The conduct of a well-brought-up girl—that is, her behaviour in various circumstances—will, on the whole, take care of itself. But in this, as in greater matters,
“More harm is wrought through want of thought,
Than e’er through want of heart”;
and the mother will find opportunities to bring before her daughter the necessity for circumspection, reticence, self-control, the duty of consideration for others. Conduct at home is regulated by such plain principles of duty, that I need do no more than say
a word as to the proprieties of life which should be kept up in the home circle as in any other society: behaviour which would be unbecoming in any drawing-room, is unbecoming in that of home.
In the street, the concert-room, the shop, in whatever public places she frequents, the young maiden has a distinct rôle, and must give a little study to her part. It will not do for her to go through the world with open mouth, wide-gazing eyes, head turned to this side and that, heedless tongue, like a child at a fair. But should not the girl behave naturally in public as in private? Alas! the fact is, that none of us, not even the little children, can afford to behave quite naturally, except in so far as use has become second nature to us in the acquired art of conducting ourselves becomingly. Noblesse oblige: maidenly dignity requires the modest eye, the quiet, retiring mien, subdued tones, reticence in regard to emotions of wonder, pleasure, interest, the expression of which might make the young girl a spectacle in the public streets—that is, might cause a passer-by to look at her a second time. For, excepting the children, there is nothing so interesting to be seen in public places as the young maidens approaching womanhood. They cannot fail to attract attention, but they own it to themselves not to lay themselves open to this attention.
One claim, however, the public, in the shape of the casual passer-by, certainly has; he has a right to a gentle, not repellent, if retiring, expression of countenance, and to courtesy, even deference, of tone and manner in any chance encounter; and this, even more if he be in the garb of a working man than if in that of a gentleman. It is worth
while to bear in mind the “Madam, respect the burden,” with which Napoleon Bonaparte moved out of the path of a charcoal-carrier. This propriety of behaviour is mincing affectation if it be no more than a manner put on with the girl’s out-of-door garments: it must be the outcome of what her mother has brought her up to think that she owes to herself and to other people; and from few but a mother can a girl acquire this mark of a gentlewoman.
How to conduct herself in society is a question of enormous interest to the maiden making her début. The subject is so large as to have called forth a literature of its own; but the principle lies in a nutshell. In society, as in the streets and public places, the girl whose mother has caused her to comprehend the respect due to herself, and the respect due to other people, will not make any grave faux pas. She goes into a room persuaded that she has claims upon the respect and consideration of the persons she may meet there; and she moves with ease, talks with quiet confidence, possesses herself in repose of manner. She is persuaded that her rights in this respect are not a matter of successful rivalry, but that each person in the room has equal claims upon her courtesy, and upon that of every other; and that her entertainers for the time being are entitled to peculiar deference. She will preserve self-possession and self-respect in intercourse with those who are socially her superiors, and will behave with deference to her inferiors. So of her intercourse with gentlemen: due self-respect and due respect for them will cause her to conduct herself with the simplicity,
courtesy, and ease which she shows in her intercourse with women. In fact, these two principles will carry her with dignity and grace through all social occasions and in all social relations.
And how is the mother to enhance her daughter’s self-respect? Is she to tell her, never so indirectly, that she is clever, pretty, charming, that no one can fail to admire her? If she do, her daughter may, not impossibly, become a forward young woman. No; she must put forward none but common claims. Because she is a woman, because she is a lady, because she is a guest, a fellow guest, because she is a stranger, or because she is a friend—these, and such as these are incontestable claims upon the courteous attention of every person she meets in society. One quietly confident in such claims as these seldom experiences a rebuff. Whatever she may receive or give, over and above, on the score of personal merit, settles itself; but the thing to be established in a girl’s mind is a due sense of the claims she has and of the claims she must yield.