DEAR BOY: While the Roman Republic flourished, while glory was pursued, and virtue practiced, and while even little irregularities and indecencies, not cognizable by law, were, however, not thought below the public care, censors were established, discretionally to supply, in particular cases, the inevitable defects of the law, which must and can only be general. This employment I assume to myself with regard to your little republic, leaving the legislative power entirely to Mr. Harte; I hope, and believe, that he will seldom, or rather never, have occasion to exert his supreme authority; and I do by no means suspect you of any faults that may require that interposition. But, to tell you the plain truth, I am of opinion that my censorial power will not be useless to you, nor a sinecure to me. The sooner you make it both, the better for us both. I can now exercise this employment only upon hearsay, or, at most, written evidence; and therefore shall exercise it with great lenity and some diffidence; but when we meet, and that I can form my judgment upon ocular and auricular evidence, I shall no more let the least impropriety, indecorum, or irregularity pass uncensured, than my predecessor Cato did. I shall read you with the attention of a critic, not with the partiality of an author: different in this respect, indeed, from most critics, that I shall seek for faults only to correct and not to expose them. I have often thought, and still think, that there are few things which people in general know less, than how to love and how to hate. They hurt those they love by a mistaken indulgence, by a blindness, nay, often by a partiality to their faults. Where they hate they hurt themselves, by ill-timed passion and rage. Fortunately for you, I never loved you in that mistaken manner. From your infancy, I made you the object of my most serious attention, and not my plaything. I consulted your real good, not your humors or fancies; and I shall continue to do so while you want it, which will probably be the case during our joint lives; for, considering the difference of our ages, in the course of nature, you will hardly have acquired experience enough of your own, while I shall be in condition of lending you any of mine. People in general will much better bear being, told of their vices or crimes, than of their little failings and weaknesses. They, in some degree, justify or excuse (as they think) the former, by strong passions, seductions, and artifices of others, but to be told of, or to confess, their little failings and weaknesses, implies an inferiority of parts, too mortifying to that self-love and vanity, which are inseparable from our natures. I have been intimate enough with several people to tell them that they had said or done a very criminal thing; but I never was intimate enough with any man, to tell him, very seriously, that he had said or done a very foolish one. Nothing less than the relation between you and me can possibly authorize that freedom; but fortunately for you, my parental rights, joined to my censorial powers, give it me in its fullest extent, and my concern for you will make me exert it. Rejoice, therefore, that there is one person in the world who can and will tell you what will be very useful to you to know, and yet what no other man living could or would tell you. Whatever I shall tell you of this kind, you are very sure, can have no other motive than your interest; I can neither be jealous nor envious of your reputation or fortune, which I must be both desirous and proud to establish and promote; I cannot be your rival either in love or in business; on the contrary, I want the rays of your rising to reflect new lustre upon my setting light. In order to this, I shall analyze you minutely, and censure you freely, that you may not (if possible) have one single spot, when in your meridian.
There is nothing that a young fellow, at his first appearance in the world, has more reason to dread,, and consequently should take more pains to avoid, than having any ridicule fixed upon him. It degrades him with the most reasonable part of mankind; but it ruins him with the rest; and I have known many a man undone by acquiring a ridiculous nickname: I would not, for all the riches in the world, that you should acquire one when you return to England. Vices and crimes excite hatred and reproach; failings, weaknesses, and awkwardnesses, excite ridicule; they are laid hold of by mimics, who, though very contemptible wretches themselves, often, by their buffoonery, fix ridicule upon their betters. The little defects in manners, elocution, address, and air (and even of figure, though very unjustly), are the objects of ridicule, and the causes of nicknames. You cannot imagine the grief it would give me, and the prejudice it would do you, if, by way of distinguishing you from others of your name, you should happen to be called Muttering Stanhope, Absent Stanhope, Ill-bred Stanhope, or Awkward, Left-legged Stanhope: therefore, take great care to put it out of the power of Ridicule itself to give you any of these ridiculous epithets; for, if you get one, it will stick to you, like the envenomed shirt. The very first day that I see you, I shall be able to tell you, and certainly shall tell you, what degree of danger you are in; and I hope that my admonitions, as censor, may prevent the censures of the public. Admonitions are always useful; is this one or not? You are the best judge; it is your own picture which I send you, drawn, at my request, by a lady at Venice: pray let me know how far, in your conscience, you think it like; for there are some parts of it which I wish may, and others, which I should be sorry were. I send you, literally, the copy of that part of her letter, to her friend here, which relates