« PreviousContinue »
CHARLES JAMES FOX.
WHEN I think of Personal Nobility, the title of my book, I am led, by a very natural association of ideas, to think of you.
The noble stand you lately made in favour of peace and liberty, when popular clamour—the “civium ardor prava jubentium”—would have drowned the voice of a less able advocate, when your standard was deserted by many who shrunk from your side in the hour of danger, has placed your name higher than it ever yet stood, among independent Englishmen, in the middle ranks, who neither enjoy nor expect the favours of ministerial influence. If you have lost a few valuable friends within the walls, you have gained the esteem of tens of thousands on the outside, who, before this test, had no just idea of the purity and intrepidity of your public virtue.
In search of a living example of eloquence, generosity, and unshaken perseverance in disinterested conduct, to enforce the precepts of the following Letters to a young Nobleman, I could find none more brilliant than your own, especially since, forsaken by some of your auxiliaries, you have stood the more illustriously conspicuous, IPSE AGMEN, in the front of the battle. My praise can add nothing to your glory. But permit me to adorn my own pages with a name, which is of late more than ever illustrious in the eyes of all who, though attached to the forms, are yet more firmly attached to the spirit of the constitution.
vol. v. b
Ir appears to me, that ancient learning is not sufficiently attended to in the education of modern nobility; and that the honour of an order, so highly privileged, cannot be more effectually promoted, than by a return to that truly classical mode which prevailed among the great in the reign of Elizabeth, and produced a manliness of mind, which caused the English character more nearly to resemble the Roman, than 'at any subsequent period of our history.
I have, therefore, recommended to my noble scholar, an early and attentive study of the poets, orators, and historians, of ancient Greece and Rome; I have advised him to imitate them in his compositions and eloquence, and to catch their generous spirit, while he emulates the vigour of their style.
Not only talents and superior knowledge are required in hereditary lawgivers, in men distinguished from their birth by titles, and claiming respect from their cradle, but public spirit, generosity, and nobility of mind; such as an imitation of the ancients in the purest ages is best adapted to promote. Pensions, places, titles, ribands, and all the mysteries of corruption, were then unknown, and virtue was nobility:
Modern meanness, mixed with pride founded in pedigree alone, though traced up to Adam, will be despised in every country on the face of the earth, once blest with light and liberty. The sun of knowledge is ascending, and, as it rises, the mists of prejudice disperse. Visions, which appeared solid and substantial, when seen at a distance and through
the medium of a fog, now vanish into air, and the gaping spectator laughs at last at his own delusion.
The sun of knowledge, high above the horizon, not only gilds the 'tops of the mountains, but shines in the low valley. Indeed, the valley is often irradiated with the sunbeams, while the hills are enveloped in mist. A mediocrity of knowledge is diffused throughout all ranks of society; at least an ability and opportunity of obtaining with ease competent information. The lowest of the people can read; and books adapted to the capacity of the lowest of the people, on political and all other subjects, are industriously obtruded on their notice. The newspapers communicate the debates of opposing parties in the senate; and public measures (once confined to a conclave) are now canvassed in the cottage, the manufactory, and the lowest resorts of plebeian carousal. Great changes in the public mind are produced by this diffusion; and such changes must produce public innovation. Revolutions, unparalleled in history, have already happened on a large portion of the globe's surface; of which no human foresight can predict the remote consequences. All that wisdomcan do, is to render the rising generation qualified to improve the vicissitudes which may happen, so as to promote the happiness of man in society, without partially consulting the exclusive privileges, or the oppressive superiority, of any single order.
Our own country is already a country of liberty. We enjoy, or may enjoy, by our happy form of government, as established at the Revolution, that freedom, to obtain which other countries are convulsed. We want only a restoration of the primitive principles of our constitution. The old building is strong and venerable, but in part decayed. No honest and independent man will refuse to cooperate in its repair. It is not so far dilapidated as to require demolition ; but many stones are mouldered,