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Quite a gentleman online

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A MAN can never be a true gentleman
in manner, until he is a true gentleman
at heart. — Charles Dickens.



' Vahiahlc an a sla'cmetit of the jircscut jiositioH
theoloQical Vwuiihl.'

—The Dundee Auvertiseu.
'A vcrij valuahlc theological symjwsiiiiii.'


" Look who is most virtuous alway,
Prive and apert ; and most entendeth aye
To do the gentil dedes that he can,
And take him for the greatest gentleman."













September, 1877.



]\Iy Dear Harry,

^ ^ ^ # *

E are glad to hear all that you say of
your new master, and that, besides
being a good teacher, he is a jolly
fellow, and " quite a gentleman." But
I wonder what you mean by this last remark?
The jolly fellow, I think I understand. No
doubt he is bright and cheerful over the les-
sons, makes the best of things, helps you out of
difficulties, joins in the games, is not over-hard
upon trifling faults, in short, is sympathetic and
just, two most admirable qualities in anybody. —


But now as to " quite a gentleman." I should
particularly like to know what there is about him
to make you say so. — Are his clothes well cut ?
Does he speak softly and respect the Queen's
English? Has he always clean hands and good
boots ? Is he particular about his collars ? Has he
a taste for choice books and engravings, and for
pretty things in his room ?^or what ? The more
I think of it, the greater is my curiosity to learn
what, in your estimation, are the distinguishing
marks of "a gentleman." — A few evenings ago,
when we were dining at the B s, the conversa-
tion turned upon the Public Schools, and their
various merits and defects. Of course the mamas
of the company lamented over the quantity of
learning which it is supposed necessary to stuff
into the boys of the present day, and we wondered
whether you would, in the end, turn out any the
wiser for it all.

One comfortable-looking lady, with many rings,
observed that, for her part, she did not care two
pins about the learning, but that she should cer-
tainly send Jier boy to Eton, because she was de-


termined that he should be "a gentleman." The
other guests agreed that it was of the first import-
ance that their boys should be made gentlerhen ;
though some of them resisted the notion that Eton
had any pre-eminence in gentility over the schools
to which they themselves had belonged. But the
lady stuck to her text. She had always understood,
she said, that the Eton boys were distinguished for
their gentlemanlike manners, and as she particu-
larly wished her son to be a gentleman, to Eton he
must go. — Then whilst the tea and coffee were
handed round, I fell to wondering what might be
the precise nature of those gentlemanly attributes
which all esteemed so highly, but which, according
to this good lady, could only with certainty be
obtained by going to school at Eton. I daresay
you guess that I have some ideas on the subject.
I wonder if you have any? If not, try to get some.
Cudgel your brains and make them answer me this
question, " What is a gentleman ? " * * *

Your affectionate



My Dear Mother,

f/iOU have set me a dreadfully hard


(lucstion to answer, about what a

gentleman is like. How can anybody
tell that without seeing him ? It is
easy to see who is a gentleman and who isn't,
but I am sure I don't exactly know w^hat is the
difference. — Of course I am not so stupid as to
think that clothes have anything to do with it.
Mr. Ray does wear awfully funny cut clothes, if it
comes to that — and hats too. He does have clean
hands as a rule, but I can't say much for his boots,
now that I come to look at them ; and he has no
swell things in his room, except some which seem to
be presents, and I expect that he is rather poor,
so it isn't that ; but he is quite a gentleman all the
same, I am sure you would say. — May I ask him
to come in the holidays, and then you will see?
Why, of course, everybody knows a gentleman from

a snob. That's what I call Mr. D , with his

fine house and all the rest of it ; you know he's not


a bit of a gentleman. How he struts about, and
talks of his 'ouse and his 'orses, and takes up all
the fire, and makes such a row, and thinks himself
everybody ! — But of course nobody is a gentleman
who drops his h's, and I don't know if he knows
anything about Latin and Greek and all that. I
suppose that has something to do with it, as such
an awful fuss is made over our learning, whether
we like it or not. — I cannot think of anything else
about being a gentleman, except the sort of things
like wearing gloves and not putting your legs on the
chairs and all that, but somehow those are not the
sort of things which I mean, because Mr. Ray does
not often wear gloves, and he often does put his
legs on a chair. — I cannot think of any rules about
being a gentleman, so if there are, please to tell me,
because I should like to know. * * *

Your affectionate



Mv Dear Harry,

(V%^]|^40UR letter made us laugh very much,
^^^'ox'^'X y^*^' seem so perplexed over your
l'viM$'^^ " gentleman ; " but I think that you

■'^^^ are not so far off the mark after all,
for if you cannot define what he is, you seem to
be pretty clear about what he is not. A man who
is boastful, noisy, and self-sufficient, and who
takes up all the fire cannot, in your opinion,
be a gentleman. A big house and a stud of
horses will not make him one, and dress, you
think, has nothing to do with it. It is absolutely
necessary that he should aspirate his h's, and it njay
in some mysterious way be advantageous for him
to know something of Latin and Greek. — Now,
liaving got so far, do you not think that you could
push your inquiries a little farther and find out
what is that something which makes a man into a
gentleman. Is it a natural gift, or can it be
acquired? and if so, how? When you have told
me your mind, I will tell you mine. — We have all


got minds, you know, only we don't always rum-
mage them enough to get at the ideas which are in
them. — You know what wonderful things come out
of those pockets of yours when we turn them inside
out ? Some fluff and dust in the corners and plenty
of string, all in a tangle, but sometimes forgotten
treasures turn up too — even an unexpected sixpence
from the very depths. — Well, turn out the pockets
of your mind and see if there are not any ideas
there, in a fluff and tangle very likely, but I am
sure that you will find some — sixpenny-worth at
least ! — Perhaps you find that " to think " is no
such easy matter as one might suppose. Well,
then, to help you to think, I will finish up my letter
with some questions, which, if you like, you may
answer just as they stand.

1. What objection is there to a man being boast-
ful and conceited ?

2. And to his making as much noise as he
pleases ?

3. Or to his "taking up the fire if he feels chilly?"

4. Would such things as these be equally objec-
tionable in a lady or in anyone else ?



5. What are the opposites to these qualities of
boastfulness, conceitedness, noisiness, and taking-
up-the-fireyness ?

6. Would the opposites help to make up your
idea of a lady or a gentleman ?

Now don't be lazy, but write and answer my
riddles on the first wet day. * *

Your ever affectionate



My Dear Mother,

^:g.^^ SUPPOSE you will laugh quite as
Vifjh- ^J^ much at this letter as you did at the
liil'^^t last, for I think your questions are
^ quite as hard as before, and I don't
quite know what I shall say. — Why, of course,
nobody likes a boastful, conceited prig. One
is always inclined to say, " Who are you ? " and
pitch into him, and they generally do up here ;
but I suppose that men can't do that sort of thing,
which is a pity. — However, I don't know wJiy a
fellow must not be an ass if he likes, only I sup-
pose he has no right to make himself disagreeable
to other people, or to think himself better than
anybody else unless he is, and the cleverest fellows
up here never seem so,- — I mean they are not at all
cocky ; and as to a gentleman not being a noisy
fellow, it is not exactly that : I mean that many
nice fellows make a row sometimes, when we get
excited in games or on breaking-up day ; so it
does not seem to be the row which is ungentle-


manlike, but making the sort of row which is to
make people notice you ; it is very vulgar to do
that, is it not? — I know you never liked us making
a loud talking and laughing on the railway station,
or any place like that, because you used to say that
it attracted attention, and that it is vulgar to try to
attract attention by making a noise, or dressing too
fine, or anything else. — As to taking up the fire, of
course it is rude to do that, because other people
may want it as much as one's self. There, I think I
have got on pretty well in answering all those
questions. — Next, about a lady being any of those
things, noisy or pushing or bumptious, of course
she would be a perfect horror, and not at all a
" gentlewoman," as you call nice ladies, and if she
were selfish into the bargain, she would be more
horrid still, because it seems so natural to women
to give up, more than it is to men, and, of course,
girls ought always to give up. — Now it has left off
raining, and as No. 5 is an awfully sticky question,
I am going out to football, and perhaps some more
ideas will come into my head by-and-by. * * * * —
I am going to finish my letter if I can, for it is a


