Who is a gentleman? What is meant by the term gentleman?

what is meant with gentleman

With a president that comes with new outburst on a daily basis in the media, there’s actually a risk that his behavior has an impact on other people and become regarded as something normal in our society. Therefore it could be refreshing with a reminder of what characterizes good behavior and what the traits of a real gentleman are.

The subject is more important than many may think. Right now everything seems to be about winning for one’s own benefit, that is the message that he sends out to the people. Never trust anyone, especially not in business. And if you get fooled, give back twice as hard – a thing you also can read about in the books that were published before he became president.

Are these the examples that we want to give future generations on how to behave? Do we want a future with selfish people that only care about themselves? Do we want to learn our kids that they should watch their backs all the time and never trust anyone?

There are actually better ways to live your life. There are many examples of successful people that have managed to stay humble, despite the success in their lives. You don’t have to diminish other peoples achievements in order to become successful. The first step to wisdom is to understand that we all learn all the time and that we have to admit our weaknesses in order to develop as human beings.

One of the most important traits that define you as a man is also the ability to handle criticism. Whether it is constructive or improper criticism, you should always be able to stay calm – without repaying. That is the sign of a true gentleman. To understand that we all make mistakes and we all have better and worse days. Stay calm and try to figure out the true motives behind the criticism, instead of rushing to conclusions.

In the book What is meant by the term gentleman? Who is a gentleman? that was published in 1866, we get to know what characterizes a gentleman. Most of the things that is written in this book could be used as a manual for how to behave also in today’s society. I have picked some rules that characterizes a gentleman according to the book. The rules are highlighted in the original text below.

There are of course many other things to be learned from this excellent book about gentlemanly behavior. But if you follow these ten rules in your everyday life, you have come a long way on your journey towards becoming a real gentleman. As a test, you can see how many of the rules that fit the current president of the USA.

1. A gentleman respects himself and entertains a proper respect for others.

2. He is on all occasions, and in all things, temperate, moderate, unassuming; temperate in eating, in drinking, in any species of amusement; in his language, in all his movements, even in his thoughts.

3. His language is pure; he will not permit a profane or an obscene word to escape his lips; his inmost thoughts and wishes are pure and good.

4. A gentleman is slow to anger.

5. He is not prompt to assume that offence, or slight, or insult is intended

6. He will not speak unkindly or unfavorably of the absent, but seeks by pleasant conversation to contribute his part towards the cheerful and social entertainment of his associates of the occasion

7. A gentleman is careful ever to speak the truth

8. The very look, the personal appearance of a gentleman is expressive of mildness, kindness, sympathy.

9. Towards females, expecially, a gentleman’s manner, tone, look, whole bearing are courteous and deferential.

10. A gentleman cannot be rude to a woman, it matters not what the provocation or how he may have become incensed; the remembrance that she is a woman disarms his passion, dispels his rising anger, allays his irritation, and he preserves the calm of conciliation – because he is a gentleman.

Selected parts from the book What is meant by the term gentleman? Who is a gentleman? (1866)

What are the manners of a Gentleman? The manners, deportment, bearing, ways of acting, moving, sitting, lying down and getting up, walking, riding, standing, eating, drinking, all his personal habits, and even the tone of his voice all are gentle, free from any degree of rudeness or roughness, not boisterous, not loud, not such as to attract attention by unusual or offensively remarkable bearing, not affecting peculiarity, but courteous, polite, affable, seeking to please, striving to make others feel entirely at ease, to make them fell that it was pleasant to have met him, to leave them agreeably impressed by his ways of acting – kind to all – deferential to whom deference or great respect is due. He avoids all awkwardness of movement, all unbecoming postures or positions. Showing in every way that a gentleman respects himself and entertains a proper respect for others, and for their favorable estimate of himself; that in so far as possible he earnestly wishes to treat them kindly and to prepossess them in his favor.

Hence, he is on all occasions, and in all things, temperate, moderate, unassuming; temperate in eating, in drinking, in any species of amusement; in his language, in all his movements, even in his thoughts. He avoids excess of any sort, his person is kept scrupulously clean; his skin, nails, teeth, hair – his clothing and habitation are kept neat and in order; he deems “cleanliness next to godliness” or goodness, esteems that as the outward indication of internal purity. His language is pure; he will not permit a profane or an obscene word to escape his lips; his inmost thoughts and wishes are pure and good. He scorns to do, or say, or even think, it matters not how secretly, anything, at the exposure of which he would feel there should be cause for a modest man to blush. He seeks not to put himself foremost; to take the best place or seat, or best of anything where true courtesy would suggest the offer of it or the yielding of it to another. Even in a crowd, a thoroughfare, a market-place, a dense, packed mass of human beings, he evinces consideration for others, by yielding, giving place, occupying as little space as he can, that he thereby may accommodate others. 

