Dear Sir P
I feel unaccomplished. I can’t hold a tune, wield a sword, ride a horse or speak a foreign tongue. I have also occasionally behaved like a bounder and/or a cad. Do I have the right to call myself a gentleman? What is a gentleman, for God’s sake? Also, what is the difference between a bounder and a cad, and which am I?
Am I in fact a true man in any sense? The notion of ‘manhood’ has become extremely confused of late.
Also, I’ve been challenged to a duel. Will you be my second?
Finally, is it inappropriate for a grown man to build models of WWII battleships?
Oh, and what is your favourite country?
As it happens, a number of people have stridently insisted I write a guide to becoming a gentleman. They believe that it would be for the good of the country, that young men are so ill-defined nowadays, and the world at large so wayward and pre-apocalyptic, that what’s really needed is a manual to help an individual forge a robust identity that will survive anything.
I’ve always refused. You can’t teach such things; you can only throw quotes at the problem. So here’s one: the statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke wrote in the late 18th century that “a king may make a nobleman, but he cannot make a gentleman”.
Sadly, I am living proof of this.
Similarly, a treatise called ‘A Discourse Concerning the Character of a Gentleman’ by ‘A Person of Quality’ in 1716 explains, “The Appellation of the Gentleman (says the Tatler) should never be affix’d to a Man’s Circumstances, but to his Behaviour in them”.
So if by any chance you have a pipe, I invite you to stick the above in it and light up. In my mind, to be a gent it is simply necessary to bear those notions in mind, not speak with your mouth full and to be willing and able to rattle off at least three Gilbert & Sullivan songs, whether sober, squiffy or hammered out of your mind.
In days of yore, being a gent was much more demanding. In 1528, one Count Baldassare Castiglione published The Book of the Courtier, a how-to guide for the original Renaissance man. Among an array of accomplishments, Castiglione encouraged sprezzatura – a certain effortless composure or nonchalance. The sort of thing, frankly, that only an Italian can pull off convincingly. And I suspect, young Fuddbut, that you are not an Italian.
Because I have a dictionary and you clearly don’t, I will now explain the difference between a bounder and a cad. Both are morally reprehensible anti-gents, but a bounder is distinguished by being something of a social climber to boot. I, for one, am a cad. As for which one you are, old son, only a good hard look in the mirror will tell you that.
So where does this leave your manhood, or indeed that of any adult male? Life for the modern man is indeed emasculating but then we can take comfort in the fact that this is true for women too. Judith Lucy is doing a good job of explaining this in her ABC TV show, as has Annabel Crabb in her book The Wife Drought, which my parlour maid told me all about while completing my nightly bed turndown service. Harking back to some non-existent golden age when men bestrode the world safe in their shining armour of self-knowledge is the distraction of a fool. You must fashion your own sense of who you are from true self-knowledge, Fuddbut. Anything else is just another kind of identity fraud …
As for your duel, no, I will not be your second, though I encourage you to get one. He or she needs to make sure your interests are well served and that your opponent doesn’t cheat. More importantly, they’re honour-bound to step in should your nerve fail you. As I suspect it will. But I do admire your willingness to take part. Though duels to the death are rare nowadays it is still sometimes necessary to defend your honour with cold steel or hot lead. There are however two things to bear in mind:
- You might lose and end up dead or badly injured
- You might win and end up badly jailed
Not that I particularly want you to survive. I suspect your DNA lacks the necessary robustness to warrant being passed on. Though your fondness for building model warships is a redeeming feature. After all, a three-foot-long replica of the Bismarck graces my own hallway. It took Chivers, my manservant, two months to build. Time well spent.
I have two favourite countries. One is Burkina Faso because its capital city rejoices in the splendid name Ouagadougou. The other is Iceland because, quite genuinely, their roads authority has a pro-elf policy, which means that no highway is built across an area thought to be inhabited by elves, trolls or any other supernatural beings. Superb.
Sir Partridge’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to email@example.com.