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Title: Of Vulgarity
Author: Ruskin, John
Language: English
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                           Ruskin Treasuries



                              OF VULGARITY



                          London: George Allen
                                  1906



    _What do you mean by "vulgarity"?  You will find it a fruitful
    subject of thought; but, briefly, the essence of all vulgarity
    lies in want of sensation._

    Sesame and Lilies, § 28.



                         _All rights reserved_



                          *RUSKIN TREASURIES*

                             *OF VULGARITY*


1.  Two great errors, colouring, or rather discolouring, severally, the
minds of the higher and lower classes, have sown wide dissension, and
wider misfortune, through the society of modern days.  These errors are
in our modes of interpreting the word "gentleman."

Its primal, literal, and perpetual meaning is "a man of pure race;"[#]
well bred, in the sense that a horse or dog is well bred.


[#] See below, pp. 39-47.


The so-called higher classes, being generally of purer race than the
lower, have retained the true idea, and the convictions associated with
it; but are afraid to speak it out, and equivocate about it in public;
this equivocation mainly proceeding from their desire to connect another
meaning with it, and a false one;—that of "a man living in idleness on
other people’s labour;"—with which idea the term has nothing whatever to
do.

The lower classes, denying vigorously, and with reason, the notion that
a gentleman means an idler, and rightly feeling that the more any one
works, the more of a gentleman he becomes, and is likely to become,—have
nevertheless got little of the good they otherwise might, from the
truth, because, with it, they wanted to hold a falsehood,—namely, that
race was of no consequence.  It being precisely of as much consequence
in man as it is in any other animal.


2.  The nation cannot truly prosper till both these errors are finally
got quit of.  Gentlemen have to learn that it is no part of their duty
or privilege to live on other people’s toil.  They have to learn that
there is no degradation in the hardest manual, or the humblest servile,
labour, when it is honest.  But that there is degradation, and that
deep, in extravagance, in bribery, in indolence, in pride, in taking
places they are not fit for, or in coining places for which there is no
need.  It does not disgrace a gentleman to become an errand boy, or a
day labourer; but it disgraces him much to become a knave, or a thief.
And knavery is not the less knavery because it involves large interests,
nor theft the less theft because it is countenanced by usage, or
accompanied by failure in undertaken duty. It is an incomparably less
guilty form of robbery to cut a purse out of a man’s pocket, than to
take it out of his hand on the understanding that you are to steer his
ship up channel, when you do not know the soundings.


3.  On the other hand, the lower orders, and all orders, have to learn
that every vicious habit and chronic disease communicates itself by
descent; and that by purity of birth the entire system of the human body
and soul may be gradually elevated, or, by recklessness of birth,
degraded; until there shall be as much difference between the well-bred
and ill-bred human creature (whatever pains be taken with their
education) as between a wolf-hound and the vilest mongrel cur.  And the
knowledge of this great fact ought to regulate the education of our
youth, and the entire conduct of the nation.[#]


[#] See below, pp. 41-42.


4.  Gentlemanliness, however, in ordinary parlance, must be taken to
signify those qualities which are usually the evidence of high breeding,
and which, so far as they can be acquired, it should be every man’s
effort to acquire; or, if he has them by nature, to preserve and exalt.
Vulgarity, on the other hand, will signify qualities usually
characteristic of ill-breeding, which, according to his power, it
becomes every person’s duty to subdue.  We have briefly to note what
these are.


5.  A gentleman’s first characteristic is that fineness of structure in
the body, which renders it capable of the most delicate sensation; and
of structure in the mind which renders it capable of the most delicate
sympathies—one may say, simply, "fineness of nature."  This is, of
course, compatible with heroic bodily strength and mental firmness; in
fact, heroic strength is not conceivable without such delicacy.
Elephantine strength may drive its way through a forest and feel no
touch of the boughs; but the white skin of Homer’s Atrides would have
felt a bent rose-leaf, yet subdue its feeling in glow of battle, and
behave itself like iron.  I do not mean to call an elephant a vulgar
animal; but if you think about him carefully, you will find that his
non-vulgarity consists in such gentleness as is possible to elephantine
nature; not in his insensitive hide, nor in his clumsy foot; but in the
way he will lift his foot if a child lies in his way; and in his
sensitive trunk, and still more sensitive mind, and capability of pique
on points of honour.


