Although Samuel Smiles is a name heard little of nowadays, his book Self Help was a prominent fixture in many Victorian homes. Smiles' formula for success was simple and straightforward; patience, a well-ordered mind, self-discipline and hard work. Smiles also makes the point that "character is power," a much-overlooked concept in the 21st century. In the text that follows, Smiles discusses the character traits of a true gentleman:
"For who can always act? but he,
To whom a thousand memories call,
Not being less but more than all
The gentleness he seemed to be,
But seemed the thing he was, and join'd
Each office of the social hour
To noble manners, as the flower
And native growth of noble mind;
And thus he bore without abuse
The grand old name of Gentleman."
"Everything in Asia,—public safety, national
honor, personal reputation,—rests upon the force of individual character...
The officer who forgets that he is a gentleman, does more harm to the moral influence of this country than ten men of blameless life can do good."
—Lord Stanley to the Students at Addiscombe.
The crown and glory of life is character. It is the noblest possession of a man, constituting a rank in itself, and an estate in the general good-will; dignifying every station, and exalting every position in society. It exercises a greater power than wealth, and secures all the honor without the jealousies of fame. It carries with it an influence which always tells; for it is the result of proved honor, rectitude, and consistency,—qualities which, perhaps more than any other, command the general confidence and respect of mankind.
Character is human nature in its best form. It is moral order embodied in the individual. Men of character are not only the conscience of society, but in every well-governed state they are its best motive power; for it is moral qualities in the main, which rule the world. Even in war, Napoleon said the moral is to the physical as ten to one. The strength, the industry, and the civilization of nations,—all depend upon individual character; and the very foundations of civil security rest upon it. Laws and institutions are but its outgrowth. In the just balance of nature, individuals, and nations, and races, will obtain just so much as they deserve, and no more. And as effect finds its cause, so surely does quality of character amongst a people produce its befitting results.
Though a man have comparatively little culture, slender abilities, and but small wealth, yet, if his character be of sterling worth, he will always command an influence, whether it be in the workshop, the counting-house, the mart, or the senate. Canning wisely wrote in 1801, "My road must be through Character to power; I will try no other course; and I am sanguine enough to believe that this course, though not perhaps the quickest, is the surest." You may admire men of intellect; but something more is necessary before you will trust them. Hence Lord John Russell once observed, in a sentence full of truth, "It is the nature of party in England to ask the assistance of men of genius, but to follow the guidance of men of character." This was strikingly illustrated in the career of the late Francis Horner, a man of whom Sydney Smith said that the Ten Commandments were stamped upon his countenance. "The valuable and peculiar light," says Lord Cockburn, "in which his history is calculated to inspire every right-minded youth, is this. He died at the age of thirty-eight; possessed of greater public influence than any other private man; and admired, beloved, trusted, and deplored by all, except the heartless or the base. No greater homage was ever paid in Parliament to any deceased member. Now let every young man ask,—how was this attained? By rank? He was the son of an Edinburgh merchant. By wealth? Neither he, nor any of his relations, ever had a superfluous sixpence. By office? He held but one, and only for a few years, of no influence, and with very little pay. By talents? His were not splendid, and he had no genius. Cautious and slow, his only ambition was to be right. By eloquence? He spoke in calm, good taste, without any of the oratory that either terrifies or seduces. By any fascination of manner? His was only correct and agreeable. By what then was it? Merely by sense, industry, good principles, and a good heart,—qualities, which no well-constituted mind need ever despair of attaining. It was the force of his character that raised him; and this character not impressed upon him by nature, but formed out of no peculiarly fine elements, by himself. There were many in the House of Commons of far greater ability and eloquence. But no one surpassed him in the combination of an adequate portion of these with moral worth. Horner was born to show what moderate powers, unaided by anything whatever except culture and goodness, may achieve, even when these powers are displayed amidst the competition and jealousy of public life."
Franklin, also, attributed his success as a public man, not to his talents or his powers of speaking,—for these were but moderate,—but to his known integrity of character. "Hence it was," he says, "that I had so much weight with my fellow-citizens. I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally carried my point." Character creates confidence in men in high station as well as in humble life. It was said of the first Emperor Alexander of Russia, that his personal character was equivalent to a constitution. During the wars of the Fronde, Montaigne was the only man amongst the French gentry who kept his castle gates unbarred; and it was said of him, that his personal character was worth more to him than a regiment of horse.
That character is power, is true in a much higher sense than that knowledge is power. Mind without heart, intelligence without conduct, cleverness without goodness, are powers in their way, but they may be powers only for mischief. We may be instructed or amused by them; but it is sometimes as difficult to admire them as it would be to admire the dexterity of a pickpocket or the horsemanship of a highwayman.
Truthfulness, integrity, and goodness,—qualities that hang not on any man's breath,—form the essence of manly character, or, as one of our old writers has it, "that inbred loyalty unto Virtue which can serve her without a livery." He who possesses these qualities, united with strength of purpose, carries with him a power which is irresistible. He is strong to do good, strong to resist evil, and strong to bear up under difficulty and misfortune. When Stephen of Colonna fell into the hands of his base assailants, and they asked him in derision, "Where is now your fortress?" "Here," was his bold reply, placing his hand upon his heart. It is in misfortune that the character of the upright man shines forth with the greatest luster; and when all else fails, he takes stand upon his integrity and his courage.
The rules of conduct followed by Lord Erskine—a man of sterling independence of principle and scrupulous adherence to truth—are worthy of being engraved on every young man's heart. "It was a first command and counsel of my earliest youth," he said, "always to do what my conscience told me to be a duty, and to leave the consequence to God. I shall carry with me the memory, and I trust the practice, of this parental lesson to the grave. I have hitherto followed it, and I have no reason to complain that my obedience to it has been a temporal sacrifice. I have found it, on the contrary, the road to prosperity and wealth, and I shall point out the same path to my children for their pursuit."
Every man is bound to aim at the possession of a good character, as one of the highest objects of life. The very effort to secure it by worthy means will furnish him with a motive for exertion; and his idea of manhood, in proportion as it is elevated, will steady and animate his motive. It is well to have a high standard of life, even though we may not be able altogether to realize it. "The youth," says Mr. Disraeli, "who does not look up will look down; and the spirit that does not soar is destined perhaps to grovel." George Herbert wisely writes,
"Pitch thy behavior low, thy projects high,
So shall thou humble and magnanimous be.
Sink not in spirit; who aimeth at the sky
Shoots higher much than he that means a tree."
He who has a high standard of living and thinking will certainly do better than he who has none at all. "Pluck at a gown of gold," says the Scotch proverb, "and you may get a sleeve o't." Whoever tries for the highest results cannot fail to reach a point far in advance of that from which he started; and though the end accomplished may fall short of that proposed, still, the very effort to rise, of itself cannot fail to prove permanently beneficial.
There are many counterfeits of character, but the genuine article is difficult to be mistaken. Some, knowing its money value, would assume its disguise for the purpose of imposing upon the unwary. Colonel Charteris said to a man distinguished for his honesty, "I would give a thousand pounds for your good name." "Why?" "Because I could make ten thousand by it," was the knave's reply.
Integrity in word and deed is the backbone of character; and loyal adherence to veracity its most prominent characteristic. One of the finest testimonies to the character of the late Sir Robert Peel, was that borne by the Duke of Wellington in the House of Lords, a few days after the great statesman's death. "Your lordships," he said, "must all feel the high and honorable character of the late Sir Robert Peel. I was long connected with him in public life. We were both in the councils of our Sovereign together, and I had long the honor to enjoy his private friendship. In all the course of my acquaintance with him, I never knew a man in whose truth and justice I had greater confidence, or in whom I saw a more invariable desire to promote the public service. In the whole course of my communication with him, I never knew an instance in which he did not show the strongest attachment to truth; and I never saw in the whole course of my life the smallest reason for suspecting that he stated anything which he did not firmly believe to be the fact." And this high-minded truthfulness of the statesman was no doubt the secret of no small part of his influence and power.
There is a truthfulness in action as well as in words, which is essential to uprightness of character. A man must really be what he seems or purposes to be. When an American gentleman wrote to Granville Sharp, that from respect for his great virtues he had named one of his sons after him, Sharp wrote: "I must request you to teach him a favorite maxim of the family whose name you have given him,—Always endeavor to be really what you would wish to appear. This maxim, as my father informed me, was carefully and humbly practiced by his father, whose sincerity, as a plain and honest man, thereby became the principal feature of his character, both in public and private life." Every man who respects himself, and values the respect of others, will carry out the maxim in act,—doing honestly what he proposes to do,—putting the highest character into his work, scamping nothing, but priding himself upon his integrity and conscientiousness. Once Cromwell said to Bernard,—a clever but somewhat unscrupulous lawyer, "I understand that you have lately been vastly wary in your conduct; do not be too confident of this; subtlety may deceive you, integrity never will." Men whose acts are at direct variance with their words, command no respect, and what they say has but little weight; even truths, when uttered by them, seem to come blasted from their lips.