thorough wet day again, and I have got some more
ideas, thanks to Maxwell. — Maxwell is my chum
this term. He is an awfully nice fellow, older than
me, in the next form above me, so if I want any
help about anything I always get him, and he does
it. — So I asked him what was the opposite to
" boastfulness," and he asked. Why ? and then I
read him your letter, and he was awfully pleased,
and he took me into his room, and showed me an
awfully stunning book, which I should like to have,
called " Roget's Thesaurus." Do you know it? —
If you can't think of a word, you think of some-
thing at all like it or just the contrary to it, and
then you are sure to find it, and no end besides. —
So we looked out "boasting," and found "vaunt-
ing," "brag," "pretentious," and several more, but
there did not seem to be any exactly opposite, but
soon after that we found " vanity," which we
thought came to the same thing — at least. Maxwell
said that he had read somewhere that boasting
was "spoken vanity" — and we found "self-conceit,"
" self-complacency," " self-esteem," " self-suffi-
ciency," and a lot more, under the head of " sel-


fishness." — Then opposite to "vanity" is put
"modesty," "humility," "diffidence," "timidity,"
and some more of the shy sort, but nothing about
"sclf-anything." — Maxwell doesn't think much of
these sort of things for making a gentleman. He
says, of course it's all right for ladies and girls to be
modest, and all that, but he hates shy men, they
look fools ; and your horridly humble people are
humbugs, like Uriah Hecp, and gentlemen are not

However, among the adjectives which come
after the " modesty " nouns are found some which
are more gentlemanlike, " unpretending," " un-
obtrusive," " unassuming," and so on, till it comes
to " poor in spirit," which sounds like the Sermon
on the Mount, and just then amongst the " vanity "
adjectives Maxwell spied out "puffed up," which
sounded like the Bible too, and that made me
remember having to learn all that cha])ter about
charity suffereth long, and is kind, and is not
puffed up, and your telling us that the kind of love
which charity is is quite unselfish, and that to be
quite unselfish really means to be always ready to


do what other people like rather than what we
like best, for the love of God, and Maxwell said he
did not see much difference in being " poor in
spirit " and in being " not puffed up," and they are
both the contrary to being bumptious and con-
ceited, so at first we thought perhaps being a
gentleman was something to do with being a re-
ligious sort of man, but Maxwell knows a gentle-
man who lives near him at home, and who hardly
ever goes to church, and is awfully mean and bad-
tempered, and then, you know, our old Benjamin
— why he's the best old fellow that ever was, and
goes to church, and always reads his Bible of an
evening, when he doesn't go to sleep, but nobody
could say lie was a gentleman, so we can't settle
about it, and you must write and tell us, because
you can't say I've been lazy now. — I've inked my
finger all up, and I never could have written half
this only Maxwell has helped me so. * * *

Your affectionate



Mv Dear Harry,

E are all very much pleased with your
long letter, which we think must have
cost you a great deal of time and
trouble. Pray give our best thanks to
Maxwell for his kindly promptings. — I should be
sorry to stop the flow of your ideas, but would
humbly suggest that your " style " would be greatly
improved if you could limit the number of " awfuls "
to one or two per letter. Imagine the feelings of
Dr. Roget, if he had heard his valuable dictionary
described as " awfully stunning." — Don't you think
that you could find amongst the 150, or more,
adverbs which are placed under the headings of
" extremely " or " very " some whicli would relieve
poor " awfully " from his undue labours ? But
this is by the way, and now — to answer your

