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

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Author: Philip Dormer Stanhope

Letter CXXX

LONDON, February 4, O. S. 1751

MY DEAR FRIEND: The accounts which I receive of you from Paris grow every day more and more satisfactory. Lord Albemarle has wrote a sort of panegyric of you, which has been seen by many people here, and which will be a very useful forerunner for you. Being in fashion is an important point for anybody anywhere; but it would be a very great one for you to be established in the fashion here before you return. Your business will be half done by it, as I am sure you would not give people reason to change their favorable presentiments of you. The good that is said of you will not, I am convinced, make you a coxcomb; and, on the other hand, the being thought still to want some little accomplishments, will, I am persuaded, not mortify you, but only animate you to acquire them: I will, therefore, give you both fairly, in the following extract of a letter which I lately received from an impartial and discerning friend:—

"Permit me to assure you, Sir, that Mr. Stanhope will succeed. He has a great fund of knowledge, and an uncommonly good memory, although he does not make any parade of either the one or the other. He is desirous of pleasing, and he will please. He has an expressive countenance; his figure is elegant, although little. He has not the least awkwardness, though he has not as yet acquired all-the graces requisite; which Marcel and the ladies will soon give him. In short, he wants nothing but those things, which, at his age, must unavoidably be wanting; I mean, a certain turn and delicacy of manners, which are to be acquired only by time, and in good company. Ready as he is, he will soon learn them; particularly as he frequents such companies as are the most proper to give them."

By this extract, which I can assure you is a faithful one, you and I have both of us the satisfaction of knowing how much you have, and how little you want. Let what you have give you (if possible) rather more SEEMING modesty, but at the same time more interior firmness and assurance; and let what you want, which you see is very attainable, redouble your attention and endeavors to acquire it. You have, in truth, but that one thing to apply to and a very pleasing application it is, since it is through pleasures you must arrive at it. Company, suppers, balls, spectacles, which show you the models upon which you should form yourself, and all the little usages, customs, and delicacies, which you must adopt and make habitual to you, are now your only schools and universities; in which young fellows and fine women will give you the best lectures.

Monsieur du Boccage is another of your panegyrists; and he tells me that Madame Boccage ’a pris avec vous le ton de mie et de bonne’; and that you like it very well. You are in the right of it; it is the way of improving; endeavor to be upon that footing with every woman you converse with; excepting where there may be a tender point of connection; a point which I have nothing to do with; but if such a one there is, I hope she has not ’de mauvais ni de vilains bras’, which I agree with you in thinking a very disagreeable thing.

I have sent you, by the opportunity of Pollok the courier, who was once my servant, two little parcels of Greek and English books; and shall send you two more by Mr. Yorke: but I accompany them with this caution, that as you have not much time to read, you should employ it in reading what is the most necessary, and that is, indisputably modern historical, geographical, chronological, and political knowledge; the present constitution, maxims, force, riches, trade, commerce, characters, parties, and cabals of the several courts of Europe. Many who are reckoned good scholars, though they know pretty accurately the governments of Athens and Rome, are totally ignorant of the constitution of any one country now in Europe, even of their own. Read just Latin and Greek enough to keep up your classical learning, which will be an ornament to you while young, and a comfort to you when old. But the true useful knowledge, and especially for you, is the modern knowledge above mentioned. It is that must qualify you both for domestic and foreign business, and it is to that, therefore, that you should principally direct your attention; and I know, with great pleasure, that you do so. I would not thus commend you to yourself, if I thought commendations would have upon you those ill effects, which they frequently have upon weak minds. I think you are much above being a vain coxcomb, overrating your own merit, and insulting others with the superabundance of it. On the contrary, I am convinced that the consciousness of merit makes a man of sense more modest, though more firm. A man who displays his own merit is a coxcomb, and a man who does not know it is a fool. A man of sense knows it, exerts it, avails himself of it, but never boasts of it; and always SEEMS rather to under than over value it, though in truth, he sets the right value upon it. It is a very true maxim of La Bruyere’s (an author well worth your studying), ’qu’on ne vaut dans ce monde, que ce que l’on veut valoir’. A man who is really diffident, timid, and bashful, be his merit what it will, never can push himself in the world; his despondency throws him into inaction; and the forward, the bustling, and the petulant, will always get the better of him. The manner makes the whole difference. What would be impudence in one manner, is only a proper and decent assurance in another. A man of sense, and of knowledge in the world, will assert his own rights, and pursue his own objects, as steadily and intrepidly as the most impudent man living, and commonly more so; but then he has art enough to give an outward air of modesty to all he does. This engages and prevails, while the very same things shock and fail, from the overbearing or impudent manner only of doing them. I repeat my maxim, ’Suaviter in modo, sed fortiter in re’. Would you know the characters, modes and manners of the latter end of the last age, which are very like those of the present, read La Bruyere. But would you know man, independently of modes, read La Rochefoucault, who, I am afraid, paints him very exactly.

Give the inclosed to Abbe Guasco, of whom you make good use, to go about with you, and see things. Between you and me, he has more knowledge than parts. ’Mais un habile homme sait tirer parti de tout’, and everybody is good for something. President Montesquieu is, in every sense, a most useful acquaintance. He has parts, joined to great reading and knowledge of the world. ’Puisez dans cette source tant que vous pourrez’.

Adieu. May the Graces attend you! for without them ’ogni fatica e vana’. If they do not come to you willingly, ravish them, and force them to accompany you in all you think, all you say, and all you do.

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Chicago: Philip Dormer Stanhope, "Letter CXXX," 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 August 9, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3WCDPVD7PJ2TGX5.

MLA: Stanhope, Philip Dormer. "Letter CXXX." 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. 9 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3WCDPVD7PJ2TGX5.

Harvard: Stanhope, PD, 'Letter CXXX' 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 9 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3WCDPVD7PJ2TGX5.