Context: Emerson analyzes that aspect of human conduct known as "manners." "The power of manners is incessant"; they give us "the mastery of palaces and fortunes." Manners "make us . . . endurable to each other," and they "grow out of circumstances as well as character." Our true manners are expressed not by our speech but by our "look and gait and behavior." No matter whether in a court or a drawing-room, "the basis of good manners is self-reliance. . . . Those who are not self-possessed, obtrude, and pain us. . . . The hero should find himself at home, wherever he is; should impart comfort by his own security and good-nature to all beholders. The hero is suffered to be himself. . . . Manners impress as they indicate real power." "Superior people" are truthful and direct, and they inspire confidence and respect. The essence of good manners is "the wish to scatter joy and not pain around us." Manners are a "silent and subtile language . . . the visible carriage or action of the individual, as resulting from his organization and his will combined":
There is always a best way of doing everything, if it be to boil an egg. Manners are the happy ways of doing things; each once a stroke of genius or of love,–now repeated and hardened into usage. They form at last a rich varnish, with which the routine of life is washed, and its details adorned. If they are superficial, so are the dew-drops which give such a depth to the morning meadows. Manners are very communicable: men catch them from each other . . .