Chesterfield: Letters to His Son
Selections from "The Best Letters of Lord Chesterfield"
by Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield
edited by Edward Gilpin Johnson
For Year 9 Lite
1. Good Breeding Relative and General
2. A Genteel Manner Important -- An Awkward Fellow -- Attention
3. True Praise. -- Elementary Politeness
4. Dancing. -- All Things, Even Trifles, Should be Done Well
5. Elocution: Method of Demosthenes
6. Inattention. -- Knowledge of Mankind
7. Never Attack a Corps Collectively
10. True Pleasure Inconsistent with Vice
11. A Showy Binding -- True Attic Salt
13. Tolerance and Truth Recommended
14. Caution in Forming Friendships -- Good Company
17. A Wise Guide the Best Friend
18. The Value of Time
19. Time Well and Time Ill Spent -- Observation Recommended
20. Right Use of Learning: Absurdities of Pedantry
21. The Graces. -- The Absurdity of Laughter
22. Dissimulation Found Not Only in Courts -- Trite Observations
24. The Lazy Mind and the Frivolous Mind
25. How History Should be Read
26. General Character of Women -- Right Use of Wit
28. Against the Refinements of Casuistry
29. True Good Company Defined
30. Conduct in Good Company -- On Mimicry
33. The Importance of Dress
34. On Prejudices. -- Liberty of the Press
35. Dignity of Manners Recommended: In What it Consists
43. "The Tongue to Persuade"
44. Man's Inconsistency -- Richeliey and Mazarin -- Women More Alike Than men -- On Rash Confidences
45. On the 'Leniores Virtutes'
47. To Acquire the Graces and Accomplishments, Study the Best Models -- A List of the Graces
48. Importance of the Moral Virtues -- Warning Against Vanity
56. The Study of the World -- Company the Only School
62. A Worthy, Tiresome Man -- Manners Add Lutre to Learning
1. Good Breeding Relative and General -- Mauivaise Honte
You behaved yourself so well at Mr. Boden's last Sunday that you justly deserve commendation; besides, you encourage me to give you some rules of politeness and good breeding, being persuaded that you will observe them. Know then that as learning, honor, and virtue are absolutely necessary to gain you the esteem and admiration of mankind, politeness and good breeding are equally necessary to make you welcome and agreeable in conversation and common life. Great talents, such as honor, virtue, learning, and parts, are above the generality of the world, who neither possess them themselves nor judge of them rightly in others; but all people are judges of the lesser talents, such as civility, affability, and an obliging, agreeable address and manner, because they feel the good effects of them as making society easy and pleasing. Good sense must in many cases determine good breeding; because the same thing that would be civil at one time, and to one person, may be quite otherwise at another time, and to another person; but there are some general rules of good breeding that hold always true, and in all cases. As, for example, it is always extremely rude to answer only Yes, or No, to anybody, without adding Sir, My Lord, or Madam, according to the quality of the person you speak to, -- as in French you must always say. Monsieur, Milord, Madame, and Mademoiselle.
I suppose you know that every married woman is in French Madame, and every unmarried one is Mademoiselle. It is likewise extremely rude not to give the proper attention and a civil answer when people speak to you, or to go away, or be doing something else, when they are speaking to you; for that convinces them that you despise them, and do not think it worth your while to hear or answer what they say. I dare say I need not tell you how rude it is to take the best place in a room, or to seize immediately upon what you like at table, without offering first to help others, -- as if you considered nobody but yourself. On the contrary, you should always endeavor to procure all the conveniences you can to the people you are with. Besides being civil, which is absolutely necessary, the perfection of good breeding is to be civil with ease, and in a gentleman-like manner. For this, you should observe the French people, who excel in it, and whose politeness seems as easy and natural as any other part of their conversation; whereas the English are often awkward in their civilities, and when they mean to be civil, are too much ashamed to get it out. But, pray, do you remember never to be ashamed of doing what is right; you would have a great deal of reason to be ashamed if you were not civil, but what reason can you have to be ashamed of being civil? And why not say a civil and obliging thing as easily and as naturally as you would ask what o'clock it is? This kind of bashfulness, which is justly called by the French mauvaise honte [bashfulness], is the distinguishing character of an English booby, who is frightened out of his wits when people of fashion speak to him; and when he is to answer them, blushes, stammers, and can hardly get out what he would say, and becomes really ridiculous from a groundless fear of being laughed at; whereas a real well-bred man would speak to all the kings in the world with as little concern and as much ease as he would speak to you.
Remember, then, that to be civil, and to be civil with ease (which is properly called good breeding) , is the only way to be beloved and well received in company; that to be ill bred and rude is intolerable, and the way to be kicked out of company; and that to be bashful is to be ridiculous. As I am sure you will mind and practise all this, I expect that when you are novennis, you will not only be the best scholar but the best-bred boy in England of your age. Adieu.
[Note: At the time this was written, Master Stanhope was in his ninth year.]
2. A Genteel Manner Important -- An Awkward Fellow -- Attention
Spa, July 25, N. S. 1741.
[Note: N.S. and O.S. refer to New Style and Old Style dates. Around 1750, the calendar was shifted a couple of months to make up for a discrepancy between the Julian and Gregorian calendar. Read more here.]
I have often told you in my former letters -- and it is most certainly true -- that the strictest and most scrupulous honor and virtue can alone make you esteemed and valued by mankind; that parts and learning can alone make you admired and celebrated by them; but that the possession of lesser talents was most absolutely necessary towards making you liked, beloved, and sought after in private life. Of these lesser talents, good breeding is the principal and most necessary one, not only as it is very important in itself, but as it adds great lustre to the more solid advantages both of the heart and the mind. I have often touched upon good breeding to you before, so that this letter shall be upon the next necessary qualification to it, which is a genteel and easy manner and carriage, wholly free from those odd tricks, ill habits, and awkwardnesses, which even many very worthy and sensible people have in their behavior. However trifling a genteel manner may sound, it is of very great consequence towards pleasing in private life, especially the women, which one time or other you will think worth pleasing; and I have known many a man from his awkwardness give people such a dislike of him at first that all his merit could not get the better of it afterwards. Whereas a genteel manner prepossesses people in your favor, bends them towards you, and makes them wish to be like you. Awkwardness can proceed but from two causes, -- either from not having kept good company, or from not having attended to it. As for your keeping good company, I will take care of that I do you take care to observe their ways and manners, and to form your own upon them. Attention is absolutely necessary for this, as indeed it is for everything else; and a man without attention is not fit to live in the world. When an awkward fellow first comes into a room, it is highly probable that his sword gets between his legs and throws him down, or makes him stumble at least; when he has recovered this accident, he goes and places himself in the very place of the whole room where he should not; there he soon lets his hat fall down, and in taking it up again throws down his cane; in recovering his cane, his hat falls a second time, so that he is a quarter of an hour before he is in order again. If he drinks tea or coffee, he certainly scalds his mouth, and lets either the cup or the saucer fall, and spills either the tea or coffee in his breeches. At dinner, his awkwardness distinguishes itself particularly, as he has more to do; there he holds his knife, fork, and spoon differently from other people, eats with his knife, to the great danger of his mouth, picks his teeth with his fork, and puts his spoon into the dishes again. If he is to carve he can never hit the joint, but in his vain efforts to cut through the bone scatters the sauce in everybody's face. He generally daubs himself with soup and grease, though his napkin is commonly stuck through a button-hole and tickles his chin. When he drinks, he infallibly coughs in his glass and be-sprinkles the company. . . . His hands are troublesome to him when he has not something in them, and he does not know where to put them; but they are in perpetual motion between his bosom and his breeches; he does not wear his clothes, and in short does nothing, like other people. All this, I own, is not in any degree criminal; but it is highly disagreeable and ridiculous in company, and ought most carefully to be avoided by whoever desires to please.
From this account of what you should not do, you may easily judge what you should do; and a due attention to the manners of people of fashion, and who have seen the world, will make it habitual and familiar to you.
There is, likewise, an awkwardness of expression and words most carefully to be avoided, -- such as false English, bad pronunciation, old sayings, and common proverbs, which are so many proofs of having kept bad and low company. For example: if, instead of saying that tastes are different and that every man has his own peculiar one, you should let off a proverb, and say. That what is one man's meat is another man's poison; or else, Every one as they like, as the good man said when he kissed his cow, -- everybody would be persuaded that you had never kept company with anybody above footmen and housemaids.
Attention will do all this; and without attention nothing is to be done: want of attention, which is really want of thought, is either folly or madness. You should not only have attention to everything but a quickness of attention, so as to observe at once all the people in the room, their motions, their looks, and their words, and yet without staring at them and seeming to be an observer. This quick and unobserved observation is of infinite advantage in life, and is to be acquired with care; and on the contrary what is called absence, which is thoughtlessness and want of attention about what is doing, makes a man so like either a fool or a madman, that for my part I see no real difference. A fool never has thought; a madman has lost it and an absent man is, for the time, without it.
3. True Praise. -- Elementary Politeness
Spa, Aug. 6, 1741.
I am very well pleased with the several performances you sent me, and still more so with Mr. Maittaire's letter that accompanied them, in which he gives me a much better account of you than he did in his former. Laudari a laudato viro [to be praised of man] was always a commendable ambition; encourage that ambition, and continue to deserve the praises of the praiseworthy. While you do so, you shall have whatever you will from me; and when you cease to do so, you shall have nothing.
I am glad you have begun to compose a little; it will give you a habit of thinking upon subjects, which is at least as necessary as reading them; therefore pray send me your thoughts upon this subject, -- "Nec sibi, sed toti genitum se credere mundo." [His all, as not for self brought into being, but for all the world: such was his creed.]
It is a part of Cato's character in Lucan, who says that Cato did not think himself born for himself only, but for all mankind. Let me know, then, whether you think that a man is born only for his own pleasure and advantage, or whether he is not obliged to contribute to the good of the society in which he lives and of all mankind in general. This is certain, -- that every man receives advantages from society which he could not have if he were the only man in the world: therefore is he not in some measure in debt to society; and is he not obliged to do for others what they do for him? You may do this in English or Latin, which you please; for it is the thinking part, and not the language, that I mind in this case.
I warned you in my last against those disagreeable tricks and awkwardnesses which many people contract when they are young by the negligence of their parents, and cannot get quit of them when they are old, -- such as odd motions, strange postures, and ungenteel carriage. But there is likewise an awkwardness of the mind that ought to be and with care may be avoided; as, for instance, to mistake names. To speak of Mr. What-d'ye-call him or Mrs. Thingum or How-d'ye-call-her is excessively awkward and ordinary. To call people by improper titles and appellations is so too; as my Lord for Sir, and Sir for my Lord. To begin a story or narration when you are not perfect in it and cannot go through with it, but are forced possibly to say in the middle of it, "I have forgot the rest," is very unpleasant and bungling. One must be extremely exact, clear, and perspicuous in everything one says; otherwise instead of entertaining or informing others, one only tires and puzzles them. The voice and manner of speaking, too, are not to be neglected. Some people almost shut their mouths when they speak and mutter so that they are not to be understood; others speak so fast and sputter that they are not to be understood neither; some always speak as loud as if they were talking to deaf people; and others so low that one cannot hear them. All these habits are awkward and disagreeable, and are to be avoided by attention; they are the distinguishing marks of the ordinary people who have had no care taken of their education. You cannot imagine how necessary it is to mind all these little things; for I have seen many people with great talents ill received for want of having these talents too, and others well received only from their little talents, and who had no great ones. Adieu.
4. Dancing. -- All Things, Even Trifles, Should be Done Well
Dublin Castle, Nov. 19, 1745.
. . . Now that the Christmas breaking-up draws near, I have ordered Mr. Desnoyers to go to you during that time, to teach you to dance. I desire you will particularly attend to the graceful motion of your arms, which with the manner of putting on your hat and giving your hand is all that a gentleman need attend to. Dancing is in itself a very trifling, silly thing; but it is one of those established follies to which people of sense are sometimes obliged to conform, and then they should be able to do it well. And though I would not have you a dancer, yet when you do dance I would have you dance well, as I would have you do everything you do well. There is no one thing so trifling but which, if it is to be done at all, ought to be done well; and I have often told you that I wished you even played at pitch and cricket better than any boy at Westminster. For instance, dress is a very foolish thing, and yet it is a very foolish thing for a man not to be well dressed, according to his rank and way of life; and it is so far from being a disparagement to any man's understanding that it is rather a proof of it to be as well dressed as those whom he lives with: the difference in this case between a man of sense and a fop is that the fop values himself upon his dress, and the man of sense laughs at it, at the same time that he knows he must not neglect it. There are a thousand foolish customs of this kind, which, not being criminal, must be complied with, and even cheerfully, by men of sense. Diogenes the cynic was a wise man for despising them, but a fool for showing it. Be wiser than other people, if you can; but do not tell them so.
