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HILIP DORMER STANHOPE, Earl of
Chesterfield, 1694-1773, has had the fate of being generally misunderstood. Dr.
Johnson, then Mr., a poor scholar but in the prime of life, seems to have mistaken a delay in an interview, and to have abused his Lordship very soundly ever afterwards, although on Chesterfield's side there was not wanting a most gracious movement towards reconciliation where no offence had been given. . To this misconception we owe one of the finest and manliest letters ever written; but we cannot overlook the blunder. After this too came the condemnation of the celebrated letters—a savage epigram, only partially true and redeemed by the opinion which faces our title. If Mr. Dickens painted
-as it has been said he did-Sir John Chester from Lord Chesterfield, he equally mistook the man; and we are sorry to add to this list of those who have followed Johnson's lead, Mrs. Oliphant in her recent admirable Historical Sketches.
The simple truth is, that men are to be judged by the places, temper of the times, nay, even the very atmosphere which surrounds them—and Chesterfield lived in a lax, immoral time, when a mistress was as well recognised in polite society, as a concubine was in the days of King David. The Cupidon déchainé at the Hague, a beautiful young lady, a governess or dame de compagnie, set her wits against his, and suffered the usual penalty; she fell, and this son to whom these letters are written was the result. But if Chesterfield was not a Christian gentleman, he was in some sense a gentleman; Mademoiselle, or, as she was called, Madame de Bouchet, was always treated with distinguished politeness, and when he died he left her a legacy as some slight recompense for the injury he had done her. He married a lady of blood royal, though crossed by a bar sinister (daughter of George I. and the Duchess of Kendal), and this lady grew very fond of his son Philip and respectfully greeted the mother: and for this son more than a thousand letters attest the father's affection; he is placed under the care of an excellent clergyman, he is urged to pay the greatest attention to his mother, to his tutor, to his morals, to his upright straightforward behaviour, to his honesty.
I don't speak of religion," writes his father, “I am not in a position to do so, the excellent Mr. Harte will do that." We don't defend Chesterfield's faults, but we must speak for his virtues. Not one father in ten thousand in those days was so good, so tender, and so wise; his son grew up to marry a lady of whom his father knew nothing till a widow and two children came as suppliants, in that splendid room in Chesterfield House where the old Earl sate in lonely
greatness. He forgave the dead son's offence, and behaved most generously to the children, two boys, whom he educated.
Mrs. Eugenia Stanhope, the widow of the recipient of these letters, sold them, enhanced in value from the Earl's literary reputation, for £1500! an im. mense sum in those days. From the two quartos of large margin and printing, this compact volume is condensed. All that has been left out are lessons in Greek and Roman History, Mythology, German History, and such matters as might be written to a child. Thence even, if a sentence occurs worth preserving, it has been picked out. Let us not forget that the Earl of Chesterfield—who writes much as did Mr. Thackeray in his letter to Brown the Younger -tells his son that he always frequented the company of his superiors; and his superiors he reckoned notonly by their rank. Dr. Swift and Mr. Pope,” he says, “condescended to admit me into their company, and though they had no titles, and I was an earl, I always felt that I was obliged by their politeness, and was favoured by being allowed to converse with them.” Are there many noblemen who would say so nowa-days ? No, nor many Popes nor Swifts-nor, let us add, Chesterfields.
Mr. Stanhope has also been very much misrepresented. He has been called a cub, a bear, and an awkward lout. Actually, he was a learned, skilful diplomatist, for which profession, be it remembered, his father specially educated him. He was a manly stout-built Englishman, not a dancing master, and to lack grace was his only fault. Subjective and brilliant writers of history have polished Mr. Stanhope with a black-lead brush to suit
their purposes, but these brilliant fellows are, as usual, false. James Boswell, the biographer, who knew him, says truly enough, “ Mr. Stanhope's character has been unjustly represented as being diametrically opposite to what Lord Chesterfield wished him to be. He has been called dull, gross and awkward; but I knew him at Dresden when he was envoy to that court, and though he could not boast of the graces, he was in fact a sensible, civil, well-behaved man.” Other persons, and more than one lady in these pages, speak much more highly than Boswell does of him.
But the chief defence of both father and son lies in the following pages. The Editor of the “Bayard Series” believes that such a book is eminently needed by the present age, and that this book is wonderfully well fitted for what is known in literary slang as the “ Period.” Higher morality is to be had, but is not read; this honest worldling will speak to the hearts of those who are already set upon the world, will guide them rightly according to his lights, will leave them at a higher stage, and will perhaps astonish them when they reflect that in outward result the teachings of this adroit and cunning courtier and man of the world, and of the too often despised preacher are the same.
J. H. F.