What a Gentleman Was

VOLUME 155

NUMBER 3

MARCH 1935

BY HENRY DWIGHT SEDGWICK

IT is more than a hundred years since the death of Sir Walter Scott, and, like other people bred upon the Waverley Novels, I was moved by the ceremonies attending his centenary to reread some of them in order to compare present impressions with childhood’s memories. But hardly had I begun when I lost sight of this comparison in the contrast between Scott’s conception of human values and that held by the present generation, more particularly with regard to Scott’s notions of a gentleman. Sir Walter followed a European tradition that had come down from the time of Homer. To-day that ideal is all but gone, like a Californian brook in midsummer. And as, after the disappearance of a great public character who once filled the stage of the world, leaving a sense of emptiness, men continue to talk of him with respect and affection, so now I ask permission to talk about the Guild of Gentlemen,1 in a sort of leave-taking, and recall its qualities and the good that it did, for even those most inimical during life to that which is no more, often listen, if not with charity, at least with mitigated ill will, to such a discourse. I come to say good-bye to the Guild, not to praise it.

A Gentleman’s Obligations

In early times, and indeed all through the ages, the first obligation of a gentleman was to be a leader in battle, in times of war to be foremost in the field and in peace to busy himself with preparations for war. He was also a leader in civil matters, in government, in framing and executing policy; he studied social needs, investigated the experience of the past, conferred with his equals and enacted the laws. The habit of command, the familiarity of responsibility, the association of personal interests with the interests of the state, made the gentleman ready and eager to return to society an equivalent to what he received.

Besides rendering such active services in war and politics, — which, indeed, I think we may take for granted, — the Guild of Gentlemen paid its debt to society for privileges received in another and hardly less important way. Its members constituted a body of persons who sympathized, as spectators, audience, readers, with the productions, and efforts at production, of men with special talents — poets, musicians, artists; they lent a ready ear, tendered encouragement, applauded success, criticized defects, and, as dry leaves catch a spark, preserved flashes of genius from passing into nothingness. The Parthenon would not have been built had not the eupatridæ already established principles of harmony, proportion, measure, which, descending to the so-called democracy of Pericles as an obligatory tradition, trained Pheidias, Iktinos, and their co-workers, and enabled Athenians of place and power to respect modules, to enjoy the delicacies of curve, the play of shadow upon pillar and cornice. The literatures of Greece, of Rome, of the Italian Renaissance, of the Siècle de Louis XIV, of Castile in its great days, of all periods distinguished by proportion, measure, and restraint, are builded on the appreciation of a class of cultivated gentlemen. So, by this service of receptivity, the Guild of Gentlemen has contributed its part. It was, of course, highly paid, by privilege, leisure, and luxury, even in times when serfs and peasants were suffering from want and the burgesses of towns were scrimping and saving, but it paid back pound for pound, florin for florin, ducat for ducat, because it held fast to the great traditions of civilization, because it cultivated and cherished tastes, feelings, standards, that raise men above the savage and the barbarian.

Copyright 1935, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.

And by doing this it made the most important contribution toward solution of the problem of leisure. The use to which leisure should be put has always been serious, for Satan finds a God’s plenty of mischief for idle hands to do, and had it not been for literature and the arts there would have been little for unoccupied men to concern themselves with, except wine, women, and prospects of war. And now that leisure is not to be the prerogative of a small class only, but the right of and possession of all men, it becomes a very solemn matter indeed. Democracy and machinery will shorten the hours of labor for the multitude to such a degree that the question how to employ leisure will become more important than how to labor, and this matter, if civilization is to be preserved, cannot be left to chance. In the past, gentlemen have been the guardians of leisure; they alone possessed it, and as men for the most part take good care of their possessions, they did look after it and care for it. No doubt possessors of leisure have indulged in profligacy, in vice, in silly and stupid pastimes, but their huntings and hawkings, their feasts and pageants, their balls and their merrymakings, their dress and their trappings, not only gave them pleasure, — and pleasure is an admirable thing, — but also stimulated the sensibilities of artists and kindled their imaginations. And in the matter of leisure the prodigal does not undo what the Admirable Crichton does; he may waste his leisure, but not that of the Admirable Crichton; one man’s bad use does not hurt another man’s good use. A broken jug does not empty a sound one. And the mere fact that so many famous princes have been patrons of art and literature is proof that the aristocracy of which they were the standard-bearers were lovers of art and literature, for, Prospero apart, there is hardly a prince, however great his talents, who interests himself in matters that do not interest his courtiers. It is because of their interest that his interest is kindled, quickened, and encouraged; it is because they have built the pedestal that the patron prince stands so conspicuous.