[Written during Lord Chesterfield's viceroyalty in Ireland.]
5. Elocution: Method of Demosthenes
Dublin Castle, Feb. 8, 1746
You propose, I find, Demosthenes for your model, and you have chosen very well; but remember the pains he took to be what he was. He spoke near the sea in storms, both to use himself to speak aloud, and not to be disturbed by the noise and tumult of public assemblies; he put stones in his mouth to help his elocution, which naturally was not advantageous; from which facts I conclude, that whenever he spoke he opened both his lips and his teeth, and that he articulated every word and every syllable distinctly, and full loud enough to be heard the whole length of my library.
As he took so much pains for the graces of oratory only, I conclude he took still more for the more solid parts of it. I am apt to think he applied himself extremely to the propriety, the purity, and the elegance of his language; to the distribution of the parts of his oration; to the force of his arguments; to the strength of his proofs; and to the passions as well as the judgments of his audience. I fancy he began with exordium, to gain the good opinion and the affections of his audience; that afterwards he stated the point in question briefly but clearly; that he then brought his proofs, afterwards his arguments; and that he concluded with a peroratio, in which he recapitulated the whole succinctly, enforced the strong parts, and artfully slipped over the weak ones; and at last made his strong push at the passions of his hearers. Wherever you would persuade or prevail, address yourself to the passions; it is by them that mankind is to be taken. Caesar bade his soldiers at the battle of Pharsalia aim at the faces of Pompey's men; they did so, and prevailed. I bid you strike at the passions; and if you do, you too will prevail. If you can once engage people's pride, love, pity, ambition, -- or whichever is their prevailing passion, -- on your side, you need not fear what their reason can do against you.
6. Inattention. -- Knowledge of Mankind
Dublin Castle, March 10, 1746.
I most thankfully acknowledge the honor of two or three letters from you, since 1 troubled you with my last; and am very proud of the repeated instances you give me of your favor and protection, which I shall endeavor to deserve.
[Note: A little badinage at the expense of the boy, who at that date was about fourteen.]
I am very glad that you went to hear a trial in the Court of King's Bench; and still more so, that you made the proper animadversions upon the inattention of many of the people in the Court. As you observed very well the indecency of that inattention, I am sure you will never be guilty of anything like it yourself. There is no surer sign in the world of a little, weak mind than inattention. Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well; and nothing can be well done without attention. It is the sure answer of a fool, when you ask him about anything that was said or done where he was present, that " truly he did not mind it." And why did not the fool mind it? What had he else to do there but to mind what was doing? A man of sense sees, hears, and retains everything that passes where he is. I desire I may never hear you talk of not minding, nor complain, as most fools do, of a treacherous memory. Mind not only what people say but how they say it; and if you have any sagacity, you may discover more truth by your eyes than by your ears. People can say what they will, but they cannot look just as they will; and their looks frequently discover what their words are calculated to conceal. Observe, therefore, people's looks carefully when they speak, not only to you, but to each other. I have often guessed by people's faces what they were saying, though I could not hear one word they said. The most material knowledge of all -- I mean the knowledge of the world -is never to be acquired without great attention; and I know many old people, who though they have lived long in the world, are but children still as to the knowledge of it, from their levity and inattention. Certain forms which all people comply with, and certain arts which all people aim at, hide in some degree the truth and give a general exterior resemblance to almost everybody. Attention and sagacity must see through that veil and discover the natural character. You are of an age now to reflect, to observe and compare characters, and to arm yourself against the common arts, -- at least of the world. If a man with whom you are but barely acquainted, and to whom you have made no offers nor given any marks of friendship, makes you on a sudden strong professions of his, receive them with civility, but do not repay them with confidence; he certainly means to deceive you, for one man does not fall in love with another at sight. If a man uses strong protestations or oaths to make you believe a thing which is of itself so likely and probable that the bare saying of it would be sufficient, depend upon it he lies, and is highly interested in making you believe it; or else he would not take so much pains.
In about five weeks I propose having the honor of laying myself at your feet, -- which I hope to find grown longer than they were when I left them. Adieu.
7. Never Attack a Corps Collectively
April 5, 1746.
Before it is very long, I am of opinion that you will both think and speak more favorably of women than you do now. You seem to think that from Eve downwards they have done a great deal of mischief. As for that lady, I give her up to you; but since her time, history will inform you that men have done much more mischief in the world than women; and to say the truth, I would not advise you to trust either more than is absolutely necessary. But this I will advise you to, which is, never to attack whole bodies of any kind; for besides that all general rules have their exceptions, you unnecessarily make yourself a great number of enemies by attacking a corps collectively. Among women, as among men, there are good as well as bad; and it may be full as many or more good than among men. This rule holds as to lawyers, soldiers, parsons, courtiers, citizens, etc. They are all men, subject to the same passions and sentiments, differing only in the manner, according to their several educations; and it would be as imprudent as unjust to attack any of them by the lump. Individuals forgive sometimes; but bodies and societies never do. Many young people think it very genteel and witty to abuse the clergy; in which they are extremely mistaken, since in my opinion parsons are very hke men, and neither the better nor the worse for wearing a black gown. All general reflections upon nations and societies are the trite, threadbare jokes of those who set up for wit without having any, and so have recourse to commonplace. Judge of individuals from your own knowledge of them, and not from their gender, profession, or denomination.
10. True Pleasure Inconsistent with Vice
London, March 27, O. S. 1747.
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, an abandoned rake. 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 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 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 for it; but I would be most firmly resolved not to destroy my own faculties and constitution in compliance 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 occasions.
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 they unbend and refresh the mind, not uselessly because they certainly polish and soften the manners.
11. A Showy Binding -- True Attic Salt
London, April 3, O. S. 1747.
If I am rightly informed, I am now writing to a fine gentleman in a scarlet coat laced with gold, a brocade waistcoat, and all other suitable ornaments. The natural partiality of every author for his own works makes me very glad to hear that Mr. Harte has thought this last edition of mine worth so fine a binding; and as he has bound it in red and gilt it upon the back, I hope he will take care that it shall be lettered too. A showish binding attracts the eyes, and engages the attention of everybody, -- but with this difference, that women, and men who are like women, mind the binding more than the book; whereas men of sense and learning immediately examine the inside, and if they find that it does not answer the finery on the outside, they throw it by with the greater indignation and contempt. I hope that when this edition of my works shall be opened and read, the best judges will find connection, consistency, solidity, and spirit in it. Mr. Harte may recensere and emendare as much as he pleases; but it will be to little purpose, if you do not co-operate with him. The work will be imperfect . . .
I like your account of the salt-works, which shows that you gave some attention while you were seeing them. But notwithstanding that by your account the Swiss salt is (I dare say) very good, yet I am apt to suspect that it falls a little short of the true Attic salt, in which there was a peculiar quickness and delicacy. That same Attic salt seasoned almost all Greece except Boeotia; and a great deal of it was exported afterwards to Rome, where it was counterfeited by a composition called Urbanity, which in some time was brought to very near the perfection of the original Attic salt. The more you are powdered with these two kinds of salt, the better you will keep and the more you will be relished.
13. Tolerance and Truth Recommended
London, Sept. 21, O. S. 1747.
I received by the last post your letter of the 8th, N. S., and I do not wonder that you are surprised at the credulity and superstition of the Papists at Einsiedlen, and at their absurd stories of their chapel. But remember at the same time that errors and mistakes, however gross, in matters of opinion, if they are sincere, are to be pitied, but not punished nor laughed at. The blindness of the understanding is as much to be pitied as the blindness of the eye; and there is neither jest nor guilt in a man's losing his way in either case. Charity bids us set him right if we can, by arguments and persuasions; but charity at the same time forbids either to punish or ridicule his misfortune. Every man's reason is, and must be, his guide; and I may as well expect that every man should be of my size and complexion as that he should reason just as I do. Every man seeks for truth; but God only knows who has found it. It IS therefore as unjust to persecute as it is absurd to ridicule people for those several opinions which they cannot help entertaining upon the conviction of their reason. It is the man who tells or who acts a lie that is guilty, and not he who honestly and sincerely believes the lie. I really know nothing more criminal, more mean, and more ridiculous than lying. It is the production either of malice, cowardice, or vanity, and generally misses of its aim in every one of these views; for lies are always detected sooner or later. If I tell a malicious lie in order to affect any man's fortune or character, I may indeed injure him for some time, but I shall be sure to be the greatest sufferer myself at last; for as soon as ever I am detected (and detected I most certainly shall be), I am blasted for the infamous attempt, and whatever is said afterwards to the disadvantage of that person, however true, passes for calumny. If I lie or equivocate, for it is the same thing, in order to excuse myself for something that I have said or done, and to avoid the danger and the shame that I apprehend from it, I discover at once my fear as well as my falsehood, and only increase instead of avoiding the danger and the shame; I show myself to be the lowest and the meanest of mankind, and am sure to be always treated as such. Fear, instead of avoiding, invites danger, for concealed cowards will insult known ones. If one has had the misfortune to be in the wrong, there is something noble in frankly owning it; it is the only way of atoning for it, and the only way of being forgiven. Equivocating, evading, shuffling, in order to remove a present danger or inconvenience, is something so mean and betrays so much fear, that whoever practises them always deserves to be and often will be kicked. There is another sort of lies, inoffensive enough in themselves, but wonderfully ridiculous; I mean those lies which a mistaken vanity suggests, that defeat the very end for which they are calculated, and terminate in the humiliation and confusion of their author, who is sure to be detected. These are chiefly narrative and historical lies, all intended to do infinite honor to their author. He is always the hero of his own romances; he has been in dangers from which nobody but himself ever escaped; he has seen with his own eyes whatever other people have heard or read of; and has ridden more miles post in one day than ever courier went in two. He is soon discovered, and as soon becomes the object of universal contempt and ridicule. Remember then, as long as you live, that nothing but strict truth can carry you through the world with either your conscience or your honor unwounded. It is not only your duty, but your interest, -- as a proof of which you may always observe that the greatest fools are the greatest liars. For my own part, I judge of every man's truth by his degree of understanding.
14. Caution in Forming Friendships -- Good Company
London, Oct. 9, O. S. 1747.
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 accidently thrown together and pursuing the same course of riot and debauchery. A fine friendship truly, 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 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, and often does, prove 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 the 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 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 everybody, 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 thing to the choice of your friends is the choice of your company. Endeavor 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 the 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 myself 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 honored 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 quicker than that wrong turn.
[Note: The allusion to Mr. Pope recalls Lord Chesterfield's epigram upon a full-length portrait of Beau Nash: "This picture, pkaced the busts between, gives satire all its strength; Wisdom and Wit are little seen, but Folly at full length."]
You may possibly ask me whether a man has it always in his power to get the best company, and how? I say, Yes, he has, by deserving it; provided he is but in circumstances which enable him to appear upon the footing of a gentleman. Merit and good breeding will make their way everywhere. 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 perfection whatever, is seen in its 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 Leipzig of your arrival there, and what impression you make on them at first; for I have Arguses with a 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.
17. A Wise Guide the Best Friend
London, Nov. 24, 1747.
Whatever your pleasures may be, I neither can nor shall envy you them, as old people are sometimes suspected by young people to do; and I shall only lament, if they should prove such as are unbecoming a man of honor or below a man of sense. But you will be the real sufferer if they are such. As therefore it is plain that I can have no other motive than that of affection in whatever I say to you, you ought to look upon me as your best, and for some years to come, your only friend.
