GENTLEMAN, a corruption of gent a hot/me, our Saxon ancestors having very early substituted " mon," or "man," for the corresponding term of the Norman French, from which they originally re ceived the term. Some form of this word (a compound of yemilis and homo) is found in all the Romance languages (go:ail-home in French, gemil-uomo Italian, and gentil- hombre in Spanish), and it is undoubtedly one of the many traces of the great influence which the laws and polity of Rome have exercised upon modern society and civilization.
In the earliest form of the Roman con stitution the populus, or ruling portion of the community, was divided into gentle, which were united by a common name, and the performance of certain sacred rights. Each gees was again subdivided into several families, distinguished by a surname in addition to the common Gen tile appellation. Thus the guns Cornelia comprised the families of the Scipiones, the Lentnli, the Sullae, &c. In default of Agnati, the property of a deceased person reverted, not to the whole populus, but to the Bens. [CONSANGUINITY.] The Gentile privileges were much discussed in the quarrels between the patricians and the plebeians ; and the phrase geateta habere (Livy x. 8) is often employed as distinctive of the patricians. When the members of the plebs obtained the right of intermarriage with patrician families, and access to the honours of the state, a new order of nobility (nobiles) was formed, which rendered the old dis tinction between Patrician and Plebeian of less importance. Still the old Patrician families of Rome had a superior rank in public estimation, as being descended from the old nobility. There were both Patrician and Plebeian Gentes at Rome: the origin of the Plebeian Gentes is not capable of being explained historically ; but it may have arisen in several ways. In Cicero's time the word Gentilis is de fined in a way that suited his period, but would have been too comprehensive in the earliest periods of the Roman states. Gentiles, according to Cicero ( Top. 6), de note those who had the same name, whose ancestors had always been free, who were not capite diminuti, or had lost none of their civil rights. Hence also, in an op posite sense, "sine gente" is employed by Horace (Sat. ii. v. 15) and Suetonius ('lib. 1) for ignobly born and of servile Parentage.
The privilege of succession, which was called jus qentilitatis, or simply gen tilitas (Cie., De Oratore, i. 38), and formed one of the enactments of the Twelve Tables, was gradually nuder mined by the encroachments of the praetors on the civil law, and fina:ly dis appeared (Gains, iii. 25); but the name of gentle (gentile) man, has survived in all the languages of Western Europe, which are derived from the Latin or have received large additions from it.
According to Selden of Honour, p. 852), " a gentleman is one that either, from the blood of his ancestors, or the favour of his soveraigne, or of those that have the vertue of soveraignte in them, or from his own vertue, employment, or otherwise, according to the cnstomes of honour in his countrie, is ennobled, made gentile, or so raised to an emincncie above the multitude, that by those lawes and customes he be truly nobilis, or noble, whether he have any title, or not, fixed besides on him." That the word was formerly employed in this extensive signification is clear, from a patent of Richard II., by which one John de Kingston is received into the estate of a gentleman and created an esquire (" Nous lui aeons resceivez en restate de gentil home et lui fait esquier "); and from another of Henry VI., who there, by the term " nobilitamus," creates one Bernard Angevin, a Bourdelois, a gentleman. And, according to Smith (De Rep. Ang., lib. i. c. 20, 21), under the denomination of gentleman are comprised all above yeomen, whereby noblemen are truly called gentlemen.
In a narrower sense a gentleman is generally defined to be "one who, with out any title, bears a coat of arms, or whose ancestors have been freemen ; and by the coat that a gentleman giveth, he is known to be, or not, descended from those of his name that lived many hun dred years since." (Jacobs' Law Dic tionary.) There is also said to be a gentleman by office and in reputation, as well as those that are born such (2 Inst. 668); and according to Blackstone, quot ing Sir Thomas Smith (1 Comm , p. 401.), " Whosoever studieth the laws of the realm, who studieth in the universities, who professeth the liberal sciences, and (to be short) who can live idly and with out manual labour, and well bear the port, charge and countenance of a gentle man, he shall be called master, and taken for a gentleman." The author of the Commentaries must have been somewhat puzzled with his de finition of a gentleman, as understood in his time. Having defined a gentleman to be one who studieth the laws, &c., he adds (to be short), that he who can live idly and bear the port, &c. of a gentleman, is a gentleman ; that is, if he can live idly, and if he can also do as a gentleman does (it not being said what this is), he is a gentleman. Perhaps a definition of the term, as now used, could not be easily made ; it being extended by the courtesy of modern manners to many who do not come within the ancient acceptation of the term, and denied by public opinion to many whose rank and wealth do not make up for the want of other qualifica tions.