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Emory Women Writers Resource Project

The Gentlewoman's Companion: or, A Guide to the Female Sex, an electronic edition

by Hannah Woolley [Woolley, Hannah, fl. 1670]

date: 1675
source publisher: Printed by A. Maxwell for Edward Thomas
collection: Early Modern through the 18th Century

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Choice and general Rules for a Gentlewomans observation in Conversation with Company.

Before I shall direct you in a method for civil converse in Society, it will not be improper to give you an account of Civility, and in what | | 44 it consists; next, the definition, circumstances, and several kinds thereof; lastly, the difference of things decent, and undecent according to custom.

Civility, or gentle plausibility, of which I intend to give you information; is in my slender judgment nothing else but the modestly and handsome decorum, to be observed by every one according to his or her condition; attended with a bonne grace, and a neat becoming air. It lyeth not in my power to lay you down rules and precepts for the procuring this charming air, and winning agreeableness. Nature hath reserved this to her self, and will not bestow this inexpressible boon, but to her choicst favourites, and therefore I do not see how Art with her utmost skill can initate it to any purpose.

I confess this very much engageth the Eye, and sometimes doth very subtilly steal into the affections; but we rest too much on a trifle, if we do not endeavour to make our selves more grateful to the eye of Reason. It is not barely the outward ornamental dress, or becoming address which is the true principle and form of a compleat Gentlewoman; there is something, more required, more substantial and solid, which must discover the disposition of her Soul, rather than the gesticulations of her Body. Were it not for this, alas what would become of a great many to whom Nature hath proved an unkind Stepmother, denying them not only convenient use of members, but hath thrown on them deformity of parts; these Corporal incommodities would make them pass for Monsters, did not the excellency | | 45 of their Souls compensat those irreparable defects; their minds being well cultivated and polite, their actions may be as pleasing as those of the handsomest; that Lady that is so unfortunate in the one, and so happy in the other, may say with the Poet:

Si mihidiffilis formam Naturanegavit,
ingenio forme damna rependo mes.

In English thus;

If Nature hath deni'd me what is fit,
The want of Beauty I repay with Wit.

But whether you are afflicted with any natural or accidental deformity, or not you can never be truly accomplisht till you apply your self to the Rule of Civility, which is nothing but a certain Modesty or Pudor required in all your actions: This is the Virtue I shall labour to describe, which description I hope will be sufficient to direct you towards the acquisition of that agreeable deportment, which hath the power to concilate and procure the applause & affection of all sorts of people.

The definition of Civility may be thus understood; it is a Science, for the right understanding our selves, and true instructing how to dispose all our words and actions in their proper and due places.

There are four circumstances which attend Civility; without which, according to its Rules, nothing can be done exactly.

| | 46 First, Ladies, you must consult your years, and so accordingly behave your self to your age and condition.

Next, Preserve all due respect to the quality of the Person you converse withal.

Thirdly, Consider well the time. And, lastly, the place where you are.

These circumstances relating to the knowledg of our selves, and all persons in all conditions, having respect to time and place, are of such great consequence, and necessary import, that if you are deficient in any of these, all your actions (how well soever intended) are the rags of imperfection and deformity. I shall find it somewhat difficult to prescribe the exact rules of Civility, so as to render them compliable with all times, places and persons, by reason of variety of Customs: You may fall accidentally into the society of some exotick and forreigh person of quality; and what may seem civil and decent in you, may seem undecent and ridiculous to another Nation. May, should you observe and practice in your behaviour what hath been applauded for useful & profitable, aud commended to posterity for a Gentlewomans laudable imitation, may decline or grow altogether contemptible in our critical and curious Age. in short, nothing is so intrinsically decorous, but the experience or capricio of a phantastical Lady will alter or explode. By reason of this variety, I think it altogether requisite to treat of it as it stands at this time in reputation among such who call themselves Christians, and accordingly reduce these Notions into practice.