True friendship requires certain proportions of age and manners, and can never subsist where they are extremely different, except in the relations of parent and child, where affection on one side and regard on the other make up the difference. The friendship which you may contract with people of your own age may be sincere, may be warm, but must be for some time reciprocally unprofitable, as there can be no experience on either side. The young leading the young is like the blind leading the blind, -- "they will both fall into the ditch." The only sure guide is he who has often gone the road which you want to go. Let me be that guide, who have gone all roads, and who can consequently point out to you the best. If you ask me why I went any of the bad roads myself, I will answer you very truly that it was for want of a good guide; ill example invited me one way, and a good guide was wanting to show me a better. But if anybody capable of advising me had taken the same pains with me which I have taken, and will continue to take with you, I should have avoided many follies and inconveniences which undirected youth run me into. My father was neither desirous nor able to advise me; which is what, I hope, you cannot say of yours. You see that I make use only of the word "advice," because I would much rather have the assent of your reason to my advice than the submission of your will to my authority. This, I persuade myself, will happen from that degree of sense which I think you have; and therefore I will go on advising, and with hopes of success.
18. The Value of Time
London, Dec. 11, O. S. 1747.
There is nothing which I more wish that you should know, and which fewer people do know, than the true use and value of Time. It is in everybody's mouth, but in few people's practice. Every fool who slatterns away his whole time in nothings, utters, however, some trite commonplace sentence, of which there are millions, to prove at once the value and the fleetness of time. The sun-dials, likewise, all over Europe have some ingenious inscription to that effect; so that nobody squanders away their time without hearing and seeing daily how necessary it is to employ it well, and how irrecoverable it is if lost. But all these admonitions are useless where there is not a fund of good sense and reason to suggest them rather than receive them. By the manner in which you now tell me that you employ your time, I flatter myself that you have that fund; that is the fund which will make you rich indeed. I do not therefore mean to give you a critical essay upon the use and abuse of time, but I will only give you some hints with regard to the use of one particular period of that long time which, I hope, you have before you; I mean the next two years. Remember then, that whatever knowledge you do not solidly lay the foundation of before you are eighteen, you will never be the master of while you breathe. Knowledge is a comfortable and necessary retreat and shelter for us in an advanced age; and if we do not plant it while young, it will give us no shade when we grow old. I neither require nor expect from you great application to books after you are once thrown out into the great world. I know it is impossible, and it may even in some cases be improper; this therefore is your time, and your only time, for unwearied and uninterrupted application. If you should sometimes think it a little laborious, consider that labor is the unavoidable fatigue of a necessary journey. The more hours a day you travel, the sooner you will be at your journey's end. The sooner you are qualified for your liberty, the sooner you shall have it; and your manumission will entirely depend upon the manner in which you employ the intermediate time. I think I offer you a very good bargain when I promise you upon my word that if you will do everything that I would have you do till you are eighteen, I will do everything that you would have me do ever afterwards.
19. Time Well and Time Ill Spent -- Observation Recommended
Bath, Feb. 16, O. S. 1748.
The first use that I made of my liberty was to come hither, where I arrived yesterday. My health, though not fundamentally bad, yet for want of proper attention of late wanted some repairs, which these waters never fail giving it. I shall drink them a month, and return to London, there to enjoy the comforts of social life instead of groaning under the load of business. I have given the description of the life that I propose to lead for the future in this motto, which I have put up in the frieze of my library in my new house [Note: Chesterfield House in London], -- Nunc veterum libris, nunc somno et, inertibus horis Ducere sollicitae jucunda oblivia vitae. [Now old, now with sleep and idle hours of delightful oblivion]
[Note: "my liberty" - he had just resigned the office of Secretary of State.]
I must observe to you upon this occasion that the uninterrupted satisfaction which I expect to find in that library will be chiefly owing to my having employed some part of my life well at your age. I wish I had employed it better, and my satisfaction would now be complete; but, however, I planted while young that degree of knowledge which is now my refuge and my shelter. Make your plantations still more extensive; they will more than pay you for your trouble. I do not regret the time that I passed in pleasures; they were seasonable; they were the pleasures of youth, and I enjoyed them while young. If I had not, I should probably have overvalued them now, as we are very apt to do what we do not know; but knowing them as I do, I know their real value, and how much they are generally overrated. Nor do I regret the time that I have passed in business for the same reason; those who see only the outside of it imagine it has hidden charms, which they pant after, and nothing but acquaintance can undeceive them. I, who have been behind the scenes both of pleasure and business, and have seen all the springs and pulleys of those decorations which astonish and dazzle the audience, retire not only without regret but with contentment and satisfaction. But what I do and ever shall regret, is the time which, while young, I lost in mere idleness, and in doing nothing. This is the common effect of the inconsideracy of youth, against which I beg you will be most carefully upon your guard. The value of moments when cast up is immense, if well employed; if thrown away, their loss is irrecoverable. Every moment may be put to some use, and that with much more pleasure than if unemployed. Do not imagine that by the employment of time I mean an uninterrupted application to serious studies. No; pleasures are at proper times both as necessary and as useful; they fashion and form you for the world; they teach you characters, and show you the human heart in its unguarded minutes. But then remember to make that use of them. I have known many people from laziness of mind go through both pleasure and business with equal inattention, neither enjoying the one nor doing the other; thinking themselves men of pleasure because they were mingled with those who were, and men of business because they had business to do, though they did not do it. Whatever you do, do it to the purpose; do it thoroughly, not superficially. Approfondissez; go to the bottom of things. Anything half done or half known is, in my mind, neither done nor known at all. Nay, worse, for it often misleads. There is hardly any place or any company where you may not gain knowledge, if you please; almost everybody knows some one thing, and is glad to talk upon that one thing. Seek and you will find, in this world as well as in the next. See everything, inquire into everything; and you may excuse your curiosity and the questions you ask, which otherwise might be thought impertinent, by your manner of asking them, -- for most things depend a great deal upon the manner: as for example, "I am afraid that I am very troublesome with my questions, but nobody can inform me so well as you," or something of that kind.
Now that you are in a Lutheran country, go to their churches and observe the manner of their public worship; attend to their ceremonies and inquire the meaning and intention of every one of them. And as you will soon understand German well enough, attend to their sermons and observe their manner of preaching. Inform yourself of their church government, whether it resides in the sovereign or in consistories and synods; whence arises the maintenance of their clergy, whether from tithes as in England, or from voluntary contributions or from pensions from the State. Do the same thing when you are in Roman-Catholic countries; go to their churches, see all their ceremonies, ask the meaning of them, get the terms explained to you, -- as, for instance, Prime, Tierce, Sexte, Nones, Matins, Angelus, High Mass, Vespers, Complies, etc. Inform yourself of their several religious orders, their founders, their rules, their vows, their habits, their revenues, etc. But when you frequent places of public worship, as I would have you go to all the different ones you meet with, remember that however erroneous, they are none of them objects of laughter and ridicule. Honest error is to be pitied, not ridiculed. The object of all the public worships in the world is the same, -- it is that great eternal Being who created everything. The different manners of worship are by no means subjects of ridicule. Each sect thinks its own is the best, and I know no infallible judge in this world to decide which is the best. Make the same inquiries, wherever you are, concerning the revenues, the military establishment, the trade, the commerce, and the police of every country. And you would do well to keep a blank- paper book, which the Germans call an album; and there, instead of desiring, as they do, every fool they meet with to scribble something, write down all these things as soon as they come to your knowledge from good authorities.
20. Right Use of Learning: Absurdities of Pedantry
Bath, Feb. 22, O. S. 1748.
Every excellency, and every virtue, has its kindred vice or weakness, and if carried beyond certain bounds sinks into one or the other. Generosity often runs into profusion, economy into avarice, courage into rashness, caution into timidity, and so on, insomuch that I believe there is more judgment required for the proper conduct of our virtues than for avoiding their opposite vices. Vice in its true light is so deformed that it shocks us at first sight, and would hardly ever seduce us, if it did not at first wear the mask of some virtue. But virtue is in itself so beautiful, that it charms us at first sight; engages us more and more upon further acquaintance; and as with other beauties, we think excess impossible. It is here that judgment is necessary to moderate and direct the effects of an excellent cause. I shall apply this reasoning at present not to any particular virtue, but to an excellency, which for want of judgment is often the cause of ridiculous and blamable effects; I mean great learning, -- which if not accompanied with sound judgment, frequently carries us into error, pride, and pedantry. As I hope you will possess that excellency in its utmost extent and yet without its too common failings, the hints which my experience can suggest may probably not be useless to you.
Some learned men, proud of their knowledge, only speak to decide, and give judgment without appeal; the consequence of which is that mankind, provoked by the insult and injured by the oppression, revolt, and in order to shake off the tyranny, even call the lawful authority in question. The more you know, the modester you should be; and (by the by) that modesty is the surest way of gratifying your vanity. Even where you are sure, seem rather doubtful , represent but do not pronounce; and if you would convince others, seem open to conviction yourself.
Others, to show their learning, or often from the prejudices of a school-education, where they hear of nothing else, are always talking of the Ancients as something more than men and of the Moderns as something less. They are never without a classic or two in their pockets; they stick to the old good sense; they read none of the modem trash; and will show you plainly that no improvement has been made in any one art or science these last seventeen hundred years. I would by no means have you disown your acquaintance with the ancients, but still less would I have you brag of an exclusive intimacy with them. Speak of the moderns without contempt and of the ancients without idolatry; judge them all by their merits, but not by their ages; and if you happen to have an Elzevir classic in your pocket, neither show it nor mention it.
Some great scholars most absurdly draw all their maxims, both for' public and private life, from what they call parallel cases in the ancient authors, without considering that in the first place there never were, since the creation of the world, two cases exactly parallel; and in the next place that there never was a case stated or even known by any historian with every one of its circumstances, which however ought to be known in order to be reasoned from. Reason upon the case itself and the several circumstances that attend it, and act accordingly, but not from the authority of ancient poets or historians. Take into your consideration, if you please, cases seemingly analogous; but take them as helps only, not as guides. We are really so prejudiced by our education, that, as the ancients deified their heroes, we deify their madmen, -- of which, with all due regard for antiquity, I take Leonidas and Curtius to have been two distinguished ones. And yet a solid pedant would, in a speech in Parliament relative to a tax of two-pence in the pound upon some commodity or other, quote those two heroes as examples of what we ought to do and suffer for our country. I have known these absurdities carried so far by people of injudicious learning that I should not be surprised if some of them were to propose, while we are at war with the Gauls, that a number of geese should be kept in the Tower, upon account of the infinite advantage which Rome received in a parallel case from a certain number of geese in the Capitol. This way of reasoning and this way of speaking will always form a poor politician and a puerile declaimer.
There is another species of learned men, who though less dogmatical and supercilious, are not less impertinent. These are the communicative and shining pedants who adorn their conversation, even with women, by happy quotations of Greek and Latin, and who have contracted such a familiarity with the Greek and Roman authors that they call them by certain names or epithets denoting intimacy, -- as old Homer; that sly rogue Horace; Mara, instead of Virgil; and Naso, instead of Ovid. These are often imitated by coxcombs who have no learning at all, but who have got some names and some scraps of ancient authors by heart, which they improperly and impertinently retail in all companies, in hopes of passing for scholars. If therefore you would avoid the accusation of pedantry on one hand, or the suspicion of ignorance on the other, abstain from learned ostentation. Speak the language of the company that you are in; speak it purely, and unlarded with any other. Never seem wiser nor more learned than the people you are with. Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket, and do not pull it out and strike it merely to show that you have one. If you are asked what o'clock it is, tell it, but do not proclaim it hourly and unasked, like the watchman.
21. The Graces. -- The Absurdity of Laughter
Bath, March 9, O. S. 1748.
