« AnteriorContinuar »
stantly been exerted to devise or to promote new pleasures, which, whether intellectual or sensual, serious or vapid, those of less bold or less inventive faculties have aspired to share. Thus has currency been given to the ever-changeful modes, pursuits, occupations, amusements, and even dress, of the vivacious, the imaginative, and the ardent amongst the rich; and such is the law of Nature herself, when she ordains the various capacities, endowments, characters, and attainments of men and women. Fashion belongs to no one class; for all classes have their fashion-that is, they follow in the train which their superiors—tacitly, but immediately, acknowledged-mark out for that which leads to the newest delight, but with more and more alloy in its descent. The vulgar generalization of “the world of fashion” represents them as foolish and vicious, broken in fortune and health, and the slaves of habits too inveterate to undergo change or improvement. Let us see how much of this is true, and how much of the truth attaches to the aristocracy.
The fashionable boy or girl may be of strong or of weak understanding, and they find their place and take rank accordingly. Of wasted sensibilities and broken constitutions undoubtedly they are not: they may arrive, by time, at that fatal distinction; but they commence their career in the vigour of life, and only follow the law of their kind, that the exhaustion will be in proportion to the energy or the excess with which any pursuit is followed. "Fashion, if it mean that attraction which congregates while it separates all God's creatures into classes, is common to them all; and, when applied to those who, by wealth and station, are enabled to employ their time in expensive pleasures, is only a superlative distinction. Fashion, we repeat, is but the hope of enjoyment, inducing the less to imitate the more inventive of their class.
Nor is fashion without its benefits as well as its frivolities. By far the greater portion of those contrivances, -expensive when singly constructed in the first instance, but reduced by multiplicity to a cheapness which brings them within almost universal adoption,-by far the greater portion of articles which now constitute, not alone the refinements, but the comforts of decent life, owe their existence to the patronage of this all-worshipped idol. Thus wealth finds its widest, and perhaps its best, channels, and is continually employed for the advantage of every class,
- for those who obtain their livelihood and their independence from their invention, ingenuity, and labour, and for those also whose everyday conveniences are literally fashioned by the hands of industry.
Well, but the luxury and the folly of fashionable life! True. But do these appertain solely to the aristocracy, or in any greater degree than, cæteris paribus, belongs to the other classes ? It is a wilful error to assert that the common circumstances, the daily and hourly habits of mankind, admit of extraordinary elevation. The gifted with talent to advance the progression of society are the few; and the very devotion of their time and lofty undertakings prove them to be necessarily persons of unbounded commerce with the world of business, or of unbroken seclusion and study. The idle, the indolent, those who merely seek to pass time agreeably, are the many in all ranks. Such dissipation-such waste, if you please-is no otherwise peculiar to the aristocracy than as it is permitted them to use their own discretion in the employment of their hours.
But even from this trial, if the comparison were fairly conducted, we
believe they would come out, if not absolutely blameless, incomparably superior. There are material differences between the aristocracy and all below them in the conduct and in the ends of education. The aċcomplishment which is merely valuable to the middle classés is almost indispensable to the higher, because it appertains of nature and convention to their order. Their opportunities of acquirement are the highest that can be enjoyed. Their natural sensibilities are even made artificially more delicate; they have, from birth to manhood, perfect leisure, money to purchase the finest instruction, and a field to exert their talents, where, if every excellence be not extolled, every failure, even the slightest declension from the most exalted models, is severely satirised or censured or contemned. And they do cultivate literature and the arts extensively, often, indeed, above measure. They live amongst the purest productions of genius--sculpture, pictures, music, books; the greatest artists depend upon the judgment of these critics for the acknowledgment of their supremacy. They are almost compelled, by the diversity of English and foreign society, to speak the languages of hither-Europe, and to perfection. They are stimulated by the severest competition-they are frequently found to emulate the most celebrated professors * Their views are enlarged, improved, and refined by foreign travel, and they receive their last high polish from the court.