The true character acts rightly, whether in secret or in the sight of men. That boy was well trained who, when asked why he did not pocket some pears, for nobody was there to see, replied, "Yes, there was: I was there to see myself; and I don't intend ever to see myself do a dishonest thing." This is a simple but not inappropriate illustration of principle, or conscience, dominating in the character, and exercising a noble protectorate over it; not merely a passive influence, but an active power regulating the life. Such a principle goes on molding the character hourly and daily, growing with a force that operates every moment. Without this dominating influence, character has no protection, but is constantly liable to fall away before temptation; and every such temptation succumbed to, every act of meanness or dishonesty, however slight, causes self-degradation. It matters not whether the act be successful or not, discovered or concealed; the man is no longer the same, but another person; and he is pursued by a secret uneasiness, by self-reproach, or the workings of what we call conscience, which is the inevitable doom of the guilty.
And here it may be observed how greatly the character may be strengthened and supported by the cultivation of good habits. Man, it has been said, is a bundle of habits: and habit is second nature. Metastasio entertained so strong an opinion as to the power of repetition in act and thought, that he said, "All is habit in mankind, even virtue itself." Butler, in his "Analogy," impresses the importance of careful self-discipline, and firm resistance to temptation, as tending to make virtue habitual, so that at length it may become more easy to he good than to give way to sin. "As habits belonging to the body," he says, "are produced by external acts, so habits of the mind are produced by the execution of inward practical purposes, i.e., carrying them into act, or acting upon them,—the principles of obedience, veracity, justice, and charity." And again, Lord Brougham says, when enforcing the immense importance of training and example in youth, "I trust everything under God to habit, on which, in all ages, the lawgiver, as well as the schoolmaster, has mainly placed his reliance; habit, which makes everything easy, and casts the difficulties upon the deviation from a wonted course." Thus make sobriety a habit, and intemperance will be hateful; make prudence a habit, and reckless profligacy will become revolting to every principle of conduct which regulates the life of the individual. Hence the necessity for the greatest care and watchfulness against the inroad of any evil habit; for the character is always weakest at that point at which it has once given way; and it is long before a principle restored can become so firm as one that has never been moved. It is a fine remark of a Russian writer, that "Habits are a necklace of pearls: untie the knot, and the whole unthreads."
Wherever formed, habit acts involuntarily, and without effort; and, it is only when you oppose it, that you find how powerful it has become. What is done once and again, soon gives facility and proneness. The habit at first may seem to have no more strength than a spider's web; but once formed, it binds as with a chain of iron. The small events of life, taken singly, may seem exceedingly unimportant, like snow that falls silently, flake by flake; yet accumulated, these snow-flakes form the avalanche.
Self-respect, self-help, application, industry, integrity,—all are of the nature of habits, not beliefs. Principles, in fact, are but the names which we assign to habits; for the principles are words, but the habits are the things themselves: benefactors or tyrants, according as they are good or evil. It thus happens that as we grow older, a portion of our free activity and individuality becomes suspended in habit; our actions become of the nature of fate; and we are bound by the chains which we have woven around ourselves.
It is indeed scarcely possible to over-estimate the importance of training the young to virtuous habits. In them they are the easiest formed, and when formed they last for life; like letters cut on the bark of a tree, they grow and widen with age. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." The beginning holds within it the end; the first start on the road of life determines the direction and the destination of the journey; ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute. "Remember," said Lord Collingwood to a young man whom he loved, "before you are five-and-twenty you must establish a character that will serve you all your life." As habit strengthens with age, and character becomes formed, any turning into a new path becomes more and more difficult. Hence, it is often harder to unlearn than to learn; and for this reason the Grecian flute-player was justified who charged double fees to those pupils who had been taught by an inferior master. To uproot an old habit is sometimes a more painful thing, and vastly more difficult, than to wrench out a tooth. Try and reform a habitually indolent, or improvident, or drunken person, and in a large majority of cases you will fail. For the habit in each case has wound itself in and through the life until it has become an integral part of it, and cannot be uprooted. Hence, as Mr. Lynch observes, "the wisest habit of all is the habit of care in the formation of good habits."
Even happiness itself may become habitual. There is a habit of looking at the bright side of things, and also of looking at the dark side. Dr. Johnson has said that the habit of looking at the best side of a thing is worth more to a man than a thousand pounds a year. And we possess the power, to a great extent, of so exercising the will as to direct the thoughts upon objects calculated to yield happiness and improvement rather than their opposites. In this way the habit of happy thought may be made to spring up like any other habit. And to bring up men or women with a genial nature of this sort, a good temper, and a happy frame of mind, is perhaps of even more importance, in many cases, than to perfect them in much knowledge and many accomplishments.
As daylight can be seen through very small holes, so little things will illustrate a person's character. Indeed character consists in little acts, well and honorably performed; daily life being the quarry from which we build it up, and rough-hew the habits which form it. One of the most marked tests of character, is the manner in which we conduct ourselves towards others. A graceful behavior towards superiors, inferiors, and equals, is a constant source of pleasure. It pleases others because it indicates respect for their personality; but it gives tenfold more pleasure to ourselves. Every man may to a large extent be a self-educator in good behavior, as in everything else; he can be civil and kind, if he will, though he have not a penny in his purse. Gentleness in society is like the silent influence of light, which gives color to all nature; it is far more powerful than loudness or force, and far more fruitful. It pushes its way quietly and persistently, like the tiniest daffodil in spring, which raises the clod and thrusts it aside by the simple persistency of growing.
Morals and manners, which give color to life, are of greater importance than laws, which are but one of their manifestations. The law touches us here and there, but manners are about us everywhere, pervading society like the air we breathe. Good manners, as we call them, are neither more nor less than good behavior; consisting of courtesy and kindness; for benevolence is the preponderating element in all kinds of mutually beneficial and pleasant intercourse amongst human beings. "Civility," said Lady Montague, "costs nothing and buys everything." The cheapest of all things is kindness, its exercise requiring the least possible trouble and self-sacrifice. "Win hearts," said Burleigh to Queen Elizabeth, "and you have all men's hearts and purses." If we would only let nature act kindly, free from affectation and artifice, the results on social good-humor and happiness would be incalculable. Those little courtesies which form the small change of life, may separately appear of little intrinsic value, but they acquire their importance from repetition and accumulation. They are like the spare minutes, or the groat a day, which proverbially produce such momentous results in the course of a twelvemonth, or in a lifetime.
Manners are the ornament of action; and there is a way of speaking a kind word, or of doing a kind thing, which greatly enhances their value. What seems to be done with a grudge, or as an act of condescension, is scarcely accepted as a favor. Yet there are men who pride themselves upon their gruffness; and though they may possess virtue and capacity, their manner is often found to render them almost insupportable. It is difficult to like a man who, though he may not pull your nose, habitually wounds your self-respect, and takes a pride in saying disagreeable things to you. There are others who are dreadfully condescending, and cannot avoid seizing upon every small opportunity of making their greatness felt. When Abernethy was canvassing for the office of surgeon to St. Bartholomew Hospital, he called upon such a person,—a rich grocer, one of the governors. The great man behind the counter seeing the great surgeon enter, immediately assumed the grand air towards the supposed suppliant for his vote. "I presume, sir, you want my vote and interest at this momentous epoch of your life." Abernethy, who hated humbugs, and felt nettled at the tone, replied: "No, I don't: I want a pennyworth of figs; come, look sharp and wrap them up: I want to be off!"
The cultivation of manner,—though in excess it is foppish and foolish,—is highly necessary in a person who has occasion to negotiate with others in matters of business. Affability and good-breeding may even be regarded as essential to the success of a man in any eminent station and enlarged sphere of life; for the want of it has not infrequently been found in a great measure to neutralize the results of much industry, integrity, and honesty of character. There are, no doubt, a few strong tolerant minds which can bear with defects and angularities of manner, and look only to the more genuine qualities; but the world at large is not so forbearing, and cannot help forming its judgments and likings mainly according to outward conduct.
Another mode of displaying true politeness is, consideration for the opinions of others. It has been said of dogmatism, that it is only puppyism come to its full growth; and certainly the worst form this quality can assume, is that of opinionativeness and arrogance. Let men agree to differ, and, when they do differ, bear and forbear. Principles and opinions may be maintained with perfect suavity, without coming to blows or uttering hard words; and there are circumstances in which words are blows, and inflict wounds far less easy to heal. As bearing upon this point, we quote an instructive little parable spoken some time since by an itinerant preacher of the Evangelical Alliance on the borders of Wales: "As I was going to the hills," he said, "early one misty morning, I saw something moving on a mountain side, so strange-looking that I took it for a monster. When I came nearer to it, I found it was a man. When I came up to him, I found he was my brother."
