Miss Leslie’s Behaviour Book

Here are some excerpts, some amusing, others downright inflammatory, from The Ladies’ Guide to True Politeness and Perfect Manners; or Miss Leslie’s Behaviour Book (Philadelphia: Petersen, 1864).

On Champagne…

On no consideration let any lady be persuaded to take two glasses of champagne. It is more than the head of an American female can bear. And she may rest assured that (though unconscious of it herself) all present will find her cheeks flushing, her eyes twinkling, her tongue unusually voluble, her talk loud and silly, and her laugh incessant. Champagne is very insidious; and two glasses may throw her into this pitiable condition.

Advice for women authors…

Do not use blue ink; for if any part of your manuscript should chance to get wet, there is a risk of the blue ink being effaced or obliterated by the damp, so as to render the writing illegible; and this has frequently happened. In commencing a manuscript, write the title or caption in large letters, at some distance from the top of the first page; and if you are not anonymous, put your name a little below the title. Then begin the first line of the first paragraph, several inches distant from the left-hand side, or margin. In this manner commence every paragraph. The length of the paragraphs may be regulated by the time when you think a pause longer than that of a period or full stop may be effective; or to give the reader an opportunity of resting for a minute; or to denote the commencement of another subject. In writing a dialogue, begin every separate speech with a capital, and commence each speech on a new line, and at some distance from the left-hand margin. Also mark the beginning and end of every speech with double commas. If the names of the speakers are given at the commencement of every speech, write those names in large letters, putting a dot and a dash after them. All these arrangements are the same in writing as in printing. If you are, unfortunately, not familiar with the rules of punctuation, refresh your memory by referring to them in a grammar-book. They must be strictly observed; otherwise your meaning will be unintelligible. Always remember that every period or full stop, and every note of interrogation, or of admiration, must be followed by a capital letter, beginning the next word. Dashes, particularly in a dialogue, add much to the effect, if not used too lavishly.

Do not lose your temper…

When a woman abandons herself to terrible fits of anger with little or no cause, and makes herself a frightful spectacle, by turning white with rage, rolling up her eyes, drawing in her lips, gritting her teeth, clenching her hands, and stamping her feet, depend on it, she is not of a “nervous”, but of a “furious” temperament. A looking-glass held before her, to let her see what a shocking object she has made herself, would, we think, have an excellent effect. We have seen but a few females in this revolting state, and only three of them were ladies—but we have heard of many. When the paroxysm is over, all the atonement she can make is to apologize humbly, and to pray contritely. If she has really any goodness of heart, and any true sense of religion, she will do this promptly, and prove her sincerity by being very kind to those whom she has outraged and insulted—and whose best course during these fits of fury is to make no answer, or to leave the room.

Rules for conversation with men…

Generally speaking, it is injudicious for ladies to attempt arguing with gentlemen on political or financial topics. All the information that a woman can possibly acquire or remember on these subjects is so small, in comparison with the knowledge of men, that the discussion will not elevate them in the opinion of masculine minds. Still, it is well for a woman to desire enlightenment, that she may comprehend something of these discussions, when she hears them from the other sex; therefore let her listen as understandingly as she can, but refrain from controversy and argument on such topics as the grasp of a female mind is seldom capable of seizing or retaining. Men are very intolerant toward women who are prone to contradiction and contention, when the talk is of things considered out of their sphere; but very indulgent toward a modest and attentive listener, who only asks questions for the sake of information. Men like to dispense knowledge; but few of them believe that in departments exclusively their own, they can profit much by the suggestions of women. It is true there are and have been women who have distinguished themselves greatly in the higher branches of science and literature, and on whom the light of genius has clearly descended. But can the annals of woman produce a female Shakspeare, a female Milton, a Goldsmith, a Campbell, or a Scott? What woman has painted like Raphael or Titian, or like the best artists of our own times? Mrs. Darner and Mrs. Siddons had a talent for sculpture; so had Marie of Orleans, the accomplished daughter of Louis Philippe. Yet what are the productions of these talented ladies compared to those of Thorwaldsen, Canova, Chantrey, and the master chisels of the great American statuaries. Women have been excellent musicians, and have made fortunes by their voices. But is there among them a Mozart, a Bellini, a Michael Kelly, an Auber, a Boieldieu? Has a woman made an improvement on steam-engines, or on any thing connected with the mechanic arts? And yet these things have been done by men of no early education—by self-taught men. A good tailor fits, cuts out, and sews better than the most celebrated female dress-maker. A good man-cook far excels a good woman-cook. Whatever may be their merits as assistants, women are rarely found who are very successful at the head of any establishment that requires energy and originality of mind. Men make fortunes, women make livings. And none make poorer livings than those who waste their time, and bore their friends, by writing and lecturing upon the equality of the sexes, and what they call “Women’s Rights.” How is it that most of these ladies live separately from their husbands; either despising them, or being despised by them? Truth is, the female sex is really as inferior to the male in vigour of mind as in strength of body; and all arguments to the contrary are founded on a few anomalies, or based on theories that can never be reduced to practice. Because there was a Joan of Arc, and an Augustina of Saragossa, should females expose themselves to all the dangers and terrors of “the battle-field’s dreadful array.” The women of the American Revolution effected much good to their country’s cause, without encroaching upon the province of its brave defenders. They were faithful and patriotic; but they left the conduct of that tremendous struggle to abler heads, stronger arms, and sterner hearts.

On table manners…

We have seen a young lady, at a very fashionable house in one of our great cities, pull a dish of stewed oysters close to her, and with a table-spoon fish out and eat the oysters one at a time; audibly sipping up their liquor from the said dish. We have seen a young gentleman lift his plate of soup in both hands, hold it to his mouth and drink, or rather lap it up. This was at no less a place than Niagara.

When on board ship, take care to learn nautical terminology…

A young lady should improve the opportunity of learning the names of the principal parts of the ship. It is a silly boast at the end of the voyage, (and yet we have heard such boasts,) to say that you do not know the fore-mast from the main-mast; and that you have no idea where the mizzen-mast is, much less the bow-sprit. And even if a fair damsel should be able to distinguish the fore-topsail from the jib, and to know even the flying-jib, and have learnt the difference between the compass and the quadrant, and the log-line and the lead-line, we opine that “the gentlemen” will think none the worse of her; to say nothing of the satisfaction it will afford herself to listen with some comprehension to talk concerning the ship, and to read understandingly a few of the numerous excellent novels that treat of “life on the ocean wave.”