Moreover, it is the very misuse of leisure that gives importance to the existence and maintenance of upright guardians of leisure. If the trained, disciplined, cultivated few, taught by tradition and upheld by accepted standards, employ leisure in shameful and mischievous ways, what will the multitude, unexpectant heirs, intoxicated by a sudden opulence of leisure, do with their acquisition? Now it is the professional baseball game, the prize fight, the films of Hollywood, but with an appetite for greater excitement, for sharper stimulants to the senses, to what lengths may they not go? In the past the populace has demanded bull fights, bearbaiting, gladiatorial combats, or, under the stimulus of the press, whose freedom we value so highly, war.

In old days, when leisure was an apanage of property and privilege, a young gentleman was specially educated for the use of leisure; he was taught as a boy to take part in games and manly sports; he attended the university and studied the humanities; he went upon the grand tour in order to make acquaintance with the ways and manners of other peoples, to see their achievements in art and learn their languages, and stimulate his mind by comparison, analysis, and philosophic reflection. He was from boyhood associated with elders who had had a like education, and was naturally predisposed to be able to enter into their society, to share their experience and habits of mind. And all the time the rules of the golden mean and of self-control were held up before his eyes as guides of nearly supernatural authority. But with the multitude none of this is possible.

Even the memory of these things is passing away, and Matthew Arnold hardly sounds more modern than Cicero: ‘Again and again I have said how the refinement of an aristocracy may be precious and educative to a raw nation . . . how its serenity and dignified freedom from petty cares may serve as a useful foil to set off the vulgarity and hideousness of that type of life which a hard middle class tends to establish, and to help people to see this vulgarity and hideousness in their true colors.’ All such preaching lies unopened on library shelves because the whole subject is outmoded.

A Note on Manners

As my theme is the elimination of the gentleman that is and for some time has been taking place under the stress of alien forces, I will, before discussing those forces, enumerate more specifically the qualities which, according to the opinions of all generations from Homer to the end of the nineteenth century, went into the making of a gentleman, not according to their precedency in importance, but as they may happen to come to my mind.

The first note is that of manners. The old order regarded courtliness as a fine art. Even to-day travelers report that this opinion is still held in the Orient. When two Japanese gentlemen meet, they regard their meeting as an opportunity for expressing all gradations of polite satisfactions. The old order was aware how large a part casual relations play in social life, how many a little makes a mickle, how even momentary meetings with friends and acquaintances, a lifting of the hat, a smile, a wave of the hand, a few steps out of one’s way, a batch of conventional good wishes, an outward solicitude for one’s health or prosperity, drop sufficient pleasantness into the fluctuating scales of ordinary existence to make the day a happy one. The old order understood how important is the outside of things. It is easy for an age that sets store by energy, by activity, by velocity, to laugh at attaching importance to the lifting of a hat, the dropping of a curtsy, the art of the tailor, of the coiffeur, of the milliner, and the various elegances of etiquette. But perhaps you well remember Velásquez’s picture, ‘The Surrender of Breda’; how Spinola, the conquering general, bends forward to accept the tender of the city’s key from the conquered Dutchman. I venture to assert that not one man in a hundred thousand knows or cares about the surrender of that little city, but that Spinola’s attitude leaves its influence on every visitor to the Prado. A whole philosophy of life is delineated in that gracious portrayal of respect and sympathy. The picture represents not merely the Castilian conception of a gentleman in the days when Spanish gentlemen were the first in Europe, but one that existed, as I have said, from the time of Homer until yesterday.

Burke says: ‘Nothing is more certain, than that our manners, our civilization, and all the good things which are connected with manners, and with civilization, have, in this European world of ours, depended for ages upon two principles; I mean the spirit of a gentleman and the spirit of religion.’ To the spirit of religion I shall refer later, but in passing I may suggest that Burke’s coupling these two sentiments together was in no wise fortuitous, for the two work together, and in their essence are closely united. Neither is necessary to the other, but each is an aid. It may be said that manners, in part, are the superficial expression of religion. And the biographies of men greatly religious show that where there is holiness within there is courtesy without. There may be good manners without holiness, but there is no record of holiness without good manners.