We have already assigned the true reason why these facts do not make their own way, permeate the community, and obtain for the aristocracy the praise its members deserve—they are seldom seen out of the circle of their immediate influence; therein such attainments are common, according to the degrees of the ability of their possessors, to nearly all who share as well as witness them; therefore they excite no extraordinary attention ; and if extreme devotion to any single branch-to literature, eloquence, poetry, painting, or music-should separate the enthusiastic admirer from the herd, the individual is almost instantly made the object of the bitterest satire, or the most contemptuous ridicule. That attachment to art which would be the praise of any one of lower condition, is converted into a reproach against a member of the aristocracy.
What circumstances, then, enjoyed by persons of lower station, can compensate these various and superior advantages ? how is it ever found that the humble rise to emulate and even surpass those who are thus gifted, thus tutored, and thus stimulated ? It is answered, -necessity directs the mind sedulously to one pursuit--necessity secures patience of labour-necessity dictates and preserves seclusion, or it forces energetic and fearless action. These, connected with the ardour of temperament and vigour of faculty which are the characteristics of genius-these are the formers of greatness; and these, too, have been always the formers of the aristocracy. Of the dispositions and the manners of the order, we shall hereafter find fitter occasion to speak.
After this exposition it will be seen how utterly absurd is the reiterated announcement of the decline and fall of the empire of fashion. Reform has, it has been averred, given its death-blow to the fashionable world! Has all London west of Temple-bar been swallowed up? No
* At Holkham, in Norfolk, is a copy of the Belisarius in the possession of the Duke of Devonshire, made by Lady Andover Digby when not more than sixteen years of age. It is very large, and consists of several figures, the size of life; and is so finely executed, that it is traditionally said the Duke offered the original for the copy. 'This is a sterling, though by no means a singular, instance.
it stands exactly where it did ; and so does the fashionable world, in spite of all that has been said or written to the contrary. The court and the månsion, the parks and the squares, the King's Theatre and the ball-rooms, St. James's, Bond-street, and Regent-street, all these localities of fashion, and all the thoughtless brilliant existences that people them with gaiety and dissipation, remain precisely what they were and must cont nue to be in their own nature.
Why then is the aristocracy to be branded with all the vices, extravagances, and frivolities which belong to all classes according to their capacities and degrees? A better instance, perhaps, can scarcely bé found than that of the “Exclusives," as a certain clique has been denominated. The very circumstance that gives them their name demonstrates their exceedingly small numbers. To be “exclusive” they must be few. Are then the caprices, the vices, if you will, of a few, admitting that they belong to the aristocracy, to be taken for the res gestæ of them all
With the same justice is the support of the gambling-houses, or the race-course, or the prize-ring, attributable to aristocracy. But numbers alone, vast numbers, can sustain the weight of so enormous a waste. Of the hundred thousand who annually assemble in the spring to witness the Derby Stakes at Epsom, how many belong to the aristocracy ?-how many of that order contribute to the splendour of the spectacle, how many to its contagion ?--probably not fifty, certainly not a hundred. Does the folly, the vice, then, belong to the nobles or the people? How
many of the aristocracy were ever present at a prizefight?-How few ever contributed, really contributed, to the encouragement of this sport of the vulgar? Not half a dozen-and yet even this brutality has been charged against the aristocracy* The fairest test is this--Nature is in all conditions imperfect. Does the aristocracy exhibit a greater share of imperfection than the rest of mankind ? We ought not to be called upon to prové a negative, but nevertheless we shall not decline the task.
