The Earl of Chesterfield

I found this story in Jeff Kacirk's "Forgotten English" calendar from September 21/22, 2013. It's been a long time since I did a post on a ridiculous aristocrat, though he's clearly not a Victorian one.

"Philip Stanhope (1694-1773), the Earl of Chesterfield . . . warned his illegitimate adult son Philip against indulgence of any type of common behavior, especially the use of 'folk-speech'. In a letter dated July 25, 1741 the father cautioned:

'There is , likewise, an awkwardness of expression and words most carefully to be avoided, such as false English, bad pronunciation, old sayings, and common proverbs, which are so many proofs of having kept bad and low company. For example, if instead of saying that tastes are different, and that every man has his own peculiar one, you should [offer] a proverb and say that 'What is one man's meat is another man's poison,' or else, 'Every one as they like, as the good man said when he kissed the cow,' everybody would be persuaded that you had never kept company with anybody above footmen and housemaids.'

"The elder Stanhope concluded the correspondence in characteristic overhearing fashion, writing, 'Take care that I find the improvements I expect at my return'".

200px-Philip_Stanhope,_4th_Earl_of_Chesterfield
A picture of the Earl. Those are eyes that say, "Make Daddy love you."

This was a guy who loved to hear himself talk, let me tell you. Not only is he famous for his letters to his son (which have been published and can be read in full here), but when he was but a sprig of a boy (age 20), he was fined £500 for giving a speech in the House of Commons before he was legally old enough to do so. When reminded of this fact on the House floor, he politely bowed, left the room, and fled to the Continent. "Try collecting a fine in France, suckaaaaaaaaaas."

Actually, he wasn't  fleeing from paying his fine (I have no idea if it was paid or not)–rather, he thought that if he wasn't old enough to be of use in England, he would go do political stuff in France. He came back to England the next year and took his seat. I like to think he strolled in with a leather coat and sunglasses and said, "Look's who's finally 21 . . ."

Anyway, he had no children by his wife, so he knocked up a governess (as you do) and had his dearly beloved son Philip (everyone in this family was named Philip. Seriously. 5 Earls in a row, plus the illegitimate son, and then the illegitimate son's son). He showed his love to his son through trying to improve him constantly, hence the letters. Another one of them reads:

"I would heartily wish that you may often be seen to smile, but never heard to laugh while you live. Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill-manners; it is the manner in which the mob express their silly joy at silly things; and they call it being merry. In my mind there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter. I am neither of a melancholy nor a cynical disposition, and am as willing and as apt to be pleased as anybody; but I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason nobody has ever heard me laugh."

He also writes:

"be persuaded that I shall love you extremely, while you deserve it; but not one moment longer."

While I don't have the time to read this book of letters fully right now (to my profound disappointment), if anyone does and sends me some of the best extracts, I will be happy to post them here (with full credit to the finder, of course).

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