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PHILIP DORMER STANHOPE, LORD CHESTERFIELD 1694–1773
Philip Dormer Stanhope, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield, was something more than the mere cynical authority on deportment that history describes him. He came of a noble line of statesmen, soldiers, and men of letters, and was himself a person of strong abilities and wide accomplishments. His cultivation of society polish, and the more deliberate and elaborate arts whereby a man insinuates himself into the favor of those above him, and wins the approval of women, for good purposes or evil ones—these were but the #. that he put upon the inner structure of qualities and education which nature and opportunity had furnished him with, and which were designed to give the nobler elements their best effect. He was a man who, in a less artificial and corrupt environment, might have been a good and lovable as well as a clever and successful man; but he lived at a period when to be an intriguer in society and politics, a courtier and a man of fashion, was the height of social ambition, and the way to substantial power and rewards; and Chesterfield thus became the leader in a direction which he might otherwise not have pursued at all. He elevated politeness into a science, and manners into philosophy; or we might put it that he degraded philosophy into behavior. At all events, he is not unjustly renowned for this rather than for other achievements, inasmuch as he therein opened a new field, but one which has been since then widely cultivated. He and La Rochefoucauld, the author of the “Maxims,” together supplied the accoutrements with which the man of the world of the eighteenth century could equip himself. His letters to his son, which were not written for publication (though they were published immediately upon their author's death), have had a much more visible effect upon later ages than they had upon the stupid and clumsy individual for whom they were intended.
Lord Chesterfield took a course at Cambridge University, and then entered the diplomatic service, and when he was about fifty years of age, was appointed to the considerable office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He was always well disposed towards literature, and was one of the eminent persons whose names are associated with Samuel Johnson's famous dictionary; though not in a manner reflecting credit upon himself. But he gave Johnson the opportunity to write him a letter which has served as a model of manly independence for literary men ever since; Johnson's irony turning upon the point that Chesterfield had neglected him when his favor might have advanced the cause of learning, and noticed him only when it had become evident that learning no longer needed a patron, but on the contrary was in a position to reflect honor upon himself.
The oratory of Chesterfield was such as might be looked for in a man of his varied talents and knowledge of the world; it lacks the higher qualities, perhaps because it was not exerted in high causes; but it has merit enough to deserve preservation.
THE GIN ACT
HE bill" now under our consideration appears to me to deserve a much closer regard than seems to have been paid to it in the other House, through which it was hurried with the utmost precipitation, and where it passed almost without the formality of a debate. Nor can I think that earnestness with which some lords seem inclined to press it forward here consistent with the importance of the consequences which may with great reason be expected from it. To desire, my lords, that this bill may be considered in a committee, is only to desire that it may gain one step without opposition, that it may proceed through the forms of the House by stealth, and that the consideration of it may be delayed till the exigencies of the Government shall be so great as not to allow time for raising the supplies by any other method. By this artifice, gross as it is, the patrons of this wonderful bill hope to obstruct a plain and open detection of its tendency. They hope, my lords, that the bill shall operate in the same manner with the liquor which it is intended to bring into more general use; and that, as those who drink spirits are drunk before they are well aware that they are drinking, the effects of this law shall be perceived before we know that we have made it. Their intent is to give us a dram of policy, which is to be swallowed before it is tasted, and which, when once it is swallowed, will turn our heads. But, my lords, I hope we shall be so cautious as to examine the draught which these state empirics have thought proper to offer us; and I am confident that a very little examination will convince us of the pernicious qualities of their new preparation, and show that it can have no other effect than that of poisoning the public. The law before us, my lords, seems to be the effect of that practice of which it is intended likewise to be the cause, and to be dictated by the liquor of which it so effectually promotes the use; for surely it never before was conceived, by any man intrusted with the administration of public affairs, to raise taxes by the destruction of the people. Nothing, my lords, but the destruction of all the most laborious and useful part of the nation can be expected from the license which is now proposed to be given, not only to drunkenness, but to drunkenness of the most detestable and dangerous kind; to the abuse not only of intoxicating, but of poisonous liquors. Nothing, my lords, is more absurd than to assert that the use of spirits will be hindered by the bill now before us, or indeed that it will not be in a very great degree promoted by it. For what produces all kind of wickedness but the prospect of impunity on one part, or the solicitation of opportunity on the other? Either of these have too frequently been sufficient to overpower the sense of morality, and even of religion; and what is not to be feared from them when they shall unite their force and operate together, when temptations shall be increased, and terror taken away? It is allowed by those who have hitherto disputed on either side of this question, that the people appear obstinately enamored of this new liquor. It is allowed on both parts that this liquor corrupts the mind and enervates the body, and destroys vigor and virtue, at the same time that it makes those who drink it too idle and feeble for work; and, while it impoverishes them by the present expense, disables them from retrieving its ill consequences by subsequent industry. It might be imagined, my lords, that those who had thus far agreed would not easily find any occasions of dispute. Nor would any man, unacquainted with the motives by which parliamentary debates are too often influenced, suspect that after the pernicious qualities of this liquor, and the general inclination among the people to the immoderate use of it, had been thus fully admitted, it could be afterward inquired whether it ought to be made more common; whether this universal thirst for poison ought to be encouraged by the legislature, and whether a new statute ought to be made to secure drunkards in the gratification of their appetites.
1 This speech was delivered in the By the revenue thus gained it was proHouse of rds, February 21, 1743, on posed to carry on the German war of a bill for granting licenses to ginshops. George II
To pretend, my lords, that the design of this bill is to prevent or diminish the use of spirits, is to trample upon common-sense, and to violate the rules of decency as well as of reason. For when did any man hear that a commodity was prohibited by licensing its sale, or that to offer and refuse is the same action? It is indeed pleaded that it will be made dearer by the tax which is proposed, and that the increase of the price will diminish the number of the purchasers; but it is at the same time expected that this tax shall supply the expense of a war on the Continent. It is asserted, therefore, that the consumption of spirits will be hindered, and yet that it will be such as may be expected to furnish, from a very small tax, a revenue sufficient for the support of armies, for the re-establishment of the Austrian family, and the repressing of the attempts of France. Surely, my lords, these expectations are not very consistent; nor can it be imagined that they are both formed in the same head, though they may be expressed by the same mouth. It is, however, some recommendation of a statesman when, of his assertions, one can be found reasonable or true, and in this, praise cannot be denied to our present ministers. For though it is undoubtedly false that this tax will lessen the consumption of spirits, it is certainly true that it will produce a very large revenue—a revenue that will not fail but with the people from whose debaucheries it arises. Our ministers will therefore have the same honor with their predecessors, of having given rise to a new fund; not indeed for the payment of our debts, but for much more valuable purposes; for the cheering of our hearts under oppression, and for the ready support of those debts which we have lost all hopes of paying. They are resolved, my lords, that the nation which no endeavors can make wise, shall, while they are at its head, at least be very merry; and, since public happiness is the end of government, they seem to imagine that they shall deserve applause by an expedient which will enable every man to lay his cares asleep, to drown sorrow, and lose in the delights of drunkenness both the public miseries and his own. Luxury, my lords, is to be taxed, but vice prohibited, let the difficulties in executing the law be what they will. Would you lay a tax on the breach of the ten commandments? Would not