Copyright
Mountstuart E. (Mountstuart Elphinstone) Grant Duff.

Out of the past : some biographical essays (Volume 1) online

. (page 1 of 14)
Online LibraryMountstuart E. (Mountstuart Elphinstone) Grant DuffOut of the past : some biographical essays (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


FAbi



iRANT DU




Southern Branch
of the

University of California

Los Angeles



Form L 1



DA
562
G76
v.l



SOUTHERN BRANCH,

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA,

LIBRARY,
lLOS ANGELES, CALIF.






OUT OF THE PAST



OUT OF THE PAST

SOME BIOGRAPHICAL
ESSAYS



BY THE RIGHT HON.
SIR MOUNTSTUART E. GRANT DUFF

G.C.S.I., F.R.S.
AUTHOR OF "NOTES FROM A DIARY"



IN TWO VOLS. VOL. I



48734

NEW YORK

E. P, BUTTON & CO.

LONDON

JOHN MURRAY
1903



ADVERTISEMENT

v. \

IN these two volumes, which may be considered as
^ supplementary to my Notes from a Diary, I have
"} collected some biographical papers, most of which
have appeared in the periodicals enumerated in the
Table of Contents, to whose Editors I beg to
*i return my thanks for permission to reproduce
\ them. I have added several Addresses of a similar
:- character, which I have delivered from time to
v. time. The last paper in the Second Volume was
a Friday Evening Lecture, upon Epitaphs, given at
the Royal Institution in Albemarle Street. I have
placed it here, because it deals with a subject to
ich the other contents of the volume naturally
turned my thoughts.

" For some we loved, the loveliest and the best
That from his Vintage rolling Time has prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before
And one by one crept silently to rest."



CONTENTS



PAGE

CHESTERFIELD AS AN EDUCATOR. (From The Fortnightly

Review, 1879) I

SOME RECOLLECTIONS OF OXFORD, 1847-1850. (From the

Transactions of the Franco- Scottish Society, 1897) . . 35

SENIOR'S "CONVERSATIONS." (From The Nineteenth

Century, 1878) 55

MANNING AND THE CATHOLIC REACTION OF OUR TIMES.

(From The Edinburgh Review ', 1896) .... 94

THE DILETTANTI SOCIETY. (From The Spectator, July 2,

1898) 157

THE CLUB. (A Speech at Oxford, 1896) .... 167

SOME RECOLLECTIONS OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS,
1858-1881. (Being Passages from an Address at Elgin,
1898) ... 173



OUT OF THE PAST



CHESTERFIELD AS AN EDUCATOR

"THE eagle," said one of the wisest of men, "does not
nestle securely in the very bosom of Jove, the day on
which he has quarrelled with a beetle." How much more
serious, however, is the predicament of the royal bird, if he
has offended, not a humble insect, but an animal of a far
higher order. This was the misfortune which befel Philip
Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield. Justly or unjustly,
for we know but one side of the story, he roused against
him the anger of the "literary whale" 1 of his generation,
and his memory suffers from it unto this day, in spite of
the partial reparation which was made by his assailant. It
is not my intention in the following paper to attempt to do
anything towards rehabilitating Chesterfield, who had
unquestionably his fair share of faults. Persons who set
to work to rehabilitate damaged reputations are peculiarly
apt to be attacked by a dangerous form of the rabies

1 Peter Pindar prophesied very truly of Boswell

"Triumphant thou thro' Time's vast gulf shalt sail,

The pilot of our literary whale."
VOL. I. A



2 CHESTERFIELD [1879

biographica, and to confound truth and falsehood, right and
wrong, in their headlong advocacy. The object of the
following pages is far more humble, and purely practical.
Mr. Leslie Stephen, not the least eminent of an eminent
family, has adopted, or almost adopted, what appears to
me a monstrously unjust criticism of Dr. Johnson's upon a
work of Chesterfield's, which ought in my judgment to be
far more generally read than it is ; and I am anxious, by
recalling to the attention of some readers what really was
the essential part of the teaching of Chesterfield, to do
something towards making the study of his Letters to his
Son what I think they ought to be, a regular portion of the
education of every Englishman who is likely to enter public
life tolerably early. Before going further, however, it is
absolutely necessary to admit, without any qualifications,
that the book has some very grave defects. These fall for
the most part under three heads.

