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 CXLI

LONDON, May 6, O. S. 1751.

MY DEAR FRIEND: The best authors are always the severest critics of their own works; they revise, correct, file, and polish them, till they think they have brought them to perfection. Considering you as my work, I do not look upon myself as a bad author, and am therefore a severe critic. I examine narrowly into the least inaccuracy or inelegance, in order to correct, not to expose them, and that the work may be perfect at last. You are, I know, exceedingly improved in your air, address, and manners, since you have been at Paris; but still there is, I believe, room for further improvement before you come to that perfection which I have set my heart upon seeing you arrive at; and till that moment I must continue filing and polishing. In a letter that I received by last post, from a friend of yours at Paris, there was this paragraph: "I have the honor to assure you, without flattery, that Mr. Stanhope succeeds beyond what might be expected from a person of his age. He goes into very good company; and that kind of manner, which was at first thought to be too decisive and peremptory, is now judged otherwise; because it is acknowledged to be the effect of an ingenuous frankness, accompanied by politeness, and by a proper deference. He studies to please, and succeeds. Madame du Puisieux was the other day speaking of him with complacency and friendship. You will be satisfied with him in all respects. "This is extremely well, and I rejoice at it: one little circumstance only may, and I hope will, be altered for the better. Take pains to undeceive those who thought that ’petit ton un peu delcide et un peu brusque’; as it is not meant so, let it not appear so. Compose your countenance to an air of gentleness and ’douceur’, use some expressions of diffidence of your own opinion, and deference to other people’s; such as, "If I might be permitted to say—I should think—Is it not rather so? At least I have the greatest reason to be diffident of myself." Such mitigating, engaging words do by no means weaken your argument; but, on the contrary, make it more powerful by making it more pleasing. If it is a quick and hasty manner of speaking that people mistake ’pour decide et brusque’, prevent their mistakes for the future by speaking more deliberately, and taking a softer tone of voice; as in this case you are free from the guilt, be free from the suspicion, too. Mankind, as I have often told you, are more governed by appearances than by realities; and with regard to opinion, one had better be really rough and hard, with the appearance of gentleness and softness, than just the reverse. Few people have penetration enough to discover, attention enough to observe, or even concern enough to examine beyond the exterior; they take their notions from the surface, and go no deeper: they commend, as the gentlest and best-natured man in the world, that man who has the most engaging exterior manner, though possibly they have been but once in his company. An air, a tone of voice, a composure of countenance to mildness and softness, which are all easily acquired, do the business: and without further examination, and possibly with the contrary qualities, that man is reckoned the gentlest, the modestest, and the best-natured , man alive. Happy the man, who, with a certain fund of parts and knowledge, gets acquainted with the world early enough to make it his bubble, at an age when most people are the bubbles of the world! for that is the common case of youth. They grow wiser when it is too late; and, ashamed and vexed at having been bubbles so long, too often turn knaves at last. Do not therefore trust to appearances and outside yourself, but pay other people with them; because you may be sure that nine in ten of mankind do, and ever will trust to them. This is by no means a criminal or blamable simulation, if not used with an ill intention. I am by no means blamable in desiring to have other people’s good word, good-will, and affection, if I do not mean to abuse them. Your heart, I know, is good, your sense is sound, and your knowledge extensive. What then remains for you to do? Nothing, but to adorn those fundamental qualifications, with such engaging and captivating manners, softness, and gentleness, as will endear you to those who are able to judge of your real merit, and which always stand in the stead of merit with those who are not. I do not mean by this to recommend to you ’le fade doucereux’, the insipid softness of a gentle fool; no, assert your own opinion, oppose other people’s when wrong; but let your manner, your air, your terms, and your tone of voice, be soft and gentle, and that easily and naturally, not affectedly. Use palliatives when you contradict; such as I MAY BE MISTAKEN, I AM NOT SURE, BUT I BELIEVE, I SHOULD RATHER THINK, etc. Finish any argument or dispute with some little good-humored pleasantry, to show that you are neither hurt yourself, nor meant to hurt your antagonist; for an argument, kept up a good while, often occasions a temporary alienation on each side. Pray observe particularly, in those French people who are distinguished by that character, ’cette douceur de moeurs et de manieres’, which they talk of so much, and value so justly; see in what it consists; in mere trifles, and most easy to be acquired, where the heart is really good. Imitate, copy it, till it becomes habitual and easy to you. Without a compliment to you, I take it to be the only thing you now want: nothing will sooner give it you than a real passion, or, at least, ’un gout vif’, for some woman of fashion; and, as I suppose that you have either the one or the other by this time, you are consequently in the best school. Besides this, if you were to say to Lady Hervey, Madame Monconseil, or such others as you look upon to be your friends, It is said that I have a kind of manner which is rather too decisive and too peremptory; it is not, however, my intention that it should be so; I entreat you to correct, and even publicly to punish me whenever I am guilty. Do not treat me with the least indulgence, but criticise to the utmost. So clear-sighted a judge as you has a right to be severe; and I promise you that the criminal will endeavor to correct himself. Yesterday I had two of your acquaintances to dine with me, Baron B. and his companion Monsieur S. I cannot say of the former, ’qu’il est paitri de graces’; and I would rather advise him to go and settle quietly at home, than to think of improving himself by further travels. ’Ce n’est pas le bois don’t on en fait’. His companion is much better, though he has a strong ’tocco di tedesco’. They both spoke well of you, and so far I liked them both. How go you on with the amiable little Blot? Does she listen to your Battering tale? Are you numbered among the list of her admirers? Is Madame------ your Madame de Lursay? Does she sometimes knot, and are you her Meilcour? They say she has softness, sense, and engaging manners; in such an apprenticeship much may be learned. —[This whole passage, and several others, allude to Crebillon’s ’Egaremens du Coeur et de l’Esprit’, a sentimental novel written about that time, and then much in vogue at Paris.

A woman like her, who has always pleased, and often been pleased, can best teach the art of pleasing; that art, without which, ’ogni fatica vana’. Marcel’s lectures are no small part of that art: they are the engaging forerunner of all other accomplishments. Dress is also an article not to be neglected, and I hope you do not neglect it; it helps in the ’premier abord’, which is often decisive. By dress, I mean your clothes being well made, fitting you, in the fashion and not above it; your hair well done, and a general cleanliness and spruceness in your person. I hope you take infinite care of your teeth; the consequences of neglecting the mouth are serious, not only to one’s self, but to others. In short, my dear child, neglect nothing; a little more will complete the whole. Adieu. I have not heard from you these three weeks, which I think a great while.

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Chicago: Philip Dormer Stanhope, "Letter CXLI," 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 July 21, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CJWXVEKC7ZWNTYY.

MLA: Stanhope, Philip Dormer. "Letter CXLI." 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. 21 Jul. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CJWXVEKC7ZWNTYY.

Harvard: Stanhope, PD, 'Letter CXLI' 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 21 July 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CJWXVEKC7ZWNTYY.