Archival Assignment #1: Charles William Day’s Etiquette Manual

Since More Hints on Etiquette is a parody of Charles William Day’s Hints on Etiquette and the nssages of Society, I decided to use the first archival assignment for our course as an opportunity to get a better sense of the original manual it parodies. Day’s etiquette manual, as I noted in an earlier post, was extremely popular in the nineteenth century: the British Library notes that the work, first published in 1834, had run to 28 editions by the mid-nineteenth century (and has inspired at least one other parody than this one, if only of a single content section). The manual’s success resulted in its publication in the United States–for example in an 1844 edition “adapted to American Society, by the Author,” and published here in Boston.

While Indiana University has a copy of an 1843 London edition digitized by Google and transcribed by HathiTrust, I was limited to this American adaptation if I wanted to see the book in person, since none of my local research libraries accessible to the public seemed to carry the British version. An edition published in London is kept by Harvard’s Widener Library, but seeing it would have required a letter of introduction. The reason that the American version is favored in Boston–whether availability, local pride or some combination–I can only speculate. While the American edition has also been digitized in facsimile by The Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University and made available on the Internet Archive and another version by Google Books, tracking down a physical copy would allow my reading to incorporate the book’s material features that may not be captured well in a scan: since I was interested in how the book may or may not perform its portability, for example, I wanted to get a sense of the book’s size in comparison to its parody. The copy of the book I located in the Boston Public Library, ostensibly because Day’s manual was so ubiquitous, is not part of the BPL’s Rare Book’s collection; instead, it is part of the Main location’s nonfiction section in general circulation. So, rather than requesting the book ahead of time, I was to pick up the book at the Central Delivery desk for use in one of the library’s many reading rooms. Upon my arrival at the BPL, however, I was faced with what one of the course’s two professors would portray as a common frustration of archival researchers: the book was not on the shelf where it was supposed to be. A single trip to the archive unfortunately became two, as I requested a New York published version of Day’s manual for viewing another day, across the Charles River at Harvard’s Schlesinger library.

 The copy I was finally able to get my hands on was an octavo bound in a blue cardboard cover, embossed with laurel pattern surrounding a seal in the center of the cover. The seal, which is likely a gesture to the Great Seal of the United States, consists of a bird whose head is surrounded with stars and clasps arrows in its talons. The book’s conspicuous marketing to Americans extends to its front matter, which incorporates an additional 1843 foreword describing its perceived relevance to its new audience. While the particularities of the American edition may not seem entirely relevant to a parody produced for a different country’s society, this added address “To the American Public” does offer context for the implied audience specified by the original manual’s author. It maintains that while America’s population of “well-bred, graceful” people may mirror Europe’s, the US has a handicap when it comes to polish that is derived from its youth. The edition’s goal is “to materially elevate…the social scale” of the “New World” to match the Old by having its “masses of people, so continually rising…” (a reference to a uniquely American model of class mobility, supposedly) aspire to mirror that society’s successful members (5–6).

The 1836 preface to the manual’s first-edition, retained in the reprinting, explicitly describes this implied audience in its first lines: the manual is “not written for those who do, but for those who do not know what is proper.” These are people “in the country, (especially in the mercantile districts,) where the tone of society is altogether lower…” But that same preface, then, addresses those “select” few who of the “upper ranks of the middle classes in London” who do know, advising them not to “sneer” at the contents that would be familiar–these are people who allegedly would not need the counsel of this book, but that the author maintains might “[e]ven they be mistaken” in their etiquette (7–8). Thus, the American edition’s preface only highlights the paradox in the original manual–one that its parody attacks on its own final page: you can teach a lower class person higher class etiquette, but they are still ontologically lower-class in nineteenth-century British Society. Is that effort a mere attempt to make a whistle from a pig’s tail? And, conversely, if one need only be born amid gentlemen to be able to act like one, why does that person need a manual?

