Analysis of Lord Chesterfield’s Letter to Son

An AP English 11 essay.

“What was silent in the father speaks in the son, and often I found in the son the unveiled secret of the father.”  ~Friedrich Nietzsche.  Clearly, everyone knows no one is perfect, but it’s just plain obvious when a father’s selfish tendencies come before his son. Usually, parents want to see their children succeed, but they don’t always share the same reasoning. In Lord Chesterfield’s case he obviously wants to see his son succeed, but that is not his only concern. In a letter written by Lord Chesterfield addressed to his son, it is obvious that Chesterfield is looking out for himself by telling his son how to act. He wants his son to be the best, but also he does not want to soil his good name. Lord Chesterfield clearly lays out his expectations for his son. Hard work, obedience, reputation and above all, success are what Chesterfield wants from his son. Within the subtle reminders, one can clearly see Chesterfield’s own morals and values; he leaves no doubt in his son’s mind that he wants him to be better than everyone else in order to maintain his reputation.   Chesterfield immediately starts the letter with a sweet and caring tone towards his son. He tries to be gentle and encouraging in order to keep his son reading the letter. He claims to take so much time writing to his son and that he “doubts whether it is to any purpose”. He’s trying to say he cares so much, but is not sure if it means anything to his son because he is so brilliant that he might not even need advice. It also forces a little guilt upon the son since he probably didn’t want to read the letter in the first place.  He says he’s trying not to “dictate as a parent”, but to “advise as a friend”.  Once again, he does this to keep his son in good spirits and reading the letter. He asks his son to “let my experience supply your want”. He does this is order to persuade him that he is trying to help him out. That he knows many things and will use all of his knowledge to keep his son on the right track. The first paragraph of the letter is also riddled with a multitude of understatements. Chesterfield, if taken literally, spends the first 17 lines discrediting his own opinion and the value of his morals. He uses this paragraph as a means to set up the later strategies of the use of rhetorical questions. As he feigns insignificance as in lines 5 through 7, where he acknowledges the common belief that parental advice is nothing more than “the moroseness, he imperiousness, the garrulity of old age.” He is lulling his son into a false sense of security. Chesterfield also uses great sentence structure in this paragraph by setting them up cordially and complementing his son it every chance he gets. “I flatter myself, that as your own reason, though too young as yet to suggest much of view itself, is however, strong enough to enable you, both to judge of, and receive plain truths” He says that he flatters himself to boost his sons ego and to state his faith in his son’s ability to discern good advice. He does the same thing in lines 13 through 15 when he says, “I flatter myself (I say) that your own reason, young as it is, must tell you, that I can have no interest but yours and the vice that I give you; and that consequently, you will at least weigh and consider it well” This is clearly showing that Chesterfield wants his son to believe him and that he thinks his advice is better than everyone else’s. In this sense, Chesterfield also uses rhetoric of constant contradiction.

            Chesterfield uses emotional appeals as a means to persuade his son. He talks about all that he has done for him and all that he has wanted for him. “I have so often recommended to you attention an application to whatever you learn, that I do not mention them now as duties; but I point them out to you as conducive, nay, absolutely necessary to your pleasures.” Chesterfield is telling his son that he has always looked out for his best interest and wanted everything good in the world to come for him. He says that now is the time you use what he has always talked about because it is necessary for him to be happy. He tells his son that there is no “greater pleasure than to be universally allowed to excel those of one’s own age”. He uses this as a way to get his son amped up about being the best there ever was. Even though Lord Chesterfield doesn’t care about his son as much as he does himself, he makes it seem like it with this strand of emotional appeals. Lord Chesterfield’s diction enhances the indirect threats he makes in his letter. Lord Chesterfield threatens to cut his son off financially if he does not obey him. He uses the word “merit” to mean that he will adjust his generosity according to his son’s merit. He then connects the word merit to “right”, “noble” and “generous”. I implying that his son must do right out of “affection” and “gratitude” towards him, he alerts his son that he must obey orders. Lord Chesterfield reminds the son of the possibility of humiliation by using words such as “disgrace”, “ridicule”, “shame”, and “mortifying”. Lord Chesterfield uses these words clearly underline his son’s possibility of gaining a bad reputation.  He also uses these words to avoid the loss of his own good reputation. With just a few simple utterances, Chesterfield conveys his point not only of the fate of his son should he ignore commands, but also to portray his own morals and values for himself and his son.  A typical father-son relationship is one of many dynamics. Love. Trust. Values. However, Lord Chesterfield’s relationship with his son is a bit different. Love or trust is not proven to be at all truthful in this letter. The only thing that Chesterfield really cares about is himself and his reputation and good standing. In this seemingly simple letter, Chesterfield not only conveys his own morals, but the fate of his son, should he pass this by with ignorance. From criticism to kindness, readers truly see the effects a father’s words have on his son.  Between his words, tone of voice, emotion, understatements and contradiction, it is clear that Lord Chesterfield only values few things: grades, hard work, obedience, reputation and being better than everyone else.  A typical father-son relationship has many other elements, but Lord Chesterfield chooses to be cold and demanding toward his son.

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4 Comments
  1. Big Meech
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    a very thoughrough analysis of a compelling persuasion. wouldve given this paper an A+ for sure.

  2. Kenz
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    thanks- very helpful for an english assignment!
    and this really helped my analyze the letter.

  3. Mia
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Thank you soooo much, this was a great essay. I myself have spent a week on the prompt, and haven’t been able to understand if Chesterfield was telling his son to do his best, or telling him not to screw up or there would be consequences. It seems Chesterfield was merely a selfish, conniving, greedy father who didn’t give a rat’s petunia about his son, unless the boy worked wonders.
    I wish I had this cleared up a week ago, lol!

  4. Bella
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    This was AMAZING. I understood it that the father really didn’t want his son to screw up and what not, but goodness this essay blew my thoughts out of the water. I have a much better graspe on the passage as a whole. Well done. :)

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