May and I have had a long talk about it,
toasting our toes over the fire, and she finished
with this remark : "Well, it seems to me, Mamma,


that after all, a gentleman is a man who is gentle
and considerate on picrpose, because he thinks it
right to consider other people before himself So
Harry was right to think that the charity which
suffereth long and is kind, will also help to make
you a gentleman." — I have begun at the end so
that you may be able to see which way our talk
drifted, for I cannot write it all without making my
letter as long as a sermon, which, if I had time to
write, you would not have patience enough to read.
You see, however, that we ended very nearly where
you did, by saying that, in order to be a perfect
gentleman, one must be thoroughly unselfish, or
considerate for others. — But please to notice that
we are not supposed to be speaking of a man who
is a gentleman, only because his father was a gentle-
man before him, and because, being brought up in
a genteel atmosphere, he has learnt the manners
and customs of so-called gentlefolks. — I have no
faith in any kind of gentility which is to be applied
externally, like gold leaf or varnish ; it may be
better than none, but it is not the real thing, and
without something more ingrain than that, depend


upon it a man will never be more than a half-and-
half sort of gentleman after all. A little scrubbing
in a rough world, a little rubbing the wrorig way,
and the polish soon comes off, so that sometimes
we have the sorrow and disgust of seeing our elegant
acquaintance turn out to be a very shabby fellow
indeed.- — We have come to the conclusion that our
true gendeman is unselfish and considerate for
others. Let us see about this. Let us think of
any we know and whom we mark with this honour-
able stamp of "gentleman." How does he behave

First, we must notice that a gentleman is, as a
rule, self-controlled. He does not bounce into a
room with dirty boots and loud tones, slam the
doors, laugh uproariously, cough and clear his
throat unconstrainedly, yawn, stretch, or fidget, nor
eat and drink disagreeably, i)ut his arms on the
table, monopolize the newspapers and the easiest
chairs, smoke about the house, bawl upon the
stairs, nor make any unnecessary fuss. All such
things are heinous offences in "good society,"
which simply means to say, that they are disagree-
able to other people.


Our gentleman is as unobtrusive and unas-
suming (to use some of your list of epithets)
in his appearance as in his manner. His dress
is so much that of other men in his own class of
life, that it seems part of himself, and one would
hardly notice it, except perhaps to think how
gentlemanlike he looks. — A very fashionable or
priggish man never looks like that, does he ? You
see, I cannot even speak of a priggish gentleman, or
a fashionable gentleman, for such people make us
feel that their first object is to be noticed, and a
true gentleman does not wish to be conspicuous. —
That wish (the wish I mean of being noticed)
seems to be the sort of selfishness which is at the
bottom of everything " snobbish," and of all the
forms of vulgarity that flesh is heir to. I cannot
go into that now, but I do think that unassuming,
quiet people are never viilga?-. — Now you will
easily see that if a certain sort of selfishness pro-
duces vulgarity, we must keep ourselves down,
control ourselves, in order to be well-bred people —
gentlefolks. One of the first marks of a gentleman,
then, is this, he is self-controlled — he can "keep



himself under." — x^nd the same self-control which
can prevent a man from being noisy and vulgar,
will also prevent him from being violent, irritable,
or over-excited. Of course he may by nature be
all these, but whatever he may feel inside him,
he manages to regulate his external behaviour so
that at any rate other people shall not suffer from
his weakness.

Do you remember how in the life of Faraday,
which we were reading last holidays, the biographer,
after describing the kindliness and habitual sweet-
ness of manner which were characteristic of that
most loveable man, goes on to say that, " Yet by
nature he was far from being one of those pas-
sionless men who resemble a cold statue rather
than throbbing flesh and blood. His inner life
was a battle, with its wounds as well as its victory.
Proud by nature and quick-tempered, he must
have found the curb often necessary; but notwith-
standing the rapidity of his actions and thoughts
he knew how to keep a tight rein on that fiery
spirit." — And another writer says that, "Through
high self-discipline he had converted his fire into


a central glow and motive power of life, instead of
permitting it to waste itself in useless passion." — It
was, then, because of his perfect conquest over him-
self, and his consequent respect for others, that the
blacksmith's son, the little errand boy, became a
perfect gentleman.— Learning and perseverance
might have made him a philosopher and companion
of learned and educated people, but they would
not have sufficed to make him what Mr. Dumas
describes him : ** The illustrious man, whose youth
endured poverty with dignity, whose mature age
bore honours with moderation, and whose last
years passed gently away surrounded by marks of
respect and tender affection." — There is another
great philosopher of whom, I think, that we all have
formed a very pleasant idea without perhaps know-
ing much about him. — Possibly we have endowed
him with more personal charms than he really
possessed, for he is described as being short and
rather fat, with nothing remarkably attractive either
in his appearance or conversation. Yet I, for one,
never can resist the idea that Sir Isaac Newton
must have been a refined, unselfish man, and


