|C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the Worlds Best Literature.|
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.
|From Letters to His Son|
|By Philip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield (16941773)|
THERE is a bienséance with regard to people of the lowest degree; a gentleman observes it with his footman, even with the beggar in the street. He considers them as objects of compassion, not of insult; he speaks to neither dun ton brusque, but corrects the one coolly, and refuses the other with humanity. There is no one occasion in the world, in which le ton brusque is becoming a gentleman. In short, les bienséances are another word for manners, and extend to every part of life. They are propriety; the Graces should attend in order to complete them: the Graces enable us to do genteelly and pleasingly what les bienséances require to be done at all. The latter are an obligation upon every man; the former are an infinite advantage and ornament to any man.
The Control of Ones Countenance
PEOPLE unused to the world have babbling countenances, and are unskillful enough to show what they have sense enough not to tell. In the course of the world, a man must very often put on an easy, frank countenance, upon very disagreeable occasions; he must seem pleased, when he is very much otherwise; he must be able to accost and receive with smiles those whom he would much rather meet with swords. In Courts he must not turn himself inside out. All this may, nay, must be done, without falsehood and treachery; for it must go no further than politeness and manners, and must stop short of assurances and professions of simulated friendship. Good manners to those one does not love are no more a breach of truth than your humble servant, at the bottom of a challenge, is; they are universally agreed upon and understood to be things of course. They are necessary guards of the decency and peace of society: they must only act defensively; and then not with arms poisoned with perfidy. Truth, but not the whole truth, must be the invariable principle of every man who hath either religion, honor, or prudence.
Dress as an Index to Character
I CANNOT help forming some opinion of a mans sense and character from his dress; and I believe most people do as well as myself. Any affectation whatsoever in dress implies in my mind a flaw in the understanding
. A man of sense carefully avoids any particular character in his dress; he is accurately clean for his own sake; but all the rest is for other peoples. He dresses as well, and in the same manner, as the people of sense and fashion of the place where he is. If he dresses better, as he thinks,that is, more than they,he is a fop; if he dresses worse, he is unpardonably negligent: but of the two, I would rather have a young fellow too much than too little dressed: the excess on that side will wear off with a little age and reflection; but if he is negligent at twenty, he will be a sloven at forty and stink at fifty years old. Dress yourself fine where others are fine, and plain where others are plain; but take care always that your clothes are well made and fit you, for otherwise they will give you a very awkward air. When you are once well dressed for the day, think no more of it afterwards; and without any stiffness or fear of discomposing that dress, let all your motions be as easy and natural as if you had no clothes on at all.
Some Remarks on Good Breeding
A FRIEND of yours and mine has justly defined good breeding to be the result of much good sense, some good nature, and a little self-denial for the sake of others, and with a view to obtain the same indulgence from them. Taking this for granted (as I think it cannot be disputed), it is astonishing to me that anybody who had good sense and good nature (and I believe you have both) can essentially fail in good breeding. As to the modes of it, indeed, they vary according to persons, places, and circumstances, and are only to be acquired by observation and experience; but the substance of it is everywhere and eternally the same. Good manners are to particular societies what good morals are to society in generaltheir cement and their security. And as laws are enacted to enforce good morals, or at least to prevent the ill effects of bad ones, so there are certain rules of civility, universally implied and received, to enforce good manners and punish bad ones. And indeed there seems to me to be less difference, both between the crimes and punishments, than at first one would imagine
. Mutual complaisances, attentions, and sacrifices of little conveniences, are as natural an implied compact between civilized people as protection and obedience are between kings and subjects: whoever in either case violates that compact, justly forfeits all advantages arising from it. For my own part, I really think that next to the consciousness of doing a good action, that of doing a civil one is the most pleasing: and the epithet which I should covet the most, next to that of Aristides, would be that of well-bred.