Page images
PDF
EPUB

have broached, to the destruction of all law, order, and religion, throughout Europe.” The middle rank of people, who reside in his vicinity, he takes no more notice of, than if they lived at the arctic or antarctic pole. He keeps them at a distance, because, though not so rich as himself, yet claiming and supporting the rank of gentlemen, they would be likely to approach too near, and perhaps presume upon something of an equality, not only by nature, but by self-esteem and institution. He passes his next-door neighbours in his carriage or on horseback, in his daily rides, without condescending to turn his eyes upon them. He does not recollect even their names. They may be very good sort of people, for any thing he knows to the contrary; but really he has not the honour of knowing them. A despot will not bear a rival near his throne; and therefore he cannot bear any who, with inferior fortunes, might happen to equal him in spirit, in sense, in behaviour, and in education. But if there is any body in the neighbourhood very low indeed; so low, as to be removed from all possibility of clashing with his importance, such an one he will make a companion, and show him most marvellous marks of humility and condescension. Indeed, for the sake of obtaining a little popularity, he will notice cottagers and poor children at play, and make extremely free with clowns, jockies, grooms, huntsmen, and all who have any thing to do with dog and horse flesh. But keep your distance, ye little squires, parsons, and professional men, who make saucy pretensions to knowledge or ingenuity. However, he can never be at a loss for company, while he and his equals drive phaetons and four, to dine with each other at fifteen miles distance, and while officers are quartered in the vicinity. He is abjectly servile to his superiors; insolent and neglectful to the middle ranks; and free and easy to the humble sons of poverty, who will bear a volley of oaths whenever he thinks proper to discharge them, and who, if spit upon, will not spit again, because they are his workmen, tenants, or toad-eaters. He who can eradicate suchinsolence from a neighbourhood, by treating it with the contempt and ridicule which it deserves, certainly contributes to the happiness of society. It is confined in its sphere of action; but it is the same sort of despotism which ravaged Poland, and deluges the earth with human gore. In a free country like this, where law and liberty flourish, it is a vulture in a cage, but still it is a vulture; and the little birds, to whom nature has given the free air to range in, ought to unite in endeavouring to destroy it. Does any sensible man believe that such persons, if their power were equal to their will, would suffer freeholders of forty shillings a-year, to vote for members of parliament; or juries of twelve honest plebeians to decide in state trials, where ministers are anxious (as they value their places) for a verdict favourable to their administration? They would not permit, if they could help it, the middle ranks to breathe the common air, or feel the genial sun, which God has given to shine indiscriminately on the palace and the cottage. They are as much enemies to kings as to the people, because they would, if possible, be kings themselves; but as that is impossible, they crouch, like fawning spaniels, to the hand which has it in its power to throw them a bone. This description of persons is peculiarly formidable to liberty, because they are insatiably greedy of power. From their order chiefly arise the purchasers of boroughs, in which they traffic on speculation, like dealers in hops, determined to resell their commodity, as soon as they can, to the best bidder. They are also of that hardened effrontery which pushes its way to public employment, stands forward at court, and, on all occasions, assumes that importance, which, from the general diffidence of the better part of mankind, is but too easily conceded to the most impudent pretensions. In consequence of this unblushing assurance, this arrogant, audacious presumption, this hardened temper, which can bear repulse without being abashed or dispirited, they oftenest rise to the highest posts; and such as would be posts of honour, if they were not filled by men who have not one quality of a beneficent nature, or which deserves the esteem of their fellow-creatures. But though they have no inclination to do good; they acquire the power, which they fail not to exercise, of doing much evil. They encourage arbitrary principles. They depreciate the people on all occasions; and add weight and confidence to the aristoeratical confederacy. They may sometimes be men of parts. They are seldom deficient in the graces of Lord Chesterfield. But they are hard-hearted, selfish wretches, attached to the childish vanity of the world, and preferring a title or a riband to the peace, the lives, the property, and the liberty of their fellow-mortals; all which they are ready to sacrifice, even for the chance of pleasing a prime minister, and obtaining some bauble, which reason must ever despise, when it is not the badge of experienced virtues. “One of these,” (says an old writer,)” “values being called his grace, or noble marquis,” (unideal names as they are,) “more than a million of lives, provided that in such a general destruction he can save one; and to confirm themselves in their ill-gotten honours, they generally hatch plots, suborn rebellions, or any thing that they think can create business, keep themselves from being questioned, and thin mankind, whereby they lose so many of their enemies.”

* Samuel Johnson; not the lexicographer, whose religion was often popish superstition, and whose loyalty the most irrational toryism. I venerate his abilities and his private virtues; but detest his politics. He would have displaced the Brunswick family for the Stuarts, if his power had kept pace with his inclinations.

SECTION XXV.

Of a Natural Aristocracy.

NoBILITY, according to the idea of the vulgar, both in high and low life, is nothing more than riches that have been a long time in one family: but it often happens that riches have been originally gained and preserved in one family by sordid avarice, by mean and dishonest arts; such arts as are utterly incompatible with true nobility, with superiority of intellects, united with generosity of disposition. Most of the titles of nobility, and other civil distinctions, were taken from war: as a marquis, a duke, a count, a baron, a landgrave, a knight, an esquire. The inventors of arts, the improvers of life, those who have mitigated evil and augmented the good allotted to men in this world, were not thought worthy of any titular distinctions. The reason is indeed sufficiently obvious: titles were originally bestowed by despotic kings, who required and rewarded no other merit but that which supported them by violence in their arbitrary rule. In some countries they are now given, for the same reasons, to those who effect the same purposes, not by war only, but by corruption. - ". . Persons thus raised to civil honours, thus enriched by the long-continued favour of courts, would willingly depreciate all dignity which is derived from God and virtue only, unindebted to patents royal. They would create an artificial preference to a distinguished few among the human race, which nature is for ever counteracting, by giving superior abilities to those who are pushed down among the despised and neglected many. This conduct is both unjust and unnatural. It cannot be favourable to human happiness, because it is adverse to truth, and does violence to the will of God manifested in the operations of nature. In France it was carried to that extreme which brought it to its termination. There is a tendency to carry it to extremes in all countries where courts predominate. The friend of reason and of man will therefore endeavour to convince the people, that an aristocracy, founded on caprice or accident only, without any regard to superior abilities and virtues, is a fertile cause of war, and all those evils which infest a great part of civil society.

That the best and ablest men should govern the worst and weakest, is reasonable: and this is the aristocracy appointed by God and nature. But what do we mean when we say the best and ablest men? Do we mean men of the best families; that is, men in whose families riches and titles have long been conspicuous? By the ablest men, do we mean men who possess the greatest power, by undue influence, in borough and county elections, though the exertion of that power be strictly forbidden by the law and constitution? Or do we mean men of honest, upright, and benevolent hearts; of vigorous, well-informed, well-exercised understandings? Certainly the latter sort, which forms the aristocracy established by God and nature. This is gold; the king's head stamped

« PreviousContinue »