Well, the obvious answer is that a respectable Regency gentleman has no need of a career. Indeed, some would say that the mark of a gentleman is that he never appears to be engaged in the act of supporting himself and his family. Rumour has it that Lord Wellington, in particular, is somewhat suspicious of any officers under his command who seem to need their salary.
However, this discussion really does require more analysis and nuance. Firstly, we must elaborate on what we mean by a ‘career’ and, secondly, what we mean by ‘gentlemen’.
A career, for our present purposes, will be taken to mean a course of gainful employment of some duration. Now, a gentleman may be self-sufficient, but if he is possessed of particular intelligence or of a character which requires vigour and action, then he may well desire a career of some kind. Lord Wellington may prefer his officers not to want their payment, but one can safely assume that he still wants to have officers.
Though for something that is meant to represent civility, the definition of a ‘gentleman’ is a notorious beast to pin down. Some would have it all be about money and standing, whereas others insist it is matter of behaviour, manners and character. While personal preference leans strongly in favour of the latter definition, in order to better reflect upon societal attitudes, familial wealth and position will have to be taken into consideration. Therefore, a gentleman will be a man who either a). comes from a ‘good’ family or b). wishes to found such a ‘good’ family. He may or may not have means or prospects, but he is certainly desirous of them.
So, in order to guide and aid such a man, Behind The Past has laid out the following overview of his options:
Perhaps both the most and least glamorous of occupations, the role of officer is best suited for the strong, dashing and active gentleman. While certainly an option for a self-sufficient man, it is also a favoured choice for younger sons. It affords them the opportunity of fame and prize money, and the possibility that a wealthy heiress may have a preference for a red or blue coat on a gentleman is certainly not a disadvantage.
While rising from the ranks is almost unheard of, if a young man with drive and ambition but little in the way of standing or wealth can manage to purchase himself a commission (or be given a position on a ship with a view to becoming a midshipman) then this is certainly a possible route to social elevation.
This is often a position for younger sons of the gentry, or for sons from the rising middle classes. An occupation which requires tenacity and a steadiness of mind and spirit, it is favoured by the charismatic and the scholarly in turn. Of course, there are many different types of, and positions for, lawyers, suited to their nature and social plans. It may perhaps be a springboard for a political and public career, or a means to a regular income and local respect. Either way, a lawyer with a sensible character and sensible conduct is almost sure to be met with civility and politeness wherever he chooses to go.
While there is the potential to reach high up into the social echelons with this position, it is also suited for a caring, retiring gentleman who would like a quiet country life. It is an option often put to younger sons when there is a living in the gift of the family. Indeed, it is also suited for gentlemen who have a genuine desire to ‘do good’, as they say, and is certainly a very worthy calling.
Regardless, the parish vicar is should always be met with respect and by the very nature of his work, he has an invitation to mix with all levels of Society. Of course, a vicar with an aim to impress his betters would do best not to allow this free invitation to give way to impertinence, and he should naturally follow established etiquette in social situations.
Although a more controversial option to lay out on the table, it is no longer unthinkable that a gentleman may have made (or still be making) his fortune in trade. In our increasingly industrial age, a great number of fortunes are being made in trade by clever and hardworking men, who often surprise more ‘established’ families with their polite, polished manners and gentlemanly conduct. Moreover, a gentleman of an old family with an old name and estate is still trading, one way or another, when he speculates on an investment or supports a venture.
Nevertheless, while many older families may not want to be seen to be ‘mixing’ too much in trade, this is the obvious option for the man who will have to be self-made.