How do you spot a modern gentleman?
By Mark Hedges
Published on June 16 2012 in The TimesOnline
It’s not easy, because they never show off. But you can trace a line back to the English version of a century ago.
In 1912, Country Life wrote that “few words come to convey so beautiful a meaning as that of ‘Gentleman’.” But what was that meaning and — with the world changing faster than a baton handover* in an Olympic relay* — is it possible to have a defining picture of a gentleman in 2012?
There is little difficulty conjuring up* an image of the historic English gentleman. At their finest, this happy band of amateurs invented sports and country pastimes that are now copied all over the world, from football and cricket to fly fishing and driven shooting*. They collected, read, travelled the world and forged defining codes of behaviour. It is their exploits* that are celebrated in a new book published by Country Life.
Being a gentleman takes much more than merely dressing the part: knowing which horse to back in the 3.15 at Sandown, which gun to take to an elephant or a duck and how to sail a model yacht — all are important for the mannered man*. Drawing on material from the magazine’s archives stretching back to the 1890s, we look at English gentleman in all their glorious diversity.
In 1900, the new fashion for tattoos among the English and European aristocracy (partridges* seemed to be very popular on the tummy) caught on. The discomfort of the process was eased by the injection of a mild solution of cocaine under the skin.
The etiquette for crocodile shooting in 1922 was to shoot the sleeping reptile through the eye: not very sporting, but the author adds that “no compunction* need be felt in shooting crocodiles, for where so common it is a constant worry to the natives”.
Poetry finds its place with advice on which Latin verses to murmur as you gallop at a large thorn hedge. Wilde* famously described the country gentleman galloping after a fox as “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable”, but he failed to realise the genius of the idea in the first place.
And does the gentleman survive in modern Britain? Assuredly he does, though the species is nearly impossible to document properly. Indeed, you would need skills far in excess of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth* team to film one. This is because gentlemen never show off; they would never claim to be a gentleman themselves (that is for others to decide) and they never seek fame.
Yet the happy truth is that they are not merely common, but metamorphosing* into a body that embraces both sexes. The Diamond Jubilee brought out the best in us. We all discovered, albeit fleetingly, the delicious, refined pleasure of talking to strangers, neighbours and friends, helping others and thoroughly enjoying the experience; most importantly of all — that central quality of gentility* — putting others at ease.
The drenched celebrations, from the river pageant to those street parties, illustrated in countless ways the same eccentricities and dogged* pursuit* of pleasure that have always characterised the pursuits of the gentlemen. We will hopefully see yet more evidence of these in the Olympics.
Is it possible, then, that in 2012 we are destined to become a nation of gentlemen? Sadly, there do remain some clearly beyond the pale* of gentility. The story is told of a member of a club in London posting a notice on the board demanding that the nobleman who stole his umbrella at once return it. When a fellow member asked how he knew that the culprit was a noblemen he replied: “Sir, the rules of this club state that it is for noblemen and gentlemen. And no gentleman would have taken my umbrella.”
* baton handover - Staffelstabübergabe
* relay - Staffellauf
* to conjure up - herbeizaubern
* driven shooting - eine Art Schießen auf Vögel (z.B. Rebhühner)
* exploits - Verdienst
* mannered man - Mann mit guten Umgangsformen, Manieren
* partridge - Rebhuhn
* compunction - Schuldgefühle, Gewissensbisse
* Osacar Wilde - Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) was an Irish writer ("The Importance of Being Earnest" or "The Picture of Dorian Gray") and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. Today he is remembered for his epigrams, plays and the circumstances of his imprisonment.
* David Attenborough’s Planet Earth - Planet Earth is a 2006 television series produced by the BBC Natural History Unit. The series comprises eleven episodes, each of which features a global overview of a different biome or habitat on Earth. At the end of each fifty-minute episode, a ten-minute featurette takes a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges of filming the series (narrated by David Attenborough).
* to metamorphose - sich verwandeln
* gentility - Vornehmheit, vornehme Herkunft
* dogged - beharrlich, verbissen
* pursuit - Streben
* beyond the pale of - jenseits der Grenzen von
* Epsom Salts - Epsom salts are made up of a naturally occurring mineral that is found in water. More properly known as magnesium sulfate, Epsom salts derives its popular name from the town of Epsom
* Whist - a classic English trick-taking card game which was played widely in the 18th and 19th centuries
* Kedgeree - Reisgericht mit Fisch und Eiern
* herbaceous border - Blumen-/Staudenrabatte
* Wisden - Wisden Cricketers' Almanack (=the 'bible of cricket')
1. What does the picture of the historic gentleman look like?
2. How does the character of a gentleman live on in our modern times?
3. Jane Austen suggests that gentlemen are educated, comfortably well-off and do not work themselves but oversee the work of others and spend their time planning how to marry off their children or seeking to elevate their social standing. Do you think that this type of gentleman still exists today?
4. The author of this text does not believe himself that the British will again become a 'nation of gentlemen'. Support his suggestion by your own knowledge of today's British society.