Emerson said: ‘In every sense the subject of manners has a constant interest to thoughtful persons. Who does not delight in fine manners? Their charm cannot be predicted or overstated. ’T is perpetual promise of more than can be fulfilled. It is music and sculpture and picture to many who do not pretend to appreciation of those arts. It is even true that grace is more beautiful than beauty. Yet how impossible to overcome the obstacle of an unlucky temperament, and acquire good manners, unless by living with the well bred from the start.’

Tennyson, too, said, — I cite him not as a poet but as a witness to contemporary beliefs, —

For manners are not idle, but the fruit
Of loyal nature and of noble mind.

And, indeed, it is very difficult to treat manners, the outward bearing of a man, and his character as two distinct and separate things. Rather they are the convex and the concave sides of his personality. Function shapes the organ, habitual behavior determines habitual thoughts, the outward shape begins to cast a beam on the essence within, and fine manners, good manners, gracious manners, gradually construct royal roads for action running from the brain to the members, convert them into lines of least resistance, and gradually render the human spirit within fine and good and gracious.

Cardinal Newman, who was no mean psychologist, draws this picture of a gentleman, and you can see how completely such behavior would mould the personality within: ‘It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say 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 expelling 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 everyone at their 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 unreasonable 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 sayings 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 toward 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.’ And more.

Almost all of this picture of a gentleman is composed of his manners. What pleasantness there would be in life if there were many men of such manners, and is it not strange that our lovers of equality should be so blinded by humanitarian passions as not to see what a loss they inflict upon society by pooh-poohing the importance of manners, by their preaching and their practice in derision of manners?

Style

The second note is style. This quality is similar to that of manners, but it has a different shade of meaning, a different emphasis. Let me take the analogy of architecture. Style in architecture may signify the consistent application of a certain theory of building to the construction of an edifice, as the Greek style, the Gothic, the Renaissance, or the baroque style; but also, when an edifice, in addition to its utilitarian uses, delights the eye, whether by a combination of mass and void, by interplay of light and shade, by proportion and balance, by a union of strength and delicacy, by detail and ornament, we say colloquially that it has style and we mean that its exterior has an æsthetic value, that it gives us pleasure to look at it. This accomplishment is based on form. Whatever is noble, grand, rhythmical, subtle, whatever possesses measure or elegance, is the result of form. Form, when it is successful, has style. And let me take other analogies, as Shakespeare’s description of a horse: —

Round-hoofed, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
Broad breast, full eye, small head, and nostril wide,
High crest, short ears, straight legs, and passing strong,
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide.

This horse had style; and so of a dog. You remember Theseus’s eulogy upon his hounds: —

My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind,
So flew’d, so sanded; and their heads are hung
With ears that sweep away the morning dew;
Crook-knee’d, and dew-lapp’d like Thessalian bulls;
Slow in pursuit; but match’d in mouth like bells,
Each unto each.

These hounds had style. And in like manner plants are selected and bred with the greatest solicitude in order to produce flowers of admired shape, color, and odor; they are grown for their style. If style, then, is desirable in flower, dog, horse, and architecture, can it be discarded in man, without thereby making the world a poorer place, and life a less worth-while experience?

In literature, style used to be considered not merely the good manners of a book, nor merely a species of courtliness, but flesh of the flesh, bone of the bone, of sentence, paragraph, and chapter, no more separable from the substance than the good points of a cocker spaniel are separable from him. But now, in America, under the influence of democracy, style is regarded not as an integral part of literature, but as an appendage, a badge of class, artificial finery, a relic of the old régime, an impediment to that equality which should be common to all men. This notion is, of course, a mere humanitarian illusion. Style is not an appendage, but an integral part of whatever it belongs to. Nevertheless, believers in equality are quite right to regard style as appurtenant to the aristocratical view of life.

