“Now, young man, are you a gentleman?”

Lavinia Goodell, May 12, 1860

In the fifth part of her series offering young men advice on how to win a wife  (read about the first, second, third, and fourth chapters in the series here), twenty-one year old Lavinia Goodell stressed the importance of good manners. She began her piece:

Published in the May 12, 1860 Principia

She noted that the word “gentleman:”

Has come to mean one of a select caste, a man of property, a man with dependents, a man of idleness or a fop — at best, one who regards only the mere outside forms, conventionalities, of life. As such it is justly contemptible. But this is a perversion. I wish I knew all about the origin of the word! … [E]vidently, … the word is intended to indicate “a man of gentleness” — a gentle man. Alas! How few gentlemen there are!


In Lavinia’s opinion, “Gentlemanliness consists in showing, in all the little things of every day life, a kind regard for the happiness of those around you.” As in the earlier chapters of her series, she stressed the importance of treating everyone well, regardless of class rank or appearance.

You may take off your hat and make the prettiest bow to Col. C’s daughter, or pick up the superb Miss L.’s handkerchief half a dozen times in the course of the evening, or throw off your overcoat that she may go dry shod over a mud hole; yet if you neglect to pay your washer-woman, and don’t try to soothe your tired landlady’s cross baby, you are no gentleman…. All this outside polish won’t do – the real character will show itself out.  

As always, Lavinia stressed that men should not look down on, or talk down to, women:

If you attend her to a musical entertainment do you retain her in a conversation, sotto voce, on some of your favorite topics while she is longing to enjoy undisturbed the sweet strains of melody which at broken intervals reach her ear? Or, at a lecture do you, in the midst of some of the finest bursts of eloquence, regale your patient victim with a whispered elucidation of your own views of the subject under discussion? … Or, are you continually making little attempts at wit, at which she is expected to laugh? Do you, in any way, thrust yourself and your opinions upon others? In short, is self uppermost in your mind? If it is, it “will out!”

She asked gentlemen to consider their manners with women they considered their friends. “Are you a friend, in a sincere, frank, manly way; or do you love to flirt, and do little trying, annoying acts, for the purpose of experimenting on her feelings, testing her friendship, and perhaps gratifying your own vanity?” If the latter, “she will discover her mistake and cease to regard you as a friend.”

Lavinia concluded:

Read the entire piece here.

Sources consulted: “Chapters to Young Men, on How to Win a Wife – Chapter V – Manners,” written by Lavinia Goodell and published in the Principia on May 12, 1860.


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