Our Civil, Civil War Ancestors, Playing Nice With Each Other

JPK Huson 1863

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#1
couples dance.jpg

More than delightful glimpses of a graceful past, era images of balls and dances are reflective microcosms of the society into which our ancestors were born. Rigid etiquette was adhered to at these functions but it wasn't just a backdrop for Brussels lace and paisley waistcoats. Plain, old good manners, civility at its most apparent was at the heart of rubbing elbows together through these gatherings.

" True courtesy is founded on generosity, which studies to promote the happiness and well being of others " Sarah Jane Hale, author, editor of Godey's Lady's Book . A kind of social guru ( even if well heeled readers of Godey's sniffed at the ' lower class ', it was still considered vulgar to be anything but pleasant to them ), Hale's quote is from her book on etiquette. Somewhere is a chapter on what fork goes where and please do not sniff the wine cork. She's largely speaking of the necessity of plain, old good manners. It's a perspective reflective of the ACW era. This is again Sarah, warming up to the topic of ' etiquette ';

eti hale good.JPG


Picking this snip as typical- it's for ladies, another several dozen books and articles devote themselves to gentlemen. While some are obviously written for a certain ' class ', ' good manners ', ' civility ' and ' etiquette ' were not exclusive concepts. It's who we were. You flinch a little during conversations about ' good breeding ' although IMO, seems to be a carrot held out in encouragement to behave well. If you did, well, you could be one.
eti 1.JPG

" Politeness is goodness of the heart put into daily practice "

' Social usage ' is a phrase you don't hear much. Unless there's an article on quaint custom followed by our ancestors you don't hear the word etiquette either and when was the last time anyone pointed out some event or phrase was vulgar? We don't. Good manners, etiquette, was so much a part of our social fabric we saturated children's lives with ' How To's ' hourly. Those dancing lessons we find so picturesque 150 years later and the glittering balls? So filled with the fine points of etiquette - again, good manners - they were a lovely, moving, musical tribute to who we were. There's an 1860's book, " The Art of Dancing ". Fifty percent of the book is devoted to instructions not on steps but on being nice.

' Etiquette ' in fact evolved through time as a matter of necessity. Rubbing elbows with each other requires acknowledging how intolerable life would be, did we all succumb to base self interest. There was also sheer survival. Like it or not humans need each other and sure did from the day Eve said " No really, dear. You eat it, I've just had some of those lovely grapes. The snake seems anxious we dispose of the apple and you haven't had your lunch. " Well how polite albeit misguided. Still. Being nice to each other ensured goodwill among other things.

1863
etiquette news.JPG

They were tough on people. Demanding genuine good-will-to-all-men, no punches get pulled.

etiquette news 2.JPG

" It requires a true and generous heart to make a man either a gentleman or a soldier "

You didn't pick on women. You just didn't. That over-used, over imagined and now archaic term ' chivalry ' wasn't all nonsense or a buzz word for the elite. Sometimes- but its basis lay in a code of behavior towards women unimagined today. Our struggle for equality notwithstanding, no one ever made it a rule that with the vote we were also fair game for shoving around. Chivalry. You were thoughtful, you were respectful- you were nice. It showed. Cannot tell anyone the number of nursing accounts from the war where that brutal life was made more tolerable by gestures of nice.

dance nypl regency.jpg

Why use images of dance? Because we'd been at this for awhile- this is our ACW ancestor's grandparents, because from the day children learned dance they learned the etiquette required, because these balls and dances were not really about dancing. They were about a chance to rub elbows together, elaborate civility sure. But it sure created a lot of grace.

Came across an article from just post war. The topic was an entire town's civility towards a Union doctor who had remained there after the surrender. He'd been helping. That's all, helping and a grateful town regretted his departure. The doctor himself was described as displaying endless civility towards those under his care. It was a small Southern town. The words ' civility ' and ' civil ' occur over 10 times in two paragraphs. Using those words in a search, came across hundreds of hits between 1861-1865. ' Etiquette ' pops up in most of those, the two frequently interspersed.
eti civil doc.JPG

It's a great article, expounding from here on the civility displayed by this man and returned by the town.

Hundreds. " Military Etiquette ", " Musician Etiquette ", " Political Etiquette ", and yes, " Dinner ", " Party " , " ladies " and " Gentlemen's " etiquette. Going further, book after book published at the time devote chapters, if not the entire book to " Etiquette ". Plain old good manners. It wasn't just reserved for elites, a kind of false patina worn by those whose position on society's ladder mandated a code of behavior. Worst sin someone could commit was to be rude while vulgarity was so far beyond acceptable you stood in danger of having your name in the paper, should you commit that crime.

We can list some archaic sounding social codes, object to a few that come across as mere platitudes and bemoan our ancestors' lack of freedom in adhering to all of it. What we can't do is scoff at them. This discipline of spirit and a social code placing a heavy emphasis on ' be nice ' seems an overlooked gift in these old images. Less vulgar, more nice.
 

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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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#2
Disclaimer on this thread would be please, for the love of crinoline, may we not devolve into stories all about how someone was treated poorly? That isn't the point here- it's our expectations of each other in that era. You risked being socially ostracized just being plain, old mean much less committing acts of barbarism. Have to love that.

