« PreviousContinue »
opinion changed on the subject to which we have referred we do not know. We should infer from Letters CCXVIII., CCXXXVI., and from the letter to be delivered after his death, that it had • not. * In any case he would not have been likely to touch on such things in writing to a child.
We have dwelt on these points for two reasons. In the first place we do not think that the distinction, which Lord Carnarvon attempts to make between Chesterfield's sentiments and precepts in the earlier and later letters, is warranted by facts. In the second place the suggestion of such a distinction involves an admission, in our opinion, equally unwarrantable and equally misleading. It is plain that Lord Carnarvon wishes to say all that can in fairness be said in defence of his author. But he defends him by a compromise. Assuming the justice of the popular verdict on the earlier letters, he represents, or seems to represent, the later as a sort of palinode. He points to passages, in many cases simple repetitions of passages in the former series, as proofs of an awakened moral sense. He quotes with just admiration sentiments and precepts which are commonplaces in the Letters to the Son’ as indications of the salutary effects of age and sorrow.
But Chesterfield was not, we submit, a reformed rake, except in the sense in which Aristippus and Horace were reformed rakes. He was a man of the world and a philosopher, consistent alike in his precepts and in his principles. What he preached at seventy was what he preached at fifty-seven, and what he preached at fifty-seven is what he would have preached at five-and-thirty. Of the follies and errors of his youth, of wasted opportunities, and of wasted time, he speaks with a regret common with men in all ages of the world. But the lusus ac ludicra, the inculcation of which has been so fatal to his reputation among his countrymen, were no more included in his remorse than they were included in the remorse of Horace. On this point his sentiments were precisely those of the ancient Moralists. The licence which was allowed to youth, a proper sense of the becoming forbade to mature years. • Non lusisse pudet sed non incidere ludum.' The danger, as he well knew and has frequently remarked, lay in the possibility of
* Lord Camarvon points with great satisfaction to a passage in Letter XLIV. where Chesterfield speaks of natural children as ' le fruit d'un péché,' as a proof of reformation on this point. But Chesterfield's repetition of the story of the Ephesian matron, and his remarks in Letter cxxxiv, are ominous indications. We very much fear that if Philip Stanhope had been a few years older he would have received the same edifying guidance as in the pleasures and dissipations both of which I shall allow you when you are seventeen or eighteen,' as the former Philip had been favoured with.
+ See particularly Cicero, 'Pro Cælio, passim ; and especially cbap. xii., is sentiments, which are commonplaces with the Ancients, need illustration. Vol. 171.–No. 342.
the permanent corruption of character; of the contamination, the essential contamination, of moral and intellectual energy; of mischief alike to body and mind. As he did not, in accordance with those who thought with the ancients rather than with those who think with Christian teachers, press an austere morality on the young; so he saw no impropriety in endeavouring to render such indulgences as little harmful as possible. * It is untrue, or, to speak more correctly, it is misleading to say that he inculcates vice. The odiousness, the contemptibleness, the mischievousness, of vice, is indeed his constant theme. "A commerce galant insensibly formed with a woman of fashion, a glass of wine or two too much, unwarily taken in the warmth and joy of good company, or some innocent frolic by which nobody is injured are,' he says, the utmost bounds which a man of sense and decency will allow himself; those who transgress them become infamous, or at least contemptible.' It must be remembered that when he speaks of gallantry, he is speaking, not of that crime which ruins the peace of families, and is fraught with misery and mischief to society, but of a relation which in the aristocratic circles of Italy and France, where his son, for whose guidance while moving in these circles the letters were written, was then residing, no one held to be reprehensible. It was vice so sanctioned by custom that it had ceased to be regarded as vice. • Il permet la galanterie,' says Montesquieu, speaking of the differences between Monarchy and Republicanism—lors qu'elle est unie à l'idée du sentiment du cœur, ou à l'idée de conquête ;' or, as Chesterfield himself puts it, “gallantry is at Paris as necessary a part of a woman of fashion's establishment as her house, table, and coach.' We very much doubt, corrupt as the Court of George II, was, whether he would have proffered any such advice, seriously at least, had his son been in England. Of one thing we are very sure, that crimes such as those of Wendoll and Lovelace would have been discountenanced and denounced by him as uncompromisingly and sternly as by the most austere of moralists.
We are holding no brief for Chesterfield. We think that any attempt to confuse the distinction between morality and immorality is in the highest degree reprehensible, and that,
* His position and motives are exactly explained in the testamentary letter to his godson. Speaking of youth, he says, 'It is a state of continual inebriety for six or seven years at least, and frequently attended by fatal and permanent consequences both to body and mind. Believe yourself then to be drunk, and as druuken men when reeling catch hold of the next thing in their way to support them, do you, my dear boy, hold by the rails of my experience. I hope they will liinder you from falling, though perhaps not from staggering a little sometimes.' He says exactly the same in Letter cxxxv. (vol. i.) to the son.
