15 Bits of Advice for 19th Century Houseguests That Still Hold Up

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There’s no shortage of tricky issues to address when you’re staying with a friend or family member. While rules of society are always changing, certain aspects of good manners are timeless. Here are a few rules from the 1800s that will get you invited back next time you crash with a pal.

1. Don’t take casual invitations seriously. 

In American Etiquette and Rules of Politeness from 1883, Walter R. Houghton points out that general invitations often get tossed out when people don’t mean them and simply want to appear friendly. While it’s the host’s mistake, he writes, “...it is a still worse blunder to take such people at their word.” Wait until you’ve been formally invited and there’s no doubt that the offer is sincere. 

2. Never make a surprise visit. 

This truism goes hand in hand with the first piece of etiquette. Don’t drop in on friends or family, no matter how comfortable you feel with them. Houghton does make one exception: “The unlooked-for return of a widow’s long-lost son may be to her the more intensely joyous because unexpected…” If you’re in that situation, by all means, feel free to break this rule of etiquette. 

3. Don’t overstay your welcome.

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A couple of hundred years ago, the etiquette authorities suggested erring on the side of caution, aiming to make your visit shorter rather than longer. This rule remains a good way to make sure you’re not over-imposing with the potential side benefit of having your hosts feel really, truly sorrowful when you leave. The manner masters of the days of yore also advised guests to never stay a full week, with three days as the suggested maximum visit. Again, that figure still looks right as rain in the 21st century.  

4. Let your host know how long you’ll be staying. 

In 19th century etiquette books, it’s suggested that one should announce the length of his or her visit upon arrival, if the hosts have not already stipulated how long they’d like the visit to be. While this step actually seems a bit eccentric, it might be a fun way to add some suspense and drama to your next visit to a friend’s quiet country home. People love mystery and intrigue, so you’ll already be wildly entertaining from the moment you arrive. 

5. Conform.

To the habits of the home, that is. In Martine's Handbook of Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness from 1866, Arthur Martine writes “If invited to spend a few days at a friend’s house, conform as much as possible to the habits of the family. When parting for the night, inquire respecting the breakfast hour, and ascertain at what time the family meet for prayers.” Houghton takes it a step further, writing that one must “submit cheerfully” even if the hours are not suitable. That advice might be a bit extreme, but it’s always good manners to do what you can to not disrupt the flow of your hosts or their household.

6. Avert your attention.

While some 19th century advice can seem a little overbearing, at the end of the day, it will always be true that being invited into someone’s home means you may witness some awkwardness. Just like existence of the problem itself, the advice on dealing with it remains solid: Ignore it and keep your mouth shut. In 1887’s A Manual of Etiquette with Hint on Politeness and Good Breeding, Daisy Eyebright writes, “...well-bred persons will never repeat what a Mrs. A. said, nor tell what Mr. A. did, when they were visiting at their house. Such discrepancies of good manners are perfectly unendurable, and no respectable person will excuse them.” Real talk doesn’t show its age.   

7. Bring gifts.

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Eyebright suggests giving little presents to the servants who’ve waited upon you. If you’re staying with someone who actually has servants, this pointer probably holds up as good manners. For the rest of us, reroute that intention toward your host, who would certainly appreciate a gesture of wine, baked goods, or some other goodwill in material form. 

8. Say yes. 

When a host proposes activities for amusement or entertainment, go with the flow and enjoy what they have planned for you. (Yes, you get sympathy points if it involves a terrible board or card game or vacation photos.) It’s not enough just to participate—you must also be timely. In The Ladies’ and Gentlemen's Etiquette Book of the Best Society from 1879, author Jane Aster writes, “Another point of good-breeding is to be punctual at meals ... if, however, a guest should fail in this particular, a well-bred entertainer will not only take no notice of it, but attempt to set the late comer as much at his ease as possible.” 

9. Be inclusive. 

Should you receive an invitation from a third party during your stay, it’s only polite to invite your host along unless it’s a date or some other outing where it would be inappropriate. Your host ought to do the same for you, writes Houghton, though, “either should generally refuse to accept an invitation to him alone." 

10. Don’t cause any trouble...

...but don’t apologize for your presence either! Martine writes, “Give as little trouble as possible; and never think of apologizing for the extra trouble which your visit occasions. Such an apology implies that your friend cannot conveniently entertain you.”  In other words, be polite, but not too polite.