I must from time to time remind you of what I have often recommended to you, and of what you cannot attend to too much, -- Sacrifice to the Graces. The different effects of the same things said or done when accompanied or abandoned by them, is almost inconceivable. They prepare the way to the heart; and the heart has such an influence over the understanding, that it is worth while to engage it in our interest. It is the whole of women, who are guided by nothing else; and it has so much to say even with men, and the ablest men too, that it commonly triumphs in every struggle with the understanding. Monsieur de Rochefoucault, in his Maxims, says that "I'esprit est souvent la dupe du coeur." [The mind is often the dupe of the heart.] If he had said, instead of souvent, presque toujours [often, almost always], I fear he would have been nearer the truth. This being the case, aim at the heart. Intrinsic merit alone will not do. It will gain you the general esteem of all, but not the particular affection, that is, the heart, of any. To engage the affection of any particular person, you must, over and above your general merit, have some particular merit to that person by services done or offered, by expressions of regard and esteem, by complaisance, attentions, etc., for him; and the graceful manner of doing all these things opens the way to the heart, and facilitates or rather insures their effects. From your own observation, reflect what a disagreeable impression an awkward address, a slovenly figure, an ungraceful manner of speaking, -- whether stuttering, muttering, monotony, or drawling, -- an unattentive behavior, etc., make upon you, at first sight, in a stranger, and how they prejudice you against him, though for aught you know he may have great intrinsic sense and merit. And reflect on the other hand how much the opposites of all these things prepossess you at first sight in favor of those who enjoy them. You wish to find all good qualities in them, and are in some degree disappointed if you do not. A thousand little things, not separately to be defined, conspire to form these graces, this je ne sais quoi, that always pleases. A pretty person, genteel motions, a proper degree of dress, an harmonious voice, something open and cheerful in the countenance but without laughing, a distinct and properly varied manner of speaking, -all these things, and many others, are necessary ingredients in the composition of the pleasing jie sais quoi, which everybody feels though nobody can describe. Observe carefully, then, what displeases or pleases you in others, and be persuaded that in general the same things will please or displease them in you. Having mentioned laughing, I must particularly warn you against it; and I could heartily wish that you may often be seen to smile but never heard to laugh while you live. Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill manners; it is the manner in which the mob express their silly joy at silly things; and they call it being merry. In my mind, there is nothing so illiberal and so ill bred as audible laughter. True wit or sense never yet made anybody laugh; they are above it; they please the mind, and give a cheerfulness to the countenance. But it is low buffoonery or silly accidents that always excite laughter; and that is what people of sense and breeding should show themselves above. A man's going to sit down in the supposition that he has a chair behind him, and falling down for want of one, sets a whole company a-laughing, when all the wit in the world would not do it, -- a plain proof in my mind how low and unbecoming a thing laughter is, not to mention the disagreeable noise that it makes, and the shocking distortion of the face that it occasions. Laughter is easily restrained by a very little reflection; but as it is generally connected with the idea of gayety, people do not enough attend to its absurdity. I am neither of a melancholy nor a cynical disposition, and am as willing and as apt to be pleased as anybody; but I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason, nobody has ever heard me laugh. Many people, at first from awkwardness and mauvaise honte [bashfulness], have got a very disagreeable and silly trick of laughing whenever they speak; and I know a man of very good parts, Mr. Waller, who cannot say the commonest thing without laughing, which makes those who do not know him take him at first for a natural fool. This and many other very disagreeable habits are owing to mauvaise honte at their first setting out in the world. They are ashamed in company, and so disconcerted that they do not know what they do, and try a thousand tricks to keep themselves in countenance, which tricks afterwards grow habitual to them. Some scratch their heads, others twirl their hats; in short, every awkward, ill-bred body has his trick. But the frequency does not justify the thing, and all these vulgar habits and awkwardnesses, though not criminal, indeed, are most carefully to be guarded against, as they are great bars in the way of the art of pleasing. Remember that to please is almost to prevail, or at least a necessary previous step to it.
22. Dissimulation Found Not Only in Courts -- Trite Observations
London, May l0, 1748.
It is a trite and commonplace observation that Courts are the seat of falsehood and dissimulation. That, like many, I might say most, commonplace observations, is false. Falsehood and dissimulation are certainly to be found at courts; but where are they not to be found? Cottages have them as well as courts, only with worse manners. A couple of neighboring farmers in a village will contrive and practise as many tricks to overreach each other at the next market, or to supplant each other in the favor of the squire, as any two courtiers can do to supplant each other in the favor of their prince. Whatever poets may write, or fools believe, of rural innocence and truth and of the perfidy of courts, this is most undoubtedly true, -- that shepherds and ministers are both men, their nature and passions the same, the modes of them only different.
Having mentioned commonplace observations, I will particularly caution you against either using, believing, or approving them. They are the common topics of witlings and coxcombs; those who really have wit have the utmost contempt for them, and scorn even to laugh at the pert things that those would-be wits say upon such subjects.
Religion is one of their favorite topics. It is all priestcraft, and an invention contrived and carried on by priests of all religions for their own power and profit. From this absurd and fake principle flow the commonplace insipid jokes and insults upon the clergy. With these people, every priest, of every religion, is either a public or a concealed unbeliever, drunkard, and rake; whereas I conceive that priests are extremely like other men, and neither the better nor the worse for wearing a gown or a surplice; but if they are different from other people, probably it is rather on the side of religion and morality, or at least decency, from their education and manner of life.
Another common topic for false wit and cold raillery is matrimony. Every man and his wife hate each other cordially, whatever they may pretend in public to the contrary. The husband certainly wishes his wife at the devil, and the wife certainly deceives her husband; whereas I presume that men and their wives neither love nor hate each other the more upon account of the form of matrimony which has been said over them.
These, and many other commonplace reflections upon nations, or professions in general, -- which are at least as often false as true, -- are the poor refuge of people who have neither wit nor invention of their own, but endeavor to shine in company by second-hand finery. I always put these pert jackanapeses out of countenance by looking extremely grave when they expect that I should laugh at their pleasantries; and by saying well, and so as if they had not done, and that the sting were still to come. This disconcerts them, as they have no resources in themselves and have but one set of jokes to live upon.
24. The Lazy Mind and the Frivolous Mind
London, July 26, O. S. 1748.
There are two sorts of understandings, one of which hinders a man from ever being considerable, and the other commonly makes him ridiculous, -- I mean the lazy mind and the trifling, frivolous mind. Yours I hope is neither. The lazy mind will not take the trouble of going to the bottom of anything, but discouraged by the first difficulties (and everything worth knowing or having is attained with some), stops short, contents itself with easy and consequently superficial knowledge, and prefers a great degree of ignorance to a small degree of trouble. These people either think or represent most things as impossible, whereas few things are so to industry and activity. But difficulties seem to them impossibilities, or at least they pretend to think them so by way of excuse for their laziness. An hour's attention to the same subject is too laborious for them; they take everything in the light in which it first presents itself, never consider it in all its different views, and in short never think it thorough. The consequence of this is that when they come to speak upon these subjects before people who have considered them with attention, they only discover their own ignorance and laziness, and lay themselves open to answers that put them in confusion. Do not then be discouraged by the first difficulties, but contra audentior ito [more boldly]; and resolve to go to the bottom of all those things which every gentleman ought to know well. Those arts or sciences which are peculiar to certain professions need not be deeply known by those who are not intended for those professions; as, for instance, fortification and navigation; of both which, a superficial and general knowledge such as the common course of conversation with a very little inquiry on your part will give you, is sufficient. Though, by the way, a little more knowledge of fortification may be of some use to you, as the events of war in sieges make many of the terms of that science occur frequently m common conversation; and one would be sorry to say, like the Marquis de Mascarille in Moliere's "Precieuses Ridicules," when he hears of une demie lune, "Ma foi! c'etoit bien une lune toute entiere." [a half moon. My faith was an entire moon] But those things which every gentleman, independently of profession, should know, he ought to know well, and dive into all the depth of them. Such are languages, history, and geography, ancient and modern, philosophy, rational logic, rhetoric; and for you particularly, the constitutions, and the civil and military state of every country in Europe. This, I confess, is a pretty large circle of knowledge, attended with some difficulties, and requiring some trouble; which, however, an active and industrious mind will overcome, and be amply repaid. The trifling and frivolous mind is always busied, but to little purpose; it takes little objects for great ones, and throws away upon trifles that time and attention which only important things deserve. Knickknacks, butterflies, shells, insects, etc., are the subjects of their most serious researches. They contemplate the dress, not the characters, of the company they keep. They attend more to the decorations of a play than to the sense of it, and to the ceremonies of a court more than to its politics. Such an employment of time is an absolute loss of it. You have now, at most, three years to employ, either well or ill; for as I have often told you, you will be all your life what you shall be three years hence. For God's sake then reflect. Will you throw this time away either in laziness or in trifles; or will you not rather employ every moment of it in a manner that must so soon reward you with so much pleasure, figure, and character? I cannot, I will not, doubt of your choice. Read only useful books; and never quit a subject till you are thoroughly master of it, but read and inquire on till then. When you are in company, bring the conversation to some useful subject, but a portee of that company. Points of history, matters of literature, the customs of particular countries, the several orders of knighthood, as Teutonic, Maltese, etc., are surely better subjects of conversation than the weather, dress, or fiddle-faddle stories that carry no information along with them. The characters of kings and great men are only to be learned in conversation; for they are never fairly written during their lives. This therefore is an entertaining and instructive subject of conversation, and will likewise give you an opportunity of observing how very differently characters are given from the different passions and views of those who give them. Never be ashamed nor afraid of asking questions; for if they lead to information, and if you accompany them with some excuse, you will never be reckoned an impertinent or rude questioner. All those things, in the common course of life, depend entirely upon the manner; and in that respect the vulgar saying is true, "That one man can better steal a horse than another look over the hedge." There are few things that may not be said in some manner or other; either in a seeming confidence, or a genteel irony, or introduced with wit; and one great part of the knowledge of the world consists in knowing when and where to make use of these different manners. The graces of the person, the countenance, and the way of speaking contribute so much to this, that I am convinced the very same thing said by a genteel person in an engaging way, and gracefully and distinctly spoken, would please, which would shock, if muttered out by an awkward figure with a sullen, serious countenance. The poets always represent Venus as attended by the three Graces, to intimate that even beauty will not do without. I think they should have given Minerva three also, for without them I am sure learning is very unattractive. Invoke them then, distinctly, to accompany all your words and motions. Adieu.
25. How History Should be Read
London, Aug. 30, O. S. 1748.
Your reflections upon the conduct of France from the treaty of Miinster to this time are very just; and I am very glad to find by them, that you not only read, but that you think and reflect upon what you read. Many great readers load their memories without exercising their judgments, and make lumber-rooms of their heads instead of furnishing them usefully; facts are heaped upon facts without order or distinction, and may justly be said to compose that "Rudis indigestaque moles quam dixere chaos." [Raw and confused mass which they called Chaos]
Go on, then, in the way of reading that you are in; take nothing for granted upon the bare authority of the author, but weigh and consider in your own mind the probability of the facts and the justness of the reflections. Consult different authors upon the same facts, and form your opinion upon the greater or lesser degree of probability arising from the whole, -- which in my mind is the utmost stretch of historical faith, certainty (I fear) not being to be found. When a historian pretends to give you the causes and motives of events, compare those causes and motives with the characters and interests of the parties concerned, and judge for yourself whether they correspond or not. Consider whether you cannot assign others more probable; and in that examination do not despise some very mean and trifling causes of the actions of great men; for so various and inconsistent is human nature, so strong and so changeable are our passions, so fluctuating are our wills, and so much are our minds influenced by the accidents of our bodies, that every man is more the man of the day than a regular consequential character. The best have something bad, and something little; the worst have something good, and sometimes something great, -- for I do not believe what Velleius Paterculus (for the sake of saying a pretty thing) says of Scipio, "Qui nihil non laudandum aut fecit, aut dixit, aut sensit." [One who does nothing does not praise, or done, or said, or felt] As for the reflections of historians with which they think it necessary to interlard their histories or at least to conclude their chapters, -- and which in the French histories are always introduced with a tant il est vrai, and in the English, "so true it is," -- do not adopt them implicitly upon the credit of the author, but analyze them yourself, and judge whether they are true or not.
26. General Character of Women -- Right Use of Wit
London, Sept. 5, O. S. 1748.