A gentleman is slow to anger; he knows that Solomon said truly, “cease from anger; he that is soon angry dealeth foolishly.” “A soft answer” turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” “A wrathful man stirreth up strife, but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.” “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” “The discretion of a man deferreth his anger, and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.” ” He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls.” He knows how often looks, and words, and even actions are misunderstood. How incumbent it is on him, a gentleman, to place the kindest construction on the course of others. How he must, at times, seem not to hear, not to know, not to heed what is not acceptable, and so, by forbearance and apparent ignorance, to let the unapproved of look, or word, or act glide by as a troubled wave, which past, will not return. 

He is not prompt to assume that offence, or slight, or insult is intended; it may be otherwise, he may have misunderstood, the other party may not have so intended, and until the evidence to the contrary shall have been adduced, beyond misconception, he refrains from notice of the possible affront. But when convinced beyond a doubt, when indubitably assured that offence or insult was intended, then, calmly, quietly, without outbreak of anger, with proper self-restraint yet firm decision, he must adopt such course as his sense of dignity and personal honor may dictate, having first afforded the offending party every fair and reasonable opportunity to explain, retract, apologize.

He makes allowance for the difference of outward demonstration by look, or word, or act, arising from diversity of mind, education, station, opportunity of each individual; and exacts from none what may not reasonably and kindly, with due consideration, be expected, and seeks not to visit upon any, the consequences of ignorance, error or aught else, in the absence of intention.

His good will to man leads to confidence in a corresponding disposition; he is convince of its absence by clear demonstration only, and until that shall have been thrust upon him he continues to hope for the best. Preferring to be confiding, he scorns to become suspicious, knowing that a suspicious nature is its own worst enemy, and for its own plague hatches mischief where none had been conceived or designed; hence his liberal mind repels suspiciousness, and dwells in a more congenial atmosphere of hopeful trustfulness.

He is careful to avoid, in mixed company, the utterance of nay general remark or sweeping censure that perchance may give offence to or wound the feelings of any one present. He will not speak unkindly or unfavorably of the absent, but seeks by pleasant conversation to contribute his part towards the cheerful and social entertainment of his associates of the occasion, remembering that people so come together to be agreeable to each other, to render pleasant the time so passed in each others presence; remembering that, as at a picnic, each guest may bring his contribution for the general enjoyment, not so large as to make others feel themselves outdone, nor so small as to seem parsimonious, but in due proportion; hence he is not obtrusive, will not allow himself inadvertently, much less by wilful effort, to engross the company’s attention or monopolize the conversation, but rather seeks by the adroitness of affable practice to draw forth the timid, to encourage the diffident, to cause each and all to feel at ease as equals in fair participation of the social enjoyment.

A gentleman is careful ever to speak the truth, and even when discretion dictates silence, he refrains from any gesture, look or even smile that would be liable to be misunderstood, miscontrued.

He seeks, in speaking, to express himself in apt, well chosen, appropriate language, suited to the capacity of his hearers, so as not to make them, if illiterate or not well informed, feel their inability to comprehend, but select words and modes of expression suited to their degree of intelligence and their understanding. He adapts his language even to the feeble mind of childhood.

There is prevalent a sad error on the part of adults in not so speaking and acting towards a child as that the latter may fully understand. The adults assume, too often most unreasonably, that the child does comprehend, when the feeble-minded little creature is utterly confounded – bewildered by the, to it, unintelligible terms employed, the earnest, it may be impassioned, manner exhibited; does not comprehend, does not take in the meaning of one-half of what has been said, and would understand if it could.

All this a gentleman considers, an sedulously aims to use such language, only, on the occasion, as the child addressed can intelligently estimate.

Avoiding aught that may be deemed fastidious, he is scrupulously observant of the due interchange of civilities; of the prompt and cordial acknowledgement of courtesy evince towards him.

He acts upon the precept that the accosting or addressing of him personally, in becoming manner, invariably should elicit from him a like return. That the reception by him of a written communication, couched in respectful terms, requires at his hands a ready and correspondent reply, that he is not at liberty in the one case to remain silent or apparently unobservant, or in the other case to remain silent or apparently unobservant, or in the other case to consult convenience, indolence or disinclination, and thereby influenced to withhold a timely and an appropriate acknowledgement.

