Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

which is not deserving of pardon in him," wrote Chesterfield to Crebillon, “is his desire to propagate a doctrine as pernicious to domestic society as contrary to the common religion of all countries. I strongly doubt whether it is permissible for a man to write against the worship and belief of his country, even if he be fully persuaded of its error, on account of the trouble and disorder it might cause ; but I am sure that it is in no wise allowable to attack the foundations of true morality, and to break necessary bonds which are already too weak to keep men in the path of duty.”

Chesterfield, in speaking thus, was not mistaken as to the great inconsistency of Voltaire. His inconsistency, in a few words, was this : Voltaire, who looked upon men as fools or children, and who could never laugh at them enough, at the same time put loaded firearms into their hands, without troubling himself as to the use they would put them to.

Lord Chesterfield himself, in the eyes of the Puritans of his country, has been accused, I should state here, of a breach of morality in the letters addressed to his son. The strict Johnson, who was not impartial on the subject, and who thought he had cause to complain against Chesterfield, said, when the letters were published, that “they taught the morals of a courtesan, and the manners of a dancing-master."

Such a judgment is supremely unjust, and if Chesterfield, in particular instances, insists upon graces of manner at any price, it is because he has already provided for the more solid parts of education, and because his pupil is not in the least danger of sinning on the side which makes man respectable, but rather on that which renders him agreeable. Although more than one passage in these letters may seem very strange, coming from a father to a son, the whole is animated with a true spirit of tenderness and wisdom. If Horace had had a son, I imagine he would not have written to him very differently.

The letters begin with the A B C of education and instruction. Chesterfield teaches his son in French the rudiments of mythology and history. I do not regret the publication of these first letters. He lets slip some very excellent advice in those early pages. The little Stanhope is no more than eight years old when his father suits a little rhetoric to his juvenile understanding, and tries to show him how to use good language, and to express himself well. He especially recommends to him attention in all that he does, and he gives the word its full value. “It is attention alone,” he says, “which

fixes objects in the memory. There is no surer mark of a mean and meagre intellect in the world than inattention. All that is worth the trouble of doing at all deserves to be done well, and nothing can be well done without attention.” This precept he incessantly repeats, and varies the application of it as his pupil grows, and is in a condition to comprehend it to its fullest extent. Whether pleasure or study, every thing one does must be done well, done entirely and at its proper time, without allowing any distraction to intervene. “When you read Horace pay attention to the accuracy of his thoughts, to the elegance of his diction, and to the beauty of his poetry, and do not think of the 'De Homine et Cive' of Puffendorf; and when you read Puffendorf do not think of Madame de St. Germain ; nor of Puffendorf when you speak of Madame St. Germain.” But this strong and easy subjugation of the order of thought to the will only belongs to great or very good intellects. M. Royer-Collard used to say that “what was most wanting in our day was respect in the moral disposition, and attention in the intellectual.” Lord Chesterfield, in a less grave manner, might have said the same thing. He was not long in finding out what was wanting in this child whom he wished to bring up; whose bringing up was, indeed, the end and aim of his life. “On sounding your character to its very depths,” he said to him, “I have not, thank God, discovered any vice of heart or weakness of head so far; but I have discovered idleness, inattention, and indifference, defects which are only pardonable in the aged, who, in the decline of life, when health and spirits give way, have a sort of right to that kind of tranquillity. But a young man ought to be ambitious to shine and excel.” And it is precisely this sacred fire, this lightning, that makes the Achilles, the Alexanders, and the Cæsars to be the first in every undertaking, this motto of noble hearts and of eminent men of all kinds, that nature had primarily neglected to place in the honest but thoroughly mediocre soul of the younger Stanhope : “You appear to want,” said his father, “that vivida vis animi which excites the majority of young men to please, to strive, and to outdo others.” “When I was your age,” he again says, “I should have been ashamed for another to know his lesson better, or to have been before me in a game, and I should have had no rest till I had regained the advantage.” All this little course of education by letters offers a sort of continuous dramatic interest; we follow the efforts of a fine distinguished energetic nature as Lord Chesterfield's was, engaged in a contest with a disposition honest but indolent, with an easy and dilatory temperament, from which it would, at any expense, form a masterpiece accomplished, amiable and original, and with which it only succeeded in making a sort of estimable copy. What sustains and almost touches the reader in this strife, where so much art is used, and where the inevitable counsel is the same beneath all metamorphoses, is the true fatherly affection which animates and inspires the delicate and excellent master, as patient as he is full of vigor, lavish in resources and skill, never discouraged, untiring in sowing elegances and graces on this infantile soil. Not that this son, the object of so much culture and zeal, was in any way unworthy of his father. It has been pretended that there could be no one duller or more sullen than he was, and Johnson is quoted in support of the statement. There are caricatures which surpass the truth. It appears from the best authorities, that Mr. Stanhope, without being a model of grace, had the air of a man who had been well brought up, and was polite and agreeable. But do you not think that that is the most grievous part of all? It would have been better worth while, almost, to have totally failed, and to have only succeeded in making an original in the inverse sense, rather than with so much care and expense to have

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »