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THE BRITISH PEERAGE.

The House of Peers being the which could not be acquired by half body in the state where the next de- a century of glory. Look at that fensive contest of the constitution is young fool-it is from that stock to be maintained, has become, as that we make the bishops, marshals, might be expected, the subject of and ambassadors of France.” Thé unmeasured obloquy and misrepre- line now drawn in India between the sentation, on the part of the Re- power and eligibility for office, of forming Journals, for some time the British youth, and the native past. One would imagine, from the Hindoos, is not more rigid than exstyle of their attacks, that this illus- isted in France, prior to 1789, betrious assembly was composed of tween the descendants of noble and persons whose interests were not those of plebeian blood. It was this only inconsistent, but adverse to invidious distinction that mainly conthose of the other classes of society tributed to produce the Revolution,

- that they form a sort of insulated because it inflicted a personal injunto in the middle of the other mem- jury upon every man of plebeian bers of the state-and that all the birth, and opposed an insuperable vituperation so justly lavished on the bar to the ambition and fortunes of privileged ranks in the continental conscious talent, in ninety-nine out states, may fairly be transferred to of the hundred, in the whole commuthe British peerage. The frequency nity. “What is the Tiers Etat ?” said and hardihood of such assertions, is the Abbé Sieyes, in his celebrated calculated not only to impose upon pamphlet at the opening of the Conthe uninformed, but even to induce stituent Assembly; “ It is the whole forgetfulness of the truth, on the part nation, minus 150,000 individuals.” of the learned. By the constant re- For this class to monopolize all the petition of falsehood, even the sound fortunes and distinctions of the moof truii at length appears strange to narchy, became, in an age of rising ears once most accustomed to hear prosperity, altogether insupportable. it.

Not the corruption of the court, nor The circumstance which made the the infidelity of the philosophers, aristocracy so hateful to the French produced the Revolution, for these nation, and still renders it so injuri- were of partial application, but the ous in most of the European mo- pride of the nobles, based on centunarchies is, that they were not only ries of exclusive power, and intolerelieved from all the burdens which rable in an age of rising improveoppressed the other classes, but en- ment. joyed a monopoly of all the honour- These privileges were accompa. able situations of every description, nied, on the part of the church and under government. Not only were the nobility, by a total exemption all the higher situations, such as am- from taxation, upon the principle bassadors, generals, and admirals, that the first saved the state by their but all the inferior offices, such as prayers, and the second defended it abbacies,judges, bishops, exclusively by their swords. This exemption open to the younger branches of the was of comparatively little importnobility. Unless a man could prove ance, during the days of feudal powthe nobility of his descent, he was er, when taxes were inconsiderable, debarred from rising higher than to and the expense of government, from the rank of a lieutenant in the army the absence of standing armies, not or navy; and he had no chance of greater than those of a powerful baobtaining better preferment than a But when the expenses of the -country curacy of L.30 or L.40 a-year state increased, and the embarrassin the church. The whole ecclesi- ments of the Treasury augmented, astical dignities and emoluments the exemption became intolerable. were exclusively enjoyed by the To behold 150,000 of the richest peraristocracy. “It is a terrible thing,” sons in France, most of whom were said Pascal, “ that influence of nobi- perfectly idle, and who enjoyed all lity--it gives a man an ascendency the lucrative offices under govern

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ment, altogether free from taxation, neral body of the community. In while their poorer brethren toiled this way the younger branches of under the weight of burdens to the the nobility, the curse and bane of amount of L.25,000,000 a-year, was, continental monarchies, have beto the last degree, exasperating. come one of the most useful and

It added immensely to the weight important classes in the British comof these grievances that the privi- munity, because they form a link leges of nobility were perpetual, and between the otherwise discordant descended with titles of honour to branches of society, and blend the all the members of a fanıily indis- dignified manners of elevated, with criminately. The effect of this was the vigour and activity of humble to create an exclusive class whose birth. Here, in the splendid lanrights never expired, which passed guage of Mr Sheridan, is no sullen from father to son even to the last line of demarcation for ever separatgeneration, and which had nothing ing the higher from the lower orders; in common, either in point of in- but all is one harmonious whole, interest, feeling, or habits, with the sensibly passing as in the colours of inferior classes of society. Custom the prism from the bright glitter of and prejudice, omnipotent with this the orange, where the nobility bask order in every country, precluded in the sunshine of rank and opuany young men of noble birth from lence, to the sober grey of the indigo, entering into commerce or business where the peasant toils in the shade of any sort; and the necessary con

