1833 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Chesterfield

Thomas Babington Macaulay to Hannah M. Macaulay, 2 August 1833; Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 3:601.



Chesterfield was, what no person in our time has been or can be, a great political leader, and at the same time the acknowledged chief of the fashionable world; at the head of the House of Lords and at the head of 'ton'; Mr. Canning and the Duke of Devonshire in one. In our time the division of labor is carried so far that such a man could not exist. Politics require the whole of energy, bodily and mental, during half the year; and leave very little time for the bow window at White's in the day, or for the crush-room of the Opera at night. A century ago the case was different. Chesterfield was at once the most distinguished orator in the Upper House, and the undisputed sovereign of wit and fashion. He held this eminence for about forty years. At last it became the regular custom of the higher circles to laugh whenever he opened his mouth, without waiting for his bon mot. He used to sit at White's with a circle of young men of rank round him, applauding every syllable that he uttered. If you wish for a proof of the kind of position which Chesterfield held among his contemporaries, look at the prospectus of Johnson's Dictionary. Look even at Johnson's angry letter. It contains the strongest admission of the boundless influence which Chesterfield exercised over society.