Autobiography, with Letters

By William Lyon Phelps | Go to book overview

110
INFORMALITY

In a lecture at Harvard in the early nineties by Professor R. G. Moulton, comparing modern times with the Elizabethan, he called our age The Age of Anti-Conspicuousness. In reading Dekker Gull's Hornbook it was clear that the Elizabethan swells tried in clothes, manner, and appearance to attract as much attention as possible; whereas Englishmen and Americans three hundred years later dressed in the fashion not to attract attention but to avoid it. With this endeavour at protective colouring naturally came a growth in informality; one wonders now in 1938 whether it is possible to become more informal than the majority of men and women are at present.

Many people today, especially those of the older generation, observing everywhere the lack of formality in dress, social relations, and speech, believe that good manners have vanished--that young men and women are rude to their elders, rude to those in authority, and rude to each other.

We must be careful not to confuse the absence of elaborate formalities with bad manners. In comparing our age with that of fifty years ago, the most apparent social change is the decrease of formality. In those days American college undergraduates wore whiskers, tall silk hats, and frock coats; yet they were young, and probably more generally given to dissipation than college undergraduates are now. College professors in those days wore broadcloth coats with tails, and exposed a vast expanse of gleaming

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