“Dispatch Is the Soul of Business”


Advice sent by Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694–1773), to his son Philip on how to attain success in the world:

  • Be wiser than other people if you can; but do not tell them so.
  • An injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult.
  • Without some dissimulation no business can be carried on at all.
  • I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason, nobody has ever heard me laugh.
  • The manner is often as important as the matter, sometimes more so.
  • Speak of the moderns without contempt, and of the ancients without idolatry.
  • I really know nothing more criminal, more mean, and more ridiculous than lying. It is the production either of malice, cowardice, or vanity; and generally misses of its aim in every one of these views; for lies are always detected, sooner or later.
  • Never seem wiser, nor more learned, than the people you are with. Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket: and do not pull it out and strike it; merely to show that you have one.
  • The characteristic of a well-bred man is, to converse with his inferiors without insolence, and with his superiors with respect and with ease.
  • Knowledge may give weight, but accomplishments give luster, and many more people see than weigh.
  • It is a great advantage for any man to be able to talk or hear, neither ignorantly nor absurdly, upon any subject; for I have known people, who have not said one word, hear ignorantly and absurdly; it has appeared by their inattentive and unmeaning faces.
  • A proper secrecy is the only mystery of able men; mystery is the only secrecy of weak and cunning ones.
  • In short, let it be your maxim through life, to know all you can know, yourself; and never to trust implicitly to the informations of others.
  • It is an undoubted truth, that the less one has to do, the less time one finds to do it in. One yawns, one procrastinates, one can do it when one will, and therefore one seldom does it at all.
  • It is commonly said, and more particularly by Lord Shaftesbury, that ridicule is the best test of truth.
  • Let blockheads read what blockheads wrote.
  • The reputation of generosity is to be purchased pretty cheap; it does not depend so much upon a man’s general expense, as it does upon his giving handsomely where it is proper to give at all. A man, for instance, who should give a servant four shillings, would pass for covetous, while he who gave him a crown, would be reckoned generous; so that the difference of those two opposite characters, turns upon one shilling.
  • Let this be one invariable rule of your conduct — never to show the least symptom of resentment, which you cannot, to a certain degree, gratify; but always to smile, where you cannot strike.

“I wish to God,” he wrote in 1750, “that you had as much pleasure in following my advice, as I have in giving it to you.”

(From Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1774.)