11. Be tidy and lend a hand.

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This bit of manners minding definitely holds up two centuries later. Keep your space neat and clean, and do the same with communal spaces in the home. As Houghton writes, “Do not let garments lie scattered about promiscuously.” If there aren’t any servants, guests ought to make the bed and help the hosts in any way he or she can.

12. Don’t be too needy. 

Houghton advises, “Guests must be careful not to demand too constant attention from their entertainers, especially in the morning when the hostess has duties of her own.” That said, it’s not right to seek entertainment elsewhere and avoid your hosts, either. The theme here is essentially to make yourself available, but not too available, while also submitting to the desires of those you’re indebted to, which basically sums up most rules of etiquette.

13. Give thanks. 

Being a gracious guest is pretty obvious, and 19th century conduct guides basically laugh at the possibility that you’d ever consider not saying thank you. Martine writes, “We presume that few people will leave a friend's house without some expression of regret, and some acknowledgement proffered for the pleasure that has been afforded them. Instances to the contrary have come within our knowledge, and therefore we remind our youthful readers especially, that this small act of politeness is indispensable, not in the form of a set speech, but by a natural flowing forth of right feeling.”

14. Let them know you made it home safely.

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In the 19th century, a letter was the suggested medium for informing your hosts that you made it home okay and to reiterate your appreciation. Today, a text, email, call, or social media post will probably also suffice. Letter writing is also still an option if you want to introduce an element of suspense.

15. Reciprocate with an invitation.

Many of the propriety books from the 19th century have a variation of this phrase, taken in this particular form from A Manual of Etiquette: “The chain which binds society together is composed of innumerable links, and it should be the part of hosts and guests to keep them uniformly bright; and to let neither moth nor rust corrupt them.” That said, your final duty as a good guest is to offer your former host an invitation to stay with you (if such a thing would be desirable), and once they accept, you can read up on all the ways to be a good host in the 19th century and today.

25 Amazing Facts About the Human Body

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The human body is an amazing piece of machinery—with a few weird quirks.

  1. It’s possible to brush your teeth too aggressively. Doing so can wear down enamel and make teeth sensitive to hot and cold foods.

  2. Goose bumps evolved to make our ancestors’ hair stand up, making them appear more threatening to predators.

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  1. Wisdom teeth serve no purpose. They’re left over from hundreds of thousands of years ago. As early humans’ brains grew bigger, it reduced space in the mouth, crowding out this third set of molars.

  2. Scientists aren't exactly sure why we yawn, but it may help regulate body temperature.

  3. Your fingernails don’t actually grow after you’re dead.

  4. If they were laid end to end, all of the blood vessels in the human body would encircle the Earth four times.

  5. Humans are the only animals with chins.

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    1. As you breathe, most of the air is going in and out of one nostril. Every few hours, the workload shifts to the other nostril.

    2. Blood makes up about 8 percent of your total body weight.

    3. The human nose can detect about 1 trillion smells.

    4. You have two kidneys, but only one is necessary to live.

    5. Belly buttons grow special hairs to catch lint.

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      1. The satisfying sound of cracking your knuckles comes from gas bubbles bursting in your joints.

      2. Skin is the body’s largest organ and can comprise 15 percent of a person’s total weight.

      3. Thumbs have their own pulse.

      4. Your tongue is made up of eight interwoven muscles, similar in structure to an elephant’s trunk or an octopus’s tentacle.

      5. On a genetic level, all human beings are more than 99 percent identical.

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        1. The foot is one of the most ticklish parts of the body.

        2. Extraocular muscles in the eye are the body’s fastest muscles. They allow both of your eyes to flick in the same direction in a single 50-millisecond movement.

        3. A surgical procedure called a selective amygdalohippocampectomy removes half of the brain’s amygdala—and with it, the patient’s sense of fear.

        4. The pineal gland, which secretes the hormone melatonin, got its name from its shape, which resembles a pine nut.

        5. Hair grows fast—about 6 inches per year. The only thing in the body that grows faster is bone marrow.

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          1. No one really knows what fingerprints are for, but they might help wick water away from our hands, prevent blisters, or improve touch.

          2. The heart beats more than 3 billion times in the average human lifespan.

          3. Blushing is caused by a rush of adrenaline.

8 Facts About Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein was a multi-talented children’s author, comic artist, poet, playwright, and songwriter, and above all else, a rule-breaker. From The Giving Tree to Where the Sidewalk Ends, his titles are beloved by children and adults alike. At the time they were written, though, they defied common notions about what a "children’s" story could and should be. This isn’t all that surprising, considering that the Chicago-born author, who passed away in 1999, led a pretty unconventional life. Here are eight things you might not know about him.

1. One of Shel Silverstein's first jobs was selling hot dogs in Chicago.

Shel Silverstein didn’t always want to be a writer, or even a cartoonist or songwriter. His first love was baseball. "When I was a kid—12, 14, around there—I would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls," he once said in an interview. "But I couldn’t play ball, I couldn’t dance. Luckily, the girls didn’t want me; not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write.” The closest he came to his MLB dream was when he landed a stint at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, selling hot dogs to White Sox fans.

2. Silverstein never finished college.

Silverstein was expelled from one school (the University of Illinois) and dropped out of another (the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). Finally, he managed to get through three years of the English program at Chicago's Roosevelt University, but his studies came to an abrupt end when he was drafted in 1953.

3. Silverstein was a Korean War veteran.

In the 1950s, Silverstein was drafted into the U.S. armed service. While he was stationed in Korea and Japan, he also worked as a cartoonist for the military publication Stars and Stripes. It was his first big cartooning gig. "For a guy of my age and with my limited experience to suddenly have to turn out cartoons on a day-to-day deadline deadline, the job was enormous,'' Silverstein told Stars and Stripes in a 1969 interview.

4. Silverstein worked for Playboy magazine and was Part of Hugh Hefner's inner circle.

That’s right: the lovable children’s author was on Playboy’s payroll for many years. He started drawing comics for the men’s magazine in the 1950s and ended up becoming close friends with Hugh Hefner. In fact, he often spent weeks or even months at the Playboy Mansion, where he wrote some of his books. His cartoons for the magazine proved so popular that Playboy sent him around the world to find the humor in places like London, Paris, North Africa, and Moscow during the Cold War. Perhaps his most off-color assignment, though, was visiting a nudist camp in New Jersey. These drawings were compiled in the 2007 book Playboy's Silverstein Around the World, which includes a foreword from Hefner.

5. Silverstein wrote Johnny Cash's hit song "A Boy Named Sue."

Few people know that Silverstein was a songwriter, too. One of his biggest hits was the comical tale of a boy who learned how to defend himself after being relentlessly bullied for his feminine-sounding name, Sue. The song was popularized by Johnny Cash and ended up being his top-selling single, while Silverstein was awarded a Grammy for Best Country Song. You can watch Silverstein strumming the guitar and shouting the lyrics alongside Cash on The Johnny Cash Show in the video above. Silverstein also wrote a follow-up song from the dad’s point of view, The Father of a Boy Named Sue, but it didn't take off the way the original did.

6. Silverstein is in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Three years after his death, Silverstein was inducted posthumously into this exclusive society of songwriters. He wrote more than 800 songs throughout his career, some of which were quite raunchy. But his best-known songs were performed by country legends like Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings. “His compositions were instantly identifiable, filled with elevated wordplay and captivating, humor-filled narratives,” the Nashville Songwriters Foundation said of Silverstein's music.

7. Silverstein wrote the first children’s book to appear on The New York Times best sellerS list.

A Light in the Attic (1981) was the first children’s book to ever make it onto the prestigious New York Times Best Sellers list. It remained there for a whopping 182 weeks, breaking all of the previous records for hardcover books at that time.

8. Silverstein wasn't a fan of happy endings.

If you couldn’t already tell by The Giving Tree’s sad conclusion, Silverstein didn’t believe in giving his stories happy endings. He felt that doing so would alienate his young readers. "The child asks why I don't have this happiness thing you're telling me about, and comes to think when his joy stops that he has failed, that it won't come back,” the author said in a 1978 interview. This turned out to be a risky move, and The Giving Tree was rejected several times for being too sad or too unconventional. Fortunately, after four years of searching for a publisher, it found a home at HarperCollins (then Harper & Row) and has gone on to become one of the best-selling—and most beloved—children's books of all time.

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