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Reflections critical and moral on the letters of the late Earl of Chesterfield online

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By THOMA S hunter, M.A.

Vicar of Weaverham in Cheshire.

Great men are not always wise : neither do

THE aged understand JUDGMENT.

Job XXXII. 9.

5; la noblejfe eji vertu, elle fe perd par tout ce qui ii'eft pas -verteux \
'tfi elle n'eji pas -vertu c'eji peu de cboje,




Printed for T. CADELL, Bookfeller in the Strand.



Lord Bifliop of Chester,





ONE who cenfures fo
popular and cele-
brated a writer as the Lord
Chesterfield, hath
need of all honeft advanta-
A 2 gesj


ges, to avoid the prejudices,
to befpeak the attention,
and engage the favour and
candour of the pubhc. The
author of thefe fheets pre-
tends to no advantages but
fuch as a regard to truth,
to virtue and the happinefs
of mankind may give him.
He, therefore, calls on your
Lordlhip as his patron and
protestor, to give him
countenance, and to intro-
duce him with credit into
the world upon this occa-



lion. Your Lordftiip's name
is great : and, the high
offices, to which, without
the arts of faction or the
efforts of ambition, you
have been called, — of a
Chriftian Prelate and a
Preceptor to Princes, may
be thought to have fome
weight in the balance a-
gainft titled greatnefs and
patrician fplendbr.

But, abftra6ting from
all titular diftin6tion and



external grandeur, which
conftitute no part of the
great or moral man ; Ihould
we contrail with the fplen-
did portrait of perfection
which Lord Chefterfield
afFedls to give us in his
own conduct, and in the
leiTons which he prefcribes
to his fon, a character of
a different form and fea-
ture, it would for ever
difcredit the caufe of falfe
politenefs, and the princi-


pies and prafitifes of its in-
lidious advocate.

The great and good
man depends on truth and
nature, not on artifice and
fallacy, for his fuccefs.
He is fingle in his views,
his words and actions. He
is what he feems ; he fpeaks
what he thinks : he intends
what he profefles : he is
faithful to his word as to
his oath. He fcorns alike
fimulation and diiTimulati-



on, under whatever Ipe-
cious fophiftry difiinguiih-
ed or recommended. He
is eminent for native ftrong
fenfe, improved and adorn-
ed, not only by a juft tafte
for polite letters, and ele-
gant compofition, but, by
ufeful and extenfive fcience.
He liftens more to the dic-
tates of reafon, than to the
arts of refinement, and
dwells more on the general
rule than on the exception.
He is equally unaffected



in his manners and ftyle.
He is ferious, manly, firm
and elevated ; fteady and
inflexible in the profecu-
tion of truth and juftice ;
and, amidft the various and
fluctuating notions of no-
minal and latitudinarian
Chriftians, an undiflem-
bled alTertor of the faith
once delivered to the

When we obferve pru-
dence renouncing craft,
b wifdom


wifciom not debafed by
intrigue, fagacity and fuc-
cefs not difgraced by arti-
fice and hypocrify ; When
eminence appears with-
out magnificence, elevation
without pride, fuperiority
without vanity, and figni-
ficance and importance of
character without the pa-
rade of outward eclat, and
the badges of office and
honour : When the man,
the citizen, the Briton ap-
pears diftinguilhed by fi-


delity to his friends, by
compaflion to the mifera-
ble, by relief to the op-
preffed, by favour to the
good, by prote6lion to the
learned, by love to his
country, and loyalty to
his prince, upon principles
of confcience and convic-
tion : When an undiflem-
bled zeal for GOD and
his truth, as the founda-
tions on which the pillars
of the moral and civil world
are fupported, form the
b 2 ruling


ruling paffion of the heart,
and give law to the general
conduffc ; When we view
fuch a charadler, we look
down with contempt on
thofe fuperficial graces, to
the ftudy and attainment
of which Lord Chefterfield
would be thought to con-
fine all the bufmefs of edu-
cation, and all the perfec-
tion of human nature.

But, my Lord, I dare
not proceed. Your Lord-



ftiip does not feek, as you
do not want the applaufe
of man. Befides, we have
found, by experience, that
a great and illuftrious cha-
racter has, fome times, fuf-
fered by the difplay, and
been regarded, > if not re-
fented as a hbel upon the
bulk of mankind : like a
body eminently luminous,
which affords not pleafure,
but offence and pain to a
weak and diftempered eye.
I will not, therefore, by
b 3 at


attempting a full and more
perfeft portrait of your
Lordftiip, hurt the pride,
mortify the ignorance, and
provoke the envy and ma-
lignity of the vulgar-fpi-
rited reader ; and ftiall
content mvfelf with wifli-
ing, that fuch characters
as your Lordlhip's may
never be wanting to con-
front the vain wit, the
falfe philofopher, the dif-
fembling politician, the ig-


noble patrician, and the
profligate man of pleafure.