i st. There are a number of coarse expressions and
allusions thinly scattered through the four volumes which
are, although they occur in all the light literature of last
century, not the less repugnant to modern eyes and ears.

and. The whole book is pitched, so to speak, an octave
too low, if not for the day in which it was written, at least
for that in which we have the good fortune to live. A man
of the world, as shrewd as Chesterfield, would in the year
1879 have grasped the truth that to make an assured and



1879] CHESTERFIELD'S CHARACTER 3

honourable success in politics now, a character ought to be
broader and deeper than that on the building up of which
he laboured so assiduously. There must be just as
much shrewdness and knowledge of the world as ever, in
the composition of the politician who is to play at the gold
table and to win ; but there must be, in an age when great
masses are to be moved, a good deal more enthusiasm, a
good deal more sympathy, and a good deal more poetry.

3rd. There are a great variety of passages which inculcate
what we have happily learned to think a most detestable
morality. Chesterfield drew a broad distinction between
ordinary dissipation and the gallantry which the practice of
his times authorised in all continental countries, and to
this topic he recurs with provoking frequency.

If I were engaged in estimating his character, it would
be necessary to linger on this disagreeable subject, and to
inquire what weight ought to be given to it in balancing his
faults against his virtues. I cannot, however, make it too
clear that I am not engaged in estimating his character.
That was done very well, more than a generation ago, by
the late Lord Stanhope in his History, and by Mr Hayward
in an Essay, which has been reprinted.

My object is, as I have said, a purely practical one
to examine, namely, how far his Letters to his Son can be
made useful at the present day, and it fortunately happens
that all his bad morality may, for that particular purpose,



4 CHESTERFIELD 1879

be left on one side. "No one," says an eminent legal
writer, "however feloniously disposed, can run away with
an acre of land," and it is not less certain that no young
gentleman on his grand tour, however lax may be his
principles, could form in every capital which he entered
those intimate relations with ladies of position and
reputation which Chesterfield is always pressing upon his
son ; although he would find it but too easy, if he had a
turn that way, to indulge in those grosser forms of vice
which Chesterfield so justly and so continually reprobates.

As to how far Chesterfield's views with regard to the
women of his own day squared with the facts, it is beside
my purpose to inquire; but whatever may have been the
case a hundred and fifty years ago, there cannot be the
slightest doubt that any young man of adequate merit and
position, who was properly introduced, and would take a
little trouble, could now pass from capital to capital, living
everywhere in the society of women who would do all for
his manners that Chesterfield desired, and more even for
his mind and his morals than they did for his manners.

Before we can estimate Chesterfield's educational ideas
correctly we must understand what he proposed to effect.
He proposed, then, to make his natural son, Philip
Stanhope a youth of fair, but not shining abilities, cursed
by nature with curiously ungainly manners an all-accom-
plished man, worthy to stand in the first rank of politics,



1879] CHESTERFIELD'S SYSTEM 5

now as a Member of the House of Commons, now as a
negotiator at foreign courts, now as the confidential adviser
of the heir to the throne, and now as Secretary of State.
He wished to do this in an age when personal influences
were much more powerful than they are in our day, when
the people had very little power, when the idea of a
Frenchman's fighting for " la patrie " as he would fight for
"1'honneur du Roi" seemed wildly preposterous; when a
letter in Germany might be returned if only one of twenty
titles were omitted in the address in short, in that world
of minute etiquette and endless formalities which M. Taine
has so well described in the first volume of his book on the
Ancien Regime and the Revolution.

This being the problem to be solved, it is clear that
importance would have to be attached to many things
which are nowadays, to borrow a happy German-student
phrase, " colossally unimportant ; " while on the other hand
the world having progressed much since the middle of last
century, many things now of great moment could not be
expected to find a place. On the whole, however, the
reader will, it is to be hoped, think that there is much more
of what is permanently valuable than is usually supposed in
the book to which it is sought to direct attention.

What then was Chesterfield's system? And, first, what
was its foundation ? Its foundation, startling as the reply
may appear to those who know his book only by hearsay,



6 CHESTERFIELD [1879

was morality and religion, as their author understood them.
If we turn, for example, to Letter cxx. 1 we find the follow-
ing passage: "As to the moral virtues, I say nothing to
you; they speak best for themselves, nor can I suspect
that they want any recommendation with you ; I will, there-
fore, only assure you that, without them, you would be
most unhappy."

