Etiquette: A 19th Century Guide

Posted August 28, 2014 by Amanda | One Comment

Growing up, our parents taught us to be polite and practice good manners - say your “pleases” and “thank yous,” hold the door for others, don’t talk with your mouth full, etc. And as we grew up, we strive to pass along these best practices to our children.


During the 19th century, etiquette guides were a booming business. To the people of the Victorian Era, practicing good manners was essential to all social interactions. Many books were written on this very subject to guide people on the proper behaviors one should display in every day life. After all, “good manners are to the family, what good morals are to society, their cement and their security.”

Here are a few pointers the 19th century had to offer:

  1. “Fine clothes are a passport into good society, if with them one possess a knowledge of savoir faire.”
  2. “Never go up and down stairs, or about the house, with the speed of a trotting horse and the tread of an elephant; step lightly, quickly and orderly.”
  3. “Fifteen minutes is the longest time required to wait for a tardy guest.”
  4. “A gentleman should never be introduced to a young or old lady without her permission being obtained.”
  5. “Inquisitive persons are exceedingly annoying, both at home and abroad.”
  6. “A gentlewoman need not be reminded that she should always be attired in a neat and becoming manner and that her dress ought to be adapted to the hours of the day.”
  7. “Offers of marriage should never be accepted, or refused without consulting your parents, but if you are deprived of them, then tis better to consult some judicious maternal friend.”
  8. “The reputation of being a flirt is to be dreaded by young ladies, for their company soon becomes annoying to men of sense; while those who possess similar tastes will never ask them to be admitted to a nearer and dearer companionship. And a gentleman flirt is one of the most despicable creatures in the whole creation!”
  9. “Never gesticulate in everyday conversation, unless you wish to be mistaken for a fifth rate comedian.”
  10. “Avoid pedantry; it is a mark, not of intelligence, but stupidity.”
  11. “Be careful in society never to play the part of buffoon, for you will soon become known as the ‘funny’ man of the party, and no character is so perilous to your dignity as a gentleman.”
  12. “Avoid gossip; in a woman it is detestable, but in a man it is utterly despicable.”
  13. “Ridicule and practical joking are both marks of a vulgar mind and low breeding.”
  14. “Avoid any air of mystery when speaking to those next you; it is ill-bred and in excessively bad taste.”
  15. “Do not smoke in the street until after dark, and them remove your cigar from your mouth, if you meet a lady.”
  16. “In writing to your inferiors use as few words as possible, that your letter may not be presumed upon from any seeming familiarity.”


A Manuel of Etiquette with Hints on Politeness and Good Breeding, 1868
The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness, 1873
Sensible Etiquette of the Best Society, Customs, Manners, Morals and Home Culture, 1878

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Social Media Coordinator at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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  • Delfina Cremona

    Amanda, I have been working in an essay and I want to use this information. I need your surname to cite your article. Would you please tell me as soon as possible? Thanks