Moral lessons for children from The First Principles of Polite Behaviour

Description

The First Principles of Polite Behaviour is an illustrated chapbook for children, dating from around 1825. It begins with a few paragraphs about the importance of politeness in society. The rest of the book consists of stories about young children who behave politely or impolitely, and the author praises and condemns each child accordingly. The book offers guidance on such topics as helping the aged, appropriate behaviour at the dinner table and the importance of greeting adults with respect.

The first chapter of this chapbook states that ‘The habit of a polished address ought to be formed in early youth’. This reflects the 18th century belief that the behaviour an individual learned as a child would influence their behaviour as an adult. As a result, many conduct books of the 18th and early 19th centuries emphasised a parent’s duty to instil morals and etiquette in their children at an early age. The belief that an individual’s character was formed in early childhood was also important to the Romantic poets, expressed by Wordsworth as ‘The Child is father of the Man’.

Parental instruction in Jane Austen

Parents in Jane Austen’s novels are frequently absent or inadequate. Sometimes, this is the reason for characters’ mistakes. In Persuasion Anne Elliot does not marry Captain Wentworth when she is young because she takes the advice of Lady Russell, who has become her closest friend since her mother died; Lydia Bennet’s disgrace in Pride and Prejudice is attributable in part to her parents’ failure to teach her self-discipline.

One of the stories in this chapbook is about how ‘vulgar’ it is to yawn in company, because ‘it is informing others that we are tired of their society’. In Pride and Prejudice, Miss Bingley yawns twice and Lady Lucas once. Both women are rich and of high status, but their yawning suggests that they are not particularly polite. In both cases, yawning signals these women’s inability to take an interest in anything outside themselves. When Lydia Bennet leaves the ball at Netherfield, Austen describes her as ‘too much fatigued to utter more than the occasional exclamation of “Lord, how tired I am!" accompanied by a violent yawn’.

Full title:
The First Principles of Polite Behaviour; or Practical Lessons and Examples for the Improvement of Youth
Published:
1825, Edinburgh
Format:
Book / Chapbook / Children's book
Creator:
Unknown
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
RB.23.a.32092

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Jane Austen and social judgement

Article by:
Kathryn Sutherland
Theme:
The novel 1780–1832

Jane Austen’s characters are continually watching, judging and gossiping about others and, in turn, are watched, judged and gossiped about. Professor Kathryn Sutherland explores the ways in which behaviour and etiquette are closely monitored in the novels, and how characters must learn to be skilful readers of those around them.

Jane Austen’s juvenilia

Article by:
Kathryn Sutherland
Themes:
The novel 1780–1832, Childhood and children's literature

Professor Kathryn Sutherland explores how Jane Austen’s education and upbringing shaped her childhood writing, and considers the relationship between these early works and her adult novels.

Moral and instructive children’s literature

Article by:
M O Grenby
Theme:
Childhood and children's literature

Professor M O Grenby looks at the ways in which children’s literature of the 18th and 19th centuries sought to improve its young readers, combining social and moral instruction with entertainment.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Pride and Prejudice

Created by: Jane Austen

During 1796–7 young Jane Austen (1775–1817) wrote First Impressions. Her early effort was rejected, but ...