Letters to His Son "Idleness Is Only The Refuge Of Weak Minds"

Philip DormerStanhope, Lord Chesterfield

"Idleness Is Only The Refuge Of Weak Minds"

Context: Lord Chesterfield was determined to train his son Philip to be an accomplished English Gentleman, statesman, and man of the world; and in his letters he spared no pains to give the young man sound advice. Philip, though illegitimate, was loved by his father, and Chesterfield had great hopes for him. However, the boy did not fulfill his father's hopes; he never became a real devotee of the stylized life of grace, manner, and formula that marked the truly polished and successful gentleman. He died young, leaving a wife and two young sons; Chesterfield, who had not known of their existence, was delighted with all three and undertook their support. The letters Chesterfield wrote to Philip deal for the most part with manners and deportment, the various niceties of social usage, and other habits and accomplishments necessary to success. Philip worked for the British government, his work taking him to various places in Europe; Chesterfield corresponded with him voluminously and faithfully, doing his best to smooth Philip's path and to prepare him for whatever situations he might face. In his letter of July 20, 1749, he chides Philip for neglecting to answer a letter from a friend who is not without influence: "Those attentions ought never to be omitted; they cost little, and please a great deal; but the neglect of them offends more than you can imagine. Great merit, or great failings, will make you respected or despised; but trifles, little attentions, mere nothings, either done, or neglected, will make you either liked or disliked, in the general run of the world. . . . Moral virtues are the foundation of society in general, and of friendship in particular; but attentions, manners, and graces, both adorn and strengthen them." He follows this counsel with an inquiry concerning Philip's health, which has been poor; then tells Philip he has sent a letter of thanks to one Mr. Firmian:

. . . I hope you write to him too, from time to time. The letters of recommendation of a man of his merit and learning will, to be sure, be of great use to you among the learned world in Italy; that is, provided you take care to keep up to the character he gives you in them; otherwise they will only add to your disgrace.
Consider that you have lost a good deal of time by your illness; fetch it up now that you are well. At present you should be a good economist of your moments, of which company and sights will claim a considerable share; so that those which remain for study must be not only attentively, but greedily employed. But indeed I do not suspect you of one single moment's idleness in the whole day. Idleness is only the refuge of weak minds, and the holiday of fools. I do not call good company and liberal pleasures, idleness; far from it: I recommend to you a good share of both.