« AnteriorContinuar »
consist; but no strength, no talent, no contrivance could enable him to begin the race before he was ushered into the world, and achieve an ante-natal right to power and fame. Living or posthumous glory was within any body's reach, but to derive honours from those who were dead and gone, and consequently beyond our control, was a privilege only to be attained by those who could prove their ancestry. Hence the fantastical claims of high birth, as if it were an exemption instead of a responsibility, and hence the learned ignorance and all the groping in the dark of the Heralds' College. True, every family is of equal antiquity, all descended from the same parents; but this was too humiliating for those who could trace the current of their blood a little farther than others before it became lost in the general obscurity. It was therefore held vulgar to have the authority of Scripture for being descended from Adam and Eve; while it was genteel to have the verdiet of Garter King at Arms in favour of a birth derived from Tudors and Plantagenets of comparatively modern date. So much reverence did M. de Brissac attach to the notion of being a gentleman in this sense of the word, that in the fervour of his aristocratical piety he invariably spoke of the Deity as " Le Gentilhomme d'en haut."
Titles of nobility were another invention to counteract those inconsiderate proceedings of Nature, who would sometimes dignify with a heavenly patent, and produce
A combination and a form indeed,
where the party was after all, perhaps, a mere upstart, a roturier, a parvenu. An opposition to such levelling and scandalous proceedings became indispensable; and the expedient of hereditary nobility was devised, to serve as a defence and exclusion against that which was innate. Distinctions derived from men were set above those conferred by the Derty. Ay, but what a fine incentive to virtue, cries some one, to hold out these rewards of honour to theTji-ave, the learned, the pious, and the good! Yes, if they were always so conferred; but what becomes of this fine moral stimulus, if the sons of these meritorious personages prove to be the antipodes of their fathers? In that case we can only exclaim with Pope
"What can ennoble fools, or sots, or cowards?
and regret that such an immoral example should be held out to the world as that of emblazoning and dignifying profligates and dunces. It is an idle objection, that men would not struggle to achieve honours if they could not transmit them, for they generally love themselves quite as well as their posterity, and in point of fact there is a keener contest for the ribbons of the different orders which are not transmissible, than for any more durable distinction. "A charming house and grounds," said a gentleman, calling upon his friend in the country, "but I believe you have only got them for your life."—" True," replied the other," but I did hot calculate upon wanting them much longer." Such is the common feeling among the candidates for honours; they would be well content with their personal reward, besides that which virtue confers upon itself.
Strange that those whose talents are fabricated at the Heralds' College, who possess no other distinctions than those by which their ancestors have been distinguished, should not be sensible of the weakness of their position, but provoke a questioning of their claims by their misplaced arrogance. "I know," said a man of talent to a nobleman of this sort, "what is due to your rank, but I also know that it is much easier to be my superior than my equal." One of the Genoese Deputies becoming rather warm in a dispute with the Chevalier de Bouteville, the latter haughtily exclaimed, "Are you aware that I am the representative of the King my master ?"—" Are you aware," replied the Genoese, "that I have no master, and that I am the representative of my equals?''
For many ages dress afforded an easy and infallible method of distinguishing ranks, and saving dukes and dons from the humiliation of being mistaken for commoners. The lords of the earth stripped birds and beasts of their clothing to make their own lordliness more apparent; a little reptile was hunted, that its fur might assist in the manufacture of monarchs; a worm was robbed of its silk, that its human namesake might strut about in a sash, and call himself a knight: courtiers and Corinthians were known by the gold lace upon their liveries; while stars, garters, and ribbons glittered upon those who attached more importance to the brightness of their persons than that of their heads. Here was an exterior nobility, that was to be had ready made from the court tailor; and it was an egregious mistake on the part of those who could achieve no other greatness but that which they carried upon their backs, to suffer so laudable a habit ever to fall into abeyance. But so it is. In these democratic^) days there is an universal spread of the same broad-cloth over patrician and plebeian shoulders; the peer and the peasant are confounded, there is but one rank to the eye, all those who are above rags are equals. Nor will a closer acquaintance always enable us to detect the difference; for education, which was once a distinction, is now so widely diffused that people's minds are like their coats, offering no evidence of the wearer's station in society.
