In Other Words...
In 1745, in the colonial frontier town of Fredericksburg, Virginia, thirteen-year-old George Washington recorded The Rules of Civility in his workbook, probably as a dictation exercise. These guidelines for the respectable gentleman would influence him throughout his life, guiding him in both social and professional situations. Translations and variations abound, but all stress etiquette, chivalry, and courtesy, often rather elusive concepts in the 21st century.
Fortunately, there is one who understands the rules well; in fact, she still recommends their use today. Let us recall a character from the past to offer advice on life, love, and learning. We give you the Toast of George Townour own Mistress Goody, always informed, always respectable, and very, very, good.
Rule 56: Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation. For tis better to be alone than in bad company.
I think you get Mistress Goodys point!
Dear Mistress Goody, I heard a really bad thing about one of my best friends. I think our other friends should know how this girl is acting when were not around. Should I tell them?
Rule 79: Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof. In discoursing of things that you have heard, name not your author. Always, a secret discover not [that is, do not reveal].
In other words . . . dont pass rumors if youre not sure theyre true and if you do tell the rumor, dont name the person who told you. Best to keep a secret a secret and not tell at all, unless her actions are such that they may do harm to her person or to that of another. Then tis kind and quite your duty to reveal the truth to your superiors or loved ones.
Mistress Goody, At the lunch table most everyone eats and talks at the same time. I think thats pretty gross. What do you think?
The rules of dining etiquette are quite clear; let them guide your acquaintances in all their culinary endeavors.
Rule 90: Being set at meat, scratch not neither spit, cough nor blow your nose, except when there is a necessity for it.
Rule 95: Put not your meat to your mouth with your knife in your hand; neither spit forth the stones of any fruit pie upon a dish, nor cast anything under the table.
Rule 100: Cleanse not your teeth with the tablecloth, napkin, fork, knife; but if others do it, let it be done with a pick tooth [i.e., a toothpick].
Mistress Goody, My very best friend just broke up with her boyfriend. But now he asked me out, and shell just die when she finds out. Should I go? What should I do? Hes awfully cute.
My, my, this is a distressing dilemma. If the gentleman were less handsome, the choice would not be such a difficult one. Mistress Goody recalls a situation of her own. It was 1796 at the George Town Ball. I cut quite a stunning figure that evening in my green taffeta gown and brocaded mules. Miss Faithful Petticoat of Philadelphia was pursued by a most evocative gentleman, but when her dance card was full, he pursued me! Im afraid that a most unladylike tiff ensued in the ladies powder room shortly thereafter . . . but I digress.
My advice to you, my dear, is found in rule 22:
Rule 22: Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another. To join the gentleman in frivolity so soon after her heartbreak is unconscionable, not to mention terribly tacky. It certainly shows little regard for your intimate friend and calls into question your upbringing. Heed also Rule 110:
Rule 110: Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience. Have you misplaced yours, my dear?
Mistress Goody, I am a high school girl. I suppose the guys think Im cute, because I get asked out on dates a lot. I go and have a nice time, but eventually one thing leads to another and they are ready to get serious. They all want to be my only boyfriend. My problem is I dont know how to pick a good boyfriend. And that means I wont know how to pick a good husband! I mean, what does a girl look for in a guy? Can you help me?
Mistress Goody has contemplated this very question many, many times. Ive always found the male point of view regarding love and marriage most helpful. As a matter of fact, the most sage advice comes from George Washington in a letter he wrote to Marthas granddaughter, Nelly Custis. I will share a portion of it with you here. I do hope this checklist of sorts helps to settle your quandary.
When the fire is beginning to kindle, and your heart growing warm, propound these questions to it. Who is the invader? Have I competent knowledge of him? Is he a man of good character? A man of sense? For be assured a sensible woman can never be happy with a fool. What has been his walk in life? Is he a gambler? A spendthrift?, a drunkard? Is his fortune sufficient to maintain me in a manner I have been accustomed to live? And is he one to whom my friends have no reasonable objection? If these interrogations can be satisfactorily answered, there will remain but one more to be asked; that, however, is an important one. Have I sufficient ground to conclude that his affections are enjoyed on me? Without this the heart of sensibility will struggle against a passion that is not reciprocated.
|This exhibition was made possible through the generosity of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation|