Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (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 London, and educated at Cambridge and then went on the Grand Tour of the continent. The death of Anne and the accession of George I opened up a career for him and brought him back to England. His relative James Stanhope, the king's favorite minister, procured for him the place of gentleman of the bedchamber to the Prince of Wales. In 1715 he entered the House of Commons as Lord Stanhope of Shelford and member for St Germans, and when the impeachment of the Duke of Ormonde, came before the House, he used the occasion (5 August 1715) to put to proof his old rhetorical studies.
His maiden speech was youthfully fluent and dogmatic; but on its conclusion the orator was reminded with many compliments, by an honorable member, that he was six weeks short of his majority, and consequently that he was liable to a fine of £500 for speaking in the House. Lord Stanhope left the Commons with a low bow and set out for the continent. From Paris he sent the government valuable information about the Jacobite plot; and in 1716 he returned to Britain, resumed his seat, and took frequent part in the debates. In that year came the quarrel between the king and the Prince of Wales. Stanhope, whose political instincts obliged him to worship the rising rather than the setting sun, remained faithful to the prince, though he was too cautious to break entirely with the king's party. He was on friendly terms with the prince's mistress, Henrietta Howard, afterwards Countess of Suffolk. He maintained a correspondence with this lady which earned him the hatred of the Princess of Wales. In 1723 a vote for the government got him the place of captain of the Gentlemen Pensioners. In January 1725, on the revival of the Order of the Bath, the red riband was offered to him, but was declined.
In 1726 his father died, and Lord Stanhope became Earl of Chesterfield. He took his seat in the House of Lords, and his oratory, which had been ineffective in the Commons, was suddenly appreciated. In 1728 Chesterfield was sent to the Hague as ambassador. His tact and temper, his dexterity and discrimination, enabled him to do good service, and he was rewarded with Robert Walpole's friendship, the Order of the Garter, and the position of Lord Steward. In 1732 there was born to him, by a certain Mlle du Bouchet, the son, Philip Stanhope, for whose advice and instruction at Westminster School were afterwards written the famous Letters to his Son. He negotiated the second Treaty of Vienna in 1731, and in the next year, his health and fortune damaged, he resigned as ambassador and returned to Britain.
A few months' rest enabled him to resume his seat in the Lords, of which he was one of the acknowledged leaders. He supported the ministry, but his allegiance was not the blind fealty Walpole exacted of his followers. The Excise Bill, the great premier's favorite measure, was vehemently opposed by him in the Lords, and by his three brothers in the Commons. Walpole bent before the storm and abandoned the measure; but Chesterfield was summarily dismissed from his stewardship. For the next two years he led the opposition in the Upper House, leaving no stone unturned to effect Walpole's downfall. During this time, he resided in Grosvenor Square and got involved in the creation of a new London charity called the Foundling Hospital for which he was a founding governor. In 1741 he signed the protest for Walpole's dismissal and went abroad on account of his health.
He visited Voltaire at Brussels and spent some time in Paris, where he associated with the younger Crebillon, Fontenelle and Montesquieu. In 1742 Walpole fell, and Carteret was his real, though not his nominal successor. Although Walpole's administration had been overthrown largely by Chesterfield's efforts the new ministry did not count Chesterfield either in its ranks or among its supporters. He remained in opposition, distinguishing himself by the courtly bitterness of his attacks on George II, who learned to hate him violently.
In 1743 a new journal, Old England; or, the Constitutional Journal appeared. For this paper Chesterfield wrote under the name of "Jeffrey Broadbottom." A number of pamphlets, in some of which Chesterfield had the help of Edmund Waller, followed. His energetic campaign against George II and his government won the gratitude of the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough, who left him £20,000 as a mark of her appreciation. In 1744 the king was compelled to abandon Carteret, and the coalition or "Broad Bottom" party, led by Chesterfield and Pitt, came into office in coalition with the Pelhams. In the troublous state of European politics the earl's conduct and experience were more useful abroad than at home, and he was sent to the Hague as ambassador a second time. The object of his mission was to persuade the Dutch to join in the War of the Austrian Succession and to arrange the details of their assistance. The success of his mission was complete; and on his return a few weeks afterwards he received the Lord-Lieutenancy of Ireland, a place he had long coveted.
Short as it was, Chesterfield's Irish administration was of great service to his country, and is unquestionably that part of his political life which does him most honor. To have conceived and carried out a policy which, with certain reservations, Burke himself might have originated and owned, is indeed no small title to regard. The Earl showed himself finely capable in practice as in theory, vigorous and tolerant, a man to be feared and a leader to be followed; he took the government entirely into his own hands, repressed the jobbery traditional to the office, established schools and manufactures, and at once conciliated and kept in check the Orange and Roman Catholic factions. In 1746, however, he had to exchange the lord-lieutenancy for the place of Secretary of State. With a curious respect for those theories his familiarity with the secret social history of France had caused him to entertain, he hoped and attempted to retain a hold over the king through the influence of Lady Yarmouth, though the futility of such means had already been demonstrated to him by his relations with Queen Caroline's "ma bonne Howard." The influence of Newcastle and Sandwich, however, was too strong for him; he was thwarted and over-reached; and in 1748 he resigned the seals, and returned to cards and his books with the admirable composure which was one of his most striking characteristics. He declined any knowledge of the Apology for a late Resignation, in a Letter from an English Gentleman to his Friend at The Hague, which ran through four editions in 1748, but there is little doubt that he was, at least in part, the author.
The dukedom offered him by George II, whose ill-will his fine tact had overcome, was refused. He continued for some years to attend the Upper House, and to take part in its proceedings. In 1751, seconded by Lord Macclesfield, president of the Royal Society, and James Bradley, the eminent mathematician, he distinguished himself greatly in the debates on the calendar, and succeeded in making the new style a fact: the Act of Parliament is sometimes known as Chesterfield's Act. Deafness, however, was gradually affecting him, and he withdrew little by little from society and the practice of politics. In 1755 occurred the famous dispute with Johnson over the dedication to the English Dictionary. In 1747 Johnson sent Chesterfield, who was then Secretary of State, a prospectus of his Dictionary, which was acknowledged by a subscription of 10 pounds. Chesterfield apparently took no further interest in the enterprise, and the book was about to appear, when he wrote two papers in the World in praise of it. It was said that Johnson was kept waiting in the anteroom when he called while the actor Colley Cibber was admitted. In any case the doctor had expected more help from a professed patron of literature, and wrote the earl the famous letter in defence of men of letters. Chesterfield's "respectable Hottentot," now identified with George, Lord Lyttelton, was long supposed, though on slender grounds, to be a portrait of Johnson. During the twenty years of life that followed this episode, Chesterfield wrote and read a great deal, but went little into society.
He lived for some years at the Ranger's House, Chesterfield Walk, Greenwich, London.
In 1768 died Philip Stanhope, the child of so many hopes. The constant care bestowed by his father on his education resulted in an honorable but not particularly distinguished career for young Stanhope. His death was an overwhelming grief to Chesterfield, and the discovery that he had long been married to a lady of humble origin must have been galling in the extreme to his father after his careful instruction in worldly wisdom. Chesterfield, who had no children by his wife, Melusina von der Schulenburg, Countess of Walsingham, an illegitimate daughter of George I by Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, Duchess of Kendal and Munster, whom he married in 1733, adopted his godson, a distant cousin, also named Philip Stanhope (1755-1815), as heir to the title and estates.
His famous jest (which even Johnson allowed to have merit), "Tyrawley and I have been dead these two years, but we don't choose to have it known," is the best description possible of his humour and condition during the latter part of this period of decline. To the deafness was added blindness, but his memory and his fine manners only left him with life; his last words ("Give Dayrolles a chair") prove that he had neither forgotten his friend nor the way to receive him. He died on the 24 March 1773.
Chesterfield was selfish, calculating and contemptuous; he was not naturally generous, and he practised dissimulation till it became part of his nature. In spite of his brilliant talents and of the admirable training he received, his life, on the whole, cannot be pronounced a success. His anxiety and the pains he took to become an orator have been already noticed, and Horace Walpole, who had heard all the great orators, preferred a speech of Chesterfield's to any other; yet the earl's eloquence is not to be compared with that of Pitt. Samuel Johnson, who was not perhaps the best judge in the world, pronounced his manners to have been exquisitely elegant; yet as a courtier he was utterly worsted by Robert Walpole, whose manners were anything but refined, and even by Newcastle. He desired to be known as a protector of letters and literary men; and his want of heart or head over the Dictionary dedication, though explained and excused by Croker, none the less inspired the famous change in a famous line "Toil, envy, want, the patron, and the jail." His published writings have had with posterity a very indifferent success; his literary reputation rests on a volume of letters never designed to appear in print. The son for whom he worked so hard and thought so deeply failed especially where his father had most desired he should succeed.
As a politician and statesman, Chesterfield's fame rests on his short but brilliant administration of Ireland. As an author he was a clever essayist and epigrammatist. But he stands or fails by the Letters to his Son, first published by Stanhope's widow in 1774, and the Letters to his Godson (1890). The Letters are brilliantly written, full of elegant wisdom, of keen wit, of admirable portrait-painting, of exquisite observation and deduction.
Chesterfield County, Virginia and Chesterfield County, South Carolina in the United States were named in his honor.
Among the quotations attributed to him are:
The Earl of Derby
|Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard
The Earl of Leicester
The Duke of Dorset
The Duke of Devonshire
The Duke of Devonshire
|Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
The Earl of Harrington
The Earl of Harrington
The Duke of Newcastle
|Earl of Chesterfield