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the severe sentence so long popularly passed on the author of these letters, as a man, needs considerable modification. They had placed his character in a light far more favourable than it had ever been placed before. They had shown that, if in the traditionary estimate of him more than justice had been meted out to his defects and errors, less, and much less than justice had been done to his shining qualities. No one who is acquainted with Chesterfield's later correspondence, his correspondence, for example, with Dayrolles and the Bishop of Waterford, and who possesses any competent knowledge of his public and private life, could fail to see how erroneous, how ridiculously erroneous, would be any conception of his character formed merely from the impression made by certain portions of the correspondence with his son.
But the world has little leisure, and still less inclination, to concern itself about writings which are of interest only for the light which they throw on the character of the writer, or to explore the by-paths of History and Biography. To ninetynine in every hundred of his countrymen, Chesterfield is known only in association with the letters to Philip Stanhope. On the evidence of these letters, or to speak more correctly, on evidence derived from portions of these letters, confirmed and supplemented by current traditions, the popular conception of him has been formed. We have little doubt that in the imagination of thousands, he is still pictured as the epigrain of Johnson pictured him more than a century ago.
We have little doubt that to many, and to very many, his name is little more than a synonym for a profligate fribble, shallow, flippant, heartless ; without morality, without seriousness; a scoffer at religion, an enemy to truth and virtue, passing half his life in practising, and the other half in teaching a son to practise, all that moves loathing and contempt in honest men. Even among those who do not judge as the crowd judges there exists a stronger prejudice against Chesterfield than exists with equal reason against any other Englishman. He has himself remarked that there is no appeal against character. His own character has been established through the impression made by the testimony of hostile contemporaries, and through the impression made by such portions of the only writings by which he is now remembered as unhappily reflect it on its worst side, and appear therefore to corroborate that testimony. And his character, or what has for a century and a quarter been assumed to be his character, has been fatal to his fame. He will now be judged more fairly. We do not think that the present letters throw any really new light on the man himself, but, unlike the more famous letters, they reflect
only, and very charmingly, what was best and most attractive in him. They show how much amiability, kindliness, humanity, seriousness, existed in one whose name has become a proverb for the very opposite qualities. They exhibit, simply and without alloy, what he took a cynical pleasure in concealing from the world in general, and what is in his other writings obscured and vitiated by baser matter. That their publication will have the effect of creating a reaction in his favour, a reaction the result of which will be a juster estimate of the value of his writings, is highly probabie. And we heartily hope that this will be the
We have long regarded it as a great misfortune that what was reprehensible in Chesterfield's conduct and teaching should have so completely obscured what was excellent and admirable in both, as practically to deprive his name and works of all popular credit and authority,
With the exception of Machiavelli, we know of no other writer whose opinions and precepts have been so ridiculously misrepresented, and that, unfortunately for Chesterfield's fame, not merely by the inultitude, but by men who are among the classics of our literature.
It is curious to follow the fortune of the volumes which have brought so much discredit on his name.
From the moment of their appearance the outcry began. The sensation occasioned twenty years before by the publication of Boling broke's philosophical works by Mallet was not greater than that occasioned when Eugenia Stanhope gave this famous Correspondence to the world. In the Annual Register' indeed, a notice, which from internal evidence we have little hesitation in ascribing to Burke, did full justice both to the merits of the letters themselves and to the virtues of their distinguished author. But the storm burst in the Gentleman's Magazine.' An ominous allusion to
the lurking poison of an artful and profligate father' heralded what was coming. In a few months the letters were the general theme. The invective and ridicule, which had been directed against Bolingbroke as the enemy of religion, were now directed against Chesterfield as the enemy of morality. One writer in a parody of the Catechism, and another in a parody of the Creed, neither of them, in point of decency at least, very creditable to the cause in which they are presumably written, drew up a form of initiation for Chesterfieldian neophytes. But serious refutations of this most pestilential work soon made their appear
And serious refutation on an elaborate plan began in 1776 with a Mr. William Crawford's . Remarks. Much as we respect Mr. Crawford's intention, which was to protect religion and morality by putting the youth of England on their guard