6.  And, though rightness of moral conduct is ultimately the great
purifier of race, the sign of nobleness is not in this rightness of
moral conduct, but in sensitiveness.  When the make of the creature is
fine, its temptations are strong, as well as its perceptions; it is
liable to all kinds of impressions from without in their most violent
form; liable therefore to be abused and hurt by all kinds of rough
things which would do a coarser creature little harm, and thus to fall
into frightful wrong if its fate will have it so.  Thus David, coming of
gentlest as well as royalest race, of Ruth as well as of Judah, is
sensitiveness through all flesh and spirit; not that his compassion will
restrain him from murder when his terror urges him to it; nay, he is
driven to the murder all the more by his sensitiveness to the shame
which otherwise threatens him. But when his own story is told under a
disguise, though only a lamb is now concerned, his passion about it
leaves him no time for thought.  "The man shall die"—note the
reason—"because he had no pity."  He is so eager and indignant that it
never occurs to him as strange that Nathan hides the name.  This is true
gentleman.  A vulgar man would assuredly have been cautious, and asked
who it was.


7.  Hence it will follow that one of the probable signs of high-breeding
in men generally, will be their kindness and mercifulness; these always
indicating more or less fineness of make in the mind; and miserliness
and cruelty the contrary; hence that of Isaiah: "The vile person shall
no more be called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful."  But a
thousand things may prevent this kindness from displaying or continuing
itself; the mind of the man may be warped so as to bear mainly on his
own interests, and then all his sensibilities will take the form of
pride, or fastidiousness, or revengefulness; and other wicked, but not
ungentlemanly tempers; or, farther, they may run into utter sensuality
and covetousness, if he is bent on pleasure, accompanied with quite
infinite cruelty when the pride is wounded or the passions are
thwarted;—until your gentleman becomes Ezzelin, and your lady, the
deadly Lucrece; yet still gentleman and lady, quite incapable of making
anything else of themselves, being so born.[#]


[#] See below, p. 44.


8.  A truer sign of breeding than mere kindness is therefore sympathy;—a
vulgar man may often be kind in a hard way, on principle, and because he
thinks he ought to be; whereas, a highly-bred man, even when cruel, will
be cruel in a softer way, understanding and feeling what he inflicts,
and pitying his victim.  Only we must carefully remember that the
quantity of sympathy a gentleman feels can never be judged of by its
outward expression, for another of his chief characteristics is apparent
reserve.  I say "apparent" reserve; for the sympathy is real, but the
reserve not: a perfect gentleman is never reserved, but sweetly and
entirely open, so far as it is good for others, or possible, that he
should be.  In a great many respects it is impossible that he should be
open except to men of his own kind.  To them, he can open himself, by a
word or syllable, or a glance; but to men not of his kind he cannot open
himself, though he tried it through an eternity of clear grammatical
speech.  By the very acuteness of his sympathy he knows how much of
himself he can give to anybody; and he gives that much frankly;—would
always be glad to give more if he could, but is obliged, nevertheless,
in his general intercourse with the world, to be a somewhat silent
person; silence is to most people, he finds, less reserve than speech.
Whatever he said, a vulgar man would misinterpret: no words that he
could use would bear the same sense to the vulgar man that they do to
him; if he used any, the vulgar man would go away saying, "He had said
so and so, and meant so and so" (something assuredly he never meant):
but he keeps silence, and the vulgar man goes away saying, "He didn’t
know what to make of him."  Which is precisely the fact, and the only
fact which he is anywise able to announce to the vulgar man concerning
himself.


9.  There is yet another quite as efficient cause of the apparent
reserve of a gentleman.  His sensibility being constant and intelligent,
it will be seldom that a feeling touches him, however acutely, but it
has touched him in the same way often before, and in some sort is
touching him always. It is not that he feels little, but that he feels
habitually; a vulgar man having some heart at the bottom of him, if you
can by talk or by sight fairly force the pathos of anything down to his
heart, will be excited about it and demonstrative; the sensation of pity
being strange to him and wonderful.  But your gentleman has walked in
pity all day long; the tears have never been out of his eyes; you
thought the eyes were bright only; but they were wet.  You tell him a
sorrowful story, and his countenance does not change; the eyes can but
be wet still: he does not speak neither, there being, in fact, nothing
to be said, only something to be done; some vulgar person, beside you
both, goes away saying, "How hard he is!"  Next day he hears that the
hard person has put good end to the sorrow he said nothing about;—and
then he changes his wonder, and exclaims, "How reserved he is!"


10.  Self-command is often thought a characteristic of high-breeding;
and to a certain extent it is so, at least it is one of the means of
forming and strengthening character; but it is rather a way of imitating
a gentleman than a characteristic of him; a true gentleman has no need
of self-command; he simply feels rightly on all occasions; and desiring
to express only so much of his feeling as it is right to express, does
not need to command himself.  Hence perfect ease is indeed
characteristic of him; but perfect ease is inconsistent with
self-restraint.  Nevertheless gentlemen, so far as they fail of their
own ideal, need to command themselves, and do so; while, on the
contrary, to feel unwisely, and to be unable to restrain the expression
of the unwise feeling, is vulgarity; and yet even then, the vulgarity,
at its root, is not in the mistimed expression, but in the unseemly
feeling; and when we find fault with a vulgar person for "exposing
himself," it is not his openness, but clumsiness, and yet more the want
of sensibility to his own failure, which we blame; so that still the
vulgarity resolves itself into want of sensibility.  Also, it is to be
noted that great powers of self-restraint may be attained by very vulgar
persons when it suits their purposes.


11.  Closely, but strangely, connected with this openness is that form
of truthfulness which is opposed to cunning, yet not opposed to falsity
absolute.  And herein is a distinction of great importance.

Cunning signifies especially a habit or gift of over-reaching,
accompanied with enjoyment and a sense of superiority. It is associated
with small and dull conceit, and with an absolute want of sympathy or
affection.  Its essential connection with vulgarity may be at once
exemplified by the expression of the butcher’s dog in Landseer’s "Low
Life."  Cruikshank’s "Noah Claypole," in the illustrations to _Oliver
Twist_, in the interview with the Jew, is, however, still more
characteristic.  It is the intensest rendering of vulgarity absolute and
utter with which I am acquainted.

The truthfulness which is opposed to cunning ought, perhaps, rather to
be called the desire of truthfulness; it consists more in unwillingness
to deceive than in not deceiving,—an unwillingness implying sympathy
with and respect for the person deceived; and a fond observance of truth
up to the possible point, as in a good soldier’s mode of retaining his
honour through a _ruse-de-guerre_.  A cunning person seeks for
opportunities to deceive; a gentleman shuns them.  A cunning person
triumphs in deceiving; a gentleman is humiliated by his success, or at
least by so much of the success as is dependent merely on the falsehood,
and not on his intellectual superiority.


12.  The absolute disdain of all lying belongs rather to Christian
chivalry than to mere high-breeding; as connected merely with this
latter, and with general refinement and courage, the exact relations of
truthfulness may be best studied in the well-trained Greek mind.  The
Greeks believed that mercy and truth were co-relative virtues—cruelty
and falsehood, co-relative vices.  But they did not call necessary
severity, cruelty; nor necessary deception, falsehood.  It was needful
sometimes to slay men, and sometimes to deceive them.  When this had to
be done, it should be done well and thoroughly; so that to direct a
spear well to its mark, or a lie well to its end, was equally the
accomplishment of a perfect gentleman.  Hence, in the pretty
diamond-cut-diamond scene between Pallas and Ulysses, when she receives
him on the coast of Ithaca, the goddess laughs delightedly at her hero’s
good lying, and gives him her hand upon it;—showing herself then in her
woman’s form, as just a little more than his match.[#]  "Subtle would he
be, and stealthy, who should go beyond thee in deceit, even were he a
god, thou many-witted!  What! here in thine own land, too, wilt thou not
cease from cheating?  Knowest thou not me, Pallas Athena, maid of Jove,
who am with thee in all thy labours, and gave thee favour with the
Phæacians, and keep thee, and have come now to weave cunning with thee?"
But how completely this kind of cunning was looked upon as a part of a
man’s power, and not as a diminution of faithfulness, is perhaps best
shown by the single line of praise in which the high qualities of his
servant are summed up by Chremulus in the _Plutus_—"Of all my house
servants, I hold you to be the faithfullest, and the greatest cheat (or
thief)."[#]


[#] Homer, _Od._, xiii. 291 _seq._

[#] Aristophanes, _Plutus_, 26-27.


