« PreviousContinue »
it may, nevertheless, be asserted, even of those which are most decisively of this class, that, by a little delicate attention, they may be very much controlled and mitigated, and by the discreet use of the handkerchief, they may be easily deprived of almost every thing offensive in their character.
14. The mode of sitting in company is a point concerning which no little indecorum is often indulged. The offences against propriety in this respect are numerous. Many, when seated, even in large and ceremonious companies, are in the habit of lifting up one or both of their feet, and placing them on a neighbouring chair. Others, if they can get a place on a sofa or settee, lay their bodies upon it at full length, in a horizontal posture; and thus either exclude all others from sharing in the seat, or subject them to the danger of encountering their soiled shoes. A third class, the moment they fix themselves upon any kind of seat, appear to be searching for something to lean or recline upon; and when such an article is found, are incessantly hanging and lounging upon it. While a fourth class, though they have only a single chair to occupy, thrust out their feet as far as possible, and throw their persons as near to the horizontal posture as they can, as if the object were to cover the largest practicable space on the floor, and to subject those who have occasion to pass before them to the risk, every moment, of stumbling over their feet. I have often wondered that persons of the least delicacy or reflection should be found indulging such habits. If you have any disease of the feet or legs, which requires them to be placed in a horizontal posture, mention
the circumstance to the company, and obtain permission to use the needed privilege, and all will be well. I have only to mention, under this head, the incivility of sitting with your back to any portion of the company with whom you may be seated. This is never proper, unless an apartment is so crowded that avoiding it is manifestly impossible.
15. The habit of tilting your chair back, while you are sitting upon it, so as to rest only on its two hinder legs, is, on several accounts, improper. It has proved the fruitful source of many ludicrous, and even dangerous falls backward, as most persons have had an opportunity of observing. And it almost necessarily leads to those awkward, constrained, or lounging postures of the body, which have been already mentioned as offences against that respectfulness of manner which every gentleman is bound habitually to maintain. This practice of tilting back the chair in company, has been considered and represented in Europe, as one of the peculiarities of American ill-breeding.
16. The fact is, we owe it to our bodily health, as well as to good manners, to learn the art of habitually sitting in an erect posture. Few things are more important to a student. If he allow himself, in the privacy of his own apartment, to sit in a leaning, lounging, half-bent posture, with his elbows on his knees, or with his feet stuck up on a chair, or against the side of the fire-place, higher than his head, or on a level with it; he will be much more apt to contract a pain in his breast, and to find his eye-sight and his general health affected by three hours' study, in such a posture, than by five or even six in a more erect one. Let your habitual mode of sitting, even in your study, be perfectly erect, with the breast rather protruded than bent in; and, in short, very much in that self-supported and firm manner, in which you would wish to sit in the most ceremonious company. This may seem, at first view, to be too formal; but it will become, in a short time, what it is the object of this counsel to make it, the most natural posture; and will, without effort on your part, confer all those advantages on the score of health and manners which it is desirable to gain from it. Besides, if now, in your youth, you are constantly seeking, as many appear to be, something to recline upon; if you cannot sit ten minutes without throwing yourself into the recumbent, or semi-recumbent postures, to which we see the young and healthy constantly resorting, what will you do in the feebleness of old age? If you cannot sit otherwise than half-bent at twenty-five; how will you sit at three score and ten? Let the sunken, revolting figures of many aged persons give the answer.
17. Many persons, the moment they seat themselves in company, and especially when they become engaged in conversation, if there be a screw, knob, or small fixture of any kind within their reach, which admits of being turned or handled, are incessantly engaged in performing this operation, to the annoyance of the owner of the house, and often to the incurable injury of the article thus roughly treated. Try to learn the art of sitting still, while you are conversing, without pulling and tugging at the furniture around you; without playing with any part of your own dress or person ; without incessantly stretching and cracking the joints of your fingers ; without pulling out your watch every half minute, and twirling the chain in every direction, &c. The truth is, that kind of nervous restlessness which leads to things of this kind, ought ever to be resisted. He who must have something to play with while he is conversing, ought to consider himself as called upon promptly and firmly to apply a remedy.
18. Finally; let me enjoin upon you to avoid all slovenly habits of whatsoever kind, in your person, in the implements you use, and in the apartments you occupy. The offences against this counsel are so numerous and diversified, that I cannot pretend to specify them. Good sense, attentive observation, and general habits of neatness, will, I trust, render minute details unnecessary.
It is recorded of the celebrated Mr. Whitefield, that he was characteristically neat in his person, and with respect to every thing about him. He was accustomed to say, that “a minister ought to be without spot.” He would not allow a paper to be out of its place, or to be put up irregularly. He would have every part of the furniture of his room in its appropriate station before he retired to rest; and remarked, that he could not be easy, if he thought so small an article as his gloves were out of the proper place. Such were the feelings of a man whose evangelical labours were abundant to a degree almost without parallel; and whose heart was peculiarly intent on the great duties of his office as an ambassador of Christ."
Let every apartment which you occupy, either permanently or for a short time, bear the character
of neatness. When you quit your bed in the morning, lay up the bed-clothes decently, so that no visitant need be offended by the appearance of things. When you wash yourself, especially in the house of a friend, do it with gentleness and neatness, without wetting the carpet or floor, without bespattering the wall or furniture in the immediate vicinity of the basin, that you may as much as possible diminish the labour of servants. A conscientious man, in these circumstances, ought ever to act on the principle of giving as little trouble as may be to those around him; and, for this purpose, in all cases whatsoever, whether at home or abroad, to leave as little to clean after him as possible.
On the subject of slovenly habits, and several other points noticed in this letter, I would recommend to your perusal the Rev. Dr. Adam Clarke's Letter to a Methodist Preacher.” You will perceive that the learned and venerable author, though belonging to an ecclesiastical body rather distinguished for the simplicity and plainness of its members, and certainly by no means excessive in its attention to external polish, considers a negligence of cleanliness in a minister of the gospel, as not only disgusting, but as very closely allied to moral delinquency.