The inbred politeness which springs from right-heartedness and kindly feelings, is of no exclusive rank or station. The mechanic who works at the bench may possess it, as well as the clergyman or the peer. It is by no means a necessary condition of labor, that it should in any respect be either rough or coarse. The politeness and refinement which distinguish all classes of the people in many continental countries amply prove that those qualities might become ours too—as doubtless they will become with increased culture and more general social intercourse—without sacrificing any of our more genuine qualities as men. From the highest to the lowest, the richest to the poorest, to no rank or condition in life has nature denied her highest boon,—the great heart. There never yet existed a gentleman but was lord of a great heart. And this may exhibit itself under the hodden gray of the peasant as well as under the laced coat of the noble. Robert Burns was once taken to task by a young Edinburgh blood, with whom he was walking, for recognizing an honest farmer in the open street. "Why, you fantastic gomeral," exclaimed Burns, "it was not the great coat, the scone bonnet, and the saunders-boot hose that I spoke to, but the man that was in them; and the man, sir, for true worth, would weigh down you and me, and ten more such, any day." There may be a homeliness in externals, which may seem vulgar to those who cannot discern the heart beneath; but, to the right-minded, character will always have its clear insignia.
William and Charles Grant were the sons of a farmer in Inverness-shire, whom a sudden flood stripped of everything, even to the very soil which he tilled. The farmer and his sons, with the world before them where to choose, made their way southward in search of employment until they arrived in the neighborhood of Bury in Lancashire. From the crown of the hill near Walmesley they surveyed the wide extent of country which lay before them, the river Irwell making its circuitous course through the valley. They were utter strangers in the neighborhood, and knew not which way to turn. To decide their course they put up a stick, and agreed to pursue the direction in which it fell. Thus their decision was made, and they journeyed on accordingly until they reached the village of Ramsbotham, not far distant. They found employment in a print-work, in which William served his apprenticeship; and they commended themselves to their employers by their diligence, sobriety, and strict integrity. They plodded on, rising from one station to another, until at length the two sons themselves became employers, and after many long years of industry, enterprise, and benevolence, they became rich, honored, and respected by all who knew them. Their cotton-mills and print-works gave employment to a large population. Their well-directed diligence made the valley teem with activity, joy, health, and opulence. Out of their abundant wealth they gave liberally to all worthy objects, erecting churches, founding schools, and in all ways promoting the well-being of the class of working-men from which they had sprung. They afterwards erected, on the top of the hill above Walmesley, a lofty tower in commemoration of the early event in their history which had determined the place of their settlement. The brothers Grant became widely celebrated for their benevolence and their various goodness, and it is said that Mr. Dickens had them in his mind's eye when delineating the character of the brothers Cheeryble. One amongst many anecdotes of a similar kind may be cited to show that the character was by no means exaggerated. A Manchester warehouseman published an exceedingly scurrilous pamphlet against the firm of Grant Brothers, holding up the elder partner to ridicule as "Billy Button." William was informed by some one of the nature of the pamphlet, and his observation was that the man would live to repent of it. "Oh!" said the libeler, when informed of the remark, "he thinks that some time or other I shall be in his debt; but I will take good care of that." It happens, however, that men in business do not always foresee who shall be their creditor, and it so turned out that the Grants' libeler became a bankrupt, and could not obtain his certificate and begin business again without obtaining their signature. It seemed to him a hopeless case to call upon that firm for any favor, but the pressing claims of his family forced him to make the application. He appeared before the man whom he had ridiculed as "Billy Button" accordingly. He told his tale and produced his certificate. "You wrote a pamphlet against us once?" said Mr. Grant. The supplicant expected to see his document thrown into the fire; instead of which Grant signed the name of the firm, and thus completed the necessary certificate. "We make it a rule," said he, handing it back, "never to refuse signing the certificate of an honest tradesman, and we have never heard that you were anything else." The tears started into the man's eyes. "Ah," continued Mr. Grant, "you see my saying was true, that you would live to repent writing that pamphlet. I did not mean it as a threat—I only meant that some day you would know us better, and repent having tried to injure us." "I do, I do, indeed, repent it." "Well, well, you know us now. But how do you get on—what are you going to do?" The poor man stated that he had friends who would assist him when his certificate was obtained. "But how are you off in the mean time?" The answer was, that, having given up every farthing to his creditors, he had been compelled to stint his family in even the common necessaries of life, that he might be enabled to pay for his certificate. "My good fellow, this will never do; your wife and family must not suffer in this way; be kind enough to take this ten-pound note to your wife from me: there, there, now—don't cry, it will be all well with you yet; keep up your spirits, set to work like a man, and you will raise your head among the best of us yet." The overpowered man endeavored with choking utterance to express his gratitude, but in vain; and putting his hand to his face, he went out of the room sobbing like a child.
The True Gentleman is one whose nature has been fashioned after the highest models. It is a grand old name, that of Gentleman, and has been recognized as a rank and power in all stages of society. "The Gentleman is always the Gentleman," said the old French general to his regiment of Scottish gentry at Rousillon, "and invariably proves himself such in need and in danger." To possess this character is a dignity of itself, commanding the instinctive homage of every generous mind, and those who will not bow to titular rank, will yet do homage to the Gentleman. His qualities depend not upon fashion or manners, but upon moral worth,—not on personal possessions, but on personal qualities. The Psalmist briefly describes him as one "that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart."
