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Inspiring the Youth to Higher Things

Eric Hester

Book-review on Courtesy Calls Again, by Judith Fife Mead & Marian Therese Horvat,
(Los Angeles: Tradition in Action, 2009), 151 pp.
Courtesy Calls Again book cover

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Many people will see this book, as I do, as an answer to prayer – something to give to young people today to inspire them to higher things. How much it is needed! The young are often being offered as models the very basest parts of society. Here is something that is noble and will help them to achieve nobility.

The book is for girls and boys and will be especially helpful for teachers and parents. It deals with matters of etiquette but much more than that and shows how courtesy is not an extra in life but something fundamental to all that we do, as Chaucer and Shakespeare knew. Thus important chapters are devoted to “The Husband and Wife”; “The father and his children”; and “the role of the mother”.

The book’s special genius is to deal with such topics in some detail while always keeping an overall philosophical perspective; and that perspective is always a Catholic one. The frequent examples of good and bad behaviour, today and in the past, show that if our civilization is not founded on Christianity it will be worthless.

The book follows on from that excellent book, Catholic Manual of Civility. The two go very well together and both should be widely read. The advantage of this book is that it is for girls as well as boys and, generally, has a wider audience in mind. It is a great mistake to think that, when dealing with the young, one should always “dumb down” (we in England know this American phrase). The opposite is the truth. I was for some years a Head Master of schools in England and one of my challenges to the teachers was this: “Can you tell me why our young people do not deserve the best of everything? The best literature, the best art, the best architecture? This book fits well with that philosophy – second best will not do. “Excelsior” is the motto behind the book – always strive for the highest.

Since the book is written by Americans with Americans in mind, it is especially useful in that country, and there is a chapter called “American myths and models. ” But I can confirm that American ideas travel the world, especially via Hollywood and television and so that chapter with its references to “The cowboy” and others is no less relevant in Europe. The authors, in any case, make frequent reference to European countries.

Opening door for lady

A lady appreciates a gentleman who opens the door to let her pass first
This book is definitely needed in England. Not very long ago English people, especially the English gentleman, were admired throughout the word for their courtesy. I am sad to say that this is no longer true. Travelling on the tube in London is not to be recommended as one will be pushed to one side and it is quite rare for gentlemen to stand up to give their seats to ladies or the young for the old. Indeed, those who do stand up may be subject to so-called feminist diatribe.

I do, though, like the story of a man who stood up for a youngish lady on the tube and was given an unpleasant mouthful about feminist rights and how it was degrading to be stood up for. The man peered through his spectacles and said, “I am most awfully sorry and humbly apologise: my mother taught me always to stand up for a lady and I have made a mistake; I thought you were a lady.”

This book will make the ideal present for any girl and boy from the ages of seven to twenty. Good schools could buy sets of the book for a whole class and a teacher could read it with pupils as a text. Catholic parents should have a copy as should all Catholic teachers. It should be in all good libraries. I do hope it is made easily available in England.

The twentieth century Irish poet W.B. Yeats wrote this in his fine poem “A Prayer for my daughter”:
“In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;” In the final stanza of the poem he added: “How but in custom and in ceremony Are innocence and beauty born?”
Snap up copies of this book, read it, treasure it and give it to your friends and relations.
Eric Hester was for 24 years Head Master of Catholic Schools in England, a Chief Examiner for English Literature, a Chief Inspector, and, in his retirement, writes for The Catholic Times and other newspapers and periodicals.

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Posted October 8, 2010

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