Again, in Letter cxxiii., after some observations about
knowledge, we read : " For I never mention to you the two
much greater points of religion and morality, because I
cannot possibly suspect you, as to either of them."

Again, in Letter cxxxii. occur these words :

" Pray let no quibbles of lawyers, no refinements of casuists,
break into the plain notions of right and wrong, which every
man's right reason and plain common sense suggest to him.
To do as you would be done by, is the plain, sure, and un-
disputed rule of morality and justice. Stick to that ; and be
convinced that whatever breaks into it, in any degree, however
speciously it may be turned, and however puzzling it may be
to answer it, is, notwithstanding, false in itself, unjust, and
criminal."

Looking on to Letter clxviii., we find this :

" While you were a child, I endeavoured to form your heart
habitually to virtue and honour, before your understanding was

1 My references are throughout not to Lord Stanhope's edition,
which, although the best, is scarce and dear, but to the third edition
(1774), which is more easily procured.



1879] MORAL VIRTUES 7

capable of showing you their beauty and utility. Those
principles, which you then got, like your grammar rules, only
by rote, are now, I am persuaded, fixed and confirmed by
reason. ... I have therefore, since you have had the use
of reason, never written to you upon those subjects : they
speak best for themselves ; and I should, now, just as soon
think of warning you gravely not to fall into the dirt or the fire,
as into dishonour or vice."

Nothing could exceed Chesterfield's horror and detes-
tation of the ribald talk against morality, which was a not
unnatural though calamitous result of the revolt against
superstition, which formed so important a part of the history
of the last century. On that subject he writes with a
passion which he shows about hardly anything else.

Thus in Letter cxciii. he says :

" I hope in God, and I verily believe, that you want no moral
virtue. But the possession of all the moral virtues, in actu
primo, as the logicians call it, is not sufficient ; you must have
them in actu secundo too : nay, that is not sufficient neither ;
you must have the reputation of them also. Your character in
the world must be built upon that solid foundation, or it will
soon fall, and upon your own head. You cannot therefore be
too careful, too nice, too scrupulous, in establishing this character
at first, upon which your whole depends. Let no conversation,
no example, no fashion, no don mot, no silly desire of seeming
to be above what most knaves, and many fools, call prejudices,
ever tempt you to avow, excuse, extenuate, or laugh at the
least breach of morality ; but show upon all occasions, and take
all occasions to show, a detestation and abhorrence of it."



8 CHESTERFIELD [1879

With regard to religion he observes in Letter clxxx. :

"Putting moral virtues at the highest, and religion at the
lowest, religion must be allowed to be a collateral security at
least, to virtue ; and every prudent man will sooner trust to two
securities than to one."

As to the form of his religion, Chesterfield began by
being a bigoted, but soon became a very moderate member
of the Church of England, extending his tolerance even to
the Roman Communion, which, associated as it was with
opposition to the rising spirit of inquiry and with the exiled
dynasty, he heartily disliked both as a philosopher and a
politician ; but to whose priests and services he directs his
son to show on all occasions proper respect.

On this foundation Chesterfield desired to raise a solid
superstructure of knowledge, beginning, of course, with
what we now call the " three r's," and the subjects usually
taught to children before they go to school. A large
portion of the first volume is filled with letters upon the
elements of political geography and history, generally
written in French, which was carefully taught to young
Stanhope from the very first. Of what we now call Physical
Geography there is of course not a trace.

Soon Latin and Greek were added, and made the staple
of education for some years under competent private tutors ;
and later, at Westminster, "Classical knowledge," that is,
Greek and Latin, the boy is told, while still only about



1879] STUDY OF THE CLASSICS 9

twelve years of age, " is absolutely necessary for everybody,
because everybody has agreed to think and to call it
so." . . . "You are by this time, I hope, pretty near
master of both, so that a small part of the day dedicated to
them, for two years more, will make you perfect in that
study."