against the seductions of the fascinating Earl,' we are sorry to be obliged to say that Mr. Crawford is, in spite of all his efforts to the contrary, one of the most amusing writers we have ever met with. His remarks assume the form of dialogue. Eugenius, an innocent youth on being asked by his tutor Constantius about the books he has been reading in his holidays, replies that one has fallen into his hand which has afforded him not a little entertainment and instruction.' To the horror and distress of Constantius it turns out that the book in question was 'Chesterfield's Letters.' There is now nothing for it but to administer the antidote to all this poison, and in eight dialogues it is done. While Mr. Crawford was opening the eyes of the younger generation, the Rev. Thomas Hunter, in a substantial octavo volume, was appealing to maturer judgments. •Britons who are parents,' writes this perfervid moralist, ask your own hearts whether you would wish your children to be educated on this plan? Would it please you to exchange the virtues for the graces, English honesty for French grimace?' with much more of the same kind. But Hunter, who was by the way the author of a curious and singularly interesting treatise on Tacitus, is on the whole sensible and temperate, and does full justice to the literary merits of the letters, as well as to such portions of their ethical teaching as do not offend his prejudices as a clergyman. But the most extraordinary production inspired by the correspondence was Jackson Pratt's sensational ‘novel, the • Pupil of Pleasure, which appeared seven years after the books of which we' have been speaking. The object of this work was to depict a character modelled on what Pratt conceived, or pretended to conceive, Chesterfield's ideal gentleman to be, and to describe his career. When we say that Pratt has summed
Chesterfield's teachings as comprised mainly in these maxims, .Do whatever you think proper—whatever fancy, passion, whim, or wickedness suggest-only command your countenance and check your temper, it is scarcely necessary to observe that a more accurate summary of all that constitutes the exact reverse of what those teachings inculcate could hardly be drawn up in fewer words, as it is equally unnecessary to add that poor Pratt's celebrated dazzling and diabolical hero,' who, after ruining almost every woman he meets, and running into every excess of vice and profligacy, is at last found dead with the precepts of his supposed Mentor in his pocket, bears about the same resemblance to Chesterfield's ideal gentleman as he bears to Zeno's Wise Man or Aristotle's Magnanimous Man. But these monstrous perversions of Chesterfield's teaching were not confined
to ephemeral writings. In the most powerful lines perhaps which he ever composed, Cowper gave immortal expression to the popular estimate of the letters
• Petronius! all the Muses weep for thee,
it on the morals of thy son,
The publication of Boswell's · Life of Johnson’in 1791 confirmed and extended the impression made by preceding writers. And for this reason.
For every person who remembers the one just thing which Johnson said of the letters, and the one just remark which he made about their author, there are a hundred who remember his terse and pointed, but gross and libellous epigrams on each. The
of the · Posthumous Letters and Memoirs of Horace Walpole,' between 1818 and 1847, and the • Memoirs of Lord Hervey,' in both of which Chesterfield himself is depicted, as personal enemies of such resources would be likely to paint him, contributed still further to bias the popular judgment. But the measure of Chesterfield's posthumous misfortunes was not yet full. What the author of the • Pupil of Pleasure'assayed to do in the last century, the author of · Barnaby Rudge' has assayed to do in our own time. On the unspeakable vulgarity and absurdity of Dickens's caricature and travestywith pain do we say a disrespectful word of one to whom we in common with half the world owe so much-it would be superfluous to comment. But what is certain is, that in the imagination of millions Chesterfield will exist, and exist only in association, with a character combining all that is worst, all that is most vile, most contemptible, most repulsive, in the traditionary portrait of him.
Of the recklessness with which charges have been brought against Chesterfield and his writings we will give one instance. He has been accused over and over again of defending and encouraging the practice of falsehood. What is the fact? There is no vice which he represents as more odious or more unbe
coming the character of a gentleman. “I really know nothing more criminal,'—so he writes in one letter to his son—more mean and more ridiculous than lying. Again : It is not possible for a man to be virtuous without strict veracity, a lie in a man is a vice of the mind, and a vice of the heart. In another letter : ‘Lies and perfidy are the refuge of fools and cowards.' Again: “Whoever has not truth cannot be supposed to have any one good quality, and must become the detestation of God and man.' Mendacem si dixeris,' he writes in another place, adapting the well-known proverb about ingratitude, * omnia dixeris. But it is useless to multiply quotations in support of a cardinal principle in his teaching. The handle which he has afforded for this accusation is simply the fact, that he has distinguished between the truths which should be told and the truths which ought not to be told; between dissimulation which he defends, and simulation which he brands as infamous. He goes no further than the saying attributed to Voltaire, “Woe is he who says all he can about anything,'—a platitude in practice with all but fools ;--justly denouncing as immoral the theory defended by Bacon, and defended even by so virtuous a man as Sir Walter Scott.
The history of the Correspondence, now for the first time published, is soon told. In 1755 Chesterfield, then far in the decline of life, stood godfather to a son born to a distant kinsman, Mr. Arthur Charles Stanhope, of Mansfield. He was naturally interested in the child, for in the event of his brother Sir William dying without issue, his godson, as heir to Mr. A. C. Stanhope, to whom on his own decease the title passed, would become his successor in the Earldom. As the boy grew up, his education became the chief object of his godfather's life.
The place that his son Philip had for so many years occupied in his thoughts and in his affections was now filled by this child. He watched over him with more than a mother's care. Every indication of character was anxiously observed. If any defect, however slight in temper, in habits of mind, in gesture, in accent, was detected, neither
nor pupil knew peace till it was rectified. He submitted patiently to all the drudgery of correcting composition, of drawing up lists of words and idioms to be learnt by heart, of writing elementary sketches of ancient and modern history, of explaining mythology, of copying out elegant extracts in prose and poetry. As the lad's mind developed, and he became capable of receiving more serious instruction, the old statesman, in a series of letters well worthy of a place beside the best of those written quarter of a century before,