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

Author: Philip Dormer Stanhope

Letter XXIX

BATH, February 18, O. S. 1748.

DEAR BOY: The first use that I made of my liberty was to come here, where I arrived yesterday. My health, though not fundamentally bad yet, for want of proper attention of late, wanted some repairs, which these waters never fail giving it. I shall drink them a month, and return to London, there to enjoy the comforts of social life, instead of groaning under the load of business. I have given the description of the life that I propose to lead for the future, in this motto, which I have put up in the frize of my library in my new house:—

Nunc veterum libris, nunc somno, et inertibus horis
Ducere sollicitae jucunda oblivia vitas.

I must observe to you upon this occasion, that the uninterrupted satisfaction which I expect to find in that library, will be chiefly owing to my having employed some part of my life well at your age. I wish I had employed it better, and my satisfaction would now be complete; but, however, I planted while young, that degree of knowledge which is now my refuge and my shelter. Make your plantations still more extensive; they will more than pay you for your trouble. I do not regret the time that I passed in pleasures; they were seasonable; they were the pleasures of youth, and I enjoyed them while young. If I had not, I should probably have overvalued them now, as we are very apt to do what we do not know; but, knowing them as I do, I know their real value, and how much they are generally overrated. Nor do I regret the time that I have passed in business, for the same reason; those who see only the outside of it, imagine it has hidden charms, which they pant after; and nothing but acquaintance can undeceive them. I, who have been behind the scenes, both of pleasure and business, and have seen all the springs and pullies of those decorations which astonish and dazzle the audience, retire, not only without regret, but with contentment and satisfaction. But what I do, and ever shall regret, is the time which, while young, I lost in mere idleness, and in doing nothing. This is the common effect of the inconsideracy of youth, against which I beg you will be most carefully upon your guard. The value of moments, when cast up, is immense, if well employed; if thrown away, their loss is irrecoverable. Every moment may be put to some use, and that with much more pleasure, than if unemployed. Do not imagine, that by the employment of time, I mean an uninterrupted application to serious studies. No; pleasures are, at proper times, both as necessary and as useful; they fashion and form you for the world; they teach you characters, and show you the human heart in its unguarded minutes. But then remember to make that use of them. I have known many people, from laziness of mind, go through both pleasure and business with equal inattention; neither enjoying the one, nor doing the other; thinking themselves men of pleasure, because they were mingled with those who were, and men of business, because they had business to do, though they did not do it. Whatever you do, do it to the purpose; do it thoroughly, not superficially. ’Approfondissez’: go to the bottom of things. Any thing half done or half known, is, in my mind, neither done nor known at all. Nay worse, it often misleads. There is hardly any place or any company, where you may not gain knowledge, if you please; almost everybody knows some one thing, and is glad to talk upon that one thing. Seek and you will find, in this world as well as in the next. See everything; inquire into everything; and you may excuse your curiosity, and the questions you ask which otherwise might be thought impertinent, by your manner of asking them; for most things depend a great deal upon the manner. As, for example, I AM AFRAID THAT I AM VERY TROUBLESOME WITH MY QUESTIONS; BUT NOBODY CAN INFORM ME SO WELL AS YOU; or something of that kind.

Now that you are in a Lutheran country, go to their churches, and observe the manner of their public worship; attend to their ceremonies, and inquire the meaning and intention of everyone of them. And, as you will soon understand German well enough, attend to their sermons, and observe their manner of preaching. Inform yourself of their church government: whether it resides in the sovereign, or in consistories and synods. Whence arises the maintenance of their clergy; whether from tithes, as in England, or from voluntary contributions, or from pensions from the state. Do the same thing when you are in Roman Catholic countries; go to their churches, see all their ceremonies: ask the meaning of them, get the terms explained to you. As, for instance, Prime, Tierce, Sexte, Nones, Matins, Angelus, High Mass, Vespers, Complines, etc. Inform yourself of their several religious orders, their founders, their rules, their vows, their habits, their revenues, etc. But, when you frequent places of public worship, as I would have you go to all the different ones you meet with, remember, that however erroneous, they are none of them objects of laughter and ridicule. Honest error is to be pitied, not ridiculed. The object of all the public worships in the world is the same; it is that great eternal Being who created everything. The different manners of worship are by no means subjects of ridicule. Each sect thinks its own is the best; and I know no infallible judge in this world, to decide which is the best. Make the same inquiries, wherever you are, concerning the revenues, the military establishment, the trade, the commerce, and the police of every country. And you would do well to keep a blank paper book, which the Germans call an ALBUM; and there, instead of desiring, as they do, every fool they meet with to scribble something, write down all these things as soon as they come to your knowledge from good authorities.

I had almost forgotten one thing, which I would recommend as an object for your curiosity and information, that is, the administration of justice; which, as it is always carried on in open court, you may, and I would have you, go and see it with attention and inquiry.

I have now but one anxiety left, which is concerning you. I would have you be, what I know nobody is—perfect. As that is impossible, I would have you as near perfection as possible. I know nobody in a fairer way toward it than yourself, if you please. Never were so much pains taken for anybody’s education as for yours; and never had anybody those opportunities of knowledge and improvement which you, have had, and still have, I hope, I wish, I doubt, and fear alternately. This only I am sure of, that you will prove either the greatest pain or the greatest pleasure of, Yours.


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Chicago: Philip Dormer Stanhope, "Letter XXIX," 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 September 27, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LISW56QA1UTCBC6.

MLA: Stanhope, Philip Dormer. "Letter XXIX." 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. 27 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LISW56QA1UTCBC6.

Harvard: Stanhope, PD, 'Letter XXIX' 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 27 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LISW56QA1UTCBC6.