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On this day in history in 1694, was born Philip Chesterfield.
Chesterfield was a politician who became famous for Lord Chesterfield's Letters to his Son, a guide to manners and the means to prosperity.
Philip Dormer Stanhope, later Lord Chesterfield, was born on 22nd 1694, at London, the son and heir of the 3rd earl of Chesterfield. After a brief period of study at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he embarked on a grand tour of Europe, where he became a great admirer of French manners, culture, and taste. In 1726, he succeeded to the earldom, and in 1728, was appointed ambassador to Holland, where he collected information for the government on potential Jacobite plots. In 1732, his illegitimate son, Philip Stanhope, the recipient of the letters, was born in The Hague.
In 1732, he was summoned home, where he took up a parliamentary career, in opposition to Sir Robert Walpole. For a brief while, he became lord lieutenant of Ireland, but was obliged to retire from public life on account of increasing deafness. His urbanity and wit were admired by many of his contemporaries, including Pope, Swift, and Voltaire. He patronised the arts but fell out with one of his protégés, Samuel Johnson, who condemned him in a letter attacking patrons in general and Chesterfield in particular, and describing the letters as teaching ‘the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master.’
Chesterfield's letters contain shrewd advice presented with wit and elegance, based on a philosophy of practicality and worldly advancement, as seen in the following examples.
Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.
The world is a country which nobody ever yet knew by description; one must travel through it one's self to be acquainted with it.
The chapter of knowledge is very short, but the chapter of accidents is a very long one.
Advice is seldom welcome, and those who want it the most, always like it the least.
The knowledge of the world is only to be acquired in the world, and not in a closet.
An injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult.
Take the tone of the company you are in.
Speak of the moderns without contempt, and of the ancients without idolatry.
Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket, and do not pull it out and strike it, merely to show that you have one.
Manners must adorn knowledge, and smooth its way through the world. Like a great rough diamond, it may do very well in a closet by way of curiosity, and also for its intrinsic value.
Women who are either indisputably beautiful, or indisputably ugly, are best flattered upon the score of their understandings, but those who are in a state of mediocrity are best flattered upon their beauty, or at least their graces, for every woman who is not absolutely ugly thinks herself handsome.
Without some dissimulation, no business can be carried on at all.
Every woman is infallibly to be gained by every sort of flattery, and every man by one sort or other.
Tyrawley and I have been dead these two years, but we don't choose to have it known.
Chesterfield died on 24th March 1773, and is buried in the Stanhope family church at Shelford. [St Peter and St Paul Church, Church Street, Shelford, Near Nottingham, NG12 1EN]
Chesterfield, Philip. Lord Chesterfield's Letters. Oxford World's Classics.
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