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Emily Post (1873–1960). Etiquette. 1922.


The Growth of Good Taste in America

GOOD taste or bad is revealed in everything we are, do, have. Our speech, manners, dress, and household goods—and even our friends—are evidences of the propriety of our taste, and all these have been the subject of this book. Rules of etiquette are nothing more than sign-posts by which we are guided to the goal of good taste.   1
  Whether we Americans are drifting toward or from finer perceptions, both mental and spiritual, is too profound a subject to be taken up except on a broader scope than that of the present volume. Yet it is a commonplace remark that older people invariably feel that the younger generation is speeding swiftly on the road to perdition. But whether the present younger generation is really any nearer to that frightful end than any previous one, is a question that we, of the present older generation, are scarcely qualified to answer. To be sure, manners seem to have grown lax, and many of the amenities apparently have vanished. But do these things merely seem so to us because young men of fashion do not pay party calls nowadays and the young woman of fashion is informal? It is difficult to maintain that youth to-day is so very different from what it has been in other periods of the country’s history, especially as “the capriciousness of beauty,” the “heartlessness” and “carelessness” of youth, are charges of a too suspiciously bromidic flavor to carry conviction.   2
  The present generation is at least ahead of some of its “very proper” predecessors in that weddings do not have to be set for noon because a bridegroom’s sobriety is not to be counted on later in the day! That young people of to-day prefer games to conversation scarcely proves degeneration. That they wear very few clothes is not a symptom of decline. There have always been recurring cycles of undress, followed by muffling from shoe-soles to chin. We have not yet reached the undress of Pauline Bonaparte, so the muffling period may not be due!   3
  However, leaving out the mooted question whether etiquette may not soon be a subject for an obituary rather than a guide-book, one thing is certain: we have advanced prodigiously in esthetic taste.   4
  Never in the recollection of any one now living has it been so easy to surround oneself with lovely belongings. Each year’s achievement seems to stride away from that of the year before in producing woodwork, ironwork, glass, stone, print, paint and textile that is lovelier and lovelier. One can not go into the shops or pass their windows on the streets without being impressed with the ever-growing taste of their display. Nor can one look into the magazines devoted to gardens and houses and house-furnishings and fail to appreciate the increasing wealth of the beautiful in environment.   5
  That such exquisite “best” as America possessed in her Colonial houses and gardens and furnishings should ever have been discarded for the atrocities of the period after the Civil War, is comparable to nothing but Titania’s Midsummer Night’s Dream madness that made her believe an ass’s features more beautiful than those of Apollo!   6
  Happily, however, since we never do things by halves, we are studying and cultivating and buying and making, and trying to forget and overcome that terrible marriage of our beautiful Colonial ancestress with the dark-wooded, plush-draped, jig-sawed upstart of vulgarity and ignorance. In another country her type would be lost in his, forever! But in a country that sent a million soldiers across three thousand miles of ocean, in spite of every obstacle and in the twinkling of an eye, why even comment that good taste is pouring over our land as fast as periodicals, books and manufacturers can take it. Three thousand miles east and west, two thousand miles north and south, white tiled bathrooms have sprung like mushrooms seemingly in a single night, charming houses, enchanting gardens, beautiful cities, cultivated people, created in thousands upon thousands of instances in the short span of one generation. Certain great houses abroad have consummate quality, it is true, but for every one of these, there are a thousand that are mediocre, even offensive. In our own country, beautiful houses and appointments flourish like field flowers in summer; not merely in the occasional gardens of the very rich, but everywhere.   7
  And all this means? Merely one more incident added to the many great facts that prove us a wonderful nation. (But this is an aside merely, and not to be talked about to anyone except just ourselves!) At the same time it is no idle boast that the world is at present looking toward America; and whatever we become is bound to lower or raise the standards of life. The other countries are old, we are youth personified! We have all youth’s glorious beauty and strength and vitality and courage. If we can keep these attributes and add finish and understanding and perfect taste in living and thinking, we need not dwell on the Golden Age that is past, but believe in the Golden Age that is sure to be.   8