Character Building - The Gentlemen
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IT would be hard to find among the men of our own time one who illustrates more completely the title "gentleman" than George William Curtis, whose life terminated within the memory of the present generation. Three hundred years before him there lived in England Sir Philip Sidney, whom men have long esteemed a shining, if not the brightest, exemplar of "gentlemanliness," to the possession of which all right-minded men aspire. It was peculiarly fitting and fortunate, therefore, that Mr. Curtis should write of the life and characteristics of Sidney, as he has done in Volume VII of the Library, and every lad ought to read and re-read that essay until the spirit which it portrays becomes a part of himself. He had, Mr. Curtis tells us of Sidney, that happy harmony of mind and temper, of enthusiasm and good sense, of accomplishment and capacity, which is described by that most exquisite and most abused word, gentleman. "His guitar hung by a ribbon at his side, but his sword hung upon leather beneath it. His knee bent gallantly to his queen, but it knelt reverently also to his Maker. And it was the crown of the gentleman that he was neither ashamed of the guitar nor of the sword; neither of the loyalty nor the prayer. For a gentleman is not an idler, a trifler, a dandy; he is not a scholar only, a soldier, a mechanic, a merchant; he is the flower of men, in whom the accomplishment of the scholar, the bravery of the soldier, the skill of the mechanic, the sagacity of the merchant, all have their part and appreciation. A sense of duty is his mainspring." Then, going into the breadth of the subject, Mr. Curtis gives us one of the finest definitions of the gentleman ever penned-fine both in its lofty appreciation, and also as a model of pure English style. Perhaps there is no one article in the volume more profitable for the youthful reader than this.
Parents also should read this inspiring chapter. But the subject is so broad and important that it deserves a wider treatment and more extensive reading. The following articles should also be read and considered and discussed in the family circle-" John Wesley" and "George Washington" in Volume VI. These are life-sketches of two great and heroic gentlemen. The following poems, in Volume XI, contain many admirable suggestions that will help to make more clear this subject: "Lady Clare," "Be True," "Polonius to Laertes." We also recommend in this connection the reading of the following articles in Volume X: "Lord Chesterfield's Maxims," " Good Manners in the Home, " and " Grumblers. " In Volume III there are several entertaining stories that make clear to little folks some of the qualities of the true gentleman; thus the story entitled "Two Little Boys" will be found interesting to them as well as to older children.
The conception of the word "gentleman" in the Middle Ages and in heroic times is shown by two hero stories, or legends, in Volume II: "Guy of Warwick" and "Galahad and the Sacred Cup." In connection with this last-named English leg-end the older boys and girls may profitably read the poem by Tennyson, in Volume XI, entitled "Sir Galahad."
We suggest that the young reader consult the definition of the word "gentleman" in any good dictionary, and try to ac-quire a fondness for frequently consulting a dictionary or encyclopedia. The following quotation is worth considering: " George Washington in the highest sense of the word was a gentleman and a man of honor."