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Introduction of the subject. Remarks on the true basis of propriety and politeness of manners. On the outward expression of the unpleasant and violent passions. On calmness of manner. On attention to others. On outward appearance and methods of expression. Extract from Dr. Miller.

AS man is constituted of soul and body, it is but natural to expect that the inward principle will show itself in outward results. And, among other things, it will show itself very distinctly in the outward manner. And besides, man, by his very constitution, is a social being; and the relation of sociality which he sustains to others, imparts to the matter of good breeding or propriety of manners, the nature of an imperative duty.

2.—What ought to be and what is, the outward manner of a truly devout and holy person in the intercourse of life? Does the life of faith require him to be rude and severe in his manner? Does it require, or even permit him to violate any of the principles of good breeding? Or does it, on the other hand, tend to perfect the outward bearing, and to render one, in the highest degree, a pattern of truly good breeding and of good manners, in the situation in which Providence has placed him?

3.—In connection with this subject, which is certainly important enough to receive a share of the attention of those who aim at doing the best things in the best way, we remark, in the first place, that the basis of true propriety and politeness of manners, will be found to consist in genuine benevolence of heart. A man of a morose and overbearing, or a contracted and selfish temper, will find it very difficult to conform to the requisitions of a just and well ordered social intercourse. A truly religious person, therefore, one whose heart in being sustained by faith is filled with sincere good will and love to his fellow men, possesses the great prerequisite of propriety and perfection of manners. In doing what the intercourse of improved society requires, he does not act the hypocrite, which is too often the case with those who have a reputation for politeness; but expresses, in his outward conduct, the genuine sentiments of a purified and philanthropic heart. He has, therefore, a decided advantage over other persons in this respect.

4.—It is one of the principles of a just and courteous social intercourse, that there shall be a suppression of the outward signs of the unpleasant and violent passions, such as disgust, jealousy, evil suspicions, and anger. It is true, the rules of good breeding and politeness, as they are understood and put in practice by the world, do not forbid the existence of such evil feelings and passions in the heart. That is a matter, of which they do not profess to take cognizance; and in regard to which they are undoubtedly very defective. But they forbid, in all ordinary cases, the outward manifestations of them, even in a small degree. The fulfillment of this important requisition in the doctrines of social intercourse, viz., the suppression of the outward manifestation of the unpleasant and evil passions, is very easy for a holy person, who, in the exercise of a purified love resting upon a strong faith, “thinketh no evil,” “hopeth all things,” “endureth all things.” He does naturally and easily, as well as from a sense of duty, what other persons do, in general, from constraint.

5.—Another principle is, that there should be a subdued and calm outward manner, in opposition to undue eagerness, activity, and vehemence. The manner of a truly polite or courteous person, in opposition to that unsettled and eager activity which has just been mentioned, is subdued, deliberate, gentle. He is not suspicious of being slighted; he is not impatiently or unduly inquisitive; he has learnt the great lesson of self-control; he is not eager for the first word, or the first place, or the first mark of attention. He seems to have, if not a religious, a sort of
conventional faith, that, if he will remain patient and tranquil, every thing will take place, both at the right time, and in the right degree and order. It may be added further, that the principle now under consideration condemns a boisterous mode of expression, frequent and loud laughter, a distorted or agitated countenance, and violent gesticulation. The state of mind existing in a truly religious person, is the precise state which is best calculated to enable one to fulfill these requisitions in the easiest and best manner. It is the nature of such a person to be patient and forbearing; to be serious, deliberate, and gentle.

6.—The man of truly good breeding is not
egotistical; that is to say, he does not think much, or say much of himself. He speaks at the right time, but is seldom the hero of his own story. In his present situation, (that is to say, in the fulfillment of the duties of social intercourse,) his object, in part, is to put others at their ease, and to make them satisfied and happy. He must consent, therefore, to have self put out of the way. By the law of polite social intercourse, he is bound to think more of the happiness of others than of his own; and accordingly he is careful not to notice, and if, under certain circumstances, he cannot well do this, he is careful not to bring unnecessarily to the notice of others, the small and perhaps unavoidable imperfections of those around him. On the contrary, in the spirit of self-forgetfulness, and of true benevolence towards others, he endeavors to bestow upon all who are present, those little acts of attention, and those various marks of recognition and kindness, which are calculated to make them pleased and cheerful, and which are appropriate to their situation. And we may remark here again, that he, who has a heart, of which faith is the inspiring principle, and which as the result of its faith is filled with love to God and love to man, is precisely in the situation, which renders the discharge of these offices pleasant and easy. And he is not only in this situation, but, in point of fact, a truly believing and devoted person almost necessarily acts in this way.

7.—A person of good breeding, when he is in the company of others, is always attentive to what is passing. It is but little short of insult to the company to let our minds be wandering abroad, when our bodies are present; and when our turn for speaking comes, to be obliged to say that “we did not hear,” or that “we do not remember what has been said.” Such carelessness is exceedingly rude, if it be exhibited in the presence of those, who are our superiors in age or in their condition of life; and it is unkind and ungenerous if it be exhibited to those, who are in a lower condition. A person, who lives by faith, is one who lives in present connection with God, and is therefore one, who “lives by the moment.” He knows that the facts and circumstances of each moment disclose a portion of the divine will, and may, therefore, have a near relation to his present duty. And, consequently, he cannot be inattentive. No matter what company he is in, he meets the creatures of God there; and the sentiment of duty requires him to hear what is said and to notice what is done, in order that he himself may do what God would have him do, in his present circumstances, and that he may keep a “conscience void of offence.”