The beft title which
thefe Refie6lions have to
your Lordlhip's patronage
is, that they are meant to
co-operate with your Lord-
lhip's example, which holds
out to us fo diflPerent a ftyle
and order" of perfection to
that adopted and recom-
mended by the noble Lord j
as the exemplary lives of
Chriftians, in general, and
b 4 of


of the Chriftian Clergy,
in particular, will always
be the beft recommenda-
tion of their religion, and
the moft effectual confu-
tation of thofe who deny
its influence and authority
by their pradlice or opi-

/ am.,


Tour Lordjhjp's
mojl dutiful
and devoted Servant y



WE are fometimes over-
taken by dead calms,
and, fometimes affault-
ed by ruder tempefts in the voy-
age of life, which damp the vi-
gour and adlivity of the foul, and
render us alike incapable of dif-
charging the ordinary offices, and
of fharing in the innocent plea-
fures of our being. In either cafe,
our care, next to that of devoting
and, refigning ourfelves to the


xviii PREFACE.

great pilot of nature, will be to
amufcj as well as we can, and to
fill up the v^acant hours with what
may be agreeable to ourfelves,
though not profitable to others.
But, if we can render our amufe-
ments of any advantage to the
world, we have the comfort of
reflefting, that we are not ufelefs

members of fociety ; that we do
not live in vain, and, that an in-
capacity for greater atchievements
may have its ufe in the plan of
Providence, byfuggeftingaftrift-
er attention to the humbler offices
of life.

We may not be qualified to



condud armies, to fight battles,
to extend empire abroad, or to
defend and fecure its liberties at
home ; we may not prefume to
inform princes, or to teach fena-
tors wifdom. But if v/e have,
ftill, any ability left to indrud:
the ignorant, to dired the wan-
derer, to reclaim the fi'a{?^itious,
to fupport the weak, to confirm
the virtuous, to remove prejudi-
ces, to vindicate, or in any de-
gree to promote the virtue and
happinefs of mankind ;— we ac-
knowledge, we adore the hand of
Heaven in our fituation.

Lord Chesterfield's Letters



were firft taken up as an amufe-
ment to deceive the pafTing mo-
ments. They were, indeed, a-
mufing, but foon appeared a-
larming. The reader found his
faith, his virtue, his underftand-
ing infulted ; and the fentiments
of the juft aiid good in all ages
and nations of the world who
were favoured with almofl: any
degree of light, of truth and fci-
ence oppofed and contradided,
by our well-bred and courtly
philofopher. The mere reader
was thus led to commence au-
thor ; and, very freely to ex-
prefs his indignation and con-
tempt of a writer, who, great



and fhining as his abilities were,
hath difgraced, by applying
them, to poifon the morals, to
banifli the fublimeft virtue, to
extinguifh the mojfl falutary
truths, and to exterminate the
moft important interefts and the
lincereft happinefs of mankind.

If the author of thefe fheets
has made his amufements, any
way, contribute to the benefit
of others, by expofing this fe-
duftive and dangerous writer y
he will be abundantly fatisfied
with the confcioufnefs of havinor
difcharged his duty ; regardlefs
of the reproach he may incur,



for prefuming to cenfure fo po-
pular, fo polite, fo diftinguifhed
a nobleman.

The fubjed: of enquiry is
truth and virtue. Here, there-
fore, we affed: no complaifance
or fervility ; our refle6bions are
the didates of the heart. Lord
Cheflerfield is regarded and
addreffed not as a nobleman,
but as a man, a moralift and a
citizen ; and God alone is ap-
pealed to, as the judge of all.


Page 47, line 4, for humane read human.
59, 2, for hear read here»

Sly antepenult, for /^ai read /t'^.

139, 9, for cunduB read conduB.

146, Note, antepenult, {or fans re&Afans.

192, line 7, for fl^^(Sj read c^^^j.

a 10, 6, ior fortune read torture.

222, 13, for extlence read exifience.