to you. --[In compliance to your orders, I have examined young Stanhope carefully, and think I have penetrated into his character. This is his portrait, which I take to be a faithful one. His face is pleasing, his countenance sensible, and his look clever. His figure is at present rather too square; but if he shoots up, which he has matter and years for, he will then be of a good size. He has, undoubtedly, a great fund of acquired knowledge; I am assured that he is master of the learned languages. As for French, I know he speaks it perfectly, and, I am told, German as well. The questions he asks are judicious; and denote a thirst after knowledge. I cannot say that he appears equally desirous of pleasing, for he seems to neglect attentions and the graces. He does not come into a room well, nor has he that easy, noble carriage, which would be proper for him. It is true, he is as yet young and inexperienced; one may therefore reasonably hope that his exercises, which he has not yet gone through, and good company, in which he is still a novice, will polish, and give all that is wanting to complete him. What seems necessary for that purpose, would, be an attachment to some woman of fashion, and who knows the world. Some Madame de l'Ursay would be the proper person. In short, I can assure you, that he has everything which Lord Chesterfield can wish him, excepting that carriage, those graces, and the style used in the best company; which he will certainly acquire in time, and by frequenting the polite world. If he should not, it would be great pity, since he so well deserves to possess them. You know their importance. My Lord, his father, knows it too, he being master of them all. To conclude, if little Stanhope acquires the graces, I promise you he will make his way; if not, he will be stopped in a course, the goal of which he might attain with honor.]
Tell Mr. Harte that I have this moment received his letter of the 22d, N. S., and that I approve extremely of the long stay you have made at Venice. I love long residences at capitals; running post through different places is a most unprofitable way of traveling, and admits of no application. Adieu.
You see, by this extract, of what consequence other people think these things. Therefore, I hope you will no longer look upon them as trifles. It is the character of an able man to despise little things in great business: but then he knows what things are little, and what not. He does not suppose things are little, because they are commonly called so: but by the consequences that may or may not attend them. If gaining people's affections, and interesting their hearts in your favor, be of consequence, as it undoubtedly is, he knows very well that a happy concurrence of all those, commonly called little things, manners, air, address, graces, etc., is of the utmost consequence, and will never be at rest till he has acquired them. The world is taken by the outside of things, and we must take the world as it is; you nor I cannot set it right. I know, at this time, a man of great quality and station, who has not the parts of a porter; but raised himself to the station he is in, singly by having a graceful figure, polite manners, and an engaging address; which, by the way, he only acquired by habit; for he had not sense enough to get them by reflection. Parts and habit should conspire to complete you. You will have the habit of good company, and you have reflection in your power.
LONDON, December 5, O. S. 1749.
DEAR BOY: Those who suppose that men in general act rationally, because they are called rational creatures, know very little of the world, and if they act themselves upon that supposition, will nine times in ten find themselves grossly mistaken. That man is, 'animal bipes, implume, risibile', I entirely agree; but for the 'rationale', I can only allow it him 'in actu primo' (to talk logic) and seldom in 'actu secundo'. Thus, the speculative, cloistered pedant, in his solitary cell, forms systems of things as they should be, not as they are; and writes as decisively and absurdly upon war, politics, manners, and characters, as that pedant talked, who was so kind as to instruct Hannibal in the art of war. Such closet politicians never fail to assign the deepest motives for the most trifling actions; instead of often ascribing the greatest actions to the most trifling causes, in which they would be much seldomer mistaken. They read and write of kings, heroes, and statesmen, as never doing anything but upon the deepest principles of sound policy. But those who see and observe kings, heroes, and statesmen, discover that they have headaches, indigestions, humors, and passions, just like other people; everyone of which, in their turns, determine their wills, in defiance of their reason. Had we only read in the "Life of Alexander," that he burned Persepolis, it would doubtless have been accounted for from deep policy: we should have been told, that his new conquest could not have been secured without the destruction of that capital, which would have been the constant seat of cabals, conspiracies, and revolts. But, luckily, we are informed at the same time, that this hero, this demi-god, this son and heir of Jupiter Ammon, happened to get extremely drunk with his w---e; and, by way of frolic, destroyed one of the finest cities in the world. Read men, therefore, yourself, not in books but in nature. Adopt no systems, but study them yourself. Observe their weaknesses, their passions, their humors, of all which their understandings are, nine times in ten, the dupes. You will then know that they are to be gained, influenced, or led, much oftener by little things than by great ones; and, consequently, you will no longer think those things little, which tend to such great purposes.
