Philip Dormer Stanhope Chesterfield.

Letters to his son (Volume 1) online

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For instance, suppose you invited anybody to dine or
sup with you, you ought to recollect if you had observed
that they had any favorite dish, and take care to provide
it for them ; and when it came you should say, You




THEREFORE I PROCURED SOME. The more trifling these
things are, the more they prove your attention for the
person, and are consequently the more engaging. Consult
your own breast, and recollect how these little attentions,
when shown you by others, flatter that degree of self-love
and vanity from which no man living is free. Reflect
how they incline and attract you to that person, and how
you are propitiated afterward to all which that person
says or does. The same causes will have the same effects
in your favor. Women, in a great degree, establish or
destroy every man's reputation of good-breeding ; you must,
therefore, in a manner, overwhelm them with these atten-
tions: they are used to them, they expect them, and, to
do them justice, they commonly requite them. You must
be sedulous, and rather over officious than under, in pro-
curing them their coaches, their chairs, their conveniences
in public places : not see what you should not see ; and
rather assist, where you cannot help seeing. Opportunities
of showing these attentions present themselves perpetually ;
but if they do not, make them. As Ovid advises his lover,
when he sits in the Circus near his mistress, to wipe the
dust off her neck, even if there be none : Si nullus, tamen
excute nullum. Your conversation with women should
always be respectful ; but, at the same time, enjoue, and
always addressed to their vanity. Everything you say or
do should convince them of the regard you have (whether
you have it or not) for their beauty, their wit, or their
merit. Men have possibly as much vanity as women,
though of another kind; and both art and good-breeding
require, that, instead of mortifying, you should please and
flatter it, by words and looks of approbation. Suppose
(which is by no means improbable) that, at your return to
England, I should place you near the person of some one
of the royal family; in that situation, good-breeding, engag-
ing address, adorhed with all the graces that dwell at
courts, would very probably make you a favorite, and,
from a favorite, a minister; but all the knowledge and
learning in the world, without them, never would. The
penetration of princes seldom goes deeper than the surface.


It is the exterior that always engages their hearts; and I
would never advise you to give yourself much trouble about
their understanding. Princes in general (I mean those
Porphyrogenets who are born and bred in purple) are about
the pitch of women ; bred up like them, and are to be
addressed and gained in the same manner. They always
see, they seldom weigh. Your lustre, not your solidity,
must take them ; your inside will afterward support and
secure what your outside has acquired. With weak people
(and they undoubtedly are three parts in four of mankind)
good-breeding, address, and manners are everything; they
can go no deeper; but let me assure you that they are a
great deal even with people of the best understandings.
Where the eyes are not pleased, and the heart is not flat-
tered, the mind will be apt to stand out. Be this right or
wrong, I confess I am so made myself. Awkwardness and
ill-breeding shock me to that degree, that where I meet
with them, I cannot find in my heart to inquire into the
intrinsic merit of that person : I hastily decide in myself
that he can have none; and am not sure that I should not
even be sorry to know that he had any. I often paint you
in my imagination, in your present lontananza, and, while I
view you in the light of ancient and modern learning, useful
and ornamental knowledge, I am charmed with the pros-
pect ; but when I view you in another light, and represent
you awkward, ungraceful, ill-bred, with vulgar air and
manners, shambling toward me with inattention and DIS-
TRACTIONS, I shall not pretend to describe to you what I
feel ; but will do as a skillful painter did formerly draw
a veil before the countenance of the father.

I dare say you know already enough of architecture, to
know that the Tuscan is the strongest and most solid of all
the orders ; but at the same time, it is the coarsest and
clumsiest of them. Its solidity does extremely well for the
foundation and base floor of a great edifice ; but if the
whole building be Tuscan, it will attract no eyes, it will
stop no passengers, it will invite no interior examination ;
people will take it for granted that the finishing and fur-
nishing cannot be worth seeing, where the front is so
unadorned and clumsy. But if, upon the solid Tuscan
foundation, the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian orders


rise gradually with all their beauty, proportions, and orna-
ments, the fabric seizes the most incurious eye, and stops
the most careless passenger; who solicits admission as a
favor, nay, often purchases it. Just so will it fare with
your little fabric, which, at present, I fear, has more of the
Tuscan than of the Corinthian order. You must absolutely
change the whole front, or nobody will knock at the door.
The several parts, which must compose this new front, are
elegant, easy, natural, superior good-breeding; an engaging
address ; genteel motions ; an insinuating softness in your
looks, words, and actions ; a spruce, lively air, fashiona-
ble dress ; and all the glitter that a young fellow should

