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PHILIP DORMER STAN HOPE, EARL OF CHESTERFIELD.
Po STANHOPE, Earl of Chesterfield, was born in 1694. Although his works are pretty numerous and all of them written in an excellent style, yet the only one which has remained popular is his ‘Letters to his Son.” published after his death, which occurred in 1773. The style of these letters is exceedingly
A. E7'7"E.R.S Z'O HAS SOAV.
Pleasure is the rock which most young people split upon: they launch out with crowded sails in quest of it, but without a compass to direct their course, or reason sufficient to steer the vessel; for want of which, pain and shame, instead of pleasure, are the returns of their voyage. Do not think that I mean to snarl at pleasure, like a Stoic, or to preach against it, like a parson; no, I mean, to point it out and recommend it to you, like an Epicurean, I wish you a great deal, and my only view is to hinder you from mistaking it.
The character which most young men first aim at, is that of a man of pleasure; but they generally take it upon trust; and, instead of consulting their own taste and inclinations, they blindly adopt whatever those, with whom they chiefly converse, are pleased to call by the name of pleasure; and a man of pleasure, in the vulgar acceptation of that phrase, means only a beastly drunkard, and a profligate swearer and curser. As it may be of use to you, I am not unwilling, though at the same time ashamed, to own, that the vices of my youth proceeded much more from my silly resolution of being what I heard called a man of pleasure, than from my own inclinations. I always naturally hated drinking; and yet I have often drunk, with disgust at the time, attended by great sickness the next day, only because I then considered drinking as a necessary qualification for a fine gentleman and a man of pleasure.
The same as to gaming. I did not
pure; they treat generally of the education of the mind and body, and of the character becoming a man of the world, but their morality cannot be said to be high-toned. The Earl of Chesterfield was more distinguished as a politician and a diplomatist than as an author.
want money and consequently had no occasion to play for it; but I thought play another necessary ingredient in the composition of a man of pleasure, and accordingly I plunged into it without desire at first, sacrificed a thousand real pleasures to it, and made myself solidly uneasy by it, for thirty of the best years of my life. I was even absurd enough, for a little while, to swear, by way of adorning and completing the shining character which I affected; but this folly I soon laid aside, upon finding both the guilt and the indecency of it. Thus seduced by fashion, and blindly adopting nominal pleasures I lost real ones; and my fortune impaired and my constitution shattered are, I must confess, the just punishment of my errors. Take warning then by them; choose your pleasures for yourself and do not let them be imposed upon you. Follow nature and not fashion; weigh the present enjoyment of your pleasures, against the necessary consequences of them, and then let your own common sense determine your choice. Were I to begin the world again, with the experience which I now have of it, I would lead a life of real, not of imaginary pleasure. I would enjoy the pleasures of the table and of wine, but stop short of the pains inseparably annexed to an excess in either. I would not, at twenty years, be a preaching missionary of abstemiousness and sobriety; and I should let other people do as they would, without formally and sententiously rebuking them of it; but I would be most firmly resolved not to destroy my own faculties and constitution, in complaisance to those who have no regard to their own. I would
play to give me pleasure, but not to give me pain; that is, I would play for trifles, in mixed companies, to amuse myself, and conform to custom; but I would take care not to venture for sums, which, if I won, I should not be the better for, but, if I lost, should be under a difficulty to pay, and, when paid, would oblige me to retrench in several other articles. Not to mention the quarrels which deep play commonly Occasl Ons. I would pass some of my time in reading, and the rest in the company of people of sense and learning, and chiefly those above me; and I would frequent the mixed companies of men and women of fashion, which, though often frivolous, yet unbend and refresh the mind, not uselessly, because they certainly polish and soften the manners. These would be my pleasures and amusements, if I were to live the last thirty years over again; they are rational ones; and moreover I will tell you, they are really the fashionable ones; for the others are not, in truth, the pleasures of what I call people of fashion, but of those who only call themselves so. Does good company care to have a man reeling drunk among them? or to see another tearing his hair, and blaspheming, for having lost, at play, more than he is able to pay? No; those who practise, and much more those, who brag of them, make no part of good company; and are most unwillingly, if ever, admitted into it. A real man of fashion and pleasure observes decency, at least neither borrows nor affects vices; and if he unfortunately has any, he gratifies them with choice, delicacy and secrecy. I have not mentioned the pleasures of the mind, (which are the solid and permanent ones) because they do not come under the head of what people commonly call pleasures; which they seem to confine to the senses. The pleasure of virtue, of charity and of learning is true and lasting pleasure; with which I hope you will be long and well acquainted. Adieu.