Let us apply this now to the particular object of this letter; I mean, speaking in, and influencing public assemblies. The nature of our constitution makes eloquence more useful, and more necessary, in this country than in any other in Europe. A certain degree of good sense and knowledge is requisite for that, as well as for everything else; but beyond that, the purity of diction, the elegance of style, the harmony of periods, a pleasing elocution, and a graceful action, are the things which a public speaker should attend to the most; because his audience certainly does, and understands them the best; or rather indeed understands little else. The late Lord Chancellor Cowper's strength as an orator lay by no means in his reasonings, for he often hazarded very weak ones. But such was the purity and elegance of his style, such the propriety and charms of his elocution, and such the gracefulness of his action, that he never spoke without universal applause; the ears and the eyes gave him up the hearts and the understandings of the audience. On the contrary, the late Lord Townshend always spoke materially, with argument and knowledge, but never pleased. Why? His diction was not only inelegant, but frequently ungrammatical, always vulgar; his cadences false, his voice unharmonious, and his action ungraceful. Nobody heard him with patience; and the young fellows used to joke upon him, and repeat his inaccuracies. The late Duke of Argyle, though the weakest reasoner, was the most pleasing speaker I ever knew in my life. He charmed, he warmed, he forcibly ravished the audience; not by his matter certainly, but by his manner of delivering it. A most genteel figure, a graceful, noble air, an harmonious voice, an elegance of style, and a strength of emphasis, conspired to make him the most affecting, persuasive, and applauded speaker I ever saw. I was captivated like others; but when I came home, and coolly considered what he had said, stripped of all those ornaments in which he had dressed it, I often found the matter flimsy, the arguments weak, and I was convinced of the power of those adventitious concurring circumstances, which ignorance of mankind only calls trifling ones. Cicero, in his book 'De Oratore', in order to raise the dignity of that profession which he well knew himself to be at the head of, asserts that a complete orator must be a complete everything, lawyer, philosopher, divine, etc. That would be extremely well, if it were possible: but man's life is not long enough; and I hold him to be the completest orator, who speaks the best upon that subject which occurs; whose happy choice of words, whose lively imagination, whose elocution and action adorn and grace his matter, at the same time that they excite the attention and engage the passions of his audience.
You will be of the House of Commons as soon as you are of age; and you must first make a figure there, if you would make a figure, or a fortune, in your country. This you can never do without that correctness and elegance in your own language, which you now seem to neglect, and which you have entirely to learn. Fortunately for you, it is to be learned. Care and observation will do it; but do not flatter yourself, that all the knowledge, sense, and reasoning in the world will ever make you a popular and applauded speaker, without the ornaments and the graces of style, elocution, and action. Sense and argument, though coarsely delivered, will have their weight in a private conversation, with two or three people of sense; but in a public assembly they will have none, if naked and destitute of the advantages I have mentioned. Cardinal de Retz observes, very justly, that every numerous assembly is a mob, influenced by their passions, humors, and affections, which nothing but eloquence ever did or ever can engage. This is so important a consideration for everybody in this country, and more particularly for you, that I earnestly recommend it to your most serious care and attention. Mind your diction, in whatever language you either write or speak; contract a habit of correctness and elegance. Consider your style, even in the freest conversation and most familiar letters. After, at least, if not before, you have said a thing, reflect if you could not have said it better. Where you doubt of the propriety or elegance of a word or a phrase, consult some good dead or living authority in that language. Use yourself to translate, from various languages into English; correct those translations till they satisfy your ear, as well as your understanding. And be convinced of this truth, that the best sense and reason in the world will be as unwelcome in a public assembly, without these ornaments, as they will in public companies, without the assistance of manners and politeness. If you will please people, you must please them in their own way; and, as you cannot make them what they should be, you must take them as they are. I repeat it again, they are only to be taken by 'agremens', and by what flatters their senses and their hearts. Rabelais first wrote a most excellent book, which nobody liked; then, determined to conform to the public taste, he wrote Gargantua and Pantagruel, which everybody liked, extravagant as it was. Adieu.
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