37 Conversation Rules for Gentlemen (1875)

The Art of Manliness has reprinted "37 Conversation Rules for Gentlemen" from a 1875 book entitled, A Gentleman’s Guide to Etiquette by Cecil B. Hartley. The rules are still valid!

33. When asking questions about persons who are not known to you, in a drawing-room, avoid using adjectives; or you may enquire of a mother, “Who is that awkward, ugly girl?” and be answered, “Sir, that is my daughter.”

37 Conversation Rules for Gentlemen


  1. Grammar Nazi’s be aware of rule 21. ” Never notice it if others make mistakes in language. To notice by
    word or look such errors in those around you is excessively ill-bred.”

  2. Gender assumptions aside, it is not a bad set of rules to speak by.  I’ve broken most of the rules at one point or another and felt stupid afterwards.  

    1. Perhaps it should be retitled 37 Vintage Conversation Rules for Ladies & Gentleman…or perhaps 37 Timeless Rules for How Not to be an Ass.

      1. It’s a website about men’s issues quoting part of a book written for gentlemen, so it’s probably fair enough to keep the gendered language, given the intended audience. I doubt they’re suggesting that the rules should be that different for the general population.

  3. “27. When thrown into the society of literary people, do not question them about their works. To speak in terms of admiration of any work to the author is in bad taste; but you may give pleasure, if, by a quotation from their writings, or a happy reference to them, you prove that you have read and appreciated them.”

    Any thoughts about this idea? It’s new to me. What’s the difference between a happy reference and a term of admiration? And, although I usually avoid asking authors (or songwriters) about the meaning of their work unless they’re a close friend, are even general questions (e.g., where a song was recorded, whether they’d worked with the fiddler before, etc.) really considered impolite?

    1. This one was weird to me, too. I love it when people want to talk to me about my books!

      1.  So you’re a writer huh?  You must make the big bucks huh?  What’s it like not having to work?  Etc. etc.

      2. I think it’s the “society of” part which gives problems, a little like walking up to three singers and saying to one of them “you are excellent, the best ever” . This causes awkwardnes, especially if you then turn to the others and say “Oh, and I of course love your work too”.

        I’ve seen this after many gigs whether musicians, poets, dancers. Quite painful.

        However a reference to a line in a song is more of a subtle compliment.

    2.  Show you appreciated their work rather then badgering them about it.  A small referrence can do more to show you understood and appreciated a work then any amount of shallow parroting and praising.

      It doesn’t talk at all about engaging in an earnest discussion about it, but the rest of them seem to imply you should test the waters to see how receptive they to a discussion, and if they want to engage in the conversation, then do so.

      At least that’s what I took from it.

      1. Yes, my guess would be that it is meant in the same way as not badgering professinals to do their profession at parties (asking doctors to look at your rash). But dropping references sounds at least to me as showing off, rather than showing your appreciation. A simple “I absolutely loved your book” would be more to the point… although I guess the risk would be that the author makes a bee-line for the exit as it sounds like it will be followed by a lot of questions about the book.

        1. badgering professionals to do their profession at parties

          In my case, that would be pretty funny.

          1. “Mr. Antinous, so glad you could come. My daughter tells me that you moderate commentary for a living. If you would please, could you demonstrate your moderative qualities on the gentleman over there who won’t shut up about Mr. Fraunfelder’s books.”

  4. When hearing the number 37, your mind may wander to thoughts of a particular writer of moving pictures. Consider the company you are in before quoting said writer. For example, you may wish to avoid saying “Hey, try not to suck any dick on the way through the parking lot!”

  5. I agree that these rules are generally usefully for any person (as someone above mentioned).  The book also how etiquette rules for all sorts of things … looks like an interesting read.

    [Hopefully the rest of my comment is not too off-topic.]  The name of the website, however, made me wonder exactly what kind of articles are contained on this site.  I found this in their about page:  “The feminism movement did some great things, but it also made men confused about their role and no longer proud of the virtues of manliness. This, coupled with the fact that many men were raised without
    the influence of a good father, has left a generation adrift as to what it means to be an honorable, well-rounded man.”  I am not really a fan of the first sentence, but I also spent yesterday arguing with someone who stated that “a lot” of feminists want to “gain the upper hand on men” and that women naturally want to give up their careers to care for children … so my brain is not exactly calm on this subject at the moment.

