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Meaning of the word

Two classes of men

prominent men all belonged to certain great families or clans which had been the nucleus of the city. Julius Cæsar belonged to the Julian gens. Those who did not belong to any of these families were plebeians, and were regarded as inferior. The “first families," or gentes, doubtless owed their position in the first place to the fact that they were the best fighters. In the Middle Ages there was, as we have seen, a great division into two classes: the warriors and their families were in one class and were called “noble," or nobiles in Latin; the villeins, citizens of towns, traders, craftsmen, and laborers were in the other class and were called "ignoble,” or ignobiles. A warrior in battle wore a special sign upon his armor to show who he was, and it later came to be regarded as necessary for a gentleman to have a coat of arms. Certain men who did not originally belong to the class of gentry might enter it. In Shakespeare's time a student of law, or liberal sciences, a captain in war, or good adviser of the state who could afford to live without manual labor and keep up a good appearance might have a coat of arms granted him, “ be called master, which is the title that men give to esquires and gentlemen, and be reputed for a gentleman ever after." Shakespeare became a gentleman instead of a “ vagabond ” in this way. A little later Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe, tells us that although a tradesman could not be a gentleman, he might buy land and then his sons could be gentlemen. The title of “master” referred to above has now come to be pronounced " mister” and used to address almost any man. But among the early settlers in this country it was not so generally applied. The writer's greatgrandfather at the time of the Revolution signed his name,“ William Tufts, gentleman," while his brother

signed his, “John Tufts, yeoman.” As both brothers were farmers, it seems likely that William signed himself“gentleman ” because he was an officer in the army.

It was natural that the gentry should expect a certain The standard of their class. Every group tends to do this, standard and we have seen how chivalry or knighthood set up

of the

gentleman a very definite ideal for all its members. The gentleman was expected to act like a member of his class. He was expected, as becomes a military class, to be brave. His word of honor always had to be taken as true. If his word was doubted, he was expected to fight to prove that he was right. He was expected to be ready to fight a duel if any one of his own class challenged him, because this was the way to maintain his " honor,” that is, his reputation as belonging to the upper class of fighters. He dared not do manual labor, for this was the sign of the lower class of villeins or slaves who were not fighters. To “ spend money like a gentleman ” implied that you did not think of money or care for it-as perhaps a merchant or a poor man would care for it. A gentleman was expected to pay gambling debts to those of his own class, for these were debts of honor, but he did not need to be so particular about paying his landlady, or his washerwoman, or his tailor, for these belonged to a lower class. He must treat a “lady” with respect and politeness, for she was of his class. He might deceive a girl of lower rank or treat her outrageously without feeling that he had done anything unworthy of a gentleman.

A lady of course was not expected to be brave; The indeed it was unladylike to be strong minded or inde- lady pendent. She was expected to be scrupulously dignified, careful in her manners, not too free with men; and like the gentleman, she dared not do servile labor,

though certain kinds of fine needlework and housework were not disgraceful.

“Gentleman” and “ lady” have then their good and their bad elements, which are due to their origin as class words. Part of the good and bad points go with belonging to any kind of group or class ; part of them are due to the particular kind of class which was made up of gentlemen and ladies.

Group standards

To belong to any group means that we must conform to what the group stands for. If we belong to a club we must keep the rules. If we belong to a church we know that this ought to make a difference in our conduct. A member of a school cannot behave exactly as though he were not a member of it. As members of any group we cannot do just exactly as we may fancy, or just as our first impulse may prompt us; we must stop and think. We saw how the clan had customs for its members which they had to follow. And we saw that they were chiefly customs that prescribed how to behave toward other members of the clan; we saw that the important custom for dealing with outsiders was blood revenge. In the case of such a group as the gentry which lived among other people they would be more constantly reminded of their own standards by contrast with the common people. They felt so proud to belong to the gentry class that its rules had a very strong hold upon them. The French had a phrase for this, noblesse oblige, to belong to the nobility has its obligations. The rules of this class became what we call a code, that is, a system of rules or standards that all in the class should obey.

Besides this feeling of obligation is the feeling that in your group all are equal or nearly so. You are but

Noblesse oblige


one; you must consider the rest. One of the marks of what we now call a true gentleman is his consideration of others. It is a mark of good manners neither Gentlemen to cringe or be embarrassed before others, nor to put are on airs of superiority. We can show respect to age or learning or genuine ability of any sort without losing our self-respect. This trait of the gentleman was at first shown only toward his own class; with the growth of democracy we have learned that it need not be so limited. We believe him to be the finest type of gentleman who treats all men with respect for their good qualities, and (perhaps this is the finest touch of all) treats men as though he assumed them to be worthy of respect even when they forget themselves and do not treat themselves with respect. A true gentleman will not treat a woman with disrespect.

More particularly, membership in an upper class Dignity based not on wealth but on military or political power has given rise to three traits. The first is a certain dignity and sense of balance or fitness. A gentleman would not make his clothes showy, for this would look as though the clothes were more important than the man who wears them. He would not make his house or its furnishings impressive by their costliness so much as by their fitness, for he does not value money as highly as skill. He would not boast, or speak loudly, for such conduct seems to indicate that he is not sure of himself, or is not sure that others will appreciate him unless he calls attention to himself. He would not break his word, for this would seem to show either that he did not know what he was doing when he gave it or else was too weak or fearful to carry out what he promised.

The second trait was not so fine. As a member of


Contempt for labor

a superior fighting class he scorned to submit to those laws which he considered were meant for common people. He insisted on fighting duels if he conceived that his honor had been insulted, and this is still regarded in some countries of Europe as the only course open for a gentleman. In the early years of this country dueling was not uncommon, but when Alexander Hamilton, who had been one of our most prominent statesmen, was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr, there was a great outburst of condemnation for the practice.

A third trait already mentioned was that the gentleman despised manual labor because this was done by peasants; he also despised trade because shop keeping or bargaining was a lower class occupation. This contempt naturally called out angry feeling in the despised classes. An early rhyme runs:

“When Adam delved and Eve span,

Who was then the gentleman? But it was the life of the emigrants and pioneers in America that did most to break down the idea in this country that the gentleman must do no work with his hands. Few indeed of the colonists were of the gentry, though there were more in Virginia and South Carolina than in the other colonies. But life in the new country-clearing forests, building houses, plowing and harvesting—was not fitted to keep up a separate class. All worked with axe and hoe and scythe, and then all met in town meeting-at least in some of the colonies—to govern. The real business of living had then little place for the man who despised work. The gentleman had to prove his title in other ways.

This description of the ideals and traits of the warriors, knight and gentleman, has been drawn chiefly

Gentleman and pioneer

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