Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

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While continuing to attend and participate in the Upper House's proceedings, Lord Chesterfield turned down the dukedom offered to him by George II, whose wrath had melted in the face of Chesterfield's diplomacy and rhetoric. In 1751, seconded by George Parker, 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, the president of the Royal Society, and the mathematician James Bradley, Chesterfield greatly distinguished himself in the debates on establishing a definitive calendar for Britain and the Commonwealth. With the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, he successfully established the Gregorian calendar and a calendar year that began on 1 January for Great Britain, which had lagged behind other European countries in adopting the Gregorian Calendar. Informally, the Act was also known as the "Chesterfield's Act". After this, he gradually started to withdraw from politics and society because of his growing deafness. [2]

In 1755, he and Samuel Johnson had a dispute over A Dictionary of the English Language . Eight years previously, Johnson had sent Chesterfield an outline of his Dictionary, along with a business offer for promoting the proposed work; Chesterfield agreed and invested £10. Although Chesterfield wrote two anonymous articles for World magazine shortly before the dictionary's publication praising both Johnson's exhaustive editorial work and the dictionary itself, Johnson was disappointed at the lack of interest in the project from Lord Chesterfield during compilation of the dictionary. Upset with what he saw as a lack of support from an avowed man of letters and patron of literature, Johnson wrote the Letter to Chesterfield , which dealt with the dynamics of the patron–artist relationship. [2] Chesterfield was not offended by the letter but rather, was impressed by its language. After receiving it, he displayed it on a table for visitors to read and, according to Robert Dodsley, said "This man has great powers" and then he "pointed out the severest passages, and observed how well they were expressed". Adams told Johnson what was said, and Johnson responded, "That is not Lord Chesterfield; he is the proudest man this day". Adams responded, "No, there is one person at least as proud; I think, by your own account, you are the prouder man of the two". Johnson, finishing, said, "But mine, was defensive pride". [6]

In the 1760s, Chesterfield offered a cogent critique of the Stamp Act 1765 passed through Parliament by George Grenville's ministry. In a letter to his friend, the Duke of Newcastle, Chesterfield noted the absurdity of the Stamp Act because it could not be properly enforced, but if made effective, the Act would anyway generate a revenue no greater than £8,000 per year, but the annual cost of reduced trade from the American colonies would be about £1,000,000. [7]

Letters to His Son

Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield by William Hoare. Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield by William Hoare.jpg
Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield by William Hoare.

Eugenia Stanhope, the impoverished widow of Chesterfield's illegitimate son, Philip Stanhope, was the first to publish the book Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman (1774), which comprises a thirty-year correspondence in more than 400 letters. Begun in 1737 and continued until the death of his son in 1768, Chesterfield wrote mostly instructive communications about geography, history, and classical literature, with later letters focusing on politics and diplomacy. The letters were written in French, English and Latin to refine his son's grasp of the languages.

As a handbook for worldly success in the 18th century, the Letters to His Son give perceptive and nuanced advice for how a gentleman should interpret the social codes of etiquette and good manners:

... However frivolous a company may be, still, while you are among them, do not show them, by your inattention, that you think them so; but rather take their tone, and conform in some degree to their weakness, instead of manifesting your contempt for them. There is nothing that people bear more impatiently, or forgive less, than contempt; and an injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult. If, therefore, you would rather please than offend, rather be well than ill spoken of, rather be loved than hated; remember to have that constant attention about you which flatters every man's little vanity; and the want of which, by mortifying his pride, never fails to excite his resentment, or at least his ill will.... [8]

Samuel Johnson said of the letters that "they teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing-master" as a means for getting on in the world, implying that Chesterfield promoted good manners as a method of advancement rather than because of their inherent moral value. [9]

Despite having been an accomplished essayist and epigrammatist in his time, Lord Chesterfield's literary reputation today derives almost entirely from Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman (1774) and Letters to His Godson (1890), books of private correspondence and paternal and avuncular advice that he never intended for publication. [2]

Need for legitimate heir

Chesterfield House in 1760 (Old & New London, 1878) ChesterfieldHouse1760.jpg
Chesterfield House in 1760 (Old & New London, 1878)

In 1768 Chesterfield's illegitimate son, Philip Stanhope, died in France of dropsy, leaving his widow, Eugenia Stanhope and their two illegitimate sons, Charles and Philip. Despite his short life, the privileged education provided by his father had enabled for Philip a career in the diplomatic service, despite being handicapped as a nobleman's illegitimate son. The grieving Chesterfield was disappointed to learn of Philip's long and mostly secret relationship (they married the year before his death) with Eugenia, a woman of a humble social class, since that was a topic that he had covered at length in the Letters to his Son. However, Lord Chesterfield bequeathed an annuity of £100 to each of his grandsons, Charles Stanhope (1761–1845) and Philip Stanhope (1763–1801), and a further £10,000 for them both, but left no pension for Eugenia. It was that lack of funds that led her to sell the Letters to his Son to a publisher. [2]

