Page images

us a chance of finally abolishing the aristocratic usurpation. But the Lords are still making a violent struggle, and are attempting to rule with the Court, and in defiance of the people and their representatives. Their attempt, however, must fail

, and the people be restored to their birthright. The discussions in this little tract will lead to more full and more elaborate enquiry; and in the mean while we shall present a few of its sketches to the attention of our readers.Possibly it may be of use to preserve them from the common fate of pamphlets.

• It is certain that the eldest son (of a peer) alone is deemed by our institutions to be born a lawgiver, a senator, and a judge ; that he alone, be he ever so ignorant, stupid, and vicious, is allowed to decide upon the great questions of policy and of jurisprudence, and to sit in appeal upon the decisions of all the legal tribunals of the country, and to judge without review all his fellow-citizens for property, liberty, limb, and life. These high functions are so essentially inherent in him, that no hankruptcy, no idiocy (short of being found lunatic by commission), no criminality, can deprive him of his judicial and legislative attributes. He may have committed felony, and been transported—or perjury, and been pilloried-or fraud, and been upon the tread-mill; yet, the day after his sentence expires he may take his seat next the Lord Chancellor or the Archbishop of Canterbury, and turn by his vote the fate of a great measure for diffusing universally the justice which he has contemned and outraged.

• That all these high, precious, grievous, absurd and revolting privileges are confined to the eldest sons of peers is certain ; it is equally certain that a more gross mistake never was committed than theirs who for this reason affect to consider all the younger branches of noble families as equal with the rest of the people. Equal they are in law: they can only sue and be sued like their neighbours ; they pay taxes like tbem; they cannot ride down the peasants or the shopkeepers with impunity; but so neither can the peers themselves. And yet shall we say that, except privilege of arrest from debt, and the power of sitting in Parliament and as judges, there is any real difference existing by law between the eldest son and his brothers further than there is between a rich man and a poor? All belong to the same caste; all are alike a favoured race in the government and in society; all have advantages unknown to us of the common people; and therefore all constitute the body of the Aristocracy in fact, be the law ever so plain in the eldest son's favour.

• The same remark applies to all persons who, from their fortune and education, live with the noble families habitually. They are admitted to the same familiarities; they receive the same respect from those who foolishly look up to rank, and yet more foolishly gaze at fashion ; they find the avenues to power as well as distinction open to them; they are born even to a political supremacy which others earn by working for it and deserving it. What difference in society is there between a lord's second son, or indeed his eldest, and the son of a rich squire, especially if he be of old family, that is, if his father and grandfather bave been



squires before him? It is certainly a very great advantage of our constitution that nothing prevents men of no birth from gaining this station by their wealth, and talents, and industry; but still they are, in this most important particular, worse off than hereditary patricians they have to make their way—to win their spurs; the others start on a vantage ground—they are born spurred.

• The question is this. A substantial farmer, or reputable shopkeeper, intending to let two or three of bis sons continue in his own business, has the spirit and the means to give one of them, who shows good abilities, a better education, that he may be a parson or a lawyer. The Jad goes to Oxford, and he there meets the younger son of the squire or the nobleman, about his own age.--Now which of the two finds it easi. est to get on in the world ? Which is soonest received into the company of men of influence in the college? Which makes his way best to notice, wherever it is of importance to him that he should obtain notice ? Which has, first at college, and afterwards in town, most favour bestowed on his efforts ? Which rises the fastest and mounts the highest, supposing their abilities and understanding equal ? Does it not require that the obscure man should be a first-rate genius to climb the heights of his career, be that civil or military, ecclesiastical or political? In England these questions can be answered in one only way.

• But suppose we come away from matters of substantial interest, and say a word of society merely. The one of the two youths, whom we are supposing to be started together in life, is born to admittance every where, and to the unsolicited enjoyment of the most refined society; the other may arrive at the same favour after he has made himself famous by his talents, or powerful by his success, when the silly creatures who preside over such intercourse would feel themselves neglected if he were not found