of humble life. sequence was, that the whole were The prerogative of the Crown for thrown upon the offices in the dis- the creation of Peers has been liposal of government; and every si- berally exercised of late years : and tuation, however inconsiderable, was

the nobles are now four times as nusought after by a host of noble compe- merous as they were during the great titors, to the utter exclusion of every Rebellion. Who have been the men, person of plebeian descent. But for who have thus been elevated to the the poverty of this needy race, which rank of hereditary legislators ? The rendered marriage unfrequent, save greatest and most illustrious characin the eldest son of the family, and ters of their day--the statesmen who the excessive dissolution of their have sustained the country by their manners, France would have been exertions--the heroes who have led overspread like Spain by a race of its armies to victory—the sailors haughty idlers, whose 480,000 Hi- who shook the world with its fleets dalgos, too proud to do any thing for -the patriots who have vindicated themselves, spend their lives in bask- its freedom by their courage. The ing in the sunshine in their provincial names of Marlborough and Wellingtowns,

ton, of Abercrombie and Anglesey, How different in all these respects of Lynedoch and Hill, recall the most is the aristocracy of England, and splendid passages in the military anhow totally inapplicable are all the nals of Britain : those of Nelson and ideas drawn from the situation of St Vincent, of Howe and Duncan, the foreign to the important duties of most glorious triumphs of its Navy: the British nobility! No exemption those of Chatham and Somers, of from taxation, noexclusive privileges, Grenville and Wellesley, the most no invidious distinctions, separate illustrious efforts of its statesmen. them from the other classes in the Such men not only add dignity to state. By a fortunate custom, which the assembly in which they are plahas done more, says Hallam, for the ced, but the prospect of obtaining liberties of England than any other so brilliant a distinction for their fasingle circumstance in its domestic mily, operates powerfully on the expolicy, the distinction of titles has ertions of the profession to which been confined from time immemorial they belong. When Nelson run his to the eldest son of the family, wbile own vessel between two line-of-batthe younger branches, in the estima- tle ships at St Vincent's, and boarded tion of law commoners, speedily ac- them both at the same time, he ex. quire the ideas of that class, and, in claimed, " A peerage, or Westminthe space of a few generations, be- ster Abbey !" "and a similar feeling come indistinguishable from the ge- operates universally, not only upon

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those who have such a distinction bear upon the fortunes of the state, placed within their reach, but who and elevated the dignity of their own can hope by strenuous exertion ulti- body by the successive acquisition mately to obtain it. No man can of the most illustrious members of doubt that the prospect of hereditary the_commonwealth. honours being conferred upon the of England, therefore, so far from leaders of the Army and Navy, ope, being a restraint upon the talent, or rates most powerfully in elevating a burden upon the energies, of the the feelings, stimulating the exer- lower orders, is the highest encoutions, and sustaining the courage of ragement to their vigour and exerthose employed in these services; tions, and holds forth the glittering and that but for such distinctions, not prize which stimulates the talent only would their caste in society be and ensures the fortunes of thou-. lowered, but their national usefulness sands who are never destined to obdiminished.

tain it. Few indeed are destined to By immemorial custom also, the rise from private life like a HardChancellor of England, a lawyer, and wicke, a Mansfield, or an Eldon ; generally elevated from the inferior but every man in these situations restations of society, is placed at the collects the rise of these illustrious head of the House of Peers. It is a men; and the confidence in their own proud thing, as Mr Canning well ob- good fortune, which is so universal served, for the Commons of Eng- in the outset of life, stimulates mul

