England without and Within

By Richard Grant White; Hamlet | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII.
"NOBILITY AND GENTRY."

THE word "gentleman" is peculiarly English. In other languages it has counterparts, but not equivalents. Although its application has been widened even in England during the last century, the core of its meaning has not been changed. To this, rather, there have been made additions, as the suburbs have been added to old London; but the city is the city still. It is in the English of England only that the word has this inner steadfastness; for, as I have had occasion to say before, when writing upon another subject, in "America" this word is entirely without meaning unless we know the person who uses it; and generally, too, we must know the occasion of its use and the persons before whom it is spoken.

A gentleman is properly a man of gentle, or genteel, birth and condition; and this sense remains fixed in the word in England, although it has there, besides, other varieties of meaning and of use, as it has in the United States. When the gentlemen of the county are spoken of, or the gentlemen of England, not every man is meant, nor even every respectable, educated, and decently behaving man. There is implied a certain condition in life, a certain social position, which may or may not be accompanied, but which generally is accompanied, by a certain degree of wealth. But an English gentleman in his

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