Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th earl of

Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th earl of

▪ English writer
born Sept. 22, 1694, London
died March 24, 1773, London
 British statesman, diplomat, and wit, chiefly remembered as the author of Letters to His Son and Letters to His Godson—guides to manners, the art of pleasing, and the art of worldly success.

      After a short period of study at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he spent some time abroad, mainly in Paris. He was a great admirer of French manners, culture, and taste. He succeeded to the earldom in 1726 and became ambassador to Holland in 1728. His illegitimate son, Philip Stanhope, the recipient of the letters, was born there in 1732. Returning to England in the same year, Chesterfield took up a parliamentary career for the next decade as a strong opponent of Sir Robert Walpole. In spite of his connection by marriage to the king, he lost favour at court until he demonstrated his abilities as a statesman in his short term (August 1745–April 1746) as lord lieutenant of Ireland. After a term as secretary of state (1746–48), he gradually retired from public life because of increasing deafness, though he was largely responsible for Britain's decision to adopt the Gregorian calendar in 1752.

      Chesterfield's winning manners, urbanity, and wit were praised by many of his leading contemporaries, and he was on familiar terms with Alexander Pope, John Gay, and Voltaire. He was the patron of many struggling authors but had unfortunate relations with one of them, Samuel Johnson (Johnson, Samuel), who condemned him in a famous letter (1755) attacking patrons. Johnson further damaged Chesterfield's reputation when he described the Letters as teaching “the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master.” Dickens later caricatured him as Sir John Chester in Barnaby Rudge (1841). The opinion of these two more popular writers—both of whom epitomized middle-class morality—has contributed to Chesterfield's image as a cynical man of the world and a courtier. Careful readers of Chesterfield's letters, which were not written for publication, consider this an injustice. The strongest charge against his philosophy is that it leads to concentration on worldly ends. But within this limitation his advice is shrewd and presented with wit and elegance. Ironically, Chesterfield's painstaking advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears: his son was described by contemporaries as “loutish,” and his godson was described by Fanny Burney as having “as little good breeding as any man I ever met.”

      Chesterfield left many other letters that are models of wit and charm, especially those written to the diplomat Solomon Dayrolles, a lifelong friend who was with him at his deathbed.

Additional Reading
A good source of Chesterfield's correspondence is David Roberts (ed.), Letters (1992).

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield — Philip Lord Chesterfield Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield PC KG (22 September 1694 – 24 March 1773) was a British statesman and man of letters. A Whig, Lord Stanhope, as he was known until his father s death in 1726, was born in… …   Wikipedia

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  • Chesterfield — /ches teuhr feeld /, n. Philip Dormer Stanhope /dawr meuhr stan euhp/, 4th Earl of, 1694 1773, British statesman and author. * * * ▪ England, United Kingdom       town and borough (district), administrative and historic county of Derbyshire,… …   Universalium

  • chesterfield — /ches teuhr feeld /, n. 1. (sometimes cap.) a single or double breasted topcoat or overcoat with a fly front and a narrow velvet collar. 2. a large, overstuffed sofa or divan with a back and upholstered arms. 3. Chiefly Canadian. any large sofa… …   Universalium

  • Earl of Chesterfield — Earls of Chesterfield, in the County of Derby, was a title in the Peerage of England. It was created in 1628 for Philip Stanhope. He had already been created Baron Stanhope, of Shelford in the County of Nottingham, in 1616, also in the Peerage of …   Wikipedia

  • Chesterfield — Ches•ter•field [[t]ˈtʃɛs tərˌfild[/t]] n. big Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of, 1694–1773, British statesman and author Ches ter•field′i•an, adj …   From formal English to slang

  • Chesterfield — I. /ˈtʃɛstəfild/ (say chestuhfeeld) noun Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of, 1694–1773, English statesman and author; renowned for his elegance and wit. II. /ˈtʃɛstəfild/ (say chestuhfeeld) noun a town in England, in eastern Derbyshire …   Australian-English dictionary

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