Green Room

George Washington, a civil man

posted at 11:07 am on February 22, 2010 by

He didn’t write the 110 Rules of Civility, but copying and practicing them was part of George Washington’s education.

Some of the rules are complete anachronisms. More than a few may trigger a laugh:

#13  Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks &c in the Sight of Others, if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexterously upon it if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own Cloths return Thanks to him who puts it off.

#12  Shake not the head, Feet, or Legs roll not the Eyes lift not one eyebrow higher than the other wry not the mouth, and bedew no mans face with your Spittle, by approaching too near him when you Speak.

Close-talkers have always been with us, appparently.

But many of the behavioral prescriptions, large and small, still bear consideration:

Play not the Peacock.
Let your recreations be manful not sinful.
Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

En masse, the Rules offer a nuts-and-bolts guide for social behavior: how not to annoy or offend others, how to show them respect, how to behave with humility, how not to call attention to yourself, how not to be a bore, how to be a loyal friend, and how to behave with charity toward others.

Richard Brookhiser, in his Founding Fathers: Rediscovering George Washington, writes on the significance of the Rules to Washington and to the new country as well:

“all modern manners in the western world were originally aristocratic. Courtesy meant behavior appropriate to a court; chivalry comes from chevalier – a knight. Yet Washington was to dedicate himself to freeing America from a court’s control. Could manners survive the operation? Without realizing it, the Jesuits who wrote them, and the young man who copied them, were outlining and absorbing a system of courtesy appropriate to equals and near-equals. When the company for whom the decent behavior was to be performed expanded to the nation, Washington was ready. Parson Weems got this right, when he wrote that it was ‘no wonder every body honoured him who honoured every body.'”

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#13 Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks &c in the Sight of Others, if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexterously upon it if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own Cloths return Thanks to him who puts it off.

Obama must not have taken note.

Joe Caps on February 22, 2010 at 12:19 PM

Thanks George, you did us all proud.

tarpon on February 22, 2010 at 2:26 PM


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