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    Letters to his son by The Earl of Chesterfield

    Philip Stanhope, or the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, was a British statesman and man of letters who lived from 1694 to 1773.

    He wrote a series of educational letters to his illegitimate son, publication of which posthumously by his son's widow caused much controversy due to the content being regarded as immoral.

    The letters read as a kind of 'Machiavelli-lite', in that they focus much more on analysis of the social milieu of higher society at the time with an eye to methods of ingratiation, rather than grandiose visions of total domination and brutal methods of attaining absolute power.

    Many passages are strikingly reminiscent of self-help books on today's shelves, if with a somewhat more critical tone, with all the mix of misguided notions coupled with legitimate insight. Where Chesterfield is informative is his assessment of women, given feminist notions of women's social position in the mid 18th century.

    He often praises the merits of 'fine women' and goes to great pains to explain how one is to appease and placate women as a necessity. What shines through in this are the demands levelled at man by society, where once the specificity of the 18th century customs are stripped back, we can see the lengths to which a man must go in pleasing a sex said to be horribly oppressed and powerless before the average man.

    The other aspect of this is the character (or lack thereof) and depth of feminine influence on society observable, even when legally limited to a much greater degree than modern times.

    A selection of excerpts:

    "As to running after women, the consequences of that vice are only the loss of one’s nose, the total destruction of health, and, not unfrequently, the being run through the body." - Letter V

    "A showish binding attracts the eyes, and engages the attention of everybody; but with this difference, that women, and men who are like women, mind the binding more than the book; whereas men of sense and learning immediately examine the inside; and if they find that it does not answer the finery on the outside, they throw it by with the greater indignation and contempt." - Letter VIII

    "Women have, in general, but one object, which is their beauty; upon which, scarce any flattery is too gross for them to swallow. Nature has hardly formed a woman ugly enough to be insensible to flattery upon her person; if her face is so shocking, that she must in some degree, be conscious of it, her figure and her air, she trusts, make ample amends for it. If her figure is deformed, her face, she thinks, counterbalances it. If they are both bad, she comforts herself that she has graces; a certain manner; a je ne sais quoi, still more engaging than beauty. This truth is evident, from the studied and elaborate dress of the ugliest women in the world. An undoubted, uncontested, conscious beauty, is of all women, the least sensible of flattery upon that head; she knows that it is her due, and is therefore obliged to nobody for giving it her. She must be flattered upon her understanding; which, though she may possibly not doubt of herself, yet she suspects that men may distrust." - Letter XVII

    "As women are a considerable, or, at least a pretty numerous part of company; and as their suffrages go a great way toward establishing a man’s character in the fashionable part of the world (which is of great importance to the fortune and figure he proposes to make in it), it is necessary to please them. I will therefore, upon this subject, let you into certain Arcana that will be very useful for you to know, but which you must, with the utmost care, conceal and never seem to know. Women, then, are only children of a larger growth; they have an entertaining tattle, and sometimes wit; but for solid reasoning, good sense, I never knew in my life one that had it, or who reasoned or acted consequentially for four-and-twenty hours together. Some little passion or humor always breaks upon their best resolutions.

    Their beauty neglected or controverted, their age increased, or their supposed understandings depreciated, instantly kindles their little passions, and overturns any system of consequential conduct, that in their most reasonable moments they might have been capable of forming. A man of sense only trifles with them, plays with them, humors and flatters them, as he does with a sprightly forward child; but he neither consults them about, nor trusts them with serious matters; though he often makes them believe that he does both; which is the thing in the world that they are proud of; for they love mightily to be dabbling in business (which by the way they always spoil); and being justly distrustful that men in general look upon them in a trifling light, they almost adore that man who talks more seriously to them, and who seems to consult and trust them; I say, who seems; for weak men really do, but wise ones only seem to do it. No flattery is either too high or too low for them. They will greedily swallow the highest, and gratefully accept of the lowest; and you may safely flatter any woman from her understanding down to the exquisite taste of her fan.

    Women who are either indisputably beautiful, or indisputably ugly, are best flattered, upon the score of their understandings; but those who are in a state of mediocrity, are best flattered upon their beauty, or at least their graces; for every woman who is not absolutely ugly thinks herself handsome; but not hearing often that she is so, is the more grateful and the more obliged to the few who tell her so; whereas a decided and conscious beauty looks upon every tribute paid to her beauty only as her due; but wants to shine, and to be considered on the side of her understanding; and a woman who is ugly enough to know that she is so, knows that she has nothing left for it but her understanding, which is consequently and probably (in more senses than one) her weak side.

    But these are secrets which you must keep inviolably, if you would not, like Orpheus, be torn to pieces by the whole sex; on the contrary, a man who thinks of living in the great world, must be gallant, polite, and attentive to please the women. They have, from the weakness of men, more or less influence in all courts; they absolutely stamp every man’s character in the beau monde, and make it either current, or cry it down, and stop it in payments. It is, therefore; absolutely necessary to manage, please, and flatter them and never to discover the least marks of contempt, which is what they never forgive; but in this they are not singular, for it is the same with men; who will much sooner forgive an injustice than an insult." - Letter XLIX

    "Women, especially, are to be talked to as below men and above children. If you talk to them too deep, you only confound them, and lose your own labor; if you talk to them too frivolously, they perceive and resent the contempt. The proper tone for them is, what the French call the Entregent, and is, in truth, the polite jargon of good company. Thus, if you are a good chemist, you may extract something out of everything." - Letter LI

