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has not a dominant passion to which the others are subordinate. Discover this governing passion in every individual ; search into the recesses of his heart, and observe the different effects of the same passion in different people. And when you have found the master passion of a man, remember never to trust to him where that passion is concerned.”
"If you wish particularly to gain the good graces and affection of certain people, men or women, try to discover their most striking merit, if they have one, and their dominant weakness, for every one has his own, then do justice to the one, and a little more than justice to the other."
“Women, in general, have only one object, which is their beauty, upon which subject hardly any flattery can be too gross to please them.”
“The Aattery which is most pleasing to really beautiful or decidedly ugly women, is that which is addressed to the intellect.”
On the subject of women, again, if he seems disdainful now and then, he makes reparation elsewhere; and, above all, whatever he thinks of them, he never allows his son to slander them too much. “You appear to think that from the days of Eve to the present time they have done much harm : as regards that lady I agree with you ; but from her time history teaches you that men have done more harm in the world than women; and to speak truly, I would warn you not to trust either sex more than is absolutely necessary. But what I particularly advise you is this : never to attack whole bodies, whatever they may be.”
“Individuals occasionally forgive, but bodies and societies never do."
In general, Chesterfield counsels his son to be circumspect and to preserve a sort of prudent neutrality, even in the case of the knaves and fools with which the world abounds. “After their friendship there is nothing more dangerous than to have them for enemies." It is not the morality of Cato nor of Zeno, but that of Alcibiades, of Aristippus, or Atticus.
Upon religion he shall speak, in reply to some trenchant opinions that his son had expressed: “The reason of every man is and ought to be his guide ; and I should have as much right to expect every man to be of my height and temperament, as to wish that he should reason precisely as I do.”
In every thing he is of the opinion that the good and the best should be known and loved, but that it is not necessary to make one's self a champion for or against every thing. One must know even in literature how to tolerate the weaknesses of others : “Let them enjoy quietly their errors both in taste and religion.” Oh! how far from such wisdom is the bitter trade of criticism, as we do it !
He does not, however, advise lying ; he is precise in this particular. His precept always runs thus : do not tell all, but never tell a lie. “I have always observed,” he frequently repeats, “that the greatest fools are the greatest liars. For my part, I judge of the truth of a man by the extent of his intellect.”
We see how really he mixes the useful and the agreeable. He is perpetually demanding from the intellect something resolute and subtle, sweetness in the manner, energy at bottom.
Lord Chesterfield thoroughly appreciated the serious state of France and the dread events that the eighteenth century brought to light. According to him, Duclos, in his "Reflections," is right when he says that “a germ of reason is beginning to appear in France.” “What I can confidently predict,” adds Chesterfield, “is that before the end of this century the trades of king and priest will have lost half their power."
Our revolution has been clearly predicted by him since 1750.
He warned his son from the beginning against the idea that the French are entirely frivolous.
“The cold inhabitants of the north look upon the French as a frivolous people who sing and whistle and dance perpetually : this is very far from being the truth, though the army of fops seem to justify it. But these fops, ripened by age and experience, often turn into very able men.” The ideal, according to him, would be to unite the merits of the two nations; but in this mixture he still seems to lean towards France: “I have said many times, and I really think, that a Frenchman who joins to a good foundation of virtue, learning, and good sense, the manners and politeness of his country, has attained the perfection of human nature.” He unites sufficiently well in himself the advantages of the two nations, with one characteristic which belongs exclusively to his race—there is imagination even in his wit. Hamilton himself has this distinctive characteristic, and introduces it into French wit. Bacon, the great moralist, is almost a poet by expression. One cannot say so much of Lord Chesterfield; nevertheless, te has more imagination in his sallies and in the expression of his wit than one meets with in Saint Evremond and our acute moralists in general. He resembles his friend Montesquieu in this respect.
If in the letters to his son we can, without being severe, lay hold of some cases of slightly damaged morality, we should have to point out, by way of compensation, some very serious and really admirable passages, where he speaks of the Cardinal de Retz, of Mazarin, of Bolingbroke, of Marlborough, and of many others. It is a rich book. One cannot read a page without finding some happy observation worthy of being remembered.
Lord Chesterfield intended this beloved son for a diplomatic life; he at first found some difficulties in the way on account of his illegitimacy. To cut short these objections, he sent his son to Parliament; it was the surest method of conquering the scruples of the court. Mr. Stanhope, in his maiden speech, hesitated a moment, and was obliged to have recourse to notes. He did not make a second attempt at speaking in public. It appears that he succeeded better in diplomacy, in those second-rate places where solid merit is sufficient. He filled the post of ambassador extraordinary to the court of Dresden. But his health, always delicate, failed before he was old, and his father had the misfortune to see him die before him when he was scarcely thirty-six years old (1768). Lord Chesterfield at that time lived entirely retired from the world, on account of his infirmities, the most painful of which was complete deafness. Montesquieu, whose sight failed, said to