TO cenfure is a difagreeablc
part to the candid writer, and
reader : To cenfure, where
great and confpicuous merit is allow-
ed, wears the appearance of ftiU tnoi*^
B malignity :


malignity : But, to cenfure a Writer fo
generally celebrated and admired as
the Lord Chefteriield, muft prove flill
more ofFenfive and perhaps more dan-
gerous to the reputation of the critic,
than of the author whom he affedls to

But there is a ftrength and beauty
in truth and virtue, a pov^er and au-
thority in religion w^hich carry us be-
yond ourfelves, and difpofe us to a
contempt of danger and difficulty, in
their fupport and defence : Thofe
principles v^ere of little value, which
are not worth defending at the ha-
zard of our being. Dear ^s reputa-
tion, and awful as the reproach of the
World may be to an author, an honeft
man will prefer the difcharge of his
duty, arid the approbation of his con-



fclerice and his GOD, to the united
applaufe of the univerfe.

Yet a regard to truth will preclude
unjuft prejudice, as well as general
reprobation ; and to deny a writer the
praife to which he has a claim, on
account of the cenfure to which he is
liable, were no lefs impolitic than
unjuft. Let us, therefore, do juftice
to Lord Chefterfield as a Writer, be-
fore we proceed to condemn him as
an Author.

To do juftice to Lord Chefterfield's
compofition would require a pen like
his own : Or let his Lordfliip's fa-
vourites, Venus and the Graces, join
in concert to fing his eulogium !

We fhould not do him fufficient
B 2 juftice.


juftice, fhould we only fay that he is
clear and eafy, natural and unaffected :
for he is figurative, florid, ornament-
ed and highly poliihed. He does not
hurt the ear, encumber the fenfe, or
perplex our thoughts with long and
tedious fentences -, but is, every where,
pure; Ihort, but expreiTive ; concife,
but not abrupt ; full and fatisfaftory,
but not voluminous ; and has gene-
rally united laconic brevity with attic
elegance. He is happy in expreffions
always fuited to his fubjedl ; and no-
thing is farther from affedation than
his language. I prefume, he was ac-
cuftomed to fpeak with the fame eafe
and propriety that he writes. It feems
natural to him : or, art had affumed
fo juft a call, and io well imitated the
tone of nature, that we cannot diftin-
guilh the one from the other.



Lord Chefterfield's ftyle is mufic,
filling and delighting the ear with the
moft melting notes, and the fweeteft
and moft happy cadences : or, his
hand may be faid to be that of one of
the firft mafters in painting, who
prefents you with the gayeft fcenery,
the lovelieft landfcapes, and the moft
fplendid colouring in nature. A
brook, however pure and tranfparent,
is too diminutive an objedl to give us
a juft refemblance of the Lord Chef-
terfield's ftyle and manner. We may
compare his Lordfhip's compofition
to a ftream (were not this, like wife,
too trite an image) full, bat not
redundant ; loud, but not noify ;
fmooth and placid, yet not languid or
fluggifh ; ftrong, but not harfh, dif-
fonant or raging ; harmonious in its
courfe, mufical in its falls ; and, in
B 3 the


the whole, feafting the eye, the ear,
the fancy, the fenfitive tafte, and all
the animal faculties and paffions of
the man. Its banks are crowned
with all the beauties of fimple na-
ture ^ or with ornaments formed after
the models, or anfwering to our ideas,
of perfect nature. We have only to
lament, that the fource from whence
it flows is tainted, and conveys a fub-
tle poifon, fatal to the lives of thofe
who indulge, at large, in the tempt-
ing ftream.

In his moral leffons, he gives us
not only the trite apothegm, or
thread-bare maxim ; but he illuftrates
his obfervations by happy allufions,
enlivens them by wit, enforces them
by reafon, and recommends them by
proper examples ; fo that you are not


S E C T I O N I. 7

^y inftrudted, but pleafed, not,
merely, informed, but charmed with
his manner, his language and addrefs :
with much limplicity he has much
purity; and, is, at the fame time,
both €afy and elegant.

He feems to be always calm, re-
colledted and in good humour ; happy
in an uniform tranquillity, the effed:
of natural temper and gaiety of heart ;
and thefe cherifhed and improved by
cultivation, by polite letters, and by
that eafe and ferenity, that indolence,
that independence which every friend
of the Mufes ought, or would be
thought, to be pofTefled of. His for-
tune, his titles and honours might be
affigned as contributing to this happy
fpirit, did we not obferve men pof-
felTed of all thefe, not diftinguifhed
B4 by


by their humanity, their placability,
or good temper.

