General Manners

Aristocratic lifestyles from the 1820s to the 1840s had more unspoken rules, ceremonies, and opinions than we could ever imagine–and about things that would see very straight-forward and unbound by etiquette today. Every action, including how one moved or what one talked about, fell prey to the vagaries of fashion.

Thomas Cole's "The Picnic". 1846. Brooklyn Museum

Thomas Cole’s “The Picnic”. 1846. Brooklyn Museum


  • “’nothing was farther from my intention than a compliment. Compliments are mauvais ton [vulgar]. . . They are quite obsolete – went out with hoops and hair powder’” (Granby 1:122).
  • “’One never dreams of paying compliments to a woman of sense’” (The Davenels 1:24).
  • “Mr. Danvers had a vulgar mind, and, ignorant of the ways of more refined society, fondly imagined that paying a deference to the wife of a great man was a certain mode of obtaining the consideration of her husband” (Sayings and Doings, or, Danvers 24).
  • “’There is nothing more disagreeable than to meet with people who never contradict you: it is the worst compliment they could pay: it seems as if they abstained from opposing one out of pure compassion for the weakness of one’s understanding’” (Herbert Lacy 1:11).

Male Friendship

  • “’there are persons one wishes to avoid – a man, for instance, who commits a forgery, or a pun – or asks twice for soup – or goes to private balls in Town on a Wednesday’” (Granby 1:138).
  • “Choose a good disagreeable friend, if you be wise – a surly, steady, economical, rigid fellow. All jolly fellows . . . are sure to be poor” (Sketches and Travels in London 234).
  • “An Exclusive is, I believe, a person who has a select circle of about five hundred friends, and does not wish to increase his number . . . Exclusives speak only to Exclusives – know each other like Freemasons – disclaim all ties of kindred – cut fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, if they are not Exclusives” (Arlington 1:304).

Female Friendship

  • “Of all confidantes, give me a woman! – For warmth or sympathy, – for active aid, – for good faith, – for trustworthiness, – I say again, give me a woman!” (Cecil 197).
  • “I pray sincerely, my boy, that you may always have a woman for a friend” (Sketches and Travels in London 217).
  • “’Unhappy is he who relies on female friendship!’” (Romance and Reality 2:165).
  • “Never talk much to young men – remember that it is the women who make a reputation in society” (Pelham 1:29).
  • “’women are a great bore’” (Pelham 1:162).
  • “’Confounded bore talking to women’” (Hyde Nugent 2:13).
  • “’you are aware Lady Delmington is not a kind of woman in whose company you ought to be seen. She was the kept mistress long before she was the wife of the Duke of Delmington’” (High Life 2:118-119).


  • “there is nothing in which people take a more malicious pleasure, than in convicting and publishing the respective ages of their fellow-creatures” (Cecil 335).
  • “Occasionally we talk about . . . our enemies, at least, those who have any; which, in my opinion, is the vulgarest of all possessions” (Vivian Grey 2:174-175).
  • “Speak ill of others. Detract from excellence; by destroying high character you will shine yourself the brighter: thus may you be a London ephemera, a man of fashion” (Graham Hamilton 1:60).
  • “The very fashionable are exceedingly afraid of each other” (Recollections of a Chaperon 3:27).

Jokes and Laughter

  • “’The truest kind of wit, they say, is that which raises only a smile’” (Granby 1:169).
  • “’I almost fear I have been vulgar enough to be amusing’” (Vivian Grey 1:82).
  • “’the aristocracy never laugh’” (The Governess 71).
  • “’nothing is so monstrous, so vulgar, as a loud laugh from young ladies’” (Finesse 2:218).
  • “’I never joke, Hester,’ said his Lordship; ‘jokes with me are very serious things; more mischief has arisen from jokes than any thing in the world’” (Love and Pride 2:70).

