A couple of columns ago I wrote about an incident that took place at the Eagle Club here in Gstaad. I indicated that if cowardice prevailed, I would go into details. I had two weeks to think about these details. Well, the trouble is that cowardice did prevail, and although the Eagle has not lived up to the requirements of a club, what happens in a club stays in a club, and I need to live up to the standards of someone who joined it sixty years ago and generously contributed to it financially when it was floundering and about to go under.
As I wrote two weeks ago, the mix of gentlemen and lowlifes is a toxic one; the latter is bound to step out of line and revert to type. Like throwing a punch from behind after misinterpreting a joke, or lying about what took place beforehand. Fraudsters should not be invited as guests in clubs, not because they might set up a crooked deal—which they would if they could—but because manners go step-by-step with morals, and a fraudster lacks both. A toxic mix indeed. Finally, when my wife, born a serene highness in a 900-year-old noble family, and one who has never in her life had a snobby thought toward a fellow human being, feels insulted enough to commiserate with a woman by telling her she’s sorry the woman had to marry a man so common—no use going into details about that particular incident—it’s time to call it a day. I’m off for good. The irony is that I no longer like the place. A club cannot be run by a Mrs. Danvers who, although an employee, chooses who comes in or not. She, of course, will bring in lowlifes. Having said all that, I wish the place well. My children are members and my grandchildren use it, but the next time I cross its portals I will be a transgender black woman wearing fishnet tights.
Mind you, the days when men walked on the outside of the pavement and stood up when a lady entered the room have gone the way of high-button shoes. I am told that giving up one’s seat to a woman in a public transport in America can land one in poo-poo. Feminists do not take kindly to what they feel is condescension. Edmund Burke thought that manners were more important than laws. Poor old Edmund, he wouldn’t exactly have been sought after by television producers seeking to push the boundaries nowadays. Common courtesy, in fact, might soon become a statutory offense.
Good manners are not a superficial activity. They serve a moral purpose. They illustrate that one is willing to put others first. A Schubert song, a Hopper painting, a Chopin nocturne, a Mozart aria—all are a blow against rudeness and the brutality of modern life. The great Paul Johnson wrote that even a duel, with its mannered code, was better than the murderous brawls in the streets, the punch from behind.