« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
THE MAN OF THE WORLD.
THERE is an epithet, of frequent occurrence in the writings of Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, which suggests the nature of his philosophy of life; it is the word shining, which he applies to oratory, character, and manners, with an obvious relish. We have the greatest faith in the significance of
. language, especially in regard to the habitual use of certain adjectives as illustrative of individual opinions, temperament, and disposition. Brief sentences thickly interspersed with the first person singular form a style indicative of egotism; dainty verbal quibbles, of effeminacy; and a copious, prolonged, and emphatic combination of words seems equally native to a full and earnest mind. It may be a fanciful idea, - but this our experience frequently confirms, — that the constant use of the word designating a quality is an instinctive sign of its predominance in character. Chesterfield's ideal of excellence was essentially superficial; for his praise of solid acquirement and genuine principles is always coupled with the assertion of their entire inutility if unaccompanied by grace, external polish, and an agreeable manifestation. He omits all consideration of their intrinsic worth and absolute dignity ; their value to the individual, according to bim, is wholly proportioned to his skill in using them in a social form. It is seeming, not being, he extols ; rhetoric, in his view, far transcends reflective power; manners have more to do with human welfare than sentiment, and tact achieves more satisfactory conquests than
truth; it is not depth, elevation, or extent, the permanent qualities, but those of a temporary kind, that belong to the surface of life, upon which he relies. Accordingly, to shine in oratory, conversation, and behavior, is to realize the highest points both of nature and study; the casual scintillation of reflected light is more attractive to him, because more dazzling to the eyes of the world, than that which is evolved from primal and indestructible
The eulogy of his biographer has, therefore, a literal justice when he
that Chesterfield was one of the most shining characters of the age. Thus we might be content that it should pass in a mere gallery of traditionary portraits. But the theory upon which it was based, and the system according to which it was formed, have been elaborately unfolded by Chesterfield himself with epistolary art; and, although he never designed publicly to advocate them, yet the fact that his letters have been not only for many years a manual of deportment, his name a synonym for attractive elegance, and his writings, within a short time, revised and edited by an English historian, * is sufficient reason for applying to him, and the school he proverbially represents, the test of that impartial scrutiny, challenged by whatever practically acts upon society, and exercises more or less prescriptive influence. Character
may be divided into two great classes -- the one based upon details, and the other upon general principle; and all history, as well as private experience, shows that elevated harmony and permanent influence belong only to the latter. And this is true of the various forms as well as the essential nature of character. The philosopher differs from the petit-maître, and the poet from the dilettante, by virtue of the same law; the view of the one being comprehensive, and the other minute. In art, also, we recognize true efficiency only where general effects are aptly seized and justly embodied; the artist of mere detail ranks only as a mechanician in form and color. But the most striking truth involved in these distinctions is, that the greater includes the less ; the man of great general principles in literature, art, or life, is, in point of fact, master of all essential details; he combines them at a glance, or, rather, they insensibly arrange
themselves at his will; he can afford to let them take care of themselves. The great sculptors and painters busied themselves only about the design and finish of their works, for intermediate details were wrought by their pupils; and if the overseer, whether of domestic or public affairs, establish order and integrity as the principles of his establishment, he need not give his time or thoughts to the minutiae of finance.
