Social Success: A Gentleman’s Guide To Fortune

Money is one of those often fraught and unfortunate matters which it sometimes seems impossible to escape. After all, how many times has it pitched up its tent in the centre of this concern or that quarrel? It is perhaps a rather beastly subject with which to grapple. Some might wish we could do away with it entirely.

However, unless that ever actually happens, it is a gentleman’s duty to understand and manage his financial affairs. And so, Behind The Past will do battle with the foe as it currently stands, and hope that, in so doing, some helpful advice might be imparted to any interested parties of gentlemen.

In due course, the subject shall naturally be covered for ladies as well.

We shall begin by addressing a common and particular concern raised by many established and aspiring gentlemen. This is, of course, the link between gentlemanly status and financial means. But Behind The Past would seek to reassure gentlemen that the link is a tenuous one. A gentleman is marked far more by the sum of his parts – his character, his conduct, his respectability – than the value of his estate or capital. There is no degradation for a gentleman when he, by necessity, engages in a gentlemanly occupation, as has been previously discussed. And this is why a humble clergyman with an undistinguished living may meet a prince with perfect composure.[1] While their ranks in life may be vastly different, they are both gentleman, and thus neither can ask more of the other on that score. While due attention will be paid with regard to deference and precedence – as all gentlemen always observe these polite attentions – in both manners and morals they meet as equals.[2]

However, while there is no shame in lacking a fortune, there is a shame when gentlemen live as though they have one when they don’t. There is a shame in running up un-payable debts. There is a shame to be continually calling upon friends and relations to satisfy or stave off creditors. So, if we take the example of a gentleman who is engaged in the business of law, and he is able to calculate that he can expect to have a certain yearly sum, then he should arrange his yearly expenditure to fall beneath that sum.[3] Then he might have a little extra for a ‘rainy day’, or some money to put by for any future difficulties or to provide for his wife and children when he is gone.

This same piece of advice applies equally even to men of exalted means. £10,000 a year is certainly a very handsome sum, but if a gentleman then proceeds to live as though he had £12,000 a year or more, in a few short years he may find that he has to live upon half that original sum. That is a very sorry prospect indeed, for him at least. It is always very distressing, for the gentleman in question, and for his friends and relations who care for him, when a fortune is ruined. And while poor luck as the cause is one thing, poor planning is quite another.

When he comes into any fortune, a gentleman should calculate exactly how much it will bring him each year, after any necessary expenses, such as estate repairs or taxes, have been settled.[4] He should seek to maintain an estate in its entirety and if his fortune is in capital, then he should endeavour to only live upon the interest.[5] He should do all he can to avoid diminishing the capital.[6]

When arranging his expenses, a gentleman should be circumspect. If he cannot really afford to keep a carriage – and thus horses, and employ men to care for both – then he should not keep one. Indeed, he should not make any purchase unless he has ready means.[7] Most importantly, he should never gamble what he cannot afford to lose.

To conclude, financial affairs should be conducted with the same respectability, dependability and good sense which a gentleman applies to all other aspects of his life. While it is certainly nice for a gentleman to have a lot of money, and while it might on occasion make his life easier, it will not necessarily make him happier. There are many things in which a gentleman might find joy, and while for some that may be in gold, for many more it will be found in the pride of their good name, in the esteem of their peers, in satisfaction from their work, in a happy domestic circle, in the enjoyment of outdoor sports, or indeed many other things beside these examples… In short, in many things that cannot be counted in ledgers.



[1] Trusler, John, A System Of Etiquette, 2nd ed., [First published Bath: 1804], 5.

[2] Ibid., 7.

[3] Ibid., 68.

[4] Ibid., 70-71.

[5] Ibid., 71.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

Select Bibliography

Trusler, John, A System Of Etiquette, 2nd ed., [First published Bath: 1804].

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