Bring back the word vulgar- may be helpful in 2019.
 

Northern Light

Lt. Colonel
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#4
Another good one, JPK. I remember my sister-in-law saying that our families were brought up to be "too nice", and were therefore at the mercy of the rest of society. I thought at the time that I would rather be remembered for being nice than otherwise. I love to see young parents teaching their children manners today. There are still books being written about manners today, with emphasis on business manners for today's offices.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#5
Lovely post. I enjoyed reading that, and it's solid evidence that we've lost some things from our past that we should have retained.

I probably shouldn't say this because it could provoke not-civil protests but just from my own experience there seem to be hold outs? Have to say one of the nicer aspects of tooling around our Southern states is ( or seems to be? ) more plain, old politeness than you encounter up here. Before anyone goes screaming up a wall, been a Pennsylvanian most of my life. It's just not the same. Our husband and wife ministers were from North Carolina, moved back after 10 years. Remember how shocked she was especially over differences and just couldn't blame her. So maybe there's hope and the civility pendulum will swing back.

I thought at the time that I would rather be remembered for being nice than otherwise.

Right? I'm not sure it's been helpful that there's a brand of snarky humor that's been trendy. It's like a license to be mean. BUT. Just for fun I'll sometimes browse Reddit- at my age you'd be the extinct species there but it's fun seeing what kids are up to. The new, new generations seem to be shifting their views on snark- came across a few conversations where it's not quite as cool as it was previously. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on being nice to each other. Have to love kids.

Had no clue books are still written on etiquette/ manners. How hopeful!
 

grace

Sergeant
Joined
May 5, 2018
Messages
594
Location
Crossroads of America
#7
*hums thoughtfully. This would be a good refresher for my group as a whole as we start our season. It's always good to have another talking point...and while we are all polite, the "over-politess" could be a really fun thing to do/talk about.
 

TnFed

Sergeant
Joined
Jun 18, 2018
Messages
851
#8
View attachment 297792
More than delightful glimpses of a graceful past, era images of balls and dances are reflective microcosms of the society into which our ancestors were born. Rigid etiquette was adhered to at these functions but it wasn't just a backdrop for Brussels lace and paisley waistcoats. Plain, old good manners, civility at its most apparent was at the heart of rubbing elbows together through these gatherings.

" True courtesy is founded on generosity, which studies to promote the happiness and well being of others " Sarah Jane Hale, author, editor of Godey's Lady's Book . A kind of social guru ( even if well heeled readers of Godey's sniffed at the ' lower class ', it was still considered vulgar to be anything but pleasant to them ), Hale's quote is from her book on etiquette. Somewhere is a chapter on what fork goes where and please do not sniff the wine cork. She's largely speaking of the necessity of plain, old good manners. It's a perspective reflective of the ACW era. This is again Sarah, warming up to the topic of ' etiquette ';

View attachment 297798

Picking this snip as typical- it's for ladies, another several dozen books and articles devote themselves to gentlemen. While some are obviously written for a certain ' class ', ' good manners ', ' civility ' and ' etiquette ' were not exclusive concepts. It's who we were. You flinch a little during conversations about ' good breeding ' although IMO, seems to be a carrot held out in encouragement to behave well. If you did, well, you could be one.
View attachment 297796
" Politeness is goodness of the heart put into daily practice "

' Social usage ' is a phrase you don't hear much. Unless there's an article on quaint custom followed by our ancestors you don't hear the word etiquette either and when was the last time anyone pointed out some event or phrase was vulgar? We don't. Good manners, etiquette, was so much a part of our social fabric we saturated children's lives with ' How To's ' hourly. Those dancing lessons we find so picturesque 150 years later and the glittering balls? So filled with the fine points of etiquette - again, good manners - they were a lovely, moving, musical tribute to who we were. There's an 1860's book, " The Art of Dancing ". Fifty percent of the book is devoted to instructions not on steps but on being nice.

' Etiquette ' in fact evolved through time as a matter of necessity. Rubbing elbows with each other requires acknowledging how intolerable life would be, did we all succumb to base self interest. There was also sheer survival. Like it or not humans need each other and sure did from the day Eve said " No really, dear. You eat it, I've just had some of those lovely grapes. The snake seems anxious we dispose of the apple and you haven't had your lunch. " Well how polite albeit misguided. Still. Being nice to each other ensured goodwill among other things.

1863
View attachment 297799
They were tough on people. Demanding genuine good-will-to-all-men, no punches get pulled.

View attachment 297800
" It requires a true and generous heart to make a man either a gentleman or a soldier "

You didn't pick on women. You just didn't. That over-used, over imagined and now archaic term ' chivalry ' wasn't all nonsense or a buzz word for the elite. Sometimes- but its basis lay in a code of behavior towards women unimagined today. Our struggle for equality notwithstanding, no one ever made it a rule that with the vote we were also fair game for shoving around. Chivalry. You were thoughtful, you were respectful- you were nice. It showed. Cannot tell anyone the number of nursing accounts from the war where that brutal life was made more tolerable by gestures of nice.