"quite a gentleman ;" and all because of that little
anecdote which every child knows, about how
when his little dog upset a candle amongst his
papers and destroyed what had given him months
of labour, he only exclaimed, " Oh ! Diamond,
Diamond, thou little knowest what mischief thou
hast done."

Sometimes we hear people say that they like
a violent-tempered person better than a smooth,
imperturbable creature who is not easily upset
by anything that happens, I think that it is not
the violence, but the power of feeling, which we
like. — Violence must be disagreeable, but if we see
that a man by the warmth of his nature feels a
thing very strongly, we sympathize with him and
excuse the violence, and we actually respect him
if we see that though he is naturally passionate he
controls himself so as not to annoy other people. —
There is dignity in calmness of manner which is
the result of such an effort, as there is an appear-
ance of under breeding and commonness in un-
controlled anger, flighty excitability, or uncalled-for
show of one's personal feelings.


Next, our gentleman is courteous. What a plea-
sant sound that old-fashioned word has. It makes
us think of all sorts of delightful and genial people
— the Sir Roger de Coverleys and Mr, Pickwicks
of our acquaintance, who from sheer large-hearted-
ness are polite and cordial to everj'body, inferiors
as well as superiors, and, what is still more difficult,
to equals and almost equals. — I daresay that you
know some boys who are pleasant enough to other
boys much older than themselves, or higher in the
school, who are good-natured and patronizing to
small, weak boys, decidedly below themselves, but
who do not get on well with those who run them
close in school or play. — Well, I see children of a
larger growth who are just the same towards their
companions, who cannot get on well with anyone
who either is not willing to play second fiddle to
them or else who is not so decidedly superior that
it is honour and glory to be associated with them. —
Sometimes people take credit to themselves for this
sort of selfishness ; they call it being exclusive, or
select, or having proper pride. — I must say that I
never can see anything proper in pride ; it always


seems to me to be vanity in its most ugly form,
though this is not everybody's opinion. — I do not
find that they are the highly-bred, the wisest, the
most accomplished, who are the most ready to give
themselves airs and to think other people not
" equal " to themselves. — It is not the gentleman,
but the not-quite gentleman, who is so nervously
afraid of endangering his rickety position in society
by being courteous and friendly to everybody. — It
is the not-quite gentleman who is huffy, touchy,
and suspicious of slights. — For, you see, such
things mark a person who thinks overmuch of him-
self and of what other people think about him. —
Now if he could forget all that and take to think-
ing about anything and anybody except himself, he
would be all right, and might come out a gentle-
man after all.

The great poet Goethe said, that there is one
quality which no child ever brought into the world
with him, although on this quality everything de-
pends for making him in every respect a man. —
What do you guess it to be? If I gave you six
guesses, I am sure that you would not hit upon it.


Truthfulness ? Courage ? Perseverance ? Good
Temper ? Generosity ? Justice ? No ! and if you
tried six more I don't believe that you would think
of this all-important quality, for it is not fashionable
in the present day; so I will tell you. It is Re-
verence. — Perhaps you don't agree with Goethe ;
but after all that we have said, I think you will be
able to see how true it is, that without Reverence the
best part of a manly, or gentlemanly, character will
be wanting. — Reverence implies a low opinion of
ourselves, absence of pride, respect for the opinions
and feelings of others, and consequently all those
most Christian virtues of kindness, gentleness, and
self-repression which help us to fulfil the sacred
duty of being pleasant.

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Online LibraryFrank HarrisQuite a gentleman → online text (page 1 of 4)