Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

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When we understand that man is the only animal who must create meaning, who must open a wedge into neutral nature, we already understand the essence of love. Love is the problem of an animal who must find life, create a dialogue with nature in order to experience his own being.
Ernest Becker
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Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.

Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (22 September 1694 - 24 March 1773) was a British statesman and man of letters.


  • The chapter of knowledge is a very short, but the chapter of accidents is a very long one.
    • To Solomon Dayrolles (February 16, 1753)
  • I assisted at the birth of that most significant word "flirtation," which dropped from the most beautiful mouth in the world.
    • The World, no. 101 (December 5, 1754)
  • Unlike my subject will I frame my song,
    It shall be witty, and it shan't be long.
    • Epigram on ("Long") Sir Thomas Robinson
  • The dews of the evening most carefully shun —
    Those tears of the sky for the loss of the sun.
    • Advice to a Lady in Autumn
  • Religion is by no means a proper subject of conversation in a mixed company.
    • Letter to his godson, No.112 (undated).
  • Tyrawley and I have been dead these two years; but we don't choose to have it known.
    • Quoted in Boswell's Life of Johnson.

Letters to His Son

  • Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.
    • March 10, 1746
  • The knowledge of the world is only to be acquired in the world, and not in a closet.
    • October 4, 1746
  • An injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult.
    • October 9, 1746
  • There is time enough for everything, in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once; but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.
    • April 14, 1747
  • I really know nothing more criminal, more mean, and more ridiculous than lying. It is the production either of malice, cowardice, or vanity; and generally misses of its aim in every one of these views; for lies are always detected, sooner or later.
    • September 21, 1747
  • Courts and camps are the only places to learn the world in.
    • October 2, 1747
  • The world is a country which nobody ever yet knew by description; one must travel through it one's self to be acquainted with it.
    • October 2, 1747 [1]
  • Do as you would be done by, is the surest method of pleasing.
    • October 9, 1747
  • Take the tone of the company you are in.
    • October 9, 1747
  • The young leading the young, is like the blind leading the blind; “they will both fall into the ditch.”
    • November 24, 1747
  • Patience, to hear frivolous, impertinent, and unreasonable applications: with address enough to refuse, without offending; or, by your manner of granting, to double the obligation: dexterity enough to conceal a truth, without telling a lie: sagacity enough to read other people’s countenances: and serenity enough not to let them discover anything by yours; a seeming frankness, with a real reserve. These are the rudiments of a politician; the world must be your grammar.
    • January 15, 1748
  • Advice is seldom welcome; and those who want it the most always like it the least.
    • January 29, 1748
  • Speak of the moderns without contempt, and of the ancients without idolatry.
    • February 22, 1748
  • Never seem wiser, nor more learned, than the people you are with. Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket: and do not pull it out and strike it; merely to show that you have one.
    • February 22, 1748
  • In my mind, there is nothing so illiberal and so ill-bred, as audible laughter.
    • March 9, 1748
  • I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason, nobody has ever heard me laugh.
    • March 9, 1748
  • The characteristic of a well-bred man is, to converse with his inferiors without insolence, and with his superiors with respect and with ease.
    • May 17, 1748
  • Manners must adorn knowledge, and smooth its way through the world. Like a great rough diamond, it may do very well in a closet by way of curiosity, and also for its intrinsic value.
    • July 1, 1748
  • Women who are either indisputably beautiful, or indisputably ugly, are best flattered upon the score of their understandings; but those who are in a state of mediocrity are best flattered upon their beauty, or at least their graces; for every woman who is not absolutely ugly thinks herself handsome.
    • September 5, 1748
