Park Place, April 11, 1813.
My Dear Lord,
It is not an easy matter in times like these, to write anything on the subject of a Foreign Minister’s conduct that might not be rendered inapplicable to the purpose by daily events.3 Mr. James’ best school will be the advantage he will derive from the abilities of his Principal, and from his own observations.
The first and best advice I can give a young man on entering this career, is to listen, not to talk—at least, not more than is necessary to induce others to talk. I have in (p. 679) the course of my life, by endeavouring to follow this method, drawn from my opponents much information, and concealed from them my own views, much more than by the employment of spies or money.
To be very cautious in any country, or at any court, of such as, on your first arrival, appear the most eager to make your acquaintance and communicate their ideas to you. I have ever found their professions insincere, and their intelligence false. They have been the first I have wished to shake off, whenever I have been so imprudent as to give them credit for sincerity. They are either persons who are not considered or respected in their own country, or are put about you to entrap and circumvent you as newly arrived.
We should be most particularly on their guard against such men, for we have none such on our side of the water, and are ourselves so little coming towards foreigners, that we are astonished and gratified when we find a different treatment from that which strangers experience here; but our reserve and ill manners are infinitely less dangerous to the stranger than these premature and hollow civilities.
To avoid what is termed abroad an attachement. If the other party concerned should happen to be sincere, it absorbs too much time, occupies too much your thoughts; if insincere, it leaves you at the mercy of a profligate and probably interested character.
Never to attempt to export our own habits and manners, but to conform as far as possible to those of the country where you reside—to do this even in the most trivial things—to learn to speak their language, and never to sneer at what may strike you as singular and absurd. Nothing goes to conciliate so much, or to amalgamate you more cordially with its inhabitants, as this very easy sacrifice of your national prejudices to theirs.
To keep your cypher and all your official papers under a very secure lock and key; but not to boast of your precautions, as Mr Drake did to Mehée de la Touche.
Not to allow any opponent to carry away any official document, under the pretext that he wishes ‘to study it more carefully;’ let him read it as often as he wishes, and, if it is necessary, allow him to take minutes of it, but both in your presence.
Not to be carried away by any real or supposed distinctions from the sovereign at whose Court you reside, or to imagine, because he may say a few more commonplace sentences to you than to your colleagues, that he entertains a special personal predilection for you, or is more disposed to favour the views and interests of your Court than if he did not notice you at all. This is a species of royal stage-trick, often practised, and for which it is right to be prepared.
Whenever you receive discretionary instructions (this is, when authority is given you) in order to obtain any very desirable end, to decrease your demands or increase your concessions according as you find the temper and disposition of the Court where you are employed and to be extremely careful not to let it be supposed that you have any such authority; to make a firm, resolute stand on the first offer you are instructed to make, and, if you find ‘this nail will not drive,’ to bring forward your others most gradually, and not, either from an apprehension of not succeeding at all, or from an over-eagerness to succeed too rapidly, injure essentially the interests of your Court.
It is scarcely necessary to say that no occasion, no provocation, no anxiety to rebut an unjust accusation, no idea, however tempting, of promoting the object you have in view, can need, much less justify, a falsehood. Success obtained by one is a precarious (p. 680) and baseless success. Detection would ruin, not only your own reputation for ever, but deeply wound the honour of your Court. If, as frequently happens, an indiscreet question, which seems to require a distinct answer, is put to you abruptly by an artful minister, parry it either by treating it as an indiscreet question, or get rid of it by a grave and serious look: but on no account contradict the assertion flatly if it be true, or admit it as true, if false and of a dangerous tendency.
In ministerial conferences, to exert every effort of memory to carry away faithfully and correctly what you hear (what you say in them yourself you will not forget); and, in drawing your report, to be most careful it should be faithful and correct. I dwell the more on this (seemingly a useless hint) because it is a most seducing temptation, and one to which we often give way almost unconsciously, in order to give a better turn to a phrase, or to enhance our skill in negotiation; but we must remember we mislead and deceive our Government by it.
I am, etc.4