5 DECEMBER 1952, Page 13



IHOPE, before I die, to write a book about manners. I know little about the subject at present, but I intend to read and annotate such standard works as the I-Li, the Fou-Li, the 'Li-Chi, the Galateo, the Cortigiano, and the Manuals of Brathwaite, CaIlieres, Chesterfield, Coryate, Fuchs, and even that beastly Madame de Geniis. I shall do this Primarily for my own improvement, since I am aware that, When I become impatient, my manners become frayed. Occasions occur when I observe people of breeding and culture superior to my ow,n behaving under provocation with a sweet dignity such as I could never in similar circumstances com- mand. Only last Thursday, for instance, I had made a muddle about a luncheon engagement and arrived fifty minutes late. So exquisite had been the courtesy of my hostess, my host, and the only other guest, that they had refrained from begin- ning their luncheon until 1 arrived. Having ascertained by telephone that I was actually on my way, they sat there munching anchovy and the wild olive until 1 had obtained a cab and found my guilty way up to the northern heights. I expected on arrival to be received with reproach, but instead of that there was more joy in that heaven than if I had arrived at 12.55 instead of 1.55. My shame was increased by the thought that in similar circumstances I should never have had the strength of character to behave with equal charm. I should have sulked; I should have maintained a mood of disapproval; I might even have sought to indicate to the strayed reveller the enormity of his guilt. Yet these patricians welcomed me as if it was quite usual for men to be almost an hour late for luncheon. My wish to write a book about manners was fortified by this episode. Once I have mastered the technique, I also may be strong enough to smile when I wish, like Mr. A. I. P. Taylor, to pout. There is much to be learnt. * * * * I have begun my task by acquiring all the volumes of Sir James Frazer's Golden Bough. I hope to learn from this how to practise the sympathetic magic that so impressed me when I was late for luncheon. I hope to understand how manners are intricately woven into the fabric of religion, myth, and tribal custom. I hope above all to receive some suggestions as to the boundaries that must exist between superstition and etiquette, between the desire to propitiate wicked spirits and the desire to be polite to one's parents and acquaintances, between the terror of violating some taboo, of incurring the distaste of the medicine man, and the essential formulas that must be present in any social community. Had I. when aged eleven, stood for a few instants in my father's shadow, my 1 stance would not have been apparent either to him or to me; ' but had I committed this atrocious act as a member of some aboriginal tribe I should have had to undergo the most painful and humiliating ceremonies of purification. There must be Present somewhere a frontier-line between custom and manners; and it is this line that I ho,pe to discover and define. It is not nearly enough to conted that manners are a matter of sYmpathy and unselfishness and that it is immaterial what form, from generation to generation, they may happen to adopt. The kindest heart may, owing to absent-mindedness or timidity, lead its owner into movements of discourtesy; whereas the most exquisite politeness may conceal frightful egoism, con- tempt for the human race and a maliee flickering slyly as an adder's tongue. For all I know, there may exist in our present codes of behaviour vestiges of old Aryan faiths and taboos, relics of ancient witchcraft or propitiations, such as will explain to me why, when 1 meet an acquaintance, I grin foolishly or raise my hat. Such are the vestiges that I wish to trace. • * * * * It may be that the theme of manners pure and simple may prove too frail and tenuous to carry all the beads that I desire to collect and to display. I may be forced into a consideration of customs. Why is it, for instance, that youths of my generation were told that it was unmanly to allow the hair to grow naturally, whereas the Spartans would beat their boys for overt effeminacy if they allowed the barber to trim it short ? Many a schoolmaster, many a colonel, has from the outset been prejudiced against a new pupil or ensign merely because his hair was not entirely cropped above the ears. Yet Lycurgus would have hounded from the city any youth who dared to have his hair cut, contending that it was the long locks of the Spartans that rendered them so terrible to their enemies. Why is it ,again that, if I am introduced to a man of age and eminence, I instinctively extend my hand towards him with the intent to grasp and to be grasped, whereas, were I presented to a Mandarin even in the nineteenth century, I should have been obliged, as a well-educated Chinaman, to keep both my hands tucked firmly within my sleeves ? Why is it that in China it was customary when paying a visit to open with a sort of litany of compliments, continuing for several minutes in prescribed strophe and antistrophe, whereas in Europe the opening gambits are vague, clumsy, embarrassing and concerned with the difficulty of obtaining taxis in London whgn the rain pops upon the pavements ? There must be some' reason for all this. It will be interesting and instructive to examine the reasons. * * I shall be justified, I think, in treating personal cleanliness as a branch of manners, anil thereby allowing myself a whole area of specialised research. Why was it, for instance, that whereas Moses, Confucius and Mahommed insisted upon scrupulous personal cleanliness, the early Christian Church regarded it as pagan or immoral to wash ? How came it that in the grand siècle the courtiers avoided both hot and cold water on the ground that washing gave one toothache, and that their ablutions were confined to a few dabs of spirits of wine administered on cotton-wool ? Why was it that the Greeks and Romans were continually indulging in steam baths and massage; why was it that Socrates had a hot bath and put on new shoes when he went to dine with Agathon; whereas Louis XIV scarcely ever changed his linen, and Henry IV was notorious for his filthy ways ? Cleanliness, it would seem, can have but little to do with the general condition of culture, and a society that could devise the exquisite grandeur of Gobelins or Aubussons thought it perfectly becoming for men and women to spit openly upon the carpets or even to sully, the tapestries on the walls. In the many books on etiquette, published during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in France, the aspiring young courtier was instructed not to pick and kill his fleas in public and not to scratch the places the ver- min caused to itch. Even Erasmus, so alert in many ways to spread the humanities, is to our minds gross in his injunctions regarding physical cleanliness and the ordinary decencies to be observed in social life. Is cleanliness therefore no more than a passing fashion, wholly irrelevant to the state of civilisa- tion that has been reached ? One would have supposed that the habit of washing, once discovered, would remain an habitual necessity. But it is not so. Centuries in which men and women scrubbed themselves frequently and from head to foot have been followed by centuries when even the most elegant human beings never washed at all. This will prove an interesting theme in my rescarches into human conduct.

Even in my own life-time manners have changed. No longer do we pay afternoon visits or deposit visiting-cards at the houses of our friends. No longer do we worry, as they used to worry, about matters of precedence and seating; it is only in the Diplomatic Corps that these points of prestige retain their awful significance. I have a theory, and I hope to prove it, that, according as She formalities of etiquette are discarded, good natural manners improve. I have observed that the younger generation of today are much nicer to hags and dotards than we were in 1910. Untidy they are, dirty they may become, but how considerate, how beautifully indulgent, to the old