Philip Dormer Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield Summary


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)


Lord Chesterfield’s name has become so synonymous with courtly manners that it is easy to forget that he had a distinguished career in public affairs. He succeeded in 1726 as the fourth earl of Chesterfield. During his public life, he was twice ambassador to The Hague, secretary of state, negotiator of the second Treaty of Vienna (1731), and a very successful lord lieutenant of Ireland (1746). In 1755, he had a famous quarrel with Samuel Johnson on the publication of the latter’s dictionary, the story of which can be found in James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1791).{$S[A]Stanhope, Philip Dormer;Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, Lord}

The famous letters for which Lord Chesterfield is chiefly remembered were written to his illegitimate son, Philip. They were begun when the boy was young and were continued for years. The purpose was to teach the boy the easy elegance of manner that distinguished his father and to serve as a guide to the fashionable world. To some readers, the letters seem cold, artificial, and heartless; to others, they have much traditional eighteenth century charm. It is ironic that the son never profited from the lessons; he married a woman of low birth and never assumed the position in the world for which his father had tried to prepare him. Philip preceded Lord Chesterfield in death by five years.

Lord Chesterfield married Melusina von Schulemberg, illegitimate daughter of George I. They had no children, and he was succeeded in the earldom by a distant cousin after his death.


Coxon, Roger. Chesterfield and His Critics. London: G. Routledge & Sons, 1925.

Craig, William Henry. Life of Lord Chesterfield: An Account of the Ancestry, Personal Character, and Public Services of the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield. New York: John Lane, 1907.

Franklin, Colin. Lord Chesterfield: His Character and Characters. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1993.

Gulick, Sidney L. A Chesterfield Bibliography to 1800. 2d ed. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979.

Lamoine, Georges. “Lord Chesterfield’s Letters as Conduct-Books.” In The Crisis of Courtesy: Studies in the Conduct-Book in Britain, 1600-1900, edited by Jacques Carré. New York: E. J. Brill, 1994.

Lucas, Frank L. The Search for Good Sense: Four Eighteenth Century Characters—Johnson, Chesterfield, Boswell, Goldsmith. New York: Macmillan, 1958.

McKenzie, Alan T. “History, Genre, and Insight in the ‘Characters’ of Lord Chesterfield.” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 21 (1991).

Shellabarger, Samuel. Lord Chesterfield and His World. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951.