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or the hurry and huddle of quick time:'* we see how much in this point, at least, his ideas were those of the Greeks.†
On an impartial review, then, of Chesterfield's theory of education, how little fault is to be found with it! Indeed it would be difficult to see in what respect a character formed on such an ideal could be regarded as deficient. In what virtue, in what accomplishment, would he be lacking, either in his relation to public or in his relation to private life? Where would he be weak, in what point unsound? And yet we cannot lay down these letters without a sense of their utter unsatisfactoriness as teachings. The impression they leave on us is very like that left on us by Seneca's 'Letters to Lucilius,' the impression of unreality; though for a very different reason. The impression of unreality in the case of Seneca is caused, not so much by what he preaches, as from the unconscious reflection in what he preaches of the insincerity of the preacher. We feel that his precepts and lectures are no more in keeping with the truth of his own life than his eulogy on Poverty was in keeping with the priceless table on which it was written. But the impress of sincerity is on every page of Chesterfield. The ideal he drew he had in himself realized. The unreality and unsatisfactoriness of his system lay in its attempt to revive an ideal, which it is now impossible to revive, at all events popularly. It lay, to employ a word which has little to recommend it, but for which our language has no equivalent, in its pure paganism. His whole philosophy is of the world, worldly. Of the spiritual or of the transcendental, nay, of the enthusiastic, it has nothing. He attaches, it is true, the very greatest importance to conventional religion, but he does so, it is evident, for the same reasons that the ancient legislators and moralists did so. The deference which he pays to Christianity is, we feel, no more than the deference which would have been paid to it by any wise and well-natured man of the old world, who knew the needs it was meeting and was aware of its virtues. Of its essence there is as little or as much as there is in the Ethics or in the Enchiridion. In one important point indeed, its teachings are set aside altogether, and that point a point on which the ancient standard of morals cannot be substituted for the standards now immutably fixed by Christian ethics. Again, no considerations either of a future state or of a divine guidance affect in any way what is prescribed or suggested. On the contrary, the sentiment of Juvenal, nullum numen abest si sit prudentia,' we have every
* Letter CXXXV.
† See, too, the remarkable chapters on this subject in Elyot's Governour,' Book I. cap. xxii. seqq.
deity we need if we have prudence, is constantly quoted with the strongest expressions of approval. The end and aim of his teaching throughout is success in life, not as the vulgar estimate it, nor as transcendentalists like Plato would estimate it, but as Aristippus and Horace would estimate it.
A philosophy of this kind is now an anachronism. The Religion, which has revolutionized the world, has made havoc of such ideals. It has turned much which once passed for wisdom into foolishness. Much that in ancient days constituted the moral sublime is now impiety, and the sentiments in which it found expression, profanity. What in the eyes of Pericles and Cato were venial follies, have become deadly sins. Success in life, as success in life is defined even in the scriptures of the Lyceum and the Porch, is such as would ill satisfy the modern conscience. The very name of the quality on which ancient sages most prided themselves has been transformed into a term of opprobrium. The world cannot go back. And the fate of Chesterfield's teachings is indeed typical of what is likely to be the fate, and particularly in England, of all such teachings when they aspire to provide a complete rule of life. But no possible good can be done by misrepresentation and falsehood, and much as wise men must respect the prejudice which exists against these writings, the form, in which that prejudice has found expression, cannot be too strongly condemned. It is not to be condemned only, it is to be deplored. It is in the judgments of men like Chesterfield that conventional religious truths find their strongest collateral security. Absolutely unprejudiced, and absolutely independent, he brings to bear on the facts of life, of which he had had a much wider and more varied experience than falls to the lot of many men, an intellect of extraordinary acuteness and sagacity, a judgment eminently discriminating and sober, and a temper strictly under the dominion of reason. He had studied, with minute and patient attention, the questions which are of the most vital interest to man and society, and the conclusions at which he arrived he has, regardless of anything but what he believed to be the truth, and with no object but the purest and most unselfish of all objects, both set forth and explained. That these conclusions should in so many important respects be identical with those of Christian moralists, that they should have convinced him of the wisdom of the strongest conservatism in what pertains to our religious system, and of the folly and wicknedness of attempting to undermine it, is surely testimony not interesting merely, but of much value. Truth has many sides, and has need of many supports. What Locke observed of Revelation, that it was a republication
republication of Natural Religion, is in a measure, if we may say so without irreverence, applicable to such works as these; they are a republication, fragmentary indeed, and not without alloy, but in an independent form, of conventional truths.
