Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A lesson in etiquette ...

... from W.H. Auden via Terry Teachout's Almanac.
Last Friday was the anniversary of the birth of Philip Stanhope, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield, who is said to have advised his son never to insult a man unitentionally (a sentiment echoed in what Auden says). Here are some of Lord Chesterfield's gems.


  1. And here's a sort of lesson in etiquette for Lord Chesterfield from Dr Johnson:

    To The Right Honourable The Earl Of Chesterfield

    And here is Dr Johnson as he "waited in [Lord Chesterfield's] outward rooms", memorialized in E. M. Ward's painting.

  2. Ah yes, I had forgotten that Lord and Doctor were out of harmony with each other. Was Chesterfield's slight unintentional, do you think?

  3. Yes, I think it was unintentional.

    As W. Jackson Bate says in his Samuel Johnson:

    "Caught up in his work as Secretary of State, and with other worries, not to mention the number of people seeking his patronage, Chesterfield had naturally forgotten about the Dictionary." (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1977; page 256)

    Bate also makes the point that "[Dr Johnson's] letter is miscontrued if it is thought of as anger because of neglect, or, least of all, complaint about it. He was used to neglect. There would have been no letter had not Chesterfield belatedly written the two pieces he did [praising the forthcoming Dictionary and published in a weekly paper called the World]. The real explanation of the letter, as Sledd and Kolb point out, is that Chesterfield's tardy endorsement was placing Johnson in the false position 'of a man who was soon to declare, in a Preface perhaps already written, that his great work had been written, without the "patronage of the great."' The public inference would be that since Chesterfield had been addressed in the original Plan (1747) and was now recommending the work (1754), he had been patronizing it all along (and exactly this inference was made , despite Johnson's letter . . .)." (pages 257-258)

    By the way, "Chesterfield accepted the rebuke with good nature, and was also quite impressed by the letter." (page 257) And "[b]efore long Johnson's attitude toward Chesterfield began to soften." (page 258)

  4. Hi Dave,
    Thanks for the info. This should put to rest doubts regarding your existence.