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Some authors have considered Manners as synonimous with customs and habits, and have even extended the term to human character in general. Without disputing the propriety of this enlarged signification, when adequately explained, we may, on the present occasion, limit the subject to a narrower scope.
Let us consider it as the external behaviour,-the outward demeanour,--the form and manner in which human operations and purposes are executed.
In this sense, it will be obvious, that Manners do not include the actions of man, but the style in which they are performed; nor his habits, except so far as relate to modes of habitual conduct; nor will the term extend to customs, which are a species of habit; nor to the moral conduct of human beings; nor to their intellectual operations, except so far as the feelings and faculties indicate themselves in peculiar modes, and influence the external deportment.
Thus a character, in which the moral and the intellectual qualities predominate, will mingle with all that it performs a spirit of propriety and a nicety of taste, of which you will observe little, if any, trace in those in whom the animal qualities chiefly exist. There is a harmony in the works of Nature, which always indicates the qualities of which they are principally composed.
It is this analysis of character which is alone interesting to the philosophic mind.
Indeed, 'mere unassociated observations, unconnected with principles, or with general and comprehensive truths, would not be fitting, or useful, to bring before the Society. To render them acceptable, we must trace them farther than the mere exterior, and investigate how far that exterior indicates the nature of the internal character. We ought not to rest satisfied with a mere surface-view of these peculiarities; we should search into their rise, the source from whence they spring, and attempt to deduce, as it were, the philosophy of
In this way, it would, perhaps, appear, that the manners of an individual, if they do not form an index, are, at least, the result of the peculiar nature of his moral feelings and intellectual endowments. The external behaviour must originate from an internal source; it is the result of our aggregate thoughts and feelings; it is an effect proceeding from the state of the inward powers and faculties.
Manners indeed are to actions what circumstances are to principal facts: they are but adjuncts; yet, sometimes, they shew the qualities of that to which they belong, more certainly than these qualities would otherwise be known : they constitute the circumstantial evidence of character: they are the satellites which revolve around the patron orb; and, as they shine with lustre, or are “ dimly seen,” so may we infer the brightness or the opacity of the orb itself.
Manners are composed of the natural and the artificial.
A large department is obviously artificial. There are but few persons who act, at all times, in a simply natural manner; they scarcely do so in any state of society, still less in a civilized and refined one. Let us take, for example, the ordinary routine of social meetings. Artificial ceremonies enter into the very first stage of human intercourse. The most barbarous community has some peculiar modes which custom has established as essential or proper. Such are the rude cour tesies of primitive life;-the tokens of respect,—the style of salutation and greeting,
-of welcome and departure. How the peculiar methods which are observed on these occasions became first in use, or why they were adapted in preference to others, which, if they had no higher claims to wisdom, would be, at least, as significant; and, if they were not more rational, might have equally indicated sincerity; it is, perhaps, at this distance of time, impossible to know, and difficult to conjecture.
If such be the case in the most unpolished periods, it is still more obvious that it must be so in refined and ancient communities. Man delights in change. Though wedded long to some old prejudices, his spirit has a native tendency to diversify his pursuits and his modes of conduct. Manners are regulated by Fashion. We all know how changeable are the movements of this intangible personage,--unstable as the wind, her laws vary with the slightest breath: philosophy is distanced in attempting
the race of investigation,--speculation is soon at fault; and, after we have hunted the fleeting shadow through some few of its devious paths, it breaks off into a new track,- the scent is lost, and we have to begin the chace again.
Where so much is dependent upon individual caprice,where there is no principle to refer to, and where, indeed, the matter is perhaps not sufficiently important to attempt to establish one, the multitude of instances defy all power of analysis. History cannot furnish us the means of accurately judging; its parent, Tradition, can supply only the materials for speculation. In the early career of nations, the voice of history is silent. At the time when the small number of the people, and the simplicity of their habits, might have rendered practicable an accurate and complete analysis of their manners, of their origin, and their progress, the muse of history had not then descended. In the maturity of civil society, and especially in ancient kingdoms, the historian is baffled in his inquiries : he has to contend with the ever-changing tastes, appetites, and pursuits of millions,-each individual varying from his companion,- each generation differing from the past, and each race from the preceding. National manners, indeed, are no otherwise distinguishable from individual than as the mass differs from its elements; they are as a multitude of lines united into one cord; or as the Corinthian brass, each metal losing its separate identity, but contributing, in its degree, to the production of the general compound; or as the composite order in architecture, which is confined to none, but which combines the blended strength and beauty of all. The peculiarities of each individual are the small springs, which, when united, form the mighty river of society, -each tributary stream rolls its course unnoticed in the congregated waters, though each possesses its share in forming the accumulated ocean: some tainted rivulet, indeed, may flow conspicuous amidst the flood, or the foaming cataract may dash the still and stagnant lake from slumber into healthful activity.
