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All “rude” noises, even breathing too loudly, were to be avoided. Coughing, sneezing, passing wind, sighing, and yawning were all offensive for the noises that they made, although the last two might also offend by suggesting one was weary with the company. If unavoidable, these were to be done quietly and aside. One was also not to hum, sing, whisper, or whistle before others. 52 Courtesy works further advised gentlefolk not to speak too fast or too slowly, but deliberately. One was to strive for a mean between sharpness and ﬂatness of voice, and to avoid extremes of loudness and softness (Moody repeated only the last point).
20 But if the Puritan elite thought it was important to teach some manners to ordinary folk, they did not think they had to teach everything the imported courtesy books dictated. In general, the ministers revealed their intentions when they discouraged the teaching of rituals other than those associated with deference to superiors. Wadsworth explained: A civil, respectful, courteous behaviour, is comely and commendable; and children should be taught such a carriage . . those who won’t put suitable marks of civil respect and honours on others, especially on superiours, or those in authority; don’t imitate the commendable Examples of the Godly recorded in Scriptures.
T w o manners over minors I t would be Samuel Sewall’s last visit to his father, for Henry Sewall, at eighty-six, was failing fast. On this May evening, Samuel brought his friend Wait Winthrop along. The two visitors shared social status as well as friendship. Both had attained high positions in middle age (Sewall was forty-eight): they were colleagues on the Massachusetts Superior Court bench and the Governor’s Council. Henry Sewall must have been proud of his son. The visitors arrived “a little before sunset,” and found the old man in bed.