Lord Chesterfield

Horace Walpole, 1770 ca.; in Memoirs of the Last Ten Years of the Reign of George II; (1847) 1:51-52.

He had early in his life announced his claim to wit, and the women believed it. He had besides given himself out as a man of great intrigue, with as slender pretensions; yet the women believed in that too — one should have thought that they had been more competent judges of merit in that particular! It was not his fault if he had not wit; nobody exceeded his efforts in that point; and though they were far from producing the wit, they at least amply yielded the applause he aimed at. He was so accustomed to see people laugh at the most trifling things he said, that he would be disappointed at finding nobody smile before they knew what he was going to say. His speeches were fine, but as much laboured as his extempore sayings. His writings were — everybody's: that is, whatever came out good was given to him, and he was too humble ever to refuse the gift. But, besides the passive enjoyment of all good productions in the present age, he had another art of reputation, which was, either to disapprove the greatest authors of other times, or to patronize and commend whatever was too bad to be ascribed to himself. He did his admirers the justice to believe that they would applaud upon his authority every simple book that was published, and every bad actor that appeared upon the stage.