Often I have amusingly pondered what constitutes the difference between gentlemen of this era and gentlemen of another; what, that is, distinguishes men in the so-called evolution of humanity? Surely, for example, if one were to peel back whatever it is that now marks our elemental character we are predominantly the same as we perhaps always were. I can’t imagine that proper dental care, a modern haircut or a new suit of clothes (with or without buckled high-heel shoes and pointy toes) are going to make anything but a cosmetic distinction.
This afternoon it was our privilege to foregather with male relatives once and twice removed to put on the nosebag at the Ivy Lea Club on the St. Lawrence Seaway. It represents in fact a recurring confab over the past four years since we first commenced similar congregation on a pier overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean on Daytona Beach Shores. It is a communication which with some deliberation we have since extended to the patio of the golf club by the Mississippi River as well. Incrementally though almost imperceptibly we have heightened our resonance and familiarity with one another in spite of the putative barriers such as age and an erstwhile lack of antecedents.
The effluxion of time – though noticeably more remarkable in this instance for its connection with the unfolding of youth – did however do no more than highlight the primordial similarities of men in whatever generation. I might at this juncture add parenthetically that I have always speculated that no amount of education – whether professional or classic – is assured to elevate the rudimentary components of a gentleman. Recall for example that two centuries ago it was considered foppish for a country gentleman to be able to read. Reading was a domain reserved for lawyers and the clergy. And while I adore the idle philosophic speculations of René Descartes and David Hume, they were not even then adjudged entirely common.
Although the Descartes (1596 – 1650) family was Roman Catholic, the Poitou region was controlled by the Protestant Huguenots. In 1607, late because of his fragile health, he entered the Jesuit Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand at La Flèche, where he was introduced to mathematics and physics, including Galileo’s work. While there, Descartes first encountered hermetic mysticism. Although he was briefly a Free Mason, he later abandoned mysticism in favor of reasoned inquiry. After graduation in 1614, he studied for two years (1615–16) at the University of Poitiers, earning a Baccalauréat and Licence in canon and civil law in 1616, in accordance with his father’s wishes that he should become a lawyer.
Hume (1711 – 76) attended the University of Edinburgh at an unusually early age—either 12 or possibly as young as 10—at a time when 14 was the typical age. Initially, Hume considered a career in law, because of his family. However, in his words, he came to have “…an insurmountable aversion to everything but the pursuits of Philosophy and general Learning; and while [my family] fanceyed I was poring over Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the Authors which I was secretly devouring”. He had little respect for the professors of his time, telling a friend in 1735 that “there is nothing to be learnt from a Professor, which is not to be met with in Books”. He did not graduate.
Thus spirited by this abstract view of mortals, it was no coincidence today that I delighted with as much absorption from our congress on the porch overlooking the yacht basin as one derives from reading Thomas Babington Macaulay’s “History of England”. Plus ça change! Indeed I am easily moved to speculate that we may even have advanced minutely beyond those who once carried pitchforks to make their point. Surely the measure of advancement of humanity must be distinguished by other than the destructive quality of their weapons against one another. And disregarding that particular nuance of humanity I am meanwhile preserved in my overall view of our commonality by the observation that we’re all looking at the same thing, though perhaps from a different angle. As it was once asked of me, “Quelle est votre perspective?“