The Idea Of A University "A Gentleman Never Inflicts Pain"

John Henry Newman

"A Gentleman Never Inflicts Pain"

Context: In The Idea of a University, Newman explores the relationships of the various branches of knowledge: "all Knowledge is a whole," he says. A university must discipline the mind and provide religious training. In Discourse VIII, Newman gives an ironic definition of a "gentleman." In modern society, he says, superficial modesty is substituted for genuine humility, and pride "is turned to account; it gets a new name, it is called self-respect. . . ." Self-respect inspires "industry, frugality, honesty, and obedience; and it becomes the very stable of the religion and morality held in honor in a day like our own . . . it is the very household god of society. . . ." Self-respect (which is really "self-conceit") makes us want to avoid "notoriety and ridicule" by always trying to please: "his great concern being to make everyone at their ease and at home." Even if he is an atheist, a "gentleman" will always "respect piety" and honor religion–all religions. Newman reveals the tone of modern society:

. . . It is from this impatience of the tragic and the bombastic that it is now quietly but energetically opposing itself to the unchristian practice of dueling, which it brands as simply out of taste, and as the remnant of a barbarous age; and certainly it seems likely to effect what Religion has aimed at abolishing in vain.
Hence it is that it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. This description is both refined and, as far as it goes, accurate. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him; and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself.