A Real Gentleman
“He’s a real gentleman.” That’s a phrase I heard often during my childhood years. More often than not, it was a phrase employed by my mother, my grandmothers or aunts, or even my elder sister, in reference to a particular style of Homo sapiens.
It’s a phrase not often heard repeated these days.
I fear that the word gentleman has been throttled to death by our infamous thought police. After all, the very word bespeaks a certain virtuous manliness, and both manliness and virtue by definition are the enemies of the feminist-dominated political correctness movement.
It was the typical English gentleman who was the backbone of British society during that grand old empire’s glory days. Italian-American journalist Luigi Barzini Jr. commented on the wonder of the world seeking to imitate the typical English gentlemen, that this was “dictated by admiration and envy.” Their demeanor born of their being “well educated, well behaved … the result of good upbringing … their ease … made them admired models” of behavior (The Europeans).
But two world wars and the industrial society, compounded by the rise of feminism, largely did away with this remarkable example of virtuous manliness which the world at large sought to copy and that once was unique to British society.
American historian Gertrude Himmelfarb notes, in relation to the historical usage of the term “gentleman,” that “In practice … it was often used, even in earlier centuries, as a distinction of character rather than of class” (The Demoralization of Society, emphasis added).
Himmelfarb (the wife of Irving Kristol, reputed to be the founder of the neoconservative movement) is recognized as an outstanding historian. Her reflections on the increasingly unfashionable concept of “gentlemen” within today’s Anglo-American society highlight the fact that the common denominator that once linked all classes in English society, before its post-World War ii breakdown, was “respectability.” Cutting through the liberal-socialist lie that the British—during their greatest epoch, the Victorian era—were closely strictured by class rigidities, Himmelfarb reveals that the reality at the time was that “the working classes were respectable members of society and therefore worthy citizens ….”
The outstanding French historian of the Victorian era, Hippolyte Taine, no doubt comparing the habits of sedate English folk with those of the more volatile French, marveled at the genteelness and orderliness of the English. “‘I have seen whole families of the common people picnicking on the grass at Hyde Park; they neither pulled up nor damaged anything.’ This was truly admirable he reflected, for ‘the aim of every society must be a state of affairs in which every man is his own constable, until at last none other is required’” (ibid).
Contrast this with the British society of today with laga louts and ladettes besmirching public places in Britain with the effluence of their alcohol- and drug-debauched behavior, senior citizens being considered fair game for mugging by British youth, every vestige of good English manners seemingly having gone out the window—and with it, it seems, every other principle of decorum.
“British teenagers are the worst behaved in Europe, a report has revealed. They are more likely to binge drink, take drugs, have sex at a young age and start fights. The report, from a think tank closely linked to Labor, says the collapse of family life is at least partly to blame” (Daily Mail, July 27, 2007).
Partly to blame? That surely must be the understatement of all time!
Why the plunge from the good graces of the Victorian era to the gutter-rap attitudes of the 21st century?
Trace it to one common denominator: the loss of gentlemanly deportment by British gentry. The male of the species has lost all respect for the God-given offices of husband and father, let alone responsible citizenship. With the loss of respect for those biblically delineated roles in British society has come the loss of respect for family and, indeed, one’s fellow man within that society. The result is social breakdown of national scope.
History records that where the male is a moral person, society thrives. When a society’s manhood becomes corrupted morally, that society will soon fail. Thus, though the woman may powerfully influence the order of the domestic scene, the moral standard of any successful culture is set by the male, and society at large within that culture will either rise or fall against that standard.
Himmelfarb, an American who recognizes that the standard of true gentlemanliness was engendered in British society, quotes Taine as observing that “A real ‘gentleman’ is truly a noble man, a man worthy to command, a … man of integrity, capable of exposing, even sacrificing himself for those he leads; not only a man of honor, but a conscientious man, in whom generous instincts have been confirmed by right thinking and who, acting rightly by nature, acts even more rightly from good principles” (ibid).
Nineteenth-century British author William Thackeray gave a definition of a gentleman in its broadest familial and societal sense: “What is a gentleman? Is it to lead a pure life, to keep your honor virgin; to have the esteem of your fellow citizens, and the love of your fireside; to bear good fortune meekly; to suffer evil with constancy; and through evil or good to maintain truth always? Show me the happy man whose life exhibits these qualities, and him we will salute as gentleman, whatever his rank may be; show me the prince who possesses them, and he may be sure of our love and our loyalty” (The Four Georges).
Where, pray tell, would you find such a man in today’s society? Once a prevalent product of British society, admired aplenty by the world at large, the gentleman is a species almost extinct today. The link between that loss and the moral perils our society increasingly exhibits is undeniable.
May all true men of God strive to be such gentlemen!