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Letters to His Son, 1749 by The Earl of Chesterfield

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LONDON, December 16, O. S. 1749.

DEAR Boy: This letter will, I hope, find you safely arrived and well
settled at Rome, after the usual distresses and accidents of a winter
journey; which are very proper to teach you patience. Your stay there I
look upon as a very important period of your life; and I do believe that
you will fill it up well. I hope you will employ the mornings diligently
with Mr. Harte, in acquiring weight; and the evenings in the best
companies at Rome, in acquiring lustre. A formal, dull father, would
recommend to you to plod out the evenings, too, at home, over a book by a
dim taper; but I recommend to you the evenings for your pleasures, which
are as much a part of your education, and almost as necessary a one, as
your morning studies. Go to whatever assemblies or SPECTACLES people of
fashion go to, and when you are there do as they do. Endeavor to
outshine those who shine there the most, get the 'Garbo', the
'Gentilezza', the 'Leggeadria' of the; Italians; make love to the most
impertinent beauty of condition that you meet with, and be gallant with
all the rest. Speak Italian, right or wrong, to everybody; and if you do
but laugh at yourself first for your bad Italian, nobody else will laugh
at you for it. That is the only way to speak it perfectly; which I
expect you will do, because I am sure you may, before you leave Rome.
View the most curious remains of antiquity with a classical spirit; and
they will clear up to you many passages of the classical authors;
particularly the Trajan and Antonine Columns; where you find the warlike
instruments, the dresses, and the triumphal ornaments of the Romans. Buy
also the prints and explanations of all those respectable remains of
Roman grandeur, and compare them with the originals. Most young
travelers are contented with a general view of those things, say they are
very fine, and then go about their business. I hope you will examine
them in a very different way. 'Approfondissez' everything you see or
hear; and learn, if you can, the WHY and the WHEREFORE. Inquire into the
meaning and the objects of the innumerable processions, which you will
see at Rome at this time. Assist at all the ceremonies, and know the
reason, or at least the pretenses of them, and however absurd they may
be, see and speak of them with great decency. Of all things, I beg of
you not to herd with your own countrymen, but to be always either with
the Romans, or with the foreign ministers residing at Rome. You are sent
abroad to see the manners and characters, and learn the languages of
foreign countries; and not to converse with English, in English; which
would defeat all those ends. Among your graver company, I recommend (as
I have done before) the Jesuits to you; whose learning and address will
both please and improve you; inform yourself, as much as you can, of the
history, policy, and practice of that society, from the time of its
founder, Ignatius of Loyola, who was himself a madman. If you would know
their morality, you will find it fully and admirably stated in 'Les
Lettres d'un Provincial', by the famous Monsieur Pascal; and it is a book
very well worth your reading. Few people see what they see, or hear what
they hear; that is, they see and hear so inattentively and superficially,
that they are very little the better for what they do see and hear.
This, I dare say, neither is, nor will be your case. You will
understand, reflect upon, and consequently retain, what you see and hear.
You have still two years good, but no more, to form your character in the
world decisively; for, within two months after your arrival in England,
it will be finally and irrevocably determined, one way or another, in the
opinion of the public. Devote, therefore, these two years to the pursuit
of perfection; which ought to be everybody's object, though in some
particulars unattainable; those who strive and labor the most, will come
the nearest to it. But, above all things, aim at it in the two important
arts of speaking and pleasing; without them all your other talents are
maimed and crippled. They are the wings upon which you must soar above
other people; without them you will only crawl with the dull mass of
mankind. Prepossess by your air, address, and manners; persuade by your
tongue; and you will easily execute what your head has contrived. I
desire that you will send me very minute accounts from Rome, not of what
you see, but, of who you see; of your pleasures and entertainments. Tell
me what companies you frequent most, and how you are received.


LONDON, December 19, O. S. 1749.

DEAR BOY: The knowledge of mankind is a very use ful knowledge for
everybody; a most necessary one for you, who are destined to an active,
public life. You will have to do with all sorts of characters; you
should, therefore, know them thoroughly, in order to manage them ably.
This knowledge is not to be gotten systematically; you must acquire it
yourself by your own observation and sagacity; I will give you such hints
as I think may be useful land-marks in your intended progress.

