The summer my father departed St. Croix for Copenhagen in order to continue his studies in Denmark and Sweden, he was just a few months shy of his seventeenth birth date. Packed away in his valise was a copy of the 1935 edition of William O. Stevens’ The Correct Thing: A Guide Book of Etiquette for Young Men. The little blue book had been given to him as a bon voyage gift by his father, Isaac Gateword James (1893-1978), who knew from personal experience that the information contained in the book’s 156 pages would prove invaluable for his eldest son as he interacted with members of some of Scandinavia’s finest families during his four-year stay with the Hagemann family at their 16th-century castle, Bjersjӧholm, which overlooks the Baltic Sea at Sweden’s southern coastline. The year was 1936; young Gustav was already a very conspicuous six feet, four inches tall; and he was a black boy from a picturesque Caribbean island en route to a faraway country where even dark-haired white people were a curiosity. Isaac knew, firsthand, the social challenges his son would face because thirty years earlier, in 1907, he had journeyed to Denmark as a 14-year-old to further his education, living with the same Hagemann family at one of their other castles, Borupgaard, in Helsingør, and at their mansion in Copenhagen on fashionable Bredgade. Isaac’s mother, Marguerite “Roxcelina” John James (1863-1951), had given him the 1892 edition of Edward John Hardy’s Manners Makyth Man as his bon voyage gift, she being very much aware that a tall, slender, beautiful black boy living amongst European elites would be carefully observed, not only by the masters of the house, but also by the household staff as well as guests. So by 1979, when it was time for me to embark upon my path of higher education, I had been long-groomed in the intricacies of polite society, and books on etiquette were as referred to in my household at La Grange as were cookbooks. So packed away in my carry-on were two books on comportment: a 1950s’ edition of The Correct Thing, and Amy Vanderbilt’s New Complete Book of Etiquette. Both books would serve me well throughout my undergraduate years at Bradley University—so much so that at some point in my early 40s, I decided that I should write a book that would help young men navigate society the way the books I had been privileged to read had guided me. But having cast aside my Georgetown University law degree immediately upon graduating in order to embark upon a career as a designer of upscale women’s fashion, I knew—despite the arguably superficial nature of garments—that even clothes have to be as beautifully constructed on the inside as on the outside—if they are to endure. So it was only fitting that I would approach the arguably superficial subject of etiquette in the same manner—building beautiful behavior from the inside out, thereby adding intellectual substance to the age-old form.
When I decided that I would make my contribution to the field of etiquette via a book written specifically for young men, my natural inclination was to look carefully at the great books on men’s manners that had guided me—with the aim of significantly improving upon them, not only by updating them so as to account for the changing times, customs, and realities of 21st-century society, but also to add substantive content and to chart new territory, in some instances addressing topics that would have been regarded as taboo by previous generations.
The first step was to place myself in an intellectually stimulating environment where I could brainstorm. So I boarded a jet for New York City, arrived at a friend’s apartment, and immediately went to work jotting down—sometimes frantically—all the things I would want a younger brother, son, nephew, company representative, or student, for example, to know about etiquette. Ten days later, chapter outlines began taking form. Then the following month, I flew to Rio de Janeiro, rented an apartment located a stone’s throw from the beach in Ipanema, and began the process of thinking about my approaches to the various chapters—with the aid of caipirinhas, the city’s dramatic beauty, and the rhythms of the samba as catalysts, of course. It was in Brazil, after fully reviewing the scope of the various chapters and writing the argument for the book, that its specific format assumed form: A two-part book, Part I being devoted to chapters which address the inner, spiritual characteristics of a gentleman; and Part II, which presents the more traditional, social aspects of gentlemanly behavior.
After two scintillating months in Rio, I dashed off to Italy and settled into a beautiful apartment at a friend’s Palladian villa, situated commandingly atop a Tuscan hill. There, I remained for one glorious year, writing, writing, writing. The end of each day of writing would be punctuated by a long walk amidst the estate’s grapevines and olive trees, inhaling the salubrious Italian countryside and reaping its inspiration.
The result of that most peaceful of years is a book founded on the premise that there is little point in teaching etiquette without first teaching ethics—that a man who possesses all the trappings of correct behavior but lacks correct sentiments at the foundation of his behavior is but a mere façade of a gentleman. Perhaps more poignantly put, teaching manners without morals is almost meaningless. And while Manly Manners: lifestyle & Modern Etiquette for the Young Man of the 21st Century does not intend to preach—for that is better done by books on religion or by the men and women who tote them—it, unlike the traditional approach of its counterparts, endeavors to groom whole men, not shadows of men.
Also unique to this book is that its argument, which would traditionally be incorporated in an introduction, is presented instead as Chapter One, primarily because introductions are oftentimes not read or are read perfunctorily—especially by younger readers. In lieu of an introduction, then, is Chapter One, which provides the map of the global journey on which the reader will be taken as he reads and digests the subsequent chapters of this book. Chapter One also unabashedly addresses a very real issue for modern-day young men: Why a book on etiquette in this day and age where social “requirements” are oftentimes relaxed away into nonexistence? Initially written to entice potential publishers, the argument-turned-Chapter One also presents a cogent case to any young man who wants to advance himself spiritually, emotionally, and socially.
And, commendably, Manly Manners departs from the traditional, decidedly snobbish approach to books on etiquette by purposefully avoiding, whenever possible, exclusionary terms and phrases such as “good breeding,” “station in life,” “aristocratic sensibilities,” “of high birth,” “privileged class” and “good families,” for example. To the contrary, the aim of the book is to demonstrate that any man is capable of transforming himself into a true gentleman, and that there is nothing “fuddy-duddy” or staid about being a gentleman. To the contrary, the book argues, etiquette can be quite exciting!
Finally, the traditional approach to tackling a book on etiquette is for the reader to first consult its Table of Contents, then select the area of interest, reading only that section. Then, with time, as additional information is sought, the entire book is perhaps read, albeit in a haphazard manner. It is my hope, however, that readers of Manly Manners will read it from cover to cover since the chapters are strategically presented such that they take the reader from an overview of modern-day gentlemanly behavior in the first chapter, through a spiritual journey in the remaining chapters of Part I, before continuing on to practical matters such as personal hygiene in Part II, to manners in public places within one’s community, before, at the end, presenting a much-needed discussion on the different customs of some of the world’s great cultures. The book, because of its international applicability, effortlessly and matter-of-factly demonstrates that the people of the world are much more alike than they are different.
So “Bon Voyage!” And like this author and his forefathers, be sure to pack a good book on manners for men—in your case, Manly Manners: Lifestyle & Modern Etiquette for the Young Man of the 21st Century.