Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘A Morning’s Walk From London to Kew’

Manners Make The Man

Posted by Admin on March 13, 2021

Some of us have been told that manners make the man (or woman) from a very young age without understanding what that idiom means other than it matters to be polite when in the presence of others. What it means is that politeness, civility, and good manners are essential to easy interactions with others in society.  Sometimes people say manners make the man and sometimes people say manners maketh man.  At the end of the day, it’s the same idiom.

The expression has been around for quite some time, and is still used even in television programs and movies. It’s a favorite expression used by Colin Firth’s character, Harry Hart, in Kingsman: The Secret Service. In one episode, the following scene is seen.

[Harry walks over to the front door and starts locking it]

HARRY HART: Manners maketh man. Do you know what that means? Then let me teach you a lesson.

[with the hook of his umbrella, he grabs a glass and swings it at Rottweiler’s head and knocks him out]

Thirty or so years earlier, musician Sting used it in his very popular song “Englishman in New York” on his “Nothing Like The Sun” CD in 1987.

“If ‘manners maketh man,’ as someone said
Then he’s the hero of the day
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself, no matter what they say.”

In The Monthly Magazine edition of 1 April 1816 the continuation of “A Morning’s Walk From London to Kew” by English schoolteacher, author, publisher, and vegetarianism activist Sir Richard Phillips (13 December 1767 – 2 April 1840) included not only the idiom but a reference as to who was the first to coin the expression.

In a word, either ought not the manners of certain of our public schools to be corrected, and their system of instruction to be rendered accordant with the actual state of knowledge; or ought they not to be shamed by the wise and good, who seek the happiness of their offspring and the welfare of society? Is it less true now than in the day of William of Wykeham, that “Manners maketh man!” and ought not the vices and passions of congregated youth, who too often possess dangerous means of gratification, to become objects of the systemic correction of some modern Lycurgus?

Two centuries earlier, a variation of the expression was included in The London Prodigal published in1605: ‘For thers an old saying: Be he rich, or be he poore, Be he hye, or be he lowe, Be he borne in barne or hall, Tis maners makes the man and all.’

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: This play is attributed to William Shakespeare and was performed by the King’s Men. Of course, no one knows for certain if William Shakespeare actually wrote this play as his name appears on the title page of the only edition and scholars generally dismiss this as proof William Shakespeare wrote it. The play has also been attributed to Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker, John Marston, Michael Drayton, Thomas Heywood, and George Wilkins. What is known as fact is that it was published in 1605 by London publisher Nathanial Butler (died 22 February 1664) and printed by Thomas Creede (1593 – 1617).

William Horman (1440 to April 1535) was the headmaster of Eton College (1485 -1484) and then Winchester College ( 1495 – 1501). He began his education, however, as a pupil at William of Wykeham’s college in Winchester in 1468. This is important for a number of reasons, one of which is the fact that Winchester College’s motto was “manners makyth man.” Additionally, William Horman’s book, “The Vulgaria” contained a collection of English phrases with their Latin translations which was published in 1519, and it is in this book that the idiom is found.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In the introduction to his book, William Horman states he put the book together while still a schoolmaster several years earlier.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: William Horman signed a contract with Richard Pynson (he was one of the first printers of English books) on 28 June 1519 to produce 800 “whole and perfect copies” of his book in 35 chapters. Richard Pynson (1449 – 1529) was the King’s Printer to Henry VII as well as Henry VIII, and was responsible for printing and published the majority of official legal materials. He is also responsible for printed the first cookery book in English, and an illustrated edition of “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer.

The motto of William of Wykeham (1320 – 1404) as well as the motto of New College, Oxford which was founded by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester was “manners makyth man.”

While still acting as the Archdeacon of Lincoln in 1361, his seal displayed both his coat of arms with the motto. In 1395, the motto appeared on a scroll above the coat of arms on the north side of the nave of the Bradford Peverell church near Dorchester.  However, during this same time period, there was another proverb that was well known, that being “manners and clothing makes man.”

During this time period, manners had two meanings: One of which dealt with a person’s character, and the other dealt with etiquette. Together, manners referred to one’s morals and ethics as well as their outward deportment.

INTERESTING GRAMMAR NOTE FROM THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY: [T]he normal third person singular ending in standard southern English was -eth. The form -(e)s, originally from Northern dialect, replaced -eth in most kinds of use during the seventeenth century. A few common short forms, chiefly doth, hath, continued often to be written, but it seems likely that these were merely graphic conventions.

Now manners only became a thing of note during the Medieval era which ended in 1500, so it’s not surprising to learn that William of Wykeham coined the expression back in 1361. Of course, if readers know of an earlier published version of the idiom, we would love to add this to the entry.

Until that happens, Idiomation pegs the expression to 1361 and credits it to William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester.

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