View attachment 297804
Why use images of dance? Because we'd been at this for awhile- this is our ACW ancestor's grandparents, because from the day children learned dance they learned the etiquette required, because these balls and dances were not really about dancing. They were about a chance to rub elbows together, elaborate civility sure. But it sure created a lot of grace.

Came across an article from just post war. The topic was an entire town's civility towards a Union doctor who had remained there after the surrender. He'd been helping. That's all, helping and a grateful town regretted his departure. The doctor himself was described as displaying endless civility towards those under his care. It was a small Southern town. The words ' civility ' and ' civil ' occur over 10 times in two paragraphs. Using those words in a search, came across hundreds of hits between 1861-1865. ' Etiquette ' pops up in most of those, the two frequently interspersed.
View attachment 297797
It's a great article, expounding from here on the civility displayed by this man and returned by the town.

Hundreds. " Military Etiquette ", " Musician Etiquette ", " Political Etiquette ", and yes, " Dinner ", " Party " , " ladies " and " Gentlemen's " etiquette. Going further, book after book published at the time devote chapters, if not the entire book to " Etiquette ". Plain old good manners. It wasn't just reserved for elites, a kind of false patina worn by those whose position on society's ladder mandated a code of behavior. Worst sin someone could commit was to be rude while vulgarity was so far beyond acceptable you stood in danger of having your name in the paper, should you commit that crime.

We can list some archaic sounding social codes, object to a few that come across as mere platitudes and bemoan our ancestors' lack of freedom in adhering to all of it. What we can't do is scoff at them. This discipline of spirit and a social code placing a heavy emphasis on ' be nice ' seems an overlooked gift in these old images. Less vulgar, more nice.
Have you read ...what Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew?
 

Mrs. V

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#9
Lovely post. We have a teacher in our school who has taught all of her classes how to answer the telephone in the classroom when it rings. It is an amazing experience. “Hello, Mrs.B’s Classroom, How can I help you?” Wowsers! Another teacher has the kids say, Yes Ma’am. Yes, Sir. I myself, address the students as Mr. and Ms. so and so. The kids are either confused or they get a kick out of it.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#10
Have you read ...what Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew?

Uh oh. No, when there are as many books on The List as we all have it's just asking for trouble to go look for more. If it involves Jane and things like sheep stomach ( and a few other peculiar dishes our ancestors ate and manged to live to eat again ), sounds like a book you wait until an hour after lunch to read. Like swimming.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#11
Lovely post. We have a teacher in our school who has taught all of her classes how to answer the telephone in the classroom when it rings. It is an amazing experience. “Hello, Mrs.B’s Classroom, How can I help you?” Wowsers! Another teacher has the kids say, Yes Ma’am. Yes, Sir. I myself, address the students as Mr. and Ms. so and so. The kids are either confused or they get a kick out of it.

That's an awesome teacher! I'm not big on bemoaning what it was like in ' the good old days ', kids seem to have found their own paths forward but really, miss the insistence on ' polite '. It's not old fashioned it's just respectful of each other, you know?

The ' Mr. and Ms. ' thing is just nice. These things sink in, in a positive way. My mother is always, always shocked to hear children address adults by their first names and I think she has a point. Yes, she was born in 1931 when it was a very different world but is it really ' better ' now, as far as respect not being mandated socially?
 

TnFed

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#12
Uh oh. No, when there are as many books on The List as we all have it's just asking for trouble to go look for more. If it involves Jane and things like sheep stomach ( and a few other peculiar dishes our ancestors ate and manged to live to eat again ), sounds like a book you wait until an hour after lunch to read. Like swimming.
Nope, it's about manners and etiquette in Victorian England. Also goes into things like translating stones to pounds, what is a furlong...weights, measures, stuff life that. Tells what all those archaic words mean that you read in the major writers of that period...ague, wainscoting etc. Gives a pretty detail summary of the manners and social traditions of that time.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#18
Nope, it's about manners and etiquette in Victorian England. Also goes into things like translating stones to pounds, what is a furlong...weights, measures, stuff life that. Tells what all those archaic words mean that you read in the major writers of that period...ague, wainscoting etc. Gives a pretty detail summary of the manners and social traditions of that time.

Sounds awfully interesting and wish so much I'd had a copy decades ago- they still use the word ' wainscoting ' for instance and it took forever and ever to figure out what anyone was speaking of. AND never quite twigged on metric. Thanks for the head's up!
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#19

I ' think ' @Rebforever means it's all talk, no manners and we're dreaming if we think there are manners around. Which is odd from someone his generation whose children probably knew ' Yes ma'am ' and " No, thank you ' before they could tie their shoes. If it isn't dreaming for most of us who grew up with it and insisted on the same thing with our children, no reason to think it can't survive for more generations.
 

archieclement

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#20
As a rural midwesterner, it's been my experience etiquette and civility while perhaps not universal, is still very much alive and well.

I have had family who visit and stay from other areas, who may go out to jog or walk, and they are always surprised by the number of drivers who stop to see if they are OK or need a ride
 
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