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Letters to His Son, 1748 by The Earl of Chesterfield

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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 defense, if I were 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 bumpkins 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 other
people's. He dresses as well, and in the same manner, as the people of
sense and fashion of the place where he is. If he dresses better, as he
thinks, that is, more than they, he is a fop; if he dresses worse, he is
unpardonably negligent. But, of the two, I would rather have a young
fellow too much than too little dressed; the excess on that side will
wear off, with a little age and reflection; but if he is negligent at
twenty, he will be a sloven at forty, and stink at fifty years old.
Dress yourself fine, where others are fine; and plain where others are
plain; but take care always that your clothes are well made, and fit you,
for otherwise they will give you a very awkward air. When you are once
well dressed for the day think no more of it afterward; and, without any
stiffness for fear of discomposing that dress, let all your motions be as
easy and natural as if you had no clothes on at all. So much for dress,
which I maintain to be a thing of consequence in the polite world.

As to manners, good-breeding, and the Graces, I have so often entertained
you upon those important subjects, that I can add nothing to what I have
formerly said. Your own good sense will suggest to you the substance of
them; and observation, experience, and good company, the several modes of
them. Your great vivacity, which I hear of from many people, will be no
hindrance to your pleasing in good company: on the contrary, will be of
use to you, if tempered by good-breeding and accompanied by the Graces.
But then, I suppose your vivacity to be a vivacity of parts, and not a
constitutional restlessness; for the most disagreeable composition that I
know in the world, is that of strong animal spirits, with a cold genius.
Such a fellow is troublesomely active, frivolously busy, foolishly
lively; talks much with little meaning, and laughs more, with less reason
whereas, in my opinion, a warm and lively genius with a cool
constitution, is the perfection of human nature.

Do what you will at Berlin, provided you do but do something all day
long. All that I desire of you is, that you will never slattern away one
minute in idleness and in doing of nothing. When you are (not)in
company, learn what either books, masters, or Mr. Harte, can teach you;
and when you are in company, learn (what company can only teach you) the
characters and manners of mankind. I really ask your pardon for giving
you this advice; because, if you are a rational creature and thinking
being, as I suppose, and verily believe you are, it must be unnecessary,
and to a certain degree injurious. If I did not know by experience, that
some men pass their whole time in doing nothing, I should not think it
possible for any being, superior to Monsieur Descartes' automatons, to
squander away, in absolute idleness, one single minute of that small
portion of time which is allotted us in this world.

I have lately seen one Mr. Cranmer, a very sensible merchant, who told me
that he had dined with you, and seen you often at Leipsig. And yesterday
I saw an old footman of mine, whom I made a messenger, who told me that
he had seen you last August. You will easily imagine, that I was not the
less glad to see them because they had seen you; and I examined them both
narrowly, in their respective departments; the former as to your mind,
the latter, as to your body. Mr. Cranmer gave me great satisfaction,
not only by what he told me of himself concerning you, but by what he was
commissioned to tell me from Mr. Mascow. As he speaks German perfectly
himself, I asked him how you spoke it; and he assured me very well for
the time, and that a very little more practice would make you perfectly
master of it. The messenger told me that you were much grown, and, to
the best of his guess, within two inches as tall as I am; that you were
plump, and looked healthy and strong; which was all that I could expect,
or hope, from the sagacity of the person.

I send you, my dear child (and you will not doubt it), very sincerely,
the wishes of the season. May you deserve a great number of happy New-
years; and, if you deserve, may you have them. Many New-years, indeed,
you may see, but happy ones you cannot see without deserving them.
These, virtue, honor, and knowledge, alone can merit, alone can procure,
'Dii tibi dent annos, de te nam cetera sumes', was a pretty piece of
poetical flattery, where it was said: I hope that, in time, it may be no
flattery when said to you. But I assure you, that wherever I cannot
apply the latter part of the line to you with truth, I shall neither say,
think, or wish the former. Adieu!


