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Manners, meaning moral conduct

Updated on March 30, 2015

The word `manners’ had a much deeper meaning than it has today.

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Manners Maketh man

Now in modern English, the word’ manners’ means outward behavior. Of one who knows and observes the etiquette of good society and behaves politely, we say `he has good manner’s; while one who is rude and rough and clownish in his behavior, is said to have bad manners. In this sense we might say that manners make a gentleman; for gentlemanliness, in the ordinary meaning of the word, consists largely in correct, courteous and considerate behavior towards others. But mere politeness scarcely makes a man; for many a so called `gentleman’ is at heart selfish and mean, cowardly and weak. What, then, did Bishop Wickham mean when he said, `Manners Maketh man’?

The word `manners’ had a much deeper meaning than it has today. It did not denote merely polite behavior, but that what we should call good moral conduct, or morality. And the old Bishop means that it is good moral conduct based on sound moral principles that made boys and men, men. This shows that founder of Winchester School and New College, Oxford, did not regard education as merely mental training and the acquisition of knowledge, but especially as moral training. He wanted his school and his collage to produce true men-good, hones, fearless, God fearing men.

In other words he recognized that the only thing that really mattered in life was character. Wealth, rank, fine clothes, polite manners, learning-none of these things alone or together can make a man; it is only character that can do that. A man of character, however poor, low-born or ignorant he may be, is more of a man than millionaires, princes and scholars of no character.    

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