The book, like the parody of its cousin does in jest, offers itself as the guide to help its readers attain the unattainable social mobility, or to learn what they should have known all along. This noble task is indicated by its cover image: the bird sits on a concentric circles, the first set containing the work’s title wrapped around the circle, and the inner set containing the upright Greek byline “agogos.” It is this word for “guide” that the parody plays with for its own remixed pseudonym of “paidagogos,” the household slave of low standing that an Ancient Greek young man would not leave home without. Johannes Christes notes that the figure of the paidagogos is often depicted on vases and terracotta as a “bald foreigner with a shaggy beard and a stick.” The woodcut character depicting the parody’s guide conjures this trope with his walking stick but reverses it with his proper dress, keying the jovial book’s the more cutting class satire. And while the parody’s pseudonym takes the place of a human author, Day’s pseudonym appears on the cover rather than on the title page, since the title page reports the identity of a real-life author and guide. The parody’s lack of corresponding author acts to draw attention to the conspicuousness of authorship in the original. It is worth noting that the London edition was erroneously attributed to a Count Alfred D’Orsay, a matter that Day puts right in the preface to the American edition. He is particularly vocal about his authorship of this book, the dedication page of which celebrates its having “gone through twenty-two editions by the 1844 edition’s printing” and having been “made the standard of modern society in England.”

The book’s conspicuous authorship and popularity are perhaps in tension with its material presentation. For its audience in whatever social class, the manual proclaims its goal to “save the blush upon [even] one cheek” with its hints (8). While the potential embarrassment here refers to that which the uninformed may feel, provided they don’t read on and commit some faux pas, the unassuming form of this “little book” lends the admission additional meaning. If the book were intended to be read in public, as one might conclude it was by its portability, no onlooker would be the wiser. As the reader increasingly became “in the know” about the manners of high society, he (and it is he) would be offered membership to a number of privileged communities: he would identify at once with a larger group of people possessing polished manners, having accumulating their private knowledge, and also privately with the book and its author.1 The seal on the American version does not suggest outwardly that it is an etiquette manual. The digitized London version’s cover is even more non-descript, a blank textured red cardboard that lacks any image or detailing. At the same time, the parody’s cover image acts as a dog whistle to the much smaller pool of others who are further enlightened to the original manuals shortcomings, providing the means for its own version of identification: while the onlooker may assume that the parody’s reader is in need of an etiquette manual, they know better and are above requiring the status that comes with adherence to the unspoken script.

My own reader may be wondering why I haven’t yet described the images in the main text of Hints on Etiquette, considering that previous post argues that images are an integral part of its parody. Well, it turns out that the American edition contains no images at all. The London edition digitized by Google has two images that precede its title page. The first looks to be an engraving of a man in profile–the caption is, unfortunately, unreadable in the scan. There is another engraving that directly follows the first image on the next page, depicting well-dressed folks on the edge of a curb, with horse-drawn carriages in the street behind them. These two images are the only ones to appear in the book. Judging from the pagination, they are on their own leaves, supporting (in the absence of access to the original to examine) that they were engravings added after the initial typesetting process. Unlike Cruikshank’s cuts in More Hints on Etiquette, these can only accompany the text in full and frame its entirety, rather than corresponding to the text of individual sections.

1. ^ I’m adapting Laura Green’s schema for identification in realist fiction, which argues that the genre reproduces itself by “the elaboration of bonds between and among raders, characters, and authors”(1). While she applies it to a genre she labels the “novel of formation” in the Victorian period–a work “whose focus is the mental and moral growth of a character, within a specific social situation, who is positioned as the novel’s central consciousness”–the etiquette manual is a text of formation in the sense that the manual’s reader is the implied protagonist of his own situation (2).

Works Cited

Christes, Johannes. “Paidagogos”, in: Brill’s New Pauly, Antiquity volumes. Ed. Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider. Retrieved 14 December 2016.

Day, Charles William. Hints on Etiquette and the Usages of Society : with a Glance at Bad Habits. New York, A.V. Blake, 1844.

Green, Laura Morgan. Literary Identification from Charlotte Brontë to Tsitsi Dangarembga. Theory and Interpretation of Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2012.


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