Mandeville, LA -For the last 100 years or so, men have ceded their masculine powers both physical and mental to women who are, truth be told, are biologically inferior in both conditions when it comes to raising and grooming the next generation of Gentleman/Statesman. Please note that the preceding does not preclude a strong and necessary female role in young men’s lives, quite the contrary, it merely reassigns the roles as they were traditionally practiced. A key component of this process are the scholarly works and mannerisms that engender the disciplined ethic a Gentleman must acquire and then cultivate his entire life. Fortunately for us we have several written resources that promote and describe this process. One of these is the “Letters to my Son” series written by the Earl of Chesterfield to his son. We will add as many of Chesterfield’s letters as quickly as we can and provide cataloguing and easy access as we go in the hopes that you, Dear Reader, will share them with your sons. – Mike Church
On the Fine Art of Becoming a
MAN OF THE WORLD
The Letters of the Earl of Chesterfield to His Son
BATH, October 9, O. S. 1746
DEAR BOY: Your distresses in your journey from Heidelberg to Schaffhausen, your lying upon straw, your black bread, and your broken ‘berline,’ are proper seasonings for the greater fatigues and distresses which you must expect in the course of your travels; and, if one had a mind to moralize, one might call them the samples of the accidents, rubs, and difficulties, which every man meets with in his journey through life. In this journey, the understanding is the ‘voiture’ that must carry you through; and in proportion as that is stronger or weaker, more or less in repair, your journey will be better or worse; though at best you will now and then find some bad roads, and some bad inns. Take care, therefore, to keep that necessary ‘voiture’ in perfect good repair; examine, improve, and strengthen it every day: it is in the power, and ought to be the care, of every man to do it; he that neglects it, deserves to feel, and certainly will feel, the fatal effects of that negligence.
‘A propos’ of negligence: I must say something to you upon that subject. You know I have often told you, that my affection for you was not a weak, womanish one; and, far from blinding me, it makes me but more quick-sighted as to your faults; those it is not only my right, but my duty to tell you of; and it is your duty and your interest to correct them. In the strict scrutiny which I have made into you, I have (thank God) hitherto not discovered any vice of the heart, or any peculiar weakness of the head: but I have discovered laziness, inattention, and indifference; faults which are only pardonable in old men, who, in the decline of life, when health and spirits fail, have a kind of claim to that sort of tranquillity. But a young man should be ambitious to shine, and excel; alert, active, and indefatigable in the means of doing it; and, like Caesar, ‘Nil actum reputans, si quid superesset agendum.’ You seem to want that ‘vivida vis animi,’ which spurs and excites most young men to please, to shine, to excel. Without the desire and the pains necessary to be considerable, depend upon it, you never can be so; as, without the desire and attention necessary to please, you never can please. ‘Nullum numen abest, si sit prudentia,’ is unquestionably true, with regard to everything except poetry; and I am very sure that any man of common understanding may, by proper culture, care, attention, and labor, make himself whatever he pleases, except a good poet. Your destination is the great and busy world; your immediate object is the affairs, the interests, and the history, the constitutions, the customs, and the manners of the several parts of Europe. In this, any man of common sense may, by common application, be sure to excel. Ancient and modern history are, by attention, easily attainable. Geography and chronology the same, none of them requiring any uncommon share of genius or invention. Speaking and Writing, clearly, correctly, and with ease and grace, are certainly to be acquired, by reading the best authors with care, and by attention to the best living models. These are the qualifications more particularly necessary for you, in your department, which you may be possessed of, if you please; and which, I tell you fairly, I shall be very angry at you, if you are not; because, as you have the means in your hands, it will be your own fault only.
If care and application are necessary to the acquiring of those qualifications, without which you can never be considerable, nor make a figure in the world, they are not less necessary with regard to the lesser accomplishments, which are requisite to make you agreeable and pleasing in society. In truth, whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well; and nothing can be done well without attention: I therefore carry the necessity of attention down to the lowest things, even to dancing and dress. Custom has made dancing sometimes necessary for a young man; therefore mind it while you learn it that you may learn to do it well, and not be ridiculous, though in a ridiculous act. Dress is of the same nature; you must dress; therefore attend to it; not in order to rival or to excel a fop in it, but in order to avoid singularity, and consequently ridicule. Take great care always to be dressed like the reasonable people of your own age, in the place where you are; whose dress is never spoken of one way or another, as either too negligent or too much studied.
What is commonly called an absent man, is commonly either a very weak, or a very affected man; but be he which he will, he is, I am sure, a very disagreeable man in company. He fails in all the common offices of civility; he seems not to know those people to-day, whom yesterday he appeared to live in intimacy with. He takes no part in the general conversation; but, on the contrary, breaks into it from time to time, with some start of his own, as if he waked from a dream. This (as I said before) is a sure indication, either of a mind so weak that it is not able to bear above one object at a time; or so affected, that it would be supposed to be wholly engrossed by, and directed to, some very great and important objects. Sir Isaac Newton, Mr. Locke, and (it may be) five or six more, since the creation of the world, may have had a right to absence, from that intense thought which the things they were investigating required. But if a young man, and a man of the world, who has no such avocations to plead, will claim and exercise that right of absence in company, his pretended right should, in my mind, be turned into an involuntary absence, by his perpetual exclusion out of company. However frivolous a company may be, still, while you are among them, do not show them, by your inattention, that you think them so; but rather take their tone, and conform in some degree to their weakness, instead of manifesting your contempt for them. There is nothing that people bear more impatiently, or forgive less, than contempt; and an injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult. If, therefore, you would rather please than offend, rather be well than ill spoken of, rather be loved than hated; remember to have that constant attention about you which flatters every man’s little vanity; and the want of which, by mortifying his pride, never fails to excite his resentment, or at least his ill will. For instance, most people (I might say all people) have their weaknesses; they have their aversions and their likings, to such or such things; so that, if you were to laugh at a man for his aversion to a cat, or cheese (which are common antipathies), or, by inattention and negligence, to let them come in his way, where you could prevent it, he would, in the first case, think himself insulted, and, in the second, slighted, and would remember both. Whereas your care to procure for him what he likes, and to remove from him what he hates, shows him that he is at least an object of your attention; flatters his vanity, and makes him possibly more your friend, than a more important service would have done. With regard to women, attentions still below these are necessary, and, by the custom of the world, in some measure due, according to the laws of good-breeding.
My long and frequent letters, which I send you, in great doubt of their success, put me in mind of certain papers, which you have very lately, and I formerly, sent up to kites, along the string, which we called messengers; some of them the wind used to blow away, others were torn by the string, and but few of them got up and stuck to the kite. But I will content myself now, as I did then, if some of my present messengers do but stick to you. Adieu!
DEAR BOY: You are by this time (I suppose) quite settled and at home at Lausanne; therefore pray let me know how you pass your time there, and what your studies, your amusements, and your acquaintances are. I take it for granted, that you inform yourself daily of the nature of the government and constitution of the Thirteen Cantons; and as I am ignorant of them myself, must apply to you for information. I know the names, but I do not know the nature of some of the most considerable offices there; such as the Avoyers, the Seizeniers, the Banderets, and the Gros Sautier. I desire, therefore, that you will let me know what is the particular business, department, or province of these several magistrates. But as I imagine that there may be some, though, I believe, no essential difference, in the governments of the several Cantons, I would not give you the trouble of informing yourself of each of them; but confine my inquiries, as you may your informations, to the Canton you reside in, that of Berne, which I take to be the principal one. I am not sure whether the Pays de Vaud, where you are, being a conquered country, and taken from the Dukes of Savoy, in the year 1536, has the same share in the government of the Canton, as the German part of it has. Pray inform yourself and me about it.
I have this moment received yours from Berne, of the 2d October, N. S. and also one from Mr. Harte, of the same date, under Mr. Burnaby’s cover. I find by the latter, and indeed I thought so before, that some of your letters and some of Mr. Harte’s have not reached me. Wherefore, for the future, I desire, that both he and you will direct your letters for me, to be left ches Monsieur Wolters, Agent de S. M. Britanique, a Rotterdam, who will take care to send them to me safe. The reason why you have not received letters either from me or from Grevenkop was that we directed them to Lausanne, where we thought you long ago: and we thought it to no purpose to direct to you upon your ROUTE, where it was little likely that our letters would meet with you. But you have, since your arrival at Lausanne, I believe, found letters enough from me; and it may be more than you have read, at least with attention.
I am glad that you like Switzerland so well; and am impatient to hear how other matters go, after your settlement at Lausanne. God bless you!
LONDON, December 2, O.S. 1746.
DEAR BOY: I have not, in my present situation,—[His Lordship was, in the year 1746, appointed one of his Majesty’s secretaries of state.]—time to write to you, either so much or so often as I used, while I was in a place of much more leisure and profit; but my affection for you must not be judged of by the number of my letters; and, though the one lessens, the other, I assure you, does not.
I have just now received your letter of the 25th past, N. S., and, by the former post, one from Mr. Harte; with both which I am very well pleased: with Mr. Harte’s, for the good account which he gives me of you; with yours, for the good account which you gave me of what I desired to be informed of. Pray continue to give me further information of the form of government of the country you are now in; which I hope you will know most minutely before you leave it. The inequality of the town of Lausanne seems to be very convenient in this cold weather; because going up hill and down will keep you warm. You say there is a good deal of good company; pray, are you got into it? Have you made acquaintances, and with whom? Let me know some of their names. Do you learn German yet, to read, write, and speak it?
Yesterday, I saw a letter from Monsieur Bochat to a friend of mine; which gave me the greatest pleasure that I have felt this great while; because it gives so very good an account of you. Among other things which Monsieur Bochat says to your advantage, he mentions the tender uneasiness and concern that you showed during my illness, for which (though I will say that you owe it to me) I am obliged to you: sentiments of gratitude not being universal, nor even common. As your affection for me can only proceed from your experience and conviction of my fondness for you (for to talk of natural affection is talking nonsense), the only return I desire is, what it is chiefly your interest to make me; I mean your invariable practice of virtue, and your indefatigable pursuit of knowledge. Adieu! and be persuaded that I shall love you extremely, while you deserve it; but not one moment longer.
LONDON, December 9, O. S. 1746.
DEAR BOY: Though I have very little time, and though I write by this post to Mr. Harte, yet I cannot send a packet to Lausanne without a word or two to yourself. I thank you for your letter of congratulation which you wrote me, notwithstanding the pain it gave you. The accident that caused the pain was, I presume, owing to that degree of giddiness, of which I have sometimes taken the liberty to speak to you. The post I am now in, though the object of most people’s views and desires, was in some degree inflicted upon me; and a certain concurrence of circumstances obliged me to engage in it. But I feel that to go through with it requires more strength of body and mind than I have: were you three or four years older; you should share in my trouble, and I would have taken you into my office; but I hope you will employ these three or four years so well as to make yourself capable of being of use to me, if I should continue in it so long. The reading, writing, and speaking the modern languages correctly; the knowledge of the laws of nations, and the particular constitution of the empire; of history, geography, and chronology, are absolutely necessary to this business, for which I have always intended you. With these qualifications you may very possibly be my successor, though not my immediate one.
I hope you employ your whole time, which few people do; and that you put every moment to, profit of some kind or other. I call company, walking, riding, etc., employing one’s time, and, upon proper occasions, very usefully; but what I cannot forgive in anybody is sauntering, and doing nothing at all, with a thing so precious as time, and so irrecoverable when lost.
Are you acquainted with any ladies at Lausanne? and do you behave yourself with politeness enough to make them desire your company?
I must finish: God bless you!
LONDON, February 24, O. S. 1747
SIR: In order that we may, reciprocally, keep up our French, which, for want of practice, we might forget; you will permit me to have the honor of assuring you of my respects in that language: and be so good to answer me in the same. Not that I am apprehensive of your forgetting to speak French: since it is probable that two-thirds of our daily prattle is in that language; and because, if you leave off writing French, you may perhaps neglect that grammatical purity, and accurate orthography, which, in other languages, you excel in; and really, even in French, it is better to write well than ill. However, as this is a language very proper for sprightly, gay subjects, I shall conform to that, and reserve those which are serious for English. I shall not therefore mention to you, at present, your Greek or Latin, your study of the Law of Nature, or the Law of Nations, the Rights of People, or of Individuals; but rather discuss the subject of your Amusements and Pleasures; for, to say the truth, one must have some. May I be permitted to inquire of what nature yours are? Do they consist in little commercial play at cards in good company? are they little agreeable suppers, at which cheerfulness and decency are united? or, do you pay court to some fair one, who requires such attentions as may be of use in contributing to polish you? Make me your confidant upon this subject; you shall not find a severe censor: on the contrary, I wish to obtain the employment of minister to your pleasures: I will point them out, and even contribute to them.
Many young people adopt pleasures, for which they have not the least taste, only because they are called by that name. They often mistake so totally, as to imagine that debauchery is pleasure. You must allow that drunkenness, which is equally destructive to body and mind, is a fine pleasure. Gaming, that draws you into a thousand scrapes, leaves you penniless, and gives you the air and manners of an outrageous madman, is another most exquisite pleasure; is it not? As to running after women, the consequences of that vice are only the loss of one’s nose, the total destruction of health, and, not unfrequently, the being run through the body.
These, you see, are all trifles; yet this is the catalogue of pleasures of most of those young people, who never reflecting themselves, adopt, indiscriminately, what others choose to call by the seducing name of pleasure. I am thoroughly persuaded you will not fall into such errors; and that, in the choice of your amusements, you will be directed by reason, and a discerning taste. The true pleasures of a gentleman are those of the table, but within the bound of moderation; good company, that is to say, people of merit; moderate play, which amuses, without any interested views; and sprightly gallant conversations with women of fashion and sense.
These are the real pleasures of a gentleman; which occasion neither sickness, shame, nor repentance. Whatever exceeds them, becomes low vice, brutal passion, debauchery, and insanity of, mind; all of which, far from giving satisfaction, bring on dishonor and disgrace. Adieu.
LONDON, March 6, O. S. 1747
DEAR BOY: Whatever you do, will always affect me, very sensibly, one way or another; and I am now most agreeably affected, by two letters, which I have lately seen from Lausanne, upon your subject; the one from Madame St. Germain, the other from Monsieur Pampigny: they both give so good an account of you, that I thought myself obliged, in justice both to them and, to you, to let you know it. Those who deserve a good character, ought to have the satisfaction of knowing that they have it, both as a reward and as an encouragement. They write, that you are not only ‘decrotte,’ but tolerably well-bred; and that the English crust of awkward bashfulness, shyness, and roughness (of which, by the bye, you had your share) is pretty well rubbed off. I am most heartily glad of it; for, as I have often told you, those lesser talents, of an engaging, insinuating manner, an easy good-breeding, a genteel behavior and address, are of infinitely more advantage than they are generally thought to be, especially here in England. Virtue and learning, like gold, have their intrinsic value but if they are not polished, they certainly lose a great deal of their luster; and even polished brass will pass upon more people than rough gold. What a number of sins does the cheerful, easy good-breeding of the French frequently cover? Many of them want common sense, many more common learning; but in general, they make up so much by their manner, for those defects, that frequently they pass undiscovered: I have often said, and do think, that a Frenchman, who, with a fund of virtue, learning and good sense, has the manners and good-breeding of his country, is the perfection of human nature. This perfection you may, if you please, and I hope you will, arrive at. You know what virtue is: you may have it if you will; it is in every man’s power; and miserable is the man who has it not. Good sense God has given you. Learning you already possess enough of, to have, in a reasonable time, all that a man need have. With this, you are thrown out early into the world, where it will be your own fault if you do not acquire all, the other accomplishments necessary to complete and adorn your character. You will do well to make your compliments to Madame St. Germain and Monsieur Pampigny; and tell them, how sensible you are of their partiality to you, in the advantageous testimonies which, you are informed, they have given of you here.
Adieu. Continue to deserve such testimonies; and then you will not only deserve, but enjoy my truest affection.
LONDON, March 27, O. S. 1747.
DEAR BOY: Pleasure is the rock which most young people split upon: they launch out with crowded sails in quest of it, but without a compass to direct their course, or reason sufficient to steer the vessel; for want of which, pain and shame, instead of pleasure, are the returns of their voyage. Do not think that I mean to snarl at pleasure, like a Stoic, or to preach against it, like a parson; no, I mean to point it out, and recommend it to you, like an Epicurean: I wish you a great deal; and my only view is to hinder you from mistaking it.
The character which most young men first aim at, is that of a man of pleasure; but they generally take it upon trust; and instead of consulting their own taste and inclinations, they blindly adopt whatever those with whom they chiefly converse, are pleased to call by the name of pleasure; and a man of pleasure in the vulgar acceptation of that phrase, means only, a beastly drunkard, an abandoned whoremaster, and a profligate swearer and curser. As it may be of use to you. I am not unwilling, though at the same time ashamed to own, that the vices of my youth proceeded much more from my silly resolution of being, what I heard called a man of pleasure, than from my own inclinations. I always naturally hated drinking; and yet I have often drunk; with disgust at the time, attended by great sickness the next day, only because I then considered drinking as a necessary qualification for a fine gentleman, and a man of pleasure.
The same as to gaming. I did not want money, and consequently had no occasion to play for it; but I thought play another necessary ingredient in the composition of a man of pleasure, and accordingly I plunged into it without desire, at first; sacrificed a thousand real pleasures to it; and made myself solidly uneasy by it, for thirty the best years of my life.
I was even absurd enough, for a little while, to swear, by way of adorning and completing the shining character which I affected; but this folly I soon laid aside, upon finding berth the guilt and the indecency of it.
Thus seduced by fashion, and blindly adopting nominal pleasures, I lost real ones; and my fortune impaired, and my constitution shattered, are, I must confess, the just punishment of my errors.
Take warning then by them: choose your pleasures for yourself, and do not let them be imposed upon you. Follow nature and not fashion: weigh the present enjoyment of your pleasures against the necessary consequences of them, and then let your own common sense determine your choice.
Were I to begin the world again, with the experience which I now have of it, I would lead a life of real, not of imaginary pleasures. I would enjoy the pleasures of the table, and of wine; but stop short of the pains inseparably annexed to an excess of either. I would not, at twenty years, be a preaching missionary of abstemiousness and sobriety; and I should let other people do as they would, without formally and sententiously rebuking them for it; but I would be most firmly resolved not to destroy my own faculties and constitution; in complaisance to those who have no regard to their own. I would play to give me pleasure, but not to give me pain; that is, I would play for trifles, in mixed companies, to amuse myself, and conform to custom; but I would take care not to venture for sums; which, if I won, I should not be the better for; but, if I lost, should be under a difficulty to pay: and when paid, would oblige me to retrench in several other articles. Not to mention the quarrels which deep play commonly occasions.
I would pass some of my time in reading, and the rest in the company of people of sense and learning, and chiefly those above me; and I would frequent the mixed companies of men and women of fashion, which, though often frivolous, yet they unbend and refresh the mind, not uselessly, because they certainly polish and soften the manners.
These would be my pleasures and amusements, if I were to live the last thirty years over again; they are rational ones; and, moreover, I will tell you, they are really the fashionable ones; for the others are not, in truth, the pleasures of what I call people of fashion, but of those who only call themselves so. Does good company care to have a man reeling drunk among them? Or to see another tearing his hair, and blaspheming, for having lost, at play, more than he is able to pay? Or a whoremaster with half a nose, and crippled by coarse and infamous debauchery? No; those who practice, and much more those who brag of them, make no part of good company; and are most unwillingly, if ever, admitted into it. A real man of fashion and pleasures observes decency: at least neither borrows nor affects vices: and if he unfortunately has any, he gratifies them with choice, delicacy, and secrecy.
I have not mentioned the pleasures of the mind (which are the solid and permanent ones); because they do not come under the head of what people commonly call pleasures; which they seem to confine to the senses. The pleasure of virtue, of charity, and of learning is true and lasting pleasure; with which I hope you will be well and long acquainted. Adieu!
LONDON, April 3, O. S. 1747
DEAR BOY: If I am rightly informed, I am now writing to a fine gentleman, in a scarlet coat laced with gold, a brocade waistcoat, and all other suitable ornaments. The natural partiality of every author for his own works makes me very glad to hear that Mr. Harte has thought this last edition of mine worth so fine a binding; and, as he has bound it in red, and gilt it upon the back, I hope he will take care that it shall be LETTERED too. A showish binding attracts the eyes, and engages the attention of everybody; but with this difference, that women, and men who are like women, mind the binding more than the book; whereas men of sense and learning immediately examine the inside; and if they find that it does not answer the finery on the outside, they throw it by with the greater indignation and contempt. I hope that, when this edition of my works shall be opened and read, the best judges will find connection, consistency, solidity, and spirit in it. Mr. Harte may ‘recensere’ and ’emendare,’ as much as he pleases; but it will be to little purpose, if you do not cooperate with him. The work will be imperfect.
I thank you for your last information of our success in the Mediterranean, and you say very rightly that a secretary of state ought to be well informed. I hope, therefore, you will take care that I shall. You are near the busy scene in Italy; and I doubt not but that, by frequently looking at the map, you have all that theatre of the war very perfect in your mind.
I like your account of the salt works; which shows that you gave some attention while you were seeing them. But notwithstanding that, by your account, the Swiss salt is (I dare say) very good, yet I am apt to suspect that it falls a little short of the true Attic salt in which there was a peculiar quickness and delicacy. That same Attic salt seasoned almost all Greece, except Boeotia, and a great deal of it was exported afterward to Rome, where it was counterfeited by a composition called Urbanity, which in some time was brought to very near the perfection of the original Attic salt. The more you are powdered with these two kinds of salt, the better you will keep, and the more you will be relished.
Adieu! My compliments to Mr. Harte and Mr. Eliot.
LONDON, April 14, O. S. 1747.
DEAR BOY: If you feel half the pleasure from the consciousness of doing well, that I do from the informations I have lately received in your favor from Mr. Harte, I shall have little occasion to exhort or admonish you any more to do what your own satisfaction and self love will sufficiently prompt you to. Mr. Harte tells me that you attend, that you apply to your studies; and that beginning to understand, you begin to taste them. This pleasure will increase, and keep pace with your attention; so that the balance will be greatly to your advantage. You may remember, that I have always earnestly recommended to you, to do what you are about, be that what it will; and to do nothing else at the same time. Do not imagine that I mean by this, that you should attend to and plod at your book all day long; far from it; I mean that you should have your pleasures too; and that you should attend to them for the time; as much as to your studies; and, if you do not attend equally to both, you will neither have improvement nor satisfaction from either. A man is fit for neither business nor pleasure, who either cannot, or does not, command and direct his attention to the present object, and, in some degree, banish for that time all other objects from his thoughts. If at a ball, a supper, or a party of pleasure, a man were to be solving, in his own mind, a problem in Euclid, he would be a very bad companion, and make a very poor figure in that company; or if, in studying a problem in his closet, he were to think of a minuet, I am apt to believe that he would make a very poor mathematician. There is time enough for everything, in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once; but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time. The Pensionary de Witt, who was torn to pieces in the year 1672, did the whole business of the Republic, and yet had time left to go to assemblies in the evening, and sup in company. Being asked how he could possibly find time to go through so much business, and yet amuse himself in the evenings as he did, he answered, there was nothing so easy; for that it was only doing one thing at a time, and never putting off anything till to-morrow that could be done to-day. This steady and undissipated attention to one object is a sure mark of a superior genius; as hurry, bustle, and agitation are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind. When you read Horace, attend to the justness of his thoughts, the happiness of his diction, and the beauty of his poetry; and do not think of Puffendorf de Homine el Cive; and, when you are reading Puffendorf, do not think of Madame de St. Germain; nor of Puffendorf, when you are talking to Madame de St. Germain.
Mr. Harte informs me, that he has reimbursed you of part of your losses in Germany; and I consent to his reimbursing you of the whole, now that I know you deserve it. I shall grudge you nothing, nor shall you want anything that you desire, provided you deserve it; so that you see, it is in your own power to have whatever you please.
There is a little book which you read here with Monsieur Codere entitled, ‘Maniere de bien penser dans les Ouvrages d’Esprit,’ written by Pyre Bonhours. I wish you would read this book again at your leisure hours, for it will not only divert you, but likewise form your taste, and give you a just manner of thinking. Adieu!
LONDON, June 30, O. S. 1747
DEAR BOY: I was extremely pleased with the account which you gave me in your last, of the civilities that you received in your Swiss progress; and I have written, by this post, to Mr. Burnaby, and to the ‘Avoyer,’ to thank them for their parts. If the attention you met with pleased you, as I dare say it did, you will, I hope, draw this general conclusion from it, that attention and civility please all those to whom they are paid; and that you will please others in proportion as you are attentive and civil to them.