The Gentleman is eminently distinguished for his self-respect. He values his character,—not so much of it only as can be seen of others, but as he sees it himself; having regard for the approval of his inward monitor. And, as he respects himself, so, by the same law, does he respect others. Humanity is sacred in his eyes: and thence proceed politeness and forbearance, kindness and charity. It is related of Lord Edward Fitzgerald that, while traveling in Canada, in company with the Indians, he was shocked by the sight of a poor squaw trudging along laden with her husband's trappings, while the chief himself walked on unencumbered. Lord Edward at once relieved the squaw of her pack by placing it upon his own shoulders. Here was a beautiful instance of what the French call politesse de cœur,—the genuine politeness of the heart.
The true gentleman has a keen sense of honor,—scrupulously avoiding mean actions. His standard of probity in word and action is high. He does not shuffle nor prevaricate, dodge nor skulk; but is honest, upright, and straightforward. His law is rectitude,—action in right lines. When he says yes, it is a law; and he dares to say the valiant no at the fitting season. The gentleman will not be bribed; only the low-minded and unprincipled will sell themselves to those who are interested in buying them. When the upright Jonas Hanway officiated as commissioner in the victualling department, he declined to receive a present of any kind from a contractor; refusing thus to be biassed in the performance of his public duty. A noble trait of the same kind is to be noted in the life of the Duke of Wellington. Shortly after the battle of Assaye, one morning the prime minister of the Court of Hyderabad waited upon him for the purpose of privately ascertaining what territory and what advantages had been reserved for his master in the treaty of peace between the Mahratta princes and the Nizam. To obtain this information the minister offered the general a very large sum,—considerably above 100,000l. Looking at him quietly for a few seconds, Sir Arthur said, "It appears, then, that you are capable of keeping a secret?" "Yes, certainly," replied the minister. "Then so am I," said the English general, smiling, and bowed the minister out. It was to Wellington's great honor, that though uniformly successful in India, and with the power of earning in such modes as this enormous wealth, he did not add a farthing to his fortune, and returned to England a comparatively poor man. A similar sensitiveness and high-mindedness characterized his noble relative, the Marquis of Wellesley, who, on one occasion, positively refused a present of 100,000l: proposed to be given him by the Directors of the East India Company on the conquest of Mysore. "It is not necessary," said he, "for me to allude to the independence of my character, and the proper dignity attaching to my office; other reasons besides these important considerations lead me to decline this testimony, which is not suitable to me. I think of nothing but our army. I should be much distressed to curtail the share of those brave soldiers." And the Marquis's resolution to refuse the present remained unalterable.
Riches and rank have no necessary connection with genuine gentlemanly qualities. The poor man may be a true gentleman,—in spirit and in daily life. He may be honest, truthful, upright, polite, temperate, courageous, self-respecting, and self-helping,—that is, be a true gentleman. The poor man with a rich spirit is in all ways superior to the rich man with a poor spirit. To borrow St. Paul's words, the former is as "having nothing, yet possessing all things," while the other, though possessing all things, has nothing. The first hopes everything, and fears nothing; the last hopes nothing, and fears everything. Only the poor in spirit are really poor. He who has lost all, but retains his courage, cheerfulness, hope, virtue, and self-respect, is still rich. For such a man, the world is, as it were, held in trust; his spirit dominating over its grosser cares, he can still walk erect, a true gentleman.
Occasionally, the brave and gentle character may be found under the humblest garb. Here is an old illustration, but a fine one. Once on a time, when the Adige suddenly overflowed its banks, the bridge of Verona was carried away, with the exception of the centre arch, on which stood a house, whose inhabitants supplicated help from the windows, while the foundations were visibly giving way. "I will give a hundred French louis," said the Count Spolverini, who stood by, "to any person who will venture to deliver these unfortunate people." A young peasant came forth from the crowd, seized a boat, and pushed into the stream. He gained the pier, received the whole family into the boat, and made for the shore, where he landed them in safety. "Here is your money, my brave young fellow," said the count. "No," was the answer of the young man, "I do not sell my life; give the money to this poor family, who have need of it." Here spoke the true spirit of the Gentleman, though he was but in the garb of a peasant!
