London: J. Dodsley, 1774. First Edition. 4to, pp. [vi], [viii], 568; [iv], 606,. Engraved frontispiece portrait in volume I by J. Vitalba after a painting by William Hoare. Bound in contemporary boards, calf backs and tips, rubbed, worn at joints and edges, some foxing, soiling and minor stains, generally a very good tight copy. First issue with half-title, errata leaf at the end of volume 2; first issue with "quia uroit" line 16, page 55 in volume 1. With the contemporary ownership inscription and bookplates of Sir Archibald Grant of Monymoske. Housed in a custom cloth slipcase. Rothschild 596; Gulick 2; Aresty p. 310; not in Heltzel (which lists a 20th century reprint). Item #39518
These 395 letters were prepared for publication by his widow, Lady Chesterfield, within a year of his death. When Lord Chesterfield's illegitimate son turned five, the Earl began to write a series of letters of advice and wisdom to him. These letters were never intended for publication, but when Lord Chesterfield died, his son's widow (his son had died at age 36) realized that his letters to her late husband were a valuable property. Both Edward Gibbon and Horace Walpole declined an invitation to edit the letters for publication. Shortly after their refusal, Mrs. Stanhope signed a contract with James Dodsley. He agreed to pay her 1500 guineas for the right to publish the letters and immediately advertised in London newspapers (November 1773) that they would be 'speedily published'; the forthcoming book was advertised for the following February and March (1774).
Angry at Chesterfield's refusal to patronize his Dictionary, Samuel Johnson censured the Letters for "teach[ing] the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master," but even he admitted that they "might be made a very pretty book. Take out the immorality, and it should be put into the hands of every young gentleman."