When most people think of George Washington, the Father of Our Country, they think of the story of him cutting down the cherry tree and then confessing to his father â€śI cannot tell a lie. I did it with my little hatchet.â€ť Ironically, this story of the First Presidentâ€™
s unshakeable honesty has turned out to be a complete fabrication by an author named Mason Lock Weems. More on this story may be found here: http://americanhistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/washingtonscherrytree
|Â Certainly it is a cautionary tale to approach all political biographies with a shaker of salt.What most people do not realize is that George Washington Himself wrote an etiquette book at the not-as-tender-as-it-is-now* age of 14. George Washingtonâ€™s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation puts forward no fewer than 110 instructions for Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer doubts that Washington ever intended them to be published â€“ it appears he copied them from another book â€“Â and yet what he chose to copy must represent what he felt was most important in the behavior of a gentleman.Â Several of these instructions no longer apply, for instance 27th: â€śTis ill manners to bid one more eminent than yourself be covered as well as not to do it to whom itâ€™s due . . .â€ť or 57th: â€śIn walking up and down in a house, only with one in company if he be greater than yourself, at the first give him give him the right hand and stop not till he does . . .â€ťÂ Issues of precedence like these make Etiquetteer awfully glad that Washington won the war. Still, Etiquetteer wishes that more citizens than just churchgoing African-American ladies, for instance, would keep alive the tradition of Perfect Proper Hats and How to Wear Them.Â But many of Washingtonâ€™s maxims remain fresh and accurate, especially those concerning table manners and what used to be referred to as â€śdeportment,â€ť the way one presents oneself in public. Itâ€™s sort of sad when you think that Americans still have to be told not to talk with their mouths full (98th and 107th) or to take only one bite at a time (97th). But Washington put these forward as essential table manners, and much more. At least now we donâ€™t have to worry about anyone cleaning their teeth with the tablecloth (100th).Â In public 18th now applies to electronic devices as well as anything on paper: â€śRead no letters, books, or papers in company; but when there is a necessiry for the doing of it, you must ask leave. (Emphases Etiquetteerâ€™s.)And while the grunge look of the 1990s seems at last to be over, too many people could heed 51st: â€śWear not your clothes foul, ripped, or dusty . . .â€ť as well as 52nd: â€śIn your apparel be modest and endeavor to accommodate nature,â€ť which Etiquetteer translates as â€śNo one wants to see your underwear.â€ťÂ But Etiquetteer has to Wag an Admonitory Digit at That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much over 24th: â€śDo not laugh too much or too loud in public.â€ťÂ Reviewing all 110 of Washingtonâ€™s instructions (which Etiquetteer hopes you will do) one sees that he felt it important to make a good impression on others by showing them respect and consideration. One did this through taking pride and care in oneâ€™s appearance, paying attention to the feelings of others regardless of rank, and personal modesty. In other words, Washington sought to shape his behavior with self-control.And speaking of shape, Etiquetteer doesnâ€™t like to think of etiquette as a corset so much as a girdle. The first deforms the figure, restricts oneâ€™s movement, squeezes the internal organs, and leads to all sorts of debilitating health problems. A girdle, on the other hand, may be tight, but it molds oneâ€™s figure into something more pleasing without disguising oneâ€™s true self.Â So let us all use Washington as our guide and â€ś . . . bedew no manâ€™s face with your spittle by approaching too near him when you speak.â€ťÂ *What Etiquetteer means by this is that one had to behave like a grown-up much sooner than one does now. Alas, many Americans now put off behaving like adults until they are old enough to earn graduate degrees.