Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman by Phillip Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield

dr_james_hay_as_bear_leader2c_1704-1729This book came about accidentally. Lord Chesterfield was high officer in the British Government during the Eighteenth Century, and wanted his natural son to be able to follow in his footsteps, into the diplomatic service. To allow his son to overcome the disadvantage of being a bastard, Chesterfield paid for a magnificent, practical education, where the boy traveled to many of the great courts of Europe and was tutored in the social graces of the time. To supplement this education, Chesterfield sent him a stream of letters, containing a mixture of incisive and dubious advice. After his son died, Chesterfield discovered he had married a low-born wife, and fathered two sons. Chesterfield refused to maintain his daughter-in-law, but did pay a stipend toward the education of the boys. His daughter-in-law collected all of the letters her husband had retained and published them, to Chesterfield’s mortification, but the amusement of the rest of society.

The book is highly recommended for people who enjoy period pieces set in this time, as it contains the private thoughts of a man of substance about the role of ambassadors and gentlemen. I believe Chesterfield thought some of his letters would be intercepted and read, but he becomes less guarded once he retires from public life, and his son grows into manhood. It contains the sort of sexism you’d expect, but is surprisingly free of religious bigotry, which Chesterfield saw as ill-mannered. I enjoyed it, but as snatches rather than as a single long read. The epistolary format, each letter about eight minutes long, suits listening during commutes particularly well. The Librivox page contains ebook and eaudio download links.