No. 259. Thursday, December 27, 1711. Steele.

Quod decet honestum est, et quod honestum est decet.

There are some Things which cannot come under certain Rules, but which one would think could not need them. Of this kind are outward Civilities and Salutations. These one would imagine might be regulated by every Man's Common Sense without the Help of an Instructor; but that which we call Common Sense suffers under that Word; for it sometimes implies no more than that Faculty which is common to all Men, but sometimes signifies right Reason, and what all Men should consent to. In this latter Acceptation of the Phrase, it is no great Wonder People err so much against it, since it is not every one who is possessed of it, and there are fewer, who against common Rules and Fashions, dare obey its Dictates. As to Salutations, which I was about to talk of, I observe as I strole about Town, there are great Enormities committed with regard to this Particular. You shall sometimes see a Man begin the Offer of a Salutation, and observe a forbidding Air, or escaping Eye, in the Person he is going to salute, and stop short in the Pole of his Neck. This in the Person who believed he could do it with a good Grace, and was refused the Opportunity, is justly resented with a Coldness the whole ensuing Season. Your great Beauties, People in much Favour, or by any Means or for any Purpose overflattered, are apt to practise this which one may call the preventing Aspect, and throw their Attention another Way, lest they should confer a Bow or a Curtsie upon a Person who might not appear to deserve that Dignity. Others you shall find so obsequious, and so very courteous, as there is no escaping their Favours of this Kind. Of this Sort may be a Man who is in the fifth or sixth Degree of Favour with a Minister; this good Creature is resolved to shew the World, that great Honours cannot at all change his Manners; he is the same civil Person he ever was; he will venture his Neck to bow out of a Coach in full Speed, at once, to shew he is full of Business, and yet is not so taken up as to forget his old Friend. With a Man, who is not so well formed for Courtship and elegant Behaviour, such a Gentleman as this seldom finds his Account in the Return of his Compliments, but he will still go on, for he is in his own Way, and must not omit; let the Neglect fall on your Side, or where it will, his Business is still to be well-bred to the End. I think I have read, in one of our English Comedies, a Description of a Fellow that affected knowing every Body, and for Want of Judgment in Time and Place, would bow and smile in the Face of a Judge sitting in the Court, would sit in an opposite Gallery and smile in the Ministers Face as he came up into the Pulpit, and nod as if he alluded to some Familiarities between them in another Place. But now I happen to speak of Salutation at Church, I must take notice that several of my Correspondents have importuned me to consider that Subject, and settle the Point of Decorum in that Particular.

I do not pretend to be the best Courtier in the World, but I have often on publick Occasions thought it a very great Absurdity in the Company (during the Royal Presence) to exchange Salutations from all Parts of the Room, when certainly Common Sense should suggest, that all Regards at that Time should be engaged, and cannot be diverted to any other Object, without Disrespect to the Sovereign. But as to the Complaint of my Correspondents, it is not to be imagined what Offence some of them take at the Custom of Saluting in Places of Worship. I have a very angry Letter from a Lady, who tells me [of] one of her Acquaintance, [who,] out of meer Pride and a Pretence to be rude, takes upon her to return no Civilities done to her in Time of Divine Service, and is the most religious Woman for no other Reason but to appear a Woman of the best Quality in the Church. This absurd Custom had better be abolished than retained, if it were but to prevent Evils of no higher a Nature than this is; but I am informed of Objections much more considerable: A Dissenter of Rank and Distinction was lately prevailed upon by a Friend of his to come to one of the greatest Congregations of the Church of England about Town: After the Service was over, he declared he was very well satisfied with the little Ceremony which was used towards God Almighty; but at the same time he feared he should not be able to go through those required towards one another: As to this Point he was in a State of Despair, and feared he was not well-bred enough to be a Convert. There have been many Scandals of this Kind given to our Protestant Dissenters from the outward Pomp and Respect we take to our selves in our Religious Assemblies. A Quaker who came one Day into a Church, fixed his Eyes upon an old Lady with a Carpet larger than that from the Pulpit before her, expecting when she would hold forth. An Anabaptist who designs to come over himself, and all his Family, within few Months, is sensible they want Breeding enough for our Congregations, and has sent his two [eldest [1]] Daughters to learn to dance, that they may not misbehave themselves at Church: It is worth considering whether, in regard to awkward People with scrupulous Consciences, a good Christian of the best Air in the World ought not rather to deny herself the Opportunity of shewing so many Graces, than keep a bashful Proselyte without the Pale of the Church.

[Footnote 1: [elder]]

Translation of motto:
'What is becoming is honourable, and what is honourable is becoming.'