The Code of a Gentleman

This code of conduct was extant at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), circa 1839–1997:

Without a strict observance of the fundamental Code of Honor [cf., that a gentleman does not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do], no man, no matter how ‘polished’, can be considered a gentleman. The honor of a gentleman demands the inviolability of his word, and the incorruptibility of his principles. He is the descendant of the knight, the crusader; he is the defender of the defenseless and the champion of justice… or he is not a Gentleman.

A Gentleman…

…Does not discuss his family affairs in public or with acquaintances.

…Does not speak more than casually about his girlfriend.

…Does not go to a lady’s house if he is affected by alcohol. He is temperate in the use of alcohol.

…Does not lose his temper; nor exhibit anger, fear, hate, embarrassment, ardor, or hilarity in public.

…Does not hail a lady from a club window.

A gentleman never discusses the merits or demerits of a lady.

…Does not mention names exactly as he avoids the mention of what things cost.

…Does not borrow money from a friend, except in dire need. Money borrowed is a debt of honor, and must be repaid as promptly as possible.

Debts incurred by a deceased parent, brother, sister or grown child are assumed by honorable men as a debt of honor.

…Does not display his wealth, money, or possessions.

…Does not put his manners on and off, whether in the club or in a ballroom. He treats people with courtesy, no matter what their social position may be.

…Does not slap strangers on the back nor so much as lay a finger on a lady.

…Does not ‘lick the boots of those above’ nor ‘kick the face of those below’ him on the social ladder.

…Does not take advantage of another’s helplessness or ignorance and assumes that no gentleman will take advantage of him.

A Gentleman respects the reserves of others, but demands that others respect those which are his.

A Gentleman can become what he wills to be…

‘The Accolade’ (1901), by Edmund Blair Leighton



  • Brother André Marie

    The foregoing came to me via Facebook, from an officer and a gentleman named Geoffrey Gilbert, a 1992 graduate of VMI. Those who have seen the film, “Gods and Generals” have seen the buildings of VMI, where General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson taught prior to the War Between the States.

    Some months back, Brother Maximilian and I had the wonderful experience of seeing VMI’s campus, and the adjacent Washington and Lee University, where we visited the grave of General Robert E. Lee.

    Mr. Gilbert is self described as:

    “American by birth,
    German by blood,
    Southern by choice,
    Catholic by the grace of God.”

    The fine and chivalrous man also posted these addenda to the piece on Facebook:

    ‘The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.’

    ‘The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly — the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light.’

    ‘The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.’

    —Gen. Robert E. Lee, ‘Definition of a Gentleman’, a memorandum found in his papers after his death, as quoted in ‘Lee the American’ (1912) by Gamaliel Bradford, p. 233

    ‘Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character.’

    —As quoted in ‘General Robert E. Lee after Appomattox’ (1922) by Franklin Lafayette Riley, p. 18

  • Eleonore

    This code reminds me of that of a certain Catholic high school in New Orleans; “The Holy Cross Man” expressed similar sentiments.