among their attendants. As for the daughter of the tradesman or the yeoman, no fancy can help us to picture her in those haunts of fashion, be she as fair as Venus, as chaste as Diana, as wise as Minerva, unless she has been able to repair the ruined fortunes of some noble rake by the legacy of an uncle in the East Indies. For the brother, parliamentary eloquence, (not learning or solid wisdom,) party devotion, or professional success, may cast a plank across the gulf which separates the circles of high and middling society. For the sister there is but one bridge, and it must be made of solid massive gold. Passing across it, she will be admitted to the enjoyment of baving her relations sneered at, and, if her ears are very acute, herself nicknamed among those whom she saves from want of bread; she will listen to the horrors of vulgar life, the atrocities of under-breeding, the hatefulness of honest industry, the misfortune of humble birth, until she dares not look about her or behind her, but is haunted by the recollection of her origin as if it had been a crime, and is brought to be more ashamed of her bumble and virtuous family than if they had born her in the hulks or bred her on the tread-mill.'

The picture of aristocratic and refined society which follows, is, we suppose, as like as a strongly coloured sketch can be expected to be. It reveals, too, some favourable features.

*** What, then," our honest yeoman's son, our worthy tradesman's daughter, may properly ask, “What is it that gives the aristocratic circles all this extraordinary influence; and first of all, why is the admission into aristocratic society so very highly prized, that we of the middle classes are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and cleave unto them, if we can only, at the cost of such sacrifices, obtain admittance within their pale ? ”

• First, it must be admitted that there is a very great, a very real charm, in those circles of society. The elegance of manners which there prevails is perfect ; the taste which reigns over all is complete ; the tone of conversation is highly agreeable—infinitely below that of France indeed— but still most fascinating. There is a lightness, an ease, a gaiety, which to those who have no important object in view, and who deem it the highest privilege of existence, and the utmost effort of genius, to pass the hours agreeably, must be all that is most attractive.

• After this ample admission, let us add, that whoever, after passing an evening in this society, shall attempt to recollect the substance of the conversation, will find himself engaged in a hopeless task. It would be easier to record the changes of colour in a pigeon's neck, or the series of sounds made by an Æolian harp, or the forms and hues of an Aurora Borealis. All is pleasing ; all pretty; all serviceable in passing the time; but all unsubstantial. If man had nothing to do here below but to spend without pain or uneasiness the hours not devoted to sleep, certainly there would be no reason to complain of these coteries. But if he is accountable for his time, then surely he has no right to pass it thus. Compared with this, chess becomes a science ; drafts and backgammon are highly respectable. Compared with this, dancing, which is exercise, and even games of romps are rational modes of passing the hours. Compared with this, it is worthy of a rational being to read the most frivolous romance that was ever penned, or gaze upon the poorest mime that ever strutted on the stage.

• The want of sense and reason which prevails in these circles is wholly inconceivable. An ignorance of all that the more refined of the middle, or even of the lower classes, well know, is accompanied by an insulting contempt for any one who does not know any of the silly and worthless trifles which form the staple of their only knowledge. An entire incapacity of reasoning is twin sister to a ready and flippant and authoritative denial of all that reason has taught others. An utter impossibility of understanding what men of learning and experience have become familiar with, stalks hand in hand, insolent and exulting, with a stupid denial of truths which are all but self-evident, and are of extreme importance. Every female member of this exquisite class is under the exclusive dominion of some waiting maid, or silly young lover, or slandermongering newspaper ; and if not under the sway of one paper, lives in bodily fear of two or three. Bribes, entreaties, threats, are by turns employed to disarm these tyrants; and however tormented the wretched victim may be, she is forced by some strange fatality, or propensity, to read wbat most tortures her.'

The relations of the Aristocracy with the Press are thus handled, without much mercy, it must be admitted.

• Indeed, the relations of this aristocratic class with the press, form one of the features most illustrative of the aristocratic character, replete as it is with all the caprice and waywardness, the unreasoning and often un feeling propensities, the alternate fits of blindness to all danger, and alarm where all is safe ; in short, all that goes to the composition of a child, and a spoiled child.

