THE HISTORY OF ETIQUETTE

Etiquette: a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group.

In the 3rd millennium BC, Ptahhotep wrote The Maxims of Ptahhotep. The Maxims were conformist precepts extolling such civil virtues as truthfulness, self-control and kindness towards one’s fellow beings. Learning by listening to everybody and knowing that human knowledge is never perfect are a leitmotif. Avoiding open conflict wherever possible should not be considered weakness. Stress is placed on the pursuit of justice, although it is conceded that it is a god’s command that prevails in the end. Some of the maxims refer to one’s behaviour when in the presence of the great, how to choose the right master and how to serve him. Others teach the correct way to lead through openness and kindness. Greed is the base of all evil and should be guarded against, while generosity towards family and friends is deemed praiseworthy.

Confucius (551–479 BC) was a Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher whose philosophy emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity.

Baldassare Castiglione (1478 – 1529), count of Casatico, was an Italian courtier, diplomat, soldier and a prominent Renaissance author, who is probably most famous for his authorship of The Book of the Courtier. The work was an example of a courtesy book, dealing with questions of the etiquette and morality of the courtier, and was very influential in 16th century European court circles.

Louis XIV (1638–1718) “transformed a royal hunting lodge in Versailles, a village 25 miles southwest of the capital, into one of the largest palaces in the world, officially moving his court and government there in 1682. It was against this awe-inspiring backdrop that Louis tamed the nobility and impressed foreign dignitaries, using entertainment, ceremony and a highly codified system of etiquette to assert his supremacy.”[3]

During the Enlightenment era, a self-conscious process of the imposition of polite norms and behaviours became a symbol of being a genteel member of the upper class. Upwardly mobile middle class bourgeoisie increasingly tried to identify themselves with the elite through their adopted artistic preferences and their standards of behaviour. They became preoccupied with precise rules of etiquette, such as when to show emotion, the art of elegant dress and graceful conversation and how to act courteously, especially with women. Influential in this new discourse was a series of essays on the nature of politeness in a commercial society, penned by the philosopher Lord Shaftesbury in the early 18th century. Shaftesbury defined politeness as the art of being pleasing in company:

‘Politeness’ may be defined a dext’rous management of our words and actions, whereby we make other people have better opinion of us and themselves.[4]

Periodicals, such as The Spectator, founded as a daily publication by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele in 1711, gave regular advice to its readers on how to conform to the etiquette required of a polite gentleman. Its stated goal was “to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality… to bring philosophy out of the closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and coffeehouses” It provided its readers with educated, topical talking points, and advice in how to carry on conversations and social interactions in a polite manner.

The allied notion of ‘civility’ – referring to a desired social interaction which valued sober and reasoned debate on matters of interest – also became an important quality for the ‘polite classes’. Established rules and procedures for proper behaviour as well as etiquette conventions, were outlined by gentlemen’s clubs, such as Harrington’s Rota Club. Periodicals, including The Tatler and The Spectator, infused politeness into English coffeehouse conversation, as their explicit purpose lay in the reformation of English manners and morals. Etiquette is the virtue of morality and code of behaviour.

It was Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield who first used the word ‘etiquette’ in its modern meaning, in his Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman. This work comprised over 400 letters written from 1737 or 1738 and continuing until his son’s death in 1768, and were mostly instructive letters on various subjects. The letters were first published by his son’s widow Eugenia Stanhope in 1774. Chesterfield endeavoured to decouple the issue of manners from conventional morality, arguing that mastery of etiquette was an important weapon for social advancement. The Letters were full of elegant wisdom and perceptive observation and deduction. Chesterfield epitomised the restraint of polite 18th-century society, writing, for instance, in 1748:

I would heartily wish that you may often be seen to smile, but never heard to laugh while you live. Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill-manners; it is the manner in which the mob express their silly joy at silly things; and they call it being merry. In my mind there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter. I am neither of a melancholy nor a cynical disposition, and am as willing and as apt to be pleased as anybody; but I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason nobody has ever heard me laugh.

By the Victorian era, etiquette had developed into an exceptionally complicated system of rules, governing everything from the proper method for writing letters and using cutlery to the minutely regulated interactions between different classes and gender.

– Original article at wikipedia.org