Matthew Arnold has said of Butler's Analogy,' that, whatever may be thought of its philosophy, its perusal is a valuable exercise for the mind. We are tempted to make a similar remark about Chesterfield's writings. They are not, indeed, likely to be of benefit in the sense intended by Matthew Arnold. They will not, that is to say, discipline our reasoning faculties, or tend to form habits of close concentration; but they will be of benefit to us as communion with men of superior intellect and temper is of benefit. The charm of Chesterfield lies in his sincerity and truthfulness, in his refined good sense, in his exquisite perception of the becoming, finding expression in seriousness most happily tempered by gaiety. Of no man could it be more truly said that he had cleared his mind of cant. A writer more absolutely devoid of pretentiousness or affectation cannot be found. Of moral and intellectual frippery he has nothing. Sophistry and paradox are his abhorrence. All he has written bears, indeed, the reflection of a character which is of all characters perhaps the rarest-' the character of one'-it was what Voltaire said of him- who had never been in any way either a charlatan or a dupe of charlatans.' He is one of the very few writers who never wears a mask, and in whose accent no falsetto note can ever be detected. In his fearless intellectual honesty he reminds us of Swift, in his pellucid moral candour he reminds us of Montaigne. To contemplate life, not as it presents itself under the glamour or the gloom of illusion and prejudice, as it presents itself to the enthusiast or the cynic, but as it really is; to regard ignorance as misfortune and vice as evil, but the false assumption of wisdom and virtue as something far worse; to be or to strive to be what pride would have us seem, and to live worthily within the limits severally prescribed by nature and fortune-all this will the study of Chesterfield's philosophy tend to impress on Nor is it in his judgments only on life and on life's important concerns that this sincerity, this pure sincerity, is conspicuous. It is equally apparent in all that concerns himself, in his frank admissions, in his letters to his son, of his own follies and short-comings, in the unaffected modesty with which he has spoken of his own writings, and in the remarkable illustration afforded by those writings themselves of the conscientiousness with which he carried out his own precept, that 'whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well. It is difficult
difficult to believe that these compositions, finished as they almost all of them are to the finger-nail, were intended for no eyes but those of his son and his son's tutor. And yet such, as we learn from the letters themselves, was the case.
In Chesterfield is united as in no other English writer is united, in equal measure, at least, so much of what is best in the intellectual temper of the French and in the intellectual temper of the English. He has much of the sterling good-sense of Johnson, and if we penetrate below the surface, much also of Johnson's seriousness and solidity. He resembles Swift, not merely in his intolerance of sophistry and dishonesty in all that pertains to sentiment and principle, but in his shrewd and homely mother-wit, and in his keen clear insight into positive as distinguished from transcendental truth. Franklin himself is not more purely practical, or Paley more purely utilitarian. But it was not these qualities which led St. Beuve to speak of him as the Rochefoucauld of England, nor is it these qualities which give him his peculiar place among English authors. It still remains, that in spite of so much which is characteristic of the English genius and the English temper, the impression he makes on us is that he is one of the most un-English of English authors. Nor is this strange. What strikes us in a building is not the foundation but the superstructure. In Chesterfield it is the foundation, and the foundation only, which is English, but the superstructure is French. Or, to employ his own happy illustration, what is English in him stands in the same relation to what is French, as the Tuscan order in Architecture stands to the Doric, Ionian, and Corinthian orders; as unadorned solidity stands to the charm in contrast of attractive ornament. We admire in him what we admire in La Bruyère and La Rochefoucauld, what we admire in Voltaire, what we admire, in fine, in the literature most characteristic of the Grand Siècle. But, if we look a little more closely, we cannot fail to be struck with the manner in which English characteristics in Chesterfield tempered the French. His solid good-sense never deserts him he is at bottom serious, at bottom earnest. Thus, nice and delicate as his faculty of discrimination is, it never, as is so often the case with La Bruyère, refines itself into over-niceness and over-subtilty, and never, as is habitually the case with La Rochefoucauld, fritters itself away in brilliant falsehoods or brilliant half-truths. If he has much in common with Voltaire, he has nothing of Voltaire's recklessness, nothing of his shallow drollery, nothing of his mere frivolity.
The style of Chesterfield is the exact reflection of himself. It is the finished expression not of rhetorical culture, but of the
culture by which all that constitutes character is moulded. It is the unlaboured result of labour; the spontaneous product of a peculiar soil which had been assiduously cultivated during half a lifetime. Absolutely unaffected, simply original and without mannerisms of any kind, it is a style which no mechanical skill could have attained and which no mechanical skill can copy. It is not merely that it is distinguished by 'those careless inimitable graces,' which Gibbon in describing Hume's style speaks of himself as 'contemplating with admiring despair,' but that it has the indefinable charm, the incommunicable timbre of the perfect, of the essential aristocratic, of the aristocrat, it must now be added, of the old school. Its secret was no doubt partly learned in the salons of the Faubourg St. Germains and from intimate sympathetic communion with men and writers who, whether living or dead, whether in ancient Italy or modern England and France, belonged like himself either by birth or association to the Optimates. We know no writings from the pen of mere men of letters in which the note of Chesterfield is for a moment discernible. But as soon as we turn to the Epistles of Cicero and the Younger Pliny, to the letters and essays of Temple and Bolingbroke, to the writings of La Bruyère and La Rochefoucauld, we recognize at once the same tone and accent. We appear indeed to discern his models, but the resemblance, as we soon perceive, is not the resemblance of imitation, it is the resemblance of kinship. In two respects the diction of Chesterfield is especially noticeable. We refer to its exquisite finish, and to its scrupulous purity. It is the perfection of the epistolary style, flexibly adapting itself with the utmost ease and propriety, to what in varying tones is expressed or suggested, now neat, pointed, epigrammatic, now gracefully diffuse, now rising to dignity, but always natural and always easy. Though he abhorred pedantry, Cicero and Pollio themselves were not more scrupulous purists in Latinity than Chesterfield in the use of English. He had all that punctilious regard for the nicest accuracy of expression, which made Cicero at the most critical moment of his life almost as anxious about the correct employment of a preposition and a verb, as about the movements of Pompey. An ungrammatical sentence, a loose or ambiguous expression, a word unauthorized by polite usage, or if coined, coined improperly, a vulgarism or solecism indeed in any form, he regarded as little less than a crime in a writer. If it should be proposed to select the two authors, who in point of mere purity of diction stand out most conspicuous in our prose literature, it would, we think, be pretty safe to name Macaulay for the one, and Chester