Authors: Philip Dormer Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

English politician and letter writer

September 22, 1694

London, England

March 24, 1773

London, England

Biography

Lord Chesterfield’s name has become so synonymous with courtly manners that it is easy to forget that he had a distinguished career in public affairs. He succeeded in 1726 as the fourth earl of Chesterfield. During his public life, he was twice ambassador to The Hague, secretary of state, negotiator of the second Treaty of Vienna (1731), and a very successful lord lieutenant of Ireland (1746). In 1755, he had a famous quarrel with Samuel Johnson on the publication of the latter’s dictionary, the story of which can be found in James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1791). {$I[AN]9810000358} {$I[A]Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, Lord} {$I[geo]ENGLAND;Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, Lord} {$I[tim]1694;Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, Lord}

The famous letters for which Lord Chesterfield is chiefly remembered were written to his illegitimate son, Philip. They were begun when the boy was young and were continued for years. The purpose was to teach the boy the easy elegance of manner that distinguished his father and to serve as a guide to the fashionable world. To some readers, the letters seem cold, artificial, and heartless; to others, they have much traditional eighteenth-century charm. It is ironic that the son never profited from the lessons; he married a woman of low birth and never assumed the position in the world for which his father had tried to prepare him. Philip predeceased Lord Chesterfield by five years.

Lord Chesterfield married Melusina von Schulemberg, illegitimate daughter of George I. They had no children, and a distant cousin succeeded him in the earldom after his death in 1773.

Author Works Nonfiction: The Case of the Hanover Forces, in the Pay of Great-Britain, Impartially and freely examined: With Some Seasonable Reflexions on the Present Conjuncture of Affairs, 1743 An Apology for a Late Resignation, 1748 Letters to His Son, 1774, 1776, 1787 (supplement) Characters of Eminent Personages of His Own Time, 1777, expanded 1778 Letters to His Godson, 1890 Private Correspondence of Chesterfield and Newcastle, 1744-46, 1930 (Richard Lodge, editor) Some Unpublished Letters of Lord Chesterfield, 1937 French Correspondence of Philip Dormer Stanhope, Fourth Earl of Chesterfield, 1980 (2 volumes) Miscellaneous: Miscellaneous Works of the Late Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, 1777 (2 volumes; J. O. Justomond, editor) Miscellaneous Works, Vol. III, 1778 (Benjamin Way, editor) Bibliography Coxon, Roger. Chesterfield and His Critics. London: G. Routledge & Sons, 1925. A collection of critical essays. Includes previously unpublished letters of Chesterfield's. Craig, William Henry. Life of Lord Chesterfield: An Account of the Ancestry, Personal Character, and Public Services of the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield. New York: John Lane, 1907. A dramatic biography of Chesterfield covering his parentage and detailing his political ambitions and personal relationships. Franklin, Colin. Lord Chesterfield: His Character and Characters. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1993. Contains Chesterfield's biographical sketches of his contemporaries, including George II. Also offers a sympathetic view of Chesterfield himself. Gulick, Sidney L. A Chesterfield Bibliography to 1800. 2d ed. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979. Provides publication details for Chesterfield's writings. Lamoine, Georges. “Lord Chesterfield’s Letters as Conduct-Books.” In The Crisis of Courtesy: Studies in the Conduct-Book in Britain, 1600-1900, edited by Jacques Carré. New York: E. J. Brill, 1994. Argues that Chesterfield's correspondence with his son, Philip, synthesizes the social norms and expectations of their day. Lucas, Frank L. The Search for Good Sense: Four Eighteenth Century Characters—Johnson, Chesterfield, Boswell, Goldsmith. New York: Macmillan, 1958. Contains an accessible biography of Chesterfield and his literary accomplishments. McKenzie, Alan T. “History, Genre, and Insight in the ‘Characters’ of Lord Chesterfield.” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, vol. 21, 1991, pp. 159–76. Contextualizes Chesterfield's Characters and examines the thematic and rhetorical content of those biographies. Shellabarger, Samuel. Lord Chesterfield and His World. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951. Recasts Chesterfield as a statesman, a caring father, and a representative of his time, in contrast with the foppish reputation he had gained in the public memory.

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