| | 47 This modesty or Civility we speak of take it according to its truest acceptation, is little else but Humility; which being well practis'd by Persons of Quality, is sufficient to stamp an everlasting impress on them of Virtue and Civility. And this Humility consists not only in a moderate and submiss opinion of our selves, but in preferring the satisfaction and commodity of other persons before our own; and that so ingeniously, first, by not provoking or disobliging any one; to be of this disposition, is to be not only esteemed modest, but good-natur'd; the benefit that will redound to you hereby, may incite and encourage you to the practice of this shining-Virtue: for as there is nothing will render any one more insupportable, and lessen estimation among all, than insolence and Vanity, so nothing recommends more strongly to the good opinion and affection of all, than assability and submillion.

This virtue of Humility, above all others, ,hath this great priviledg in extraordinary emnence. I have known some, who having been endued with a more than an odinary measure hereof, have been so far from being accused for their formal indecencies, and other errors, which otherwise might have been objected to their disparagement, that every one endeavoured to excuse them. I have known, on the other side, a proud and an imperious carriage (though the person was adorned with much breeding, and beautified with all the usual ornaments of Art, yet) was beloved by few, ,because displeasing to most and hardly welcome to any. Modesty therefore is the effect of humility, as Civility | | 48 and the gratefulness of our actions is the effect of Modesty. To conclude this Chapter, I shall add the difference or discrimination between things civil and uncivil, convenient and inconvenient, decent and undecent.

For the better understanding hereof, a good natural judgment is required in a Gentlewoman for the perception and discerning the various qualities of things; for want of this she may many times fall into a mistake, and commit gross absurdities.

In the next place, it is necessary that you take an exact observation of what is own'd and establisht for civil or uncivil, in the place wherein you are.

Lastly, You must have a special regard, not to conofound Familiarity with Civility. To persons of Quality in a higher rank than your own, be very attentive to what they say, lest you put them to the trouble of speaking things twice. Interrupt them not whilst they are speaking, but patiently expect till they have done. have a special care how you contradict them; but if finding them in an error, and necessity obligeth you to inform them of the truth, first beg your excuse; but if they persist therein, contend not, but refer your further discourse till another opportunity.

When it comes to your turn to speak to intelligent Ladies, entertain them not with things you understand but imperfectly. If you find the company more facetious and witty then your self, leave the discourse to time, and be silent, contenting your self to be an attentive hearer: | | 49 if you will run the hazard, be smart and pithy, comprehending much in few words; and be not the vain Imitatrix of those who affect to have the whole talk; and when their mouths are once open, can never shut them again. If you are obliged to Complement any great person, do it as briefly as possible; and return your Answers rather in Courtships, than in any Prolix Discourse. Avoid especially that rudeness that is too frequently practised among some, who think they are never heard, unless they come up so close to the face, as to run against your nose; in that cafe you are to pray heartily their breath be sweet, or you faint irrecoverably.

Let not your Visits be too long; and when you think it convenient to retreat, and that Lady you Visited will do you the honour to accompany you out of the Chamber, do not seem to oppose it in the least; that would imply she understood not what she went about; but you are only to testifie by some little formality how underserving you are of that great honour.

When you enter into a Room by way of Visit, avoid the indiscretion and vanity of a bold entrance without Ceremony, but do it quietly and civilly. And when you come near the person you would salute, make your Complement, and render your Devoir modestly, and with some gravity, ,shunning all bawling noise or obstreprousness.

The Ladies which do you the civility of rising when you come in, do not displace, by assuming any of their Chairs; but make choice | | 50 of another feat; observing still, not to sit down till they are most in their places: it being a great indecorum to seat your self in that cafe, whilst any person which gave you that respect continues in a stanidng posture.

It is an intollerable incivillity to enquire what they were talking about; or if you see any two or more Discoursing or Dialoguing together, to interrupt them by hastily asking what they said last. If you are in a mixt company, and you are qualified with those Languages (the knowledg whereof I have advised you to prosecute), speak as little as you can: But be sure you do not hold a Discourse in that Language the rest do not understand.