13.  Thus, the primal difference between honourable and base lying in
the Greek mind lay in honourable purpose.  A man who used his strength
wantonly to hurt others was a monster; so, also, a man who used his
cunning wantonly to hurt others.  Strength and cunning were to be used
only in self-defence, or to save the weak, and then were alike
admirable.  This was their first idea.  Then the second, and perhaps the
more essential, difference between noble and ignoble lying in the Greek
mind, was that the honourable lie—or, if we may use the strange, yet
just, expression, the true lie—knew and confessed itself for such—was
ready to take the full responsibility of what it did.  As the sword
answered for its blow, so the lie for its snare. But what the Greeks
hated with all their heart was the false lie;—the lie that did not know
itself, feared to confess itself, which slunk to its aim under a cloak
of truth, and sought to do liars’ work, and yet not take liars’ pay,
excusing itself to the conscience by quibble and quirk.  Hence the great
expression of Jesuit principle by Euripides, "The tongue has sworn, but
not the heart,"[#] was a subject of execration throughout Greece, and
the satirists exhausted their arrows on it—no audience was ever tired of
hearing ([Greek: tò Euripídeion ekeîno]) "that Euripidean thing" brought
to shame.


[#] Hippolytus, 612.


14.  And this is especially to be insisted on in the early education of
young people.  It should be pointed out to them with continual
earnestness that the essence of lying is in deception, not in words: a
lie may be told by silence, by equivocation, by the accent on a
syllable, by a glance of the eye attaching a peculiar significance to a
sentence; and all these kinds of lies are worse and baser by many
degrees than a lie plainly worded; so that no form of blinded conscience
is so far sunk as that which comforts itself for having deceived,
because the deception was by gesture or silence, instead of utterance;
and, finally, according to Tennyson’s deep and trenchant line, "A lie
which is half a truth is ever the worst of lies."[#]


[#] _The Grandmother_.


15.  Although, however, ungenerous cunning is usually so distinct an
outward manifestation of vulgarity, that I name it separately from
insensibility, it is in truth only an effect of insensibility, producing
want of affection to others, and blindness to the beauty of truth.  The
degree in which political subtlety in men such as Richelieu, Machiavel,
or Metternich, will efface the gentleman, depends on the selfishness of
political purpose to which the cunning is directed, and on the base
delight taken in its use.  The command, "Be ye wise as serpents,
harmless as doves," is the ultimate expression of this principle,
misunderstood usually because the word "wise" is referred to the
intellectual power instead of the subtlety of the serpent.  The serpent
has very little intellectual power, but according to that which it has,
it is yet, as of old, the subtlest of the beasts of the field.


16.  Another great sign of vulgarity is also, when traced to its root,
another phase of insensibility, namely, the undue regard to appearances
and manners, as in the households of vulgar persons, of all stations,
and the assumption of behaviour, language, or dress unsuited to them, by
persons in inferior stations of life.  I say "undue" regard to
appearances, because in the undueness consists, of course, the
vulgarity.  It is due and wise in some sort to care for appearances, in
another sort undue and unwise.  Wherein lies the difference?

At first one is apt to answer quickly: the vulgarity is simply in
pretending to be what you are not.  But that answer will not stand.  A
queen may dress like a waiting-maid,—perhaps succeed, if she chooses, in
passing for one; but she will not, therefore, be vulgar; nay, a
waiting-maid may dress like a queen, and pretend to be one, and yet need
not be vulgar, unless there is inherent vulgarity in her.  In Scribe’s
very absurd but very amusing _Reine d’un jour_, a milliner’s girl
sustains the part of a queen for a day.  She several times amazes and
disgusts her courtiers by her straightforwardness; and once or twice
very nearly betrays herself to her maids of honour by an unqueenly
knowledge of sewing; but she is not in the least vulgar, for she is
sensitive, simple, and generous, and a queen could be no more.


17.  Is the vulgarity, then, only in trying to play a part you cannot
play, so as to be continually detected?  No; a bad amateur actor may be
continually detected in his part, but yet continually detected to be a
gentleman: a vulgar regard to appearances has nothing in it necessarily
of hypocrisy. You shall know a man not to be a gentleman by the perfect
and neat pronunciation of his words: but he does not pretend to
pronounce accurately; he _does_ pronounce accurately, the vulgarity is
in the real (not assumed) scrupulousness.