I have often told you (and it is most true) that, with regard to mankind,
we must not draw general conclusions from certain particular principles,
though, in the main, true ones. We must not suppose that, because a man
is a rational animal, he will therefore always act rationally; or,
because he has such or such a predominant passion, that he will act
invariably and consequentially in the pursuit of it. No. We are
complicated machines: and though we have one main-spring, that gives
motion to the whole, we have an infinity of little wheels, which, in
their turns, retard, precipitate, and sometimes stop that motion. Let us
exemplify. I will suppose ambition to be (as it commonly is) the
predominant passion of a minister of state; and I will suppose that
minister to be an able one. Will he, therefore, invariably pursue the
object of that predominant passion? May I be sure that he will do so and
so, because he ought? Nothing less. Sickness or low spirits, may damp
this predominant passion; humor and peevishness may triumph over it;
inferior passions may, at times, surprise it and prevail. Is this
ambitious statesman amorous? Indiscreet and unguarded confidences, made
in tender moments, to his wife or his mistress, may defeat all his
schemes. Is he avaricious? Some great lucrative object, suddenly
presenting itself, may unravel all the work of his ambition. Is he
passionate? Contradiction and provocation (sometimes, it may be, too,
artfully intended) may extort rash and inconsiderate expressions, or
actions destructive of his main object. Is he vain, and open to
flattery? An artful, flattering favorite may mislead him; and even
laziness may, at certain moments, make him neglect or omit the necessary
steps to that height at which he wants to arrive. Seek first, then, for
the predominant passion of the character which you mean to engage and
influence, and address yourself to it; but without defying or despising
the inferior passions; get them in your interest too, for now and then
they will have their turns. In many cases, you may not have it in your
power to contribute to the gratification of the prevailing passion; then
take the next best to your aid. There are many avenues to every man; and
when you cannot get at him through the great one, try the serpentine
ones, and you will arrive at last.

There are two inconsistent passions, which, however, frequently accompany
each other, like man and wife; and which, like man and wife too, are
commonly clogs upon each other. I mean ambition and avarice: the latter
is often the true cause of the former, and then is the predominant
passion. It seems to have been so in Cardinal Mazarin, who did anything,
submitted to anything, and forgave anything, for the sake of plunder.
He loved and courted power, like a usurer, because it carried profit
along with it. Whoever should have formed his opinion, or taken his
measures, singly, from the ambitious part of Cardinal Mazarin's
character, would have found himself often mistaken. Some who had found
this out, made their fortunes by letting him cheat them at play. On the
contrary, Cardinal Richelieu's prevailing passion seems to have been
ambition, and his immense riches only the natural consequences of that
ambition gratified; and yet, I make no doubt, but that ambition had now
and then its turn with the former, and avarice with the latter.
Richelieu (by the way) is so strong a proof of the inconsistency of human
nature, that I cannot help observing to you, that while he absolutely
governed both his king and his country, and was, in a great degree, the
arbiter of the fate of all Europe, he was more jealous of the great
reputation of Corneille than of the power of Spain; and more flattered
with being thought (what he was not) the best poet, than with being
thought (what he certainly was) the greatest statesman in Europe; and
affairs stood still while he was concerting the criticism upon the Cid.
Could one think this possible, if one did not know it to be true? Though
men are all of one composition, the several ingredients are so
differently proportioned in each individual, that no two are exactly
alike; and no one at all times like himself. The ablest man will
sometimes do weak things; the proudest man, mean things; the honestest
man, ill things; and the wickedest man, good ones. Study individuals
then, and if you take (as you ought to do,) their outlines from their
prevailing passion, suspend your last finishing strokes till you have
attended to, and discovered the operations of their inferior passions,
appetites, and humors. A man's general character may be that of the
honestest man of the world: do not dispute it; you might be thought
envious or ill-natured; but, at the same time, do not take this probity
upon trust to such a degree as to put your life, fortune, or reputation
in his power. This honest man may happen to be your rival in power, in
interest, or in love; three passions that often put honesty to most
severe trials, in which it is too often cast; but first analyze this
honest man yourself; and then only you will be able to judge how far you
may, or may not, with safety trust him.

