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The Chesterfield Lecture

October 23, 2011

I’ve just given the Annual Chesterfield Lecture to the Friends of The Ranger’s House, Blackheath, London. It’s always a real pleasure to talk to such a knowledgeable group and in such a classy venue – a superb early 18th century red brick mansion, once the home of Lord Chesterfield, statesman, wit and letter-writer. In 1728, he became British Ambassador inThe Hague. Whilst there, he acquired a superb collection of Dutch paintings, and then had to add a wing onto the house in order to show them off them.

First we had a delicious buffet dinner, provided by the Friends, in the basement of the house and then we trooped upstairs to the crimson gallery – not forgetting to put on our coats – there is no central heating. Well, the Friends put on their coats and, in some cases, their scarves, but I felt that, as lecturer, I couldn’t go that far. I hoped that the adrenalin would keep me warm.

The crimson silk gallery, where I was speaking, was magnificent with its fabulous paintings, glittering chandeliers, superb plasterwork, and a couple of classical nude marble statues flanking me on either side.

The talk I was giving was one I’d given before – how I became an historical novelist and it included snippets from my juvenilia – the six novels I wrote between the ages of ten and sixteen. I knew that Lord Chesterfield had also written: his famous letters to his illegitimate son are a mixture of worldly-wise pieces of advice and cynical and witty observations on the world. Surely they could provide me with a quotation to act as an introduction to my talk. After all, I was giving the Annual Chesterfield lecture, I felt I owed him a compliment or two.

What did he have to say on women, I wondered.

This is what I found: Women, then, are only children of a larger growth: they have an entertaining tattle, and sometimes wit; but for solid reasoning good sense, I never knew in all my life one that had it, or who reasoned or acted consequentially for four and twenty hours together.

He goes on to advise his son: A man of sense only trifles with them, plays with them, humours and flatters them … but he neither consults them about, nor trusts them with, serious matters.

Hm. No, I decided, I would not be paying Lord Chesterfield a graceful compliment. I would give him a courteous but neutral mention and hope that his portrait in the next room didn’t crash to the ground in the middle of my talk in horror at hearing a mere female giving a lecture in his name.

Fortunately, the talk went very well and there were no untoward intimations of spectral disapproval.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Picture  The Ranger’s House, the front entrance: courtesy, The Ranger’s House, 


One Comment leave one →
  1. nikki permalink
    April 17, 2012 12:06 pm

    Nice one Elizabeth! You handled Lord Chesterfield’s comments very diplomatically, his portrait eyes may well have rolled skywards, even tho the portrait didn’t crash to the ground.

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