Do You Intend to Be A Gentleman?

by the American Sunday-School Union


As I sat at the table a few evenings since, a gentleman called. He was invited to take a seat with us. As he had already supped, he declined. This person is a man of talent and education, but as I turned to look at him, in the course of conversation, I observed a habit which so disgusted me, that it was with an effort I could finish my tea.

This circumstance impressed on my mind the importance of forming correct habits in boyhood. "The child is father of the man," Wordsworth says in one of his poems. The habits and character you form now will, in all probability, be the habits and character you will retain when you are a man. I suppose the individual to whom I have alluded was entirely unconscious of doing any thing disagreeable. If not, perhaps he did not consider it of much consequence. He may have grown up with the opinion that little things are of small importance. Now, that this is not always so, you may easily see if you drop a spark of fire in a pile of shavings: the whole will be immediately in flames, and will do as much injury as if it had been kindled by a large coal.

Our happiness depends quite as much on little things as on great. Small trials are as difficult to bear as any. People often lose their patience when a dress is torn, or a pitcher broken, who would be quiet and calm if some serious misfortune had befallen them.

I hope, boys, you intend to be gentlemen. I do not mean fops and dandies, but true gentlemen. You have perhaps seen the remark made, that "dress does not make the man, but after he is made, he looks better dressed up." Neither do gentlemanly habits and manners make the man, but they certainly improve him after he is made, and render him agreeable and prepossessing.

A farmer, or a cabinet-maker, or a blacksmith, are no less gentlemen because they are engaged in these useful and honourable employments, than are judges, or merchants, or ministers. To be a gentleman is to be a man of gentle manners; and who would not desire to be distinguished for such a trait?

If you intend to be gentlemen, you must begin now, by always conducting, under all circumstances, just as well as you know how. Some of you, I suppose, have better advantages of society, and more careful instruction at home, than others; but no boy of intelligence need fail to be a gentleman if he tries.

A true gentleman is always courteous. He answers respectfully when spoken to—no matter by whom. Do you remember the anecdote of General Washington, who raised his hat and bowed politely to a coloured man he met, who had previously saluted him with the usual civility of the race? A friend with him expressed surprise. "Do you think," said he, "I would be less polite than a negro?" I hope, when you are tempted to be uncivil to those whom you consider beneath you, you will not forget the good example of the Father of his Country. I suppose the secret of Washington's politeness and greatness was, as his mother proudly said of him, that "George was always a good boy!"

He was a gentleman—such a gentleman as I should be glad to believe every boy who reads this book will one day be. If you would be polite to all, you must cultivate kind feelings towards all. A gentleman is not a rough man. He may have great energy and power of character, as had Washington, but still he is a gentle-man.