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Part 2 – General Principles Lying at the Foundation of Good Breeding and Lady-like Conduct.
The folly of affectation.- More particularly, young ladies should guard themselves against affectation. This is very easily acquired, and is so common a fault that the absence of it is always remarked as a great excellence. Some persons of many amiable qualities, and considerable intelligence, have been absolutely spoiled for society by attempting to assume in their manners what did not belong to them. Wherever anything of this kind exists, it requires but little sagacity to detect it; and even those who are not exactly sensible where the evil lies, are still aware that there is something which needs to be corrected.
It happens, however, too frequently, that what is quite palpable to everybody else, escapes the observation of the individual who is the subject of it; and the cases are frequent, in which the kindest intimation of the fact, from a friend, has been met with expressions of resentment. You should have not only your eyes open, to inspect narrowly your own conduct on this point, but your ears also open to any admonition, that you may detect the fault if it really exists.
Affectation is justly regarded as consummate folly; and unless it happens to be associated with an unusual cluster of real excellences, it brings upon the individual little less than absolute contempt. Let your manners be as much improved as they may, but regard it as essential that they should be your own.
Diffidence preferable to ostentation.- Beware, also, of an ostentatious manner. By this is meant that kind of manner which savors too much of display; which indicates a disposition to make yourself too conspicuous; and which, in short, is the acting out of a spirit of self-confidence and self-conceit. This appears badly enough when discovered in one of the opposite sex; but when seen in a young lady, it is quite intolerable.
Liability to embarrassment from every slight change of circumstances, and an awkward bashfulness, are not to be commended; but between these and an ostentatious manner, there is a happy medium, consisting of a due mixture of confidence and modesty, which will be equally pleasant to yourself and those with whom you associate.
If, however, either of these extremes must be followed, it will be found that diffidence will be more readily pardoned than ostentation. It would be preferable to excite by your bashfulness a feeling of compassion, than, by your excessive confidence, a feeling of disgust.
Undue reserve causes anger or distrust.- While ostentation is to be avoided, it is well to be on your guard against a studied reserve. We sometimes meet with persons whose manners leave upon our mind the painful impression that they are afraid to trust us, and that they regard both our actions and words with suspicion.
Wherever this trait appears, it is almost certain to excite anger or disgust. Most persons will bear anything with more patience than to be told, either directly or indirectly, that they are unworthy of confidence. A significant smile, or nod, or look, with a third person which is intended not to be understood by the individual with whom you are conversing, is a gross violation of propriety, and has often cost a deeply-wounded sensibility, and sometimes a valued friendship.
While you studiously avoid everything of this kind, let your manners be characterized by a noble frankness, which, in whatever circumstances you are placed, shall leave no doubt of your sincerity.
Pride and overbearance always odious.- Avoid every approach to a haughty and overbearing manner. It is exhibition of pride, which is one of the most hateful of all dispositions; and of pride in one of its most odious forms. If you should be so unhappy as to form an example of it, whatever variety of feeling it might excite among your associates, you may rely on it, they would all agree to despise you. As you value your character and usefulness, be always courteous and affable.
Thornwell, Emily, THE LADY’S GUIDE TO COMPLETE ETIQUETTE, New York, Belford, Clarke & Company, 1884