"The Definition of a Gentleman"
by Cardinal Newman, from The Idea of a University, a series of lectures
given in Ireland, 1852.
Hence it is that it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that
he is one who never inflicts pain. This description is both refined and,
as far as it goes, accurate. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the
obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about
him; and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative
himself. His benefits may be considered as parallel to what are called
comforts or conveniences in arrangements of a personal nature; like an
easy chair or a good fire, which do their part in dispelling cold and fatigue,
though nature provides both means of rest and animal heat without them.
The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a
jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast --- all clashing
of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom,
or resentment; his great concern being to make every one at his ease and
at home. He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful,
gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect
to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics
which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome.
He makes light of favors while he does them, and seems to be receiving
when he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled,
never defends himself by a mere retort; he has no ears for slander or gossip,
is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and
interprets everything for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes,
never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp saying
for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out. From a long-sighted
prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever
conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend.
He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed
to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing,
and resigned, on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because
it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death,
because it is his destiny.
If he engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect
preserves him from the blundering discourtesy of better, perhaps, but less
educated minds; who, like blunt weapons, tear and hack instead of cutting
clean, who mistake the point in argument, waste their strength on trifles,
misconceive their adversary, and leave the question more involved than
they find it. He may be right or wrong in his opinion, but he is too clear-headed
to be unjust; he is as simple as he is forcible, and as brief as he is
decisive. Nowhere shall we find greater candor, consideration, indulgence:
he throws himself into the minds of his opponents, he accounts for their
mistakes. He knows the weakness of human reason as well as its strength,
its province and its limits.
If he be an unbeliever, he will be too profound and large-minded to
ridicule religion or to act against it; he is too wise to be a dogmatist
or fanatic in his infidelity. He respects piety and devotion; he even supports
institutions as venerable, beautiful, or useful, to which he does not assent;
he honors the ministers of religion, and it contents him to decline its
mysteries without assailing or denouncing them. He is a friend of religious
toleration, and that, not only because his philosophy has taught him to
look on all forms of faith with an impartial eye, but also from the gentleness
and effeminacy of feeling, which is the attendant on civilization.
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