If any man deserves to be called a man of letters, it’sÂ Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield.
This 17th century patron of literature owes much of his posthumous reputation to the series of letters he wrote to his illegitimate son in which he bestowed worldly wisdom as he saw it.
Here’s an excerpt from one of the letters:
Women, then, are only children of a larger growth; they have an entertaining tattle, and sometimes wit; but for solid, reasoning good sense, I never in my life knew one that had it, or who reasoned or acted consequentially for four-and-twenty hours together. Some little passion or humour always breaks in upon their best resolutions. Their beauty neglected or controverted, their age increased, or their supposed understandings depreciated, instantly kindles their little passions, and overturns any systems of consequential conduct, that in their most reasonable moments they have been capable of forming. A man of sense only trifles with them, plays with them, humours and flatters them, as he does with a sprightly, forward child; but he neither consults them about, nor trusts them with,Â serious matters, though he often makes believe he does both; which is the thing in the world that they are proud of, for they love mightily to be dabbling in business (which, by the way, they always spoil); and being justly distrustful that men in general look upon them in a trifling light, they almost adore that man, who talks more seriously to them, and who seems to consult and trust them: I say, who seems; for weak men really do, but wise ones only seem to do it. No flattery is either too high or too low for them. They will greedily swallow the highest, and gratefully accept of the lowest; and you may safely flatter any woman, from her understanding, down to the exquisite taste of her fan. Women who are either indisputably beautiful, or indisputably ugly, are best flattered upon the score of their undestandings: 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, but not hearing often that she is so, is the more grateful and the more obliged to the few who tell her so: whereas a decided and conscious beauty looks upon every tribute paid to her beauty only as her due, but wants to shine and to be considered on the side of her understanding: and a woman who is ugly enough to know that she is, knows that she has nothing left for it but her understanding, which is, consequently (and probably in more senses than one) her weak side.
– Lord Chesterfield, Letters to his Son.
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