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The Perfect Gentleman   By: (1871-1947)

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First Page:

The

PERFECT GENTLEMAN

BY

RALPH BERGENGREN

[Illustration]

The Atlantic Monthly Press Boston

COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY PRESS, INC.

The author gratefully acknowledges his indebtedness to The Century Co. for permission to reprint "Oh, Shining Shoes!"

CONTENTS

The Perfect Gentleman 1

As a Man Dresses 14

In the Chair 28

Oh, Shining Shoes! 43

On Making Calls 55

The Lier in Bed 67

To Bore or Not to Bore 79

Where Toils the Tailor 93

Shaving Thoughts 106

Oh, The Afternoon Tea! 122

THE PERFECT GENTLEMAN

Somewhere in the back of every man's mind there dwells a strange wistful desire to be thought a Perfect Gentleman. And this is much to his credit, for the Perfect Gentleman, as thus wistfully contemplated, is a high ideal of human behavior, although, in the narrower but honest admiration of many, he is also a Perfect Ass. Thus, indeed, he comes down the centuries a sort of Siamese Twins, each miraculously visible only to its own admirers; a worthy personage proceeding at one end of the connecting cartilage, and a popinjay prancing at the other. Emerson was, and described, one twin when he wrote, 'The gentleman is a man of truth, lord of his own actions, and expressing that lordship in his behavior; not in any manner dependent or servile, either on persons, or opinions, or possessions.' Walter Pater, had Leonardo painted a Perfect Gentleman's portrait instead of a Perfect Lady's, might have described the other: 'The presence that thus rose so strangely beside the tea table is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years women had come to desire. His is the head upon which "all the ends of the world have come," and the eyelids are a little weary. He is older than the tea things among which he sits.' Many have admired, but few have tried to imitate, the Perfect Gentleman of Emerson's definition; yet few there are who have not felt the wistful desire for resemblance. But the other is more objective: his clothes, his manners, and his habits are easy to imitate.

Of this Perfect Gentleman in the eighteenth century I recently discovered fossil remains in the Gentleman's Pocket Library (Boston and Philadelphia, 1794), from which any literary savant may restore the original. All in one volume, the Library is a compilation for Perfect Gentlemen in the shell, especially helpful with its chapter on the 'Principles of Politeness'; and many an honest but foolish youth went about, I dare say, with this treasure distending his pocket, bravely hoping to become a Perfect Gentleman by sheer diligence of spare time study. If by chance this earnest student met an acquaintance who had recently become engaged, he would remember the 'distinguishing diction that marks the man of fashion,' and would 'advance with warmth and cheerfulness, and perhaps squeezing him by the hand' (oh, horror!) 'would say, "Believe me, my dear sir, I have scarce words to express the joy I feel, upon your happy alliance with such and such a family, etc."' Of which distinguishing diction, 'believe me ' is now all that is left.

If, however, he knew that the approaching victim had been lately bereaved, he would 'advance slower, and with a peculiar composure of voice and countenance, begin his compliments of condolence with, "I hope, sir, you will do me the justice to be persuaded, that I am not insensible to your unhappiness, that I take part in your distress, and shall ever be affected when you are so."'

In lighter mood this still imperfect Perfect Gentleman would never allow himself to laugh, knowing, on the word of his constant pocket companion, that laughter is the 'sure sign of a weak mind, and the manner in which low bred men express their silly joy, at silly things, and they call it being merry.' Better always , if necessary, the peculiar composure of polite sensibility to the suffering of properly introduced acquaintances... Continue reading book >>




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