The Wellington Connection – Education

From the Duke of Wellington to Lady Shelley

Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1818

London, August 30, 1825.

“My Dear Lady Shelley,

. . . . . . As for John (1) you must impress upon his mind, first, that he is coming into the world at an age at which he who knows nothing will be nothing. If he does not chuse to study, therefore, he must make up his mind to be a hewer of wood and drawer of water to those who do. Secondly, he must understand that there is nothing learnt but by study and application. I study and apply, more, probably, than any man in England.

Thirdly, if he means to rise in the military profession—I don’t mean as high as I am, as that is very rare—he must be master of languages, of the mathematics, of military tactics of course, and of all the duties of an officer in all situations.

He will not be able to converse or write like a gentleman—much less to perform with credit to himself the duties on which he will be employed—unless he understands the classics; and by neglecting them, moreover, he will lose much gratification which the perusal of them will always afford him; and a great deal indeed of professional information and instruction.

He must be master of history and geography, and the laws of his country and of nations; these must be familiar to his mind if he means to perform the higher duties of his profession.

Impress all this upon his mind; and moreover tell him that there is nothing like never having an idle moment. If he has only one quarter of an hour to employ, it is better to employ it in some fixed pursuit of improvement of his mind, than to pass it in idleness or listlessness.

Ever, my dearest lady,
Yours most affectionately,

1 John Shelley, Lady Shelley’s eldest son, who subsequently joined the Royal Horseguards (Blue).

Royal Horse Guards, 1826

Woodford, September 18, 1825.

My Dear Lady Shelley,

. . . . In respect to my letter upon education, I don’t recollect what I wrote; and I cannot consent to have a copy taken, without first seeing it. You had better send it to me, therefore. Besides, the Tyrant (Mrs. Arbuthnot) says she has no notion of my writing a letter deserving of being copied without her seeing it; and she wishes to ascertain whether I have myself learnt all that I recommend to others to learn. There is no use in disputing about anything, so that you had better send the letter at once.

I will go to Maresfield as soon as I shall have it in my power, after hearing how the Parliament stands.

Believe me, my dearest lady,
Ever yours most affectionately,

Postscript written by Mrs. Arbuthnot – “I have no notion of his finishing a letter in such a style; I will never allow that again.”

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