Page images

for a chief magistrate must be combined with another element, before it becomes loyalty. You must feel that the chief magistrate is something more than a magistrate—that he is your sovereign--that you belong to him as his subject, so that he has a property in you—that he is your protector and lord, the fountain of power, justice, and honor,--and then you know what loyalty is, towards a sovereign. Does any body in England, save perhaps some speculative democrat, ever think of the young lady in Buckingham Palace as simply a female chief magistrate ? Or does the true Englishman think of her rather as his royal mistress, and as having a personal right in him which she has inherited, and which is to descend like any other property to her heirs? In something of the same spirit, do the peasantry on a great estate look up to their immediate superior. He is the proprietor of the soil which they cultivate; he is, or ought to be, their hereditary guardian and patron; they are not his slaves indeed, but they are in one sense a part of his property ; all the fruit of their toil, beyond a meagre supply of comforts for themselves, is his; if he is benevolent and conscientiously bent on the improvement of their condition, they are happy; if he cares not for them, they can do little for themselves. So much of the feudal system remains, that the feeling of dependence and inferiority on the one hand, and of superiority and power on the other, runs through society. That radical element of the feudal system, the principle of the lower made for the higher, the many for the one, the cultivators of the soil for the proprietors of the soil, the peasantry for the aristocracy, the people for the sovereign, -is not yet extinct even in legislation. Far less is it extinct in respect to its influence on manners and national character. Feudal ism, in its various modifications, is the grand element in the history of every European people ; and therefore its influence cannot but be for ages to come one of the grand elements in the character of every European people. The constitution of society, even in the freest countries there, is still feudalism at the foundation. The feudalism is reformed indeed, remodeled, broken up and reconstructed with large additions of new materials; securities are provided for human rights; guards are erected against the abuse of power; the great principle has been forced in, that though the many are made for the one, the one on the other hand is made for the many, and owes them duties as sacred as the duties iron-fisted, leaden-headed old baron of the days of King John,--the coroneted gambler “whose blood has crept through” titled "scoundrels ever since” it was ennobled by the Tudors,-yes and the rowdy profligate who traces his pedigree back to some unmentionable female in the court of Charles the Second,--takes precedence of him, and blesses himself as of a more illustrious birth than this new created lord of yesterday. Meanwhile, the man of science and of letters has no hope of rising to so glorious an eminence. The astronomer who writes his name among the constellations—the chemist at whose analizing touch nature gives up her profoundest secrets the inventor who gives new arms to labor, new wings to commerce, and new wealth and comforts to mankind-the historian who illuminates his country's annals, and turns into wisdom the experience of past ages--the poet who entrances nations with the spell of song and fable--seeks the patronage of the high-born, happy to share that patronage with actors and Italian fiddlers, thrice happy if the king, deeming him fit to stand in the outer court of aristocracy, shall dub him knight, or exalt him to the rank of baronet. Thus Davy, transformed into Sir Humphrey, or Brewster, elevated into Sir David, is made equal in rank with such samples of human nature as Sir Mulberry Hawk; even as Newton after having revealed the system of the universe, and having made his simple plebeian name the most illustrious in the history of human knowledge, was belittled into Sir Isaac, and enabled to stand in the court of Queen Anne at the same degree of greatness with Pope's

“Sir Plume, of amber snuff-box justly vain,

And the nice conduct of a clouded cane.

Thus “ the Aristo of the North," after having filled the world with his fame, received the honor of a baronetcy, and was made almost respectable enough to be company for such as the high-born earl of Munster, and the noble marquis of Waterford. Thus perhaps, if Milton were to come to life again, under the present whig administration, and were so far to divest himself of his old Puritan and republican whims, as to make himself agreeable to my Lord Melbourne, we might hear of Sir John Milton, the author of Paradise Lost.

This sentiment then, the feudal sentiment of pride of birth, is in Great Britain, and far more in most European


countries, one of the elements of national character. It works not only in those who have high birth to be proud of, but in those who feel themselves depressed because others were born so far above them. It affects not only the etiquette of the palace and of the princely castle, but the manners and feelings of society in each of its numerous gradations. You may see the reflection of its influences direct and indirect, upon all the volumes even of the current literature of the old world.

