How To Be Polite, Well-Mannered, and Ladylike or Gentlemanly


In speaking of marriage, it is not merely with reference to its social importance, but as regards certain observances, concerning which no work on Etiquette has yet given any explicit rules.

First, then, with respect to the preliminary subject of courtship. That unseen monitor, who has already suggested many points for consideration to lady readers, would now say to them: Before you admit the attentions of a gentleman who wishes to pay you his addresses, very carefully examine your respective tastes and dispositions; and settle in your own mind what are the most important requisites of happiness in a married state. With this view, you must enter upon the consideration of the subject with a calm and decisive spirit, which will enable you to see where your true happiness lies, and to pursue it with determined resolution. In matters of business, follow the advice of such as are able to guide you; and as regards the subject of marriage, turn not away from the counsel of those who are appointed to watch over and direct you.

If a gentleman gives you reason to believe that he wishes to engage your affections, seek the advice of your parents, that they may gain for you every necessary particular with regard to his morals and disposition, and means of suitably providing for you. If, unhappily, death has deprived you of parents, ask counsel of some one who will care for you, and on whose friendship you can rely. Remember that you have little knowledge of the world, and that your judgment has not arrived at full maturity. But however circumstanced, avoid, as you would the plague, any attentions from a gentleman whose moral character renders him undeserving your regard.

Let neither rank nor fortune, nor the finest order of intellect, nor yet the most winning manners, induce you to accept the addresses of an irreligious man. You dare not ask the blessing of your Heavenly Father upon such addresses; and without His blessing, what happiness can you expect? Men often say, “that whatever their own opinions may be, they will marry religious women.” This may be; but woe to a religious woman, if she allows herself to be thus beguiled! Supposing your admirer be a sensible man, he will like religion in you for his own sake; if, on the contrary, such is not the case, and you become his wife, he will often, though perhaps without intention, distress you by his remarks; and in either case, if you have children, you will suffer much in seeing that your endeavors to form their minds to virtue and piety, and to secure their present and eternal happiness, are regarded with indifference, or at least that you are not assisted in your efforts.

Remember, also, that no happiness can be expected in the marriage state, unless the husband be worthy of respect. Do not marry a weak man; he is often intractable or capricious, and seldom listens to the voice of reason; and most painful must it be to any sensible woman to have to blush for her husband, and feel uneasy every time he opens his lips. Still worse, if it should please God to give her children, if she cannot point to the example of their father as leading to what is excellent and of good report; nor yet to his precepts and instructions as their rule of conduct. One thing is certain, that a weak man uniformly shows his consequence by contradicting his wife, because he will not have it supposed that he is under her influence.

Advances, or offers of marriage, are made in a thousand different ways; but, however tendered, receive them courteously, and with dignity. If a letter comes to you, answer it as becomes a gentlewoman—your own heart will dictate what you ought to say. Questions have arisen with regard to the wording of such letters, but no certain rule can be laid down; whether it be answered in the first or third person, must depend upon the degree of acquaintance which has previously existed. No young lady would certainly head her letter with—”Dear Sir,” to a suitor whom she scarcely knows, or to one whom she intends refusing. She ought, however, on no account, either to receive or answer letters of the kind without showing them to her mother; or, if unfortunately without parents, she will do well to consult some judicious female friend.

Never trifle with the affections of a man who loves you; nor admit of marked attentions from one whose affection you cannot return. Some young ladies pride themselves upon the conquests which they make, and would not scruple to sacrifice the happiness of an estimable person to their reprehensible vanity. Let this be far from you. If you see clearly that you have become an object of especial regard to a gentleman, and do not wish to encourage his addresses, treat him honorably and humanely, as you hope to be used with generosity by the person who may engage your own heart. Do not let him linger in suspense, but take the earliest opportunity of carefully making known your feelings on the subject. This may be done in a variety of ways. A refined ease of manner will satisfy him, if he has any discernment, that his addresses will not be acceptable. Should your natural disposition render this difficult, show that you wish to avoid his company, and he will presently withdraw; but if even this is difficult—and who can lay down rules for another?—allow an opportunity for explanation to occur. You can then give him a polite and decisive answer; and be assured that, in whatever manner you convey your sentiments to him, if he be a man of delicacy and right feeling, he will trouble you no further. Let it never be said of you, that you permit the attentions of an honorable man when you have no heart to give him; or that you have trifled with the affections of one whom you perhaps esteem, although you resolve never to marry him. It may be that his preference gratifies, and his conversation interests you; that you are flattered by the attentions of a man whom some of your companions admire; and that, in truth, you hardly know your own mind on the subject. This will not excuse you. Every young woman ought to know the state of her own heart; and yet the happiness and future prospects of many an excellent man have been sacrificed by such unprincipled conduct.

Remember that if a gentleman makes you an offer, you have no right to speak of it. If you possess either generosity or gratitude for offered affection, you will not betray a secret which does not belong to you. It is sufficiently painful to be refused, without incurring the additional mortification of being pointed out as a rejected lover.

If, on the contrary, you encourage the addresses of a deserving man, behave honorably and sensibly. Do not lead him about as if in triumph, nor take advantage of the ascendency which you have gained by playing with his feelings. Do not seek for occasions to tease him, that you may try his temper; neither affect indifference, nor provoke lovers’ quarrels, for the foolish pleasure of reconciliation. On your conduct during courtship will very much depend the estimation in which you will be held by your husband in after life.