As women are a considerable or at least a pretty numerous part of company, and as their suffrages go a great way towards establishing a man's character in the fashionable part of the world, -- which is of great importance to the fortune and figure he proposes to make in it, -- it is necessary to please them. I will therefore upon this subject let you into certain arcana, that will be very useful for you to know, but which you must with the utmost care conceal, and never seem to know. Women then are only children of a larger growth; they have an entertaining tattle and sometimes wit, but for solid, reasoning good-sense, I never knew in my life one that had it, or who reasoned or acted consequentially for four-and-twenty hours together. Some little passion or humor always breaks in upon their best resolutions. Their beauty neglected or controverted, their age increased, or their supposed understandings depreciated instantly kindles their little passions, and overturns any system of consequential conduct that in their most reasonable moments they might have been capable of forming. A man of sense only trifles with them, plays with them, humors and flatters them, as he does with a sprightly, forward child; but he neither consults them about nor trusts them with serious matters, though he often makes them believe that he does both, which is the thing in the world that they are proud of; for they love mightily to be dabbling in business, -- which, by the way, they always spoil, -- and being justly distrustful that men in general look upon them in a trifling light, they almost adore that man who talks more seriously to them, and who seems to consult and trust them: I say, who seems; for weak men really do, but wise ones only seem to do it. No flattery is either too high or too low for them; they will greedily swallow the highest and gratefully accept of the lowest; and you may safely flatter any woman from her understanding down to the exquisite taste of her fan. Women who are either indisputably beautiful or indisputably ugly are best flattered upon the score of their understandings; but those who are in a state of mediocrity are best flattered upon their beauty, or at least their graces, for every woman who is not absolutely ugly thinks herself handsome; but not hearing often that she is so is the more grateful and the more obliged to the few who tell her so; whereas a decided and conscious beauty looks upon every tribute paid to her beauty only as her due, but wants to shine and to be considered on the side of her understanding; and a woman who is ugly enough to know that she is so, knows that she has nothing left for it but her understanding, which is consequently -- and probably in more senses than one -- her weak side. But these are secrets which you must keep inviolably, if you would not like Orpheus be torn to pieces by the whole sex; on the contrary, a man who thinks of living in the great world must be gallant, polite, and attentive to please the women. They have from the weakness of men more or less influence in all courts; they absolutely stamp every man's character in the beau monde and make it either current, or cry it down and stop it in payments. It is therefore absolutely necessary to manage, please, and flatter them, and never to discover the least marks of contempt, which is what they never forgive; but in this they are not singular, for it is the same with men, who will much sooner forgive an injustice than an insult. Every man is not ambitious, or courteous, or passionate; but every man has pride enough in his composition to feel and resent the least slight and contempt. Remember therefore most carefully to conceal your contempt, however just, wherever you would not make an implacable enemy. Men are much more unwilling to have their weaknesses and their imperfections known than their crimes; and if you hint to a man that you think him silly, ignorant, or even ill bred or awkward, he will hate you more and longer than if you tell him plainly that you think him a rogue. Never yield to that temptation, which to most young men is very strong, of exposing other people's weaknesses and infirmities for the sake either of diverting the company or showing your own superiority. You may get the laugh on your side by it for the present, but you will make enemies by it forever; and even those who laugh with you then will upon reflection fear, and consequently hate you; besides that, it is ill-natured, and a good heart desires rather to conceal than expose other people's weaknesses or misfortunes. If you have wit, use it to please and not to hurt; you may shine like the sun in the temperate zones without scorching. Here it is wished for; under the line it is dreaded.
These are some of the hints which my long experience in the great world enables me to give you, and which if you attend to them may prove useful to you in your journey through it. I wish it may be a prosperous one; at least I am sure that it must be your own fault if it is not.
28. Against the Refinements of Casuistry
[Note: casuistry: a process of reasoning that seeks to resolve moral problems by extracting or extending theoretical rules from a particular case, and reapplying those rules to new instances. -- Wikipedia]
London, Sept. 27, O. S. 1748.
Pray let no quibbles of lawyers, no refinements of casuists, break into the plain notions of right and wrong which every man's right reason and plain common-sense suggest to him. To do as you would be done by is the plain, sure, and undisputed rule of morality and justice. Stick to that; and be convinced that whatever breaks into it in any degree, however speciously it may be turned, and however puzzling it may be to answer it, is notwithstanding false in itself, unjust, and criminal. I do not know a crime in the world which is not by the casuists among the Jesuits (especially the twenty-four collected, I think, by Escobar) allowed in some or many cases not to be criminal. The principles first laid down by them are often specious, the reasonings plausible, but the conclusion always a lie; for it is contrary to that evident and undeniable rule of justice which I have mentioned above, of not doing to any one what you would not have him do to you. But, however, these refined pieces of casuistry and sophistry being very convenient and welcome to people's passions and appetites, they gladly accept the indulgence without desiring to detect the fallacy of the reasoning: and indeed many, I might say most people, are not able to do it, -- which makes the publication of such quibblings and refinements the more pernicious. I am no skilful casuist nor subtle disputant; and yet I would undertake to justify and qualify the profession of a highwayman, step by step, and so plausibly as to make many ignorant people embrace the profession as an innocent if not even a laudable one, and to puzzle people of some degree of knowledge to answer me point by point. I have seen a book, entitled "Quidlibet ex Quolibet," or the art of making anything out of anything; which is not so difficult as it would seem, if once one quits certain plain truths, obvious in gross to every understanding, in order to run after the ingenious refinements of warm imaginations and speculative reasonings. Doctor Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, a very worthy, ingenious, and "learned man, has written a book to prove that there is no such thing as matter, and that nothing exists but in idea; that you and I only fancy ourselves eating, drinking, and sleeping, you at Leipsic, and I at London; that we think we have flesh and blood, legs, arms, etc., but that we are only spirit. His arguments are strictly speaking unanswerable; but yet I am so far from being convinced by them that I am determined to go on to eat and drink, and walk and ride, in order to keep that matter, which I so mistakenly imagine my body at present to consist of, in as good plight as possible. Common-sense (which in truth is very uncommon) is the best sense I know of. Abide by it; it will counsel you best. Read and hear for your amusement ingenious systems, nice questions subtilely agitated, with all the refinements that warm imaginations suggest; but consider them only as exercitations for the mind, and return always to settle with common-sense.
29. True Good Company Defined
October 12, O. S. 1748.
To keep good company, especially at your first setting out, is the way to receive good impressions. If you ask me what I mean by good company, I will confess to you that it is pretty difficult to define; but I will endeavor to make you understand it as well as I can.
Good company is not what respective sets of company are pleased either to call or think themselves, but it is that company which all the people of the place call, and acknowledge to be, good company, notwithstanding some objections which they may form to some of the individuals who compose it. It consists chiefly (but by no means without exception) of people of considerable birth, rank, and character; for people of neither birth nor rank are frequently and very justly admitted into it, if distinguished by any peculiar merit, or eminency in any liberal art or science. Nay, so motley a thing is good company that many people without birth, rank, or merit intrude into it by their own forwardness, and others slide into it by the protection of some considerable person; and some even of indifferent characters and morals make part of it. But in the main, the good part preponderates, and people of infamous and blasted characters are never admitted. In this fashionable good company, the best manners and the best language of the place are most unquestionably to be learnt; for they establish and give the tone to both, which are therefore called the language and manners of good company, there being no legal tribunal to ascertain either.
A company consisting wholly of people of the first quality cannot for that reason be called good company, in the common acceptation of the phrase, unless they are into the bargain the fashionable and accredited company of the place; for people of the very first quality can be as silly, as ill bred, and as worthless as people of the meanest degree. On the other hand, a company consisting entirely of people of very low condition, whatever their merit or parts may be, can never be called good company; and consequently should not be much frequented, though by no means despised.
A company wholly composed of men of learning, though greatly to be valued and respected, is not meant by the words "good company;" they cannot have the easy manners and tournure [twist] of the world, as they do not live in it. If you can bear your part well in such a company, it is extremely right to be in it sometimes, and you will be but more esteemed in other companies for having a place in that. But then do not let it engross you; for if you do, you will be only considered as one of the literati by profession, which is not the way either to shine or rise in the world.
The company of professed wits and poets is extremely inviting to most young men, who if they have wit themselves, are pleased with it, and if they have none, are sillily proud of being one of it; but it should be frequented with moderation and judgment, and you should by no means give yourself up to it. A wit is a very unpopular denomination, as it carries terror along with it; and people in general are as much afraid of a live wit in company as a woman is of a gun, which she thinks may go off of itself and do her a mischief Their acquaintance is however worth seeking, and their company worth frequenting; but not exclusively of others, nor to such a degree as to be considered only as one of that particular set.
But the company which of all others you should most carefully avoid is that low company which in every sense of the word is low indeed, -- low in rank, low in parts, low in manners, and low in merit. You will perhaps be surprised that I should think it necessary to warn you against such company, but yet I do not think it wholly unnecessary from the many instances which I have seen of men of sense and rank discredited, vilified, and undone by keeping such company. Vanity, that source of many of our follies and of some of our crimes, has sunk many a man into company in every light infinitely below himself, for the sake of being the first man in it. There he dictates, is applauded, admired; and for the sake of being the Coryphaeus of that wretched chorus, disgraces and disqualifies himself soon for any better company. Depend upon it, you will sink or rise to the level of the company which you commonly keep; people will judge of you, and not unreasonably, by that. There is good sense in the Spanish saying, "Tell me whom you live with, and I will tell you who you are." Make it therefore your business, wherever you are, to get into that company which everybody in the place allows to be the best company next to their own; which is the best definition that I can give you of good company. But here, too, one caution is very necessary, for want of which many young men have been ruined, even in good company. Good company (as I have before observed) is composed of a great variety of fashionable people, whose characters and morals are very different, though their manners are pretty much the same. When a young man, new in the world, first gets into that company, he very rightly determines to conform to and imitate it. But then he too often and fatally mistakes the objects of his imitation. He has often heard that absurd term of "genteel and fashionable vices." He there sees some people who shine and who in general are admired and esteemed, and observes that these people are . . . drunkards or gamesters, upon which he adopts their vices, mistaking their defects for their perfections, and thinking that they owe their fashion and their lustre to those genteel vices. Whereas it is exactly the reverse; for these people have acquired their reputation by their parts, their learning, their good breeding, and other accomplishments, and are only blemished and lowered, in the opinions of all reasonable people, and of their own in time, by these genteel and fashionable vices.
30. Conduct in Good Company -- On Mimicry
Bath, Oct. 19, O. S. 1748.
Having in my last pointed out what sort of company you should keep, I will now give you some rules for your conduct in it, -- rules which my own experience and observation enable me to lay down and communicate to you with some degree of confidence. I have often given you hints of this kind before, but then it has been by snatches; I will now be more regular and methodical. I shall say nothing with regard to your bodily carriage and address, but leave them to the care of your dancing- master and to your own attention to the best models; remember, however, that they are of consequence.
Talk often, but never long; in that case, if you do not please, at least you are sure not to tire your hearers. Pay your own reckoning, but do not treat the whole company, -- this being one of the very few cases in which people do not care to be treated, every one being fiilly convinced that he has wherewithal to pay.
Tell stories very seldom, and absolutely never but where they are very apt and very short. Omit every circumstance that is not material, and beware of digressions. To have frequent recourse to narrative betrays great want of imagination.
Never hold anybody by the button or the hand in order to be heard out; for if people are not willing to hear you, you had much better hold your tongue than them.
Most long talkers single out some one unfortunate man in company (commonly him whom they observe to be the most silent, or their next neighbor) to whisper, or at least in a half voice to convey a continuity of words to. This is excessively ill bred, and in some degree a fraud; conversation-stock being a joint and common property. But on the other hand, if one of these unmerciful talkers lays hold of you, hear him with patience, and at least seeming attention, if he is worth obliging, -- for nothing will oblige him more than a patient hearing, as nothing would hurt him more than either to leave him in the midst of his discourse, or to discover your impatience under your affliction.
Take, rather than give, the tone of the company you are in. If you have parts, you will show them more or less upon every subject; and if you have not, you had better talk sillily upon a subject of other people's than of your own choosing.
Avoid as much as you can, in mixed companies, argumentative, polemical conversations, -- which though they should not, yet certainly do, indispose for a time the contending parties toward each other; and if the controversy grows warm and noisy, endeavor to put an end to it by some genteel levity or joke. I quieted such a conversation-hubbub once by representing to them that though I was persuaded none there present would repeat out of company what passed in it, yet I could not answer for the discretion of the passengers in the street, who must necessarily hear all that was said.
Above all things, and upon all occasions, avoid speaking of yourself, if it be possible. Such is the natural pride and vanity of our hearts that it perpetually breaks out, even in people of the best parts, in all the various modes and figures of the egotism.
Some abruptly speak advantageously of themselves, without either pretence or provocation. They are impudent. Others proceed more artfully as they imagine, and forge accusations against themselves, complain of calumnies which they never heard, in order to justify themselves by exhibiting a catalogue of their many virtues. * They acknowledge it may indeed seem odd that they should talk in that manner of themselves; it is what they do not like, and what they never would have done, -- no, no tortures should ever have forced it from them, if they had not been thus unjustly and monstrously accused! But in these cases justice is surely due to one's self as well as to others, and when our character is attacked, we may say in our own justification what otherwise we never would have said.' This thin veil of modesty drawn before vanity is much too transparent to conceal it even from very moderate discernment.
