George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour
George Washington’sRules of Civility & Decent Behaviour
Worshipful Bro. WashingtonWith so much disharmony and acrimony in theworld, or so it seems some days, I was remindedof a small book that I own of Worshipful BrotherGeorge Washingtons writings that was presentedto me at my E.A. initiation into Freemasonry.I was then reminded of a time of civil customswhich seem long gone now. Whereas it is mostuncommon now to speak of "superior" men, orto reference "one of greater quality thanyourself", it does serve to remind us that we couldall use a little humility in our day-to-day lives.Why not err on the side of being old-fashionedevery now and then, and allow that one of yourfriends (or a stranger) is "of greater quality" andgrant him the right to pass in front of you--whatsthe hurry? Wayne Chen, Master Mason
IntroductionGeorge Washington exhibited notable manners throughout his life. Diligence in social matter was common practice in decent society the world over. At the age of 14, George Washington wrote down 110 rules under the title "Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation." These rules were drawn from an English translation of a French book of maxims and were intended to polish manners, keep alive the best affections of the heart, impress the obligations of moral virtues, teach how to treat others in social relations, and above all, inculcate the practice of self-‐control.
Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to thosethat are present.When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body, not usuallydiscovered.Show nothing to your friend that may affright him.In the presence of others sing not to yourself with a humming noise, nor drumwith your ﬁngers or feet.If you cough, sneeze, sigh, or yawn, do it not loud but privately; and speak notin your yawning, but put your handkerchief or hand before your face and turnaside.Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when youshould hold your peace, walk not on when others stop.
Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out your chamber halfdressed.At play and at ﬁre it is good manners to give place to the last comer, and affectnot to speak louder than ordinary.Spit not in the ﬁre, not stoop low before it. Neither put your hands into theﬂames to warm them, nor set your feet upon the ﬁre, especially if there be meatbefore it.When you sit down, keep your feet ﬁrm and even, without putting one on theother or crossing them.Shift not yourself in the sight of others nor gnaw your nails.Shake not the head, feet or legs; roll not the eyes; lift not one eyebrow higherthan the other; wry not the mouth; and bedew no mans face with your spittle byapproaching too near him when you speak.
Read no letters, books, or papers in company; but when there is a necessity forthe doing of it, you must ask leave. Come not near the books or writings ofanother so as to read them or give your opinion of them unasked; also look notnigh when another is writing a letter.Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were yourenemy.Do not laugh too much or too loud in public.Superﬂuous compliments and all affectations of ceremony are to be avoided, yetwhere due, they are not to be neglected.If anyone comes to speak to you while you are sitting, stand up, though he beyour inferior; and when you present seat, let it be to everyone according to hisdegree.
When you meet with one of greater quality than yourself, stop, and retire,especially if it be a door or any straight place to give way for him to pass.In walking, the highest place in most countries seems to be on the right hand,therefore, place yourself on the left of him whom you desire to honor, but ifthree walk together, the mid place is the most honourable; the wall is usuallygiven to the most worthy if two walk together.Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.In speaking to men of quality, do not lean nor look them full in the face, norapproach too near them, at least keep a full pace from them.In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowingtherein.Undertake not to teach your equal in the art himself professes, it savours ofarrogance.
Do not express joy before one sick or in pain, for that contrary passion willaggravate his misery.When a man does all he can though it succeeds not well blame not him that didit.Wherein you reprove another be unblameable yourself, for example is moreprevalent than precepts.Use no reproachable language against anyone; neither curse nor revile.Wear not your clothes foul, ripped or dusty, but see that they be brushed onceevery day, at least, and take heed that you approach not to any uncleanness.
Go not thither, where you know not, whether you shall be welcome or not. Givenot advice without being asked & when desired do it brieﬂy.Gaze not on the marks or blemishes of others and ask not how they came.What you may speak in secret to your friend, deliver not before others.Speak not in an unknown tongue in company, but in your own language andthat as those of quality do and not as the vulgar. Sublime matters treatseriously.Make no comparisons; and if any of the company be commended for any braveact of virtue, commend not another for the same.Undertake not what you cannot perform, but be careful to keep your promise.
Let thy carriage be such as becomes a man: grave, settled, and attentive to thatwhich is spoken. Contradict not at every turn what others say.Be not tedious in discourse, make not many digressions, nor repeat often thesame manner of discourse.Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.Being set a meat, scratch not; neither spit, cough, or blow your nose, except ifthere is a necessity for it.Make no show of taking great delight in your victuals; feed not with greediness;cut your bread with a knife; lean not on the table; neither ﬁnd fault with whatyou eat.
Take no salt, not cut your bread with your knife greasy.If you soak your bread in the sauce, let it be no more than what you put in yourmouth at a time; and blow not your broth at table but stay till it cools of itself.Put not your meat to your mouth with your knife in your hand; neither spit forththe stones of any fruit pie upon a dish nor cast anything under the table.It is unbecoming to stoop too much to ones meat. Keep your ﬁngers clean &when foul, wipe them on a corner of your table napkin.Put not another bit into your mouth till he former be swallowed. Let not yourmorsels be too big.
Drink not, nor talk with your mouth full; neither gaze about you while you aredrinking.In company of betters, be not longer in eating than they are; lay not your armbut only your hand upon the table.Be not angry at table whatever happens, and if you have reason to be so, showit not; put on a cheerful countenance especially if there be strangers, for goodhumour makes one dish of meat a feast.Let your recreations be manful not sinful.Labour to keep alive in your breast that little celestial ﬁre called conscience.
The First President of theUnited States of AmericaRaised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason August 4th, 1753 Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 inVirginia