Reference > Quotations > S.A. Bent, comp. > Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men
S.A. Bent, comp.  Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men.  1887.
Lord Chesterfield
        [Philip Dormer Stanhope, fourth Earl of Chesterfield, courtier, orator, and wit, called by Sainte-Beuve “the La Rochefoucauld of England;” born in London, September, 1694; educated at Cambridge; entered Parliament, 1715, where his speeches were greatly admired; passed to the House of Lords, 1726; ambassador to Holland, 1728; Lord lieutenant of Ireland, 1745; principal secretary of state for two years from 1746; was intimate with Pope, Swift, and the other wits of the day; his “Letters to His Son” were published in 1774, the year after his death.]
Will your majesty command the insertion of the usual formula: “To our trusty and well-beloved cousin”?
          The question with which Chesterfield received the angry exclamation of George II., when the name of a person he disliked was suggested for an appointment: “I would rather have the Devil!” Laughing at the turn his minister gave to it, the king replied, “My lord, do as you please.”
  When asked how he got through so much work, he replied, “Because I never put off until to-morrow what I can do to-day.” De Witt, pensionary of Holland, answered the same question: “Nothing is more easy: never do but one thing at a time, and never put off until to-morrow what can be done to-day.”
  Being asked, when lord lieutenant, whom he thought the greatest man in Ireland, he replied, “The last man who arrived from England, be he who he might.”
  When walking in the street one day, Chesterfield was pushed off the flags by an impudent fellow, who said to him, “I never give the wall to a scoundrel.” The great master of courtesy immediately took off his hat, and, making him a low bow, replied, “Sir, I always do.” This has also been told of John Randolph of Roanoke, in an encounter with the editor of “The Richmond Whig.”
Next to doing things that deserve to be written, there is nothing that gets a man more credit, or gives him more pleasure, than to write things that deserve to be read.
          Letters to his Son, 1739.
If you can engage people’s pride, love, pity, ambition, (or whatever is their prevailing passion), on your side, you need not fear what their reason can do against you.
          Ibid., Feb. 8, 1746.
  “Every man,” says Seneca, “has his weak side.”
        “The ruling passion, be it what it will,
The ruling passion conquers reason still.”
POPE: Moral Essays, III. 153.    
Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.
          Ibid., March 10, 1746.
The knowledge of the world is only to be acquired in the world, and not in the closet.
          Ibid., Oct. 4, 1746.
You must look into people, as well as at them.
In this world the understanding is the voiture which must carry you through.
          Ibid., Oct. 9, 1746.
  Another form of Bacon’s “Knowledge is power.”
There is nothing that people bear more impatiently, or forgive less, than contempt; and an injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult.
I recommend you to take care of the minutes, for the hours will take care of themselves.
  He quotes William Lowndes, secretary of the treasury under William and Mary, Anne, and George I., as saying, “Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves.”
Polished brass will pass upon more people than rough gold.
          Ibid., March 6, 1747.
Every man seeks for truth: God only knows who has found it.
          Ibid., July 30, 1747.
Human nature is the same all over the world, but its operations are so varied by education and habit that one must see it in all its dresses in order to be entirely acquainted with it.
          Ibid., Oct. 2, 1747.
  Again he writes, Feb. 7, 1749: “Modes and customs vary often, but human nature is always the same.”
Merit and good-breeding will make their way everywhere.
          Ibid., Oct. 9, 1747.
Endeavor as much as you can to keep company with people above you.
Genealogies are no trifles in Germany, where they care more for two and thirty quarters than for two and thirty cardinal virtues.
          Ibid., Nov. 6, 1747.
It [the value of time] is in everybody’s mouth, but in few people’s practice.
          Ibid., Dec. 11, 1747.
If we do not plant it [knowledge] when young, it will give us no shade when we are old.
Men, as well as women, are much oftener led by their hearts than by their understandings.
          Ibid., Jan. 21, 1748.
  He also wrote, May 15, 1749: “Nine times in ten, the heart governs the understanding.” Mazarin used to say, “The heart is every thing” (Quand on a le cœur, on a tout). It was the secret of his power over Anne of Austria.
Honest error is to be pitied, not ridiculed.
          Ibid., Feb. 16, 1748.
Never seem wiser, nor more learned, than the people you are with.
          Ibid., Feb. 22, 1748.
Cottages have them [falsehood and dissimulation] as well as courts, only with worse manners.
          Ibid., April 15, 1748.
Women are to be talked to as below men, and above children.
          Ibid., Sept. 20, 1748.
Venus will not charm so much without her attendant Graces, as they will without her.
          Ibid., Nov. 18, 1748.
He [the Duke of Marlborough] could refuse more gracefully than other people could grant.
  The following anecdote is related of the eccentric Earl of Peterborough, and illustrates the popular idea of the great duke’s avarice and parsimony. The earl was one day returning from the House of Lords, and was vigorously hooted by a mob, which mistook him for Marlborough, then at the height of his unpopularity. “I will convince you that I am not the duke,” he said: “in the first place, I have but five guineas in my pocket; and in the second place, here they are, much to your service,” throwing them to the mob. The earl was a distinguished soldier, but was of opinion that “a general is only a hangman-in-chief.”