Others go more modestly and more slyly still (as they think) to work, but in my mind, still more ridiculously. They confess themselves (not without some degree of shame and confusion) into all the cardinal virtues by first degrading them into weaknesses, and then owning their misfortune in being made up of those weaknesses. ' They cannot see people suffer without sympathizing with and endeavoring to help them. They cannot see people want without relieving them, though truly their own circumstances cannot very well afford it. They cannot help speaking truth, though they know ail the imprudence of it. In short, they know that with all these weaknesses, they are not fit to live in the world, much less to thrive in it; but they are now too old to change, and must rub on as well as they can.' This sounds too ridiculous and outre, almost, for the stage; and yet, take my word for it, you will frequently meet with it upon the common stage of the world. And here I will observe, by the by, that you will often meet with characters in Nature so extravagant, that a discreet poet would not venture to set them upon the stage in their true and high coloring.
This principle of vanity and pride is so strong in human nature that it descends even to the lowest objects; and one often sees people angling for praise, where, admitting all they say to be true (which, by the way, it seldom is), no just praise is to be caught. One man affirms that he has rode post an hundred miles in six hours: probably it is a lie; but supposing it to be true, what then? Why he is a very good post-boy, that is all. Another asserts, and probably not without oaths, that he has drunk six or eight bottles of wine at a sitting; out of charity, I will believe him a liar, for if I do not I must think him a beast.
Such, and a thousand more, are the follies and extravagances which vanity draws people into, and which always defeat their own purpose; and as Waller says, upon another subject, -- "Make the wretch the most despised Where most he wishes to be prized."
The only sure way of avoiding these evils is never to speak of yourself at all. But when, historically, you are obliged to mention yourself, take care not to drop one single word that can directly or indirectly be construed as fishing for applause. Be your character what it will, it will be known; and nobody will take it upon your own word. Never imagine that anything you can say yourself will varnish your defects or add lustre to your perfections; but on the contrary it may, and nine times in ten will, make the former more glaring and the latter obscure. If you are silent upon your own subject, neither envy, indignation, nor ridicule will obstruct or allay the applause which you may really deserve; but if you publish your own panegeic upon any occasion, or in any shape whatsoever, and however artfully dressed or disguised, they will all conspire against you, and you will be disappointed of the very end you aim at.
Take care never to seem dark and mysterious, -- which is not only a very unamiable character but a very suspicious one too. If you seem mysterious with others, they will be really so with you, and you will know nothing. The height of abilities is to have volto sciolto and pensieri stretti; that is, a frank, open, and ingenuous exterior with a prudent interior; to be upon your own guard, and yet by a seeming natural openness to put people off theirs. Depend upon it, nine in ten of every company you are in will avail themselves of every indiscreet and unguarded expression of yours, if they can turn it to their own advantage. A prudent reserve is, therefore, as necessary as a seeming openness is prudent. Always look people in the face when you speak to them; the not doing it is thought to imply conscious guilt. Besides that, you lose the advantage of observing by their countenances what impression your discourse makes upon them. In order to know people's real sentiments, I trust much more to my eyes than to my ears; for they can say whatever they have a mind I should hear, but they can seldom help looking what they have no intention that I should know.
Neither retail nor receive scandal willingly; defamation of others may for the present gratify the malignity of the pride of our hearts, cool reflection will draw very disadvantageous conclusions from such a disposition; and in the case of scandal, as in that of robbery, the receiver is always thought as bad as the thief.
Mimicry, which is the common and favorite amusement of little, low minds, is in the utmost contempt with great ones. It is the lowest and most illiberal of all buffoonery. Pray, neither practise it yourself nor applaud it in others. Besides that, the person mimicked is insulted, and as I have often observed to you before, an insult is never forgiven.
I need not, I believe, advise you to adapt your conversation to the people you are conversing with, -- for I suppose you would not, without this caution, have talked upon the same subject, and in the same manner, to a minister of state, a bishop, a philosopher, a captain, and a woman. A man of the world must, like the chameleon, be able to take every different hue, which is by no means a criminal or abject, but a necessary complaisance; for it relates only to manners and not to morals.
One word only as to swearing, and that, I hope and believe, is more than is necessary. You may sometimes hear some people in good company interlard their discourse with oaths, by way of embellishment, as they think; but you must observe too, that those who do so are never those who contribute in any degree to give that company the denomination of good company. They are always subalterns, or people of low education; for that practice, besides that it has no one temptation to plead, is as silly and as illiberal as it is wicked.
Loud laughter is the mirth of the mob, who are only pleased with silly things; for true wit or good sense never excited a laugh since the creation of the world. A man of parts and fashion is therefore only seen to smile, but never heard to laugh.
But to conclude this long letter: all the above-mentioned rules, however carefully you may observe them, will lose half their effect if unaccompanied by the Graces. Whatever you say, if you say it with a supercilious, cynical face, or an embarrassed countenance, or a silly, disconcerted grin, will be ill received. If, into the bargain, you mutter it, or utter it indistinctly and ungracefully, it will be still worse received. If your air and address are vulgar, awkward, and gauche, you may be esteemed indeed, if you have great intrinsic merit, but you will never please; and without pleasing, you will rise but heavily. Venus among the ancients was synonymous with the Graces, who were always supposed to accompany her; and Horace tells us that even youth, and Mercury, the God of arts and eloquence, would not do without her, -- "Parum comis sine te Juventas Mercuriusque." [Mercury, a little hair without you Juventas]
They are not inexorable ladies, and may be had, if properly and diligently pursued. Adieu.
33. The Importance of Dress
London, Dec. 30, O. S. 1748.
I direct this letter to Berlin, where I suppose it will either find you or at least wait but a very little time for you. I cannot help being anxious for your success at this your first appearance upon the great stage of the world; for though the spectators are always candid enough to give great allowances and to show great indulgence to a new actor, yet from the first impressions 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 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. 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 afterwards; and without ajiy 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.
34. On Prejudices. -- Liberty of the Press
London, Feb. 7, O. S. 1749.
You are now come to an age capable of reflection, and I hope you will do, what however few people at your age do, exert it for your own sake in the search of truth and sound knowledge. I will confess (for I am not unwilling to discover my secrets to you) that it is not many years since I have presumed to reflect for myself. Till sixteen or seventeen I had no reflection, and for many years after that, I made no use of what I had. I adopted the notions of the books I read, or the company I kept, without examining whether they were just or not; and I rather chose to run the risk of easy error than to take the time and trouble of investigating truth. Thus, partly from laziness, partly from dissipation, and partly from the mauvaise honte of rejecting fashionable notions, I was (as I have since found) hurried away by prejudices instead of being guided by reason, and quietly cherished error instead of seeking for truth. But since I have taken the trouble of reasoning for myself and have had the courage to own that I do so, you cannot imagine how much my notions of things are altered, and in how different a light I now see them from that in which I formerly viewed them through the deceitful medium of prejudice or authority. Nay, I may possibly still retain many errors, which from long habit have perhaps grown into real opinions; for it is very difficult to distinguish habits, early acquired and long entertained, from the result of our reason and reflection.
My first prejudice (for I do not mention the prejudices of boys and women, such as hobgoblins, ghosts, dreams, spilling salt, etc.) was my classical enthusiasm, which I received from the books I read and the masters who explained them to me. I was convinced there had been no common-sense nor common honesty in the world for these last fifteen hundred years, but that they were totally extinguished with the ancient Greek and Roman governments. Homer and Virgil could have no faults, because they were ancient; Milton and Tasso could have no merit, because they were modem. And I could almost have said with regard to the ancients what Cicero very absurdly and unbecomingly for a philosopher says with regard to Plato, Cum quo errare malim quam cum aliis recte sentire. [To feel, with what can go wrong with the others as I would prefer that] Whereas now, without any extraordinary effort of genius, I have discovered that nature was the same three thousand years ago as it is at present; that men were but men then as well as now; that modes and customs vary often, but that human nature is always the same. And I can no more suppose that men were better, braver, or wiser fifteen hundred or three thousand years ago than I can suppose that the anmials or vegetables were better then than they are now. I dare assert too in defiance of the favorers of the ancients that Homer's hero, Achilles, was both a brute and a scoundrel, and consequently an improper character for the hero of an epic poem: he had so little regard for his country that he would not act in defence of it because he had quarrelled with Agamemnon about a strumpet; and then afterwards, animated by private resentment only, he went about killing people basely, I will call it, because he knew himself invulnerable; and yet invulnerable as he was he wore the strongest armor in the world, -which I humbly apprehend to be a blunder, for a horse-shoe clapped to his vulnerable heel would have been sufficient. On the other hand, with submission to the favorers of the moderns, I assert with Mr. Dryden that the Devil is in truth the hero of Milton's poem, -- his plan, which he lays, pursues, and at last executes, being the subject of the poem. From all which considerations I impartially conclude that the ancients had their excellences and their defects, their virtues and their vices, just like the moderns; pedantry and affectation of learning decide clearly in favor of the former; vanity and ignorance as peremptorily in favor of the latter. Religious prejudices kept pace with my classical ones, and there was a time when I thought it impossible for the honestest man in the world to be saved out of the pale of the Church of England,^ -not considering that matters of opinion do not depend upon the will, and that it is as natural and as allowable that another man should differ in opinion from me as that I should differ from him; and that if we are both sincere, we are both blameless, and should consequently have mutual indulgence for each other.
The next prejudices that I adopted were those of the beau monde, in which, as I was determined to shine, I took what are commonly called the genteel vices to be necessary. I had heard them reckoned so, and without further inquiry I believed it, or at least should have been ashamed to have denied it for fear of exposing myself to the ridicule of those whom I considered as the models of fine gentlemen. But I am now neither ashamed nor afraid to assert that those genteel vices, as they are falsely called, are only so many blemishes in the character of even a man of the world and what is called a fine gentleman, and degrade him in the opinions of those very people to whom he hopes to recommend himself by them. Nay, this prejudice often extends so far that I have known people pretend to vices they had not, instead of carefully concealing those they had.
Use and assert your own reason; reflect, examine, and analyze everything, in order to form a sound and mature judgment; let no oStos e^a impose upon your understanding, mislead your actions, or dictate your conversation. Be early what if you are not, you will when too late wish you had been. Consult your reason betimes; I do not say that it will always prove an unerring guide, for human reason is not infallible, but it will prove the least erring guide that you can follow. Books and conversation may assist it, but adopt neither blindly and implicitly; try both by that best rule which God has given to direct us, -- reason. Of all the troubles, do not decline, as many people do, that of thinking. The herd of mankind can hardly be said to think; their notions are almost all adoptive; and in general I believe it is better that it should be so, as such common prejudices contribute more to order and quiet than their own separate reasonings would do, uncultivated and unimproved as they are. We have many of those useful prejudices in this country which I should be very sorry to see removed. The good Protestant conviction that the Pope is both Antichrist and the W -- of Babylon, is a more effectual preservative in this country against popery than all the solid and unanswerable arguments of Chillingworth.
The idle story of the Pretender's having been introduced in a warming-pan into the Queen's bed, though as destitute of all probability as of all foundation, has been much more prejudicial to the cause of Jacobitism than all that Mr. Locke and others have written to show the unreasonableness and absurdity of the doctrines of indefeasible hereditary right and unlimited passive obedience. And that silly, sanguine notion which is firmly entertained here, that one Englishman can beat three Frenchmen, encourages, and has sometimes enabled one Englishman in reality to beat two.
A Frenchman ventures his life with alacrity pour l'honneur du Roi [for the honour of the king]; were you to change the object which he has been taught to have in view, and tell him that it was pour le bien de la Patrie [for the good of the country], he would very probably run away. Such gross local prejudices prevail with the herd of mankind, and do not impose upon cultivated, informed, and reflecting minds; but then there are notions equally false, though not so glaringly absurd, which are entertained by people of superior and improved understandings merely for want of the necessary pains to investigate, the proper attention to examine, and the penetration requisite to determine the truth. Those are the prejudices which I would have you guard against by a manly exertion and attention of your reasoning faculty. To mention one instance of a thousand that I could give you, -- it is a general prejudice, and has been propagated for these sixteen hundred years, that arts and sciences cannot flourish under an absolute government, and that genius must necessarily be cramped where freedom is restrained. This sounds plausible, but is false in fact. Mechanic arts, as agriculture, etc., will indeed be discouraged, where the profits and property are from the nature of the government insecure; but why the despotism of a government should cramp the genius of a mathematician, an astronomer, a poet, or an orator, I confess I never could discover. It may indeed deprive the poet or the orator of the liberty of treating of certain subjects in the manner they would wish; but it leaves them subjects enough to exert genius upon if they have it.