Thus will it be in the manners of an extensive community. In proportion to the importance which rank or fashion, talent or circumstances, may give to an individual, will be the measure of his influence in forming, or directing, those ceremonies of behaviour, and that style of action, which constitute the external demeanour. A popular favourite may thus, in a short period, render, if he so choose, a large part of a nation respectable or ridiculous. Like another Lycurgus, he may impress upon them the sternest features of republican manners, or conduct them forth with the pomp and luxury of a Roman Emperor, to public shows and costly pageants. Like another Cromwell
, he may stamp the national mind with the rigid character of his own plain and recluse habits; or, like Charles the Second, he may lead back his court, and all within his sphere, into the gayest profligacy, and the most dissipated manners.
Thus, it would appear, that manners are more dependent upon the influence of a single mind than any other department of a nation's character. The forms of government, and the systems of jurisprudence, are the result of the interests, the opinions, the feelings, and the will of larger bodies. These are institutions of a more important nature; they touch more upon the business of life, and come home to the bosom of man in a more imperious shape, and have a more intimate relation with him. Manners, are 66 the outward limbs and flourishes,"—they are not " the soul," nor the essential part, of human happiness. It naturally follows, that mankind, less interested in the consequences of these subordinate affairs, submit easily to take each change and fashion which caprice or ingenuity may invent: indeed, in these unimportant matters, perhaps, the more frequent the change, the better is it relished; the variety pleases, there is something new to learn,--to fill the “ aching void,” the listless.
pauses, between one useless amusement and another. New forms and new ceremonies thus become the occasional business of the idle ; and they who have nothing else to do, naturally set a high value on their chief occupations.
These transitions, though frequent, cannot very suddenly be adopted by the generality; and it thus always happens that the old modes for a long time retain their station, and, even at last, preserve some remnant of their character, amal. gamated with the modern fashion.
Thus the accumulations of time roll on; and when we pause, at the end of centuries of refinement, it is a labour, beyond all the power of mortal, to unravel the complexity: and, perhaps, could we arrive at the truth, it would appear to many as inore curious than useful. To the eye of some philosophers, these things may seem ridiculously insignificant; yet, in their place, they are of the first importance. In the estimation of those, who are happily removed from the sphere of such transactions, it may boot but little, how or why it has chanced, that in one place ihe toe of greatness is saluted, and in another the finger ; or that in this region you bend the knee, and in that you prostrate the body. Yet philosophy may detect more or less of human abasement even amidst these ceremonious minutiæ, and as they prevail at the fountainhead of society, may infer that the same spirit will accompany the stream in all irrigations :
These little things are great to little iman.”
[This paper is introductory to a series of Disquisitions on the same subject.]
ON THE PROBABLE PERMANENCY OF MODERN CIVILIZATION.
This subject was discussed in the Institution during two successive meetings. The general opinion appeared to be, that the civilization of the modern world will be permanent; yet the contrary position was maintained by several of the
members. We are able to present only the following outline of the discussion.
It was contended, that there were very strong grounds for supposing that modern civilization would not only be permanent, but would increase. The world had, of late years, considerably improved, both in knowledge and virtue. Al. though in the dark ages, learning and civilization had changed its situation, it had never departed from the world, but in all its vicissitudes had progressively improved, from the earliest times. The world had been sunk in idolatry, but, by the genial influence of religion, idolatry had almost totally vanished. Although different countries had been conquered by barbarians, civilization had remained faithful to its ancient abode. The conquerors were improved by the vanquished. The Roman people were comparatively barbarous, at the time they conquered Greece; but, soon after, they arrived at a pitch of excellence, which had ever since been the admiration of the world. Who, in our day, can fear, that the civilized part of the world will be overrun by savage tyranny? Education is so general and extensive, books so widely circulated, and the powers of the human mind so great, strengthened as they have been by continual exercise, that did the disposition exist for such extermination, it would be impossible to effect it. The mind of man might for a time be depressed, but would never be destroyed. The pure and perfect system of religion, so generally prevalent in the present age, afforded a bulwark so strong, that the billows of ignorance and barbarity might beat against it without affecting, in the slightest degree, its foundation.
We had seen how much could be achieved by the exertions of a few enlightened and humane individuals, in the memorable abolishment of the slave-trade; and if a few could accomplish so much, what might not be expected to accrue from the collected labours of a society constantly and progressively improving. It was urged also, that mankind were less selfish than formerly,—that the great number of moral and religious institutions was a decisive proof of increasing benevolence,—that the schools for the education of the poor, and the societies for the dissemination of religious knowledge, were striking evidences of a liberal spirit and of correct views, —that the diffusion over the whole world of the great principles of science, by the instrumentality of the press, was a sure presage of future and progressive improvement; and in proportion as the advantages which result from these measures become apparent, so will the system be extended wider and wider, until every inhabitant of the earth shall become not only a civilized, but a moral and intellectual being.