18.  It will be found on farther thought, that a vulgar regard for
appearances is, primarily, a selfish one, resulting not out of a wish to
give pleasure (as a wife’s wish to make herself beautiful for her
husband), but out of an endeavour to mortify others, or attract for
pride’s sake;—the common "keeping up appearances" of society, being a
mere selfish struggle of the vain with the vain.  But the deepest stain
of the vulgarity depends on this being done, not selfishly only, but
stupidly, without understanding the impression which is really produced,
nor the relations of importance between oneself and others, so as to
suppose that their attention is fixed upon us, when we are in reality
ciphers in their eyes—all which comes of insensibility.  Hence pride
simple is not vulgar (the looking down on others because of their true
inferiority to us), nor vanity simple (the desire of praise), but
conceit simple (the attribution to ourselves of qualities we have not)
is always so. In cases of over-studied pronunciation, etc., there is
insensibility, first, in the person’s thinking more of himself than of
what he is saying; and, secondly, in his not having musical fineness of
ear enough to feel that his talking is uneasy and strained.


19.  Finally, vulgarity is indicated by coarseness of language or
manners, only so far as this coarseness has been contracted under
circumstances not necessarily producing it.  The illiterateness of a
Spanish or Calabrian peasant is not vulgar, because they had never an
opportunity of acquiring letters; but the illiterateness of an English
school-boy is.  So again, provincial dialect is not vulgar; but cockney
dialect, the corruption, by blunted sense, of a finer language
continually heard, is so in a deep degree; and again, of this corrupted
dialect, that is the worst which consists, not in the direct or
expressive alteration of the form of a word, but in an unmusical
destruction of it by dead utterance and bad or swollen formation of lip.
There is no vulgarity in—

    "Blythe, blythe, blythe was she,
      Blythe was she, but and ben,
    And weel she liked a Hawick gill,
      And leugh to see a tappit hen;"

but much in Mrs. Gamp’s inarticulate "bottle on the chimley-piece, and
let me put my lips to it when I am so dispoged."


20.  So also of personal defects, those only are vulgar which imply
insensibility or dissipation.

There is no vulgarity in the emaciation of Don Quixote, the deformity of
the Black Dwarf, or the corpulence of Falstaff; but much in the same
personal characters, as they are seen in Uriah Heep, Quilp, and
Chadband.


21.  One of the most curious minor questions in this matter is
respecting the vulgarity of excessive neatness, complicating itself with
inquiries into the distinction between base neatness, and the
perfectness of good execution in the fine arts.  It will be found on
final thought that precision and exquisiteness of arrangement are always
noble; but become vulgar only when they arise from an equality
(insensibility) of temperament, which is incapable of fine passion, and
is set ignobly, and with a dullard mechanism, on accuracy in vile
things.  In the finest Greek coins, the letters of the inscriptions are
purposely coarse and rude, while the relievi are wrought with
inestimable care.  But in an English coin, the letters are the best
done, and the whole is unredeemably vulgar.  In a picture of Titian’s,
an inserted inscription will be complete in the lettering, as all the
rest is; because it costs Titian very little more trouble to draw
rightly than wrongly, and in him, therefore, impatience with the letters
would be vulgar, as in the Greek sculptor of the coin, patience would
have been.  For the engraving of a letter accurately is difficult work,
and his time must have been unworthily thrown away.


22.  All the different impressions connected with negligence or foulness
depend, in like manner, on the degree of insensibility implied.
Disorder in a drawing-room is vulgar, in an antiquary’s study, not; the
black battle-stain on a soldier’s face is not vulgar, but the dirty face
of a housemaid is.

And lastly, courage, so far as it is a sign of race, is peculiarly the
mark of a gentleman or a lady: but it becomes vulgar if rude or
insensitive, while timidity is not vulgar, if it be a characteristic of
race or fineness of make. A fawn is not vulgar in being timid, nor a
crocodile "gentle" because courageous.


23.  Without following the inquiry into farther detail, we may conclude
that vulgarity consists in a deadness of the heart and body, resulting
from prolonged, and especially from inherited conditions of
"degeneracy," or literally "un-racing;"—gentlemanliness being another
word for an intense humanity. And vulgarity shows itself primarily in
dulness of heart, not in rage or cruelty, but in inability to feel or
conceive noble character or emotion.  This is its essential, pure, and
most fatal form. Dulness of bodily sense and general stupidity, with
such forms of crime as peculiarly issue from stupidity, are its material
manifestation.