People of your age have commonly an unguarded frankness about them, which makes them the easy prey and bubble of the artful and the experienced; they look upon every knave or fool who tells them, that he is their friend, to be really so; and pay that profession of simulated friendship, with an indiscreet and unbounded confidence, always to their loss, often to their ruin. Beware, therefore, now, that you are coming into the world, of these proffered friendships. Receive them with great civility, but with great incredulity too; and pay them with compliments, but not with confidence. Do not let your vanity and self-love make you suppose, that people become your friends at first sight, or even upon a short acquaintance. Real friendship is a slow grower, and never thrives, unless ingrafted upon a stock of known and reciprocal merit. There is another kind of nominal friendship among young people, which is warm for the time, but by good luck of short duration. This friendship is hastily produced, by their being accidentally thrown together, and pursuing the same course of riot and debauchery. A fine friendship, truly 1 and well cemented by drunkenness and lewdness. It should rather be called a conspiracy against morals and good manners, and be punished as such by the civil magistrate. However, they have the impudence and the folly to call this confederacy a friendship. They lend one another money for bad purposes; they engage in quarrels, offensive and defensive, for their accomplices; they tell one another all they know, and often more too; when, of a sudden, some accident disperses them, and they think no more of each other, unless it be to betray and laugh at their imprudent confidence. Remember to make a great difference between companions and friends; for a very complaisant and agreeable companion may be, and very often proves, a very improper, and a very dangerous friend. People will, in a great degree, and not without reason, form their opinion of you, upon that which they have of your friends; and there is a Spanish proverb, which says very justly, “Tell me whom you live with, and I will tell you who you are.’ One may fairly suppose, that a man who makes a knave or a fool his friend, has something very bad to do or to conceal. But, at the same time that you carefully decline the friendship of knaves and fools, if it can be called friendship, there is no occasion to make either of them your enemies, wantonly and unprovoked; for they are numerous bodies; and I would rather choose a secure neutrality, than an alliance or war with either of them. You may be a declared enemy to their vices and follies, without being marked out by them as a personal one. Their enmity is the next dangerous thing to their friendship. Have a real reserve with almost every body; and have a seeming reserve with almost nobody; for it is very disagreeable to seem reserved, and very dangerous not to be so. Few people find the true medium; many are ridiculously mysterious and reserved upon trifles, and many imprudently communicative of all they know. The next to the choice of your friends is the choice of your company. Endeavour, as much as you can, to keep company with people above you. There you rise, as much as you sink with people below you; for (as I have mentioned before) you are, whatever the company you keep is. Do not mistake, when I say, company above you, and think that I mean with regard to their birth; that is the least consideration; but I mean, with regard to their merit, and the light in which the world considers them. 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 my
self 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. What I mean by low company, which should by all means be avoided, is the company of those, who absolutely insignificant and contemptible in themselves, think they are honoured by being in your company, and who flatter every vice and every folly you have, in order to engage you to converse with them. The pride of being the first of the company, is but too common; but it is very silly and very prejudicial. Nothing in the world lets down a character more, than that wrong turn. You may possibly ask me, whether a man has it always in his power to get into the best company? and how I say, yes, he has, by deserving it; rovided, he is but in circumstances which enable him to appear upon the footing of a gentleman. Merit and good-breeding will make their way every where. Knowledge will introduce him, and good-breeding will endear him to the best companies; for, as I have often told you, politeness and good-breeding are absolutely necessary to adorn any or all other good qualities or talents. Without them, no knowledge, no profession whatsoever, is seen in the best light. The scholar without good-breeding is a pedant; the philosopher, a cynic; the soldier, a brute, and every man disagreeable. I long to hear, from my several correspondents at Leipsic of your arrival there; and what impression you make on them at first; for I have Arguses, with an hundred eyes each, who will watch you narrowly, and relate to me faithfully. My accounts will certainly be true; it depends upon you, entirely, of what kind they shall be. Adieu.
