On Civility in Boys

"The Fight Interrupted" (boys fighting outside school) engraved by Lumb Stocks after a picture by W.Mulready, published in The Art Journal, 1875. Steel engraved antique print.
  • Don’t foul the staircases, corridors, closets, or wall hangings with urine or other filth.
  • Don’t relieve yourself in front of ladies or before doors or windows of court chambers.
  • Don’t slide back and forth on your chair as if you’re trying to pass gas.
  • Don’t touch your private parts under your cloths with your bare hands.
  • Don’t greet someone while they are urinating or defecating.
  • Don’t make noise when you pass gas.
  • Don’t undo your clothes in front of other people in preparation for defecating, or do them up afterwards.
  • When you share a bed with someone in an inn, don’t lie so close to him that you touch him, and don’t put your legs between his
  • If you come across something disgusting in the sheet, don’t turn to your companion and point it out to him, or hold up the stinking thing for the other to smell and say “I should like to know how much that stinks.”
  • Don’t blow your nose onto the tablecloth or into your fingers, sleeve, or hat.
  • Don’t offer your used handkerchief to someone else.
  • Don’t carry your handkerchief in your mouth.
  • Nor is it seemly, after wiping your nose, to spread out your handkerchief and peer into it, as if pearls and rubies might have fallen out of your head.
  • Don’t spit into the bowl when you are washing your hands.
  • Do not spit so far that you have to look for the saliva to put your foot on it.
  • Turn away when spitting, lest your saliva fall on someone.
  • If anything purulent falls to the ground, it should be trodden upon, lest it nauseate someone.
  • If you notice saliva on someone’s coat, it is not polite to make it known.
  • Don’t be the first to take from the dish.
  • Don’t fall on the food like a pig, snorting and smacking your lips.
  • Don’t turn the serving dish around so the biggest piece of meat is near you.
  • Don’t wolf your food like you are about to be carried off to prison, nor push so much food into your mouth that your cheeks bulge like bellows, nor pull your lips apart so that they make a noise like pigs.
  • Don’t dip your fingers into the sauce, and the serving dish.
  • Don’t put a spoon into your mouth and then use it to take food from the serving dish.
  • Don’t gnaw on a bone and put it back in the serving dish.
  • Don’t wipe your utensils on the tablecloth.
  • Don’t put back on your plate what has been in your mouth.
  • Do not offer anyone a piece of food you have bitten into.
  • Don’t lick your greasy fingers. Wipe them on your bread, or wipe them on your coat.
  • Don’t lean over to drink from your soup bowl.
  • Don’t spit bones, pits, eggshells, or rinds into your hands or throw them on the floor.
  • Don’t pick your nose while eating.
  • Don’t drink from your dish, use a spoon.
  • Don’t slurp from your spoon.
  • Don’t loosen your belt at the table.
  • Don’t clean a dirty plate with your fingers.
  • Don’t stir sauce with your fingers.
  • Don’t lift meat to your nose to smell it.
  • Don’t drink coffee from your saucer.

From “On Civility in Boys” by Desiderius Erasmus, published in 1530

I first heard this in Steven Pinker’s book “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” which I highly recommend. It made me laugh out loud, but then again, aren’t most of these these timeless? Not just for boys, but I think for everyone. Some things don’t go out of style.

Headline Image:  “The Fight Interrupted” (boys fighting outside school) engraved by Lumb Stocks after a picture by W.Mulready, published in The Art Journal, 1875. Steel engraved antique print

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