Left without a legitimate heir to his lands and property (he and his wife had no children together) Lord Chesterfield acted to protect his hereditary interests by adopting his distant cousin and godson, Philip Stanhope (1755–1815), a descendant of the 1st Earl of Chesterfield, as his heir and successor to the title of Earl of Chesterfield. [2]


Chesterfield died on 24 March 1773, at Chesterfield House, Westminster, his London townhouse. His godson and adopted heir then became Philip Stanhope, 5th Earl of Chesterfield. [10]


In literature

Decades after his death, Lord Chesterfield appears as a character in William Makepeace Thackeray's novel The Virginians (1857). He is also mentioned in Charles Dickens' novel Barnaby Rudge (1841), wherein the foppish Sir John Chester says that Lord Chesterfield is the finest English writer: [11]

Shakespeare was undoubtedly very fine in his way; Milton good, though prosy; Lord Bacon deep, and decidedly knowing; but the writer who should be his country's pride, is my Lord Chesterfield.


In the UK, Chesterfield gave his name to Chesterfield Street, Mayfair, London, which runs from Curzon Street, site of the former Chesterfield House; in the US, his name has been given to Chesterfield County, Virginia, and Chesterfield County, South Carolina. There is also a Chesterfield Road in the West Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh filled with rowhouses, formerly known for its punk subculture. [12]


The first leather Chesterfield sofa, with its distinctive deep-buttoned, quilted leather upholstery and lower seat base, is believed to have been commissioned by Lord Chesterfield. Consequently, in the UK, the word chesterfield now describes such a sofa, with arms and back of the same height. In Canada, chesterfield used to be the predominant term for any type of couch, but has been decreasing in popularity among the younger generations. [13]


Vincent La Chapelle, a French master cook, wrote The Modern Cook while in the employ of Lord Chesterfield, and lived abroad with him in The Hague. After leaving Chesterfield's service, La Chapelle went on to cook for – among others – William IV, Prince of Orange, John V of Portugal, and Madame de Pompadour (mistress of Louis XV of France). [14]

Chesterfield coats, popularized by the 6th Earl, are woollen overcoats with velvet on the collar for both men and women.

D. G. Yuengling & Son of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, produces a beer named Lord Chesterfield Ale after[ citation needed ] the 4th Earl of Chesterfield.

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  1. Lee, Sidney, ed. (1898). "Stanhope, Philip Dormer"  . Dictionary of National Biography . Vol. 54. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 06 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  3. "Stanhope, Philip Dormer (STNP712PD)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. "Felix Phoenix". 5 November 2012. Archived from the original on 10 December 2013.
  5. The Gentleman's Magazine. W. Pickering. 1839.
  6. Bate, Walter Jackson (1977). Samuel Johnson (1st ed.). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN   0151792607. OCLC   2837542.
  7. Barbara Tuchman, "The March of Folly", p. 158, 1984.
  8. "Letters to His Son Quotes -". eNotes. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  9. Mayo, Christopher. "Letters To His Son". The Literary Encyclopedia, 25 February 2007 accessed 30 November 2011.
  10. "Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th earl of Chesterfield | English writer | Britannica". Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  11. Dickens, Charles (1874). Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of "Eighty". Chapman & Hall. p. 89. LCCN   15020304 via
  12. Meinzer, Melissa (26 May 2005). "Rock and Cobblestones". Pittsburgh City Paper . Steel City Media. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  13. "What is a chesterfield? | Entangled English". Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  14. Patrick, Rambourg (2010). Histoire de la cuisine et de la gastronomie françaises : du Moyen Âge au XXe siècle. Paris: Perrin. ISBN   9782262033187. OCLC   708380012.

Further reading

The Earl of Chesterfield
Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield by Allan Ramsay.jpg
Portrait by Allan Ramsay, 1765
Secretary of State for the Northern Department
In office
29 October 1746 6 February 1748
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by Member of Parliament for St Germans
With: John Knight
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Lostwithiel
With: Marquess of Hartington
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard
Succeeded by
Preceded by Lord Steward
Succeeded by
Preceded by Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
Succeeded by
Preceded by Northern Secretary
Succeeded by
Peerage of England
Preceded by Earl of Chesterfield
Succeeded by