Women are much more like each other than men: they have, in truth, but
two passions, vanity and love; these are their universal characteristics.
An Agrippina may sacrifice them to ambition, or a Messalina to lust; but
those instances are rare; and, in general, all they say, and all they do,
tends to the gratification of their vanity or their love. He who
flatters them most, pleases them best; and they are the most in love with
him, who they think is the most in love with them. No adulation is too
strong for them; no assiduity too great; no simulation of passion too
gross; as, on the other hand, the least word or action that can possibly
be construed into a slight or contempt, is unpardonable, and never
forgotten. Men are in this respect tender too, and will sooner forgive
an injury than an insult. Some men are more captious than others; some
are always wrongheaded; but every man living has such a share of vanity,
as to be hurt by marks of slight and contempt. Every man does not
pretend to be a poet, a mathematician, or a statesman, and considered as
such; but every man pretends to common sense, and to fill his place in
the world with common decency; and, consequently, does not easily forgive
those negligences, inattentions and slights which seem to call in
question, or utterly deny him both these pretensions.

Suspect, in general, those who remarkably affect any one virtue; who
raise it above all others, and who, in a manner, intimate that they
possess it exclusively. I say suspect them, for they are commonly
impostors; but do not be sure that they are always so; for I have
sometimes known saints really religious, blusterers really brave,
reformers of manners really honest, and prudes really chaste. Pry into
the recesses of their hearts yourself, as far as you are able, and never
implicitly adopt a character upon common fame; which, though generally
right as to the great outlines of characters, is always wrong in some

Be upon your guard against those who upon very slight acquaintance,
obtrude their unasked and unmerited friendship and confidence upon you;
for they probably cram you with them only for their own eating; but, at
the same time, do not roughly reject them upon that general supposition.
Examine further, and see whether those unexpected offers flow from a warm
heart and a silly head, or from a designing head and a cold heart; for
knavery and folly have often the same symptoms. In the first case, there
is no danger in accepting them, 'valeant quantum valere possunt'. In the
latter case, it may be useful to seem to accept them, and artfully to
turn the battery upon him who raised it.

There is an incontinency of friendship among young fellows, who are
associated by their mutual pleasures only, which has, very frequently,
bad consequences. A parcel of warm hearts and inexperienced heads,
heated by convivial mirth, and possibly a little too much wine, vow, and
really mean at the time, eternal friendships to each other, and
indiscreetly pour out their whole souls in common, and without the least
reserve. These confidences are as indiscreetly repealed as they were
made; for new pleasures and new places soon dissolve this ill-cemented
connection; and then very ill uses are made of these rash confidences.
Bear your part, however, in young companies; nay, excel, if you can, in
all the social and convivial joy and festivity that become youth. Trust
them with your love tales, if you please; but keep your serious views
secret. Trust those only to some tried friend, more experienced than
yourself, and who, being in a different walk of life from you, is not
likely to become your rival; for I would not advise you to depend so much
upon the heroic virtue of mankind, as to hope or believe that your
competitor will ever be your friend, as to the object of that

These are reserves and cautions very necessary to have, but very
imprudent to show; the 'volto sciolto' should accompany them. Adieu.


DEAR BOY: Great talents and great virtues (if you should have them) will
procure you the respect and the admiration of mankind; but it is the
lesser talents, the 'leniores virtutes', which must procure you their
love and affection. The former, unassisted and unadorned by the latter,
will extort praise; but will, at the same time, excite both fear and
envy; two sentiments absolutely incompatible with love and affection.