24.  Two years ago, when I was first beginning to work out the subject,
and chatting with one of my keenest-minded friends (Mr. Brett, the
painter of the Val d’Aosta in the Exhibition of 1859), I casually asked
him, "What is vulgarity?" merely to see what he would say, not supposing
it possible to get a sudden answer.  He thought for about a minute, then
answered quietly, "It is merely one of the forms of Death."  I did not
see the meaning of the reply at the time; but on testing it, found that
it met every phase of the difficulties connected with the inquiry, and
summed the true conclusion. Yet, in order to be complete, it ought to be
made a distinctive as well as conclusive definition; showing _what_ form
of death vulgarity is; for death itself is not vulgar, but only death
mingled with life.  I cannot, however, construct a short-worded
definition which will include all the minor conditions of bodily
degeneracy; but the term "deathful selfishness" will embrace all the
most fatal and essential forms of mental vulgarity.

_Modern Painters,_
       _vol. v. pt. ix. ch. vii._


                     *      *      *      *      *


We ought always in pure English to use the term "good breeding"
literally; and to say "good nurture" for what we usually mean by good
breeding.  Given the race and make of the animal, you may turn it to
good or bad account; you may spoil your good dog or colt, and make him
as vicious as you choose, or break his back at once by ill-usage; and
you may, on the other hand, make something serviceable and respectable
out of your poor cur and colt if you educate them carefully; but
ill-bred they will both of them be to their lives’ end; and the best you
will ever be able to say of them is, that they are useful, and decently
behaved, ill-bred creatures.

An error, which is associated with the truth, and which makes it always
look weak and disputable, is the confusion of race with name; and the
supposition that the blood of a family must still be good, if its
genealogy be unbroken and its name not lost, though sire and son have
been indulging age after age in habits involving perpetual degeneracy of
race.  Of course it is equally an error to suppose that, because a man’s
name is common, his blood must be base; since his family may have been
ennobling it by pureness of moral habit for many generations, and yet
may not have got any title, or other sign of nobleness, attached to
their names.  Nevertheless, the probability is always in favour of the
race which has had acknowledged supremacy, and in which every motive
leads to the endeavour to preserve its true nobility.

_Modern Painters,_
       _vol. v. pt. ix. ch. vii._ § 3 _n._


                     *      *      *      *      *


The old English rough proverb is irrevocably true,—you can make no silk
purse of a sow’s ear.  And this great truth also holds—though it is a
disagreeable one to look full in the face—that, named or nameless, no
man can make himself a gentleman who was not born one.  If he lives a
right life, and cultivates all the powers, and yet more all the
sensibilities, he is born with, and chooses his wife well, his own son
will be more a gentleman than he is, and he may see yet better blood
than his son’s in his grandchild’s cheeks, but he must be content to
remain a clown himself—if he was born a clown.

_Modern Painters,_
       _vol. v. pt. ix. ch. vii._ § 3 _n._


                     *      *      *      *      *


The two great words which, in their first use, meant only perfection of
race, have come, by consequence of the invariable connection of virtue
with the fine human nature, both to signify benevolence of disposition.
The word "generous" and the word "gentle" both, in their origin, meant
only "of pure race," but because charity and tenderness are inseparable
from this purity of blood, the words which once stood only for pride,
now stand as synonymous for virtue.

_The Crown of Wild Olive,_ § 108.


                     *      *      *      *      *


What vulgarity is, whether in manners, acts, or conceptions, most
well-educated persons understand; but what it consists in, or arises
from, is a more difficult question.  I believe that on strict analysis
it will be found definable as "the habit of mind and act resulting from
the prolonged combination of insensibility with insincerity."

It would be more accurate to say, "constitutional insensibility"; for
people are born vulgar, or not vulgar, irrevocably.  An apparent
insensibility may often be caused by one strong feeling quenching or
conquering another; and this to the extent of involving the person in
all kinds of cruelty and crime: yet, Borgia or Ezzelin, lady and knight
still; while the born clown is dead in all sensation and capacity of
thought, whatever his acts or life may be.

Cloten, in _Cymbeline_, is the most perfect study of pure vulgarity,
which I know in literature; Perdita, in _Winter’s Tale_, the most
perfect study of its opposite (irrespective of such higher virtue or
intellect as we have in Desdemona or Portia).  Perdita’s exquisite
openness, joined with as exquisite sensitiveness, constitute the precise
opposite of the apathetic insincerity which is, I believe, the essence
of vulgarity.

