Tuchman too writes of the “childishness noticeable in medieval behavior, with its marked inability to restrain any kind of impulse.” Dorothy Sayers, in the introduction to her translation of The Song of Roland, adds, “The idea that a strong man should react to great personal and national calamities by a slight compression of the lips and by silently throwing his cigarette into the fireplace is of very recent origin. Though the childishness of the medievals was surely exaggerated, there may indeed be differences in degree in the mores of emotional expression in different eras. Elias spends much of The Civilizing Process documenting this transition with an unusual database: manuals of etiquette. Today we think of these books, like Amy Vanderbilt’s Everyday Etiquette and Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, as sources of handy tips for avoiding embarrassing peccadilloes. But at one time they were serious guides to moral conduct, written by the leading thinkers of the day. In 1530 the great scholar Desiderius Erasmus, one of the founders of modernity, wrote an etiquette manual called On Civility in Boys which was a bestseller throughout Europe for two centuries. By laying down rules for what people ought not to do, these manuals give us a snapshot of what they must have been doing.

The people of the Middle Ages were, in a word, gross. A number of the advisories in the etiquette books deal with eliminating bodily effluvia: Don’t foul the staircases, corridors, closets, or wall hangings with urine or other filth. • Don’t relieve yourself in front of ladies, or before doors or windows of court chambers. • Don’t slide back and forth on your chair as if you’re trying to pass gas. • Don’t touch your private parts under your clothes with your bare hands. • Don’t greet someone while they are urinating or defecating. • Don’t make noise when you pass gas. • Don’t undo your clothes in front of other people in preparation for defecating, or do them up afterwards. • When you share a bed with someone in an inn, don’t lie so close to him that you touch him, and don’t put your legs between his. • If you come across something disgusting in the sheet, don’t turn to your companion and point it out to him, or hold up the stinking thing for the other to smell and say “I should like to know how much that stinks.” Others deal with blowing one’s nose: Don’t blow your nose onto the tablecloth, or into your fingers, sleeve, or hat. • Don’t offer your used handkerchief to someone else. • Don’t carry your handkerchief in your mouth. • “Nor is it seemly, after wiping your nose, to spread out your handkerchief and peer into it as if pearls and rubies might have fallen out of your head.” Then there are fine points of spitting: Don’t spit into the bowl when you are washing your hands. • Do not spit so far that you have to look for the saliva to put your foot on it. • Turn away when spitting, lest your saliva fall on someone. • “If anything purulent falls to the ground, it should be trodden upon, lest it nauseate someone.”23 • If you notice saliva on someone’s coat, it is not polite to make it known.