Caesar had all the great vices, and Cato all the great virtues, that men
could have. But Caesar had the 'leniores virtutes' which Cato wanted,
and which made him beloved, even by his enemies, and gained him the
hearts of mankind, in spite of their reason: while Cato was not even
beloved by his friends, notwithstanding the esteem and respect which they
could not refuse to his virtues; and I am apt to think, that if Caesar
had wanted, and Cato possessed, those 'leniores virtutes', the former
would not have attempted (at least with success), and the latter could
have protected, the liberties of Rome. Mr. Addison, in his "Cato," says
of Caesar (and I believe with truth),

"Curse on his virtues, they've undone his country."

By which he means those lesser, but engaging virtues of gentleness,
affability, complaisance, and good humor. The knowledge of a scholar,
the courage of a hero, and the virtue of a Stoic, will be admired; but if
the knowledge be accompanied with arrogance, the courage with ferocity,
and the virtue with inflexible severity, the man will never be loved.
The heroism of Charles XII. of Sweden (if his brutal courage deserves
that name) was universally admired, but the man nowhere beloved. Whereas
Henry IV. of France, who had full as much courage, and was much longer
engaged in wars, was generally beloved upon account of his lesser and
social virtues. We are all so formed, that our understandings are
generally the DUPES of our hearts, that is, of our passions; and the
surest way to the former is through the latter, which must be engaged by
the 'leniores virtutes' alone, and the manner of exerting them. The
insolent civility of a proud man is (for example) if possible, more
shocking than his rudeness could be; because he shows you by his manner
that he thinks it mere condescension in him; and that his goodness alone
bestows upon you what you have no pretense to claim. He intimates his
protection, instead of his friendship, by a gracious nod, instead of a
usual bow; and rather signifies his consent that you may, than his
invitation that you should sit, walk, eat, or drink with him.

The costive liberality of a purse-proud man insults the distresses it
sometimes relieves; he takes care to make you feel your own misfortunes,
and the difference between your situation and his; both which he
insinuates to be justly merited: yours, by your folly; his, by his
wisdom. The arrogant pedant does not communicate, but promulgates his
knowledge. He does not give it you, but he inflicts it upon you; and is
(if possible) more desirous to show you your own ignorance than his own
learning. Such manners as these, not only in the particular instances
which I have mentioned, but likewise in all others, shock and revolt that
little pride and vanity which every man has in his heart; and obliterate
in us the obligation for the favor conferred, by reminding us of the
motive which produced, and the manner which accompanied it.

These faults point out their opposite perfections, and your own good
sense will naturally suggest them to you.

But besides these lesser virtues, there are what may be called the lesser
talents, or accomplishments, which are of great use to adorn and
recommend all the greater; and the more so, as all people are judges of
the one, and but few are of the other. Everybody feels the impression,
which an engaging address, an agreeable manner of speaking, and an easy
politeness, makes upon them; and they prepare the way for the favorable
reception of their betters. Adieu.


LONDON, December 26, O. S. 1749.

MY DEAR FRIEND: The new year is the season in which custom seems more
particularly to authorize civil and harmless lies, under the name of
compliments. People reciprocally profess wishes which they seldom form;
and concern, which they seldom feel. This is not the case between you
and me, where truth leaves no room for compliments.

'Dii tibi dent annos, de to nam caetera sumes', was said formerly to one
by a man who certainly did not think it. With the variation of one word
only, I will with great truth say it to you. I will make the first part
conditional by changing, in the second, the 'nam' into 'si'. May you
live as long as you are fit to live, but no longer! or may you rather die
before you cease to be fit to live, than after! My true tenderness for
you makes me think more of the manner than of the length of your life,
and forbids me to wish it prolonged, by a single day, that should bring
guilt, reproach, and shame upon you. I have not malice enough in my
nature, to wish that to my greatest enemy. You are the principal object
of all my cares, the only object of all my hopes; I have now reason to
believe, that you will reward the former, and answer the latter; in that
case, may you live long, for you must live happy; 'de te nam caetera
sumes'. Conscious virtue is the only solid foundation of all happiness;
for riches, power, rank, or whatever, in the common acceptation of the
word, is supposed to constitute happiness, will never quiet, much less
cure, the inward pangs of guilt. To that main wish, I will add those of
the good old nurse of Horace, in his epistle to Tibullus: 'Sapere', you
have it in a good degree already. 'Et fari ut possit quae sentiat'.
Have you that? More, much more is meant by it, than common speech or
mere articulation. I fear that still remains to be wished for, and I
earnestly wish it to you. 'Gratia and Fama' will inevitably accompany
the above-mentioned qualifications. The 'Valetudo' is the only one that
is not in your own power; Heaven alone can grant it you, and may it do so
abundantly! As for the 'mundus victus, non deficiente crumena', do you
deserve, and I will provide them.

