It must be confessed that as a Poet I have to accept that I am not regarded as entirely a gentleman. I don’t think it specifically states this in any of the many books of etiquette with which Port Naain is blessed, but it seems to be a generally accepted rule.
This has its positive side. If I were a gentleman I would have to wait to be introduced to a lady, but because I am Tallis Steelyard, Poet, I may merely walk across and introduce myself. Obviously this is a privilege I do not wish to abuse, but it is very convenient when at some function I see a lady looking a trifle bored. Whereas a gentleman would look round anxiously for his hostess or some mutual friend to perform an introduction, I may merely introduce myself. Never let it be forgotten, a bored lady who discovers in you a friendly and interesting companion is a potential patron. At the very least she is likely to recommend you to her friends.
On the other hand, there are downsides to not being a gentleman. If a lady is accompanied by a gentleman when walking out and chances to make a small purchase, she is entitled to expect the gentleman to volunteer to carry this purchase for her. But the laws of etiquette are very definite. The gentleman is to be expected to carry one small package and only one small package. He is there to provide escort and conversation.
On the other hand, should you chance to meet Tallis Steelyard when you are out shopping, etiquette remains markedly silent, and I have known ladies who have shown no shame at loading me like a packhorse. I have been piled so high with bags and parcels that I had to be guided through the crowd like a blind beggar.
But it has to be said that I do at least come away relatively unscathed when dress is considered. My lady wife, Shena, is occasionally enmeshed within the dictates of protocol. When working on the Old Esplanade I have seen her bare-foot on the sands, her dress hitched up above her knees as she accompanies a client to examine a find too heavy to be carried in by one or two men.
Here at least convention is to her advantage, and the rule that, “A young lady cannot dress with too much simplicity in the early part of the day,” is one that she sticks to zealously. The secondary details, “The dress should be of simple material, in one delicate single colour and with collar and cuffs of spotless linen” are less easily kept to. Admittedly after a season or two out on the Esplanade most garments have faded to a ‘delicate single colour’ but collar and cuffs are more often absent than spotless.
Should Shena be invited to something more formal in the evening then we have issues. Whilst those inviting her tend to be members of the financial community, the rules still have to be obeyed. Formal dresses tend to be worn long but there is a well understood waiver that should a lady intend to dance, it is entirely reasonable for her to wear a dress which is barely ankle length. There are other rules which have inevitably passed me by, but I seem to remember that a low bodice worn with a cape of dark lace is considered acceptable, otherwise younger ladies are expected to wear high necked dresses although they may be of a gauzy material. As a general rule gowns cut with an emphasis on the décolleté are regarded as best restricted to married ladies who intend only to dance a few stately, indeed languid, dances. Apparently the insistence on languid dances is due to matters of engineering rather than mere good taste. The topic was expounded upon by one
of those who deal with buildings and other structures. He explained that soldiers should always break step when crossing a bridge, and in a similar manner, some ladies in need of firmer underpinnings should not dance in an energetic and rhythmic manner unless they feel secure in their foundation garments. I am a poet and claim no especial knowledge in this area; I merely pass on the wisdom of my betters for your edification and delight.
As a gentleman I find matters of dress to be less complicated. I need but one decent black or very dark jacket and it serves for all occasions. With britches matters are a little more complex and one should have a lighter coloured pair for the day and a dark pair for the evening. Not only that, but a gentleman’s clothes should not to fit too well. You wear the clothes, they do not wear you. Here I am doubly blessed. My jackets are donated to me by ladies who wish to clear out their husband’s wardrobe. Thus over the years I have acquired a number of such coats of excellent cut and material which fit me well enough for respectability. Not only that but being a little old fashioned, (or classically cut as the courteous say,) they are more generously shaped at the back. This means that they hang down enough to cover up any remedial work Shena has been forced to carry out on my britches.
Now you might well mock such high manners as an affection of those with ample money and substantial time for leisure. Yet strangely knowledge of them has percolated down through the social classes. Perhaps there is a feeling that lack of resources means that one has to try harder. Certainly it makes sense for someone to ensure that they manage to master those courtesies which cost least.
I remember when Valerin, a ragged young lady aged perhaps eight, wished to put Mutt in his place. She managed to look down her nose at him with ladylike disdain and said, “An introduction given purely for the purpose of allowing a lady and gentleman to dance together does not constitute an acquaintanceship. The lady is at liberty to pass the gentleman in the park next day without recognition.”
With this she pulled her ragged coat about her with a brusque gesture and stalked off.
It may well be the only occasion that I have seen Mutt lost for words.
It may be that you might not realise that Tallis Steelyard has just produced his second book of stories and anecdotes. This is book, ‘Tallis Steelyard, a harsh winter, and other stories,’ is available from the first of June via the good offices of Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Includes the unexpurgated account of the Mudfold and Cockeren feud, the dangers inherent in light music, and how Tallis first met and wooed Shena.
Were Tallis less busy he’d doubtless remember to thank me, Jim Webster, for the efforts I make on his behalf. But you know what it is with someone like Tallis who is constantly in demand. So I just get on with writing his stuff down for him and from time to time making collections of his wit, wisdom and jumbled musings available for a grateful public.
Tallis does have a blog, it is apparently de rigueur now for all writers. It is available at
Riding in on his coattails I’ll merely mention that my own books can be seen at Jim Webster’s Amazon page
About the author
Someone once wrote this about him:
“Jim Webster is probably still fifty something, his tastes in music are eclectic, and his dress sense is rarely discussed in polite society. In spite of this he has a wife and three daughters.
He has managed to make a living from a mixture of agriculture, consultancy, and freelance writing. Previously he has restricted himself to writing about agricultural and rural issues but including enough Ancient Military history to maintain his own sanity. But seemingly he has felt it necessary to branch out into writing fantasy and Sci-Fi novels.”
Now with eight much acclaimed fantasy works and two Sci-Fi to his credit it seems he may be getting into the swing of things.
Click the images to go to Amazon.