If we apply this principle to social life, the sphere which Chesterfield regarded as the most important, a similar result is obvious. No one, even in that artificial world called society, ever achieved a satisfactory triumph by exclusive mastery of details. All that is involved in the term manners is demonstrative, symbolic - the sign or exponent of what lies behind, and is taken for granted; and only when this outward manifestation springs from an inward source only when it is a natural product, and not a graft — does it sustain any real significance. Hence the absurdity of the experiment of Chesterfield to inculcate a graceful address by maxims, and secure a winsome behavior by formal and minute directions; as if to learn how to enter a room, bow well, speak agreeably to a lady, dispose of unoccupied hands, and go inoffensively through the other external details of social intercourse, were to insure the realization of a gentleman. That character as it was understood in chivalry, by the old English dramatists, and according to the intelligent sentiment of mankind everywhere -- is as much the product of nature as any other species of human development; art modifies only its technical details; its spirit comes from blood more than breeding; and its formula, attached by prescription to the body without analogous inspiration of the soul, is as awkward and inefficient as would be proficiency in military tactics to a coward, or vast philological acquisitions to an idiot. Yet Chesterfield, with the obstinacy that belongs to the artificial race of men, persisted in his faith in detail, would not recognize the law from which all genuine social power is claborated, and apparently lived and died in the belief that the art of pleasing was the great interest of life, and an absolute means of success and personal happiness. All his views, habits, and career, were impregnated with this artificial creed; phrenologically speaking, he was an incarnation of approbative
ness ; his zest of life came through this his predominant organ; and, judging from consciousness, he believed it to be the only one in others which could be universally appealed to. Unblinded by self-love, he had but to reflect upon his own experience to realize the fallacy of his doctrine. Everywhere, and always, he consulted explicitly the oracle of public opinion, and conformed to it with a fanaticism unworthy his intelligence. He confesses to the very son whom he strove with such zeal to make the "glass of fashion,” that in college he was an absolute pedant, and thought great classical knowledge the test of all excellence; that, emancipated from the atmosphere of learning, and thrown among young men of fashion, he led a life of slavery by conforming to habits which were alien not only to his constitution and tastes, but even to his desires; and that, in mature years, the requisitions of the beau monde held him in equal vassalage; while his old
age, we are told, was cheerless and desolate.”' There are men who regard the artificial as a necessary evil in social life, while they repudiate it altogether elsewhere; but, in the case of Chesterfield, it was deliberately advocated as a general principle; it inflưenced not only his theory of manners, but his literary taste, political opinions, and entire philosophy. Thus be laid aside the Anglo-Saxon direct and robust temper, and gave in so completely to French manners and superficiality, that, in Paris, he was considered one of themselves, and prides himself upon the distinction. In literature, the only branch which he thoroughly appreciated was oratory, and that chiefly for the rhetorical artifice to which it gives scope. Not as a noble inspiration founded on loyalty to instinctive sentiment, or urged for the cause of humanity, but as an elegant accomplishment whereby to exercise influence and gain applause, did Chesterfield cultivate oratory. It seems perfectly natural that he should excel in its studied graces, and equally so that such a cold virtuoso as Horace
, Walpole should have preferred him to Pitt. It is, too, not less characteristic of such a man that he should choose diplomacy as a profession. Believing, as he did, only in elegance and cunning, in politic self-control, veiled with agreeableness, the "smooth barbarity of courts” was admirably fitted at once to employ his ingenuity and gratify his refined selfishness. Thus devoid of earnestness on the one hand, and wedded to artificial graces on the other, we cannot wonder that, in his view, Dante, the most intensely picturesque of poets, could not think clearly; and that Petrarch, the beautiful expositor of sentiment, should appear only a love-sick rhymer; nor can we reasonably feel surprise that he quoted Rochefoucault and Cardinal de Retz with emphatic respect, while he could be only facetious in his allusions to Milton and Tasso. Macaulay, in alluding to Chesterfield's estimate of Marlborough and Cowper (the lawyer), says: “He constantly and systematically attributed the success of the most eminent persons of his age to their superiority, not in solid abilities and acquirements, but in superficial graces of diction and manner." Among the books he most cordially recommends his son, are a treatise on the Art of Pleasing, and the “Spectacle du Nature”— the very titles of which reveal his dominant ideas; for the end of being, in his opinion, was to please, at whatever sacrifice of honesty, comfort, or truth ; and nature to him was but a spectacle, as life itself was a melodrama. IIe distrusted the motives of Fenelon, and thought Bolingbroke admirable. Even in more highly prized classical attainments, which we should imagine were endleared by personal taste, the same reference to external motive appears. He advises the study of Greek chiefly because it is a less common acquisition than Latin; and the translation of striking passages of eloquence, as a means of forming style, and storing tlie mind with desirable quotations. Indeed, in his view, the process of culture, instead of an end, was a means, not to perfect or enrich the individual character, but to obtain the requisites of social advancement. It is true he includes truth as essential to a gentleman; but this was the instinctive sentiment of his nation, whose manly energy and commercial probity alike repudiate falsehood. In accordance with his faith in the details of outward conduct, and obtuseness to the influence of the great natural laws of character in their social agency, Chesterfield advocated power over others as the lever by which to move away the impediments to personal success ; not that legitimate power decreed by original superiority, and as certain in the end to regulate society as gravitation the planets; but a studious, politic, and artificial empire, won by