Assuming that the important day is fixed, and that the bidden guests have accepted the invitations, a few observations may be useful, especially to those who live retired in the country.

The bride uniformly goes to church in the same carriage with her parents, or with those who stand in their place; as, for instance, if the father is deceased, an elder brother or uncle, or even guardian, accompanies her mother and herself. If, unhappily, she is an orphan, and has no relations, a middle-aged lady and gentleman, friends of her parents, should be requested to take their place. A bridesmaid will also occupy a seat in the same carriage.

The bridegroom finds his way to church in a separate carriage with his friends, and he will show his gallantry by handing the bride from her carriage, and paying every attention to those who accompany her. Any omission in this respect cannot be too carefully avoided.

When arrived at the altar, the father of the bride, or, in default of such relation, the nearest connexion, or some old friend, gives away the bride. The bridesmaids stand near the bride; and either her sister, or some favorite friend, will hold the gloves or handkerchief, as may be required, when she ungloves her hand for the wedding-ring. When the ceremony is completed, and the names of the bride and bridegroom are signed in the vestry, they first leave the church together, occupying by themselves the carriage that waits to convey them to the house of the bride’s father and mother, or that of the guardian, or friend, by whom the bridal breakfast is provided.

The wedding-cake uniformly occupies the center of the table. It is often tastefully surrounded with flowers, among which those of the fragrant orange ought to be conspicuous. After being cut according to the usages observed on such occasions, the oldest friend of the family proposes the lady’s health; that of the bridegroom is generally proposed by some friend of his own, if present; but if this is not the case, by his father-in-law, or any of his new relatives, who will deem it incumbent upon them to say something gratifying to him while proposing his health, which courtesy he must acknowledge as best he can. After this the bride withdraws, in order to prepare for leaving the parental roof, by taking off her wedding, and putting on her traveling dress; although it happens not unfrequently that the bride remains in another apartment, and thus avoids the fatigue and embarrassment of appearing at the breakfast-table. When this occurs, her place beside the bridegroom must be occupied by a near relation or friend. But whether present, or remaining apart with a few friends, all who are invited to do honor to the bride must appear in full dress. Bracelets may be worn on one or both wrists. Black of any kind is wholly inadmissible; not even black satin can be allowed; and widows must attire themselves either in quiet colored suits, or else in silver gray.

On such festive occasions, all appear in their best attire, and assume their best manners. Peculiarities that pertain to past days, or have been unwarily adopted, should be guarded against; mysteries concerning knives, forks, and plates, or throwing “an old shoe” after the bride, are highly reprehensible, and have long been exploded. Such practices may seem immaterial, but they are not so. Stranger guests often meet at a wedding breakfast; and the good breeding of the family may be somewhat compromised by neglect in small things.

If the lady appears at breakfast, which is certainly desirable, she occupies, with her husband, the center of the table, and sits by his side—her father and mother taking the top and bottom, and showing all honor to their guests. When the cake has been cut, and every one is helped—when, too, the health of the bride and bridegroom has been drunk, and every compliment and kind wish has been duly proffered and acknowledged—the bride, attended by her friends, withdraws; and when ready for her departure the newly-married couple start off on their wedding journey, generally about two or three o’clock, and the rest of the company shortly afterward take their leave.

In some circles it is customary to send cards almost immediately to friends and relations, mentioning at what time and hour the newly-married couple expect to be called upon. Some little inconvenience occasionally attends this custom, as young people may wish to extend their wedding tour beyond the time first mentioned, or, if they go abroad, delays may unavoidably occur. It is therefore better to postpone sending cards, for a short time at least.

Fashions change continually with regard to wedding-cards. A few years since they were highly ornamented, and fantastically tied together; now silver-edged cards are fashionable; but, unquestionably, the plainer and more unostentatious a wedding-card, the more lady-like and becoming it will be.

No one to whom a wedding-card has not been sent ought to call upon a newly-married couple.

When the days named for seeing company arrive, remember to be punctual. Call, if possible, the first day, but neither before nor after the appointed hour. Wedding-cake and wine are handed round, of which every one partakes, and each expresses some kindly wish for the happiness of the newly-married couple.

Taking possession of their home by young people is always a joyous period. The depressing influence of a wedding breakfast, where often the hearts of many are sad, is not felt, and every one looks forward to years of prosperity and happiness.

If the gentleman is in a profession, and it happens that he cannot await the arrival of such as call, according to invitation on the wedding-card, an apology must be made, and, if possible, an old friend of the family should represent him. A bride must on no account receive her visitors without a mother, or sister, or some friend being present, not even if her husband is at home. This is imperative. To do otherwise is to disregard the usuages of society. We remember once calling on a very young bride, and found her alone. Conjectures were made by every visitor with regard to such a strange occurrence, and their surprise was still more increased, when it became known that the young lady returned her calls equally unattended.

Wedding visits must be returned during the course of a few days, and parties are generally made for the newly-married couple, which they are expected to return. This does not, however, necessarily entail much visiting; neither is it expected from young people, whose resources may be somewhat limited, or when the husband has to make his way in the world.