George Washington, Gentleman
( Originally Published 1916 )
THE most significant thing about George Washington, it seems to me, that fact about him which our young folks would best note and imitate in him, is that he was a GENTLEMAN.
After all, the finest compliment we can pay any man is to say he is a gentleman. Not that he is a spurious gentleman, an idler, a spendthrift, and a dandy, but that he is a real man, and gentle.
One of the best descriptions of a gentleman is to be found in the words of St. Paul. Let me paraphrase them :
"A gentleman suffereth long, and is kind; envieth not; vaunteth not himself and is not puffed up; doth not behave himself unseemly; seeketh not his own; is not easily provoked; and thinketh no evil."
If you will analyze this list (found in I. Cor. xiii, 4, 5) you will find these eight marks of a gentleman, to wit: Patience, Humaneness, Absence of Envy, Humility, Courtesy, Unselfishness, Self-Control, and High-Mindedness. In proportion as a man has these elements, whether he be a section hand on a railway or a millionaire's son, he is a gentleman.
And whoever has the opposite traits is no gentleman, even if he wear a dress suit and have a college education, to wit: Impatience, Cruelty, Envy, Pride, Discourtesy, Selfishness, Petulance, and Suspicion.
By these tests George Washington was the Foremost Gentleman of America, and indeed far outclassed any prominent person of his time in the world.
His patience was amazing. What hero in history bore greater burdens, and with such unswerving fortitude? In the turmoil of his day all men turned to him as the one strong, rock-like figure, the embodiment of the highest quality of man-hood in the New World.
He was Humane. Under his dignity was a warm heart. Not a vicious, cruel, or resentful act is in his record.
He had no Envy, which perhaps is the very meanest feeling common among mortals. An-other's success pleased him. The cynic remark of La Rochefoucauld was untrue at least in him: "In the adversity of our best friends we often find something that is not exactly displeasing."
He had Humility, perhaps the greatest of virtues, as Pride is the sure sign of a petty nature. He never coveted prominence. He never struggled for office. He ruled only because it was the best way he could serve. He refused a crown, and retired gladly from the presidency.
He was Courteous. This is an acid test of greatness. The small man's first impulse, when clothed with a "little brief authority," is to domineer. How many a false great man betrays his vulgar soul by rudeness and disregard of others' feelings !
He was Unselfish. He "sought not his own." A coarse nature is sensitive about his "rights." He is alert to his advantage. He wants all that is coming to him. But when you meet a great soul you find no trace of the pig in it. His noble disinterestedness rises upon you like the sun.
He was Self-Controlled. You find in him none of that petulance and irritation, of those storms of alternate self-pity and self-conceit you see in Napoleon. Napoleon had great talents; Washington was a great man.
He was High-Minded. He "bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things, endured all things." He trusted men. He was slow to listen to slander. He clung stubbornly to his ideals concerning his country.
He was not perhaps what the world would call a saint. He had his imperfections, his limitations. He was not a superman.
But he was a GENTLEMAN.
And thus he bore without abuse
He was a GENTLEMAN; and you cannot go amiss, young man, if you love that fine old face that looks down upon you from its frame on the wall, where your grandfather hung it, and if you strive to mould your life after the example of George Washington.