Old People, Gluten, and Boxing

By Daniel van Voorhis


In a recent interview with Dr. Steve Mueller on C.S. Lewis and his own work on Doctrinal Theology, he mentioned the need for translation instead of innovation in theology. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we do better to update it for the modern world, keeping the core intact, but addressing modern issues as they arise. In the spirit of Dr. Mueller and his work on the translation of theology for a new generation, this week I have gone to a work on my shelf of Gentlemen’s etiquette by the late man about town, Cecil. B. Hartley (of the Hartley’s of Massachusetts).

In his The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness: Being a Complete Guide for a Gentleman’s Conduct in All His Relations Towards Society: Containing Rules for the Etiquette to be Observed in the Street, at Table, in the Ball Room, Evening Party, and Morning Call: with Full Directions for Polite Correspondence, Dress, Conversation, Manly Exercises, and Accomplishments: from the Best French, English, and American Authorities Hartley offers a collection of advice, aphorisms, and general manners that we might scoff at today. Yet, perhaps by translating the rules into modern language and scenarios it might give us a few things to think upon as we work towards leaving our brutish natures for the lodge or poker games.

Son & Elderly Father

“If there are no ladies, you may go to the table with any gentleman who stands near you, or with whom you may be conversing when dinner is announced. If your companion is older than yourself, extend to him the same courtesy, which you would use towards a lady.”

How should you treat a lady at a dinner party, restaurant, in a school cafeteria? We haven’t time for remediation, so you’ll need to look some of these things up. But, remember to extend the same graces and defer to your elders as well. I know, they might not be your first choice for conversations, and they may walk slowly or smell a little, but of all the kinds of people you can’t make fun of, the elderly are number one. Save an untimely death, you will someday be in the same place. Old people have it hard enough, give them your attention, respect, and assistance.

“Many men at their own table have little peculiar notions, which a guest does well to respect. Some will feel hurt, even offended, if you decline a dish which they recommend; while others expect you to eat enormously, as if they feared you did not appreciate their hospitality unless you tasted of every dish upon the table. Try to pay respect to such whims at the table of others, but avoid having any such notions when presiding over your own board.”

Eat what is offered, and keep pace with the host. If you actually have celiac disease, you may pass on the gluten. Otherwise, you’ll be fine. Lactose intolerant? Here you go. In general, unless you have to bring a ephedrine pen with you to the table, you are probably going to be ok. If you have a few real allergies, religious restrictions, etc… let the host know well in advance.


“When taking coffee, never pour it into your saucer, but let it cool in the cup, and drink from that.”

Did you know that the saucer upon which your coffee is served was initially for pouring your coffee onto, and then slurping the coffee from the saucer? I know that’s how it was customary, but it’s not polite. Cut it out. Just because something is the “right way” to do something, but your guests aren’t doing it, follow their lead.  Don’t try and upstage them with your superior manners and worldly ways.

Between the sloven and the coxcomb there is generally a competition, which shall be the more contemptible: the one in the total neglect of every thing which might make his appearance in public supportable, and the other in the cultivation of every superfluous ornament. The former offends by his negligence and dirt, and the latter by his finery and perfumery. Each entertains a supreme contempt for the other, and while both are right in their opinion, both are wrong in their practice. It is not in either extreme that the man of real elegance and refinement will be shown, but in the happy medium which allows taste and judgment to preside over the wardrobe and toilet-table, while it prevents too great an attention to either, and never allows personal appearance to become the leading object of life.

Figure out the happy medium for accouterments or lack thereof. If you have stylish frames, and pocket square and tie bar, go ahead and leave the pocket watch at home. You have a plain navy suit and white shirt? Throw in a little bit of color with a pocket square, tie, or colorful socks. Never look like you are trying to be the most, or least fashionable man in the room. And regarding cologne, if it’s the first or last thing someone notices when he or she runs into you, you’re doing it wrong.


In [boxing], this much-abused accomplishment, there would, from the rough nature of the sport, seem to be small room for civility; yet, in none of the many manly sports is there so great a scope for the exercise of politeness as in this.

I’m not going to translate this into a recognition or endorsement of MMA that is our most recent pay per view fad (Dear fellow columnist Rev. Hiller, can you give us your take on the rise of MMA?). I’m going to translate this one just a bit: sports with clearly defined rules and gentlemanly behavior deserve our respect. MMA is a bloodsport. I am against it. Boxing? We haven’t had much class, or matches of repute or excellence lately. But it is the sweet science. The rules are named after the Marquess of Queensbury! I am still holding out hope. In other sports, there is nothing more civil than the lineup and handshake of players after a hockey game. We need to introduce this to all of our sports.

Oh my, I could keep going, but you can find an ebook of Hartely’s work here. Do you have any sartorial conundrums or social queries? Send me an email at Dan@Virtueinthewasteland.com and you might make the next mailbag.

As Always,

The Man About Town

Written while listening to:

Willie Nelson, “Teatro” (1997)