19th November 1750. Manners 18thc Style.

Philip Dormer Stanhope, the 18th century, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, influenced by his own childhood neglect, wrote improving letters to his illegitimate son Philip with the hope of making him a gentleman. (1)

The Letters give us some insight into the manners and etiquette considered essential for 18thc ‘Jane Austen’ gentlemen: ‘good breeding and a genteel manner and carriage can best be acquired by knowledge of dancing’.

Thus Samuel Johnson responded: ‘they teach the morals of a whore and manners of a dancing master’.

The letters were never meant for publication owing to their perceived immorality, not surprisingly when they were published they enjoyed great sales for the next 100 years.

Chesterfield House 1760.

Chesterfield House 1760.

However the Earl enjoined his son to smile, but not laugh: ‘You may be seen to smile…but there is nothing so illiberal and ill-bred as laughter’. [this was only for the mob in their silly joy!].

‘Nobody has heard me laugh’, the good Earl wrote. So that’s why Pride and Prejudice’s, Mr Darcy is so glum!

Then a letter dated Today in 1750 was on Orthography: ‘you spell Induce as Enduce and Grandeur as Grandure, two faults of which few of my housemaids would have been guilty…

orthography is absolutely necessary for a man of letters or a gentleman, and that one false spelling may fix ridicule upon him for the rest of his life’. Times have changed!

However you can lead a horse to water, but his son didn’t drink of the well, as he didn’t live up to expectations, not acquiring the gentlemanly graces and never rising in the Diplomatic Service being generally treated with disdain due to his illegitimacy.

He was even asked by the government to give up his seat as MP for Liskeard and St Germans receiving only £1,000, half of what he had paid for it.

More importantly Philip Stanhope didn’t marry well, a secret kept until his death (before his father); upon which his impoverished widow sold her husband’s letters for 1500 guineas.

His father the 4th Earl who had married the ‘natural’ daughter of George I, never had any legitimate heirs, he thus adopted his godson another Philip Stanhope (1755-1815), a distant cousin to succeed as the 5th Earl.

There must be a moral in all this!


Lord Chesterfield appears as a character in: Thackeray’s ‘Virginian’ (1857); Dickens’ ‘Barnaby Rudge’ (1841) where Sir John Chester says ‘Lord Chesterfield is the greatest England writer’.

(1) The Earl was to send 400 letters in 30 years to his son Philip Stanhope (1732-68) (the result of a liaison with a governess). Others went to his godson Philip (1755-1815).


wikipedia.org/4th_earl_of_chesterfield/Pic of Chesterfield House. Walford’s Old London.

Letters to his son to become a man of the world and gentleman. Philip Dormer Stanhope. Lord Chesterfield 1694-1773.

janeaustensworld.wordpress/Sketch of Johnson.



About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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