How to Act

  • “I soon discovered, in my proper person, that Jack Harris was something more than impudent. He was impertinent. Impudence is the quality of a footman; impertinence, of his master. Impudence is a thing to be rebutted with brute force; impertinence requires wit for the putting down. Had Jack Harris been simply impudent, he would have been repaid with a kick; he was impertinent, and his superiority was recognised with a low bow” (Cecil 14).
  • “’We are all pretending to be natural with all our might, till the affectation of nature has become as natural as any other affectation’” (Cecil 34).

Conversation Topics

  • “People, not things, are now the daily topics. Abstract ideas can have no place in fashionable conversation” (The Davenels 1:41).
  • “’personality is as dangerous [a subject] as it is vulgar. My daughter Lilfield very sensibly observes that we should talk of things and not of persons’” (Women As They Are 1:118).

How to Speak

  • “All silent people can seem conventionally elegant” (Ernest Maltravers 1:50).
  • “Many persons shelter themselves and their dulness [sic] under a profound taciturnity; and perhaps a silent fool is not one of the worst fools” (Conduct is Fate 1:95).
  • “in addition to the diffidence she naturally felt at her first entrance into real society, she laboured under the disadvantage of not knowing the French language” (Sayings and Doings, or, Danvers 52).
  • “’You will also be careful, in returning to England, to make very little use of French phrases; no vulgarity is more unpleasing. I could not help being exceedingly amused by a book written the other day, which professes to give an accurate description of good society. Not knowing what to make us say in English, the author has made us talk nothing but French’” (Pelham 1:232).
  • “I have observed that the distinguishing trait of people accustomed to good society, is a calm imperturbably quiet, which pervades all their actions and habits, from the greatest to the least; they eat in quiet, live in quiet, and lose their wife, or even their money in quiet; while low persons cannot take up either a spoon or an affront without making such an amazing noise about it” (Pelham 1:5).
  • “The poor little woman was hardly fashionable enough to conceal her feelings” (Sayings and Doings, or, Danvers 57).
  • “’from living for nearly forty years in the country, he had acquired a provincial accent which gave him . . . an air of vulgarity and coarseness. His conversation was a curious mixture of good sense and slang, delivered in the accent of a ploughboy” (Almack’s Revisited 2:205).
  • “He talked of himself incessantly, sometimes in the coarsest and vulgarest Hampshire accent” (Vanity Fair 78).
  • “Lady Arden declared that he was unbearable, his language only fit for the stable, and worse than all, that he used lavender water on his handkerchief” (The Two Friends 1:95).

Schedules and Timing

  • “Fashion has oddly enough decreed that unpunctuality is a sign of good breeding; and that to be early any where, is a proof you must be nobody” (Almack’s 1:205).
  • “’I hate Wednesdays . . . Old women talk of the bad omen of beginning work of any kind on Fridays; – Wednesday now is my very black day. The most unpleasant circumstances of m y life have always happened on a Wednesday’” (The Three Eras of Woman’s Life 2:54).
  • “My mother, for the first time in her life, got up at six o’clock” (Pelham 1:3).
  • “De Beauvoir, as might be guessed, was not an early riser . . . He always averred that the cold morning air, chilling the blood till it scarcely creeps through the veins; the noise of the scrubbing; the suffocation of the dust . . . and, worse, the encountering the frowns of the yawning, slip-shod, and dirty housemaids” (Agnes Serle 172-174).


  • “’Virtue, my dear uncle, is a female: as long as she is private property, she is excellent; but Public Virtue, like any other public lady, is a common prostitute’” (Ernest Maltravers 1:176).
  • “virtue is a home quality: manners are the coat it wears when it goes abroad” (Sketches and Travels in London 214).


  • “an incessant fear of being thought vulgar, is a sure sign of innate and inherent vulgarity” (Yes and No 1:58).
  • “’Running is worse than fast walking’” (Tales of Perplexity 143).
  • “’Come from that window, Ma’am . . . it is only women of loose characters and improper habits who shew themselves at windows, in the civilized world’” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series, Vol. III 216).

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