Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What Makes a Gentleman?

From English Historical Fiction Authors:
Gentlemen were, in general, members of the upper classes. But beyond that, how did one recognize this elusive species?

Although many would site land-ownership as their defining feature, this was not fully the case. Not all landowners were gentlemen and not all gentlemen were land owners. The primary quality of a gentleman was that he did not sully his hands with work. His income came from other, more noble sources: passive income from rent and investments and honorariums offered by grateful recipients of their services. Note this was critically different than being paid for one's services. If one was paid for their work, his standing as a gentleman would fall into question. An army officer received an honorarium for his service whilst a common soldier was paid (and not very well at that, but that is another issue altogether.)

A large number of gentlemen were born to the designation. The eldest son of a gentlemen had the potential to inherit the means that made his father a gentleman and that would make him a gentleman as well—a landed estate. The all-important estate was more than a simple farm. It was a tract of land large enough to provide the potential for rental incomes and income from agricultural and land based products like wood or coal, thus funding a gentleman’s life.

So, how much land did it take to get one’s head above the gentlemanly line? In general, a yeoman farmer owned from one to three hundred acres of property that produced £40-50 a year. Over three hundred acres, and a man had a shot at being a gentleman.

What about the younger sons born to gentlemen? If the estate only went to the eldest, could the younger ones manage to be gentlemen, too?

The answer is yes. That is where the ‘honorariums offered by grateful recipients’ clause comes in. There were certain professions for which the practitioner was not directly paid for their services, making them 'gentlemanly professions.' These professions were: the church, the law (as a barrister, not solicitor), medicine(as a physician, not a surgeon) and service as a military officer. All required a significant investment in the way of education or purchase of a commission, and provided an income disconnected from sullying one’s hands with work. (Read more.)

And what is the definition of a modern gentleman? To quote:
 1 A Gentleman Has Good Manners: Here, we agree with the dictionary. A gentleman is courteous, polite, and respectful. He says please and thank you, waits his turn in line, and treats others as they wish to be treated. He is an equitable conversation partner.
2 A Gentleman Has High Standards. High standards push people to do the best they can, and gentlemen set them for themselves. A gentleman expects a high standard of quality, value, and functionality from the things he buys to the things he does. He expects as much of himself as he does of other people.
3 A Gentleman is Well Dressed: This one shouldn’t be a surprise. A well-dressed man is appropriately attired based on the season, the occasion, and his own style. Dressing well isn’t a matter of money for a gentleman, but rather of careful curation of clothing and accessories based on his means, the occasion, and his tastes. His dress demonstrates that he recognizes the power of clothes the impression they make, and the role they play in society. Clothes are used to convey a gentleman’s respect for his host, his office, or for the host of an event, but not to shock, evoke jealousy, or show off. Dressing well is a point of pride for a gentleman because it demonstrates his personality and taste.
4 A Gentleman is Imperfect. This may be the most important characteristic on the list. The term “gentleman” isn’t meant to be an unattainable ideal; it takes into account basic human nature, in which we all make mistakes, choices, and judgments every day. The difference lies in that a gentleman does not believe himself to be perfect, but instead takes ownership and responsibility for the things he can control: his actions, knowledge, and approach to the world. (Read more.)

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