An 1897 woman's “ideal of manhood”

Excerpts from Manners for men, by Mrs Humphry, 1897

Like every other woman, I have my ideal of manhood. The difficulty is to describe it. First of all, he must be a gentleman; but that means so much that it, in its turn, requires explanation. Gentleness and moral strength combined must be the salient characteristics of the gentleman, together with that polish that is never acquired but in one way: constant association with those so happily placed that they have enjoyed the influences of education and refinement all through their lives. He must be thoughtful for others, kind to women and children and all helpless things, tender-hearted to the old and the poor and the unhappy, but never foolishly weak… his brain must be as fine as his heart, in fact. There are few such men; but they do exist. I know one or two. Reliable as rocks, judicious in every action, dependable in trifles as well as the large affairs of life, full of mercy and kindness to others, affectionate and well-loved in their homes, their lives are pure and kindly.

It was once said by a clever man that no one could be a gentleman all round who had not knocked about the world and associated with all sorts and conditions of men, high and low, rich and poor, good and bad. Experiences like these are the processes for refining gold. The man who emerges unharmed from the fire of poverty and its associations, and who retains his independent manliness in relations with those high-placed, must have within him a fibre of strength that is the true essence of manliness. So many, alas, go down… And so many become obsequious and subservient, false to themselves, in dealings with those above them.

Well, my ideal does neither. He is always true to himself, and “cannot then be false to any man.” And he must have a sense of humour too, otherwise he would be far from perfect. How life is brightened by a sense of fun! Think of what breakfast, lunch, and dinner would be if all were to be as solemn and as serious as some folk would have it!

If good manners are not practised at home, but are allowed to lie by until occasion calls upon their wearer to assume them, they are sure to be a bad fit when donned. … Carelessness in dress and personal appearance amount to bad manners. …

It is not only young men whose standard of behaviour in the home is a low one. Masters of the house… who are terribly put out if anyone fails in duty to them, are sometimes conspicuously ill-bred in everyday matters. They are late for every meal, to the discomfort of other members of the family and the great inconvenience of the servants. Polite to the world outside, they are brusque and disagreeable in their manner at home: rough to the servants, rude to their wives, and irritable with their children. Sometimes a good heart and considerable family affection are hidden away behind all this, but the families of such men would be very glad to compound for a little less … hidden goodness and rather more gentleness and outward polish…

Were I asked to give a recipe for the formation of a good manner I should recommend an equal measure of self-confidence and humility as the first essential, then a considerable desire to please, tempered by self-respect which preserves from officiousness and that annoying air of “ingratiating” themselves that some men assume in society. There must be perfect self-possession, though in the very young this is scarcely expected, a little becoming shyness sitting very well upon them…

When self-possession has been acquired it is well to add on to it the saving grace of gentleness. This quality is much misunderstood by men. In women they adore it; in themselves and other men they undervalue it. But women love gentleness in men. It is a most telling piece of the necessary equipment for society…

Carlyle called the members of upper class society “amiable stoics” in reference to the equable serenity of countenance and calm self-possession of manner with which they accept those occasionally trying conditions of social life which necessitate self-denial in matters great and small… The man of perfect manners is he who is calmly courteous in all circumstances, as attentive outwardly to the plain and the elderly as he is to the young and the pretty.


love it

I really enjoy this sort of thing. I am a closet historical romance reader- especially when it's from the Regency period. I've always been inclined to recreate the old days, when manners and elegance (at least for some) were at the forefront. We don't often hear about women being happy in the distant past- only about how they were confined, mistreated, and otherwise victimized. So often we only hear of them as victims of men and society. Luckily, I have not only photographs, but also written accounts of some of my Victorian foremothers and forefathers. My great-great grandmother was, by all accounts, nobody's victim and considered an authority figure in the family, and seemed quite happy. I love the photo we have of her in her lovely day gown with her fan and flowery hat. She's obviously cinched up tight in a corset, which may seem like a cruel social prescription for those days- but no crueler than putting ourselves under the knife for bigger tits and reduction of our little pot bellies- not to mention carving up our faces or applying chemicals to maintain youth. She had 6 children, spoke 3 languages, and ran my great-great grandfather's plantation in Honduras right alongside him. Obviously, I could never have met her, but she's one of my heroines!