In this deplorable state of things, with the lower classes constantly encroaching upon their prerogatives, our Corinthians have been driven to various devices, some of them " high fantastical" enough, to assert their real superiority, and confer a genuine celebrity upon their names. One has immortalised himself by inventing a coat without flaps, another has become sponsor to a machine for heating gravy, a third to an oddshaped hat, a fourth to a gig of a peculiar construction, and others to different contrivances equally ingenious and exalted. In the aggressions daily committing by wealth upon rank in this our commercial country, none were more galling than those invasions of the territory which had hitherto been appropriated to the upper classes. Street by street, and parish by parish, have the civic trespassers won their unhallowed way. Was it not enough that Portland-place, after its echoes had been long profaned by monosyllabic surnames of awful vulgarity, was finally abandoned to the enemy? Must Manchester, Cavendish, Grosvenor squares, whose very titles attest their patrician destination, be desecrated by the same encroachment, as ignoble as the dry-rot and as insatiable in its progress? Nay, not content with pushing the gentility out of town, and positively shouldering them into the fields, their assailants have dogged their footsteps, and bearded them in their rural or marine retreats. Gravesend, Ramsgate, and Margate, from their vicinity to the capital, were speedily over-run by the barbarians, and, of course, evacuated by the select. In spite of the sanction of royalty, Brighton .was compelled to surrender at discretion to the horde of shopkeepers and money-getters. Weymouth, Tenby, Dawlish, and the remoter bathing-places, enjoyed but a short respite; for the fatal rapidity and cheapness of the steam navigation quickly brought the enemy to their gates, and obliged the fashionable fugitives once more to decamp. History offers no spectacle more piteous than that of this persecuted class. The inroads of the American settlers upon the unfortunate Indians, the Cryptia in which the Spartans chased their slaves, the hunting down of the Maroons with bloodhounds, were nothing compared to this unrelenting pursuit of our Corinthians. "The Thanes fly from me," cries the indefatigable vulgarian, as he reaches the haunt from which they have just escaped; and, like the huntsman when he discovers the empty form of a hare, he is only animated with a keener resolution to run down the wretched fugitive. .'
Some contented themselves in this trying emergency with bestowing upon their servants the gorgeous liveries which they had discarded in their own persons, and sharing the glory which was reflected upon them from their footmen; but they were soon eclipsed by aldermen and contractors, to say nothing of my lord mayor, who has an undoubted claim to this species of pre-eminence, as Bartholomew fair has to its acknowledged superiority in gilt gingerbread. One would think that the civic classes, no undervalues of good cheer, would at least leave to their superiors the quiet enjoyment of their dinner hour. Quite the contrary; they have driven them, by successive incroachments, from five o'clock to eight or nine, and bid fair to hunt them all round the dial-plate; for as to the possibility of a patrician eating any repast at the same hour as a plebeian, it is a degradation which none but a radical would dream of. No genuine Corinthian will live in any respect like his inferiors: what a pity that he is obliged to die like them !" One touch of nature makes the whole world kin," and what is to become of him in the ungenteel fellowship of the church-yard? What his recreations if there be no Almacks's in Heaven? Perhaps he calculates upon the same posthumous separation as was placed between Dives and Lazarus, and would rather be condemned to any thing after death, than suffer an imputation upon his gentility when living.
What has been said of the higher classes in England may be applied to all the others in the proportion of their various gradations and degrees. Such has been the rapidity of the general advancement, that there is some little confusion in the respective boundaries, and each is put to all the contrivances of its pride to distinguish itself from the grade beneath. Hence the servility to superiors, and the stiff-necked repulsive reserve, not to say arrogance towards inferiors or equals, which form the marked and besetting sins of English society. No sooner do individuals spring from the earth, than like the soldiers of Cadmus they begin to attack each other. That absence of jealousy and pride, that kindly feeling towards strangers, which in France gives a centripetal direction to society, is utterly unknown to our centrifugal countrymen.