_Academy Notes_, 1859.


                     *      *      *      *      *


Gentlemanliness in a limited sense [may mean] only the effect of careful
education, good society, and refined habits of life, on average temper
and character.  Deep and true gentlemanliness [is] based on intense
sensibility and sincerity, perfected by courage and other qualities of
race, [as opposed to] that union of insensibility with cunning, which is
the essence of vulgarity.

_Sir Joshua and Holbein_, § 6 _n._


                     *      *      *      *      *


There is, indeed, perhaps, no greater sign of innate and real vulgarity
of mind or defective education than the want of power to understand the
universality of the ideal truth; the absence of sympathy with the
colossal grasp of those intellects, which have in them so much of
divine, that nothing is small to them, nothing large; but with equal and
unoffended vision they take in the sum of the world,—Straw Street[#] and
the seventh heaven,—in the same instant.


[#] Dante, _Paradiso_, x. 133-34.


A certain portion of this divine spirit is visible even in the lower
examples of all the true men; it is, indeed, perhaps, the clearest test
of their belonging to the true and great group, that they are
continually touching what to the multitude appear vulgarities.  The
higher a man stands, the more the word "vulgar" becomes unintelligible
to him.  Vulgar? what, that poor farmer’s girl of William Hunt’s, bred
in the stable, putting on her Sunday gown, and pinning her best cap, out
of the green and red pin-cushion! Not so; she may be straight on the
road to those high heavens, and may shine hereafter as one of the stars
in the firmament for ever.  Nay, even that lady in the satin bodice,
with her arm laid over a balustrade to show it, and her eyes turned up
to heaven to show them; and the sportsman waving his rifle for the
terror of beasts, and displaying his perfect dress for the delight of
men, are kept, by the very misery and vanity of them, in the thoughts of
a great painter, at a sorrowful level, somewhat above vulgarity.  It is
only when the minor painter takes them on his easel, that they become
things for the universe to be ashamed of.

We may dismiss this matter of vulgarity in plain and few words, at least
as far as regards art.  There is never vulgarity in a _whole_ truth,
however commonplace.  It may be unimportant or painful.  It cannot be
vulgar.  Vulgarity is only in concealment of truth, or in affectation.

_Modern Painters,_
       _vol. iii. pt. iv. ch. vii._ § 9.


                     *      *      *      *      *


The first thing then that he has to do, if unhappily his parents or
masters have not done it for him, is to find out what he is fit for.  In
which inquiry a man may be safely guided by his likings, if he be not
also guided by his pride.  People usually reason in some such fashion as
this: "I don’t seem quite fit for a head-manager in the firm of —— &
Co., therefore, in all probability, I am fit to be Chancellor of the
Exchequer."  Whereas, they ought rather to reason thus: "I don’t seem
quite fit to be head-manager in the firm of —— & Co., but I dare say I
might do something in a small greengrocery business; I used to be a good
judge of pease;" that is to say, always trying lower instead of trying
higher, until they find bottom: once well set on the ground, a man may
build up by degrees, safely, instead of disturbing every one in his
neighbourhood by perpetual catastrophes. But this kind of humility is
rendered especially difficult in these days, by the contumely thrown on
men in humble employments.  The very removal of the massy bars which
once separated one class of society from another, has rendered it
tenfold more shameful in foolish people’s, _i.e._, in most people’s
eyes, to remain in the lower grades of it, than ever it was before.
When a man born of an artisan was looked upon as an entirely different
species of animal from a man born of a noble, it made him no more
uncomfortable or ashamed to remain that different species of animal,
than it makes a horse ashamed to remain a horse, and not to become a
giraffe. But now that a man may make money, and rise in the world, and
associate himself, unreproached, with people once far above him, not
only is the natural discontentedness of humanity developed to an
unheard-of extent, whatever a man’s position, but it becomes a veritable
shame to him to remain in the state he was born in, and everybody thinks
it his _duty_ to try to be a "gentleman."  Persons who have any
influence in the management of public institutions for charitable
education know how common this feeling has become.  Hardly a day passes
but they receive letters from mothers who want all their six or eight
sons to go to college, and make the grand tour in the long vacation, and
who think there is something wrong in the foundations of society because
this is not possible.  Out of every ten letters of this kind, nine will
allege, as the reason of the writers’ importunity, their desire to keep
their families in such and such a "station of life."  There is no real
desire for the safety, the discipline, or the moral good of the
children, only a panic horror of the inexpressibly pitiable calamity of
their living a ledge or two lower on the molehill of the world—a
calamity to be averted at any cost whatever, of struggle, anxiety, and
shortening of life itself.  I do not believe that any greater good could
be achieved for the country, than the change in public feeling on this
head, which might be brought about by a few benevolent men, undeniably
in the class of "gentlemen," who would, on principle, enter into some of
our commonest trades, and make them honourable; showing that it was
possible for a man to retain his dignity, and remain, in the best sense,
a gentleman, though part of his time was every day occupied in manual
labour, or even in serving customers over a counter.  I do not in the
least see why courtesy, and gravity, and sympathy with the feelings of
others, and courage, and truth, and piety, and what else goes to make up
a gentleman’s character, should not be found behind a counter as well as
elsewhere, if they were demanded, or even hoped for, there.

