« PreviousContinue »
faculties and emotions of man, brought by culture to their utmost points of development and refinement in the case of the former, of refinement and temper in the case of the latter. It is not merely completed self-mastery, but the harmony of the ordered whole, and a whole in which each part has been perfected. This is not all. As man lives not for himself alone, but is a unit in society, the full and efficient discharge of his obligations to society, in the various relations in which he stands to it, is of equal importance. These, then, are the two great ends of education, the perfection of the individual character and the discipline of the individual with respect to social duties. And these are the ends at which Chesterfield aims. From the time that you have had life, it has been the principal object of mine to make you as perfect as the imperfections of human nature will allow.'
All the teaching proceeds on strictly systematic principles. It begins with laying the foundations of knowledge, with awakening interest in Ancient Mythology and Ancient and Modern History, suggesting at the same time such moral and religious instruction as would be intelligible to a child. Next comes the rudiments of rhetoric. The pupil is made to feel how and why beautiful composition and beautiful poetry are beautiful; he is initiated in the principles of good taste. Two exhortations are constantly repeated, the necessity of thoughtfulness and the necessity of attention. There is no surer sign in the world of a little weak mind than inattention. Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well, and nothing can be done well without attention.' Step by step, with exquisite tact and skill and with unwearied patience, does the teacher proceed through these rudimentary stages, never above the capacity of his pupil, never losing sight of the final object. If we look closely, we shall see that the instruction which he will afterwards enforce with so much emphasis has been insinuated, that the very legends and fables narrated by him have had their object. The ground having been prepared, the foundations laid, the superstructure is commenced. And now Cicero is followed closely. What in the conception of both constitutes perfection of character we have seen, it is the decorum and the honestum qualities intellectually distinguishable, but essentially identical. And the decorum in its relation to the honestum in the abstract may be defined as
whatever is consonant to that supremacy of man wherein his nature differs from other animals,' and in relation to the several divisions of the honestum as 'that quality which is so consonant to nature that it involves the manifestation of moderation and temperance with a certain air such
as becomes a gentleman.'* There is scarcely a letter of Chesterfield's which is not a commentary on some portion of this. It was his aim and criterion in the lesser as in the greater morals.
The sure characteristic of a sound and strong mind is to find in everything those certain bounds, "quos ultra citrave nequit consistere rectum.” These boundaries are marked out by a very fine line, which only good sense and attention can discover, it is much too fine for vulgar eyes. In manners this line is good breeding, beyond it is troublesome, short of it, is unbecoming negligence and inattention. In morals it divides ostentatious Puritanism from Criminal Relaxation. In Religion, Superstition from Impiety, and in short every virtue from its kindred vice or weakness.'
In Letter cx. he goes so far as to say that there is more judgment required for the proper conduct of our virtues than for avoiding their opposite vices. Hence his constant warnings against excesses of all kinds : of sensual excesses, gluttony, drunkenness, and profligacy; of intellectual excesses, too great addiction to study and books; of any violent passions such as anger, or joy and grief in excess, or excess in admiration. “I would teach him early the nil admirari,' he says with reference to his godson, as he had before said to his son. • I think it a very necessary lesson.' And hence on the other hand his warnings—and in this, as he has said more than once, he was no Stoic—that the natural instincts and passions should not be suppressed, that pleasures should be freely indulged in provided they be within measure, and without grossness.f Vive la joy,' he writes to his grandson, mais que ce soit la joye d'un homme d'esprit et pas d'un sot.' And so of anger, it is not to be checked so entirely as to render a man liable to the charge of pusillanimous patience under insult, or grief to the point of improper insensibility. To the minutest details of life is the same principle extended, for in the phrase of his master, 'quidquam est decorum nihil est profecto magis quam æquabilitas universa vitæ, tum singularum actionum, t-all are notes in the harmony, which is character. I think,' he says (Letter cxxxII.), nothing
'Est ejus descriptio duplex. Nam et generale quoddam decorum intelligimus, quod in omni honestate versatur : et aliud huic subjectum quod pertinet ad singulas partes honestatis. Atque illud superius sic fere definiri solet : Decorum id esse quod consentaneum sit hominis excellentiæ in eo, in quo natura ejus & reliquis animantibus differat. Quæ autem pars subjecta generi est, eam sic definiunt, ut id decorum velint esse quod ita naturæ consentaneum sit ut in eo moderatio et temperantia appareat cum specie quâdam liberali.' ('De Officiis,' lib. i. c. 27.)
+ See Letters passim, but particularly Letters clxxxvII. and CLVIII., vol. i., and IV., XXVIII., vol. ii. In this point Cicero is opposed to Chesterfield, but see • De Officiis,' lib. i. c. 30, Sin sit quispiam qui aliquid tribuat voluptati, diligenter ei tenendum esse ejus fruendæ modum.'
De Officiis,' lib. i. c. 31. Vol. 171.-No. 342.
above or below my pointing out to you or your excelling in.' The most interesting part of his teaching is where he dwells on the Becoming in relation to what may be called its minor manifest ns, in its relation to manners and externals. Here, too, Cicero is his guide,* but he goes much more into details than his master does. Indeed, he attaches so mucb importance to this subject, and has allowed it to fill a space so strangely disproportionate to the space filled by instruction on the higher morals, that with most people his name has come to be associated with this portion of his teaching alone. The reason is given in the letters themselves. He found his pupil docile and plastic in all respects but one. He had no difficulty in making him a scholar, or in imprinting on him all that constitutes the * respectable’; but in what constitutes the 'amiable' he was not only instinctively deficient, but to all appearance obstinately impervious to impression. As the letters proceed, the anxiety of the teacher on this point increases, till at last 'the graces,
' their nature, their importance, and how they are to be acquired, come to predominate over all other subjects. We have reason to be thankful for the accident. It has enriched us where we were poor; it has instructed us in matters in which of all nations in the world we most need instruction. To say that the central idea of Chesterfield's teaching is the essential connexion of the good with the beautiful, would be to credit him with a far loftier philosophy than he had any conception of; but to say that, in discerning and in insisting on the alliance between the virtues and the graces, he inculcated a kindred truth, or to speak more correctly, a phrase of the same great truth, is no more than the fact. It is in his inculcation of this, in his never losing sight of it as a principle, and in his fine and subtle perception of what constitutes 'the graces,' that he fills a place such as no other teacher in our literature holds. We must go to Ancient Greece, we must go to Modern France, for writers occupying an analogous position.