vOL. XI. NO. XLvII. 2 H
Hedgehogs and porcupines do not bristle up their backs more fiercely at the approach of a terrier, than most of our English gentry at the sight of a stranger; and upon the Continent, where the contrast is more striking, both sexes may be easily recognised by the scorn and disdain with which their countenances are habitually charged. This is bad enough in those who have dignities to defend, who stick up steel-traps and spring-guns in their looks to warn trespassers from attempting any intimacy with a Corinthian; but the hauteur of the low is not less ridiculous than odious. The kick of the jackass hurt the sick lion more from its absurd insolence than from its power of harming him. It is a solecism to suppose that any breach of good manners can be an evidence of belonging to the class of good society, and for the benefit of all those swaggering and anxious pretenders who make themselves miserable in their ceaseless aspirations after gentility, it may be right to inform them that the only way to be a gentleman is to have the feelings of one; to be gentle in its proper acceptation, to be elevated above others in sentiment rather than in situation, and to let the benevolence of the heart be manifested in the general courtesy and affability of the demeanour. H.
MY FIRST-BORN, SMILING.
Sage Sibyls say, when infants smile.
Angelic forms before them shine—
Has mark'd their brows with sorrow's line.
And fair blue eyes,smile softly bright:
Eyes—clear as Bethle'm's guiding light:
One form alone may guard thy soul:
The conflict of an earthly goal.
Many a year she taught my view,
My thoughts to bend with things above—
Wlho can feel care when mothers love?
1 heard the last convulsive sigh—
1 felt that charity could diel
Spirit of her who loved me well!
Take thy bright palm and hie thee down:
Lead, when he dies, to Heaven's bright crown.
LETTERS FROM ROME. NO. II.
You wish for some details upon the early history of the present Pope Annibal della Genga. I believe that very few, if any, of the foreigners now in Rome have it in their power to satisfy your curiosity upon that subject. A month back I could myself have only sent you some vague generalities or uninteresting facts, uncharacteristic of the man or the country; but during a visit to Naples I was fortunate enough to fall in with an old habitue of the papal court, from whom I learned some curious particulars of the life of his present Holiness. He is, like the Count d'Artois in France, a reformed man of pleasure, and, like most other converts, possesses, or affects to possess, a greater rigidity of manners than if he had never strayed from the golden path of propriety. His present elevated station he owes in a great measure to the beauty of his person and the elegance of his manners. The immediate predecessor of the last Pope, Pius VI. was a very handsome man, as far as a man can be called handsome, whose features, though regular, were wanting in dignified expression. However this may be, he took pleasure, like Murat, in forming his court of the best-looking men amongst the aspirants for ecclesiastical dignities. About 1783 he was desirous of making some historical researches, with a view to the framing of a new arrangement for the government of the Catholic churches in Germany; and for this purpose he was anxiously seeking for a private secretary upon whose discretion he might rely. Having remarked one day at the Capelle Papule (the Pope's mass) a young man of the most noble and prepossessing appearance, the Marquis della Genga, who had just entered into orders, he had him sent for secretly that night. On his coming into the presence, the Pope at once gave him to understand, that in case he had no reason to be dissatisfied with his zeal and discretion, he should charge himself with advancing his fortune. He then told him that he was to repair five times a week at nine o'clock at night to the private door of his Holiness's apartment, and that if he perceived a small piece of paper thrown, apparently by chance, near the door, he should knock, and that he himself, the Pope, would open it to him, when he would have to write under his dictation upon the ecclesiastical affairs of Germany until one or two o'clock in the morning. The task finished, the Abbe della Genga was to quit the Pope's apartments with the same precaution and mystery. These secret proceedings continued for a year without being discovered. At the end of that period, Cardinal Colnacci, uncle to the Cardinal Gonzalvi, and one of the most ambitious men at the court of Rome, got an intimation that the Pope was secretly employed upon some grave matter or other. The ascertaining the nature of this became most interesting and important in a despotic court, where every one has something to hope or to fear. Skilful and insinuating secret-developers were set to work upon the Camerieri of the Pope, but without the desired success, as these persons knew nothing of the nocturnal occupations of his Holiness. The most adroit measures were resorted to to discover if any one about the court was in the secret, but in vain; the mystery still remained unrevealed. Arguses were placed near all the avenues to the Pope's chamber, but nothing was seen that could clear up the darkness. At length, after several months spent in useless efforts, Cardinal Colnacci engaged his