It is with the greatest pleasure that I consider the fair prospect which
you have before you. You have seen, read, and learned more, at your age,
than most young fellows have done at two or three-and-twenty. Your
destination is a shining one, and leads to rank, fortune, and
distinction. Your education has been calculated for it; and, to do you
justice, that education has not been thrown away upon you. You want but
two things, which do not want conjuration, but only care, to acquire:
eloquence and manners; that is, the graces of speech, and the graces of
behavior. You may have them; they are as much in your power as powdering
your hair is; and will you let the want of them obscure (as it certainly
will do) that shining prospect which presents itself to you. I am sure
you will not. They are the sharp end, the point of the nail that you are
driving, which must make way first for the larger and more solid parts to
enter. Supposing your moral character as pure, and your knowledge as
sound, as I really believe them both to be; you want nothing for that
perfection, which I have so constantly wished you, and taken so much
pains to give you, but eloquence and politeness. A man who is not born
with a poetical genius, can never be a poet, or at best an extremely bad
one; but every man, who can speak at all, can speak elegantly and
correctly if he pleases, by attending to the best authors and orators;
and, indeed, I would advise those who do not speak elegantly, not to
speak at all; for I am sure they will get more by their silence than by
their speech. As for politeness: whoever keeps good company, and is not
polite, must have formed a resolution, and take some pains not to be so;
otherwise he would naturally and insensibly take the air, the address,
and the turn of those he converses with. You will, probably, in the
course of this year, see as great a variety of good company in the
several capitals you will be at, as in any one year of your life; and
consequently must (I should hope) catch some of their manners, almost
whether you will or not; but, as I dare say you will endeavor to do it,
I am convinced you will succeed, and that I shall have pleasure of
finding you, at your return here, one of the best-bred men in Europe.

I imagine, that when you receive my letters, and come to those parts of
them which relate to eloquence and politeness, you say, or at least
think, What, will he never have done upon those two subjects? Has he not
said all he can say upon them? Why the same thing over and over again?
If you do think or say so, it must proceed from your not yet knowing the
infinite importance of these two accomplishments, which I cannot
recommend to you too often, nor inculcate too strongly. But if, on the
contrary, you are convinced of the utility, or rather the necessity of
those two accomplishments, and are determined to acquire them, my
repeated admonitions are only unnecessary; and I grudge no trouble which
can possibly be of the least use to you.

I flatter myself, that your stay at Rome will go a great way toward
answering all my views: I am sure it will, if you employ your time, and
your whole time, as you should. Your first morning hours, I would have
you devote to your graver studies with Mr. Harte; the middle part of the
day I would have employed in seeing things; and the evenings in seeing
people. You are not, I hope, of a lazy, inactive turn, in either body or
mind; and, in that case, the day is full long enough for everything;
especially at Rome, where it is not the fashion, as it is here and at
Paris, to embezzle at least half of it at table. But if, by accident,
two or three hours are sometimes wanting for some useful purpose, borrow
them from your sleep. Six, or at most seven hours sleep is, for a
constancy, as much as you or anybody can want; more is only laziness and
dozing; and is, I am persuaded, both unwholesome and stupefying. If, by
chance, your business, or your pleasures, should keep you up till four or
five o'clock in the morning, I would advise you, however, to rise exactly
at your usual time, that you may not lose the precious morning hours; and
that the want of sleep may force you to go to bed earlier the next night.
This is what I was advised to do when very young, by a very wise man; and
what, I assure you, I always did in the most dissipated part of my life.
I have very often gone to bed at six in the morning and rose,
notwithstanding, at eight; by which means I got many hours in the morning
that my companions lost; and the want of sleep obliged me to keep good
hours the next, or at least the third night. To this method I owe the
greatest part of my reading: for, from twenty to forty, I should
certainly have read very little, if I had not been up while my
acquaintances were in bed. Know the true value of time; snatch, seize,
and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no laziness, no
procrastination; never put off till to-morrow what you can do today.
That was the rule of the famous and unfortunate Pensionary De Witt; who,
by strictly following it, found time, not only to do the whole business
of the republic, but to pass his evenings at assemblies and suppers, as
if he had had nothing else to do or think of.

