Monday, April 16, 2007
Saw a great post about another man of character - George Washington and his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. This reminded me of Washington's School Exercises: "Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation". These maxims originated in the late sixteenth century in France and were popularly circulated during Washington's time. Washington wrote out a copy of the 110 Rules in his school book when he was about sixteen-years old and I have heard Orrin Woodward refer to them occasionally. As I am exploring the subject of character, I thought it appropriate to capture these maxims again, both for my own self-improvement and for the edification of others who may be interested. Here goes. This exercise, now regarded as a formative influence in the development of Washington's character, included guidelines for behavior in pleasant company, appropriate actions in formal situations, and general courtesies, such as: "Superfluous Complements and all Affectation of Ceremonie are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be Neglected" (#25); "Think before you Speak" (#73); and "Rince not your Mouth in the Presence of Others" (#101). Among the hundreds of volumes of Washington Manuscripts in the Library of Congress, two contain the school exercises of George Washington, written before he had reached the age of sixteen years. The one devoted to mathematics exhibits a wide range of subjects, combined with sureness and accuracy in working, and clearness and neatness of presentation. Few graduates of colleges to-day, unless they specialize in mathematics, become so well trained in that subject. The problems in surveying show that at sixteen Washington was fitted to earn his living in the field. The second book begins with legal forms, such as every planter should know: bills of sale and exchange, contracts, conveyances, deeds, leases, and even wills. The middle portion contains a Christmas poem, and also one entitled "True Happiness," which strongly suggest that the boyish love poems attributed to his pen were taken from some book, now unknown. Probably they expressed his feelings at the moment, and he copied them. The remaining ten pages of the second book are occupied by one hundred and ten "Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation," about which much has been written and little is known. These maxims were so fully exemplified in George Washington's life that biographers have regarded them as formative influences in the development of his character. During the days before mere hero worship had given place to understanding and comprehension of the fineness of Washington's character, of his powerful influence among men, and of the epoch-making nature of the issues he so largely shaped, it was assumed that Washington himself composed the maxims, or at least that he compiled them. It is satisfying to find that his consideration for others, his respect for and deference to those deserving such treatment, his care of his own body and tongue, and even his reverence for his Maker, all were inculcated in him early on, by precepts which were the common practice in decent society the world over. These very maxims had been in use in France for a century and a half, and in England for a century, before they were set as a task for the schoolboy Washington. Oh that we could rekindle a passion to once again consider these precepts "common practice in decent society"! I happen to believe that is in large measure what Orrin Woodward is doing with his Team - restoring character to society and I say: Bravo! More on the "Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation" in my next post.
Posted by Benjamin at 10:50 AM