Rules for Making of a "Gentleman"
Conditions Have Changed Since the Time of Lord Chesterfield
"The appearance, deportment, and dress of a gentleman consist perhaps more in the absence of certain offenses against good taste, and in a careful avoidance of vulgarities and exaggerations of any kind, however generally they may be the fashion of the day than in the adherence to general rules which can be exactly laid down.
A gentleman will borrow nothing from the fashions of the groom or the game keeper, and, while avoiding the frivolity and foolish vanity of dandyism, will take care that his clothes are of the best quality, well made and suitable to his rank and position." This passage is not taken from one of Lord Chesterfield's letters to his son as some people might imagine, says Phillip Gibbs in the London Chronicle.
It is an extract from a confidential memorandum drawn up by Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort for the guidance of the gentlemen appointed to attend on the Prince of Wales, and published now in the remarkable article on the character of King Edward VII in the current Quarterly.
These rules for his habits, dress, deportment, manners, conversation, studies and amusements seem to belong to the eighteenth, rather than to the nineteenth—and not at all to the twentieth —century. We can not imagine parents of today, however exalted their rank may be, sitting down to dictate such a code of etiquette for on their sons.
As Moliere's character remarked. "Nous avons change tout cela"—we have changed all that. Our sons would not tolerate such dictation. They would retaliate by satirical advice upon the good behavior of parents. The word "deportment" has dropped out of the language. It has no living meaning.
The word gentleman is getting a little rusty for the want of use. It is only in second rate suburban schools that masters call their pupils young gentlemen. Boys is a good enough word for Eton and Harrow. We no longer call a man a fine gentleman. He is a good fellow. The truth is, we are not so anxious now about our gentility. If, we have it, we take it for granted. We do not cherish it in ourselves or in our sons as a bloom or polish, which may be easily rubbed off by vulgar contact.
As for a code of etiquette— it belongs to archaeology. We have no manners nowadays. "A gentleman" writes Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort, "does not indulge in careless, self indulgent, lounging ways, such as lolling, in armchairs or on sofas, slouching in his gait or placing himself in unbecoming attitudes, with his hands in his pockets or in any position in which he appears to consult more the case of the moment than the maintenance of the decorum which is characteristic of the polished gentleman."
That may; have been true 40 years ago, it is untrue now, for a gentleman will stand in any drawing room with his hands in his pockets and even lounge upon a sofa, without being accused of ill breeding. The very term polished gentleman gives one a little shudder.
The test of a gentleman nowadays is to be natural and free and easy in any social set. Even the fashions of the groom and the game keeper do not shock his sensibilities. In spite of Queen Victoria, he has borrowed a little from both. "Since every Jack becomes a gentleman, there's many a gentle person made a Jack." So Shakespeare said three centuries I ago, and since Shakespeare's time, the process has continued apace. — San Francisco Call, 1911
Etiquette Enthusiast Maura J Graber is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia