CHESTERFIELD (PHILIP DORMER STANHOPE, fourth Earl of) Autograph letter signed, to "Sr" [George Lyttelton], 1737
Lot 36
CHESTERFIELD (PHILIP DORMER STANHOPE, fourth Earl of) Autograph letter signed, to "Sr" [George Lyttelton], 1737
Sold for £1,875 (US$ 3,151) inc. premium
Lot Details
Autograph letter signed ("Chesterfield"), to "Sr" [George Lyttelton], written from Bath, and thanking him for sending news from London at a critical moment [of the death of Queen Caroline three weeks earlier], "which otherwise I should know nothing of, but in those false lights, that folly, or partiality, throws upon every thing, by that time it getts here", although claiming that it is mere curiosity that piques his interest, for he has foresworn political ambition; he also mocks the mourning for the late Queen, declares himself "excessively weary" of Bath ("...where the doing of nothings all day hinders one from really doing any thing. Here is indeed a great number of beings, but few rationall ones. Pulteney is here but does not know it; Hammond devoted entirely to the women, and for the rest I don't care what they do..."), complains that he is being delayed for his wife's sake in Bath ("...the waters now agreeing with Lady Chesterfield, which they did not do at first..."), and longs once again for London "which after all is in England le seul séjour d'un honnête homme", 2 closely-written pages, remains of guard (obscuring a few letters), in very good condition, 4to, Bath, 12 December 1737


  • 'I HAVE NOT THE LEAST DESIRE OF BEING AN ACTOR UPON THE PUBLICK STAGE': Chesterfield forswears ambition, being content to be the observer of his age – "having a supreme contempt for fools, and an extream aversion to knaves, I have not the least desire of being an Actor upon the publick stage, where both will always have the most considerable parts. Fight Dog, fight bear, I am very willing to be a spectator in the Gallery, but should be sorry to be one of the Beasts in the arena".

    That May, he had attacked Walpole's Playhouse Bill, which brought in the licensing of plays through the Lord Chamberlain, as an attack on freedom of speech, declaring that 'the only way to prevent being ridiculed or censured is to avoid all ridiculous or wicked measures' and that 'I shall always be extremely cautious and fearful of making the least encroachment upon liberty'. And in this letter, he exploits his right to pour scorn on whomsoever he chooses by ridiculing those who wanted everybody to plunge into mourning for Queen Caroline with a piece of invective exhibiting refreshingly bad taste (as out of place in 1737 as it would have been in 1997): "It might be very proper in consequence of an arrêt de par le Roy in France, to overturn all the rights, of blood, friendship, and regard, for any but the Sacred persons of the Royall Family; to whom alone to be sure they are due. But here is my opinion, it is yett a meanness to do it, and I will be one of the last to come into it. I am sorry it did not occurr to my Lord President to propose the Deification of her late Majesty, and that the Bishops should be order'd to perform the Ceremony of her Apotheosis in the true Pagan manner if it had, I make no doubt, but it would have been readily order'd, and religiously complied with. I am not the least affraid of having my chariot or Liverys insulted for being out of Mourning; besides at this time of the year, the black would show dirt, more than the blue" (this scorn for the late Queen being no doubt exacerbated by his friendship with Lady Suffolk, the King's mistress).

    The recipient of this letter was Chesterfield's younger contemporary George Lyttelton, later first Baron Lyttelton, who with William Pitt the elder was part of the political grouping that formed round his uncle Lord Cobham in opposition to the Prime Minister Robert Walpole, and mockingly described by him as 'Boy Patriots': 'To be a patriot in the politics of the 1730s expressed disgust with Walpole's alleged disregard for the national interest in his pursuit of peace in Europe at the expense of British trade, and his use of the executive power to intimidate the Commons. Patriots, broadly, supported vigorous defence of Britain's overseas interest, opposed the extension of the national debt, and also the expenditure of sums from the British Treasury on the armies of foreign powers, most notoriously Hanover (Matthew Kilburn, 'Cobham's Cubs', ODNB). Chesterfield himself – his denial of political ambition notwithstanding – was keen to see Walpole's overthrow and had allied himself with the opposition grouped round Frederick Prince of Wales, with whom Chesterfield had his own family connection (his Bath-loving wife being the illegitimate daughter of George I).

    This finely characteristic letter was among the Lyttelton Papers sold at Sotheby's, London, 12 December 1978, lot 96, passing into the Paula Peyraud Collection, sold, New York, 6 May 2009, lot 235).
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