In French prose, style continues, although but haltingly, partly because the French are a people upon whom nature has conferred taste, and partly because French prose is not handed over to the judgment of the masses; it has been kept in the aristocratic tradition by the French Academy, by the national system of literary education, by an organized respect for the French classics. In England, too, many books and some newspapers still possess style. The great heritage of English prose, bequeathed from Hooker to Jeremy Taylor, from Taylor to Clarendon, from Clarendon to Addison, from him to Burke, from Burke to Cardinal Newman, from Newman to Stevenson, and to sundry writers still living, men bred upon this heritage, or on the Greek and Latin classics, at Oxford and Cambridge — this great heritage, with its momentum, cannot lose its authority all at once. But we in America, a people who look forward and not back, do not find this badge of class distinction to our taste. Our democratic belief in equality induces us to think that one man writes as well as another, or that anyhow writing is a practical matter, not an art. Our vocabulary has shrunk from the amplitude of the masters to the more convenient dimensions suitable to convey in the daily press the information that the multitude desires. Grammatical niceties are the hobby of the whimsical few. Dependent clauses, subjunctives, subtleties that enabled a writer to be both clear and exact, to express what critics of painting call sfumatura, manyfaceted gradations of thought, have been sloughed off; they are undemocratical, alien to that comfortable ease of ready comprehension to which the humblest citizen is entitled.

However, democracy will use all the words it needs. Science, with its limited audience, will continue to employ scientific terms. The mechanical arts will continue to have their own terminology, and they, too, have a restricted class of readers. As to newspapers and ordinary books, editors and publishers, in their ambition to reach the greatest possible numbers of persons, find that ambition furthered by a disregard of grammar, as well as by a limitation of vocabulary, so that no citizen shall be put to the inconvenience of consulting a dictionary. Besides, grammar, with its insistence upon the order of words, upon the subordination of sentences, is plainly a product of the old régime, as one may also see by such statements as that the noun governs the verb, whereas all words are and of right ought to be on a perfect equality. What advocates of the old system fear is that restriction upon expression, limitation upon grammatical niceties, will cramp thought. Under the old régime an author addressed himself to the educated few, and acknowledged no duty other than the exact expression of his thought, whether following observation or imagination, but to-day his business is to cast thought into a standard mould.

Taste

Another note is that of taste. In a democracy where plebiscites decide such matters, taste fares badly. This delicate handiwork of long processes of selection, this child of privilege and slow time, over which experience, thought, logic, sensitiveness, and art have spent themselves, is so much a part and parcel of the old order that the new order, with its contempt for whatever is old, is inclined to turn up its nose and relegate it, with the humanities and suchlike, to the dust bin. But perhaps the lovers of equality are overhasty. Taste is the nurse of beauty; and love of beauty is the main distinction between man and brute. Animals eat, drink, sleep, propagate their kind, quarrel and fight very much as men do, but they do not recognize beauty — unless it be a factor in the mating season. Love of beauty is the achievement of intelligence, sensitiveness, and emotion; and as high intelligence, delicate sensitiveness, and passionate emotion are rare, so both creators of beauty and connoisseurs of beauty are rare. In old days, when quality was valued more than quantity, when the cult of beauty was both a privilege and a duty, taste was the finger post to what the aristocracy regarded as the mind’s most permanent pleasure, the love of beauty. Now all this is changed. The world lists toward democracy, equality, humanitarianism; it hardly notices the pleasures of the gifted few, and devotes itself to the satisfactions of the many, to housing, feeding, beer, ball games, the cinema — its favorite axiom is that the needs of belly and back come before the delicacies of the mind and the fastidiousness of the soul.

This solicitude for the human belly and the human back is idolatry. And the Church, or rather, I should say, the Protestant churches share in it; their ministers cross themselves, and drop into papistical genuflexions, when they pass the altar of humanitarianism, they chant hymns to the proletariat, they bustle about inquiring if the dear people in the East End — where wage earners spend their wages on beer, and their wives bring forth new objects of human solicitude as fast as slowworking nature will allow — find their dear bodies comfortable, and their dear babies on the way to becoming as free, as enlightened, as forward-looking, as their parents. The centre of human gravity has shifted. The old spiritual values — contemplation, meditation, the commandments of self-control and self-improvement — are cast aside, the humanities, with their exaltation of the cardinal virtues, Fortitude, Temperance, Prudence, and Justice, thrown overboard; and if this be so, — and it is so, — if the humanities are neglected for scientific specialization, religion neglected for gratification of the humanitarian herd instinct, the Guild of Gentlemen metaphorically hurried à la lanterne, who then will maintain the sacred cult of beauty, who uphold the nobler values of life?

