The True Gentleman
( Originally Published 1879 )
WHEN you have found a man, you have not far to go to find a gentleman. You cannot make a gold ring out of brass. You cannot change a Cape May crystal to a diamond. You cannot make a gentleman till you first find a man.
To be a gentleman is not sufficient to have had a grandfather. To be a gentleman does not depend on the tailor or the toilet. Blood will degenerate. Good clothes are not good habits.
A gentleman is a man who is gentle. Titles, graceful accomplishments, superior culture, princely wealth, great talents, genius, do not constitute a man with all the attributes needed to make him a gentleman. He may be awkward, angular, homely, or poor, and yet belong to the uncrowned aristocracy. His face may be bronzed at the forge or bleached in the mill, his hand huge and hard, his patched vest, like Joseph's coat of many colors, and he may still be a true gentleman. The dandy; is a dry goods sign, and not a gentleman, for he depends upon dress and not upon his honor and virtue, for his passport to the best circles of society. " The man who has no money is poor, he who has nothing but money is poorer than he," and is not a gentleman Some of the most distinguished men in the world of letters, in the world of art, have been unamiable, gross, vulgar, ungentle, consequently not gentlemen.
There is true dignity in labor, and no true dignity without it. He who looks down scornfully on labor is like Hermes, who had a mouth and no hands, and yet made faces at those who fed him-mocking the fingers that brought bread to his lips.
He who writes a book, or builds a house, or tills a farm, or follows any useful employment, lives to some purpose, and contributes something to the fund of human happiness.
Garibaldi, the greatest hero of the age, is a working man. Henry Clay was "the mill-boy of the slashes." Daniel Webster knit his iron frame into strength by working on his father's farm when young.
A gentleman is a human being, combining a woman's tenderness with a man's courage.
A gentleman is just a gentleman: no more, no less; a diamond polished that was first a diamond in the rough. A gentleman is gentle. A gentleman is modest. A gentleman is courteous. A gentleman is slow to take offense, as being one who never gives it. A gentleman is slow to surmise evil, as being one who never thinks it. A gentleman subjects his appetites. A gentleman refines his taste. A gentleman subdues his feelings. A gentleman controls his speech. A gentleman deems every other better than himself.
Sir Philip Sydney was never so much of a gentleman—mirror though he was of English knighthood—as when, upon the field of Zutphen, as he lay in his own blood, he waived the draught of cool spring water, that was to quench his dying thirst, in favor of a dying soldier.
St. Paul describes a gentleman when he exhorted the Philippian Christians: "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think of these things." And Dr. Isaac Barlow, in his admirable sermon on the callings of a gentleman, pointedly says: He should labor and study to be a leader unto virtue, and a notable promoter thereof; directing and exciting men thereto by his exemplary conversation; encouraging them by his countenance and authority; rewarding the goodness of meaner people by his bounty and favor; he should be such a gentleman as Noah, who preached righteousness by his words and works before a profane world."
One very frequently hears the remark made, that such and such a man "can be a gentleman when he pleases." Now when our reader next hears this expression made use of, let him call to mind the following: He who "can be a gentleman when he pleases," never pleases to be anything else.
A gentleman, like porcelain ware, must be painted before it is glazed. There can be no change after it is burned in.
The sword of the best-tempered metal is the most flexible, so the truly generous are the most pliant and courteous in their behavior to their inferiors.
The true gentleman is one whose nature has been fashioned after the highest models. His qualities depend not upon fashion or manners, but upon moral worth—not on personal possessions, but on personal qualities. The psalmist briefly describes him as one "that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart."
The gentleman is eminently distinguished by his self-respect. He values his character—not so much of it only as can be seen by others, but as he sees it himself, having regard for the approval of his inward monitor. And, as he respects himself, so, by the same law, does he respect others. Humanity is sacred in his eyes, and thence proceed politeness and forbearance, kindness and charity.
The true gentleman has a keen sense of honor—scrupulously avoiding mean actions. His standard of probity in word and action is high. He does not shuffle nor prevaricate, dodge nor skulk; but is honest, upright, and straightforward. His law is rectitude—action in right lines. When he says yes, it is a law; and he dares to say the valiant no at the fitting season. The gentleman will not be bribed; only the low-minded and unprincipled will sell themselves to those who are interested in buying them.
Riches and rank have no necessary connection with genuine gentlemanly qualities. The poor man may be a true gentleman—in spirit and in daily life. He may be honest, truthful, upright, polite, temperate, courageous, self respecting and self-helping—that is, be a true gentleman. The poor man with a rich spirit is in all ways superior to the rich man with a poor spirit. To borrow St. Paul's words, the former is as "having nothing, yet possessing all things," while the other, though possessing all things, has nothing. The first hopes everything and fears nothing ; the last hopes nothing and fears everything. Only the poor in spirit, are really poor. He who has lost all, but retains his courage, cheerfulness, hope, virtue and self-respect, is a true gentleman.
Sense is our helmet—wit is but a plume ; The plume exposes— 'tis our helmet saves.