… at the turn of the century before last. Published by Frederick Warne & Co., (also publishers of Beatrix Potter’s work) in 1870 and reprinted many times since, Modern Etiquette is invaluable for a glimpse of the codes of behaviour people were advised to follow in the late 19th-century. In the Introduction it states:
Society has its grammar as language has; and the rules of that grammar must be learnt, either orally or from reading. It is to teach these rules to all classes that we present this book to the public.
It describes a society in which ‘distinctions of rank are becoming constantly less marked’. This, from page 7, advises on suitable subjects for conversation when making morning calls (which, naturally, take place between 3 and 5 pm …):
Take pains to acquire the habit of small talk for such occasions, which must not, however, degenerate into gossip; and never let the conversation sink into an awkward silence. Inquiries as to the well-being of your visitor’s family or relatives; the public topics of the day; even the weather will always furnish matter for chit-chat without discussing the characters of other people. Nothing is more under-bred than scandal.
The weather … still a subject when all else fails (or even if it doesn’t).
And the thing I admire, would love to have dreamed up myself, this month is Peace Direct. It’s based on the simple idea (aren’t the simple ones always the best?) that local people know their communities and so are the ones best able to promote peace within them:
Peace Direct finds local peacebuilders in conflict areas, and funds and promotes their work.
Support their work if you possibly can.