Letters to His Son "Take Care Of The Minutes; For Hours Will Take Care Of Themselves"

Philip DormerStanhope, Lord Chesterfield

"Take Care Of The Minutes; For Hours Will Take Care Of Themselves"

Context: The letters of Lord Chesterfield to his son were never meant for publication. As he told the boy, "My father was neither desirous nor able to advise me." So he wrote many letters of counsel in order that his son should never make that reproach against him. He was well fitted to give advice. He made the tour of Europe after graduation without the insular viewpoint that prevented so many of his countrymen from gaining its advantages. He could preach tolerance and understanding. He could warn against gambling from bitter personal experience, and as one who learned manners in Paris and courtly behaviour at the court of George II, he could write about "The Graces." In 1733, Philip Stanhope had married a charming woman generally believed to be an illegitimate daughter of George I. But it was to an illegitimate son Philip, son of Madame de Bouchet, whom Chesterfield knew while serving as British Ambassador at the Hague, that these letters were written. Born in 1732, young Philip was educated at Westminster School. The first twenty-six letters were written in French. Not until the twenty-seventh, dated July 8, 1739, did Lord Chesterfield begin writing in English the letters that he would continue to write for thirty years. Unfortunately they accomplished little in making his son a success. Young Philip was not especially attractive, and his birth was against him. Because of these factors, and because his father was usually at odds with the government in power, the young man found it hard to get diplomatic appointments. He died a failure in 1768, five years before his disappointed father. Letter 19, dated London, November 6, 1747, following a period during which he had not heard from his son, begins with wonder whether the boy is so involved in abstract speculations as to have forgotten the common and necessary duties of life, or is he perhaps sitting by the fire doing nothing, or wasting his time looking out the window. Speaking of wasting time, Chesterfield quotes "a very covetuous, sordid fellow," actually William Lowndes (1652–1724), British Secretary of the Treasury, about the value of saving money. He writes:

. . . I knew once, a very covetuous, sordid fellow, who used frequently to say, "Take care of the pence; for the pounds will take care of themselves." This was a just and sensible reflection in a miser. I recommend to you to take care of the minutes; for hours will take care of themselves. I am very sure, that many people lose two or three hours every day, by not taking care of the minutes. Never think any portion of time whatsoever too short to be employed; something or other may always be done in it.