Abhor a knave and pity a fool in your heart, but let neither of them unnecessarily see that you do so.
          Ibid., Dec. 20, 1748.
Be early what, if you are not, you will, when it is too late, wish you had been.
          Ibid., Feb. 7, 1749.
That silly, sanguine notion, which is firmly entertained here, that one Englishman can beat three Frenchmen, encourages, and has sometimes enabled, one Englishman, in reality, to beat two.
  Henry V. said of his army, wasted by disease, that, when they were in health,—
        “I thought upon one pair of English legs
Did march three Frenchmen.”
Henry V., III. 6.    
Fools never perceive where they are ill-timed or ill-placed.
          Ibid., July 20, 1749.
Idleness is only the refuge of weak minds, and the holiday of fools.
No man takes pleasures truly, who does not earn them by previous business; and few people do business well, who do nothing else.
          Ibid., Aug. 7, 1749.
Whoever is in a hurry shows that the thing he is about is too big for him.
          Ibid., Aug. 10, 1749.
The most familiar and intimate habitudes, connections, friendships, require a degree of good-breeding both to preserve and cement them.
          Ibid., Nov. 3, 1749.
People in general will much better bear being told of their vices or crimes than of their little failings or weaknesses.
          Ibid., Nov. 26, 1749.
There is a certain dignity to be kept up in pleasures, as well as in business.
          Ibid., Feb. 5, 1750.
Despatch is the soul of business.
To be pleased, one must please. What pleases you in others will in general please them in you.
          Ibid., Feb. 9, 1750.
A man’s own good-breeding is his best security against other people’s ill manners.
Paris is the place in the world, where, if you please, you may best unite the utile with the dulce.
          Ibid., April 30, 1750. An allusion to Horace’s advice to mingle the useful with the agreeable:—
        “Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci.”
De Arte Poetica, 343.    
Modesty is the only sure bait when you angle for praise.
          Ibid., May 8, 1750.
Knowledge may give weight, but accomplishments only give lustre; and many more people see than weigh.
Most arts require long study and application; but the most useful of all, that of pleasing, only the desire.
For the parties affected by it (scandal) always look upon the receiver to be almost as bad as the thief.
          Ibid., Jan. 15, 1753.
  Dean Swift made a witty use of this proverb, when he said, of William the Third’s motto applied to his succession, “recipit non rapuit” (he received, he did not seize, the crown of England), “The partaker is as bad as the thief.”
Young people are very apt to overrate both men and things, from not being enough acquainted with them.
          Ibid., Feb. 17, 1754.
The vulgar only laugh, but never smile; whereas well-bred people often smile, but seldom laugh.
Individuals sometimes forgive, but bodies and societies never do.
Do not tell every thing, but never lie.
You may always observe that the greatest fools are the greatest liars. For my part, I judge of every man’s truth by his degree of understanding.
After their friendship, there is nothing so dangerous as to have them for enemies.
          Ibid. (Of knaves and fools.)
Tyrawley and I have been dead these two years, but we don’t choose to have it known.
          Of Lord Tyrawley and himself, when both were very old and infirm.—BOSWELL’S Johnson, 1772.
  His last words, his good-breeding quitting him only with life, were, “Give Dayrolles a chair.”
  Dr. Johnson addressed to Lord Chesterfield the plan of the Dictionary; but no attention was paid to it until within a short time of publication, when the earl, flattered with the expectation that it would be dedicated to him, wrote two papers in “The World” in commendation of it. The device failed of effect; for Johnson wrote him a letter, Feb. 7, 1775, “expressed,” as he said, “in civil terms, but such as might show him that I did not mind what he said or wrote, and that I had done with him.” In it occurred the celebrated sentence: “Seven years, my lord, have now passed, since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door.” Johnson said in it that he did not expect the treatment he had received, “for I never had a patron before. The shepherd in Virgil grows at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.” He afterwards exchanged the word “garret” for “patron,” in his translation of Juvenal’s Tenth Satire, so that it stands:—
        “Yet think what ills the scholar’s life assail,—
Toil, envy, want, the patron, and the jail.”
  Dante amplifies the thought of dependence upon the patronage of the great:—
        “And thou shalt prove how salt a savor hath
The bread of others, and how hard a path
To climb and to descend the stranger’s stairs!”
Paradiso, XVII. 58.    
  Johnson’s opinion of Lord Chesterfield was subsequently expressed with great freedom. “This man,” he said, “I thought had been a lord among wits, but I find he is only a wit among lords.” Of Chesterfield’s “Letters to his Son,” Johnson declared that “they teach the morals of a harlot, and the manners of a dancing-master.” But he subsequently thought that they might be made “a very pretty book. Take out the immorality, and it should be put into the hands of every young gentleman.” On another occasion, when the “Letters” were mentioned at dinner in a gentleman’s house, Johnson asserted that “every man of any education would rather be called a rascal than accused of deficiency in the graces.”—BOSWELL: 1776.

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