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Men’s Manners
by [?]

Nothing makes one feel so old as to wake up suddenly, as it were, and realize that the conditions of life have changed, and that the standards you knew and accepted in your youth have been raised or lowered. The young men you meet have somehow become uncomfortably polite, offering you armchairs in the club, and listening with a shade of deference to your stories. They are of another generation; their ways are not your ways, nor their ambitions those you had in younger days. One is tempted to look a little closer, to analyze what the change is, in what this subtle difference consists, which you feel between your past and their present. You are surprised and a little angry to discover that, among other things, young men have better manners than were general among the youths of fifteen years ago.

Anyone over forty can remember three epochs in men’s manners. When I was a very young man, there were still going about in society a number of gentlemen belonging to what was reverently called the “old school,” who had evidently taken Sir Charles Grandison as their model, read Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his son with attention, and been brought up to commence letters to their fathers, “Honored Parent,” signing themselves “Your humble servant and respectful son.” There are a few such old gentlemen still to be found in the more conservative clubs, where certain windows are tacitly abandoned to these elegant-mannered fossils. They are quite harmless unless you happen to find them in a reminiscent mood, when they are apt to be a little tiresome; it takes their rusty mental machinery so long to get working! Washington possesses a particularly fine collection among the retired army and navy officers and ex-officials. It is a fact well known that no one drawing a pension ever dies.

About 1875, a new generation with new manners began to make its appearance. A number of its members had been educated at English universities, and came home burning to upset old ways and teach their elders how to live. They broke away from the old clubs and started smaller and more exclusive circles among themselves, principally in the country. This was a period of bad manners. True to their English model, they considered it “good form” to be uncivil and to make no effort towards the general entertainment when in society. Not to speak more than a word or two during a dinner party to either of one’s neighbors was the supreme chic. As a revolt from the twice-told tales of their elders they held it to be “bad form” to tell a story, no matter how fresh and amusing it might be. An unfortunate outsider who ventured to tell one in their club was crushed by having his tale received in dead silence. When it was finished one of the party would “ring the bell,” and the circle order drinks at the expense of the man who had dared to amuse them. How the professional story-teller must have shuddered–he whose story never was ripe until it had been told a couple of hundred times, and who would produce a certain tale at a certain course as surely as clock-work.

That the story-telling type was a bore, I grant. To be grabbed on entering your club and obliged to listen to Smith’s last, or to have the conversation after dinner monopolized by Jones and his eternal “Speaking of coffee, I remember once,” etc. added an additional hardship to existence. But the opposite pose, which became the fashion among the reformers, was hardly less wearisome. To sit among a group of perfectly mute men, with an occasional word dropping into the silence like a stone in a well, was surely little better.