in theory at least, our standard of morals is and must be the standard of Christianity. That vice loses half its evil by losing all its grossness is in point of fact undoubtedly true, but it is true on a principle which we have no right to concede. Here then we believe Chesterfield to be entirely in the wrong. Nor have we anything to say in defence of the flippancy and levity with which he commonly speaks of women, and of men's relation to women, still less of the impropriety of a father addressing a son on such topics as those to which we have alluded. All this we fully grant and greatly regret. But it is surely high time that the nonsense, which has long been current, and is still so industriously circulated about these letters and their author, should cease. We saw quite recently a work in which all the old calumnies, Johnson's epigram and Cowper's invective duly emphasized, were faithfully retailed. Chesterfield himself was described exactly as he is represented in his supposed counterpart in Dickens's novel; the letters, as a sort of text-book of the ethics of immorality, advocating seduction, adultery, hypocrisy, untruth, contempt for religion. Lord Carnarvon has done a great service in printing these new letters. But he would have done a still greater service, had he taken this opportunity of directing attention to the injustice of the sentence passed on the old. As it is, what he has said, or at least implied, will, we fear, tend only to confirm it. Chesterfield's character and writings are best vindicated by the statement of simple truth. On certain subjects he did not think as most men now think; there are certain passages in his works to which just exception may be taken. But to represent him, as Lord Carnarvon has done, in the light of a repentant sinner involves two wholly unwarranted petitiones principii, the one conceding far too much, the other assuming much too little. If he was a sinner, he was a sinner in a sense in which he did not repent; and if he repented, he repented in a sense in which he did not sin.
But to turn to the new letters. They have much merit. They are full of good things, of observations on men and life marked by all the old delicate discrimination and refined good sense, of excellent precepts, of counsel and suggestions, admirable alike for the shrewd, keen, sober sagacity and wisdom displayed in them, and for the tact and urbanity with which they are tendered. There are passages in them as good as the best which could be found in the earlier correspondence. The style is the same—unaffected, fluent, pure, graceful, finished, the style in fact in which Chesterfield always wrote. But they have more humour, and the humour is less cynical and more playful. This,
and that in which this is an element, the general tone, the reflection of the mitis senectutis sapientia, give them a charm, a peculiar charm, which the others do not possess. Horace, when he composed the Epistles, was, it is true, younger than Chesterfield when the letters to the elder Stanhope were written, yet when we compare the tone of the earlier letters with that of the letters before us, we are insensibly reminded of the difference between the harsher philosopher of the Satires and the mellower philosopher of the Epistles. But they will not, as a whole, bear comparison with the earlier correspondence. We doubt even whether they will add much to Chesterfield's literary fame. For, as they were designed with the same object as their predecessors to form a system of education, proceeding on the same lines, and having in view the same ends, they necessarily repeat much of what had been said before. Indeed, in substance, they contain little which is essentially new. But what is repeated, is repeated in another way, with many new touches, with many additional illustrations and reflections, with all those differences, in fine, which we should expect from a man of a richly-stored mind treating again in old age the subjects he had treated years before,
The parallel between the two series is very close. The common aim of both was, like that of Elyot's Governour,' with which they may be compared, the education of a finished gentleman, destined to serve his country in public life, commencing from the time he left the nursery to the time when, epopt and perfect, he emerged from tutelage. I had,' he writes to his son, two views in your education, Parliament and Foreign Affairs.' In his godson he was interested as in his own heir and
Both series run exactly on the same lines, but the one is completed, the other is not. The earlier letters, till they cease to be didactic, form three distinct groups. The first may be said to terminate with the 78th Letter, when Philip was in his fifteenth year, and the instruction here is confined almost entirely to elementary lessons in Mythology, History, Historical Geography, and Literature, and to the conduct of habits and manners proper in a boy. The second terminates at or about the second letter of Volume II., the letter dated April 26, 1750, when the youth, now in his nineteenth year, was about to be independent of his tutor. Their theme is the true use of the world, and of books as instruments of culture ; the becoming in morals, in manners, and the art of acquiring it; duties, their nature and their obligations ; ambition and its legitimate objects; the relation of theory to experience, of experience to theory, and of both to
success in life. The third group, addressed to a youth who was now his own master and in the midst of all the temptations of the idlest and most dissolute capital in Europe, completes the
The instruction here is how the pleasures of a man of the world may be made subservient to his interests and his duties; how credit, how influence, how authority are to be acquired; how on the skill with which the game of life is played in trifles depends the success with which the game will be won in earnest. In the letters to the godson, two only of these groups have their counterpart, for the simple reason that the correspondence breaks off before young Stanhope had ceased to be a boy. The first extending to the 128th Letter answers exactly to the first group in the former. The series go over precisely the same ground, not indeed so deliberately and in a much lighter and more playful style, interspersing, more frequently than the others do, the sort of moral and religious instruction proper for a child. Indeed, there is much in this group which in the former series finds its place in the second. But it is expressed in much simpler language, and generally in French. As these letters will probably be new to most of our readers, we will give a few extracts. One of the most pleasing is the ninth, on duty to God, and duty to man.
‘God has been so good as to write in all our hearts the duty that He expects from us, which is adoration and thanksgiving, and doing all the good we can to our fellow-creatures. Our conscience, if we will but consult and attend to it, never fails to remind us of those duties. . . . You owe all the advantages you enjoy to God, who can and who will probably take them away, whenever you are ungrateful to Him, for He has Justice as well as Mercy. Your duty to man is very short and clear, it is only to do to him whatever you would be willing that he should do to you. And remember in all the business of life to ask your conscience this question : Should I be willing that this should be done to me?
your conscience, which will always: tell you truth, answers No, do not do that thing. Observe these rules and you will be happy in this world and still happier in the next.
We notice in the next letter the repetition of what he had said so felicitously before of the art of pleasing: 'Observe attentively what pleases you in others and do the same, and you will be sure to please them.' There is a beautiful passage in the 108th Letter
God has created us such helpless creatures that we all want one another's assistance. . It was for this reason that our Almighty Creator made us with so many wants and infirmities that mutual help and assistance are absolutely necessary, not only for our well