Daily Reading for April 30 • Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, Editor and Prophetic Witness, 1879
Good society, in all Christian countries, is the meeting on a footing of equality, and for the purpose of mutual entertainment, of men, or women, or men and women together, of good character, good education, and good breeding. But what is the real spirit of the observances which this society requires of its frequenters for the preservation of harmony, and the easy intercourse of all of them? Certainly, one may have a spotless reputation, a good education, and good breeding, without being either good in reality, or a Christian. . . .
I am, of course, quite aware that good society will never make you a good Christian. You may be charming in a party, and every one may pronounce you a perfect and agreeable gentleman; but you may go home, and get privately intoxicated, or ill-treat your wife, or be unkind to your children. Or, if you be a lady, you may be smiling and attractive abroad, but fretful, peevish, or petulant in your home. . . .The difference between the laws of God and the laws of men is, that the former address the heart from which the acts proceed; the latter, which can only judge from what they see, determine the acts without regard to the heart. . . .
The great law which distinguishes Christianity from every other creed, that of brotherly-love and self-denial, is essentially the law which we find at the basis of all social observances. The first maxim of politeness is to be agreeable to everybody, even at the expense of one’s own comfort. Meekness is the most beautiful virtue of the Christian; modesty the most commendable in well-bred people. Peace is the object of Christian laws; harmony, that of social observances. Self-denial is the exercise of the Christian; forgetfulness of self, that of the well-bred. Trust in one another unites Christian communities; confidence in the good intentions of our neighbors is that which makes society possible. . . . The one demands an upright life, the other requires the appearance of it. The one bids us make the most of God’s gifts, and improve our talents; the other will not admit us till we have done so by education. . . . The more religious a man is, the more polite he will spontaneously become, and that, too, in every rank of life; for true religion teaches him to forget himself, to love his neighbor, and to be kindly even to his enemy, and the appearance of so being and doing is what society demands as good manners.
From Manners: Happy Homes and Good Society All the Year Round by Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (Boston: J. E. Tilton and Co., 1868).