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PHILIP DORMER STANHOPE, EARL OF
PHILIP DORMER STANHOPE, one of the most shining characters of his age, was born in 1694. He lost his mother early, and being neglected by his father, was brought up chiefly under the care of his grandmother. He was sent when eighteen years of age to Cambridge, and appears even there to have devoted much attention to the formation of style, of which he afterwards became so great a master. On leaving the university he made the customary tour of Europe. The converse of foreign courts stimulated his taste for the courtesies of polite life and for the attainment of that knowledge of the world which he pursued so stedfastly through later years. The extensive possession of this knowledge became his chief characteristic in after life, and its display is the most noticeable feature of his writings. He entered Parliament as member for St. Germains before he was of age, but took little part in public affairs till after the death of his father in 1726, when he became a member of the Upper House. His first public employment was an embassy to Holland, in 1728, in which he displayed great skill, diplomacy being peculiarly suited to his tastes and talents from his conciliatory temper and manners, his quick insight into character, and his knowledge of foreign languages and history. A second embassy to the same country confirmed his reputation as a statesman. In 1745, at the moment of the Rebellion in Scotland, Chesterfield became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and entered on the most brilliant
and useful part of his career. By impartial justice, by firmness, moderation and clemency, he kept that country tranquil, and his administration deserves the praise due to a humane, liberal, and far-sighted policy.
At the close of 1746 he became Secretary of State, and in 1748 he finally withdrew from official life. In 1751, Chesterfield, with the aid of Lord Macclesfield and of the astronomer Bradley, carried out, in spite of popular prejudice, the Reformation of the Calendar. After this, and till his death, an increasing deafness excluded Lord Chesterfield from taking part in public life. He died in 1773, 'satiated,' as he himself said, 'with the pompous follies of this life.'
Lord Chesterfield left a number of miscellaneous pieces which have been collected from the periodicals in which for the most part they appeared. One such paper from the World is given below, both because of the interest which attaches to the appearance of the great English Dictionary, and also because of the reply, a model of dignified resentment which it provoked from Dr. Johnson, and which will be found among the passages selected from his writings. Johnson had seven years before addressed the plan of the Dictionary to Lord Chesterfield, who had left him unnoticed until the work was on the eve of publication, and its success assured.
As an author, however. says Lord Mahon, Chesterfield's character must stand or fall by the celebrated Letters addressed to his natural son Philip Stanhope. Viewed as compositions, these letters appear almost unrivalled as models for a serious epistolary style; clear, elegant, and terse, never straining at effect, and yet never hurried into carelessness. They have incurred just reprehension on two grounds—that they insist too much on manners and graces instead of on more solid acquirements, and that some of their maxims are repugnant to good morals; even when right in themselves, the maxims laid down seldom rest on higher motives than expediency, reputation, or personal advantage.
1. The State of France in 1753.
WHEREVER you are, inform yourself minutely of, and attend particularly to, the affairs of France; they grow serious, and, in my opinion, will grow more and more so every day. The King is despised, and I do not wonder at it; but he has brought it about to be hated at the same time, which seldom happens to the same man. His Ministers are known to be as disunited as incapable: he hesitates between the Church and the Parliaments, like the ass in the fable, that starved between two hampers of hay; too much in love with his mistress to part with her, and too much afraid for his soul, to enjoy her: jealous of the Parliaments, who would support his authority; and a devoted bigot to the Church that would destroy it. The people are poor, consequently discontented: those who have religion are divided in their notions of it; which is saying that they hate one another. The clergy never do forgive; much less will they forgive the Parliament: the Parliament never will forgive them. The army must, without doubt, take, in their own minds at least, different parts in all these disputes, which, upon occasion, would break out. Armies, though always the supporters and tools of absolute power for the time being, are always the destroyers of it too; by frequently changing the hands in which they think proper to lodge. it. This was the case of the Praetorian bands, who deposed and murdered the monsters they had raised to oppress mankind. The Janissaries in Turkey, and the regiments of Guards in Russia, do the same now. The French nation reasons freely, which they never did before, upon matters of religion and government, and begin to be spregiudicati; the officers do so too; in short, all the symptoms which I have ever met with in history, previous to great changes and
revolutions in Government, now exist, and daily increase in France. I am glad of it; the rest of Europe will be the quieter, and have time to recover. England, I am sure, wants rest; for it wants men and money: the Republic of the United Provinces wants both still more: the other Powers cannot well dance, whence neither France nor the Maritime Powers can, as they used to do, pay the piper. The first squabble in Europe that I foresee will be about the Crown of Poland, should the present King die; and therefore I wish his Majesty a long life and a merry Christmas.-Letters to his Son.
2. Casuistry and Common Sense.
PRAY let no quibbles of lawyers, no refinements of casuists, break into the plain notions of right and wrong, which every man's right reason, and plain common sense, suggest to him. To do as you would be done by, is the plain, sure, and undisputed rule of morality and justice. Stick to that; and be convinced, that whatever breaks into it, in any degree, however speciously it may be turned, and however puzzling it may be to answer it, is, notwithstanding, false in itself, unjust, and criminal. I do not know a crime in the world which is not, by the casuists among the Jesuits (especially the twenty-four collected, I think, by Escobar) allowed in some, or many, cases not to be criminal. The principles first laid down by them are often specious, the reasonings plausible, but the conclusion always a lie for it is contrary to that evident and undeniable rule of justice which I have mentioned above, of not doing to any one what you would not have him do to you. But, however, these refined pieces of casuistry and sophistry being very convenient and welcome to people's passions and appetites, they gladly accept the indulgence, without desiring to detect
the fallacy of the reasoning: and, indeed, many, I might say most, people are not able to do it, which makes the publication of such quibblings and refinements the more pernicious. I am no skilful casuist, nor subtle disputant; and yet I would undertake to justify and qualify the profession of a highwayman, step by step, and so plausibly as to make many ignorant people embrace the profession, as an innocent, if not even a laudable one; and to puzzle people of some degree of knowledge to answer me point by point. I have seen a book, entitled Quidlibet ex Quolibet, or, the art of making anything out of anything; which is not so difficult as it would seem, if once one quits certain plain truths, obvious in gross to every understanding, in order to run after the ingenious refinements of warm imaginations and speculative reasonings. Doctor Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, a very worthy, ingenious, and learned man, has written a book to prove that there is no such thing as matter, and that nothing exists but in idea: that you and I only fancy ourselves eating, drinking, and sleeping; you at Leipsig, and I at London: that we think we have flesh and blood, legs, arms, &c., but that we are only spirit. His arguments are, strictly speaking, unanswerable; but yet I am so far from being convinced by them, that I am determined to go on to eat and drink, and walk and ride, in order to keep that matter, which I so mistakenly imagine my body at present to consist of, in as good plight as possible. Common sense (which, in truth, is very uncommon) is the best sense I know of; abide by it; it will counsel you best. Read and hear, for your amusement, ingenious systems, nice questions subtilely agitated, with all the refinements that warm imaginations suggest; but consider them only as exercitations for the mind, and return always to settle with common