His definition of the graces proceeds on the same principle as his definition of morals. They are the result of the application of the same rules, the products of the same culture, the fruits of the same soil. Judging as the world judges, a man may be perfect in the graces while altogether deficient in morals. Judging as Chesterfield judges, a man may indeed be deficient in the graces who is sound in morals ; but no man can be perfect in the graces who is deficient in morals. So closely, however, in his conceptions are manners linked with
* •De Officiis,' lib. i. cc. 35-38.
morals, the graces with the virtues, that he often regards them in the light of causes and effects, and even represents them as reciprocally productive. They are not,' he says, “the showish trifles only which some people call or think them : they are a solid good ; they prevent a great deal of real mischief: they create, adorn, and strengthen friendships : they keep hatred within bounds: they promote good-humour and good-will in families where the want of them is commonly the original cause of discord.' (Letter XXXVII., vol. ii.) •Good manners particular societies what good morals are to society in general, their cement and their security’; "and,' he goes on to say, 'I really think that next to the consciousness of doing a good action, that of doing a civil one is the most pleasing, and the epithet which I should covet most next to that of Aristides, would be that of well-bred.' (CLXVIII. vol. i.) They are as necessary, he says in another place, to adorn and introduce intrinsic merit and knowledge as the polish is to the diamond, for without that polish it would never be worn, whatever it might weigh; and weight without lustre is dead. But the graces will not come at the simple call: they must be wooed to
Good breeding is the result of great experience, much observation and great diligence in a man of sound character. • It is a combination of much good sense, some good nature, and a little self-denial for the sake of others with a view to obtain the same indulgence from them. It is the perception of the fine line which separates dignity from ceremoniousness, gentility from affectation, refinement from effeminacy. It is the art of being familiar without being vulgar, of being frank without being indiscreet, of being reserved without being mysterious. It is the tact which knows the proper time and the proper place for all that is to be done, and all that is to be said, and the faculty of doing both with an air of distinction. A compound of all the agreeable qualities of body and mind, it is a compound in which none of them predominates to the exclusion of the rest. Thus far it is susceptible of analysis ; but no analysis can resolve the secret of its charm. For it is the quintessence of the graces, and would you ask me to define the graces, I can only do so by the“ Je ne scay quoy ;” would you ask me to define the “ Je ne scay quoy,” I can only do so by the
. Essentially connected with the higher morals, it includes truth, justice, humanity. As we have already seen,
* The loci classici in Chesterfield on the definition of good breeding are : * Letters to Son,' vol. i. CXII. CLXVIII. CLXIX. ; vol. ii. XXXVII, XXXix. ; 'To Goulson,' CXVI. CXCIX; and the excellent paper on Civility and Good Breeding,' contributed to the World'; Miscellaneous Works' (Stanhope), vol. v. p. 346.
nothing is insisted on more emphatically in Chesterfield's teaching than strict veracity, and not less emphatically is the practice of justice inculcated. Thus in commenting on a remark which his son had made in a Latin exercise, he writes :
· Let no quibbles of lawyers, no refinements of casuists break into the plain notions of right and wrong. To do as you would be done by is the plain, sure, and undisputed rule of morality and justice.' Letter cxXXII.
But if in his conception of the ideal character any virtue may be said to predominate, it is humanity. To remember that the distinctions made between man and man, except the distinctions made by virtue and culture, are artificial, and to deal with them therefore as with natural equals is a precept formally expressed indeed only in the later letters, but it is practically included in the teaching of the former. Few writers are, it is true, more essentially aristocratic, but he was aristocratic in the Miltonic rather than in the Byronian sense of the term. • I used to think myself,' he says, 'in company as much above me when I was with Mr. Addison and Mr. Pope, as if I had been with all the princes of Europe.' On his son and on his godson alike he is continually insisting on the duties of philanthropy :
* Humanity inclines, religion requires, and our moral duty obliges us to relieve, as far as we are able, the distresses and miseries of our fellow-creatures; but this is not all, for a true heartfelt benevolence and tenderness will prompt us to contribute what we can to their ease, their amusement, and their pleasure, as far as we innocently may. Let us then not only scatter benefits but even strew flowers for our fellow-travellers in the rugged ways of this wretched world.' _Letters to Godson,' cxxx.
Such is the ideal at which, in Chesterfield's conception, education should aim. It is the attainment and maintenance of perfect harmony among all the elements which make complete man; it is the adjustment of the whole nature in all its parts, in perfect symmetry, an endeavour to prevent, what Plato would prevent, a life moving without grace or rhythm.* It is curious to notice how near this rhythmic notion of culture and character sometimes brings him to the Republic. He does not indeed attach the same importance or see so clearly the same significance in gymnastics, dancing, and music, as Plato; and yet, when giving his godson a receipt for checking excessive emotion, he says, do everything in minuet time; speak, think, and move always in that measure, equally free from the dulness of slow,
* μετά αρρυθμίας τε και αχαριστίας. (Rep. iii. 411.)