to see a private individual, titudes, from these examples, to exelevated from obscurity solely by the ertions, which, if they do not lead to force of talent, 'take precedence of titles, at least contribute to success the Howards, the Talbots, and the and usefulness. Percys; of the pride of Norman an- It is a common theme of complaint cestry, equally with the splendour of with the radical journals, that the royal descent." The Chancellor is aristocracy usurp an undue share of usually a man raised from the lower patronage in the Navy, the Army, ranks. Every lawyer knows that and the Church ; and that unless a none but those trained to exertion, young man has connexions possessby early and overbearing necessity, ing parliamentary interest, he has no can sustain the herculean labour of chance of elevation in any of these rising to the head of the English Bar. lines. There never was a complaint It was thus that Lord Hardwicke, worse founded. That the younger Lord Loughborough, Lord Mansfield, branches of the nobility are to be Lord Thurlow, Lord Ellenborough, found in great numbers in these useLord Eldon, and Lord Lyndhurst ful and honourable lines, is in a pearose; they were trained in the culiar manner the glory and the school of necessity to the exertions blessing of England; that instead of requisite to rise to the summit of so

wasting their days in listless indoterrible an ascent. In this way the lence, as in Spain, or in unceasing peerage is perpetually renovated by gallantry, as in Italy, they are to be the addition of talent and energy found actively engaged in real busifrom the walks of humble life, and ness; discharging the duty of country the lower orders are attached to the curates, or enduring the hardships of country, by the possibility of rising naval, or facing the dangers of milito the highest stations which its go- tary life, without any distinction vernment can afford.

from their humbler brethren. DeWhile, therefore, the aristocracy stroy this invaluable distinction ; of the continental states, by rigidly banish the sons of the opulent from closing the door against plebeian abi- active employment, and where will lity, both weakened the state by ex- they be found ? At the gaming-tacluding its ablest members, and irri- ble or the race-course ; corrupting tated the lower orders by establish- the wives of the citizens, or squan. ing an impassable barrier between dering the fortunes of ages. It is in them and the higher; the aristocracy vain to expect that men will ever live of England, by throwing open their without an object: if a good one is doors to receive the most eminent of taken away, a bad one will speedily its citizens, both brought the talents succeed: if they are prevented from of the great body of the people to following the career of honour and

usefulness, they will embrace that a thousand years of prosperity has of sensuality and corruption. neither sapped the foundation of

If indeed the Aristocracy had the public or private integrity; and that monopoly of any of these depart- though grey in years of renown, she ments, the exclusive privilege would still teems with the energy of youthbe equally injurious to themselves ful ambition? The answer is to be and their inferiors. But this neither found in the happy combination of is, nor in the present state of hu- the nobility and the people; in the man affairs can be, the case. No man temp ing the pride of aristocratic can pretend that the army, the navy, birth by the vigour of popular enteror the church, are exclusively in the prise, and elevating the standard of hands of the nobility. Every indi- plebeian ambition by the infusion of vidual is acquainted in his own lit- chivalrous feeling. Sever the contle circle with numbers who are nexion between these two prinrising in these professions without ciples, and what will the nation bethe aid of any aristocratic connexion. come? An assemblage of calculating But if the complaint be only that tradesmen, possessing no higher they encounter the nobility in their standard of manners than the Amestruggle through life, then we reply ricans, and no nobler feelings . of that such competition is the greatest patriotism than the Dutch. public advantage. Such civil contests The stability of the European between the different classes of so- monarchies, compared with the epheciety are always for the advantage of meral duration of the Eastern dythe whole community, however pain- nasties, is chiefly to be ascribed to ful they may be to individuals. With- the hereditary descent of honours out them, the energy of both would and estates in particular families. be enfeebled: aristocratic indolence It was seemingly an institution of would relapse into inactivity-de- Providence, destined to secure the mocratic vigour into sordid ambition. ascendency of European civilisation Nor need popular enterprise envy and the Christian religion over Orithe sons of the great the advantages ental barbarism and Mahometan de. which in the outset of life belong to gradation, that the Barbarians who elevated birth : those very advan- settled in the Roman empire, all by tages in general prove their ruin, be- common consent established primocause they do not habituate the mind geniture and the hereditary descent to the vigorous exertions essential of honours : while the divisions of to lasting reputation.

the same tribes who settled in the The prevailing tone and character Eastern empires, adopted the sysof all the professions into which the tem, that all personal distinctions Aristocracy generally enter, is un- should expire with the first possesquestionably greatly elevated by the sor. In this single circumstance will intermixture of honourable feeling be found the remote cause of the which they occasion. If Montesquieu . steady progress, uniform policy, and was right in asserting that the prin- . stable government of the European ciple of monarchy is honour, every states, compared with the fluctuating day's experience must convince us dynasties, perpetual convulsions, and that the influence of the Aristocracy declining prosperity of the Eastern is not less salutary in sustaining the empires. The want of a hereditary dignified feeling of private life. noblesse has inflicted the same evils Whence is it that England, so long on Persia and Turkey, which the immersed in commercial pursuits, want of an hereditary crown has ocwhich Napoleon styled a nation of casioned to Poland. shopkeepers, still retains so much of Permanence of design and system the elevating influence of ancient can never be obtained till permachivalry: that her warriors exhibit nence of interest is established. such undecaying valour, her legisla- When honours expire, and fortunes tors such moral courage, her higher are divided on the death of an indivi. orders such dignified manners ? How dual, the seed which was beginning to has it happened that the progress of expand, is again restored, upon every opulence, fatal to the growth of all case of individual dissolution, to its other states, has here been so long native earth; and the succeeding ço-existent with public virtue that generation, actuated by no common

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interest, is tossed on the sea of life, The freedom which is now so much without any definite or permanent the object of deserved eulogium, was object. The fortunes of the state nursed in its cradle by the feudal crumble with the successive disper- nobility. It was beneath the shadow sion of individual accumulation ; of the castle-wall that industry, civil. and generation after generation suc- isation, and improvement, first took ceeds, without any addition either to root; in every part of Europe the the national stability, or any improve- earliest seeds of liberty expanded ment in the national fortune.

under the protection of hereditary It is easy to declaim, now that we power. The traveller, as he glides have obtained the advantages of re- along the Rhine, or descends the ra, gular government, against the tyranny pid stream of the Rhone, or skirts and oppression of the feudal nobi- the tower-clad heights of the Appelity; without that institution, Euro- nines, can still discern in the villages pean civilisation would have become which are clustered round the roots extinct during the anarchy of the of the castellated heights, the indark ages, or yielded to the fury of fluence of aristocratic power in proMahometan conquest. All that we tecting the first efforts of laborious now possess, or that distinguishes us industry. Magna Charta was exfrom the Asiatic people-our laws, torted from a pusillanimous moour liberties, our religion-have been narch by a combination of the feu- . preserved by the barrier of the feudal dal nobility: the early liberties of aristocracy. “ Gratefully we must France, Germany, and Spain, were acknowledge,” says Hallam,

established by the same influence, the territorial nobility were, during in opposition to the encroachments the dark ages, the chief support not of royal power. For centuries beonly against foreign invasion, but fore the people had thought of modomestic tyranny; and that violence ving in defence of their liberties, or would have rioted without control, were capable of understanding the if, when the people were poor and meaning of freedom, it had been the disunited, the barons had not been object of repeated contests on the independent and free.”* What was part of the hereditary nobility. it that enabled European valour to Nor let it be imagined, that these stem the torrent of Mahometan con- advantages are all past—that a new quest-who saved Christian civil- era has opened in human affairsisation from Asiatic oppression on and that having made use of an hethe field of Tours—who combated reditary nobility in the infancy of the forces of the Saracens in their society, we can now with safety disown domains, and fought the battle card their assistance. They are not of European freedom on the fields less needed in the advanced than of Palestine ? Who expelled the the early stages of nations: the danArabs from Spain, and maintained gers to freedom are as great now as for eight centuries an uninterrupted in the days of Magna Charta : the contest with the Moorish spoiler ? power by which it is assailed is more The nobility of Europe—the territo- formidable than the array of the rial barons, permanently interested Plantagenet kings. in the soil by the hereditary posses- The danger to be apprehended sion of estates, and actuated by un- now is, that, by the destruction of decaying spirit from the descent of the power of the nobility, we shall family honours. Compare the steady be handed over, first, to the horrors progress, regular government, and of popular licentiousness, and, next, unceasing improvement, of the Euro- to the tranquillity of undisturbed despean states, with the perpetual vacil- potism. This is not a fanciful apprelation, periodical anarchy, and gene- hension—it is the uniform bistory of ral slavery of the Asiatic dynasties, the decay of freedom in past ages and the immeasurable benefits of an future historians will probably point hereditary nobility must appear ob- to the present Reform Bill, as the vious to the most inconsiderate ob- first step in the extinction of British

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