1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of
CHESTERFIELD, PHILIP DORMER STANHOPE, 4th Earl of (1694–1773), son of Philip Stanhope, third earl (1673–1726), and Elizabeth Savile, daughter of George Savile, marquess of Halifax, was born in London on the 22nd of September 1694; Philip, the first earl (1584–1656), son of Sir John Stanhope of Shelford, was a royalist who in 1616 was created Baron Stanhope of Shelford, and in 1628 earl of Chesterfield; and his grandson the 2nd earl (1633–1714) was grandfather of the 4th earl. Deprived at an early age of his mother, the care of the boy devolved upon his grandmother, the marchioness of Halifax, a lady of culture and connexion, whose house was frequented by the most distinguished Whigs of the epoch. He soon began to prove himself possessed of that systematic spirit of conduct and effort which appeared so much in his life and character. His education, begun under a private tutor, was continued (1712) at Trinity Hall, Cambridge; here he remained little more than a year and seems to have read hard, and to have acquired a considerable knowledge of ancient and modern languages. The great orators of all times were a special object of study with him, and he describes his boyish pedantry pleasantly enough, but by no means without a touch of self-satisfaction in the memory. His university training was supplemented (1714) by a continental tour, untrammelled by a governor; at the Hague his ambition for the applause awarded to adventure made a gamester of him, and at Paris he began, from the same motive, that worship of the conventional Venus, the serious inculcation of which has earned for him the largest and most unenviable part of his reputation.
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 (afterwards first Earl Stanhope), the king’s favourite 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 James, duke of Ormonde, came before the House, he used the occasion (5th of 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 honourable member, that he wanted six weeks of his majority, and consequently that he was amenable to a fine of £500 for speaking in the House. Lord Stanhope quitted the Commons with a low bow and started for the continent. From Paris he rendered the government important service by gathering and transmitting information respecting the Jacobite plot; and in 1716 he returned to England, resumed his seat, and took frequent part in the debates. In that year came the quarrel between the king and the heir apparent. Stanhope, whose politic instinct 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 won for him the hatred of the princess of Wales (afterwards Queen Caroline). 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 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 Upper House, and his oratory, never effective in the Commons by reason of its want of force and excess of finish, at once became a power. In 1728 Chesterfield was sent to the Hague as ambassador. In this place his tact and temper, his dexterity and discrimination, enabled him to do good service, and he was rewarded with Walpole’s friendship, a Garter and the place of lord high steward. In 1732 there was born to him, by a certain Mlle du Bouchet, the son, Philip Stanhope, for whose advice and instruction were afterwards written the famous Letters. He negotiated the second treaty of Vienna in 1731, and in the next year, being somewhat broken in health and fortune, he resigned his embassy and returned to England.
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 favourite 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. 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 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 honour. 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 Bradley, the eminent mathematician, he distinguished himself greatly in the debates on the calendar, and succeeded in making the new style a fact. 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. 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 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.
In 1768 died Philip Stanhope, the child of so many hopes. The constant care bestowed by his father on his education resulted in an honourable 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 Schulemberg, illegitimate daughter of George I., whom he married in 1733, adopted his godson, a distant cousin, 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 24th of 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 falls 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. Against the charge of an undue insistence on the external graces of manner Chesterfield has been adequately defended by Lord Stanhope (History, iii. 34). Against the often iterated accusation of immorality, it should be remembered that the Letters reflected the morality of the age, and that their author only systematized and reduced to writing the principles of conduct by which, deliberately or unconsciously, the best and the worst of his contemporaries were governed.
The earldom of Chesterfield passed at his death to his godson, already mentioned, as 5th earl, and so to the latter’s son and grandson. On the death of the latter unmarried in 1871, it passed in succession to two collateral heirs, the 8th and 9th earls, and so in 1887 to the latter’s son as 10th earl.
See Chesterfield’s Miscellaneous Works (London, 1777, 2 vols. 4to); Letters to his Son, &c., edited by Lord Mahon (London, 1845–1853, 5 vols.); and Letters to his Godson (1890) (edited by the earl of Carnarvon). There are also editions of the first series of letters by J. Bradshaw (3 vols., 1892) and Mr C. Strachey (2 vols., 1901). In 1893 a biography, including numerous letters first published from the Newcastle Papers, was issued by Mr W. Ernst; and in 1907 appeared an elaborate Life by W. H. Craig. (A. D.)