Rules for Being a Gentleman | The Art of Manhood

Podcast Transcript: Welcome to the Inspirational Living podcast, creators of the motivational hardcover book Evergreen: 50 Inspirational Life Lessons. Purchase your copy today at Today’s reading was edited and adapted from On the Threshold by Theodore Thornton Munger, published in 1908.

Every man should desire above all else to be regarded as a gentleman. There once was a time when the greatest offense you could levy on man was to call him not a gentleman. But today we struggle to even understand what the term gentleman means. So today we will search it with definitions. The word gentleman undoubtedly comes from the Latin gens, meaning tribe or family — hence all the one-sided and incomplete notions that a gentleman is a man of family.

It is a good thing to born into a loving family, with inherited tastes and traditions; but birth does not make the gentleman. The writer Julius Hare famously said that a gentleman should be gentle in everything; at least in everything that depends upon himself — in carriage, temper, construction, aims, desires. He ought, there- fore, to be mild, calm, quiet, temperate; not hasty in judgment, not exorbitant in ambition, not overbearing, not proud, not rapacious, not oppressive.

Other classic writers describe the gentleman as possessing a character that is distinguished by strict honor, self-possession, forbearance, generous as well as refined feelings, and polished deportment — a character to which all meanness, explosive irritability, and peevish fretfulness are alien; to which, consequently, a generous candor, truthfulness, dignity, and self-respect have become natural.

The gentleman is never unduly familiar; takes no liberties; is cautious of questions; is neither artificial nor affected; bears himself tenderly towards the weak and unprotected; is not arrogant; cannot be supercilious; can be self-denying without struggle; is not vain of his advantages; habitually subordinates his lower to his higher self; is (in his best condition) electric with truth, buoyant with veracity.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, who writes on the theme with keenest inward sympathy, as well as discrimination, says: “The gentleman is a man of truth, lord of his own actions, and expresses that lordship in his behavior; not in any manner dependent and subservient to persons, or opinions, or possessions.” Beyond this fact of truth and real force, the word gentleman denotes good nature or benevolence — manhood first, and then gentleness.

Sir Philip Sidney — who was considered an ideal gentleman — put the whole matter into one pregnant phrase: “High thoughts seated in a heart of courtesy.”

You will notice that in these descriptions of a gentleman the moral element predominates; not family, nor station, nor manners, but qualities. They do, indeed, take on and draw after them external forms (for the inside and the outside must at last be alike); but the essential condition (that which makes one a gentleman) is moral qualities.

Following this unanimous hint, I will now try to get these qualities into some order.

Number 1. Truth. One who well-knew described a perfect man as someone who (quote) “speaketh the truth in his heart” — inward truthfulness, outward veracity; this goes before all else in making up the gentleman.

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