Features January 1989
“Out of it ere night”: the WASP gentleman as cultural ideal
On American writers and their time.
On the morning of September 20, 1643, Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland, died at age thirty-three in cavalry action before the town of Newbury. A scholar and poet, an intimate of Ben Jonson, Thomas Hobbes, John Selden, Clarendon, and Davenant, he embodied in many ways the ideal of his period. His was not an absolutely first-rate mind, like those of Hobbes or Selden. They were, to put it one way, too surpassingly intelligent to be representative of anything. But Falkland did embody an ideal. He was an English gentleman as his era understood the idea. He was a man of great moderation, and in the House of Commons he often supported the reformers. He distrusted the power and arrogance of men like Bishop Laud. He had a broad definition of the Church of England, and held to reason and religious toleration. But he grew increasingly frightened by men like Cromwell, Hampden, and Pym. When revolution and civil war loomed imminent,...
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