Can an author with reason complain that he is cramped and shackled if he is not at liberty to publish blasphemy, bawdry, or sedition? -- all which are equally prohibited in the freest governments, if they are wise and well-regulated ones. This is the present general complaint of the French authors, but indeed chiefly of the bad ones. No wonder, say they, that England produces so many great geniuses; people there may think as they please, and publish what they think. Very true; but who hinders them from thinking as they please? If indeed they think in a manner destructive of all religion, morality, or good manners, or to the disturbance of the State, an absolute government will certainly more effectually prohibit them from or punish them for publishing such thoughts than a free one could do. But how does that cramp the genius of an epic, dramatic, or lyric poet? Or how does it corrupt the eloquence of an orator, in the pulpit or at the bar?
35. Dignity of Manners Recommended: In What it Consists
London, Aug. 10, O. S. 1749.
There is a certain dignity of manners absolutely necessary to make even the most valuable character either respected or respectable.
Horse-play, romping, frequent and loud fits of laughter, jokes, waggery, and indiscriminate familiarity will sink both merit and knowledge into a degree of contempt. They compose at most a merry fellow, and a merry fellow was never yet a respectable man. Indiscriminate familiarity either offends your superiors, or else dubs you their dependant and led captain. It gives your inferiors just but troublesome and improper claims of equality. A joker is near akin to a buffoon, and neither of them is the least related to wit. Whoever is either admitted or sought for in company upon any other account than that of his merit and manners, is never respected there but only made use of. We will have such-a-one, for he sings prettily; we will invite such a one to a ball, for he dances well; we will have such-a-one at supper, for he is always joking and laughing; we will ask another because he plays deep at all games, or because he can drink a great deal. These are all vilifying distinctions, mortifying preferences, and exclude all ideas of esteem and regard. Whoever is had (as it is called) in company for the sake of any one thing singly, is singly that thing, and will never be considered in any other light; consequently never respected, let his merits be what they will.
This dignity of manners which I recommend so much to you is not only as different from pride as true courage is from blustering, or true wit from joking, but is absolutely inconsistent with it; for nothing vilifies and degrades more than pride. The pretensions of the proud man are oftener treated with sneer and contempt than with indignation; as we offer ridiculously too little to a tradesman who asks ridiculously too much for his goods, but we do not haggle with one who only asks a just and reasonable price.
Abject flattery and indiscriminate assentation [agreeing too quickly] degrade as much as indiscriminate contradiction and noisy debate disgust. But a modest assertion of one's own opinion and a complaisant acquiescence in other people's preserve dignity.
Vulgar, low expressions, awkward motions and address, vilify; as they imply either a very low turn of mind or low education and low company.
Frivolous curiosity about trifles and laborious attention to little objects, which neither require nor deserve a moment's thought, lower a man; who from thence is thought (and not unjustly) incapable of greater matters. Cardinal de Retz very sagaciously marked out Cardinal Chigi for a little mind from the moment that he told him he had wrote three years with the same pen, and that it was an excellent good one still.
43. "The Tongue to Persuade"
London, Dec. 12, O. S. 1749.
Lord Clarendon in his history says of Mr. John Hampden that "he had a head to contrive, a tongue to persuade, and a hand to execute any mischief." I shall not now enter into the justness of this character of Mr. Hampden, to whose brave stand against the illegal demand of ship-money we owe our present liberties; but I mention it to you as the character, which, with the alteration of one single word, Good, instead of Mischief, I would have you aspire to, and use your utmost endeavors to deserve. The head to contrive God must to a certain degree have given you; but it is in your own power greatly to improve it by study, observation, and reflection. As for the "tongue to persuade," it wholly depends upon yourself; and without it the best head will contrive to very little purpose. The hand to execute depends likewise, in my opinion, in a great measure upon yourself. Serious reflection will always give courage in a good cause; and the courage arising from reflection is of a much superior nature to the animal and constitutional courage of a foot soldier. The former is steady and unshaken, where the nodus is dignus vindice [The knot is not worthy champion]; the latter is oftener improperly than properly exerted, but always brutally.
The second member of my text (to speak ecclesiastically) shall be the subject of my following discourse, -- the tongue to persuade, -- as judicious preachers recommend those virtues which they think their several audiences want the most, such as truth and continence at Court, disinterestedness in the city, and sobriety in the country.
You must certainly in the course of your little experience have felt the different effects of elegant and inelegant speaking. Do you not suffer when people accost you in a stammering or hesitating manner, in an untuneful voice with false accents and cadences, puzzling and blundering through solecisms, barbarisms, and vulgarisms, misplacing even their bad words, and inverting all method? Does not this prejudice you against their matter, be it what it will; nay, even against their persons? I am sure it does me. On the other hand, do you not feel yourself inclined, prepossessed, nay, even engaged in favor of those who address you in the direct contrary manner? The effects of a correct and adorned style, of method and perspicuity, are incredible towards persuasion; they often supply the want of reason and argument, but when used in the support of reason and argument, they are irresistible. The French attend very much to the purity and elegance of their style, even in common conversation; insomuch that it is a character to say of a man, "qu'il narre bien." [that he narrates well] Their conversations frequently turn upon the delicacies of their language, and an academy is employed in fixing it. The Crusca in Italy has the same object; and I have met with very few Italians who did not speak their own language correctly and elegantly. How much more necessary is it for an Englishman to do so, who is to speak it in a public assembly where the laws and liberties of his country are the subjects of his deliberation? The tongue that would persuade there must not content itself with mere articulation. ... If you have the least defect in your elocution, take the utmost care and pains to correct it. Do not neglect your style, whatever language you speak in, or whomever you speak to, were it your footman. Seek always for the best words and the happiest expressions you can find. Do not content yourself with being barely understood, but adorn your thoughts, and dress them as you would your person; which, however well proportioned it might be, it would be very improper and indecent to exhibit naked, or even worse dressed than people of your sort are.
44. Man's Inconsistency -- Richelieu and Mazarin -- Women More Alike Than Men -- On Rash Confidences
London, Dec. 19, O. S. 1749.
The knowledge of mankind is a very useful knowledge for everybody, -- a most necessary one for you, who are destined tb 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 predominate 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.
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 an 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; 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 wrong-headed; 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 [describe how they can be valid]. 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, -- 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.
45. On the 'Leniores Virtutes'
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 [the slower virtues], 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 pretence to claim. He intimates his protection instead of his friendship by a gracious nod instead of an 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.
47. To Acquire the Graces and Accomplishments, Study the Best Models -- A List of the Graces
London, Jan. 18, O. S. 1750.
My Dear Friend,
I consider the solid part of your little edifice as so near being finished and completed that my only remaining care is about the embellishments; and that must now be your principal care too. Adorn yourself with all those graces and accomplishments which without solidity are frivolous, but without which solidity is to a great degree useless. Take one man with a very moderate degree of knowledge, but with a pleasing figure, a prepossessing address, graceful in all that he says and does, polite, liant, and in short, adorned with all the lesser talents; and take another man, with sound sense and profound knowledge, but without the above-mentioned advantages: the former will not only get the better of the latter in every pursuit of every kind, but in truth there will be no sort of competition between them. But can every man acquire these advantages? I say, Yes, if he please; suppose he is in a situation and in circumstances to frequent good company. Attention, observation, and imitation will most infallibly do it. When you see a man whose first abord strikes you, prepossesses you in his favor, and makes you entertain a good opinion of him, you do not know why, analyze that abord and examine within yourself the several parts that compose it, and you will generally find it to be the result, the happy assemblage, of modesty unembarrassed, respect without timidity, a genteel but unaffected attitude of body and limbs, an open, cheerful, but unsmirking countenance, and a dress by no means negligent, and yet not foppish. Copy him then not servilely, but as some of the greatest masters of painting have copied others, -- insomuch that their copies have been equal to the originals both as to beauty and freedom. When you see a man who is universally allowed to shine as an agreeable well-bred man, and a fine gentleman (as for example, the Duke de Nivemois), attend to him, watch him carefully; observe in what manner he addresses himself to his superiors, how he lives with his equals, and how he treats his inferiors. Mind his turn of conversation in the several situations of morning visits, the table, and the evening amusements. Imitate without mimicking him; and be his duplicate, but not his ape. You will find that he takes care never to say or do anything that can be construed into a slight or a negligence, or that can in any degree mortify people's vanity and self-love; on the contrary you will perceive that he makes people pleased with him by making them first pleased with themselves; he shows respect, regard, esteem. and attention, where they are severally proper; he sows them with care, and he reaps them in plenty.
These amiable accomplishments are all to be acquired by use and imitation; for we are in truth more than half what we are by imitation. The great point is to choose good models, and to study them with care. People insensibly contract not only the air, the manners, and the vices, of those with whom they commonly converse, but their virtues too, and even their way of thinking. This is so true that I have known very plain understandings catch a certain degree of wit by constantly conversing with those who had a great deal. Persist therefore in keeping the best company, and you will insensibly become like them; but if you add attention and observation, you will very soon become one of them. The inevitable contagion of company shows you the necessity of keeping the best and avoiding all other; for in every one something will stick. You have hitherto, I confess, had very few opportunities of keeping polite company. Westminster school is undoubtedly the seat of illiberal manners and brutal behavior; Leipzig, I suppose, is not the seat of refined and elegant manners; Venice, I believe, has done something; Rome, I hope, will do a great deal more; and Paris will, I dare say, do all that you want, -- always supposing that you frequent the best companies and in the intention of improving and forming yourself, for without that intention nothing will do.
I here subjoin a list of all those necessary ornamental accomplishments (without which no man living can either please or rise in the world) which hitherto I fear you want, and which only require your care and attention to possess, - To speak elegantly whatever language you speak in, without which nobody will hear you with pleasure, and consequently you will speak to very little purpose.
An agreeable and distinct elocution, without which nobody will hear you with patience. This everybody may acquire, who is not bom with some imperfection in the organs of speech. You are not, and therefore it is wholly in your power. You need take much less pains for it than Demosthenes did.
A distinguished politeness of manners and address, which common-sense, observation, good company, and imitation will infallibly give you if you will accept it.
A genteel carriage and graceful motions, with the air of a man of fashion. A good dancing-master, with some care on your part and some imitation of those who excel, will soon bring this about.
To be extremely clean in your person, and perfectly well dressed, according to the fashion, be that what it will. Your negligence of your dress while you were a school-boy was pardonable, but would not be so now.
Upon the whole, take it for granted that without these accomplishments all you know and all you can do will avail you very little. Adieu.
48. Importance of the Moral Virtues -- Warning Against Vanity
London, May 17, O. S. 1750.
My dear Friend,
Your apprenticeship is near out, and you are soon to set up for yourself; that approaching moment is a critical one for you, and an anxious one for me. A tradesman who would succeed in his way must begin by establishing a character of integrity and good manners: without the former, nobody will go to his shop at all; without the latter, nobody will go there twice. This rule does not exclude the fair arts of trade. He may sell his goods at the best price he can, within certain bounds. He may avail himself of the humor, the whims, and the fantastical tastes of his customers; but what he warrants to be good must be really so, what he seriously asserts must be true, or his first fraudulent profits will soon end in a bankruptcy. It is the same in higher life and in the great business of the world. A man who does not solidly establish, and really deserve, a character of truth, probity, good manners, and good morals at his first setting out in the world, may impose and shine like a meteor for a very short time, but will very soon vanish, and be extinguished with contempt. People easily pardon in young men the common irregularities of the senses; but they do not forgive the least vice of the heart. The heart never grows better by age; I fear rather worse; always harder. A young liar will be an old one, and a young knave will only be a greater knave as he grows older. But should a bad young heart, accompanied with a good head (which by the way very seldom is the case), really reform in a more advanced age, from a consciousness of its folly, as well as of its guilt, such a conversion would only be thought prudential and political, but never sincere. I hope in God, and I verily believe, that you want no moral virtue. But the possession of all the moral virtues in actu prima, as the logicians call it, is not sufficient; you must have them in actu secundo too, nay, that is not sufficient neither, you must have the reputation of them also. Your character in the world must be built upon that solid foundation, or it will soon fall, and upon your own head. You cannot therefore be too careful, too nice, too scrupulous, in establishing this character at first, upon which your whole career depends. Let no conversation, no example, no fashion, no bon mot, no silly desire of seeming to be above what most knaves and many fools call prejudices, ever tempt you to avow, excuse, extenuate, or laugh at the least breach of morality; but show upon all occasions, and take all occasions to show, a detestation and abhorrence of it. There, though young, you ought to be strict; and there only, while young, it becomes you to be strict and severe. But there too, spare the persons while you lash the crimes. All this relates, as you easily judge, to the vices of the heart, such as lying, fraud, envy, malice, detraction, etc., and I do not extend it to the little frailties of youth flowing from high spirits and warm blood. It would ill become you at your age to declaim against them, and sententiously censure an accidental excess of the table, a frolic, an inadvertency; no, keep as free from them yourself as you can, but say nothing against them in others. They certainly mend by time, often by reason; and a man's worldly character is not affected by them, provided it be pure in all other respects.