Bonnie Lass

Those were the days...

Ahhh, those were the days... when men were men and women were feminine. When men had standards to live up to... and women to place on pedastals...

Nowadays, thanks to the modern 'feminazi' movement, women are 'just one of the boys.' No pedastals for these females! I can't count the number of times I've been cursed for holding the door for what I mistakenly thought was a 'lady.'

This 'ideal of manhood' is as valid today as it was in 1897. In fact, it reads exactly like the medieval codes of chivalry for knights. What has changed is the attitude of the distaff. (indeed, I doubt that many even know the derivation and meaning of 'distaff') The distaff want 'equality'. They want to be treated like men...

Yet when they are treated like men, they file sexual harassment complaints.

One 'ideal' is missing in this 1897 list: a man is still a warrior. He is willing to fight and die to protect those he loves. In my case, I will die to protect my wife, children, and now the grandchildren.

Note I said 'wife.' I would not die to protect some shack-up /live-in honey. (okay, maybe I would if I were still single...maybe.) Women should have standards too, like not 'putting out' without a marriage license.

Yikes! Must have hit one of my 'hot buttons.' I'll quit now.

Manners for Men

Very interesting article, but nothing in it about spanking as far as I could see, making me again wonder how prevelent it really was in the past. As for the man who comments that women 'should have standards like not 'putting out' without a marriage licence", is he serious? Who on earth would want to marry a man with such an unpleasant, hypocritical attitude towards women? The sort of man who sees virginity as something to be traded for a wedding ring? Yuck! Who wants to be placed on a pedestal anyway? Not me, I get vertigo!

I want the pedestal… and the marriage license!

Dear Louise. You asked “Who on earth would want to marry a man with such an unpleasant, hypocritical attitude towards women? The sort of man who sees virginity as something to be traded for a wedding ring?”

Well, let me tell you who would: ME!

First of all, who are you to judge that this man's attitude are unpleasant and hypocritical? I absolutely didn’t find his words to be anything but pleasant… and his integrity and honesty touching as well as refreshing.

He didn’t say he saw virginity as something to be traded for a wedding ring, did he? What I read in his post was a personal opinion about “sex before marriage” as a bad thing for a woman—you can disagree with that opinion off course, but that does not give you the right to twist his words and disrespect his right to speak his mind, does it?

“Who wants to be placed on a pedestal anyway?”… again—I do!
You can’t generalize your opinion like this. It’s the same as saying: “I don’t like red wine, so nobody likes red wine… unless they are misfits or unpleasant, hypocritical beings who shouldn’t be taken too seriously”.

There are many women (me included) that would love for our men to place us on that long forgotten and tragically misunderstood pedestal. Or maybe those of us who wants this, and those of us who do see virginity as something to treasure, just suffers the bad luck of being born about 150 years too late…


"Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused."

To Cody

Well, I find the idea that a woman who is not a virgin is unworthy of love and protection extremely unpleasant. I would not have any desire to be with a man who thought of women in those terms, and that is the opinion I expressed. And I do find the double sexual standard hypocritical, men who want women to be virgins at marriage seldom apply the same standard to themselves. and I have no desire whatsoever to be on a pedestal, I want a man who treats me as a human being, not a goddess. Men like that give me the creeps.

And I do not consider that liking red wine and insisting that women be virgins on marriage are at all equivalent to each other.

As for who I am to express an opinion, well, I've been expressing opinions on this site for over two years now, and unless the boss decides to suppress them I shall continue to do so. You may not like my opinions, but I'm afraid that's not going to stop me making them.