Life before email

Work today was a bit too boring to write a blog post about so, instead, I’m going to write about a man whose head I discovered in the V&A at lunchtime.

Philip Dormer Stanhope by Louis Francois Roubiliac (c1745)

This is the head of Philip Dormer Stanhope who eventually became the fourth Earl of Chesterfield. He had a long and distinguished political career, both in the Commons and the Lords as well as travelling the world in service of king and country…but that’s not what he’s best known for and not what I’m going to write about here.

He is best known for a book of letters which was published posthumously. It’s generally thought he would have hated that they were published, especially given they were never meant to be. They are merely letters from him to his son, Philip II, teaching him the many necessary things a man needs to know as he travels through life.

This may not seem so miraculous (or even interesting) but the thing is, Philip the Dad was prolific. He would write, on average, a letter each fortnight and, by the time he died, had written 448 letters to his son from the age of five to 36, the last letter having been written four weeks before he died.

Basically, these letters were a replacement for the university education that his son didn’t have. The letters taught him useful things like knowing how to talk to people, not to pick his nose, how to bait a hook and what to wear in mixed company. All perfectly valuable and sage advice.

And he’d be tested on the contents! So there’s no way Philip II could pretend to have read a letter because Philip I would quickly find out.

When the letters were published there was a mixed reaction. Dr Samuel Johnson, for instance, thought they were immoral and full of corruption, to be avoided at all costs. But Shellabarger said it was “…one of the world’s permanent books … an exquisite flower of civilisation.”

Samuel Shellabarger was an American educator, writer and scholar. That makes him sound quite dry and dull. However, he also wrote some memorable adventure novels, inspired by his youth spent in the company of his grandfather as they travelled the world together. But enough about Samuel…this is Philip I’s story. If you want to know more about Samuel, try here.

The different opinions of these two great men only goes to show how one man’s immorality is another man’s bloom.

The letters contain some lovely quotes such as:

“Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.”

Which most people would have heard of and:

“Never seem more learned than the people you are with. Wear your learning like a pocket watch and keep it hidden. Do not pull it out to count the hours, but give the time when you are asked.”

Which is always a welcome sign of good manners…if you ask me. I mean, no-one likes a smart arse, who thinks he knows everything about everything, do they?

So, hats off to old Philip Dormer Stanhope, man of letters and occasional politician.

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1 Response to Life before email

  1. Josephine Cook says:

    That was very interesting have never heard of him but still good to know.
    love mum x

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