BOOK REVIEW: A Gentleman Doesn’t Wear a Nose Ring, or On a Young Lady’s Conduct When Contemplating Marriage

I’m doing something a little different with my Wednesday Book Review. Instead of reviewing one book here, there are two, both published in 1860.

Yes, 1860. And they’re all about how to be gentleman and a lady, and I was all over these books post haste. I remained ladylike, I assure you, in my rush to get these books.

The first, “The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness Being a Complete Guide for a Gentleman’s Conduct in all his Relations Towards Society” by Cecil B. Hartley is 169 pages of the Do’s and Don’ts if one wishes to be a gentleman. Yes, there is the expected advice of keeping one’s hair clean and combed, soiled gloves are a no-no at all times, and ladies – including mom, sisters, grandma, aunts, and wife – are to be treated with the utmost respect and are to be helped with everything ad infinitum.  It’s a gentleman’s duty.  A gentleman must act like a gentleman towards every lady who acts like a lady.

If a gentleman knows an artist or literary person who works at home, the gentleman never calls on them during the workday; to do so would be rude and interrupt their workday.

The most surprising paragraph in the entire book was the advice given regarding nose rings: DON’T wear them! I wonder what segment of society in the mid-nineteenth century wore nose rings in America. Maybe bulls? But they are not the subject audience here. There is also stern advice to not attach a bunch of charms on one’s watch fob, too. That’s tacky.

To swear, use vulgarity, and toss about slang is a sign of “low-breeding.”

The companion book to “A Gentleman’s Guide” is “The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness: A Complete Hand Book for the Use of the Lady in Polite Society” by Florence Harley, also published in 1860 and is 159 pages long.

Here we would take seriously the advice on the importance of keeping one’s dress clean, ensuring lace is not worn in great amounts when shopping (a cotton chintz dress or woolen dress are some of the suggestions), the attention to good table manners is a sign of good breeding, how a lady travels either alone with an escort, writing letters, attending church, courting and getting married, the art of conversation, et cetera. In fact, this book is almost identical to the gentleman’s book, with the applicable gender references tailored to the right audience.

There are some knitting and crochet patterns to make clothing, and tips on how to clean such things. However, the most interesting section is the recipes and tips on how to keep oneself clean, how to clean your clothing, and dental hygiene.

People in mourning would find that the black dye in their mourning clothes would stain their skin. No problem — just mix together a few ingredients, including the poisonous olaxic acid, and voila! stains are history.

Your black lacy veil need cleaning? Mix together gall of bullock (gall from a castrated bovine) with musk and a few other ingredients, and you’re good to go.

Teeth need cleaning and whitening? Cuttle fish and chalk will do the trick. Strawberries help remove tartar, so eat them as frequently as possible when they are in season.

There are a multitude of cold creams, face creams, and lip balms ready for you to make and some common ingredients are butter, beeswax, almond paste, and spermaceti. Spermaceti? Yes, it’s that waxy substance found in the head of sperm whales.

Both books have sound advice and tips that would be well-followed in these twentieth century days. The only things that date these books are references to horses and carriages, style of clothing, hygiene (insofar as how little one washes as compared to today’s society), and the like.

Both of these books are available on Amazon Kindle at no cost.

The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness Being a Complete Guide for a Gentleman’s Conduct in all his Relations Towards Society
By Cecil B. Hartley
Pages: 169
Publisher: G.W. Cottrell, Boston
Year published: 1860

The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness: A Complete Hand Book for the Use of the Lady in Polite Society
By Florence Hartley
Pages: 159
Publisher: G.W. Cottrell, Boston
Year published: 1860

©Susan Marie Molloy, and all works within.


About Susan Marie Molloy

I am an observer, a writer, and a poet. My latest poetry books, "Indigo Fantasy," "Life in the Oasis," "Gallery Night," "God of the Sea," and "Grapes Suzette" and my short stories, "The Green Gloves" and "The Crowd of Turin" are now available on Amazon. Check them out. Buy them. Read them. Send me your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you. View all posts by Susan Marie Molloy

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