Inseparable from this in its influence on society, is another feudal exaggeration of a natural human sentiment. As the pride of birth, which we have been considering, is the perversion of that human affection which connects us with our ancestors, so family ambition is the perversion of that human affection which connects us with our posterity. The pride of being born of a great family, and the ambition to be the founder or upbuilder of a great family are only modifications of the same disposition. Great families are a part of the feudal system. The estate of a landed proprietor under that system, is of the nature of a subordinate principality. Hence the undivided transmission of estates to the eldest

Hence the law of entail, by which the estate is inalienable, the possessor for the time being having only a life interest in it. These two principles working together make great families. In our country, happily, great families are impossible. We see indeed, now and then, something of the European ambition to make a great family ; for the impossibility is not yet so fully understood as to produce its complete effect upon the sentiments and habits of the entire people. Now and then we see a man who has acquired wealth by skill and diligence in business-or more often one who has suddenly grown rich by the chances of speculation and who, having seen or heard how the aristocracy of Europe live in feudal grandeur on their great estates, on which their ancestors have lived for ages before them, and on which their descendants are to live through ages yet uncounted, is ambitious to do something of the same kind here, to call his lands after his own name, and to build the baronial mansion which his posterity shall inhabit. But the great estate is divided ; each heir, trained in the same luxurious habits as if he were to inherit the whole, finds his fragment insufficient for his wants; the domain passes into the hands of strangers; the aristocratic mansion becomes SECOND SERIES, VOL. III. NO. I.


perhaps a tavern, perhaps a manufactory. The experiment soon becomes ludicrous, for till the laws which control inheritance and the tenure of estates-laws more fundamental to our social system than any others, and more deeply engraved upon the hearts of the people--are radically changed, the attempt must be as futile as an attempt to change the order of the seasons. All that a man can do for his posterity, under our laws, aside from what he does for the common welfare of his country-he must do by training his own children, so that they shall train theirs, for virtue, and for that wealth which is in the mind and not in outward possessions. In feudal countries, on the other hand, and in Britain as much as in any other, the moment a man begins to rise from poverty itself, the moment his accumulations begin to put him in any sense beyond the reach of personal want, one of his first temptations is to look out for his family; not merely to secure his children against poverty, but to raise his remote posterity into an elevated rank, to separate their interests from the interests of society at large, and thus to spread out his selfishness over all future time. The effect of this on national character cannot be insignificant. Look at such a man as Walter Scott fired with this family ambition, and under the impulse selling himself to a drudgery that broke his mighty energies, and exhausted those powers that had so long seemed exhaustless, and all for what? Why, that the author of Marmion and of Ivanhoe might be as Carlyle has well expressed it, “the founder of a race of Scotch lairds."

With the sentiments already noticed, and with the struct. ure of society which engenders them, the sentiment of contempt for labor and for poverty is inseparably connected. Where society is thus divided into classes by hereditary distinctions--one class created to possess, to enjoy, to govern, to be honored, and another class destined to obtain by toil a scanty subsistence, or in more fortunate instances a humble competency,-labor is of course dishonored. There those who are born to labor feel that their lot is degradation, they are made to feel it by all the arrangements of society. Human nature every where, and under all political institutions is prone enough to despise labor, and to honor as the favorites of fortune or of Providence those who have nothing to do ; but in the state of society of which we are speaking, that propensity instead of being counteracted, as the author

of our nature designed it should be, is pampered to a monstrous growth. Man was made for employment, made to provide for himself, and to enjoy what he has the more for its being the fruit of his industry; and that constitution of society only is in accordance with the constitution of individual man, in which each individual has scope for the exercise of his powers, and is stimulated to a wholesome activity. Society is not yet so constituted in the old world ; though by successive changes it is continually approximating towards such a constitution. Meanwhile the old contempt for labor remains, acting and re-acting between the two great classes into which society is divided,—the mere consumers despising the producers, and the producers therefore despising themselves,—the unproductive consumers blessing themselves as the favorites of heaven, and the producers, on the other hand, envying the consumers and ever learning to hate them.

In our own country, different sorts of labor are of course held in different degrees of honor, Those employments which require high intellectual and moral qualifications, cannot but be regarded among us as more honorable than mere muscular drudgery; for it is naturally presumed that the man is furnished with those personal qualities which are necessary in his employment. Still, with us, no sort of honest labor is dishonorable. Our country has thousands of legislators and magistrates who cultivate their own acres with their own hands, and who think none the less of themselves on that account, and are none the less thought of by their fellow citizens. But under other systems, the different kinds of labor, instead of being more or less honorable, are only more or less dishonorable. Where the highest class is supposed to find its honor and its felicity in doing nothing, there the necessity of earning one's bread in order to eat it, is a dishonor, a mark of inferiority ; and each particular kind of labor is higher or lower on the scale of respectability, not in proportion to the demand which it makes for a higher or lower order of qualifications, but in proportion as it brings men nearer to the level, and secures for them the patronage or the deference, of the unlaboring aristocracy. Even in the middle ages the man of science or of letters, the physician, the learned clerk, the skilful artizan, could command from peer and king something of the respect due to intellectual and personal superiority, but still the superiority of knowledge and of virtue, was as nothing before the great

« PreviousContinue »