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

Author: Philip Dormer Stanhope

Letter LVI

LONDON, November 18, O. S. 1748.

DEAR BOY: Whatever I see or whatever I hear, my first consideration is, whether it can in any way be useful to you. As a proof of this, I went accidentally the other day into a print-shop, where, among many others, I found one print from a famous design of Carlo Maratti, who died about thirty years ago, and was the last eminent painter in Europe: the subject is ’il Studio del Disegno’; or "The School of Drawing." An old man, supposed to be the master, points to his scholars, who are variously employed in perspective, geometry, and the observation of the statues of antiquity. With regard to perspective, of which there are some little specimens, he has wrote, ’Tanto che basti’, that is, "As much as is sufficient"; with regard to geometry, ’Tanto che basti’ again; with regard to the contemplation of the ancient statues, there is written, ’Non mai a bastanza’,—"There never can be enough." But in the clouds, at the top of the piece, are represented the three Graces, with this just sentence written over them, ’Senza di noi ogni fatica e vana’, that is, "Without us, all labor is vain." This everybody allows to be true in painting; but all people do not seem to consider, as I hope you will, that this truth is full as applicable to every other art or science; indeed to everything that is to be said or done. I will send you the print itself by Mr. Eliot, when he returns; and I will advise you to make the same use of it that the Roman Catholics say they do of the pictures and images of their saints, which is, only to remind them of those; for the adoration they disclaim. Nay, I will go further, as the transition from Popery to Paganism is short and easy, I will classically end poetically advise you to invoke, and sacrifice to them every day, and all the day. It must be owned, that the Graces do not seem to be natives of Great Britain; and, I doubt, the best of us here have more of rough than polished diamond.

Since barbarism drove them out of Greece and Rome, they seem to have taken refuge in France, where their temples are numerous, and their worship the established one. Examine yourself seriously, why such and such people please and engage you, more than such and such others, of equal merit; and you will always find that it is because the former have the Graces and the latter not. I have known many a woman with an exact shape, and a symmetrical assemblage of beautiful features, please nobody; while others, with very moderate shapes and features, have charmed everybody. Why? because Venus will not charm so much, without her attendant Graces, as they will without her. Among men, how often have I seen the most solid merit and knowledge neglected, unwelcome, or even rejected, for want of them! While flimsy parts, little knowledge, and less merit, introduced by the Graces, have been received, cherished, and admired. Even virtue, which is moral beauty, wants some of its charms if unaccompanied by them.

If you ask me how you shall acquire what neither you nor I can define or ascertain, I can only answer, BY OBSERVATION. Form yourself, with regard to others, upon what you feel pleases you in them. I can tell you the importance, the advantage, of having the Graces; but I cannot give them you: I heartily wish I could, and I certainly would; for I do not know a better present that I could make you. To show you that a very wise, philosophical, and retired man thinks upon that subject as I do, who have always lived in the world, I send you, by Mr. Eliot, the famous Mr. Locke’s book upon education; in which you will end the stress that he lays upon the Graces, which he calls (and very truly) good-breeding. I have marked all the parts of that book that are worth your attention; for as he begins with the child, almost from its birth, the parts relative to its infancy would be useless to you. Germany is, still less than England, the seat of the Graces; however, you had as good not say so while you are there. But the place which you are going to, in a great degree, is; for I have known as many well-bred, pretty men come from Turin, as from any part of Europe. The late King Victor Amedee took great pains to form such of his subjects as were of any consideration, both to business and manners; the present king, I am told, follows his example: this, however, is certain, that in all courts and congresses, where there are various foreign ministers, those of the King of Sardinia are generally the ablest, the politest, and ’les plus delies’. You will therefore, at Turin, have very good models to form yourself upon: and remember, that with regard to the best models, as well as to the antique Greek statues in the print, ’non mai a bastanza’. Observe every word, look, and motion of those who are allowed to be the most accomplished persons there. Observe their natural and careless, but genteel air; their unembarrassed good-breeding; their unassuming, but yet unprostituted dignity. Mind their decent mirth, their discreet frankness, and that ’entregent’ which, as much above the frivolous as below the important and the secret, is the proper medium for conversation in mixed companies. I will observe, by the bye, that the talent of that light ’entregent’ is often of great use to a foreign minister; not only as it helps him to domesticate himself in many families, but also as it enables him to put by and parry some subjects of conversation, which might possibly lay him under difficulties both what to say and how to look.

Of all the men that ever I knew in my life (and I knew him extremely well), the late Duke of Marlborough possessed the graces in the highest degree, not to say engrossed them; and indeed he got the most by them; for I will venture (contrary to the custom of profound historians, who always assign deep causes for great events), to ascribe the better half of the Duke of Marlborough’s greatness and riches to those graces. He was eminently illiterate; wrote bad English and spelled it still worse. He had no share of what is commonly called PARTS: that is, he had no brightness, nothing shining in his genius. He had most undoubtedly, an excellent good plain understanding with sound judgment. But these alone, would probably have raised him but something higher than they found him; which was page to King James the Second’s queen. There the Graces protected and promoted him; for while he was an ensign of the Guards, the Duchess of Cleveland, then favorite mistress to King Charles the Second, struck by those very Graces, gave him five thousand pounds, with which he immediately bought an annuity for his life of five hundred pounds a year, of my grandfather Halifax; which was the foundation of his subsequent fortune. His figure was beautiful; but his manner was irresistible, by either man or woman. It was by this engaging, graceful manner, that he was enabled, during all his war, to connect the various and jarring powers of the Grand Alliance, and to carry them on to the main object of the war, notwithstanding their private and separate views, jealousies, and wrongheadednesses. Whatever court he went to (and he was often obliged to go himself to some resty and refractory ones), he as constantly prevailed, and brought them into his measures. The Pensionary Heinsius, a venerable old minister, grown gray in business, and who had governed the republic of the United Provinces for more than forty years, was absolutely governed by the Duke of Marlborough, as that republic feels to this day. He was always cool; and nobody ever observed the least variation in his countenance; he could refuse more gracefully than other people could grant; and those who went away from him the most dissatisfied as to the substance of their business, were yet personally charmed with him and, in some degree, comforted by his manner. With all his gentleness and gracefulness, no man living was more conscious of his situation, nor maintained his dignity better.

With the share of knowledge which you have already gotten, and with the much greater which I hope you will soon acquire, what may you not expect to arrive at, if you join all these graces to it? In your destination particularly, they are in truth half your business: for, if you once gain the affections as well as the esteem of the prince or minister of the court to which you are sent, I will answer for it, that will effectually do the business of the court that sent you; otherwise it is up-hill work. Do not mistake, and think that these graces which I so often and so earnestly recommend to you, should only accompany important transactions, and be worn only ’les jours de gala’; no, they should, if possible, accompany every, the least thing you do or say; for, if you neglect them in little things, they will leave you in great ones. I should, for instance, be extremely concerned to see you even drink a cup of coffee ungracefully, and slop yourself with it, by your awkward manner of holding it; nor should I like to see your coat buttoned, or your shoes buckled awry. But I should be outrageous, if I heard you mutter your words unintelligibly, stammer, in your speech, or hesitate, misplace, and mistake in your narrations; and I should run away from you with greater rapidity, if possible, than I should now run to embrace you, if I found you destitute of all those graces which I have set my heart upon their making you one day, ’omnibus ornatum excellere rebus’.

This subject is inexhaustible, as it extends to everything that is to be said or done: but I will leave it for the present, as this letter is already pretty long. Such is my desire, my anxiety for your perfection, that I never think I have said enough, though you may possibly think that I have said too much; and though, in truth, if your own good sense is not sufficient to direct you, in many of these plain points, all that I or anybody else can say will be insufficient. But where you are concerned, I am the insatiable man in Horace, who covets still a little corner more to complete the figure of his field. I dread every little corner that may deform mine, in which I would have (if possible) no one defect.

I this moment receive yours of the 17th, N. S., and cannot condole with you upon the secession of your German ’Commensaux’; who both by your and Mr. Harte’s description, seem to be ’des gens d’une amiable absence’; and, if you can replace them by any other German conversation, you will be a gainer by the bargain. I cannot conceive, if you understand German well enough to read any German book, how the writing of the German character can be so difficult and tedious to you, the twenty-four letters being very soon learned; and I do not expect that you should write yet with the utmost purity and correctness, as to the language: what I meant by your writing once a fortnight to Grevenkop, was only to make the written character familiar to you. However, I will be content with one in three weeks or so.

I believe you are not likely to see Mr. Eliot again soon, he being still in Cornwall with his father; who, I hear, is not likely to recover. Adieu.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

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

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

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

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Philip Dormer Stanhope, "Letter LVI," 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 October 3, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=HE6R9YQ7YBPSL89.

MLA: Stanhope, Philip Dormer. "Letter LVI." 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. 3 Oct. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=HE6R9YQ7YBPSL89.

Harvard: Stanhope, PD, 'Letter LVI' 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 3 October 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=HE6R9YQ7YBPSL89.