I am sure you would do a great deal for my sake ; and
therefore consider at your return here, what a disappoint-
ment and concern it would be to me, if I could not safely
depute you to do the honors of my house and table ; and if
I should be ashamed to present you to those who frequent
both. Should you be awkward, inattentive, and distrait,

and happen to meet Mr. L at my table, the consequences

of that meeting must be fatal; you would run your heads
against each other, cut each other's fingers, instead of
your meat, or die by the precipitate infusion of scalding

This is really so copious a subject, that there is no end
of being either serious or ludicrous upon it. It is impos-
sible, too, to enumerate or state to you the various cases in
good-breeding ; they are infinite ; there is no situation or
relation in the world so remote or so intimate, that does
not require a degree of it. Your own good sense must
point it out to you ; your own good-nature must incline,
and your interest prompt you to practice it ; and observa-
tion and experience must give you the manner, the air and
the graces which complete the whole.

This letter will hardly overtake you, till you are at or
near Rome. I expect a great deal in every way from your
six months' stay there. My morning hopes are justly placed
in Mr. Harte, and the masters he will give you; my even-
ing ones, in the Roman ladies : pray be attentive to both.
But I must hint to you, that the Roman ladies are not les
femmes savantes, et ne vous embrasseront point pour V amour


du Grec. They must have il garbato, il leggiadro, it disin-
volto, il lusinghiero, quel non sb che, che piace, che alletta,
che incanta.

I have often asserted, that the profoundest learning and
the politest manners were by no means incompatible,
though so seldom found united in the same person ; and I
have engaged myself to exhibit you, as a proof of the truth
of this assertion. Should you, instead of that, happen to
disprove me, the concern indeed would be mine, but the
loss will be yours. Lord Bolingbroke is a strong instance
on my side of the question ; he joins to the deepest erudi-
tion, the most elegant politeness and good-breeding that
ever any courtier and man of the world was adorned with.
And Pope very justly called him <( All-accomplished St.
John,* with regard to his knowledge and his manners. He
had, it is true, his faults; which proceeded from unbounded
ambition, and impetuous passions ; but they have now sub-
sided by age and experience ; and I can wish you nothing
better than to be, what he is now, without being what he
has been formerly. His address pre-engages, his eloquence
persuades, and his knowledge informs all who approach
him. Upon the whole, I do desire, and insist, that from
after dinner till you go to bed, you make good-breeding,
address, and manners, your serious object and your only
care. Without them, you will be nobody; with them, you
may be anything.

Adieu, my dear child! My compliments to Mr. Harte.


LONDON, November 24, O. S. 1749.

DEAR BOY: Every rational being (I take it for granted)
proposes to himself some object more important than
mere respiration and obscure animal existence. He
desires to distinguish himself among his fellow-creatures;
and, alicui negotio intentus, prceclari Jacinoris, aut artis
bonce, faman queer it. Caesar, when embarking in a storm,
said, that it was not necessary he should live; but that it
was absolutely necessary he should get to the place to which


he was going. And Pliny leaves mankind this only alter-
native; either of doing what deserves to be written, or of
writing what deserves to be read. As for those who do
neither, eorum vitam mortemque juxta cestumo; quoniam de
utraque siletur. You have, I am convinced, one or both of
these objects in view ; but you must know and use the
necessary means, or your pursuit will be vain and frivolous.
In either case, Sapere est principium et fons; but it is by
no means all. That knowledge must be adorned, it must
have lustre as well as weight, or it will be oftener taken
for lead than for gold. Knowledge you have, and will
have: I am easy upon that article. But my business, as
your friend, is not to compliment you upon what you have,
but to tell you with freedom what you want ; and I must
tell you plainly, that I fear you want everything but

I have written to you so often, of late, upon good-breeding,
address, les manures liantes, the Graces, etc., that I shall
confine this letter to another subject, pretty near akin to
them, and which, I am sure, you are full as deficient in ;
I mean Style.