He is not fo laboured and afFedled-
ly learned as Lord Bolingbroke ; but,
then, he is more clear, more eafy and
agreeable -, and infults not his readers
with fuch a profufion of erudition,
and fuch an exhibition of fuperior
reafoning, upon every fubjedt that oc-
curs, as tend to fpeak him fupreme
didlator, in letters as in politics, in
theology as in philofophy, and, next
to the infinite Creator, the nrft genius
in the univerfe. Lord Chefterfield is,
in his writings, what, we prefume, he
was, in his life ; — humane, chearful,
complaifant and obliging ; entertain-
ing without form, and inftrudive
v/ithout pride or infolence ; defirous,
at the fame time, to pleafe and to

inform ;


inform 5 and aiming to advife as a
friend, rather than to dictate as a

He has a quick and clear concep-
tion on the fubjecSs that lie within
his fphere, — a fine imagination, an
accurate and juft tafte for compofition
and works of genius, with a peculiar
beauty of expreffion ; the allufions he,
oftentimes, makes ufe of, have not,
only, a perfedl propriety, but afingular
delicacy and poetical juftnefs, in their
application. He has not, indeed,
given us much that is new, on the
fubje<ft of criticifm ; but his own
compofition and letters exhibit the
jufteft fpecimen of that corredlnefs,
perfpicuity and elegance, which he
recommended to the pradlice of his
fon : and, a thouiand critical precepts



would not contribute, fo much, to
form a perfed ftyle, as his own

His wit is prompt and natural, yet
keen and manly : and volumes could
fcarce contain a ftronger fatyr againft
pedants and antiquarians, than what
is couched in one fhort fentence,
amongft the directions for his fon's
ftudies : '* Let blockheads read what
blockheads write."

It is much to the honour of Lord
Chefterfield, that, amidft diffipation
and pleafure, the offices and honours
which he fupported, as a Senator and
a Statefman, favoured by fortune and
flattered by the popular voice, he ftill
preferved a good general reputation,
leifure for ftudy and tafte for polite

letters o


letters. He appears to have had a
real love of know^ledge, and to have
made fuch a proficiency in literature,
both ancient and modern, as do dif-
tinguifhed credit to his title and cha-
racter in life ; and the cloiftered fage,
with all the opportunities and advan-
tages of ftudious retreat, may blufh at
his own indolence and ignorance,
when compared with the activity ex-
ercifed, and the range taken, by this
enterprizing genius.

His acquaintance with books was,
indeed, uncommon for a man of qua-
lity; as his tafte and judgment were
more juft and folid than might be ex-
pelled from a man of fafhion ; who,
in forming the charader and direding
the conduft of his fon, recommends


12 S E C T I O N I.

to him, and prefers, fhew to fubftance,
and fplendour to weight.

As a critic, his lordfhip, in con-
formity to the heft modern authors,
both French and Englifli, adopts fim-
plicity and truth, before affedlation,
conceit, refinement, and brilliancy :
and though, we fay, he has given us
nothing new or original, on this fub-
jed:, yet we cannot but regard the
Lord Chefterfield's verdidl as valuable,
and his comment as judicious in fa-
vour of truth, fimplicity and the ge-
nuine beauties of nature.

He has not only a jufl but a refined
tafte, in the polite arts and polite let-
ters. He joins the general approba-
tion and applaufe given to the great


S E C T I O N I. 13

mafters of antiquity ; (except in the
cafe of Homer 5 the natural, the ge-
nuine, and rude manners of whofe he-
roes hurt the delicacy of our modern
man of fafhion). He does juftice to
their general charafters, and fome-
times aptly, points out their particular
beauties. He, acutely, expofes the
afFedled pedant, the fcholar without,
tafte, and the virtuofo without fenti-
ment. He was a more equal judge of
the ancients, than of the moderns : in
his report and character of thefe laft,
he was prejudiced by friend 111 ip, by
paffion, by his morals, and by the
political maxims which concur with
and favour his own.

His imagination was lively, and
his memory ftrong. The traces which
his favourite objed:s, a fine fentiment


14 S E C T I O N I.

in an author, or a quick fenfation of
pleafure had made upon him, feem to
have retained their colour, flavour and
impreffion upon his fancy, to extreme
old age: and, he is happy, enough, in
recolleding and applying the ideas he
had ftored up, in the courfe of his for-
mer polite converfatlon and reading.
Amidft diflipation, pleafure and bu-
finefs, he poiTefled a very clear and
cool head ; and may feem to have ftu-
died his fubjeds on good manners and
the world, as he has treated them, with
all the precifion, attention and accu-
racy of a profeflbr.

Yet difpaflionate as he feems, he
was no reafoner. Wit, which was his
talent, is ftruck, and expedls others
fliould be fo, with the prefent thought,
without regarding confiftency; or pur-


fuing confequences. He has himfelf
pradifed the maxims which he has gi-
ven his fon, and aims more to gain the
paffions than to convince the under-
ftanding of his readers.

