Full Title: Letters Written by the Late Right Honourable Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, to His Son, Philip Stanhope, Esq; Late Envoy Extraordinary at the Court of Dresden. Together with Several Other Pieces on Various subjects. Published by Mrs. Eugenia Stanhope, From the Originals Now in Her Possession. In Two Volumes. Vol. II. Dublin: Printed by G. Faulkner, in Parliament-street, M.DCC.LXXIV.
Bath, November the 16th, 1752.
My Dear Friend,
Vanity, or to call it by a gentler name, the desire of admiration and applause, is, perhaps, the most universal principle of human actions; I do not say, that it is the best; and I will own, that it is sometimes the cause of both foolish and criminal effects. But it is so much oftener the principle of right things, that, though they ought to have a better, yet, considering human nature, that principle is to be encouraged and cherished, in consideration of its effects. Where that desire is wanting, we are apt to be indifferent, listless, indolent and inert; we do not exert our powers; and we appear to be as much below ourselves, as the vainest man living can desire to appear above what he really is.
As I have made you my confessor, and do not scruple to confess even my weaknesses to you, I will fairly own, that I had that vanity, that weakness, if it be one, to a prodigious degree; and, what is more, I confess it without repentence; nay I am glad I had it; since, if I have the good fortune to please in the world, it is to that powerful and active principle that I owe it. I began the world, not with a bare desire, but with an insatiable thirst, a rage for popularity, applause, and admiration. If this made me do some silly things, on one hand, it made me, on the other hand, do almost all the right things that I did: it made me attentive and civil to the women I disliked, and to the men I despised, in hopes of the applause of both: though I neither desired, nor would have accepted the favours of the one, nor the friendship of the other. I always dressed, looked, and talked my best; and, I own, was overjoyed whenever I perceived that by all three, or by any one of them, the company was pleased with me. To men, I talked whatever I thought would give them the best opinion of my parts and learning; and, to women, what I was sure would please them; flattery, gallantry, and love. And moreover, I will own to you, under the secrecy of confession, that my vanity has very often made me take great pains to make many a woman in love with me, if I could, for whose person I would not give a pinch a snuff. In company with men, I always endeavoured to out-shine, or, at least, if possible, to equal the most shining man in it. This desire elicited whatever powers I had to gratify it; and where I could not perhaps shine in the first, enabled me, at least, to shine in the second or third sphere. By these means I soon grew in fashion; and when a man is once in fashion, all he does is right. It was infinite pleasure to me, to find my own fashion and popularity. I was sent for to all parties of pleasure, both of men or women; where, in some measures, I gave the tone. This gave me the reputation of having had some woman of condition; and that reputation, whether true or false, really got me others. With the men I was a Proteus, and assumed every shape, in order to please them all: among the gay, I was the gayest, among the grave, the gravest; and I never omitted the least attentions of good breeding, or the least offices of friendship, that could either please, or attach them to me: and accordingly I was soon connected with all the men of any fashion or figure in town.
To this principle of vanity, which Philosophers call a mean one, and which I do not, I owe great part of the figure which I have made in life. I wish you had as much, but I fear you have too little of it; and you seem to have a degree of laziness and lislestness about you, that makes you indifferent as to general applause…
Item of the Day: Walpole on Politics, Satire, etc. (1820)
Full Title: Private Correspondence of Horace Walpole, Earl or Orford. Now First Collected. In Four Volumes. Vol. III. 1735-1756. London: Printed for Rodwell and Martin, Bond-Street; and Colburn and Co., Conduit-Street. 1820.
To George Montagu, Esq.
Strawberry-hill, May 26, 1765.
If one of the one hundred events, and one hundredth part of the one hundred thousand reports that have passed, and been spread in this last month, have reached your solitary hill, you must be surprised at not a single word from me during that period. The number of events is my excuse. Though mine is the pen of a pretty ready writer, I could not keep pace with the revolutions of each day, each hour. I had not time to begin the narrative, much less to finish it: no, I must keep the whole to tell you at once, or to read it to you, for I think I shall write the history, which, let me tell you, Buckinger himself could not have crowded into a nut-shell.
For your part, you will be content, though the house of Montagu has not made an advantageous figure in this political warfare, yet it is crowded with victory, and laurels you know compensate for every scar. You went out of town fightened out of your sense at the giant prerogative: alack! he is grown so tame, that, as you said of our earthquake, you may stroke him. The regency bill, not quite calculated with that intent, has produced four regents, king Bedford, king Grenville, king Halifax, and king Twitcher. Lord Holland is turned out, and Stuart Mackenzie. Charles Townshend is paymaster, and lord Bute annihilated; and all done without the help of the Whigs. You love to guess what one is going to say; now you may guess what I am going to say. Your newspapers perhaps have given you a long roll of opposition names, who were coming into place, and so all the world thought; but the wind turned quite round, and left them on the strand, and just where they were, except in opposition, which is declared to be at an end. Enigma as all this may sound, the key would open it all to you in the twinkling of an administration. In the mean time, we have family reconciliations without end. The king and the duke of Cumberland have been shut up together day and night; lord Temple and George Grenville are sworn brothers; well, but Mr. Pitt, where is he? In the clouds, for aught I know, in one of which he may descend like the kings of Bantam, and take quiet possession of the throne again.
As a thorough-bass to these squabbles, we have had an insurrection, and a siege. Bedford-house, though garrisoned by horse and foot-guards, was on the point of being taken. The besieged are in their turn triumphant; and if any body now was to publish Droit le Duc, I do not think the House of Lords would censure his book. Indeed the regents may do what they please, and turn out whom they will; I see nothing to resist them. Lord Bute will not easily be tempted to rebel when the last struggle has cost him so dear.
I am sorry for some of my friends, to whom I wished more fortune. For myself, I am but just where I should have been, had they succeeded. It is satisfaction enough to me to be delivered from politics, which you know I have long detested. When I was tranquil enough to write Castles of Otranto, in the midst of grave nonsense, and foolish councils of war, I am not likely to distub myself with the diversions of the court, where I am connected with a soul. As it has proved to be the interest of the present ministers, however contrary to their former views, to lower the crown, they will scarce be in a hurry to aggrandize it again. That will satisfy you, and I you know am satisfied if I have any thing to laugh at–’tis a lucky age for a man who is so easily contented.
The poor Chute has had another relapse, but is out of bed again. I am thinking of my journey to France, but as Mr. Conway has a mind I should wait for him, I don’t know whether it will take place before the autumn. I will by no means release you from your promise of making me a visit here before I go.
Poor Mr. Bentley, I doubt, is under the greatest difficulties of any body. His poem, which he modestly delivered over to immortality, must be cut and turned, for lord Halifax and lord Bute cannot sit in the same canto together; then the horns and hoofs, that he had bestowed on lord Temple, must be pared away, and beams of glory distributed over his whole person. ‘Tis a dangerous thing to write political panegyrics or satires; it draws the unhappy bard into a thousand scrapes and contradictions. The edifices and inscriptions at Stowe should be a lesson not to erect monuments to the living. I will not place an ossuarium in my garden for my cat, before her bones are ready to be placed in it. I hold contradictions to be as essential to the definition of a political man, as any visible or featherless quality can be to man in general. Good night.
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Filed under 1760's, 1820's, Letters, Political Commentary, Posted by Matthew Williams, Satire