_Pre-Raphaelitism_, § 2.


                     *      *      *      *      *


As in nothing is a gentleman better to be discerned from a vulgar
person, so in nothing is a gentle nation (such nations have been) better
to be discerned from a mob, than in this,—that their feelings are
constant and just, results of due contemplation, and of equal thought.
You can talk a mob into anything; its feelings may be—usually are—on the
whole, generous and right; but it has no foundation for them, no hold of
them; you may tease or tickle it into any, at your pleasure; it thinks
by infection, for the most part, catching an opinion like a cold, and
there is nothing so little that it will not roar itself wild about, when
the fit is on;—nothing so great but it will forget in an hour, when the
fit is past.  But a gentleman’s, or a gentle nation’s, passions are
just, measured, and continuous.

_Sesame and Lilies_, § 30.


                     *      *      *      *      *


Whether it is indeed the gods who have given any gentleman the grace to
despise the rabble depends wholly on whether it is indeed the rabble, or
he, who are the malignant persons.

_Fiction, Fair and Foul_, § 46.


                     *      *      *      *      *


I have summed the needful virtue of men under the terms of gentleness
and justice; gentleness being the virtue which distinguishes gentlemen
from churls, and justice that which distinguishes honest men from
rogues. Now gentleness may be defined as the Habit or State of Love, and
ungentleness or clownishness as the State or Habit of Lust.

Now there are three great loves that rule the souls of men: the love of
what is lovely in creatures, and of what is lovely in things, and what
is lovely in report.  And these three loves have each their relative
corruption, a lust—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the
pride of life.

And, as I have just said, a gentleman is distinguished from a churl by
the purity of sentiment he can reach in all these three passions; by his
imaginative love, as opposed to lust; his imaginative possession of
wealth as opposed to avarice; his imaginative desire of honour as
opposed to pride.

_Fors Clavigera, Letter_ 41.


                     *      *      *      *      *


Of all essential things in a gentleman’s bodily and moral training, this
is really the beginning—that he should have close companionship with the
horse, the dog, and the eagle.  Of all birthrights and bookrights—this
is his first.  He needn’t be a Christian,—there have been millions of
Pagan gentlemen; he needn’t be kind—there have been millions of cruel
gentlemen; he needn’t be honest,—there have been millions of crafty
gentlemen. He needn’t know how to read, or to write his own name.  But
he _must_ have horse, dog, and eagle for friends. If then he has also
Man for his friend, he is a noble gentleman; and if God for his Friend,
a king.  And if, being honest, being kind, and having God and Man for
his friends, he _then_ gets these three brutal friends, besides his
angelic ones, he is perfect in earth, as for heaven.  For, to be his
friends, these must be brought up with him, and he with them.  Falcon on
fist, hound at foot, and horse part of himself—Eques, Ritter, Cavalier,
Chevalier.

Yes;—horse and dog you understand the good of; but what’s the good of
the falcon, think you?

To be friends with the falcon must mean that you love to see it soar;
that is to say, you love fresh air and the fields.  Farther, when the
Law of God is understood, you will like better to see the eagle free
than the jessed hawk.  And to preserve your eagles’ nests, is to be a
great nation.  It means keeping everything that is noble; mountains and
floods, and forests, and the glory and honour of them, and all the birds
that haunt them.

_Fors Clavigera, Letter_ 75.



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