Monday, January 9, 2012

George Washington's Resolutions

When I think of resolutions my English major mind turns to two examples from American literature, George Washington's 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation and Ben Franklin's List of Virtues to Live By. If you're interested in Washington's 110 Rules (and who wouldn't be?) you can read the whole list at I’ll deal with Franklin’s in another post. By the time I get to my own resolutions the year will be over.

 By age sixteen, Washington had copied out by hand, 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. They are based on a set of rules composed by French Jesuits in 1595. Presumably they were copied out as part of an exercise in penmanship assigned by young Washington's schoolmaster. The first English translation of the French rules appeared in 1640. I picked out a few that interested me to publish here:

#2 When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usually Discovered. I'm sure my daughter Amy, the fourth grade teacher, has a more modern and direct way to say this to her students. I'll check and get back to you on how she handles this.

#6: Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop. The best compliment I ever got was from a teaching colleague. One day she said, "I've noticed that whenever someone talks to you, you stop and listen." I don't always do that but I thought that an awfully nice thing to say about a behavior I wasn't aware of. I suppose I must think it polite.

# 13: Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks &c in the Sight of Others, if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexterously upon it if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own Cloths return Thanks to him who puts it off. Who wants to live in the eighteenth century? Raise your hand! Anyone? Anyone?

 #24 Do not laugh too loud or too much at any Public Spectacle. So let me get this straight. Some guy slips on a banana peel on the sidewalk in front of me and I'm not supposed to "laugh too loud or too much?" I don't think so...

#37  In speaking to men of Quality do not lean nor Look them full in the Face, nor approach too near them at lest Keep a full Pace from them. you know, all I have to do is make a quick visit to the Quality Store and I won't have this pesky problem of my social inferiors getting in my face or standing too close. I hate it when that happens...

#38  In visiting the Sick, do not Presently play the Physician if you be not Knowing therein. You know, the AMA doesn't dig that, either...

#53: Run not in the Streets, neither go too slowly nor with Mouth open go not Shaking your Arms kick not the earth with R feet, go not upon the Toes, nor in a Dancing fashion. You know, he has described exactly how I like to roll, and I’ll be darned if I’m going to let Geo. Washington spoil my fun!

#56: Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for 'is better to be alone than in bad Company. Now this is some good advice. (Just expand it to “Men and Women” and you’ll have it.) Kids, are you listening?

#57: In walking up and Down in a House, only with One in Company if he be Greater than yourself, at the first give him the Right hand and Stop not till he does and be not the first that turns, and when you do turn let it be with your face towards him, if he be a Man of Great Quality, walk not with him Cheek by Joul but Somewhat behind him; but yet in Such a Manner that he may easily Speak to you. And I thought social conventions are complicated these days!

#95:  Put not your meat to your Mouth with your Knife in your hand neither Spit forth the Stones of any fruit Pie upon a Dish nor Cast anything under the table. OK, I’ll try to do better.

#100: Cleanse not your teeth with the table cloth napkin, fork, or knife; but if others do it, let it be done without a peep to them. You heard the man: no peeping at the table. 

#110: Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience. You know,G.W. knew what he was talking about.

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