Letters to His Son "Take The Tone Of The Company That You Are In"

Philip DormerStanhope, Lord Chesterfield

"Take The Tone Of The Company That You Are In"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Upon his son Philip's travelling to Leipsig, the urbane Lord Chesterfield writes to him from London on October 9, 1747, urging him to choose his friends and companions prudently and not to reveal confidences to new acquaintances, lest the friendships cool and consequent glib repetition prove harmful to the confider (in this case, Philip, of course). The English nobleman advises his illegitimate, but well-beloved, son not to yield to the sudden youthful assumption that exciting companionship or youthful rapport is real friendship. It is in his next letter (XVII), also written from London, on October 16, 1747, that he discusses the necessity of pleasing one's associates in the hope of preferment and social acceptance. The cold and calculating approach to social matters may surprise those of us more used to a democratic approach to human relations–even in society, but the time was not a democratic one, and station and social reputation loomed large. So it is that Lord Chesterfield tells Philip:

. . . Take the tone of the company that you are in, and do not pretend to give it; be serious, be gay, or even trifling, as you find the present humor of the company; this is an attention due from every individual to the majority. Do not tell stories in company; there is nothing more tedious and disagreeable . . .