    "A king’s mistress, or a minister’s wife or mistress, may give great and useful informations; and are very apt to do it, being proud to show that they have been trusted. But then, in this case, the height of that sort of address, which, strikes women, is requisite; I mean that easy politeness, genteel and graceful address, and that exterieur brilliant which they cannot withstand. There is a sort of men so like women, that they are to be taken just in the same way; I mean those who are commonly called FINE MEN; who swarm at all courts; who have little reflection, and less knowledge; but, who by their good breeding, and train-tran of the world, are admitted into all companies; and, by the imprudence or carelessness of their superiors, pick up secrets worth knowing, which are easily got out of them by proper address." - Letter LII

    "As the female part of the world has some influence, and often too much, over the male, your conduct with regard to women (I mean women of fashion, for I cannot suppose you capable of conversing with any others) deserves some share in your reflections. They are a numerous and loquacious body: their hatred would be more prejudicial than their friendship can be advantageous to you. A general complaisance and attention to that sex is therefore established by custom, and certainly necessary. But where you would particularly please anyone, whose situation, interest, or connections, can be of use to you, you must show particular preference. The least attentions please, the greatest charm them.

    The innocent but pleasing flattery of their persons, however gross, is greedily swallowed and kindly digested: but a seeming regard for their understandings, a seeming desire of, and deference for, their advice, together with a seeming confidence in their moral virtues, turns their heads entirely in your favor. Nothing shocks them so much as the least appearance of that contempt which they are apt to suspect men of entertaining of their capacities; and you may be very sure of gaining their friendship if you seem to think it worth gaining. Here dissimulation is very often necessary, and even simulation sometimes allowable; which, as it pleases them, may, be useful to you, and is injurious to nobody." - Letter LXXI

    (All excerpts taken from a digital version of the text which can be found here)

  2. #2
    Senior Member BeijaFlor's Avatar
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    Re: Letters to his son by The Earl of Chesterfield

    Thanks for the link ... I'm going to browse through his Letters, as time is available.

    Isn't he the one who said of the sexual act, "The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable" ...?
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    Super Moderator Mr Wombat's Avatar
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    Re: Letters to his son by The Earl of Chesterfield

    the consequences of that vice are only the loss of one’s nose,
    A reference to syphilis, BTW.

  4. #4

    Re: Letters to his son by The Earl of Chesterfield

    Quote Originally Posted by BeijaFlor View Post
    Thanks for the link ... I'm going to browse through his Letters, as time is available.

    Isn't he the one who said of the sexual act, "The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable" ...?
    Not sure, this is the only work of his I'm familiar with and I can't recall seeing that formulation.

  5. #5

    Re: Letters to his son by The Earl of Chesterfield

    Quote Originally Posted by Bricklayer View Post
    Women, then, are only children of a larger growth; they have an entertaining tattle, and sometimes wit; but for solid reasoning, good sense, I never knew in my life one that had it, or who reasoned or acted consequentially for four-and-twenty hours together. Some little passion or humor always breaks upon their best resolutions.

    A man of sense only trifles with them, plays with them, humors and flatters them, as he does with a sprightly forward child; but he neither consults them about, nor trusts them with serious matters; though he often makes them believe that he does both; which is the thing in the world that they are proud of; for they love mightily to be dabbling in business (which by the way they always spoil); and being justly distrustful that men in general look upon them in a trifling light, they almost adore that man who talks more seriously to them, and who seems to consult and trust them; I say, who seems; for weak men really do, but wise ones only seem to do it. No flattery is either too high or too low for them. They will greedily swallow the highest, and gratefully accept of the lowest; and you may safely flatter any woman from her understanding down to the exquisite taste of her fan.
    Sounds like ol' Phil had the women pegged. Nothing new under the sun.

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    Junior Member magx01's Avatar
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    Re: Letters to his son by The Earl of Chesterfield

    Quote Originally Posted by McCracken View Post
    Sounds like ol' Phil had the women pegged. Nothing new under the sun.
    Incredibly insightful and honest writing about women from almost 300 years ago. Awesome.
    magx01.blogspot.com

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    Senior Member AdTheBad's Avatar
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    Re: Letters to his son by The Earl of Chesterfield

    A very nice find Bricklayer. Thanks for sharing, I managed to get the whole thing with http://pdfmyurl.com/.

    Nothing changes does it?

    This last quote echos down the ages like a fart in a cathedral.

    "As the female part of the world has some influence, and often too much, over the male, your conduct with regard to women (I mean women of fashion, for I cannot suppose you capable of conversing with any others) deserves some share in your reflections. They are a numerous and loquacious body: their hatred would be more prejudicial than their friendship can be advantageous to you. A general complaisance and attention to that sex is therefore established by custom, and certainly necessary. But where you would particularly please anyone, whose situation, interest, or connections, can be of use to you, you must show particular preference. The least attentions please, the greatest charm them.

    The innocent but pleasing flattery of their persons, however gross, is greedily swallowed and kindly digested: but a seeming regard for their understandings, a seeming desire of, and deference for, their advice, together with a seeming confidence in their moral virtues, turns their heads entirely in your favor. Nothing shocks them so much as the least appearance of that contempt which they are apt to suspect men of entertaining of their capacities; and you may be very sure of gaining their friendship if you seem to think it worth gaining. Here dissimulation is very often necessary, and even simulation sometimes allowable; which, as it pleases them, may, be useful to you, and is injurious to nobody." - Letter LXXI
    For those of us who have to interact, we are perhaps stuck with that. Its probably as well to learn how to live with it now even more than it was then at work and socially. One thing I've never really come to terms with is the pure malevolent and destructive power of the 'chattering herd'.

    We must navigate. Needs must ...dissimulate.
    Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate. Zhuangzi

    someone asked the poet Sophocles: "How are you in regard to sex, Sophocles? Can you still make love to a woman?" Hush man, the poet replied, I am very glad to have escaped from this, like a slave who has escaped from a mad and cruel master."

    Dont worry about me. Worry about why you're worried about me.


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