    On the other hand, their FAQ links to a post which states that “manhood is the opposite of childhood” (instead of being the opposite of womanhood).   It lists various virtues and states that “When a woman lives the virtues, that is womanliness; when a man lives the virtues, that is manliness.”  I think it is an interesting way to look at things, but could still be frustrating for people who do not identify with one gender.

    1.  Fair enough.  There is still a strong tendency in many men to equate feminism with some loss of manhood – which makes no damn sense from the get-go.  Still others will characterize feminism as somehow valuing women more than men – again making no sense.  We men are not the issue when it comes to feminism and what women are doing (patriarchy is an issue, but it ain’t the same).

      That said, there are qualities of Victorian ‘masculinity’ which were valuable .  They were not lost to or because of feminism (excepting perhaps some qualities of ‘men’ which would be better described as those of an ‘asshole’), but some ideas of how a decent man comports himself were lost over the last century.  Perhaps for the better, but it sometimes feels like there has been something lost.

      Of course, I wouldn’t want to live in Victorian times for any money (not without a few good vaccines and a large supply of antibiotics in my travelling trunk.

      1. I don’t think he’s saying that it’s feminism’s fault that this happened; we’ve seen a huge shift in the last century in the way that family, work and other areas function. As a cultural change, I don’t think it’s even possible that nothing positive has been lost, or that well meaning people aren’t finding it hard to catch up. (“A generation adrift” sounds a bit hyperbolic though). The relationship between men and women has been one of the biggest changes, so it’s not surprising if some men have felt that their earlier roles of protecting and providing for women have been made redundant when women are quite able to look after themselves.

        This seems to be almost as much a technological change as anything else, as now it’s much more possible for families to be smaller and require less maintenance, allowing both partners to be free to work rather than requiring full time housework and childcare. It’s a positive and important change overall, but men aren’t necessarily assholes if they are struggling to find their place.

        1. Yes, I agree that the bit about how feminism has “confused” men can be read positively, and not as a slam against equal rights and opportunities for women.

          When I hear people question or complain about the goals of feminists, I tell them it’s great for both women and men. It can especially help men find what they lost touch with in themselves when they were trained to act like men. 

          1. I think one of the things people react negatively to is their idea that feminism is about changing the whole fabric of society, and that men aren’t invited to contribute to the discussion. The term feminism is also used very loosely at times (both by people claiming to be part of it and by people opposing it),  so it’s important to be clear on what exactly people have against it.

            From a male perspective, I would say that it is important to have involvement by both genders in the discussion and the process of change, as there needs to be consensus on the way forward and a corresponding change in male culture. Ultimately, progress has to involve creating a new culture, rather than just limiting patriarchy (which hurts both genders).

          2. Agreed on all counts, though I would also stress the need for and value of women getting together without men at times, and for men who aspire to be allies to respect their exclusion from such gatherings.

  6. I was skeptical when I clicked, but they were all really good.

    6. Never, unless you are requested to do so, speak of your own business or profession in society; to confine your conversation entirely to the subject or pursuit which is your own specialty is low-bred and vulgar. Make the subject for conversation suit the company in which you are placed. Joyous, light conversation will be at times as much out of place as a sermon would be at a dancing party. Let your conversation be grave or gay as suits the time or place.

    Great one. Nothing worse than listening to people sizing each other up by trying to drag their profession into conversations. Conversely there should be rule against immediately asking somebody “what they do” before you’ve even talked about anything else.

    1. Rumor has it that asking new acquaintances what they do for a living is peculiarly American. But maybe that isn’t true anymore. It reminds me of a scene from Lexx when Kai meets Lyekka and asks, “And what kind of a thing are you?”

      1.  I am not sure I have ever known someone else to watch Lexx.  Most people I lend it too can’t get past the first couple of episodes.

      2. It’s been fairly common here in Australia for years, especially among the smart professional set. ‘What do you do?’ is a tiresome and unimaginative conversation starter which I always try to deflect (despite having a job title that sounds quite impressive in such middle-class pissing contests). We all do lots of different things, and some of us like to think of people as much more than the work they do to pay the bills.

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