121 CHRONICLESnthe South saw slavery as an unalterable fact of life, whilenthey also knew that it was immoral. This partly explains thenunique relationship certain families and their slaves had innthe South — relationships that had no parallel in the Englishnor Spanish or French colonies. Unlike in the North, thenrelationship between whites and blacks in the South hasnoften been human rather than legal: and that was a matter ofnmanners, too, since it is the nature of manners that they arennot legal but human. At any rate, American Southernnmanners were, and still are, more than merely superficial.nReading Mrs. Chestnut’s Civil War diaries we are aware ofnsomething that is more than beautifully archaic — a code ofnbehavior that impresses us more than the smell of an oldnlavender sachet left in a cupboard; we are struck by thenpervasive sense of a strong-minded refinement that isninfinitely preferable to — and more impressive than—thenkind of refinement that is the result of anxious circumspection.nHer manners are American manners at their best.nDuring the 19th century, and well after, all the conservativencritics of the march of democracy as well as the radicalnagitators for equality overlooked an essential matter. Thatnwas the desire for respectability: an urge that is at timesninseparable from the desire for equality, but almost alwaysnthe stronger of the two. The desire for respectability explainsnmany things — including the essential conservatism of thenAmerican working classes, and perhaps especially of theirnwomen. More than a century after Goethe we may observenthe moral concerns of different American classes, as expressednin their driving habits: when two American workingclassncouples ride in a car, the husbands sit in front and thenwives in the back; the middle-class habit puts one of thencouples in the front seat, the other in the back; thenupper-class custom is to seat the couples separately, as atntheir dinner parties — an illustration of how a certain rigiditynof manners is not a monopoly of the upper classes innAmerica.nThe desire for respectability also explains the strongntendency to conform among the superficially unruly Americannmasses (something that Tocqueville noticed). It certainlynexplains the American obsession with manners, whichncame as early as a century and a half ago, and its particularnmanifestations in the wild pioneer West. Between 1830 andn1860 dozens of handbooks about etiquette were publishednin the United States. Many of them were long-lastingnbestsellers, including The Dime Book of Practical Etiquette,nThe Bazaar Book of Decorum, How to Behave: A PocketnManual of Republican Etiquette, and Etiquette, Qr AnGuide to the Usages of Society, composed by “Count Alfrednd’Orsay” (his real name was Charies William Day), whichnsold thousands of copies in the far West.nThe notion that good manners were the prerogatives ofnthe East died slowly. In Frank Crowninshield’s Mannersnfor the Metropolis (1909), all the nouveaux riche werenstill Westerners, with an excess of money and bad manners.n(Among other things, Crowninshield warns, suchnmen are prone to address their wives as “mother.”) Innthe East a forerunner of the Social Register—that AmericannAlmanach de Gotha — was published as eariy as 1844.nAt the same time the truest recorders of society, the firstnserious American novelists, did not write about manners atnall. While in Europe most of the great novels of the 19thnnncentury were novels of manners, the American equivalentsndid not appear until Henry James and Edith Wharton wrotenthem, and established a tradition that has continued throughnto the present day. The Great Gatsby, for example, is annovel of manners, however its commentators may haveninflated it into the American tragedy; and, more than 60nyears later, so is Tom Wolfe’s recent The Bonfire of thenVanities (a crude attempt at a novel of manners at a timenwhen, for Wolfe, the most significant details worth recordingnof an urban society in crisis are precise descriptions of thenclothing and the footwear of men and women of differentnraces and classes).nThe American character — and this was true long beforenthe predoininance of “Anglo-Americans” began tondiminish — is a complicated one. Contrary to the generallynaccepted assumption (especially in Europe), Americans arennot a simple people. Nor are American manners simple.nOne of the problems is the American confusion of publicitynand privacy. It is because of the invasion of the former intonthe domains of the latter that in many places and in manynways celebrity has replaced society in America; it is thereforenalso one of the remnant habits of the old American uppernclass to observe and respect privacy. We have heard muchnabout how the American West has been marked by the cultnof individualism. But that half-truth is somewhat diminishednwhen we observe how that individualism did not, and doesnnot, include the cult of privacy. Both Mrs. Trollope andnTocqueville noticed this. Mrs. Trollope: “No one dreams ofnfastening a door in Western America; I was told that it wouldnbe considered an affront by the whole neighborhood. I wasnthus exposed to perpetual, and most vexatious, interruptionsnfrom people whom I have often never seen, and whosennames still oftener were unknown to me.” Tocquevillenabout bores in America: “… in the United States it is not atnall easy to make a man understand that his presence isnunwelcome. To make that point, roundabout methods arenby no means always enough …” Ranging from Americannstatecraft through the American economy (consider our taxnlaws, according to which advertising and publicity arenexpenses of production) to American manners, the ravagesnof a preoccupation with “public relations” have beennenormous. A preoccupation with one’s public image isnalmost always a sign of unsureness, or at least of a kind ofnself-consciousness that is different from good manners.nYet I repeat: the American people are not simple.nConsider the contradictory and alternating pull betweennpublic ritual and private anarchy, between conformism andnindividualism, so typical of the American spirit and mind;nand then consider, too, how these opposite tendenciesncoexist not only within the great spaces of this country butnwithin the minds of the same men. There is the example ofnThoreau: “The obligation I have the right to assume is to donat any time what I think right.” (This was written more thanna century before the inane slogan, “Do your own thing.”)nThoreau was suspicious of both the majority and mannersn—without recognizing that one of the functions of a decentnminority is its adoption of some type of civility, that is, ofnmanners. He spoke out against every kind of public pressurenand discipline; yet he was a gentle and private man whosenprose style was highly disciplined. Less attractive examplesnof the coexistence of individualism with conformism weren