Ben Miller

Nineteenth Century Courtship Advice

In Behavior and Etiquette, Edwardian Era, Gender Roles, Love and Courtship, Victorian Era on February 13, 2010 at 6:29 pm

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With one day to go until Valentine’s, we thought it prudent to post some courtship advice from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It holds just as true today as it did back then:

In public a gentleman should show constant attention to his intended, and neither in company nor elsewhere should he flirt with any other lady. On the other hand, he should avoid, even to his bride-elect, those marked attentions and endearments that would excite in strangers a smile of ridicule.

– Cassell’s Handbook of Etiquette, 1860

You should be ready to act the knight, if a lady in your company is attacked. If she give offence, and that without reason, your office is that of a mediator. You should even ask pardon for your companion. A bully would act otherwise; but it is absurd to get into a quarrel for the sake of maintaining that a person who is insolent has a right to be so, and that because she is of your company. You will show yourself, in acting thus, as ill-bred as she.

Beadle’s Dime Book of Etiquette, 1861

When traveling with a lady, always carry her bag and assist her in and out of the trains. Your behavior is on its mettle under these circumstances, and traveling is very apt to be like a mustard plaster, bringing out both the good and evil attributes of a man.

The Complete Bachelor: Manners for Men, 1896

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If the honor of a woman be attacked, you should always defend it. It is not allowable for any one to assail the reputation of a lady, even if she be open to censure.

Beadle’s Dime Book of Etiquette, 1861

In walking with a lady in the street, leave her the inner side of the pavement.

Beadle’s Dime Book of Etiquette, 1861

When a man is led to spend more money than he can afford in entertaining a girl it is a bad preparation for matrimony. Courtship is a time when a man desires to bring gifts, and it is quite right and fitting that he should do so within reasonable limits. A girl of refined feelings does not like to accept valuable presents from a man at this period of their acquaintance. Flowers, books, music, if the girl plays or sings, and boxes of candy are always permissible offerings which neither engage the man who offers them nor the girl who receives them. This is the time when a man invites a girl to the theater, to concerts and lectures, and may offer to escort her to church. The pleasure of her society is supposed to be a full return for the trouble and expense incurred in showing these small attentions.

The Handy Cyclopedia Of Things Worth Knowing, 1911

Courtship

No gentleman should permit a lady, whom he likes, but does not love, to mistake for one hour the nature and object of his intentions. Women may have some excuse for coquetry; but a man has none. When flirtation is a game that two can play at, equally adepts, it is one thing; but to allow an innocent girl to deceive herself, or, as is more commonly the case, to be deceived by the badinage of her companions, into the idea that you are her lover, and intend to propose marriage, is ungentlemanly. You may be innocent — you may not suspect the existence of such an idea — but few will give you credit for your verdancy, and we warn you against making such blunders, which may lead to one of two results. Either, having engaged the affections, and excited the hopes of the lady, you will feel compelled to marry her, or you will be disgraced, possibly cowhided, or shot.

The Illustrated Manners Book, 1855

If the gentleman be a person of good breeding and right feeling, he will need no caution from us to remember that, when he is admitted into the heart of a family as the suitor of a daughter, he is receiving one of the greatest possible favors that can be conferred on him, whatever may be his own superiority of social rank or worldly circumstances; and that, therefore, his conduct should be marked by a delicate respect towards the parents of his lady-love. By this means he will propitiate them in his favor, and induce them to regard him as worthy of the trust they have placed in him.

Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette, 1875

At this period it is a wise man who makes a friend of a girl’s mother, and if he does this he will generally be repaid in a twofold manner. No matter how willful a girl may be, her mother’s opinion of her friends always has weight with her. Moreover, what the mother is the girl will in all probability become, and a man has no better opportunity of learning a girl’s mental and moral qualities than by knowing the woman who bore and reared her.

The Handy Cyclopedia Of Things Worth Knowing, 1911

A man should never make a declaration [of love] in a jesting manner. It is most unfair to a lady. He has no right to trifle with her feelings for mere sport, nor has he a right to hide his own meaning under the guise of a jest.

Our Deportment, 1881

Neither party should try to make the other jealous for the purpose of testing his or her affection. Such a course is contemptible; and if the affections of the other are permanently lost by it, the offending party is only gaining his or her just deserts. Neither should there be provocation to little quarrels for the foolish delight of reconciliation. No lover will assume a domineering attitude over his future wife. If he does so, she will do well to escape from his thrall before she becomes his wife in reality. A domineering lover will be certain to be more domineering as a husband.

Our Deportment, 1881

As to temper or disposition, the man or woman can easily gain some insight into the respective peculiarities of another’s temperament by a little quiet observation. If the gentleman be courteous and careful in his attentions to his mother and sisters, and behave with ease and consideration toward all women, irrespective of age, rank, or present condition, she may feel that her first estimate was a correct one. On the other hand, should he show disrespect toward women as a class, sneer at sacred things, evince an inclination for expensive pleasures in advance of his means, or for low amusements or companionship; be cruel to the horse he drives, or display an absence of all energy in his business pursuits, then is it time to gently, but firmly, repel all nearer advances on his part.

As to the gentleman, it will be well for him also to watch carefully as to the disposition of the lady and her conduct in her own family. If she be attentive and respectful to her parents, kind and affectionate toward her brothers and sisters, not easily ruffled in temper and with inclination to enjoy the pleasures of home; cheerful, hopeful and charitable in disposition, then may he feel, indeed, that he has a prize before him well worth the winning.

If, however, she should display a strong inclination towards affectation and flirtation; be extremely showy or else careless in her attire, frivolous in her tastes and eager for admiration, he may rightly conclude that very little home happiness is to be expected from her companionship.

Social Etiquette: or, Manners and Customs of Polite Society, 1896

Cultivate and manifest whatever qualities you would awaken. You inspire in the one you court the precise feeling and traits you yourself experience. This law effects this result. Every faculty in either awakens itself in the other. This is just as sure as gravity itself. Hence your success must come from within, depends upon yourself, not the one courted.

Social Etiquette: or, Manners and Customs of Polite Society, 1896

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  1. In walking with a lady in the street, leave her the inner side of the pavement.

    – Beadle’s Dime Book of Etiquette, 1861

  2. Don’t wear shorts: Even on sweltering summer days, Parisians don’t wear shorts.
    So it’s not worth lugging bottles up to your apartment, because the apartment taps are a good source of water. Once you have determined the drop, add three to four inches as a margin.

  3. This post could not be more correct…

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