Sunday, May 29, 2016

What constitutes manliness?

This description of what constitutes manliness, from chapter 68 of the novel Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope (1815 1882), is a little dated, but I think it says it well.

“The property of manliness in a man is a great possession, but perhaps there is none that is less understood,—which is more generally accorded where it does not exist, or more frequently disallowed where it prevails. There are not many who ever make up their minds as to what constitutes manliness, or even inquire within themselves upon the subject. The woman's error, occasioned by her natural desire for a master, leads her to look for a certain outward magnificence of demeanour, a pretended indifference to stings and little torments, a would-be superiority to the bread-and-butter side of life, an unreal assumption of personal grandeur. But a robe of State such as this,—however well the garment may be worn with practice,—can never be the raiment natural to a man; and men, dressing themselves in women's eyes, have consented to walk about in buckram. A composure of the eye, which has been studied, a reticence as to the little things of life, a certain slowness of speech unless the occasion call for passion, an indifference to small surroundings, these,—joined, of course, with personal bravery,—are supposed to constitute manliness. That personal bravery is required in the composition of manliness must be conceded, though, of all the ingredients needed, it is the lowest in value. But the first requirement of all must be described by a negative. Manliness is not compatible with affectation. Women's virtues, all feminine attributes, may be marred by affectation, but the virtues and the vice may co-exist. An affected man, too, may be honest, may be generous, may be pious;—but surely he cannot be manly. The self-conscious assumption of any outward manner, the striving to add,—even though it be but a tenth of a cubit to the height,—is fatal, and will at once banish the all but divine attribute. Before the man can be manly, the gifts which make him so must be there, collected by him slowly, unconsciously, as are his bones, his flesh, and his blood. They cannot be put on like a garment for the nonce,—as may a little learning. A man cannot become faithful to his friends, unsuspicious before the world, gentle with women, loving with children, considerate to his inferiors, kindly with servants, tender-hearted with all,—and at the same time be frank, of open speech, with springing eager energies,—simply because he desires it. These things, which are the attributes of manliness, must come of training on a nature not ignoble. But they are the very opposites, the antipodes, the direct antagonism, of that staring, posed, bewhiskered and bewigged deportment, that nil admirari, self-remembering assumption of manliness, that endeavour of twopence halfpenny to look as high as threepence, which, when you prod it through, has in it nothing deeper than deportment. We see the two things daily, side by side, close to each other. Let a man put his hat down, and you shall say whether he has deposited it with affectation or true nature. The natural man will probably be manly. The affected man cannot be so.”

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