Clarification of Answer by
05 Feb 2004 16:17 PST
Philip Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield, wrote a famous series of letters
to his illegitimate son, giving him advice on how to comport himself
in society. They are sensible observations rather than high-minded
exhortations, yet they contain a wisdom that leads to good behavior
and gentility of attitude.
The Project Gutenberg Etext, Letters to His Son, by Chesterfield,
Entire #11 in our series by The Earl of Chesterfield
"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."
"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."
"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."
"But remember, at the same time, that errors and mistakes, however
gross, in matters of opinion, if they are sincere, are to be pitied,
but not punished nor laughed at. The blindness of the understanding is
as much to be pitied as the blindness of the eye; and there is neither
jest nor guilt in a man's losing his way in either case. Charity bids
us set him right if we can, by arguments and persuasions; but charity,
at the same time, forbids, either to punish or ridicule his
misfortune. Every man's reason is, and must be, his guide; and I may
as well expect that every man should be of my size and complexion, as
that he should reason just as I do. Every man seeks for truth; but
God only knows who has found it. It is, therefore, as unjust to
persecute, as it is absurd to ridicule, people for those several
opinions, which they cannot help entertaining upon the conviction of
their reason. It is the man who tells, or who acts a lie, that is
guilty, and not he who honestly and sincerely believes the lie. I
really know nothing more criminal, more mean, and more ridiculous than
lying. It is the production either of malice, cowardice, or vanity;
and generally misses of its aim in every one of these views; for lies
are always detected sooner or later. If I tell a malicious lie, in
order to affect any man's fortune or character, I may indeed injure
him for some time; but I shall be sure to be the greatest sufferer
myself at last; for as soon as ever I am detected (and detected I most
certainly shall be), I am blasted for the infamous attempt; and
whatever is said afterward, to the disadvantage of that person,
however true, passes for calumny. If I lie, or equivocate (for it is
the same thing), in order to excuse myself for something that I have
said or done, and to avoid the danger and the shame that I apprehend
from it, I discover at once my fear as well as my falsehood; and only
increase, instead of avoiding, the danger and the shame; I show myself
to be the lowest and the meanest of mankind, and am sure to be always
treated as such. Fear, instead of avoiding, invites danger; for
concealed cowards will insult known ones. If one has had the
misfortune to be in the wrong, there is something noble in frankly
owning it; it is the only way of atoning for it, and the only way of
being forgiven. Equivocating, evading, shuffling, in order to remove
a present danger or inconveniency, is something so mean, and betrays
so much fear, that whoever practices them always deserves to be, and
often will be kicked."
"People will, in a great degree, and not without reason, form their
opinion of you, upon that which they have of your friends; and there
is a Spanish proverb, which says very justly, TELL ME WHO YOU LIVE
WITH AND I WILL TELL YOU WHO YOU ARE. One may fairly suppose, that
the man who makes a knave or a fool his friend, has something very bad
to do or to conceal. But, at the same time that you carefully decline
the friendship of knaves and fools, if it can be called friendship,
there is no occasion to make either of them your enemies, wantonly and
unprovoked; for they are numerous bodies: and I, would rather choose a
secure neutrality, than alliance, or war with either of them. You may
be a declared enemy to their vices and follies, without being marked
out by them as a personal one. Their enmity is the next dangerous
thing to their friendship. Have a real reserve with almost everybody;
and have a seeming reserve with almost nobody; for it is very
disagreeable to seem reserved, and very dangerous not to be so. Few
people find the true medium; many are ridiculously mysterious and
reserved upon trifles; and many imprudently communicative of all they
"You may possibly ask me, whether a man has it always in his power to
get the best company? and how? I say, Yes, he has, by deserving it;
providing he is but in circumstances which enable him to appear upon
the footing of a gentleman. Merit and good-breeding will make their
way everywhere. Knowledge will introduce him, and good-breeding will
endear him to the best companies: for, as I have often told you,
politeness and good-breeding are absolutely necessary to adorn any, or
all other good qualities or talents. Without them, no knowledge, no
perfection whatever, is seen in its best light. The scholar, without
good-breeding, is a pedant; the philosopher, a cynic; the soldier, a
brute; and every man disagreeable."
