1807 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Chesterfield

Robert Southey, in Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807) 3:52.



Lord Chesterfield has been too much praised by dancing masters, who cannot read him; and too much blamed by rigid moralists, who cannot understand him. His great penetration led him to look deeply into the character of mankind; and the picture that he draws of it, is so like, that it cannot but provoke a melancholy smile. To a very young mind, such a representation may be prejudicial, as tending to destroy that ingenuousness in the outset of life, which dies naturally and gradually by intercourse with the world. A man, therefore, who should begin by acting upon Lord Chesterfield's principles, would now become a consummate hypocrite; and he who should not acknowledge the truth of his Lordship's observations in the progress of experience, would be a fool; and thus at thirty we should acquiesce in what might shock us at eighteen. Lord Chesterfield's attempts to lay down rules for behaviour, are vain attempts; the cautions which he gives upon points of more serious importance, are those of a father, anxious to pour the benefit of his experience upon his son; an attempt perhaps equally fruitless. He was among the first wits of his time, and filled high political situations.