Saturday, August 27

Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to his son

This book, was one which we had while I was growing up. I dont even know how we managed to get hold of a copy. I suspect it comes down to us from my mother’s uncle. He was a doctor in Allahabad and an extremely well read man. He had hundreds of books in his library and used to sit down on his teak recliner and read and read and read. Amongst the various influences on me, he is one of the biggest ones. He (and my uncle) are the two biggest influences on me as far as my bibliography goes. When he died too young, I inherited quite a ton of his books by Agatha Christie, Pearl S. Buck, Peter Cheney, Peter Mason, and and and. Anyway, amongst all those books, was this book, Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his son. I quote the blurb from Amazon:

`My object is to have you fit to live; which, if you are not, I do not desire that you should live at all.' So wrote Lord Chesterfield in one of the most celebrated and controversial correspondences between a father and son. Chesterfield wrote almost daily to his natural son, Philip, from 1737 onwards, providing him with instruction in etiquette and the worldly arts. Praised in their day as a complete manual of education, and despised by Samuel Johnson for teaching `the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing-master', these letters reflect the political craft of a leading statesman and the urbane wit of a man who associated with Pope, Addison, and Swift. The letters reveal Chesterfield's political cynicism and his belief that his country had `always been goverened by the only two or three people, out of two or three millions, totally incapable of governing', as well as his views on good breeding. Not originally intended for publication, this entertaining correspondence illuminates fascinating aspects of eighteenth-century life and manners.

I liked that idea, to write to your son, to ensure that he gets the benefit of your experience. he doesnt need to follow them, but at least we have done our bit to pass on our thoughts. So as per my plan, I wanted to do something similar to my eldest cost centre from his 15th year onwards, which is this year. Why 15th? Well, it was a judgement call, whether or not he would be receptive to some of the more philosophical questions and points that one is raising. Is he an adult to appreciate the points? Furthermore, I dont have that much time to write to him daily, but what I can do is to pick up long essays or notes from the net, add few lines to it and chuck it across to him.

While on holiday, it turns out that he is reading them but not reacting to me by email. That’s fine, I understand, as long as he reads it, that’s the best I think I can hope for now. He can then debate, masticate, ignore, review, whatever. I am reminded of Sir Francis Bacon’s quote:

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

Same with my missives. And then I figured, might as well as blog them, that can perhaps be used by others and they can also give me guidance on what I might have missed. Or add further advice or guidance. So will start posting them one by one every now and then.

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