Stanhope, it can be seen, is interested in manners, but he makes it
readily apparent that manners form character.
Manners, too, formed the basis of gentlemanly instruction in America
at the same time. Happily, school notebook of george Washington's
youth has survived. In it the young George copied "Rules of Civility &
Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation."
"1st Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of
Respect, to those that are Present.
2d When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not
3d Shew Nothing to your Freind that may affright him.
4 In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise,
nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.
5th If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately;
and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkercheif or Hand
before your face and turn aside.
6th Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not
when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop."
"12th Shake not the head, Feet, or Legs rowl not the Eys lift not one
eyebrow higher than the other wry not the mouth, and bedew no mans
face with your Spittle, by appr[oaching too nea]r him [when] you
13t Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks &c in the Sight of Others, if
you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexteriously upon it
if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately, and
if it be upon your own Cloths return Thanks to him who puts it off.
14th Turn not your Back to others especially in Speaking, Jog not the
Table or Desk on which Another reads or writes, lean not upon any one.
15th Keep your Nails clean and Short, also your Hands and Teeth Clean
yet without Shewing any great Concern for them.
16th Do not Puff up the Cheeks, Loll not out the tongue rub the Hands,
or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them or keep the Lips too open
or too Close.
17th Be no Flatterer, neither Play with any that delights not to be Play'd Withal.
18th Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a
Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave: come not near the
Books or Writings of Another so as to read them unless desired or give
your opinion of them unask'd also look not nigh when another is
writing a Letter.
19th let your Countenance be pleasant but in Serious Matters Somewhat grave.
20th The Gestures of the Body must be Suited to the discourse you are upon.
21st: Reproach none for the Infirmaties of Nature, nor Delight to Put
them that have in mind thereof.
22d Shew not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
23d When you see a Crime punished, you may be inwardly Pleased; but
always shew Pity to the Suffering Offender.
[24th Do not laugh too loud or] too much at any Publick [Spectacle].
25th Superfluous Complements and all Affectation of Ceremonie are to
be avoided, yet where due they are not to be Neglected.
26th In Pulling off your Hat to Persons of Distinction, as Noblemen,
Justices, Churchmen &c make a Reverence, bowing more or less according
to the Custom of the Better Bred, and Quality of the Person. Amongst
your equals expect not always that they Should begin with you first,
but to Pull off the Hat when there is no need is Affectation, in the
Manner of Saluting and resaluting in words keep to the most usual
27th Tis ill manners to bid one more eminent than yourself be covered
as well as not to do it to whom it's due Likewise he that makes too
much haste to Put on his hat does not well, yet he ought to Put it on
at the first, or at most the Second time of being ask'd; now what is
herein Spoken, of Qualification in behaviour in Saluting, ought also
to be observed in taking of Place, and Sitting down for ceremonies
without Bounds is troublesome.
28th If any one come to Speak to you while you are are Sitting Stand
up tho he be your Inferiour, and when you Present Seats let it be to
every one according to his Degree.
29th When you meet with one of Greater Quality than yourself, Stop,
and retire especially if it be at a Door or any Straight place to give
way for him to Pass.
30th In walking the highest Place in most Countrys Seems to be on the
right hand therefore Place yourself on the left of him whom you desire
to Honour: but if three walk together the mid[dest] Place is the most
Honourable the wall is usually given to the most worthy if two walk
31st If any one far Surpassess others, either in age, Estate, or Merit
[yet] would give Place to a meaner than hims[elf in his own lodging or
elsewhere] the one ought not to except it, S[o he on the other part
should not use much earnestness nor offer] it above once or twice.
32d: To one that is your equal, or not much inferior you are to give
the cheif Place in your Lodging and he to who 'tis offered ought at
the first to refuse it but at the Second to accept though not without
acknowledging his own unworthiness.
