Decency in conversation amongst men

Rule No. 89
Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.
– George Washington

Yes this is about that George Washington thing again, and his rules of civility.

This time I am tracking down a more recent translation, the translation of the French into English by a young Francis Hawkins, who later became a Jesuit monk.  In those days, books had excruciating long titles, and the title of this book is Youths behaviour, or, Decency in conversation amongst men composed in French by grave persons, for the use and benefit of their youth; now newly turned into English by Francis Hawkins (1668) .

You can buy a reproduction of the Hawkins text online for between $25-40 USD. But where is the fun in that?  Surely there must be some other (free) digitized manuscripts, if only we can get teh interwebs to cough up their secret algorithms…..

The internet will tell us these rules originated with French manuscript, Bienseance de la Conversation entre les Hommes, written by Jesuits in 1595. But the Jesuits were kicked out of France in 1596, after a failed assassination attempt, and the trail has been muddied.  When Bienseance next appears, in 1617, at a monastery in northeastern France/northwestern Holy Roman Empire, it has been translated into Latin by one Father Perin, who seems to have been very well connected, nobility-wise.  From that point on, the Perin translation becomes the basis for translations into additional languages, and even a back translation into French.

But what happened between the time the Latin edition appeared in Paris in 1638, and George Washington copied into his copy book, around 1744, in English?

The missing link is this Francis Hawkins, who translated Bienseance into English at the age of eight, whereupon it was published by William Lee in 1640.  For information on that, here are some notes from editor Charles Moore’s introduction to George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation, 1926.

From the Washington Papers:

Francis Hawkins was born in London in 1628. His father, John Hawkins, M.D. (Padua), was a brother of Sir Thomas Hawkins and of Henry Hawkins, all members of an old, active and influential family. Dr. John Hawkins had published five books before his precocious son Francis, at the age of eight years, turned into English the French version of the Maxims. The pleased father took the manuscript to the printer, William Lee, who published it about 1640. The troubled state of the country kept the book from being reprinted until 1646, when a second edition appeared. Then followed in quick succession nine other editions before 1672.

…Meanwhile Hawkins, at the age of twenty-one, entered the Society of Jesus. In 1662 he was professed of four vows; ten years later he was confessor at Ghent, and from 1675 till his death in 1680-81 he was professor of Holy Scripture at Liege College. [Dictionary of National Biography.]

The eleven editions

There were no fewer than eleven editions of the Hawkins edition between 1640 and 1672.  Some of the editions and their locations are:

  • 1640, publisher William Lee
  • 1646
  • 1664 “A second part, entitled “Youth’s behaviour, or Decency in Conversation amongst Women”: with a portrait of Lady Ferrers, was added by the Puritan bookmaker, Robert Codrington, in 1664.”
  • 1663, one copy in the Library of Congress
  • “British Museum has the editions of 1646, 1651, 1663, and 1672; and also a Latin translation of the same work, London, MDCLII.”
  • “Bodleian Library, Oxford, has the seventh impression, 1661; eighth impression, 1663; ninth impression, 1668; and eleventh impression, 1672.”
  • “Trinity College Library, Cambridge, England, has at least two editions-1663 and 1672.”
  • “Dr. James H. Penniman of Philadelphia owns a copy of the edition of 1651”
  • Not all the 110 rules are in the French and early English editions; all the rules are in the 1663 edition.


The restoration on the Washington Papers website based on comparison with the Library of Congress copy is considered more accurate than either of these.

  • Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation. Copied from the original . . . and edited with notes, by J. M. Toner, M.D. Washington, D.C., 1888.
  • George Washington’s Rules of Civility Traced to their Sources and Restored, by Moncure D. Conway; 1891. See also Backer’s Jesuit Bibliography

Washington’s rules online

Online editions of Francis Hawkins, Youths Behaviour, or, Decency in Conversation amongst Men

  • BEHIND A PAYWALL: Youths behaviour,: or, Decency in conversation amongst men. Composed in French by grave persons for the use and benefit of their youth. Now newly turned into English by Francis Hawkins.  Hawkins, Francis, 1628-1681.  London: Printed by W. Wilson for W. Lee; and are to be sold at the Turks-head neere the Miter Taverne in Fleetstreet, 1646. (University of Michigan, requires log in)(Standford Univ., requires login) (Univ of Delaware, requires login)(Villanueva Univ. Pennsylvania – requires login)
  • READ ONLINE: Youths behaviour,: or, Decency in conversation amongst men. Composed in French by grave persons for the use and benefit of their youth. Now newly turned into English by Francis Hawkins, The sixth Edition with the Addition of Twenty six new Precepts, (which are marked thus*, and some more additions added 1651) with an Alphabeticall Table newly added.London. Printed for W. Lee; and are to be sold at the Turks-head neere the Miter Taverne in Fleetstreet, 1654 5th edition.Second part: “New additions unto Youths Behavior 1650, Of Some Letters. As also A Discourse upon some Innovations of Habits and Drssings; against powdring of Hair, Naked Breasts, Black Spots, and other unseemly Customes.” (Google books, from British Museum).
  • Partial text, from The New Youth’s Behaviour, 1684,  a sample of text and chapter headings from chapter 2 of the 1576 version of the Humanist Library Edition, tr. Robert Peterson, side by side comparison with Della Casa’s Galateo, p.309-312. Della Casa work published 1558, first published in French 1562, Le Galathee, ou La maniere et fasson comme le gentilhomme se doit govuerner en toute compagnie Trans. Jean du Peyrat.