8.—The rules of good breeding require that persons, in their intercourse in society, should pay some attention to their outward appearance and to their methods of expression. We do not say that they require that there should be sumptuousness, expensive and unnecessary outward display; but they do require that there should be propriety and neatness. A man, who is entirely negligent and slatternly in his appearance, not only indicates the degradation of his own mind, but indirectly says to the company he is in, that he has no personal regard for them, that they are unworthy of his esteem. The same rules require also that a person should be attentive to his modes of expression. It has hardly escaped the notice of any one, that there are words and forms of expression current in some portions of society, which are stamped with vulgarity, and sometimes almost with impurity. And so marked is their character, that it is very seldom that we hear them uttered with deliberation and seriousness, but generally in a trivial and jesting way. All such words and phrases are excluded from all truly correct and well established social intercourse. It is hardly necessary to say, that a life of faith, which is necessarily regulated by a regard to propriety and purity, is decidedly favorable to all that is implied and required in these statements.

9.—Without formally pursuing these inquiries further, we would remark here, that holiness, of heart and life, which always and necessarily has its foundations in faith, is thought by some, who have not looked deeply into its nature, to be inconsistent with those established forms and proprieties which have now been spoken of. And this opinion undoubtedly operates, in the minds of such persons, as an objection in the way of receiving the doctrines of holy living. But there could not well be a greater mistake than this. The existence of true holiness of heart will immediately impart to every one, who is the subject of it, a seriousness and modesty of demeanor, a propriety and justness of manners, combined with a sympathy in the happiness of others, which will commend itself at once to the best judges on this subject.

10.—I am aware that there are some who profess to be true saints, who are, nevertheless, very ungracious and unsaintlike in their manners. They seem to think, if one may be allowed to judge from their outward deportment, that inward purity has no established connection with external propriety; that holiness, when coming in contact with the weaknesses and sins of the world, under any circumstances, gives a license to rudeness; and that a person cannot be faithful to Christ without being more or less uncivil and even violent to his fellow men. But such mistakes and crudities grow out of the old stock of nature, and are not the product of the truly regenerated life. The world, which is condemned for sin, is not to be won back from its evil ways by the commission of sin, but by the power of holy love. Every thing has its place and its law. And God recognizes the great fact, that there is something due to man,
as man, even though he be a fallen man; and consequently that something is due to man, in his character of man, in the relations of social intercourse. When the persons, to whom we have just now referred, are further advanced in Christian experience, and bear more of the image of Christ, they will find that “godliness is profitable unto all things;” that it meets all the demands of life; and that it is especially suited to be the aid and ornament of social intercourse. Under its influence the rudeness of nature will be changed into the civility, which necessarily flows from true Christian love. That eager vehemence, which results from a want of strong faith, will be changed into meekness and forbearance; and tones of ill-considered and impatient rebuke, into the gentle accents of kindness; not to mention other improvements, which will combine their influence in diffusing the perfection of the inward life over the outward character.

11.—In confirmation of the views of this chapter, which seem to us of much practical importance, we take the liberty to introduce an extract from the interesting Work of Dr. Miller on Clerical Manners and Habits.—“By
good manners, then, I beg you will understand me to mean, those manners which Christian purity and benevolence recommend, and which, where those graces reign, they will ever be found substantially to produce. Dr. Witherspoon, in his ‘Letters on Education,’ while strongly urging the utility and importance of polished manners, remarks, that ‘true religion is not only consistent with, but necessary to, the perfection of true politeness;’ and fortifies his opinion by ‘a noble sentiment,’ as he calls it, of the Prince of Conti, viz., that ‘worldly politeness is no more than an imitation or imperfect copy of Christian charity, being the pretense, or outward appearance, of that deference to the judgment, and attention to the interest of others, which a true Christian has as the rule of his life, and the disposition of his heart.’ And truly, we have only need to see an example of that unaffected kindness, affability, respectfulness, gentleness, and attention to the feelings and comfort of all around us, which real religion at once demands and inspires, united with the gravity, dignity, and prudence, becoming those who remember that for every word and action they must give an account;—we have only, I say, to see this happy union of qualities fairly exemplified in human deportment, to be convinced that nothing can be more nobly beautiful or attractive, in the view of every thinking beholder, than the undissembled expression of pure Christian feeling: and, of course, that to be an humble and assiduous imitator of Christ, is the shortest way for a minister of the Gospel, or any other man, to exhibit the most perfect manners of which our nature is capable.

So much for the general principle. Cultivate the Christian temper, and you will always, in precisely the same proportion, lay the best and the only true foundation for the manners which I recommend.” [Letters on Clerical Manners and Habits by Samuel Miller D. D. Professor in Princeton Theological Seminary.]