Sunday, January 27, 2008

Poor Richard and George Washington on Manners

Early on, the government enforced minimal standards of civility through its laws, providing penalties for slandering, lying, cursing, and even flirting. Strictures came from the government and the clergy, and advice about proper—and legal!—behavior came from the authors of almanacs including Benjamin Franklin, who offered this advice in Poor Richard’s Almanac:
  • Fish and visitors stink after three days.
  • None but the well-bred man knows how to confess a fault, or acknowledge himself in error.
The few etiquette guides that were available tended to stick to the basics. A much reprinted eighteenth-century guide for children warned: “Spit not, cough not, nor blow thy nose at the table, if it may be avoided.” Adults were advised not to use the tablecloth to clean their teeth in George Washington’s Rules of Civility.

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