A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Above all things, avoid speaking of yourself
Above the frivolous as below the important and the secret
Abroad but they stay at home all that while
Absolute command of your temper
Abstain from learned ostentation
Absurd term of genteel and fashionable vices
Advice is seldom welcome
Affectation whatsoever in dress
Always look people in the face when you speak to them
Ancients and Moderns
Argumentative, polemical conversations
As willing and as apt to be pleased as anybody
Better not to seem to understand, than to reply
Cannot understand them, or will not desire to understand them
Cardinal de Retz
Cardinal Virtues, by first degrading them into weaknesses
Cautious how we draw inferences
Chameleon, be able to take every different hue
Cheerful in the countenance, but without laughing
Common sense (which, in truth, very uncommon)
Commonplace observations
Consciousness and an honest pride of doing well
Conversation will help you almost as much as books
Conversation-stock being a joint and common property
Converse with his inferiors without insolence
Deriving all our actions from the source of self-love
Deserve a little, and you shall have but a little
Desirous of praise from the praiseworthy
Dexterity enough to conceal a truth without telling a lie
Difficulties seem to them, impossibilities
Distinguish between the useful and the curious
Do as you would be done by
Do what you will but do something all day long
Either do not think, or do not love to think
Equally forbid insolent contempt, or low envy and jealousy
Even where you are sure, seem rather doubtful
Every virtue, has its kindred vice or weakness
Fiddle-faddle stories, that carry no information along with the
Flattery of women
Forge accusations against themselves
Forgive, but not approve, the bad
Frank, open, and ingenuous exterior, with a prudent interior
Gain the affections as well as the esteem
Generosity often runs into profusion
Go to the bottom of things
Good company
Graces: Without us, all labor is vain
Great learning; which, if not accompanied with sound judgment
Great numbers of people met together, animate each other
Habit and prejudice
Half done or half known
Hardly any body good for every thing
Have a will and an opinion of your own, and adhere
Have but one set of jokes to live upon
He will find it out of himself without your endeavors
Heart has such an influence over the understanding
Helps only, not as guides
Honest error is to be pitied, not ridiculed
Honestest man loves himself best
How much you have to do; and how little time to do it in
I hope, I wish, I doubt, and fear alternately
I shall always love you as you shall deserve
If you would convince others, seem open to conviction yourself
Impertinent insult upon custom and fashion
Inaction at your age is unpardonable
Jealous of being slighted
Judge them all by their merits, but not by their ages
Keep good company, and company above yourself
Know their real value, and how much they are generally overrated
Knowledge is like power in this respect
Knowledge of a scholar with the manners of a courtier
Laughing, I must particularly warn you against it
Lazy mind, and the trifling, frivolous mind
Let me see more of you in your letters
Little minds mistake little objects for great ones
Loud laughter is the mirth of the mob
Low buffoonery, or silly accidents, that always excite laughter
Low company, most falsely and impudently, call pleasure
Luther's disappointed avarice
Make yourself necessary
Manner of doing things is often more important
Manners must adorn knowledge
May not forget with ease what you have with difficulty learned
More one sees, the less one either wonders or admires
More you know, the modester you should be
Mortifying inferiority in knowledge, rank, fortune
Most long talkers single out some one unfortunate man in compan
Much sooner forgive an injustice than an insult
Mystical nonsense
Name that we leave behind at one place often gets before us
Neglect them in little things, they will leave you in great
Negligence of it implies an indifference about pleasing
Neither retail nor receive scandal willingly
Never quit a subject till you are thoroughly master of it
Never seem wiser, nor more learned, than the people you are wit
Never slattern away one minute in idleness
Never to speak of yourself at all
Not one minute of the day in which you do nothing at all
Not to admire anything too much
Oftener led by their hearts than by their understandings
Out of livery; which makes them both impertinent and useless
Overvalue what we do not know
Pay your own reckoning, but do not treat the whole company
People angling for praise
People never desire all till they have gotten a great deal
Plain notions of right and wrong
Planted while young, that degree of knowledge now my refuge
Pleased to some degree by showing a desire to please
Pleasing in company is the only way of being pleased in yourself
Pleasure and business with equal inattention
Prefer useful to frivolous conversations
Pride remembers it forever
Prudent reserve
Reason ought to direct the whole, but seldom does
Refuge of people who have neither wit nor invention of their ow
Refuse more gracefully than other people could grant
Represent, but do not pronounce
Rough corners which mere nature has given to the smoothest
Scandal: receiver is always thought, as bad as the thief
Scarcely any body who is absolutely good for nothing
Scrupled no means to obtain his ends
Seeming frankness with a real reserve
Seeming openness is prudent
Self-love draws a thick veil between us and our faults
Serious without being dull
Shepherds and ministers are both men
Some complaisance and attention to fools is prudent, and not me
Some men pass their whole time in doing nothing
Something or other is to be got out of everybody
Take nothing for granted, upon the bare authority of the author
Take, rather than give, the tone of the company you are in
Talk often, but never long
Talk sillily upon a subject of other people's
Talking of either your own or other people's domestic affairs
Tell me whom you live with, and I will tell you who you are
Tell stories very seldom
Tenderness and affection with which, while you deserve them
The best have something bad, and something little
The worst have something good, and sometimes something great
Thin veil of Modesty drawn before Vanity
Thoroughly, not superficially
To know people's real sentiments, I trust much more to my eyes
Unopened, because one title in twenty has been omitted
Value of moments, when cast up, is immense
Vanity, that source of many of our follies
What displeases or pleases you in others
What you feel pleases you in them
When well dressed for the day think no more of it afterward
Will not so much as hint at our follies
Witty without satire or commonplace
Wrongs are often forgiven; but contempt never is
You had much better hold your tongue than them
Your merit and your manners can alone raise you

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