Style is the dress of thoughts ; and let them be ever so
just, if your style is homely, coarse, and vulgar, they will
appear to as much disadvantage, and be as ill received as
your person, though ever so well proportioned, would, if
dressed in rags, dirt, and tatters. It is not every under-
standing that can judge of matter; but every ear can and
does judge, more or less, of style: and were I either to
speak or write to the public, I should prefer moderate mat-
ter, adorned with all the beauties and elegancies of style,
to the strongest matter in the world, ill-worded and ill-
delivered. Your business is negotiation abroad, and oratory
in the House of Commons at home. What figure can you
make, in either case, if your style be inelegant, I do not
say bad? Imagine yourself writing an office-letter to a
secretary of state, which letter is to be read by the whole
Cabinet Council, and very possibly afterward laid before
parliament; any one barbarism, solecism, or vulgarism in it,
would, in a very few days, circulate through the whole
kingdom, to your disgrace and ridicule. For instance, I
will suppose you had written the following letter from The


Hague to the Secretary of State at London ; and leave you
to suppose the consequences of it:

MY LORD: I HAD, last night, the honor of your Lordship's
letter of the 24th; and will SET ABOUT DOING the orders
contained THEREIN ; and IF so BE that I can get that affair
done by the next post, I will not fail FOR TO give your Lord-
ship an account of it by NEXT POST. I have told the
French Minister, AS HOW THAT IF that affair be not soon
concluded, your Lordship would think it ALL LONG OF HIM;
and that he must have neglected FOR TO have wrote to his
court about it. I must beg leave to put your Lordship in
mind AS HOW, that I am now full three quarter in arrear ;
and if so BE that I do not very soon receive at least one-
place is very dear. I shall be VASTLY BEHOLDEN to your
Lordship for THAT THERE mark of your favor; and so I

REST Or REMAIN, Your, etc.

You will tell me, possibly, that this is a caricatura of an
illiberal and inelegant style: I will admit it; but assure
you, at the same time, that a dispatch with less than half
these faults would blow you up forever. It is by no means
sufficient to be free from faults, in speaking and writing;
but you must do both correctly and elegantly. In faults of
this kind, it is not tile optimus qui minimis arguetur; but
he is unpardonable who has any at all, because it is his
own fault : he need only attend to, observe, and imitate
the best authors.

It is a very true saying, that a man must be born a poet,
but that he may make himself an orator ; and the very first
principle of an orator is to speak his own language, par-
ticularly, with the utmost purity and elegance. A man
will be forgiven even great errors in a foreign language ;
but in his own, even the least slips are justly laid hold of
and ridiculed.

A person of the House of Commons, speaking two years
ago upon naval affairs, asserted, that we had then the finest
navy UPON THE FACE OF THE YEARTH. This happy mixture
of blunder and vulgarism, you may easily imagine, was
matter of immediate ridicule ; but I can assure you that it


continues so still, and will be remembered as long as he
lives and speaks. Another, speaking in defense of a gentle-
man, upon whom a censure was moved, happily said that he
thought that gentleman was more LIABLE to be thanked and
rewarded, than censured. You know, I presume, that LIABLE
can never be used in a good sense.

You have with you three or four of the best English
authors, Dryden, Atterbury, and Swift ; read them with the
utmost care, and with a particular view to their language,
and they may possibly correct that CURIOUS INFELICITY OF
DICTION, which you acquired at Westminster. Mr. Harte
excepted, I will admit that you have met with very few
English abroad, who could improve your style ; and with
many, I dare say, who speak as ill as yourself, and, it may
be, worse ; you must, therefore, take the more pains, and
consult your authors and Mr. Harte the more. I need not
tell you how attentive the Romans and Greeks, particularly
the Athenians, were to this object. It is also a study among
the Italians and the French ; witness their respective
academies and dictionaries for improving and fixing their
languages. To our shame be it spoken, it is less attended
to here than in any polite country ; but that is no reason why
you should not attend to it ; on the contrary, it will dis-
tinguish you the more. Cicero says, very truly, that it is
glorious to excel other men in that very article, in which
men excel brutes ; SPEECH.

