Excerpt from Peacham's Compleat Gentleman, 1634: With an Introduction by G. S. Gordon
Peacham's Compleat Gentleman is a record of the manners, education, and way of thinking of the better sort of Cavalier gentry before the Civil wars. It is also part of that great Literature of Courtesy which still awaits the discerning pen of some magnanimous and sympathetic historian. The attempt to define the gentleman is as old as the institution of nobility itself; and every age, since literature began, has claimed the right to make its own definition. For the gentleman is always the protege of the age whose incense he breathes; and he has his fashions and his periods like everything else which society creates. Achilles listening to the Centaur or Ulysses with Minerva at his elbow, the young Academicians of Athens, the orators of Cicero and Quintilian, are, if we look rightly, as much a part of the varied and fascinating history of the gentleman as the Courtier of Castiglione and the 'Compleat Gentleman' of Peacham, as Chesterfield's man of fashion and the beaus of the Georges. It is an apt device, approved by Peacham, which represents the prince with a book in one hand and a sword in the other. With the latter we are not concerned; but just what this book may be, whether Plato's Republic or the Bible, Cicero's Offices or Amadis de Gau, matters everything. The fact that we preferred the Offices to the Republic had a great deal to do with the character of the later Renaissance in England. The genius of Platonism, which had inspired the finest products of Elizabethan poetry, went, as it had come, by the poets. With it went also the hey-day of the Renaissance gentleman, the Courtier, who for the next half-century, as the Cavalier, had to struggle for his very existence, and perished in his triumph at the Restoration.
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