A Fine Gentleman in 1783 by the Hibernian Magazine

In 1783, the Hibernian Magazine decided to humorously describe a Fine Gentleman. The magazine noted that such a man was nothing but a contradictory character, “an animal sui generis, of his own engendering; … nothing like him on earth.” Exactly where and how the Fine Gentleman originated was to them a mystery, although the magazine noted:

“The creatures [are] now among us; and they appear in the army, the law, the church; but most all in the army, as no abilities are required; less in the church, where something of abilities is looked for; and least of all at the bar, for there nothing but abilities can do. Any man may read prayers, and steal sermons; and any man may go through the exercise of the sufee, and spontoon, but it is not every man who can combat the difficulties of a criminal case, or civil plea.”

Fine Gentleman: Gentleman of the Early 1700s, Author's Collection

Fine gentleman of the early 1700s. Author’s collection.

It was also pointed out that when someone was at a loss to describe a phenomenon, such as a fine gentleman, it was easiest to begin by stating what he was not:

A Fine Gentleman is not

  • a handsome gentleman: “if nature had been bounteous in person, his whole life is a struggle to deform the beauties of nature, and substitute the fashions of art.”
  • a learned gentleman: “looking into books would soil his eyes, and acknowledge of elegant writing unfit him for polite conversation.”
  • an ignorant gentleman: “he knows the name of every article of fashionable apparel.”
  • a pious gentleman: “nothing can be so insupportable as seriousness.”
  • a rational creature: “he avoids nothing so much as thinking.”
  • an industrious man: “his whole life is spent in idleness.”
  • an idle gentleman: “from morning to night he is in a perpetual motion from one place of amusement to another — from the breakfast to the gaming table — from the gaming table to the coffee-house — from the coffee-house to the Park—from the Park to dinner and the bottle — from the bottle to tea — from tea to the play — from the play to supper — from supper to the bagnio — from the bagnio to the street — from the street to the round-house — from the round-house to the justice — from the justice home again.”
  • an ingenious gentleman: “during a long existence he is never once able to discover the real purpose for which he was sent into the world, endued with a head, teeth, tongue, eyes, hands, feet, etc.
  • a dull gentleman: “he often is the author and original adviser of an additional curl, a whisker, the cut of the coat, the width of the breeches, and other equally meritorious proofs of inventive genius.”
  • an honorable gentleman: “he discharges no debts lawfully contracted, and unlawfully contracts no debts which he does not pay.”
  • a dishonorable gentleman: “for no man can call him rogue without being called to an account for it, although the proof be as clear as the blade of his sword.”
Fine gentleman

Fine gentleman escorting a lady in the 1780s. Public domain.

The magazine concluded that although men were “sometimes born fools, geniuses, dunces, deformed, &c … man is by nature a fine gentleman. It is to the taylor [sic] and hair-dresser we are to look for the creation of this strange animal.” Besides the tailors and hairdressers, the looking glass may have also had something to do with creating a Fine Gentlemen:

“Jack Foppington’s windows are so near mine, that I am frequently condemned to see him at his toilet. He takes up the looking-glass — grins eastward — grins westward — grins southward — grins northward—then places the glass horizontally, then obliquely — then one way and then another, until he has viewed his grinders in every possible light — which being done, he proceeds with the same minuteness to the adjustment of every part of his dress, and I dare say would never forgive himself in one side-curl was the hundredth part of an inch higher than the other.”

“Crossing a Dirty Street” by James Gillray. Courtesy of Museum of London.

References:

  • The Hibernian Magazine, Or, Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge, 1783

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