Constant experience has shown me, that great purity and
elegance of style, with a graceful elocution, cover a multi-
tude of faults, in either a speaker or a writer. For my
own part, I confess (and I believe most people are of my
mind) that if a speaker should ungracefully mutter or
stammer out to me the sense of an angel, deformed by bar-
barism and solecisms, or larded with vulgarisms, he should
never speak to me a second time, if I could help it. Gain
the heart, or you gain nothing ; the eyes and the ears are
the only roads to the heart. Merit and knowledge will not
gain hearts, though they will secure them when gained.
Pray, have that truth ever in your mind. Engage the eyes
by your address, air, and motions ; soothe the ears by the
elegance and harmony of your diction ; the heart will cer-
tainly follow; and the whole man, or woman, will as


certainly follow the heart. I must repeat it to you, over
and over again, that with all the knowledge which you may
have at present, or hereafter acquire, and with all merit
that ever man had, if you have not a graceful address,
liberal and engaging manners, a prepossessing air, and a
good degree of eloquence in speaking and writing, you
will be nobody ; but will have the daily mortification of
seeing people, with not one-tenth part of your merit or
knowledge, get the start of you, and disgrace you, both in
company and in business.

You have read (< Quintilian," the best book in the world
to form an orator; pray read Cicero de Oratore, the
best book in the world to finish one. Translate and re-
translate from and to Latin, Greek, and English ; make
yourself a pure and elegant English style : it requires noth-
ing but application. I do not find that God has made you
a poet ; and I am very glad that he has not : therefore, for
God's sake, make yourself an orator, which you may do.
Though I still call you boy, I consider you no longer as
such ; and when I reflect upon the prodigious quantity of
manure that has been laid upon you, I expect that you
should produce more at eighteen, than uncultivated soils do
at eight-and-twenty.

Pray tell Mr. Harte that I have received his letter of the
I3th, N. S. Mr. Smith was much in the right not to let
you go, at this time of the year, by sea ; in the summer
you may navigate as much as you please ; as, for example,
from Leghorn to Genoa, etc. Adieu.


LONDON, November 27, O. S. 1749.

DEAR BOY : While the Roman Republic flourished, while
glory was pursued, and virtue practiced, and while
even little irregularities and indecencies, not cognizable
by law, were, however, not thought below the public care,
censors were established, discretionally to supply, in par-
ticular cases, the inevitable defects of the law, which must


and can only be general. This employment I assume to
myself with regard to your little republic, leaving the legis-
lative power entirely to Mr. Harte ; I hope, and believe,
that he will seldom, or rather never, have occasion to exert
his supreme authority; and I do by no means suspect you
of any faults that may require that interposition. But, to
tell you the plain truth, I am of opinion that my censorial
power will not be useless to you, nor a sinecure to me.
The sooner you make it both, the better for us both. I
can now exercise this employment only upon hearsay, or,
at most, written evidence; and therefore shall exercise it
with great lenity and some diffidence ; but when we meet,
and that I can form my judgment upon ocular and auric-
ular evidence, I shall no more let the least impropriety, in-
decorum, or irregularity pass uncensured, than my prede-
cessor Cato did. I shall read you with the attention of a critic,
not with the partiality of an author: different in this respect,
indeed, from most critics, that I shall seek for faults only
to correct and not ,to expose them. I have often thought,
and still think, that there are few things which people in
general know less, than how to love and how to hate.
They hurt those they love by a mistaken indulgence, by a
blindness, nay, often by a partiality to their faults. Where
they hate they hurt themselves, by ill-timed passion and rage.
Fortunately for you, I never loved you in that mistaken
manner. From your infancy, I made you the object of my
most serious attention, and not my plaything. I consulted
your real good, not your humors or fancies; and I shall
continue to do so while you want it, which will probably
be the case during our joint lives ; for, considering the dif-
ference of our ages, in the course of nature, you will hardly
have acquired experience enough of your own, while I shall be
in condition of lending you any of mine. People in general
will much better bear being told of their vices or crimes,
than of their little failings and weaknesses. They, in some
degree, justify or excuse (as they think) the former, by
strong passions, seductions, and artifices of others ; but to
be told of, or to confess, their little failings and weak-
nesses, implies an inferiority of parts, too mortifying to
that self-love and vanity, which are inseparable from our
natures. I have been intimate enough with several people


