Lord Chesterfield, the Fourth Earl of Stanford, [1694-1773], sent a series of beautifully written letters to his son. Their content reveals how he could have been a master tweeter, and why he would never have embraced such low-class behaviour if twitter had existed in the 17th century.
The letters deserve their place in literary history. They reflect the attitudes towards those born to privilege and the steps believed necessary needed to succeed in life in the appropriately aristocratic fashion.
The letters were, naturally, never intended for public scutiny, but they were posthumously published and have become much-quoted and admired ever since. The advice reminds me time and again of those feel-good homilies tweeted and retweeted today.
Here are a few of his obsrvations, with some minimal editing to meet Twitter’s 140 character rule:
Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable…
…They who aim at perfection, and persevere, will come nearer to it than those who give it up as unattainable.
Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it..
…No idleness, no delay, no procrastination; never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
History is but a confused heap of facts.
A weak mind is like a microscope, which magnifies trifling things, but cannot receive great ones.
You must look into people, as well as at them.
Let your enemies be disarmed by the gentleness of your manner, but at the same time let them feel the steadiness of your resentment.
As fathers commonly go, it is seldom a misfortune to be fatherless…
…Considering the general run of sons, it is seldom a misfortune to be childless.
It is more necessary to conceal contempt than resentment; the former being never forgiven, but the latter sometimes forgot.
Six, or at most seven, hours’ sleep is as much as you or anybody can want: more is only laziness and dozing.
The noble Lord would have been a magnificent tweeter, although he would not have approved of such low-class self-publicizing. In imagination I see that in contrast, the giant of English letters, the foxy Dr Johnson, would have become a compulsive tweeter, and would have cheerfully embraced the financial opportunities offered through the social media.
The fruits of his efforts?
Lord Chesterfield hints at the challenges of parental care in the comments above. He was later to discover that his son had disregarded the parental warnings, and acted according to what his father regarded as baser instincts by marrying a commoner. One of his own pearls of wisdom suggested that no one should offer unsolicited advice. For all his sophistry, the noble Lord seems to have ignored his own judgement in that matter.