Easy in his fortune, content with
his reputation, fatisfied with his rank
and ftation, and finding, or imagining,
himfelf at Hberty to indulge to plea-
fure, to gay amufements and polite
iludies, it does not appear that he
had been in any fignal diftrefs, or ac-
quainted with any weight of forrow,
OF calamity in life. Thus difcharged
from the difcipline of the feverer vir-
tues, he had the greater range for
imagination and pleafure, and was
-converfant and familiar with ideas the
moft gay and feftive in nature, A
ilranger to the wants,, the drudgery



and bufinefs of life, he gave full play
to his genius and confritution; to wit,
to frolic, to delicacy, to the tafte and
fafliion of the world ; and miftakes
pleafure for happi nefs, pomp for
greatnefs, fplendour for glory, and
popular eftimation for real good fame.
Thus difpofed, he devoted, he facri-
ficed himfelf to the Graces, and to
the attainment of fuch qualities and
accompliihments as were heft fitted
to pleafe, to attradt, and raife the ad-
miration of mankind, and to gratify
his own vanity and felfifhnefs. Hence,
he who confidered this world as his
all, was lead to deal, as much as pof-
fible, in the pleafurable, the brilliant,
the fhewy and pompous tracts of life ^
to fludy pleafure as a fcience ; and to
pradife it as others do the ordinary
occupations of life. His heart, his


S E C T I O N I. 17

head, the whole man was infefted with
this enchanting forcerefs. His ftyle in
writing naturally contracled a caft and
colour from his habit of thinking and
acting : and from the man of pleafure,
of tafte and elegance, we expecS, what
we find, in Lord Chefterfield, ideas,
and a didlion gay, refined and elegant.
His lyre anfwered to the pulfe of his
heart, and the enchantrefs pleafure
attunes the notes, and harmonizes the
periods of his compofition. With de-
light we liften to the fyren fong, though
we rejedl the fubjedt and matter with
fcorn, contempt and indignation.

He took, and advifed his friend to
take the gentle, the favourable, the
indulgent fide of moft queftions, and
confequently avoided as much as pof-
fible all occafion of difquiet and difguft.
C This


This world was his paradife -, and he'
made the mod of it. This defpicable
clod, this wildernefs, barren and im-
perfedl as it is, affords many a fertile
fpot, refrefhing ftream, happy fhade
and dehghtful profped: ; he obferved,
he colled:ed, he enjoyed them ; and
if, from thence, he con traded no mo-
ral, no manly, no rational, or religi-
ous joy and Gomplacency; yet, he de-
rived from them a natural, a fenfi-
tive and animal pleafure ; which fap-
ported and recruited his fpirits, and en-
larged and enlivened his imagination.

A COMPOSED and happy temper, a
heart at eafe, and an independent li-
tuation, are perhaps the moft favour-
able circumftances in an author's for-
tune. Traduced by the envious and
malignant,^ hated by the rich, fufpec^-


S E C T I O N I. 19

ed by the proud, and overlooked by
the great, forgotten or coldly refped;-
ed by his friends, and only noticed by
his enemies, he has neither genius to
projed, nor fpirit to profecute any
bold or extenfive fcheme of literature.
Lord Chefterfield was free from all in-
cumbrances of this fort, which might
damp his fpirit, or confine his genius.
Raifed by a patrician and hereditary
patrimony above the wants of nature
and the drudgery of office, fporting in
the lap of pleafure, flattered, carefTed
and celebrated as a wit of the firft or-
der, he was eafily prompted to exert
himfelf, and to difplay thofe admira-
ble talents which God had given him.
His title, his fortune, a confcioufnefs
of his parts and popular character,
feem to have been to him in the place
of a good cpnfcience ; and he might
C 2 be



be thought, by his manner, to have
enjoyed all the peaceable fruits of
righteoufnefs. A confidence in our-
felves naturally arifes from the appro-
bation and applaufe of others; ami
few men living had more of that
applaufe and approbation than Lord
Chefterfield. In good humour with
ourfelves, we are naturally impelled
and properly qualified to fpread good
humour among others : and it would
be injuftice to his lordfliip to deny him
the character of a pleafing and agreeable
writer. As his fpirit was not cramp-
ed by a narrow fortune, fo neither was
his temper foured by difappointment
and diftrefs. Hence his wit is lively,
gay, and frolic, and degenerates not
into that fatyr, fpleen and inventive,
which generally mark the writings of
difcarded and difcontented courtiers ;

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Online LibraryThomas HunterReflections critical and moral on the letters of the late Earl of Chesterfield → online text (page 1 of 9)