Mr. Turnbull, in his excellent work on "Austria," relates an anecdote of the late Emperor Francis, in illustration of the manner in which the government of that country has been indebted, for its hold upon the people, to the personal qualities of its princes. "At the time when the cholera was raging at Vienna, the emperor, with an aide-de-camp, was strolling about in the streets of the city and suburbs, when a corpse was dragged past on a litter unaccompanied by a single mourner. The unusual circumstance attracted his attention, and he learned, on inquiry, that the deceased was a poor person who had died of cholera, and that the relatives had not ventured on what was then considered the very dangerous office of attending the body to the grave. 'Then,' said Francis, 'we will supply their place, for none of my poor people should go to the grave without that last mark of respect;' and he followed the body to the distant place of interment, and, bareheaded, stood to see every rite and observance respectfully performed."
Fine though this illustration may be of the qualities of the gentleman, we can match it by another equally good, of two English navvies in Paris, as related in a morning paper only a few months ago. "One day a hearse was observed ascending the steep Rue de Clichy on its way to Montmartre, bearing a coffin of poplar wood with its cold corpse. Not a soul followed,—not even the living dog of the dead man, if he had one. The day was rainy and dismal; passers-by lifted the hat as is usual when a funeral passes, and that was all. At length it passed two English navvies, who found themselves in Paris on their way from Spain. A right feeling spoke from beneath their serge jackets. 'Poor wretch!' said the one to the other, 'no one follows him; let us two follow!' And the two took off their hats, and walked bareheaded after the corpse of a stranger to the cemetery of Montmartre."
Above all the Gentleman is truthful. He feels that truth is the "summit of being," and the soul of rectitude in human affairs. Lord Chesterfield, with all his French leanings, when he came to define a gentleman, declared that Truth made his success; and nothing that he ever said commanded the more hearty suffrage of his nation. The Duke of Wellington, who had an inflexible horror of falsehood, writing to Kellerman, when that general was opposed to him in the Peninsula, told him that if there was one thing on which an English officer prided himself more than another, excepting his courage, it was his truthfulness. "When English officers," said he, "have given their parole of honor not to escape, be sure they will not break it. Believe me,—trust to their word; the word of an English officer is a surer guarantee than the vigilance of sentinels."
True courage and gentleness go hand in hand. The brave man is generous and forbearing, never unforgiving and cruel. It was finely said of Sir John Franklin by his friend Parry, that "he was a man who never turned his back upon a danger, yet of that tenderness that he would not brush away a mosquito." A fine trait of character—truly gentle, and worthy of the spirit of Bayard—was displayed by a French officer in the cavalry combat of El Bodon in Spain. He had raised his sword to strike Sir Felton Harvey, but perceiving his antagonist had only one arm, he instantly stopped, brought down his sword before Sir Felton in the usual salute, and rode past.
Notwithstanding the wail which we occasionally hear for the chivalry that is gone, our own age has witnessed deeds of bravery and gentleness,—of heroic self-denial and manly tenderness,—which are unsurpassed in history. The events of the last few years have shown that our countrymen are as yet an undegenerate race. On the bleak plateau of Sebastopol, in the dripping perilous trenches of that twelvemonths' leaguer, men of all classes proved themselves worthy of the noble inheritance of character which their forefathers have bequeathed to them. But it was in the hour of the greatest trial in India that the qualities of our countrymen shone forth the brightest. The march of Neill on Cawnpore, of Havelock on Lucknow,—officers and men alike urged on by the hope of rescuing the women and the children,—are events which the whole history of chivalry cannot equal. Outram's conduct to Havelock, in resigning to him, though his inferior officer, the honor of leading the attack on Lucknow, was a trait worthy of Sydney, and alone justifies the title which had been awarded to him of "the Bayard of India." The death of Henry Lawrence,—that brave and gentle spirit,—his last words before dying, "Let there be no fuss about me; let me be buried with the men,"—the anxious solicitude of Sir Colin Campbell to rescue the beleaguered of Lucknow, and to conduct his long train of women and children by night from thence to Cawnpore, which he reached amidst the all but overpowering assault of the enemy,—the care with which he led them across the perilous bridge, never ceasing his charge over them until he had seen the precious convoy safe on the road to Allahabad, and then burst upon the Gwalior contingent like a thunderclap;—such things make us feel proud of our countrymen, and inspire the conviction that the best and purest glow of chivalry is not dead, but vigorously lives among us yet.
Even the common soldiers proved themselves gentlemen under their trials. At Agra, where so many poor fellows had been scorched and wounded in their encounter with the enemy, they were brought into the fort and tenderly nursed by the ladies; and the rough, gallant fellows proved gentle as any children. During the weeks that the ladies watched over their charge, never a word was said by any soldier that could shock the ear of the gentlest. And when all was over,—when the mortally wounded had died, and the sick and maimed who survived were able to demonstrate their gratitude,—they invited their nurses and the chief people of Agra to an entertainment in the beautiful gardens of the Taj, where, amidst flowers and music, the rough veterans, all scarred and mutilated as they were, stood up to thank their gentle countrywomen who had clothed and fed them, and ministered to their wants during their time of sore distress. In the hospitals at Scutari, too, many wounded and sick blessed the kind English ladies who nursed them; and nothing can be finer than the thought of the poor sufferers, unable to rest through pain, blessing the shadow of Florence Nightingale as it fell upon their pillow in the night-watches.