It would be an error, however, to conclude from this
passage, that the writer did not attach importance to the
study of the classics for their own sake. Many of his judg-
ments about particular authors, as for instance where he
speaks with contempt of the Greek epigrams, some of
which are amongst the most exquisite of human composi-
tions, are sufficiently absurd. For the Letters and De
Oratore of Cicero, however, for the History of Thucydides,
and the Orations of Demosthenes, he had evidently a genuine
admiration ; and again and again enjoins their study.
Classical reading, indeed, filled a larger place in young
Stanhope's training than a wise man, who had in view the
same objects as Chesterfield, would now allow it to do in
the case of his son. It must not be forgotten, however,
that in the middle of the last century the importance of
Greek and Latin works, weighed against the other literary
productions of the human mind, was enormously greater
than it is now. German literature cannot be said to have
existed, and the number of works of a high order, either in

French or English, was trifling compared with what we now
VOL. i. B



10 CHESTERFIELD [1879

enjoy. Numerous passages could be cited to prove that
Chesterfield had an eye for what was best in the writings of
his contemporaries. Pope, Atterbury, Hume, Robertson,
and Voltaire, receive indifferently the tribute of his respect
for the excellence of their style and other merits, while he
uses the very strongest language to describe the impression
made upon him by the eloquence of Bolingbroke, of
whom he has left a portrait worthy to be set side by side
with some of Clarendon's. He was anxious that Philip
Stanhope should write good Latin, and has some exceed-
ingly sensible remarks upon that subject in Letter cxxxii., in
which he contrasts the Latin of a gentleman with the " Latin
of a pedant who has probably read more bad authors than
good." Were he alive now, he would doubtless be very
indifferent to his son's writing Latin at all. Circumstances,
however, are entirely changed. In Chesterfield's time, not
only did learned men still correspond not unfrequently in
Latin, but the power of writing good Latin might at any
moment have been useful to a man who, like Philip
Stanhope, was intended to spend much of his life in
countries where he would be brought into contact with men
who used Latin as the language of business, which indeed
was the case to a considerable extent in Hungary up to
1835, and in Croatia even later. Then, again, a great
many branches of human knowledge, of which the elements
should be mastered during the course of a general educa-



1879] THE STUDY OF SCIENCE II

tion, did not then, at least for educational purposes,
exist. Chesterfield speaks with respect of geometry
and astronomy, desiring that his son should know their
elements ; but for him, as for most of his contem-
poraries, natural science had no being. To him a man
who occupied himself with it was as frivolous a trifler as
one "who contemplates the dress, not the characters, of
the company he kept."

Now all this is altered. So able a person would have
seen clearly that in an age when material progress has
become such an important feature in the life of all civilised
nations, when everything seeks for a scientific basis, it
would be worse than futile for one who aspired to be in the
forefront of politics not to have at least a general acquaint-
ance with, and a sympathy for, one of the most important,
if not indeed for the time the most important, portion of
human activity. He is always urging his son to be the
11 omnis homo," the universal man, and to describe any man
by such a name at the present day, to whom natural science
was a sealed book, would be merely a bad joke. We may
then be certain that as he could not increase the number of
minutes in an hour, and as an important part of his system
was to allow some six hours a day for work, and to devote
the rest to exercise and pleasure, he would have suppressed
the writing of Latin, and indeed every accomplish-
ment, however elegant, which did not go to build up



12 CHESTERFIELD [1879

his ideal of a statesman fully equipped for his work in
the world.

A good foundation of Greek and Latin having been laid,
Chesterfield's next care was to make his pupil perfect in
German, Italian, and French, so that he might employ all
those languages with ease, and become acquainted with
what his father considered to be best in their literatures.
Chesterfield had the greatest respect for the French authors
of the age of Louis Quatorze : of the Italians he recom-
mended especially Tasso and Ariosto, giving the preference
to the second. His literary criticisms, in short, were the criti-
cisms of most intelligent men in that age; sensible enough as
far as they went, but rarely going below the surface of things.
Woe be, it has been well said, unto the nineteenth century
in so far as it denies the eighteenth, for it generally loses
itself in dreams if it does. In criticism, however, it has
certainly a right to boast that it is "far better than its
fathers."

Young Stanhope, who, when he left England, already
knew a good deal of French, was sent abroad with the Rev.
Mr. Harte, a man of some learning, and the author, at a
later period, of a Life of Gustavus Adolphus. They
travelled by Heidelberg to Switzerland, and settled first at
Leipzig, where, in addition to working at Latin and Greek,
Stanhope heard lectures on public law and the law of the
Holy Roman Empire, studied the principal European



1879] GEOGRAPHY AND COMMERCE 13

treaties, and began to make himself acquainted with the
best works on modern history, then a task far less for-
midable than it would be at present.

