Here are a few quotes from a book written in 1849 about the heart of being polite. The name of the book is the Lady's Vase. I thought these quotes fit in nicely with our Finishing School theme.
1) "Honor all men," says the apostle. This is the spring of good manners; it strikes at the very root of selfishness: it is the principle by which we render to all ranks and ages their due. A respect for your fellow-beings—a reverence for them as God's creatures and our brethren—will inspire that delicate regard for their rights and feelings, of which good manners is the sign.
2) If you have truth—not the truth of policy, but religious truth—your manners will be sincere. They will have earnestness, simplicity, and frankness—the best qualities of manners. They will be free from assumption, pretense, affectation, flattery, and obsequiousness, which are all incompatible with sincerity. If you have sincerity, you will choose to appear no other, nor better, than you are—to dwell in a true light.
3) Every thing really valuable is sure to be counterfeited. This applies not only to money, medicine, religion, and virtue, but even to politeness. We see in society the truly polite and the falsely polite; and, although all cannot explain, all can feel the difference. While we respect the one, we despise the other. Men hate to be cheated. An attempt to deceive us, is an insult to our understandings and an affront to our morals. The pretender to politeness is a cheat. He tries to palm off the base for the genuine; and, although he may deceive the vulgar, he cannot overreach the cultivated. ... True politeness is the smoothness of a refined mind and the tact of a kind heart.
4) Vanity, a love of display, an overweening desire to be admired, are great obstacles to self-possession; whereas, a well-disciplined and well-balanced character will generally lead to composure and self-command. In a very elegant assemblage, in a large drawing-room in a Southern city, I saw a young lady walk quietly and easily across the apartment to speak to a friend, who said to her: "I wanted very much to get to you, but I had not the courage to cross the room. How could you do it?—all alone, too, and with so many persons looking at you!" "I did not think of any body's looking at me," was the reply; and in that lay the secret of her self-possession. Very modest people believe themselves to be of too little consequence to be observed; but conceited ones, think every body must be looking at them. Inexperienced girls, who are not wanting in modesty, are apt to dread going into a crowded room, from an idea that every eye will be turned upon them; but after a while they find that nobody cares to look at them, and that the greater the crowd, the less they are observed.
Your enjoyment of a party depends far less on what you find there, than on what you carry with you. The vain, the ambitious, the designing, will be full of anxiety when they go, and of disappointment when they return. A short triumph will be followed by a deep mortification, and the selfishness of their aims defeats itself. If you go to see and to hear, and to make the best of whatever occurs, with a disposition to admire all that is beautiful, and to sympathize in the pleasures of others, you can hardly fail to spend the time pleasantly. The less you think of yourself and your claims to attention, the better. If you are much attended to, receive it modestly, and consider it as a happy accident; if you are little noticed, use your leisure in observing others.5) If your mind is alive to the wishes and claims of others, you will easily perceive when it is a virtue to talk and when to be silent. It is undue pre-occupation with self which blinds people, and prevents their seeing what the occasion requires.
You can find The Lady's Vase online at Project Gutenburg. I found many very thought-provoking gems in this little book. But, there were other parts that I either didn't find to be very sound or didn't find to be very useful. So, please be aware that while I do think many of you would enjoy reading it, I do have some reservations about it. Use your own judgment.