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Selections from his Letters and Characters
ARRANGED AND EDITED BY
GEORGE BIRKBECK HILL, D.C.L.
PEMBROKE COLLEGE, Oxford
Studious they appear
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THE great secret of education,' says Adam Smith, 'is to
1 direct vanity to proper objects. If this is the great secret, then no man took more pains about it than the Earl of Chesterfield. He did more than direct it; he nourished and fanned its flame. Before the eyes of his son he dangled the most dazzling prizes—prizes which could only be won by a long and laborious course, in which no effort should be relaxed and not a single moment wasted. The boy had scarcely escaped from his cradle when his father placed himself by his side, and pointed out to him, up the long fight of steep steps, the Temple of Perfection crowning the heights. She was the goddess to whom all his vows were to be addressed; hers the Temple, lofty but not inaccessible, to which laboriously he must climb. Johnson's strong and indignant saying, by its partial truthfulness, has obscured the real nature of that long series of Letters in which Chesterfield trained his son. They did much more than teach a harlot's morals and a dancing-master's manners. In them we have slowly unfolded the whole art of living as conceived by a man of keen and polished intellect, who had not been idle in his study, and who had played a considerable parton
1 Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. 1801, ii. 153.