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  • 1749
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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 particulars.

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 competition.

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 exercise.

‘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 Architecture
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 Inattention
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 Machiavel
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 Nickname
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 Pliny
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 Style
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