33d They that are in Dignity or in office have in all places
Preceedency but whilst they are Young they ought to respect those that
are their equals in Birth or other Qualitys, though they have no
34th It is good Manners to prefer them to whom we Speak befo[re]
ourselves especially if they be above us with whom in no Sort we ought
35th Let your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive.
36th Artificers & Persons of low Degree ought not to use many
ceremonies to Lords, or Others of high Degree but Respect and high[ly]
Honour them, and those of high Degree ought to treat them with
affibility & Courtesie, without Arrogancy.
37th In Speaking to men of Quality do not lean nor Look them full in
the Face, nor approach too near them at lest Keep a full Pace from
38th In visiting the Sick, do not Presently play the Physicion if you
be not Knowing therein.
39th In writing or Speaking, give to every Person his due Title
According to his Degree & the Custom of the Place.
40th Strive not with your Superiers in argument, but always Submit
your Judgment to others with Modesty.
41st Undertake not to Teach your equal in the art himself Proffesses;
it Savours of arrogancy.
[42d Let thy ceremonies in] Courtesie be proper to the Dignity of his
place [with whom thou conversest for it is absurd to ac]t the same
with a Clown and a Prince.
43d Do not express Joy before one sick or in pain for that contrary
Passion will aggravate his Misery.
44th When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not
him that did it.
45th Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought
to be in publick or in Private; presently, or at Some other time in
what terms to do it & in reproving Shew no Sign of Cholar but do it
with all Sweetness and Mildness.
46th Take all Admonitions thankfully in what Time or Place Soever
given but afterwards not being culpable take a Time [&] Place
convenient to let him him know it that gave them.
7th Mock not nor Jest at any thing of Importance break [n]o Jest
that are Sharp Biting and if you Deliver any thing witty and Pleasent
abtain from Laughing thereat yourself.
48th Wherein wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself; for
example is more prevalent than Precepts.
9 Use no Reproachfull Language against any one neither Curse nor Revile.
0th Be not hasty to beleive flying Reports to the Disparag[e]ment of any."
"56th Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your
own Reputation; for 'tis better to be alone than in bad Company."
"58th Let your Conversation be without Malice or Envy, for 'tis a
Sig[n o]f a Tractable and Commendable Nature: And in all Causes of
Passion [ad]mit Reason to Govern."
"63d A Man o[ug]ht not to value himself of his Atchievements, or rare
Qua[lities of wit; much less of his rich]es Virtue or Kindred."
"65th Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest Scoff at
none although they give Occasion."
"67th Detract not from others neither be excessive in Commanding.
68th Go not thither, where you know not, whether you Shall be Welcome
or not. Give not Advice with[out] being Ask'd & when desired [d]o it
9 If two contend together take not the part of either
unconstrain[ed]; and be not obstinate in your own Opinion, in Things
indiferent be of the Major Side.
70th Reprehend not the imperfections of others for that belong[s] to
Parents Masters and Superiours."
"81st Be not Curious to Know the Affairs tof Others neither approach
those that Speak in Private.
82d Undertake not what you cannot Perform but be Carefull to keep your Promise.
83d When you deliver a matter do it without Passion & with Discretion,
howev[er] mean the Person be you do it too.
84th When your Superiours talk to any Body hearken not neither Speak nor Laugh.
85th In Company of these of Higher Quality than yourself Speak not
ti[l] you are ask'd a Question then Stand upright put of your Hat &
Answer in few words.
86 In Disputes, be not So Desireous to Overcome as not to give Liberty
to each one to deliver his Opinion and Submit to the Judgment of the
Major Part especially if they are Judges of the Dispute."
"89th Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust."
"108th When you Speak of God or his Atributes, let it be Seriously &
[wt.] Reverence. Honour & Obey your Natural Parents altho they be
109th Let your Recreations be Manfull not Sinfull.
110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of
Ce[les]tial fire Called Conscience."
It can be seen that there is a great continuity between the senatorial
Roman virtues and those of the gentlemen of the Enlightenment.
Washington's School Exercises: Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In
Company and Conversation