• Of the press, then, they live in habitual dread; but it is a fear, which being altogether void of wisdom, produces good neither to its victims nor its objects. Frightened to death at any unfavourable allusion to themselves or their ways, they support with the most stoical indiffer. ence all attacks upon their professed principles, all opposition to the policy they fancy they approve. Furious to the pitch of Bethlem or St Luke's, if they themselves be but touched or threatened, nothing can be more exemplary than the fortitude with which they sustain the rudest shocks that can be given to the reputation of their dearest and nearest connexions. Nay, they bear without flinching, with the patience of anchorites, and the courage of martyrs, (but that the pain is vicarious, the most exquisite and long-continued tortures to which the feelings of their friends and relations can be subjected. This is no exaggeration; for it is below, very much below, the truth. They delight in the slander of that press, the terrors of which daily haunt them, and nightly break their slumbers. Nothing is to them a greater enjoyment than to read all that can be said against their friends. They know, to be sure, that all is false ; but, judging by themselves, they know that all of it gives pain. The public, they are quite aware, believe little of it ; for of late years the press has taken pretty good care to make its attacks very harmless in that respect; but then they feel that those friends who are the objects of the abuse are probably as sensitive as themselves. Thus, the class we are speaking of form in reality the slander-market of the day; and yet, with a miraculous inconsistency, they are in one everlasting chorus against “the license of the press," which, but for them, 'would have no being; but for their follies, no object; but for their malice no support ; but for their spiteful credulity, no dupes to work upon ; but for their existence, no chance of continuing its own. They, indeed, turn upon their own instruments—make war upon the tools they work with-the very limbs they sustain and move! It is the rebellion of the members reversed; for here we have the overgrown belly attacking the Timbs! Had the aristocrats the power and the industry, they would indite their book “ A Good Name worthless,” or The Crimes of the Press,” but we should then expect to see " Sermons on the Sixth Commandment, by a Receiver of Stolen Goods.

• That their encouragement is confined to the vilest portion of the press has long ayo been affirmed, and is not denied. The respectable journals are no favourite reading of theirs. The newspaper that fear. lessly defends the right; that refuses to pander for the headlong passions of the multitude, or cater for the vicious appetites of the selecter circles; that does its duty alike regardless of the hustings and the boudoir; has little chance of lying on the satin-wood table, of being blotted with ungrammatical ill-spelt notes, half bad English, half worse French, or of being fondled by fingers that have just broken a gold-wax seal on a grass-green paper. But more especially will it be excluded, possibly extruded, from those sacred haunts of the Corinthian order, if it convey any solid instruction upon a useful or important subject, interesting to the species which the writers adorn, and the patricians do their best to degrade. Even wit the most refined finds no echo in such minds; and if it be used in illustrating an argument, or in pressing home the demonstration (which it often may be), the author is charged with treating a serious subject lightly, and of jesting where he should reason. Broad humour, descending to farce, is the utmost reach of their capacity; and that is of no value in their eyes unless it raises a laugh at a friend's expense. Some who have lived at court, and are capable of better things, say they carefully eschew all jests; for princes take such things as a personal affront-as raising the joker to their own level, by calling on them to laugh with bim. One kind of jest, indeed, never fails to find farour in those high latitudes—where the author is himself the subject of the merriment. Buffoonery is a denizen in all courts, but most commonly indigenous ; and after the court's example patrician society is fashioned. It is not in the true aristocratic circles that any one will adventure the most harmless jest who would not pass for a jacobin or a free-thinker. He may make merry with the led-captain, or the humble companion, or possibly the chaplain (though that was rather in the olden time, before the French Revolution had taught the upper orders to pay the homage rendered by vice to virtue, without acquiring piety or morals). Any other kind of wit rather indicates, if tolerated, that the adventurous individual has found his way thither from the lower latitudes of the liberal party.'

The following passage relates to the middle classes.

• The middle, not the upper class, are the part of the nation which is entitled to command respect, and enabled to win esteem or challenge admiration. They read, they reflect, they reason, they think for themselves; they will neither let a pope, nor a prince, nor a minister, nor a newspaper, form their opinions for them; and they will neither, from views of interest nor motives of fear, be made the dupe or tool of others. They are the nation—the people-in every rational or correct sense of the word. By them, through them, for them, the fabric of the government is reared, continued, designed. How long are they likely to suffer a few persons of overgrown wealth, laughable folly, and considerable profligacy, to usurp, and exclusively to hold, all consideration, all individual importance ? Can the scales of society be kept steadily adjusted when the unnatural force, violently exerted in favour of the feather, makes the unaided gold kick the beam ?'

There is a very sound and just remark added, on the folly of those who suppose that all the exclusiveness of patrician society would cease on the abolition of titles, or on the cessation of the political privileges of the Peerage. As long as property contiDues sacred, and no man in his senses, the writer admits, can

« PreviousContinue »