………..

The law of both courtesy and kindness requires the adoption and the undeviating practice of this rule, too frequently disregarded in the intercourse of life.

And a gentleman habitually regulates even the tone of his voice: he speaks distinctly, that he may be heard and understood; that his auditors may have no needless trouble in efforts to hear and comprehend; gently, not loud or boisterously, but in tones so modulated as to show that he who utters them is calm, is refined, and kind and temperate.

………..

The very look, the personal appearance of a gentleman is expressive of mildness, kindness, sympathy; his glance is lighted up by his readily entering into the pleasure, or mirth or gaiety of others. His aspect is grave when seriousness is proper; it is sad and indicative of sorrow when holding communion with one who is in sorrow, grief, or trouble, for he seeks to evince his sympathy that the expression of his countenance, his every movement shall bear its stamp.

………..

Towards females, expecially, a gentleman’s manner, tone, look, whole bearing are courteous and deferential; he regards them as the leaven of human society, the poetry of life, the representatives of goodness and affection, of gentleness and courtesy, of forbearance and forgiveness, the softeners of the little asperities, the incidental bitterness of life’s pilgrimage, the ameliorating material tempering and mollifying man’s rougher portion of nature’s human compound, the stay and comforters, the encouragers and refuge of man in his hours of trouble, the fount of his being and pristine nourishment, the teachers of his early years, the formers of his manners, and the faithful founders of his morals. And as such he reverences and venerates them, and in all his demeanor shows that he esteems them the better as well as the lovelier portion of humanity, entitled of right to every outward demonstration of his regard.

He remembers that it was a woman who bore and nursed him, who taught hiss little feet to walk, who trained his infant tongue to words and language, upon whose breast he confidingly reposed when weary, with whom he found safe refuge in his infantile cares and troubles, who first taught his lips to utter prayer, who listened patiently to his childish murmurs, and took joyous part in his exuberant mirth; who has been constant and ever watchful beside his cradle when a babe, his couch in more advanced years; whose soft, white hand so oft has smoothed his fevered brow, has gently wiped away his boyish tears, untiringly has ministered to his comfort; who has sympathized in his little joys and sorrows, has been the never-failing source of love, and care, and tender consideration for all his wayward, heedless, childish movements. That it is woman, who it may be, is destined to be the sweet companion of his life, the unwearied watcher in his last illness, the sincere, heart-sorrowing mourner at his tomb; and in remembrance of all these, he loves and holds in reverence all her sex, and to them especially shows all courtesy and deference.

A gentleman cannot be rude to a woman, it matters not what the provocation or how he may have become incensed; the remembrance that she is a woman disarms his passion, dispels his rising anger, allays his irritation, and he preserves the calm of conciliation – because he is a gentleman. His reward is in woman’s capacity to estimate more correctly than men can, the sterling worth and wholesome influence and effect of these outward evidences of an inward appreciation of themselves.

These indicators of a true gentleman they recognize at a glance, and this their perception at once prepossesses them in his favor, gives him cordial welcome to their society; they feel at home, at ease with him, because assured of his proper estimate of their intrinsic worth, their social value: assured that from his lips will escape no unbecoming word, that from his glance, modesty that most sensitive need not shrink; because there can thence issue no indelicate, improper look; that from his deportment they have naught to expect but courtesy and kindness; hence they are at ease in extending cordial welcome to him, awarding to him the best recompense he can desire or they can bestow; their confidence, their entire freedom from chilling restraint, their ready recognition and acceptance of the letter of credit which his gentlemanly exterior and bearing present.

……….

We are the creatures of habit; one should aim to become habitually, every day, each hour, so systematically courteous and polite, that as “use is second nature,” he may not by any fortuitous provocation be diverted into discourtesy or rudeness, but that politeness being the established rule of his action, the regulator of his every look, and word, and movement, he is invariably polite by force of custom, of hourly use, and cannot be constrained by any circumstances to become otherwise. In former days, when duelling, (a custom so reprehensible) prevailed, even the invitation to mortal combat, for the avenging of a sense of wounded honor, was given, received, and responded to, in terms of studied courtesy.

………

Such, most imperfectly sketched, are the principles, the manners, the conduct, speech and look of a gentleman; of one at peace within himself, in charity towards all; in reliance upon the goodness and paternal Providence of God; walking uprightly, purely, confidingly and blandly among his fellow men; striving to the end of his days, consistently and conscientiously. 

Written By
More from The Gentleman

The 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

To car collectors around the globe, it is something akin to Willy...
Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *