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

Author: Philip Dormer Stanhope

Letter XLV

LONDON, July, 20, O. S. 1748

DEAR BOY: There are two sorts of understandings; one of which hinders a man from ever being considerable, and the other commonly makes him ridiculous; I mean the lazy mind, and the trifling, frivolous mind: Yours, I hope, is neither. The lazy mind will not take the trouble of going to the bottom of anything; but, discouraged by the first difficulties (and everything worth knowing or having is attained with some), stops short, contents, itself with easy, and consequently superficial knowledge, and prefers a great degree of ignorance to a small degree of trouble. These people either think, or represent most things as impossible; whereas, few things are so to industry and activity. But difficulties seem to them, impossibilities, or at least they pretend to think them so—by way of excuse for their laziness. An hour’s attention to the same subject is too laborious for them; they take everything in the light in which it first presents itself; never consider, it in all its different views; and, in short, never think it through. The consequence of this is that when they come to speak upon these subjects, before people who have considered them with attention; they only discover their own ignorance and laziness, and lay themselves open to answers that put them in confusion. Do not then be discouraged by the first difficulties, but ’contra audentior ito’; and resolve to go to the bottom of all those things which every gentleman ought to know well. Those arts or sciences which are peculiar to certain professions, need not be deeply known by those who are not intended for those professions. As, for instance; fortification and navigation; of both which, a superficial and general knowledge, such as the common course of conversation, with a very little inquiry on your part, will give you, is sufficient. Though, by the way, a little more knowledge of fortification may be of some use to you; as the events of war, in sieges, make many of the terms, of that science occur frequently in common conversation; and one would be sorry to say, like the Marquis de Mascarille in Moliere’s ’Precieuses Ridicules’, when he hears of ’une demie lune, Ma foi! c’etoit bien une lune toute entiere’. But those things which every, gentleman, independently of profession, should know, he ought to know well, and dive into all the depth of them. Such are languages, history, and geography ancient and modern, philosophy, rational logic; rhetoric; and, for you particularly, the constitutions and the civil and military state of every country in Europe: This, I confess; is a pretty large circle of knowledge, attended with some difficulties, and requiring some trouble; which, however; an active and industrious mind will overcome; and be amply repaid. The trifling and frivolous mind is always busied, but to little purpose; it takes little objects for great ones, and throws away upon trifles that time and attention which only important things deserve. Knick-knacks; butterflies; shells, insects, etc., are the subjects of their most serious researches. They contemplate the dress, not the characters of the company they keep. They attend more to the decorations of a play than the sense of it; and to the ceremonies of a court more than to its politics. Such an employment of time is an absolute loss of it. You have now, at most, three years to employ either well or ill; for, as I have often told you, you will be all your life what you shall be three years hence. For God’s sake then reflect. Will you throw this time away either in laziness, or in trifles? Or will you not rather employ every moment of it in a manner that must so soon reward you with so much pleasure, figure, and character? I cannot, I will not doubt of your choice. Read only useful books; and never quit a subject till you are thoroughly master of it, but read and inquire on till then. When you are in company, bring the conversation to some useful subject, but ’a portee’ of that company. Points of history, matters of literature, the customs of particular countries, the several orders of knighthood, as Teutonic, Maltese, etc., are surely better subjects of conversation, than the weather, dress, or fiddle-faddle stories, that carry no information along with them. The characters of kings and great men are only to be learned in conversation; for they are never fairly written during their lives. This, therefore, is an entertaining and instructive subject of conversation, and will likewise give you an opportunity of observing how very differently characters are given, from the different passions and views of those who give them. Never be ashamed nor afraid of asking questions: for if they lead to information, and if you accompany them with some excuse, you will never be reckoned an impertinent or rude questioner. All those things, in the common course of life, depend entirely upon the manner; and, in that respect, the vulgar saying is true, ’That one man can better steal a horse, than another look over the hedge.’ There are few things that may not be said, in some manner or other; either in a seeming confidence, or a genteel irony, or introduced with wit; and one great part of the knowledge of the world consists in knowing when and where to make use of these different manners. The graces of the person, the countenance, and the way of speaking, contribute so much to this, that I am convinced, the very same thing, said by a genteel person in an engaging way, and GRACEFULLY and distinctly spoken, would please, which would shock, if MUTTERED out by an awkward figure, with a sullen, serious countenance. The poets always represent Venus as attended by the three Graces, to intimate that even beauty will not do without: I think they should have given Minerva three also; for without them, I am sure learning is very unattractive. Invoke them, then, DISTINCTLY, to accompany all your words and motions. Adieu.

P. S. Since I wrote what goes before, I have received your letter, OF NO DATE, with the inclosed state of the Prussian forces: of which, I hope, you have kept a copy; this you should lay in a ’portefeuille’, and add to it all the military establishments that you can get of other states and kingdoms: the Saxon establishment you may, doubtless, easily find. By the way, do not forget to send me answers to the questions which I sent you some time ago, concerning both the civil and the ecclesiastical affairs of Saxony.

Do not mistake me, and think I only mean that you should speak elegantly with regard to style, and the purity of language; but I mean, that you should deliver and pronounce what you say gracefully and distinctly; for which purpose I will have you frequently read very loud, to Mr. Harte, recite parts of orations, and speak passages of plays; for, without a graceful and pleasing enunciation, all your elegancy of style, in speaking, is not worth one farthing.

I am very glad that Mr. Lyttelton approves of my new house, and particularly of my CANONICAL—[James Brydges, duke of Chandos, built a most magnificent and elegant house at CANNONS, about eight miles from London. It was superbly furnished with fine pictures, statues, etc., which, after his death, were sold, by auction. Lord Chesterfield purchased the hall-pillars, the floor; and staircase with double flig1hts; which are now m Chesterfield House, London.]—pillars. My bust of Cicero is a very fine one, and well preserved; it will have the best place in my library, unless at your return you bring me over as good a modern head of your own, which I should like still better. I can tell you, that I shall examine it as attentively as ever antiquary did an old one.

Make my compliments to Mr. Harte, at whose recovery I rejoice.


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Chicago: Philip Dormer Stanhope, "Letter XLV," Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1748, 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, 1748 Original Sources, accessed March 30, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KSAZDRU3AMCR2NZ.

MLA: Stanhope, Philip Dormer. "Letter XLV." Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1748, 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, 1748, Original Sources. 30 Mar. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KSAZDRU3AMCR2NZ.

Harvard: Stanhope, PD, 'Letter XLV' 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 30 March 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KSAZDRU3AMCR2NZ.