To come now to a point of much less but yet of very great consequence at your first setting out. Be extremely upon your guard against vanity, the common failing of inexperienced youth; but particularly against that kind of vanity that dubs a man a coxcomb, -- a character which, once acquired, is more indelible than that of the priesthood. It is not to be imagined by how many different ways vanity defeats its own purposes. Some men decide peremptorily upon every subject, betray their ignorance upon many, and show a disgusting presumption upon the rest. . . . Others flatter their vanity by little extraneous objects, which have not the least relation to themselves, -- such as being descended from, related to, or acquainted with people of distinguished merit and eminent characters. They talk perpetually of their grandfather such-a-one, their uncle such-a-one and their intimate friend Mr. Such-a-one, with whom possibly they are hardly acquainted. But admitting it all to be as they would have it, what then? Have they the more merit for those accidents? Certainly not. On the contrary, their taking up adventitious proves their want of intrinsic merit; a rich man never borrows. Take this rule for granted, as a never-failing one, -- that you must never seem to affect the character in which you have a mind to shine. Modesty is the only sure bait when you angle for praise. The affectation of courage will make even a brave man pass only for a bully, as the affectation of wit will make a man of parts pass for a coxcomb. By this modesty I do not mean timidity and awkward bashfulness. On the contrary, be inwardly firm and steady, know your own value whatever it may be, and act upon that principle; but take great care to let nobody discover that you do know your own value. Whatever real merit you have, other people will discover, and people always magnify their own discoveries, as they lessen those of others.
56. The Study of the World -- Company the Only School
London, March 16, O. S. 1752.
My Dear Friend,
How do you go on with the most useful and most necessary of all studies, -- the study of the world? Do you find that you gain knowledge; and does your daily experience at once extend and demonstrate your improvement? You will possibly ask me how you can judge of that yourself. I will tell you a sure way of knowing. Examine yourself and see whether your notions of the world are changed by experience from what they were two years ago in theory; for that alone is one favorable symptom of improvement. At that age (I remember it in myself) every notion that one forms is erroneous; one has seen few models and those none of the best to form one's self upon. One thinks that everything is to be carried by spirit and vigor; that art is meanness, and that versatility and complaisance are the refuge of pusillanimity and weakness. This most mistaken opinion gives an indelicacy, a brusquerie, and a roughness to the manners. Fools, who can never be undeceived, retain them as long as they live; reflection with a little experience makes men of sense shake them off soon. When they come to be a little better acquainted with themselves and with their own species, they discover that plain right reason is nine times in ten the fettered and shackled attendant of the triumph of the heart and the passions; and consequently they address themselves nine times in ten to the conqueror, not to the conquered: and conquerors you know must be applied to in the gentlest, the most engaging, and the most insinuating manner. Have you found out that every woman is infallibly to be gained by every sort of flattery, and every man by one sort or other? Have you discovered what variety of little things affect the heart and how surely they collectively gain it? If you have, you have made some progress. I would try a man's knowledge of the world as I would a schoolboy's knowledge of Horace, -- not by making him construe Maecenas atavis edite regibus [Maecenas ancestors kings], which he could do in the first form, but by examining him as to the delicacy and curiosa felicitas of that poet. A man requires very little knowledge and experience of the world to understand glaring, high-colored, and decided characters; they are but few and they strike at first. But to distinguish the almost imperceptible shades and the nice gradations of virtue and vice, sense and folly, strength and weakness (of which characters are commonly composed), demands some experience, great observation, and minute attention. In the same cases most people do the same things, but with this material difference, upon which the success commonly turns, -- a man who has studied the world knows when to time and where to place them; he has analyzed the characters he applies to, and adapted his address and his arguments to them: but a man of what is called plain good sense, who has only reasoned by himself and not acted with mankind, mistimes, misplaces, runs precipitately and bluntly at the mark, and falls upon his nose in the way. In the common manners of social life every man of common-sense has the rudiments, the A B C of civility; he means not to offend and even wishes to please, and if he has any real merit will be received and tolerated in good company. But that is far from being enough; for though he may be received he will never be desired; though he does not offend he will never be loved; but like some little, insignificant, neutral power surrounded by great ones, he will neither be feared nor courted by any, but by turns invaded by all, whenever it is their interest. A most contemptible situation! Whereas a man who has carefully attended to and experienced the various workings of the heart and the artifices of the head, and who by one shade can trace the progression of the whole color; who can at the proper times employ all the several means of persuading the understanding, and engaging the heart, may and will have enemies, but will and must have friends. He may be opposed, but he will be supported too; his talents may excite the jealousy of some, but his engaging arts will make him beloved by many more; he will be considerable; he will be considered. Many different qualifications must conspire to form such a man, and to make him at once respectable and amiable; and the least must be joined to the greatest; the latter would be unavailing without the former, and the former would be futile and frivolous without the latter. Learning is acquired by reading books; but the much more necessary learning, the knowledge of the world, is only to be acquired by reading men and studying all the various editions of them. Many words in every language are generally thought to be synonymous; but those who study the language attentively will find that there is no such thing. They will discover some little difference, some distinction between all those words that are vulgarly called synonymous; one has always more energy, extent, or delicacy than another. It is the same with men; all are in general, and yet no two in particular, exactly alike. Those who have not accurately studied, perpetually mistake them; they do not discern the shades and gradations that distinguish characters seemingly alike. Company, various company, is the only school for this knowledge. You ought to be by this time at least in the third form of that school from whence the rise to the uppermost is easy and quick; but then you must have application and vivacity, and you must not only bear with but even seek restraint in most companies instead of stagnating in one or two only where indolence and love of ease may be indulged.
62. A Worthy, Tiresome Man -- Manners Add Lutre to Learning
London, May 27, O. S. 1753.
My Dear Friend,
I have this day been tired, jaded, nay, tormented, by the company of a most worthy, sensible, and learned man, a near relation of mine, who dined and passed the evening with me. This seems a paradox but is a plain truth; he has no knowledge of the world, no manners, no address. Far from talking without book, as is commonly said of people who talk sillily, he only talks by book, -- which in general conversation is ten times worse. He has formed in his own closet from books certain systems of everything, argues tenaciously upon those principles, and is both surprised and angry at whatever deviates from them.
His theories are good but unfortunately are all impracticable. Why? because he has only read and not conversed. He is acquainted with books and an absolute stranger to men. Laboring with his matter he is delivered of it with pangs; he hesitates, stops in his utterance, and always expresses himself inelegantly. His actions are all ungraceful; so that with all his merit and knowledge, I would rather converse six hours with the most frivolous tittle-tattle woman who knew something of the world than with him. The preposterous notions of a systematical man who does not know the world tire the patience of a man who does. It would be endless to correct his mistakes, nor would he take it kindly, for he has considered everything deliberately and is very sure that he is in the right. Impropriety is a characteristic, and a never-failing one, of these people. Regardless, because ignorant, of customs and manners, they violate them every moment. They often shock though they never mean to offend, never attending either to the general character or the particular distinguishing circumstances of the people to whom or before whom they talk; whereas the knowledge of the world teaches one that the very same things which are exceedingly right and proper in one company, time, and place are exceedingly absurd in others. In short, a man who has great knowledge from experience and observation of the character, customs, and manners of mankind is a being as different from and as superior to a man of mere book and systematical knowledge as a well-managed horse is to an esgal. Study therefore, cultivate, and frequent men and women, -- not only in their outward, and consequently guarded, but in theii interior, domestic, and consequently less disguised characters and manners. Take your notions of things as by observation and experience you find they really are, and not as you read that they are or should be, for they never are quite what they should be. For this purpose do not content yourself with general and common acquaintance, but wherever you can, establish yourself with a kind of domestic familiarity in good houses. For instance, go again to Orli for two or three days and so at two or three reprises. Go and stay two or three days at a time at Versailles and improve and extend the acquaintance you have there. Be at home at St. Cloud, and whenever any private person of fashion invites you to pass a few days at his country-house accept of the invitation. This will necessarily give you a versatility of mind and a facility to adopt various manners and customs; for everybody desires to please those in whose house they are, and people are only to be pleased in their own way. Nothing is more engaging than a cheerful and easy conformity to people's particular manners, habits, and even weaknesses; nothing (to use a vulgar expression) should come amiss to a young fellow. He should be for good purposes what Alcibiades was commonly for bad ones, -- a Proteus assuming with ease and wearing with cheerfulness any shape. Heat, cold, luxury, abstinence, gravity, gayety, ceremony, easiness, learning, trifling, business, and pleasure are modes which he should be able to take, lay aside, or change occasionally with as much ease as he would take or lay aside his hat. All this is only to be acquired by use and knowledge of the world, by keeping a great deal of company, analyzing every character, and insinuating yourself into the familiarity of various acquaintance. A right, a generous ambition to make a figure in the world, necessarily gives the desire of pleasing; the desire of pleasing points out to a great degree the means of doing it; and the art of pleasing is in truth the art of rising, of distinguishing one's self, of making a figure and a fortune in the world. But without pleasing, without the Graces, as I have told you a thousand times, ogni fatica e vana [every effort and vain]. You are now but nineteen, an age at which most of your countrymen are illiberally getting drunk in port at the University. You have greatly got the start of them in learning, and if you can equally get the start of them in the knowledge and manners of the world, you may be very sure of outrunning them in Court and Parliament, as you set out so much earlier than they. They generally begin but to see the world at one and twenty; you will by that age have seen all Europe. They set out upon their travels unlicked cubs, and in their travels they only lick one another, for they seldom go into any other company. They know nothing but the English world, and the worst part of that too, and generally very little of any but the English language, and they come home at three or four-and twenty refined and polished (as is said in one of Congreve's plays) like Dutch skippers from a whale-fishing. The care which has been taken of you, and to do you justice the care that you have taken of yourself, has left you at the age of nineteen only nothing to acquire but the knowledge of the world, manners, address, and those exterior accomplishments. But they are great and necessary acquisitions to those who have sense enough to know their true value, and your getting them before you are one and twenty and before you enter upon the active and shining scene of life will give you such an advantage over your contemporaries that they cannot overtake you; they must be distanced. You may probably be placed about a young prince who will probably be a young king. There all the various arts of pleasing, the engaging address, the versatility of manners, the brillant, the Graces, will outweigh and yet outrun all solid knowledge and unpolished merit. Oil yourself therefore, and be both supple and shining for that race if you would be first, or early at the goal. Ladies will most probably too have something to say there, and those who are best with them will probably be best somewhere else. Labor this great point, my dear child, indefatigably; attend to the very smallest parts, the minutest graces, the most trifling circumstances that can possibly concur in forming the shining character of a complete gentleman, un galant homme, un homme de Cour [a gallant man, a man of court], a man of business and pleasure, estime des hommes, recherche des femmes, aime de tout le monde [esteemed by men, sought by women, loved by the whole world].
In this view, observe the shining part of every man of fashion who is liked and esteemed; attend to and imitate that particular accomplishment for which you hear him chiefly celebrated and distinguished; then collect those various parts and make yourself a mosaic of the whole. No one body possesses everything, and almost everybody possesses some one thing worthy of imitation; only choose your models well, and in order to do so, choose by your ear more than by your eye. The best model is always that which is most universally allowed to be the best, though in strictness it may possibly not be so. We must take most things as they are; we cannot make them what we would nor often what they should be, and where moral duties are not concerned, it is more prudent to follow than to attempt to lead. Adieu.
End of Selections