  • Little minds mistake little objects for great ones, and lavish away upon the former that time and attention which only the latter deserve. To such mistakes we owe the numerous and frivolous tribe of insect-mongers, shell-mongers, and pursuers and driers of butterflies, etc. The strong mind distinguishes, not only between the useful and the useless, but likewise between the useful and the curious.
    • December 6, 1748
  • The herd of mankind can hardly be said to think; their notions are almost all adoptive; and, in general, I believe it is better that it should be so; as such common prejudices contribute more to order and quiet, than their own separate reasonings would do, uncultivated and unimproved as they are.
    • February 7, 1749
  • Without some dissimulation no business can be carried on at all.
    • May 22, 1749
  • I recommend to you, in my last, an innocent piece of art: that of flattering people behind their backs, in presence of those who, to make their own court, much more than for your sake, will not fail to repeat, and even amplify, the praise to the party concerned. This is of all flattery the most pleasing, and consequently the most effectual.
    • May 22, 1749
  • Idleness is only the refuge of weak minds.
    • July 20, 1749
  • Abject flattery and indiscriminate assentation degrade, as much as indiscriminate contradiction and noisy debate disgust. But a modest assertion of one’s own opinion, and a complaisant acquiescence in other people’s, preserve dignity.
    • August 10, 1749
  • Style is the dress of thoughts.
    • November 24, 1749
  • Women are much more like each other than men: they have, in truth, but two passions, vanity and love; these are their universal characteristics.
    • December 19, 1749
  • We must not suppose that, because a man is a rational animal, he will, therefore, always act rationally; or, because he has such or such a predominant passion, that he will act invariably and consequentially in pursuit of it. No, we are complicated machines; and though we have one main spring that gives motion to the whole, we have an infinity of little wheels, which, in their turns, retard, precipitate, and sometime stop that motion.
    • December 19, 1749
  • Dispatch is the soul of business.
    • February 5, 1750
  • I wish to God that you had as much pleasure in following my advice, as I have in giving it to you.
    • February 5, 1750
  • Knowledge may give weight, but accomplishments give luster, and many more people see than weigh.
    • May 8, 1750
  • Let blockheads read what blockheads write.
    • November 1, 1750
  • It is commonly said, and more particularly by Lord Shaftesbury, that ridicule is the best test of truth.
    • February 6, 1752
  • Let dull critics feed upon the carcasses of plays; give me the taste and the dressing.
    • February 6, 1752
  • Every woman is infallibly to be gained by every sort of flattery, and every man by one sort or other.
    • March 16, 1752
  • It is a great advantage for any man to be able to talk or hear, neither ignorantly nor absurdly, upon any subject; for I have known people, who have not said one word, hear ignorantly and absurdly; it has appeared by their inattentive and unmeaning faces.
    • May 11, 1752
  • A proper secrecy is the only mystery of able men; mystery is the only secrecy of weak and cunning ones.
    • January 15, 1753
  • There are some occasions in which a man must tell half his secret, in order to conceal the rest; but there is seldom one in which a man should tell all. Great skill is necessary to know how far to go, and where to stop.
    • January 15, 1753
  • People will no more advance their civility to a bear, than their money to a bankrupt.
    • December 25, 1753
  • Let this be one invariable rule of your conduct—never to show the least symptom of resentment, which you cannot, to a certain degree, gratify; but always to smile, where you cannot strike.
    • March 26, 1754
  • Our conjectures pass upon us for truths; we will know what we do not know, and often, what we cannot know: so mortifying to our pride is the base suspicion of ignorance.
    • December 14, 1756
  • In short, let it be your maxim through life, to know all you can know, yourself; and never to trust implicitly to the informations of others.
    • March 16, 1759


  • Sex is overrated: the pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable.
  • An able man shows his spirit by gentle words and resolute actions.
  • I recommend you to take care of the minutes, for the hours will take care of themselves.
  • Horse-play, romping, frequent and loud fits of laughter, jokes, waggery, and indiscriminate familiarity, will sink both merit and knowledge into a degree of contempt. They compose at most a merry fellow; and a merry fellow was never yet a respectable man.


  • A weak mind is like a microscope, which magnifies trifling things but cannot receive great ones.
- Possibly said by G. K. Chesterton

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