It is not civil to whisper in Company, and much less to laugh when you have done. The generality of Gentlewomen are suspicious, and somewhat conscious, and are apt to surmize what was never intended, and to apply to themselves what was meant of another; by which means they have conceived so great a displeasure, as never to be eradicated or removed.

I need not put you in mind of those Documents you learned every day when you were Children; that is, when ever you answer negatively or affirmatively, to give always the Titles of Sir, Madam, or my Lord. It is very unhansome, when you contradict a person of Quality, to answer him with, It is not so; if you are necessitated thereunto, do it by Circumlocution, as I beg your Honour's pardon Madam, I beseech your Ladyship to excuse my presumption if I say | | 51 You mistake, & c. If any discourse you Complementally, and run out into some extravagant expressions in commendation of your person; it is a breach of civility if you should say, Pray forbear your jeers, my back is broad enough to bear your flouts; but say, You strangely surprize me, Sir; or, I am confident, Sir, what you now express, is rather to shew your wit and ingenuity, than to declare any thing worth a taking notice of in me. If your love and respect to a Ladies person obligeth you to reprove a fault in her, do not say, Madam, you acted the part of a mad Woman, in doing such a thing; but had such a thing been left undone, you had neither disobliged your self or friends.

Take special care of speaking impoeriously to your Superiors, but rather do it in some indefinite manner; as instead of saying, Come, you must do, go, and say, Come, Madam, if you think it convenient; or if it stand with your Ladiships plessure, we will go to such a place, or do such a thing; in my opinion such a thing is requisit to be done, if it suits; Madam, with your approbation.

As it is a great argument of indiscretion in a Gentlewoman that would be thought prudent and wise, to talk much in praise of her Relations in the presence of Persons of Honour; so it is very unhandsome to seem affected or over-much pleased in hearing others speaking largely in their commendations.

There is a certain ambitious vanity that possesseth the minds of some of the younger sort, who being Nobly extracted, think they add to the honour of their Parents, when having occasion | | 52 to speak of them in honourable company, they never mention them without their titles of Honour (though we ought always to speak of them with respect, as My Lord my Father; My Lady my Mother: In my opinion every jot as ridiculous, as for young Gentlewomen of twelve years old to call them Dad and Mam. Avoid, as a thing very improper, to send Commendations or Messages to any person by your Superior; you may make choice of your equal for that purpose, but chuse rather your inferior.

In relating a story, do not trouble youor Auditors with the valn repetition of, Do you understand me, mark ye, or observe me; and do not accustom your self to the empty tautologies of said he, and said she.

Be backward in discourse of minding any one of any thing which may renew their grief, or perplex and trouble their spirit.

Carelesly to nod, gape, or go away whilst one is speaking, is both an act of incivility and stupidity; to laugh, or express any Tom-boy trick, is as bad or worse; be careful therefore you do not pat or toy with her that sits near you; nor do not that chilish or foolish thing which may provoke laughters lest the company, being disposed for such idle diversious, take distaste at you, and look upon you as the subject of their scorn.

It is very ungentle and indiscreet, to peep over any Ladies shoulder when she is either writing or reading; or to cast your eye seriously on any ones papers lying in your way.

Let it be your principal care, of not intruding upon persons in private discourse, which will discovered | | 53 either by their retirement, their whispering, or by changing their discourse upon your approach. Having observed either of these signs, make it your business to withdraw, lest you incur the censure of indiscretion.

If the person you visit be sick, and in bed, let not your stay be long: for sick persons are unquiet; and being tyed up to Physick, and controul'd by its operations, you may offend them by their being offensive to you: you must remember likewise to speak low; and urge him not to answer as little as you can.

In company it is ill-becomingn to break out into loud and violent laughter, upon any occasion whatever; but worse by far, to laugh always without occasion.

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