As popular as this book was, and as many times it was republished, (see The British Museum Catalogue and the Dictionary of National Biography) there really isn’t that much available online. A few universities do have it behind a paywall, maybe someone will take a notion to scan these and a few of these will eventually turn up on internet archives. But at this point, the Latin Manuscripts from a hundred years earlier are easier to find online.

Moar books

A few other esoteric publications in the same vein.

  • Schola Urbanitatis Sive Communis vitæ inter homines morum elegantia 1697. In Latin obviously, copy from Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Munchen. Google books. The author turns out to be one Périn, Léonard (whose name is now very very familiar as having made the definitive Latin translation of the Rules) and the title translation is “School of politeness or common life between men elegance”.  So quelle surprise, it looks like we have come full circle and the internet is now offering up the original texts that brought us here, although with a mysteriously different title.This can be read in a number of versions on the Bavarian State Library website. They can even do a search in English. Looking at the search results, we have a choice of reading Latin versions from 1697, 1683, 1746, 1725, 1720.
  • There also just happens to be a copy of Youths behaviour, or, Decency in conversation amongst men. Composed in French by grave persons for the use and benefit of their youth. Now newly turned into English by Francis Hawkins,  “The fourth edition, with the addition of twenty sixe new precepts, (which are marked thus *) – , 1646.” This is a much earlier edition than the google source, but unfortunately the Bavarian State Library has seen fit to put this behind a paywall. These are “Reproductions of the originals in the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery (Early English Books), and the British Library (Thomason Tracts)” and published by “Early English books online” in 1999, so this is a diabolic plot to circumvent what is obvious a work in the public domain. Same with the rest of the versions (see search “Francis Hawkins, Youths behaviour“)And lest we forget about “decency in conversation amongst women“, let us also mention:
  • Hannah Woolley, lifestyle guru and author of The Gentlewomans Companion (1673) [transcription Univ of Michigan]. [digital reproduction, Folger Shakespeare library, the only known surviving copy of this book, see review] Also,The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet, on household management, 1670. (extensive gbooks preview), The Queen: Stored with All Manner of Rare Receipts for Preserving, Candying, and Cookery. Very Pleasant and Beneficial to All Ingenious Persons of the Female Sex, cookbook, 1672. The ladies directory, in choice experiments & curiosities of preserving in jellies, and candying both fruits & flowers: Also, an excellent way of making cakes, comfits, and rich court-perfumes. With rarities of many… 1662. Online books from Penn Univ…(list of books, including unauthorized.) The Ladies’ Dictionary; being a General Entertainment for the Fair Sex: a Work never attempted before in English. 1694. sections of which were lifted out of other sources [LSE digital library – scan] [transcription, University of Michigan library][A huge amount of the introduction and source material of John Considine and Sylvia Brown’s 2010 edition is available here.][See also LSE Rare Books Women’s Library]
    Clearly this was meant to be a comprehensive women’s encyclopedia, see for instance the comments here about sources, but that is a story for another day.

    The ladies dictionary, being a general entertainment for the fair-sex was published on 19 March 1694 by John Dunton. No compiler was named on the title page, but the dedication by ‘the author’ addressed ‘to the Ladies, Gentlewomen, and Others, of the Fair-Sex’ was signed ‘N. H.’ The book offers around 1950 lexical and encyclopaedic entries, the great majority excerpted either verbatim or with some degree of abridgement or adaptation from other published books. It was the first substantial reference book to be published in England with women as its principal target audience, and was arguably the first alphabetically-arranged encyclopaedia to be published in English

  • THE LEARNED LADY IN ENGLAND 1650-1760 BY MYRA REYNOLDS Professor of English Literature in the University of Chicago WITH PORTRAITS BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY The Riverside Press Cambridge. 1920.  (Gutenberg)
  • il cortegianoExtract from “The epitome of good manners”, a treatise by John de la Casa, appended to Thomas Gainford’s The Rich Cabinet in 1616. [Transcript – UMich] (as in Galateo of Maister Iohn Della Casa, Archbishop of Beneuenta, yes, THAT “de la Casa”)
  • Il Cortegiano or The Courtier written by Conte Baldassar Castiglione 1528, tr. English 1561, Thomas Hoby.  The Hoby text was widely read in its day.
  • The New Youth’s Behaviour (note the subtle name change for the Francis Hawkins translation, that gives a whole new search term) cited in notes for The Works of William Shakespeare The Twelfth Night, Notes to the Third Act: “If thou thou’st him some thrice”

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