The wreck of the Birkenhead off the coast of Africa on the 27th of February, 1852, affords another memorable illustration of the chivalrous spirit of common men acting in this nineteenth century, of which any age might be proud. The vessel was steaming along the African coast with 472 men and 166 women and children on board. The men belonged to several regiments then serving at the Cape, and consisted principally of recruits, who had been only a short time in the service. At two o'clock in the morning, while all were asleep below, the ship struck with violence upon a hidden rock which penetrated her bottom; and it was at once felt that she must go down. The roll of the drums called the soldiers to arms on the upper deck, and the men mustered as if on parade. The word was passed to save the women and children; and the helpless creatures were brought from below, mostly undressed, and handed silently into the boats. When they had all left the ship's side, the commander of the vessel thoughtlessly called out, "All those that can swim, jump overboard and make for the boats." But Captain Wright, of the 91st Highlanders, said, "No! if you do that, the boats with the women must be swamped;" and the brave men stood motionless. There was no boat remaining, and no hope of safety; but not a heart quailed; no one flinched from his duty in that trying moment. "There was not a murmur nor a cry amongst them," said Captain Wright, a survivor, "until the vessel made her final plunge." Down went the ship, and down went the heroic band, firing a feu de joie as they sank beneath the waves. Glory and honor to the gentle and the brave! The examples of such men never die, but like their memories, are immortal.
There are many tests by which a gentleman may be known; but there is one that never fails,—How does he exercise power over those subordinate to him? How does he conduct himself towards women and children? How does the officer treat his men, the employer his servants, the master his pupils, and man in every station those who are weaker than himself? The discretion, forbearance, and kindliness, with which power in such cases is used, may indeed be regarded as the crucial test of gentlemanly character. He who bullies those who are not in a position to resist, may be a snob, but cannot be a gentleman. He who tyrannizes over the weak and helpless, may be a coward, but no true man. The tyrant, it has been said, is himself but a slave turned inside out. Strength, and the consciousness of strength, in a right-hearted man, imparts a nobleness to his character; but he will be most careful how he uses it; for
"It is excellent
To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant."
Gentleness is indeed the best test of gentlemanliness. A consideration for the feelings of others, for his inferiors and dependants as well as his equals, and respect for their self-respect, will pervade the true gentleman's whole conduct. He will rather himself suffer a small injury than, by an uncharitable construction of another's behavior, incur the risk of committing a great wrong. He will be forbearant of the weaknesses, the failings, and the errors, of those whose advantages in life have not been equal to his own. He will be merciful even to his beast. He will not boast of his wealth, or his strength, or his gifts. He will not confer favors with a patronizing air. Sir Walter Scott once said of Lord Lothian, "He is a man from whom one may receive a favor, and that's saying a great deal in these days." Lord Chatham has said that the gentleman is characterized by his preference of others to himself in the little daily occurrences of life. In illustration of this ruling spirit of considerateness in a noble character, we may cite the anecdote of the gallant Sir Ralph Abercromby, of whom it is related, that when mortally wounded in the battle of Aboukir, he was carried in a litter on board the "Foudroyant;" and, to ease his pain, a soldier's blanket was placed under his head, from which he experienced considerable relief. He asked what it was. "It's only a soldier's blanket," was the reply. "Whose blanket is it?" said he, half lifting himself up. "Only one of the men's." "I wish to know the name of the man whose blanket this is." "It is Duncan Roy's, of the 42d, Sir Ralph." "Then see that Duncan Roy gets his blanket this very night." Even to ease his dying agony, the general would not deprive the private soldier of his blanket for one night. The incident is as good in its way as that of the dying Sydney handing his cup of water to the private soldier on the field of Zutphen.
The quaint old Fuller sums up in a few words the character of the true gentleman and man of action in describing that of the great admiral, Sir Francis Drake: "Chaste in his life, just in his dealings, true of his word; merciful to those that were under him, and hating nothing so much as idleness; in matters especially of moment, he was never wont to rely on other men's care, how trusty or skilful soever they might seem to be, but always contemning danger, and refusing no toil; he was wont himself to be one (whoever was a second) at every turn, where courage, skill, or industry, was to be employed."
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