Beauty must not be left to chance; it requires a body of guardians devoted to its service. Æsthetes are not to be trusted, for æsthetes seek to detach beauty from the general stuff of human experience, to isolate it, and fence it about; they surround it with a priesthood of their own, praise it in an esoteric liturgy, and seek to render the cult exclusively their own. The task is, and always has been, to bring beauty out of its sacred enclosure into ordinary life; its servitors should be in and of this workaday world, and understand the workaday world’s need of beauty; they should mix in all the interests of life and take the cult of beauty with them. This task, under the old order, the Guild of Gentlemen assumed and, in a not inadequate measure, performed. Even in the full flood of popular enthusiasm for democracy, James Russell Lowell said: ‘I see as clearly as any man possibly can, and rate as highly, the value of wealth, and of hereditary wealth, as the security of refinement, the feeder of all those arts that ennoble and beautify life, and as making a country worth living in’ (1884). And, speaking of England, Lecky says: ‘In addition to many statesmen, orators or soldiers — in addition to many men who have exhibited an admirable administrative skill in the management of vast properties and the improvement of numerous dependents, the English aristocracy has been extremely rich in men who, as poets, historians, art critics, linguists, philologists, antiquaries or men of science, have attained a great or, at least, a respectable eminence.’

This testimony as to the artistic activity of the aristocracy is but one half of the matter; it is the other half that I lay emphasis on — not upon the activities of gentlemen in service of things of the mind and of the spirit, but upon their receptivity, their appreciation, their service as disseminators. This body of gentlemen — bred upon privilege, segregated from their fellows by possession of property, each going his own way, but all coöperating in the common task by exchange of ideas, by emulation, by mutual encouragement, by a sense of moral obligation — this body of gentlemen prepared a spiritual home, wherein they received, welcomed, and applauded men of genius, men of talent, creators of beauty, whatever their origin, like the landlord of an old-fashioned hostelry. They regarded beauty as a royal element in nature, bringing its own authority, approved by reason, justified by experience, subservient to life as a whole, and holding out to poor humanity the best hope of a brighter day in some to-morrow. They, — I am speaking of ideal gentlemen, — having been disciplined to these ends in youth, were ready to hail all the arts, to take delight in beauty of sound, from a Mozart or a Brahms; delight in beauty of line and color, in pictures by Simone Martini, Poussin, Watteau, and Gainsborough; delight in beauty of plane and contour in Praxiteles and Scopas, in Donatello, Falconet, or Mestrovic; in builded beauty of stone, or brick, or wood, or steel, whatever displayed the strength, the repose, the elegance of harmony, measure, proportion, ornament.

Such appreciation was passed along from gentleman to gentleman, modified by this one, enhanced by that, all the time acquiring authority from general acceptance, and so, become a dogma, like that of the value of courage, of good breeding, of manly sports, affected daily life in the most common things at every turn. In Homeric times gentlemen delighted in the decoration of a shield, reminiscent, if it might be, of that which Hephaistos wrought for Achilles, in the carving on the prow of a galley, in the ornamentation of a chariot, in the art and embroidery of garments; and so it has been in all subsequent generations; gentlemen have called upon artists to enrich the material in all familiar things, — statues, pictures, tapestries, furniture, vases, goblets, dishes, — teaching the eye that beauty lurks in curve and contour, in texture and color, in proportion and contrast. And not in little things only. There were cathedrals; William of Sens, l’Abbé Suger, Évrard de Fouilloi, and a long line of prelates, princes, lords and ladies, took infinite pains with architectural plans and projects, with vault and apse and radiating chapels, with images, entrelacs, zigzags, lozenges, flowers and leaves; they studied Christian sarcophagi, Byzantine ivories, or Persian textiles. There were châteaux, — Francois Premier is described as an artist to his finger tips, — castles, mansions, manor houses; there were pleasure domes and pleasaunces; there were parks and gardens.

You remember how Bacon describes a princelike garden: ‘For Gardens, the contents ought not well to be under Thirty Acres of Ground; and to be divided into three parts; a Greene in the entrance; a Heath or Desart in the Going forth; and the Maine Garden in the midst; Besides Alleys on both sides. And I like well, that Foure Acres of Ground, be assigned to the Greene; Six to the Heath; Foure and Foure to either Side; and Twelve to the Maine Garden. The Greene hath two pleasures; The one because nothing is more Pleasant to the Eye than Greene Grasse kept finely shorne; the other, because it wall give you a faire Alley in the midst, by which you may go in front upon a Stately Hedge, which is to inclose the Garden.’ And so on; and the lists of flowers, following in turn the sequence of the seasons, fill the air with their imagined sweetness; they constitute, as he says, a Ver Perpetuum. Such princelike gardens, the châteaux of the Loire, the cathedrals of the Ile-de-France, do not spring from the proletariat, but from the desires of the Guild of Gentlemen.