to tell them that they had said or done a very criminal
thing; but I never was intimate enough with any man, to
tell him, very seriously, that he had said or done a very
foolish one. Nothing less than the relation between you
and me can possibly authorize that freedom ; but fortunately
for you, my parental rights, joined to my censorial powers,
give it me in its fullest extent, and my concern for you
will make me exert it. Rejoice, therefore, that there is
one person in the world who can and will tell you what
will be very useful to you to know, and yet what no other
man living could or would tell you. Whatever I shall tell
you of this kind, you are very sure, can have no other
motive than your interest ; I can neither be jealous nor en-
vious of your reputation or fortune, which I must be both
desirous and proud to establish and promote ; I cannot be
your rival either in love or in business ; on the contrary, I
want the rays of your rising to reflect new lustre upon my
setting light. In order to this, I shall analyze you
minutely, and censure you freely, that you may not (if
possible) have one single spot, when in your meridian.

There is nothing that a young fellow, at his first appear-
ance in the world, has more reason to dread, and conse-
quently should take more pains to avoid, than having any
ridicule fixed upon him. It degrades him with the most reas-
onable part of mankind; but it ruins him with the rest; and
I have known many a man undone by acquiring a ridicu-
lous nickname: I would not, for all the riches in the world,
that you should acquire one when you return to England.
Vices and crimes excite hatred and reproach; failings,
weaknesses, and awkwardnesses, excite ridicule ; they are
laid hold of by mimics, who, though very contemptible
wretches themselves, often, by their buffoonery, fix ridicule
upon their betters. The little defects in manners, elocution,
address, and air (and even of figure, though very unjustly),
are the objects of ridicule, and the causes of nicknames.
You cannot imagine the grief it would give me, and the
prejudice it would do you, if, by way of distinguishing
you from others of your name, you should happen to be
called Muttering Stanhope, Absent Stanhope, Ill-bred Stan-
hope, or Awkward, Left-legged Stanhope : therefore, take
great care to put it out of the power of Ridicule itself to give


you any of these ridiculous epithets ; for, if you get one, it
will stick to you, like the envenomed shirt. The very first
day that I see you, I shall be able to tell you, and cer-
tainly shall tell you, what degree of danger you are in ;
and I hope that my admonitions, as censor, may prevent
the censures of the public. Admonitions are always useful ;
is this one or not? You are the best judge; it is your own
picture which I send you, drawn, at my request, by a lady
at Venice : pray let me know how far, in your conscience,
you think it like; for there are some parts of it which I
wish may, and others, which I should be sorry were. I
send you, literally, the copy of that part of her letter, to
her friend here, which relates to you.*

Tell Mr. Harte that I have this moment received his let-
ter of the 22d, N. S., and that I approve extremely of the
long stay you have made at Venice. I love long residences
at capitals ; running post through different places is a most

* (< In compliance to your orders, I have examined young Stanhope
carefully, and think I have penetrated into his character. This is his
portrait, which I take to be a faithful one. His face is pleasing, his
countenance sensible, and his look clever. His figure is at present
rather too square ; but if he shoots up, which he has matter and years
for, he will then be of a good size. He has, undoubtedly, a great fund
of acquired knowledge ; I am assured that he is master of the learned
languages. As for French, I know he speaks it perfectly, and, I am
told, German as well. The questions he asks are judicious, and de-
note a thirst after knowledge. I cannot say that he appears equally de-
sirous of pleasing, for he seems to neglect attentions and the graces.

Online LibraryPhilip Dormer Stanhope ChesterfieldLetters to his son (Volume 1) → online text (page 23 of 38)