My dear friend, Very few people are good economists of their fortune, and still fewer of their time; and yet, of the two, the latter is the most precious. I heartily wish
you to be a good economist of both; and you are now of age, to begin to think seriously of these two important articles. Young people are not to think they have so much time before them, that they may squander what they please of it, and yet have enough left; as very great fortunes have frequently seduced people to a ruinous profusion. Fatal mistakes, always repented of, but always too late! Old Mr. Lowndes, the famous Secretary of the Treasury in the reigns of King William, Queen Anne and King George the first, used to say, “take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves.” To this maxim, which he not only preached, but practised, his two grandsons, at this time, owe the very considerable fortunes that he left them. This holds equally true as to time; and I most earnestly recommend to you the care of those minutes and quarters of hours, in the course of the day, which people think too short to deserve their attention; and yet, if summed up at the end of the year, would amount to a very considerable portion of time. For example, you are to be at such a place at twelve, by appointment; you go out at eleven, to make two or three visits first; those persons are not at home; instead of sauntering away that intermediate time at a coffee-house and possibly alone, return home, write a letter, before-hand for the ensuing post, or take up a good book, I do not mean Descartes, Mallebranche, Locke or Newton, by way of dipping, but some book of rational amusement, and detached pieces, as Horace, Boileau, Waller, La Bruyère etc. This will be so much time saved, and by no means ill-employed. Many people lose a great deal of time by reading; for they read frivolous and idle books, such as the absurd romances of the two last centuries where characters, that never existed, are insipidly displayed, and sentiments, that were never felt, pompously described. Stick to the best established books in every language; the celebrated poets, historians, orators, or philosophers. By these means (to
use a city metaphor) you will make fifty per cent of that time, of which others do not make above three or four, or probably nothing at all. Many people lose a great deal of their time by laziness; they loll and yawn in a great chair, tell themselves that they have not time to begin any thing then, and that it will do as well another time. This is a most unfortunate disposition, and the greatest obstruction to both knowledge and business. At your age you have no right nor claim to laziness; I have, if I please, being emeritus. You are but just listed in the world, and must be active, diligent and indefatigable. If ever you propose commanding with dignity, you must serve up to it with diligence. Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day. Dispatch is the soul of business; and nothing contributes more to dispatch than method. Lay down a method for every thing, and stick to it inviolably as far as unexpected incidents may allow. Fix one certain hour and day in the week for your accompts, and keep them together in their propel order; by which means they will require very little time and you can never be much cheated. Whatever letters and papers you keep, docket and tie them up in their respective classes, so that you may have instantly recourse to any one. Lay down a method also for your reading, for which you allot a certain share of your mornings. Let it be in a consistent and consecutive course, and not in that desultory and immethodical manner, in which many people read scraps of different authors upon different subjects. Keep a useful and short common-place book of what you read to help your memory only, and not for pedantic quotations. Never read history without having maps, and a chronological book or tables, lying by you and constantly recurred to; without which history is only a confused heap of facts. One method more I recommend to you, by which I have found great benefit, even in the most dissipated part of my life; this is, to rise early, and at the same hour every morning, how late soever you may have sat up the night before. This secures you an hour or two, at least, of reading or reflection, before the common interruptions of the morning begin; and it will save your constitution, by forcing you to go to bed early, at least one night in three. You will say, it may be, as many young people would, that all this order and method is very troublesome, only fit for dull people, and a disagreeable restraint upon the noble spirit and fire of youth. I deny it; and assert, on the contrary, that it will procure you, both more time and more taste of your pleasures; and so far from being troublesome to you, that after you have pursued it a month, it would be troublesome to you to lay it aside. Business whets the appetite, and gives a taste to pleasures, as exercise does to food; and business can never be done without method; it raises the spirits for pleasures; and a spectacle, a ball, an assembly will much more sensibly affect a man who has employed, than a man who has lost the preceding part of the day. The same listlessness runs through his whole conduct, and he is as insipid in his pleasures, as inefficient in every thing else. I wish to God that you had as much pleasure in following my advice, as I have in giving it you! and you may the more easily have it, as I give you none that is inconsistent with your pleasure. In all that I say to you, it is your interest alone that I consider; trust to my experience, you know you may to my affection. Adieu.
to shew great indulgence to a new actor: yet, from the first impression which he makes upon them, they are apt to decide, in their own minds at least, whether he will ever be a good one or not. If he seems to understand what he says, by speaking it properly; if he is attentive to his part, instead of staring negligently about; and if, upon the whole, he seems ambitious to please; they willingly pass over little awkwardnesses and inaccuracies, which they ascribe to a commendable modesty in a young and inexperienced actor. They pronounce that he will be a good one in time; and, by the encouragement which they give him, make him so the sooner. This, I hope, will be your case: you have sense enough to understand your part: a constant attention and ambition to excel in it, with a careful observation of the best actors, will inevitably qualify you, if not for the first, at least for considerable parts.
Your dress (as insignificant a thing as dress is in itself) is now become an object worthy of some attention; for, I confess, I cannot help forming some opinion of a man's sense and character from his dress; and, I believe most people do, as well as myself. Any affectation whatsoever in dress, implies, in my mind, a flaw in the understanding. Most of our young fellows, here, display some character or other by their dress; some affect the tremendous, and wear a great and fiercely cocked hat, an enormous sword, a short waistcoat, and a black cravat; these I should be almost tempted to swear the peace against, in my own defence, if I was not convinced that they are but meek asses in lions' skins. Others go in brown frocks, leather breeches, great oaken cudgels in their hands, their hats uncocked, and their hair unpowdered: and imitate grooms, stage-coachmen, and country-bumbkins, so well in their outsides, that I do not make the least doubt of their resembling them equally in their insides. A man of sense carefully avoids any particular character in his dress: he is accurately clean for his own sake, but all the rest is for