Adieu, my dear friend, for such I shall call you, and as such I shall,
for the future, live with you; for I disclaim all titles which imply an
authority, that I am persuaded you will never give me occasion to

'Multos et felices', most sincerely, to Mr. Harte.


A joker is near akin to a buffoon
Ablest man will sometimes do weak things
Above trifles, he is never vehement and eager about them
Advise those who do not speak elegantly, not to speak
Always does more than he says
Always some favorite word for the time being
Arrogant pedant
Ascribing the greatest actions to the most trifling causes
Assign the deepest motives for the most trifling actions
Attend to the objects of your expenses, but not to the sums
Attention to the inside of books
Awkward address, ungraceful attitudes and actions
Being in the power of every man to hurt him
Can hardly be said to see what they see
Cardinal Mazarin
Cardinal Richelieu
Complaisance due to the custom of the place
Conjectures supply the defect of unattainable knowledge
Connive at knaves, and tolerate fools
Deep learning is generally tainted with pedantry
Deepest learning, without good-breeding, is unwelcome
Desirous of pleasing
Dictate to them while you seem to be directed by them
Dissimulation is only to hide our own cards
Do not become a virtuoso of small wares
Does not give it you, but he inflicts it upon you
Endeavors to please and oblige our fellow-creatures
Every man pretends to common sense
Every numerous assembly is a mob
Eyes and the ears are the only roads to the heart
Few dare dissent from an established opinion
Few things which people in general know less, than how to love
Flattering people behind their backs
Fools never perceive where they are either ill-timed
Friendship upon very slight acquaintance
Frivolous curiosity about trifles
Frivolous, idle people, whose time hangs upon their own hands
Gain the heart, or you gain nothing
General conclusions from certain particular principles
Good manners
Haste and hurry are very different things
Herd of mankind can hardly be said to think
Human nature is always the same
Hurt those they love by a mistaken indulgence
Idleness is only the refuge of weak minds
If I don't mind his orders he won't mind my draughts
Inattentive, absent; and distrait
Incontinency of friendship among young fellows
Indiscriminate familiarity
Insist upon your neither piping nor fiddling yourself
Insolent civility
It is not sufficient to deserve well; one must please well too
Know the true value of time
Known people pretend to vices they had not
Knows what things are little, and what not
Learn, if you can, the WHY and the WHEREFORE
Leave the company, at least as soon as he is wished out of it
Led, much oftener by little things than by great ones
Little failings and weaknesses
Love with him, who they think is the most in love with them
Mastery of one's temper
May you live as long as you are fit to live, but no longer!
May you rather die before you cease to be fit to live
Moderation with your enemies
Most people have ears, but few have judgment; tickle those ears
Never implicitly adopt a character upon common fame
Never would know anything that he had not a mind to know
No man is distrait with the man he fears, or the woman he loves
Nothing in courts is exactly as it appears to be
Our understandings are generally the DUPES of our hearts
People will repay, and with interest too, inattention
Perfection of everything that is worth doing at all
Public speaking
Quietly cherished error, instead of seeking for truth
Reciprocally profess wishes which they seldom form
Reserve with your friends
Six, or at most seven hours sleep
Sooner forgive an injury than an insult
There are many avenues to every man
Those who remarkably affect any one virtue
Three passions that often put honesty to most severe trials
To great caution, you can join seeming frankness and openness
Trifling parts, with their little jargon
Truth leaves no room for compliments
We have many of those useful prejudices in this country
Whatever pleases you most in others
World is taken by the outside of things

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