Bishop Burnet has wrote his travels through Switzerland; and Mr. Stanyan, from a long residence there, has written the best account, yet extant, of the Thirteen Cantons; but those books will be read no more, I presume, after you shall have published your account of that country. I hope you will favor me with one of the first copies. To be serious; though I do not desire that you should immediately turn author, and oblige the world with your travels; yet, wherever you go, I would have you as curious and inquisitive as if you did intend to write them. I do not mean that you should give yourself so much trouble, to know the number of houses, inhabitants, signposts, and tombstones, of every town that you go through; but that you should inform yourself, as well as your stay will permit you, whether the town is free, or to whom it belongs, or in what manner: whether it has any peculiar privileges or customs; what trade or manufactures; and such other particulars as people of sense desire to know. And there would be no manner of harm if you were to take memorandums of such things in a paper book to help your memory. The only way of knowing all these things is to keep the best company, who can best inform you of them. I am just now called away; so good night.
BATH, October 12, O. S. 1748.
DEAR BOY: I came here three days ago upon account of a disorder in my stomach, which affected my head and gave me vertigo. I already find myself something better; and consequently do not doubt but that the course of these waters will set me quite right. But however and wherever I am, your welfare, your character, your knowledge, and your morals, employ my thoughts more than anything that can happen to me, or that I can fear or hope for myself. I am going off the stage, you are coming upon it; with me what has been, has been, and reflection now would come too late; with you everything is to come, even, in some manner, reflection itself; so that this is the very time when my reflections, the result of experience, may be of use to you, by supplying the want of yours. As soon as you leave Leipsig, you will gradually be going into the great world; where the first impressions that you shall give of yourself will be of great importance to you; but those which you shall receive will be decisive, for they always stick. To keep good company, especially at your first setting out, is the way to receive good impressions. If you ask me what I mean by good company, I will confess to you that it is pretty difficult to define; but I will endeavor to make you understand it as well as I can.
Good company is not what respective sets of company are pleased either to call or think themselves, but it is that company which all the people of the place call, and acknowledge to be, good company, notwithstanding some objections which they may form to some of the individuals who compose it. It consists chiefly (but by no means without exception) of people of considerable birth, rank, and character; for people of neither birth nor rank are frequently, and very justly admitted into it, if distinguished by any peculiar merit, or eminency in any liberal art or science. Nay, so motly a thing is good company, that many people, without birth, rank, or merit, intrude into it by their own forwardness, and others slide into it by the protection of some considerable person; and some even of indifferent characters and morals make part of it. But in the main, the good part preponderates, and people of infamous and blasted characters are never admitted. In this fashionable good company, the best manners and the best language of the place are most unquestionably to be learned; for they establish and give the tone to both, which are therefore called the language and manners of good company: there being no legal tribunal to ascertain either.
A company, consisting wholly of people of the first quality, cannot, for that reason, be called good company, in the common acceptation of the phrase, unless they are, into the bargain, the fashionable and accredited company of the place; for people of the very first quality can be as silly, as ill-bred, and as worthless, as people of the meanest degree. On the other hand, a company consisting entirely of people of very low condition, whatever their merit or parts may be, can never be called good company; and consequently should not be much frequented, though by no means despised.
A company wholly composed of men of learning, though greatly to be valued and respected, is not meant by the words GOOD COMPANY; they cannot have the easy manners and, ‘tournure’ of the world, as they do not live in it. If you can bear your part well in such a company, it is extremely right to be in it sometimes, and you will be but more esteemed in other companies, for having a place in that. But then do not let it engross you; for if you do, you will be only considered as one of the ‘literati’ by profession; which is not the way either, to shine, or rise in the world.
The company of professed wits and pests is extremely inviting to most young men; who if they have wit themselves, are pleased with it, and if they have none, are sillily proud of being one of it: but it should be frequented with moderation and judgment, and you should by no means give yourself up to it. A wit is a very unpopular denomination, as it carries terror along with it; and people in general are as much afraid of a live wit, in company, as a woman is of a gun, which she thinks may go off of itself, and do her a mischief. Their acquaintance is, however, worth seeking, and their company worth frequenting; but not exclusively of others, nor to such a degree as to be considered only as one of that particular set.
