Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1748

Author: Philip Dormer Stanhope

Letter LXI

LONDON, December 30, O. S. 1748.

DEAR BOY: 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 him; 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 defense, 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, stagecoachmen, 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, and stink at fifty years old. 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 afterward; and, without any 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.

As to manners, good-breeding, and the Graces, I have so often entertained you upon those important subjects, that I can add nothing to what I have formerly said. Your own good sense will suggest to you the substance of them; and observation, experience, and good company, the several modes of them. Your great vivacity, which I hear of from many people, will be no hindrance to your pleasing in good company: on the contrary, will be of use to you, if tempered by good-breeding and accompanied by the Graces. But then, I suppose your vivacity to be a vivacity of parts, and not a constitutional restlessness; for the most disagreeable composition that I know in the world, is that of strong animal spirits, with a cold genius. Such a fellow is troublesomely active, frivolously busy, foolishly lively; talks much with little meaning, and laughs more, with less reason whereas, in my opinion, a warm and lively genius with a cool constitution, is the perfection of human nature.

Do what you will at Berlin, provided you do but do something all day long. All that I desire of you is, that you will never slattern away one minute in idleness and in doing of nothing. When you are (not)in company, learn what either books, masters, or Mr. Harte, can teach you; and when you are in company, learn (what company can only teach you) the characters and manners of mankind. I really ask your pardon for giving you this advice; because, if you are a rational creature and thinking being, as I suppose, and verily believe you are, it must be unnecessary, and to a certain degree injurious. If I did not know by experience, that some men pass their whole time in doing nothing, I should not think it possible for any being, superior to Monsieur Descartes’ automatons, to squander away, in absolute idleness, one single minute of that small portion of time which is allotted us in this world.

I have lately seen one Mr. Cranmer, a very sensible merchant, who told me that he had dined with you, and seen you often at Leipsig. And yesterday I saw an old footman of mine, whom I made a messenger, who told me that he had seen you last August. You will easily imagine, that I was not the less glad to see them because they had seen you; and I examined them both narrowly, in their respective departments; the former as to your mind, the latter, as to your body. Mr. Cranmer gave me great satisfaction, not only by what he told me of himself concerning you, but by what he was commissioned to tell me from Mr. Mascow. As he speaks German perfectly himself, I asked him how you spoke it; and he assured me very well for the time, and that a very little more practice would make you perfectly master of it. The messenger told me that you were much grown, and, to the best of his guess, within two inches as tall as I am; that you were plump, and looked healthy and strong; which was all that I could expect, or hope, from the sagacity of the person.

I send you, my dear child (and you will not doubt it), very sincerely, the wishes of the season. May you deserve a great number of happy Newyears; and, if you deserve, may you have them. Many New-years, indeed, you may see, but happy ones you cannot see without deserving them. These, virtue, honor, and knowledge, alone can merit, alone can procure, ’Dii tibi dent annos, de te nam cetera sumes’, was a pretty piece of poetical flattery, where it was said: I hope that, in time, it may be no flattery when said to you. But I assure you, that wherever I cannot apply the latter part of the line to you with truth, I shall neither say, think, or wish the former. Adieu!


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Chicago: Philip Dormer Stanhope, "Letter LXI," Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1748, trans. Paul, Eden, 1865-1944, and Paul, Cedar in Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1748 Original Sources, accessed July 17, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SH39INREHSUHE2.

MLA: Stanhope, Philip Dormer. "Letter LXI." Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1748, translted by Paul, Eden, 1865-1944, and Paul, Cedar, in Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1748, Original Sources. 17 Jul. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SH39INREHSUHE2.

Harvard: Stanhope, PD, 'Letter LXI' in Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1748, trans. . cited in , Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1748. Original Sources, retrieved 17 July 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SH39INREHSUHE2.