Teaching Boys Courtesy

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…

An Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith

Entry #16 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!

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COURTESY

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MEMORY GEMS

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 foundation.

–Bulwer

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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 price. “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 criticize 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 character.”

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RALPH WALDO EMERSON

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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 relation.

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 clumsy youth, 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.

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This Article is an Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith, which is available from Better Days Books in quality hardbound, sturdy trade paperback and convenient .PDF e-book editions starting at just $4.95.

Industry, Ambition, Self Control, Self-Respect, Courtesy, Faithfulness, Courage, Duty, Honesty, Enthusiasm, Humility, Patriotism… In every era of our Nation’s history, the true alchemy by which ordinary boys have been transformed into Great American Men has always and only occurred where these indispensible moral principles have been successfully applied. In an age like our own, where such manly ideals are openly mocked and derided by our popular culture, it’s time to turn to the past to recapture a clear vision of what it takes to be a Great American, and the true moral and ethical ladder that leads reliably to its attainment.

You Can Be a Great American: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness was first published in 1900, under the title The True Citizen, How to Become One, and contains 39 essential lessons in manhood tailored to each age and transition in a boy’s life, from infancy to adulthood. It is the clearest roadmap to American Greatness ever compiled for the youth of our Nation, and remains as life-changing today as it was when first published, over 100 years ago.

Whether you are an adult raising boys in a Traditional family setting, the single parent of a son, or a boy abandoned to no or poor parenting, left to grab your own bootstraps and lift yourself up to a life of achievement, success and All-American Greatness (or an adult who knows a boy in such sad straits), You Can Be a Great American!: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness is the only guidebook you’ll ever need.

Also available through Amazon.com in quality trade paperback and Kindle e-book download editions.

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