But the company, which of all others you should most carefully avoid, is that low company, which, in every sense of the word, is low indeed; low in rank, low in parts, low in manners, and low in merit. You will, perhaps, be surprised that I should think it necessary to warn you against such company, but yet I do not think it wholly, unnecessary, from the many instances which I have seen of men of sense and rank, discredited, verified, and undone, by keeping such company.
Vanity, that source of many of our follies, and of some of our crimes, has sunk many a man into company, in every light infinitely, below himself, for the sake of being the first man in it. There he dictates, is applauded, admired; and, for the sake of being the Coryphceus of that wretched chorus, disgraces and disqualifies himself soon for any better company. Depend upon it, you will sink or rise to the level of the company which you commonly keep: people will judge of you, and not unreasonably, by that. There is good sense in the Spanish saying, “Tell me whom you live with, and I will tell you who you are.” Make it therefore your business, wherever you are, to get into that company which everybody in the place allows to be the best company next to their own; which is the best definition that I can give you of good company. But here, too, one caution is very necessary, for want of which many young men have been ruined, even in good company.
Good company (as I have before observed) is composed of a great variety of fashionable people, whose characters and morals are very different, though their manners are pretty much the same. When a young man, new in the world, first gets into that company, he very rightly determines to conform to, and imitate it. But then he too often, and fatally, mistakes the objects of his imitation. He has often heard that absurd term of genteel and fashionable vices. He there sees some people who shine, and who in general are admired and esteemed; and observes that these people are whoremasters, drunkards, or gamesters, upon which he adopts their vices, mistaking their defects for their perfections, and thinking that they owe their fashions and their luster to those genteel vices. Whereas it is exactly the reverse; for these people have acquired their reputation by their parts, their learning, their good-breeding, and other real accomplishments: and are only blemished and lowered, in the opinions of all reasonable people, and of their own, in time, by these genteel and fashionable vices. A whoremaster, in a flux, or without a nose, is a very genteel person, indeed, and well worthy of imitation. A drunkard, vomiting up at night the wine of the day, and stupefied by the headache all the next, is, doubtless, a fine model to copy from. And a gamester, tearing his hair, and blaspheming, for having lost more than he had in the world, is surely a most amiable character. No; these are alloys, and great ones too, which can never adorn any character, but will always debase the best. To prove this, suppose any man, without parts and some other good qualities, to be merely a whoremaster, a drunkard, or a gamester; how will he be looked upon by all sorts of people? Why, as a most contemptible and vicious animal. Therefore it is plain, that in these mixed characters, the good part only makes people forgive, but not approve, the bad.
I will hope and believe that you will have no vices; but if, unfortunately, you should have any, at least I beg of you to be content with your own, and to adopt no other body’s.
The adoption of vice has, I am convinced, ruined ten times more young men than natural inclinations.
As I make no difficulty of confessing my past errors, where I think the confession may be of use to you, I will own that when I first went to the university, I drank and smoked, notwithstanding the aversion I had to wine and tobacco, only because I thought it genteel, and that it made me look like a man. When I went abroad, I first went to The Hague, where gaming was much in fashion, and where I observed that many people of shining rank and character gamed too. I was then young enough, and silly enough, to believe that gaming was one of their accomplishments; and, as I aimed at perfection, I adopted gaming as a necessary step to it. Thus I acquired by error the habit of a vice which, far from adorning my character, has, I am conscious, been a great blemish in it.
Imitate then, with discernment and judgment, the real perfections of the good company into which you may get; copy their politeness, their carriage, their address, and the easy and well-bred turn of their conversation; but remember that, let them shine ever so bright, their vices, if they have any, are so many spots which you would no more imitate, than you would make an artificial wart upon your face, because some very handsome man had the misfortune to have a natural one upon his: but, on the contrary, think how much handsomer he would have been without it.
Having thus confessed some of my ‘egaremens’, I will now show you a little of my right side. I always endeavored to get into the best company wherever I was, and commonly succeeded. There I pleased to some degree by showing a desire to please. I took care never to be absent or ‘distrait’; but on the contrary, attended to everything that was said, done, or even looked, in company; I never failed in the minutest attentions and was never ‘journalier’. These things, and not my ‘egaremens’, made me fashionable. Adieu! This letter is full long enough.