In the essay, Rural Manners, Joseph Addison throws light on the conception of good manners. The essay also tells us of the way in which life in the town makes an impact on country life.
One major distinction between the manners in the town and the country is that many formalities and ceremonials, which once formed a part of civilized life in the city, but are no more in vogue now- are still observed in the countryside. The mark of good breeding in the city now, says Addison, is the unaffected behaviour rather than an over formal courtesy. In the countryside good breeding is carried to ridiculous extremes, so that it becomes troublesome at social occasions like dinners as one is expected to sit according to the rigorous precedence of mark and status. A country gentleman might make one as many bows as would last courtier for a whole week.According to Addison, wives of country justices make more ado on this score than even duchesses. It does not matter that by the time the seating problem is resolved, the dinner might have become cold.
Even a sensible man like Will Wimble has been infected with the extravagant formality of country life. He may have been fishing all morning, but he will not help himself until the spectator has been served.
A revolutionary change has occurred in the field of polite conversation. It used to be the chief distinction of the conversation of a well-bred man that he scrupulously avoided all terms which had the least tincture of vulgarity.Only the clown could speak in an obscene language. Now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Fashionable men of town now take pleasure in speaking in a coarse and uncivilized manner. In fact a clown would blush at their lack of restraint and decorum in speech. We are fortunate, says Addison, that this piece of good breeding has not so far reached the country.
In matters of dress the country people are very much behindhand. The countryside women are trying to excel each other by wearing the tallest head dresses which have already passed out of fashion in the town. On this matter the author promises to write in detail in a later essay.