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Monday, December 20, 2021

A Bit of Etiquette from a Teenage George Washington

by Denise Weimer

Who knew that at the tender age of roughly fourteen, the future president, George Washington, took the time to pen 110 “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation”? Apparently, a lot of people, as an internet search reveals. I, however, did not know until finding a 1988 Applewood Books reprint in my parents’ library.

Washington is believed to have adapted these rules, likely at the behest of a schoolmaster, from a book printed by French Jesuits in 1595. Records differ as to whether he was thirteen, fourteen, or sixteen when he did this, but an 1888 version, “copied from the original” by J.M. Toner, M.D., places him at thirteen using a date of 1745 on one of the pages. Though one source credits an even younger Francis Hawkins with the first English translation in 1640, Toner also avows that his extensive study of the Library of Congress revealed no similar printings.

Let’s take a glimpse inside, as so many of these polite considerations have flown out the window in the twenty-first century.

1st Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

7th Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out your chamber half dressed. (I had to include this one in light of all the “Wal-Mart people” out there.)

22nd Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy.

29th When you meet with one of greater quality than yourself, stop, and retire, especially if it be a door or any straight place to give way for him to pass.

40th Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty.

42nd Let thy ceremonies in courtesy be proper to the dignity of his place with who thou converses, for it is absurd to act the same with a clown and a prince.

44th When a man does all he can though it succeeds not well blame not him that did it.

47th Mock not nor jest at any thing of importance; break no jests that are sharp biting; and if you deliver any thing witty and pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.

50th Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.

56th Associate yourself with men of good quality, if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.

60th Be not immodest in urging your friends to discover a secret.

81st Be not curious to know the affairs of others; neither approach those that speak in private.

89th Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.

108th When you speak of God or his attributes, let it be seriously & with reverence. Honour & obey your natural parents although they be poor.

Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s a managing editor for the historical imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of a dozen published novels and a number of novellas. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses!

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  1. I remember reading these in a parenting book (not an old one, though it would be now) and thinking I should have my children learn them all--maybe copy them too. But...I forgot, and we never did. Good piece!


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