His father kept urging him to increase his knowledge of
geography, " wearing out his maps by constant reference to
them." He insisted, as I have said, on a perfect know-
ledge of French, German, and Italian, but treated Spanish
rather as a counsel of perfection, pretty much as he would,
if writing now, have treated Russian.

He advised his son to make himself acquainted with all
the circumstances of every country in which he might be ;
to question every man whom he came across about the
things which he knew best, and liked most to talk old
soldiers about war and fortification, priests about the
ceremonies and tenets of their respective churches, diplo-
matists, and more especially the Venetian and Sardinian
agents (of whom Chesterfield had a particularly high
opinion), about political affairs. Nor did the old states-
man fall into the error which has been too common
amongst diplomatists, of thinking that commercial matters
were only fit for the attention of consuls. On the contrary,
he pressed Philip Stanhope to learn as much as he could
about them, by reading whatever he could find that was
really good, from Huet's treatise on the commerce of the
ancients to Sir Josiah Child's little book, which might be
called, he says, the Grammar of Commerce. It is true that



14 CHESTEkFIELD [1879

the mind of the teacher was full of the illusions that beset the
world before the days of Adam Smith ; but this did not arise
from any carelessness or want of interest in the subject.

During his son's residence at Leipzig, Chesterfield's
exhortations to the cultivation of good manners became
incessant. These exhortations which occupy so large a
portion of the Letters as to have become associated with his
name to such a degree as to have entirely thrown into the
shade their most important features, and to have greatly
misled people as to their author's character, fall into three
categories.

First come a series of precepts so elementary as to be
useless nowadays to any boys who have been decently
brought up, but which are curious enough as showing
how very low was the standard of manners in the middle
of the eighteenth century at our public schools and
universities.

Secondly, we find a great multitude of injunctions which
were extremely valuable for one who was to spend a great
part of his life in courts, as courts were during the " torrent's
smoothness" which preceded the Niagara of the French
Revolution. Many of them hold good at the present day,
many do not ; but it is unnecessary to dwell upon either.
They were the tools of Philip Stanhope's trade, but are too
technical to give any value to the book for general purposes
now.



1879] MAXIMS 15

Thirdly, we have a number of maxims which are, and
always will be, of great importance. I subjoin a very few of
these :

"In the case of scandal, as in that of robbery, the receiver is
always thought as bad as the thief." (Letter cxxxiv.)

" A man of the world must, like the chameleon, be able to
take every different hue ; which is by no means a criminal or
abject, but a necessary complaisance, for it relates only to
manners, and not to morals." (Letter cxxxiv.)

" Cautiously avoid talking of either your own or other
people's domestic affairs. Yours are nothing to them, but
tedious ; theirs are nothing to you. The subject is a tender
one ; and it is odds but you touch somebody or other's sore
place : for, in this case there is no trusting to specious appear-
ances ; which may be, and often are, so contrary to the real
situations of things that, with the best intentions in the world,
one often blunders disagreeably." (Letter cxxxv.)

" The scholar, without good breeding, is a pedant ; the
philosopher, a cynic ; the soldier, a brute ; and every man dis-
agreeable." (Letter xcvi.)

" There are two sorts of good company ; one which is called
the beau monde, and consists of those people who have the lead
in courts, and in the gay part of life ; the other consists of those
who are distinguished by some peculiar merit, or who excel in
some particular and valuable art or science. For my own part,
I used to think myself in company as much above me, when I
was with Mr. Addison and Mr. Pope, as if I had been with all
the princes in Europe." (Letter xcvi.)

"All general reflections, upon nations and societies, are the
trite, threadbare jokes of those who set up for wit without
having any, and so have recourse to common-place." (Letter
Ixxviii.)



16 CHESTERFIELD [1879

" Company is a republic too jealous of its liberties to suffer a
dictator even for a quarter of an hour." * (Letter cc.)

"Good breeding carries along with it a dignity that is
respected by the most petulant. Ill-breeding invites and
authorizes the familiarity of the most timid. No man ever said


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryMountstuart E. (Mountstuart Elphinstone) Grant DuffOut of the past : some biographical essays (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 14)