How to Behave
Manners during the Regency and Napoleonic periods are not what they are now. Indeed, most of us today would likely be considered vulgar and licentious in comparison.
For example, unmarried men and women ought best not be caught alone together. And only those friends on the most intimate of terms would use each other’s Christian (as they were known) or first names.
Every one had their place in Regency. Whether you be the mother looking to marry off her daughters to wealthy gentlemen. Or the young militia recruit seeking fame and fortune, while still distracted by pretty girls. All persons were subject to social norms and rules of etiquette, varying to one’s station in life.
Below are some suggested mannerisms, taken from period-appropriate sources, best adopted if time travel is to be achieved. Links are provided, for those serious about their temporal endeavours.
“Well-bred people arrive as nearly at the appointed dinner hour as they can. It is a very vulgar assumption of importance purposely to arrive half and hour behind time; besides the folly of allowing eight or ten hungry people such a tempting opportunity of discussing your foibles”
“There is nothing more plebeian than thin bread at dinner.”
“Smoking in the streets, or in a theatre, is only practised by shop-boys, pseudo-fashionables – and the “swell mob.“
“Even slight inaccuracy in statement of facts or opinions should rarely be remarked on in conversation.”
“Dancing, as an elegant accomplishment, is held in peculiar esteem in the circles of fashion.”
“The master of the ceremonies must take care that every lady dances and press into service for that purpose these young gentlemen who are hanging round the room like fossils. If desired by him to dance with a particular lady you should refuse on no account.”
“A lady must be properly introduced to a man before they can dance together.”
“As absolutely forming a portion of good manners, every gentleman should dance tolerably; but it should not be forgotten by young people on their entrance into life, that dancing in fashionable circles and school assemblies, are two distinct things.”
“You will not, if you are wise, stand up in a quadrille without knowing something of the figure; and if you are master of a few of the steps, so much the better. But dance quietly; do not kick and caper about, nor sway your body to and fro; dance only from the hips downwards; and lead the lady as lightly as you would tread a measure with a spirit of gossamer.”
“Do not pride yourself on doing “steps neatly,” unless you are ambitious of being taken for a dancing-master; between whose motions and those of a gentleman there is a great difference.”
“A lady must not decline to dance with a gentleman if she wishes to dance again later in the evening.”
“To be seen dancing with the same person more than twice is considered quite scandalous indeed. You might find yourself engaged in the minds of polite society before the night is through.”
“Do not wear black or coloured gloves, lest your partner look sulky; even should you be in mourning, wear white gloves, not black. People in DEEP mourning have no business in a ball-room at all.”
“The English country-dance, as its very name implies, consists of simplicity and cheerfulness; hence the female who engages in it, must aim at nothing more, in treading its easy mazes, then executing a few simple steps with unaffected elegance.”
“A thorough knowledge of history, the globes, the French, and arithmetic, is essential; – then dancing, singing, playing on the harp or piano-forte, drawing, painting &c. may be acquired with the utmost propriety, as accomplishments that are naturally looked for as necessarily forming a part of a young lady’s acquirements.”
“At no time ought she to volunteer shaking hands with a male acquaintance, who holds not any particular bond of esteem with regard to herself or family. A touch, a pressure of the hands are the only external signs a woman can give of entertaining a particular regard for certain individuals…”
“Long is the reign of this commanding epoch of a woman’s age; for from thirty to fifty she may most respectably main her station on this throne of matron excellence.”
“Ladies of good taste seldom wear jewellery in the morning; and when they do, confine themsleves to trinkets of gold, or those in which opaque stones only are introduced. Ornaments with brilliant stones are unsuited for a morning costume.”
“A diversity of colours bespeaks vulgarity of taste, and a mind without innate elegance or acquired culture.”
“Men should always precede a woman up the stairs, and follow behind her going down.”
“A man must sit properly. Stretching out the legs is a sign of conceit and pride, and bending them makes you seem weak.”
“In France, Italy, Germany and Russia, gentlemen invariably take off their hats to every lady in whose society they had ever previously been, even though no introduction had taken place; but they do not consider themselves authorised to address a lady in conversation to whom they have not been presented. This is surely the usage most consistent with true politeness towards women.”
“Nothing indicates a well-bred man more than a proper mode of eating his dinner. A man may pass muster by dressing well, and may sustain himself tolerably in coversation; but if he be not perfectly “au fait,” dinner will betray him“
“Never keep your hat on when handing a lady to her box or to her carriage.”
“When attending gatherings as a family, never speak amongst your own group whilst at the party.”