All sorts of things, great and small, inherited from the past testify that the creation of beauty and the appreciation of beauty have been appurtenances of privilege.

Privacy

Another note of the Guild I am describing is a love of privacy. Nothing, perhaps, is less sympathetic to democracy, to lovers of equality and fraternity, than the liberty of a man to live by himself. Equality loves company and is exasperated by any aristocratic aloofness. The old notion, whether concerning things physical or things moral, of a walled garden, of ‘sporting your oak,’ of seclusion, retirement, solitude, has gone. What used to be considered the inalienable right of a man to keep himself and his affairs to himself is his no longer. It has not only ceased to be a right, but it has become a wrong done to the public. If an aggressive editor drops but a hint, on the instant his reporters and photographers leap over walls, peek through keyholes, push doors open, scramble in windows, creep, intrude, and climb into anything that is creepable, intrudable, or climbable, rush into bedrooms, crawl under beds, try the plumbing in the bathroom, tip the dirty-clothes basket upside down, and all because it is alleged that the sovereign people would be amused to know what a quiet, shy, retiring man may chance to busy himself about; for the public regards a quiet, shy, retiring man as it does some beast in the zoo, which has been tracked with infinite pains and pulled out of its hole by curators of natural history museums, in lands beyond strange seas. Publicity is the cry. A youth who aims to be of note is hurried to the housetops, given a loud speaker, and bidden to bawl out his qualifications; and universities give prizes for what they call results in the arts of advertising. Perhaps no factor at work in the transformation of our civilization is so potent as publicity; it acts like a surging tide upon a shelving beach that rubs and smooths and rounds off the manyfaceted pebbles into the similarity of boys’ marbles.

This all-pervasive force acts everywhere; it acts upon religion. I am told that Professor Whitehead and Dean Inge believe that ‘religion is what the individual does with his own solitude . . . (that) if you are never solitary you are never religious.’ Thomas à Kempis, in his chapter on the love of silence and solitude, says: ‘The greatest Saints avoided the company of men, when they could, and chose to live in privacy with God. . . . He that means to attain to the inner life and things of the spirit, let him imitate Jesus and turn aside from the multitude. . . . If thou wishest the prick of repentance in thy heart enter thy closet and shut out the noises of the world, as it is written, Commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still (Psalms IV. 4).’ If this be so, then the loss of privacy, which means the loss of solitude, is a hard blow at religion — not merely revealed religion, but what the two distinguished men whom I referred to call real religion, or the essence of religion. It is natural enough, therefore, and quite excusable, that ministers and deacons and such, expelled as it were from their natural abode, should become humanitarians, and what not. There even exists, I am told, a sect of people who hold ‘house parties . . . where spontaneous disclosures of the most private experiences of the spiritual [sic] life could occur quite naturally . . . where retreats and informal intimate discussions for sharing personal discoveries are commonplace features of religious [sic] work.’

And as it is with privacy and solitude, so it is with reserve. The true democrat lives in a glass house, wears his heart on his sleeve, turns his wallet of experiences inside out, publishes his daily doings, his triumphs, his hopes, the incidents of his amorous life, and feels defrauded whenever an old-fashioned man refuses to do the same. If your heart were in the right place, would you keep your curtains down and your front door shut? The old adage that a man’s house is his castle bears all the marks of the old régime. A castle, to be sure! The very emblem of aristocracy, pride, privilege, privacy, and inequality.

And so, privacy, once regarded as the basis of civilization, of religion, of man’s comradeship with God, is shown the door, together with manners, taste, style, and modesty. And there remain these three, Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality, and the greatest of these is Equality. I said thoughtlessly that Liberty remains, but so limited, so gnawed and nibbled and curtailed, so subjected to the caprices of the masses, that the writers in the Federalist, the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the framers of our Constitution, would suggest the propriety of using some other word in its place.

(‘The Vanishing Gentleman,’by Mr. Sedgwick, will appear in the next issue)

  1. Mr. Sedgwick’s book from which this paper is borrowed will be published under the title, ‘The Guild of Gentlemen.’ — EDITOR