to conform to a few “dont’s” such as: Don’t let your undergarments show in public, don’t forget to take your hat off at appropriate times, don’t forget to ask a blessing on your meals, don’t text while driving,don't read  acebook feed during dinner, and don't forget to say please and thank you.
Here are a few excerpts from this little book for your information and entertainment.

  • Don’t have the habit of letting your lip drop and your mouth remain open. “Shut your mouth,” is the advice of a savant, who has written a book on the subject. Breathe through your nostrils and not through your mouth; sleep with your mouth closed; keep it closed except when you open it for a purpose. An open mouth indicates feebleness of character, while the habit affects the teeth and the general health.
  • Don’t neglect the details of the toilet. Many persons, neat in other particulars, carry blackened finger-nails. This is disgusting. Don’t neglect the small hairs that project from the nostrils and grow about the apertures of the ears – small matters of the toilet often overlooked.
  • Don't bring children into company. Don't set them at table where there are guests. Don't force them on people's attention.
  • Don't talk in a high shrill voice and avoid nasal tones Cultivate a chest voice learn to moderate your tones Talk always in a low register but not too low.
  • Don’t devour the last mouthful of soup, the last fragment of bread, the last morsel of food. It is not expected that your plate should be sent away cleansed by your gastronomic exertions.
  • Don't carry cane or umbrella in a crowd horizontally This is a common trick and a very annoying one to the victims of it.
  • Don't sit cross legged. Pretty nearly everybody of the male sex does but nevertheless don't.

  • Don’t be embarrassed. Endeavor to be self-possessed and at ease; to accomplish which, try and not be self-conscious. Remember that self-respect is as much a virtue as respect for others.
  • Don't talk about your maladies or about your afflictions of any kind Complaining people are pronounced on all hands great bores.
  • Don't cultivate an ornamental style of writing Don t imitate the nourishes of a writing master keep as far away from a writing master's style as possible A lady's or gentleman's handwriting should be perfectly plain and wholly free from affectations of all kinds.
  • Don't borrow books unless you return them promptly If you do borrow books don t injure them in any way don t bend or break the backs don t fold down the leaves don't write on the margins don t stain them with grease spots Read them but treat them as friends that must not be abused.
  • Don't eat peppermint in public places or ever use strong perfumes of any kind.  
  • Don't speak ungrammatically. Study books of grammar and the writings of the best authors.

And above all . . .
  • Don't fail to heed all the don'ts in this little book. Perhaps you think the injunctions are not needed in your case. This is true of many of them no doubt, but the best of us are not perfect in manners any more than in anything else.

This book is available online at Google Books for your perusal where you can view it in its entirety.

What are some manners that you think our modern society should consider supporting?
The Homestead Brides Collection (Barbour, February 2015, ECPA Bestseller) Through nine historical romance adventures, readers will journey along with individuals who are ready to stake a claim and plant their dreams on a piece of the great American plains. While fighting land disputes, helping neighbors, and tackling the challenges of nature the homesteaders are placed in the path of other dreamers with whom romance sparks. And God has His hand in orchestrating each unique meeting.

Proving Up novella by Carla Olson Gade

Elsa Lindquist applies her scientific theories to growing trees on the Nebraska plains, intruding on a handsome homesteader’s hard work and experience. Will their dreams come to ruin, or will love prove their success?

New Englander Carla Olson Gade writes from her home amidst the rustic landscapes of Maine. With seven books in print, she enjoys bringing her tales to life with historically authentic settings and characters. An avid reader, amateur genealogist, photographer, and house plan hobbyist, Carla's great love (next to her family) is historical research. Though you might find her tromping around an abandoned homestead, an old fort, or interviewing a docent at an historical museum, it's easier to connect with her online at


  1. Fun post! I think there should be cell phone etiquette! I hate hearing other people's conversations.

  2. I love books like this, and own quite a few myself. Today I would add, "Don't wear only a white t-shirt in public (men), or, worse, go bare-chested. (The beach is an exception.) My daughters have been known to exclaim, during a car ride, "Yuck, a man with no class!" I know immediately they've spotted some guy who lacks a shirt. lol

  3. Carla, really enjoyed the post! Some of these I agree about - like closing your mouth (something my husband needs to do). I agree with Rebecca about the cell phone etiquette. I was at a large luncheon event when a man's cellphone rang and he answered it and proceeded to talk! I could not believe his inconsideration.
    I also wish more people would adhere to the rule about not wearing strong perfume. Many people, including myself, can't breathe around it.

  4. Carla, this is a great, fun post. Thanks. Yes, enjoy books like this and own a few myself. Cell phones, loud conversations, and loud "mood" music in a small restaurant are three of my biggies. Sometimes I want to step over to a table and tell the two patrons how much I enjoyed their conversation - could hear it verbatim from six tables away.

  5. Great post, Carla. I could hear the librarian's voice lecturing about the care of books. So many of these tips are still applicable today.

  6. Keep your mouth closed except when you open it for a purpose. Hmm. Does that include smiling?

  7. Whew! so glad I don't have to live up to those manners! Almost like the Pharisees in the Bible! sm CA wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  8. Oh, my. Love it, Carla! I think the book-borrowing rule should be strictly enforced!