Monday, June 27, 2011

Lord Chesterfield

'On Sunday, June 27 [1784], I found him rather better...We this day dined at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, with General Paoli, Lord Eliot, (formerly Mr. Eliot, of Port Eliot,) Dr. Beattie, and some other company. Talking of Lord Chesterfield;--JOHNSON. 'His manner was exquisitely elegant, and he had more knowledge than I expected.' BOSWELL. 'Did you find, Sir, his conversation to be of a superiour style?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, in the conversation which I had with him I had the best right to superiority, for it was upon philology and strange that a man who shewed he had so much affection for his son as Lord Chesterfield did, by writing so many long and anxious letters to him, almost all of them when he was Secretary of State, which certainly was a proof of great goodness of disposition, should endeavour to make his son a rascal. His Lordship told us, that Foote had intended to bring on the stage a father who had thus tutored his son, and to shew the son an honest man to every one else, but practising his father's maxims upon him, and cheating him. JOHNSON. 'I am much pleased with this design; but I think there was no occasion to make the son honest at all. No; he should be a consummate rogue: the contrast between honesty and knavery would be the stronger. It should be contrived so that the father should be the only sufferer by the son's villainy, and thus there would be poetical justice.'...'

One gets a quick picture of Lord Chesterfield and his son from this snippet of conversation from Boswell's "Life of Johnson".  It is the son that is referred to in Sir Walter Scott's "St. Ronan's Well" (his own son being less than 10 at the time the novel is set - probably 1809-1812 according to E.U.'s Walter Scott archive).  St. Ronan's Well was Scott's unsuccessful foray into the realm of domestic manners:

'Shall I go with you, my dear?" said Lady Penelope.
"No—I have too great a soul for that—I think some of them are lions only as far as the hide is concerned."
"But why would you go so soon, Clara?"
"Because my errand is finished—have I not invited you and yours? and would not Lord Chesterfield himself allow I have done the polite thing?"

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