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prevails in France. It is labouring under the chastisement of Heaven. An offended Deity has rained down upon it a worse scourge than the brimstone which destroyed the cities of the Plain—the scourge of its own passions and vices. The terrible cruelty of the Reign of Terror, the enormous injustice of the revolutionary rule, are registered in the book of fate ; the general abandonment of religion by the most active and influential of the inhabitants of towns over the whole country, has led to the extirpation of all the barriers against anarchy which are fitted to secure the wellbeing of society. Its fate is sealed ; its glories are gone; the unfettered march of passion will overthrow every public and private virtue, and national ruin will be the consequence. We are following in the same course, and will most certainly share in the same punishment.
THE BRITISH PEERAGE
(BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE, JULY 1831 & FEB. 1832) *
The House of Peers being the body in the state where the next defensive contest of the constitution is to be maintained, has become, as might be expected, the subject of unmeasured obloquy and misrepresentation, on the part of the Reforming journals, for some time past. One would imagine, from the style of their attacks, that this illustrious assembly was composed of persons whose interests were not only inconsistent with, but adverse to those of the other classes of society ; that they form a sort of insulated junto in the middle of the other members of the state ; and that all the vituperation so justly lavished on the privileged ranks in the Continental states may fairly be transferred to the British peerage. The frequency and hardihood of such assertions are calculated not only to impose upon the uninformed, but even to induce forgetfulness of the real state of the fact on the part of the learned. By the constant repetition of falsehood, even the sound of truth at length appears strange to the ears once most accustomed to hear it.
The circumstance which made the aristocracy so hateful to the French nation, and still renders it so injurious in most of the European monarchies, is, that they were not only relieved from all the burdens which oppressed the other classes, but enjoyed a monopoly of all the honourable situations of every description, under government. Not only were all the higher situations, such as those of ambassadors, generals, and admirals, but all the inferior offices, such as abbacies, judgeships, bishopricks, open alone to the younger branches of the nobility. Unless a man could prove the nobility of his descent, he was debarred from rising higher than to the rank of a lieutenant in the army or navy; and he had no chance of obtaining better preferment than a country curacy of £30 or £40 a-year in the church. The whole ecclesiastical dignities and emoluments were exclusively enjoyed by the aristocracy. “ It is a terrible thing," said Pascal, “that influence of nobility--it gives a man an ascendency which could not be acquired by half a century of glory. Look at that young fool-it is from that stock that we make the bishops, marshals, and ambassadors of France.” The line now drawn in India between the power and eligibility for office of the British youth, and the native Hindoos, is not more rigid than existed in France, prior to 1789, between the descendants of noble and those of plebeian blood. It was this invidious distinction that mainly contributed to produce the Revolution, because it inflicted a personal injury upon every man of plebeian birth, and opposed an insuperable bar to the ambition and fortunes of conscious talent, in ninety-nine out of the hundred, in the whole community. “ What is the Tiers Etat ?" said the Abbé Sièges, in his celebrated pamphlet at the opening of the Constituent Assembly: “ It is the whole nation, minus one hundred and fifty thousand individuals.” For this class to monopolise all the fortunes and distinctions of the monarchy, became, in an age of rising prosperity, altogether insupportable. Not the corruption of the court, nor the infidelity of the philosophers, produced the Revolution—for these were of partial application ; but the pride of the nobles, based on centuries of exclusive power, and intolerable in an age of rising improvement.
* Written during the discussion in Parliament of the Reform Bill.
These privileges were accompanied, on the part of the church and the nobility, by a general exemption from taxation, upon the principle that the first saved the state by their prayers, and the second defended it by their swords. This exemption was of comparatively little importance during the days of feudal power, when taxes were inconsiderable, and the expenses of government, from the absence of standing armies, were not greater than those of a powerful baron. But when the expenses of the state increased, and the embarrassments of the treasury augmented, the exemption became intolerable. To behold one hundred and fifty thousand of the richest persons in France, most of whom were perfectly idle, and who enjoyed all the lucrative offices under government, free from direct taxation, while their poorer brethren toiled under the weight of burdens to the amount of £20,000,000 a-year, was to the last degree exasperating
It added immensely to the weight of these grievances that the privileges of nobility were perpetual, and descended with titles of honour to all the members of a family indiscriminately. The effect of this was to create an exclusive class, whose rights never expired, which passed from father to son even to the last generation, and which had nothing in common, either in point of interest, feeling, or habits, with the inferior classes of society. Custom and prejudice, omnipotent with this order in every country, precluded any young men of noble birth from entering into commerce or business of any sort ; and the necessary consequence was, that the whole were thrown upon the offices at the disposal of government; and every situation, however inconsiderable, was sought after by a host of noble competitors, to the utter exclusion of every person of plebeian descent. But for the poverty of this needy race, which rendered marriage unfrequent, save in the eldest son of the family, and the excessive dissoluteness of their manners, France would have been overspread by a race of haughty idlers, like Spain—the four hundred and eighty thousand hidalgos of which, too proud to do anything for themselves, spend their lives in basking in the sunshine in their provincial towns.
How different in all these respects is the aristocracy of England, and how totally inapplicable are all the ideas drawn from the situation of foreign to that of the British nobility! No exemption from taxation, no exclusive privileges, no invidious distinctions, separate them from the other classes in the state. By a fortunate custom, which has done more, says Hallam, for the liberties of England than any other single circumstance in its domestic policy, the distinction of titles has been confined from time immemorial to the eldest son of the family; while the younger branches, in the estimation of the law merely commoners, speedily acquire the ideas of that class, and, in the space of a few generations, become indistinguishable from the general body of the community. In this way the younger branches of the nobility, the curse and bane of Continental monarchies, have become one of the most useful and important classes in the British community, because they form a link between the otherwise discordant branches of society, and blend the dignified manners of elevated, with the vigour and activity of humble birth. Here, in the splendid language of Mr Sheridan, is no sullen line of demarcation for ever separating the higher from the lower orders; but all is one harmonious whole, insensibly passing, as in the colours of the prism, from the bright glitter of the orange, where the nobility bask in the sunshine of rank and opulence, to the sober hue of the indigo, where the peasant toils in the shade of humble life.
The prerogative of the Crown for the creation of Peers has been liberally exercised of late years : and the nobles are now four times as numerous as they were during the Great Rebellion. Who have been the men, who have thus been elevated to the rank of hereditary legislators ? The greatest and most illustrious characters of their daythe statesmen who have sustained the country by their exertions—the heroes who have led its armies to victorythe sailors who shook the world with its fleets—the patriots who have vindicated its freedom by their courage. The names of Marlborough and Wellington, of Abercrombie and Anglesey, of Lynedoch and Hill, recall the most splendid passages in the military annals of Britain : those of Nelson and St Vincent, of Howe and Duncan, the most glorious triumphs of its Navy : those of Somers and Chatham, of Grenville and Wellesley, the most illustrious efforts of its statesmen. Such men not only add dignity to the assembly in which they are placed, but the prospect of obtaining so brilliant a distinction for their family operates powerfully on the exertions of the profession to which they belong. When Nelson ran his own vessel alongside two line-of-battle ships at St Vincent's, and boarded them both one after the other, he exclaimed, “ A peerage, or Westminster Abbey !” and a similar feeling operates universally, not only upon those who have such a distinction placed within their reach, but who can hope by strenuous exertion ultimately to obtain it. No man can doubt that the prospect of hereditary honours