Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751

Author: Philip Dormer Stanhope


LONDON, March 25, O. S. 1751.

MY DEAR FRIEND: What a happy period of your life is this? Pleasure is now, and ought to be, your business. While you were younger, dry rules, and unconnected words, were the unpleasant objects of your labors. When you grow older, the anxiety, the vexations, the disappointments inseparable from public business, will require the greatest share of your time and attention; your pleasures may, indeed, conduce to your business, and your business will quicken your pleasures; but still your time must, at least, be divided: whereas now it is wholly your own, and cannot be so well employed as in the pleasures of a gentleman. The world is now the only book you want, and almost the only one you ought to read: that necessary book can only be read in company, in public places, at meals, and in ’ruelles’. You must be in the pleasures, in order to learn the manners of good company. In premeditated, or in formal business, people conceal, or at least endeavor to conceal, their characters: whereas pleasures discover them, and the heart breaks out through the guard of the understanding. Those are often propitious moments for skillful negotiators to improve. In your destination particularly, the able conduct of pleasures is of infinite use; to keep a good table, and to do the honors of it gracefully, and ’sur le ton de la bonne compagnie’, is absolutely necessary for a foreign minister. There is a certain light table chit-chat, useful to keep off improper and too serious subjects, which is only to be learned in the pleasures of good company. In truth it may be trifling; but, trifling as it is, a man of parts and experience of the world will give an agreeable turn to it. ’L’art de badiner agreablement’ is by no means to be despised.

An engaging address, and turn to gallantry, is often of very great service to foreign ministers. Women have, directly or indirectly; a good deal to say in most courts. The late Lord Strafford governed, for a considerable time, the Court of Berlin and made his own fortune, by being well with Madame de Wartenberg, the first King of Prussia’s mistress. I could name many other instances of that kind. That sort of agreeable ’caquet de femmes’, the necessary fore-runners of closer conferences, is only to be got by frequenting women of the first fashion, ’et, qui donnent le ton’. Let every other book then give way to this great and necessary book, the world, of which there are so many various readings, that it requires a great deal of time and attention to under stand it well: contrary to all other books, you must not stay home, but go abroad to read it; and when you seek it abroad, you will not find it in booksellers’ shops and stalls, but in courts, in hotels, at entertainments, balls, assemblies, spectacles, etc. Put yourself upon the footing of an easy, domestic, but polite familiarity and intimacy in the several French houses to which you have been introduced: Cultivate them, frequent them, and show a desire of becoming ’enfant de la maison’. Get acquainted as much as you can with ’les gens de cour’; and observe, carefully, how politely they can differ, and how civilly they can hate; how easy and idle they can seem in the multiplicity of their business; and how they can lay hold of the proper moments to carry it on, in the midst of their pleasures. Courts, alone, teach versatility and politeness; for there is no living there without them. Lord Albermarle has, I hear, and am very glad of it, put you into the hands of Messieurs de Bissy. Profit of that, and beg of them to let you attend them in all the companies of Versailles and Paris. One of them, at least, will naturally carry you to Madame de la Valiores, unless he is discarded by this time, and Gelliot —[A famous opera-singer at Paris.]— retaken. Tell them frankly, ’que vous cherchez a vous former, que vous etes en mains de maitres, s’ils veulent bien s’en donner la peine’. Your profession has this agreeable peculiarity in it, which is, that it is connected with, and promoted by pleasures; and it is the only one in which a thorough knowledge of the world, polite manners, and an engaging address, are absolutely necessary. If a lawyer knows his law, a parson his divinity, and a financier his calculations, each may make a figure and a fortune in his profession, without great knowledge of the world, and without the manners of gentlemen. But your profession throws you into all the intrigues and cabals, as well as pleasures, of courts: in those windings and labyrinths, a knowledge of the world, a discernment of characters, a suppleness and versatility of mind, and an elegance of manners, must be your clue; you must know how to soothe and lull the monsters that guard, and how to address and gain the fair that keep, the golden fleece. These are the arts and the accomplishments absolutely necessary for a foreign minister; in which it must be owned, to our shame, that most other nations outdo the English; and, ’caeteris paribus’, a French minister will get the better of an English one at any third court in Europe. The French have something more ’liant’, more insinuating and engaging in their manner, than we have. An English minister shall have resided seven years at a court, without having made any one personal connection there, or without being intimate and domestic in any one house. He is always the English minister, and never naturalized. He receives his orders, demands an audience, writes an account of it to his Court, and his business is done. A French minister, on the contrary, has not been six weeks at a court without having, by a thousand little attentions, insinuated himself into some degree of favor with the Prince, his wife, his mistress, his favorite, and his minister. He has established himself upon a familiar and domestic footing in a dozen of the best houses of the place, where he has accustomed the people to be not only easy, but unguarded, before him; he makes himself at home there, and they think him so. By these means he knows the interior of those courts, and can almost write prophecies to his own, from the knowledge he has of the characters, the humors, the abilities, or the weaknesses of the actors. The Cardinal d’Ossat was looked upon at Rome as an Italian, and not as a French cardinal; and Monsieur d’Avaux, wherever he went, was never considered as a foreign minister, but as a native, and a personal friend. Mere plain truth, sense, and knowledge, will by no means do alone in courts; art and ornaments must come to their assistance. Humors must be flattered; the ’mollia tempora’ must be studied and known: confidence acquired by seeming frankness, and profited of by silent skill. And, above all; you must gain and engage the heart, to betray the understanding to you. ’Ha tibi erunt artes’.

The death of the Prince of Wales, who was more beloved for his affability and good-nature than esteemed for his steadiness and conduct, has given concern to many, and apprehensions to all. The great difference of the ages of the King and Prince George presents the prospect of a minority; a disagreeable prospect for any nation! But it is to be hoped, and is most probable, that the King, who is now perfectly recovered of his late indisposition, may live to see his grandson of age. He is, seriously, a most hopeful boy: gentle and good-natured, with good sound sense. This event has made all sorts of people here historians, as well as politicians. Our histories are rummaged for all the particular circumstances of the six minorities we have had since the Conquest, viz, those of Henry III., Edward III., Richard II., Henry VI., Edward V., and Edward VI.; and the reasonings, the speculations, the conjectures, and the predictions, you will easily imagine, must be innumerable and endless, in this nation, where every porter is a consummate politician. Dr. Swift says, very humorously, that "Every man knows that he understands religion and politics, though he never learned them; but that many people are conscious that they do not understand many other sciences, from having never learned them." Adieu.


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Chicago: Philip Dormer Stanhope, "Letter CXXXVI," Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751, trans. Elwes, R. H. M. (Robert Harvey Monro), 1853- in Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751 Original Sources, accessed March 22, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CYHR1A9VXHI9GMJ.

MLA: Stanhope, Philip Dormer. "Letter CXXXVI." Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751, translted by Elwes, R. H. M. (Robert Harvey Monro), 1853-, in Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751, Original Sources. 22 Mar. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CYHR1A9VXHI9GMJ.

Harvard: Stanhope, PD, 'Letter CXXXVI' in Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751, trans. . cited in , Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751. Original Sources, retrieved 22 March 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CYHR1A9VXHI9GMJ.