Upon what evidences then, we ask, is the aristocracy arraigned, and what are the especial instances adduced? The authority is, first, the fabulous delineations of a certain class of the writers of works of fiction; and next, the periodical press, whose calumnies and ignorances are adopted by the envious and the idle. Do such writers associate, under any approach to intimacy, with the class they pretend to pourtray? They do not-except in the persons of two or three of the novelists. They see those they affect to ridicule occasionally in public, at some such distance as Master Shallow saw John of Gaunt in the tiltyard ; and if at all in private, very rarely, and under circumstances which most probably either prejudice them for or against the characters of the individuals they have so little opportunity to survey. For the notice of persons of rank is most assuredly felt not less by persons of talent, than by others less sensitively trained; and they are impressed according to the degree in which they consider themselves honoured, that is, according to the warmth of their expectations and their reception. Is anything more likely to prejudice or to disable the judgment? But we shall be told that the novelists of their own day and of their own class have, by a sort of universal consent, represented them to be weak or vicious. What then? The novelists have described those prominent parts of the drama of high life which struck them as most picturesque and amusing. These are rarely drawn from the lofty, the sober, the silent contemplators or actors of virtue, for the great are not accessible under such aspects. Satire is more forcible than praise, and, without offence to the noble authors, more marketable, because more likely to be popular. The good who are described are overlooked or eclipsed by the bad. Has any novelist attempted to depicture the pure ambition directed to the public welfare, the incessant cares, inquietudes, and occupations of the great officers of state, generally chosen from the aristocracy* ? Not so: the intrigues of Almack's—the petty partisanship of patronessingthe marriage-manæuvering of some broken-down dowager—the insipidity of the drawing-room, indeed, have afforded lively subjects; while all the larger duties, sacrifices, and benevolences, are almost unacknowledged, for there is nothing of romance, though everything of honour, about them.
* The aristocracy are allured to support such schemes through representations made by interested persons of the other classes that their patronage alone is wanting to produce a national good or a local benefit: they scarcely, if ever, originate any thing of the sort. One instance known to us occurs to our recollection. When the fashion of pugilism began to fail, Jackson, the link between the prize-fighter and the peer," as he has been called, waited upon a young nobleman, to ask his name to a list of supporters. His answer was, “ Decidedly no.” Jackson was astonished ; for the young man had been regularly instructed, and a constant attendant at the Fives' Court. He inquired the reason. “ Because," said he, “ I will not suffer my name to stand amongst a list of such profligate villains as are here end. merated; and you are at liberty to give that reason for my secession to any one or to all of them.''
Such is the authority. We come next to the examples by which it is attempted to establish the general rule of profligacy and folly. The novelists have depicted the insipidity of drawing-room talk, and of the general amusements of the rich and titled. Now, were the ordinary habits of the million of any class thus described, would not the results be the same? Would it not be found that minds of common dimensions, employed in their every-day business, exhibit nothing but what is ignoble and vapid? And thus is aristocracy brought into question. It is upon such authority, and upon these satirical portraitures, the periodicals found the assertion that the entire lives of the entire order are consumed in vice, idleness, and frivolity. These are bruited about in every way and through every channel of publicity; but, nevertheless, they form only the exceptions. And again—do they occur more frequently in the higher than amongst the middle or lower orders ? Certainly not. Sufficient proof exists in the almost universal and prominent vices of London. Do the aristocracy contribute more than their share to the maintenance of the notorious theatres of vice? Do they feed the gin-shops, the stews, the saloons ? A foolish young, or a depraved old nobleman is now and then (how seldom !) detected in shameless debauchery; but if regard be had to the multitudinous demoralization of the metropolis, the gross sum is obviously furnished out of the funds of the rich, indeed, and the middle and the lower orders—not from the aristocracy.
Here are facts; but collateral proof is also to be drawn from a train of “ legitimate presumptions,” as Mr. Burke has it, which begins in the nursery and ends only in the grave. It is thus that he describes the
* Miss Edgeworth has done this in her · Patronage,' and Mr. Ward in De Vere, but they constitute the exceptions. Whenever, indeed, a virtuous or: exalted figure is introduced, it is lost or obscured by the shadows thrown in to bring out the other grosser portraitures.
attributes: of a natural aristocracy :-“To be bred in a place of estimation—to see nothing low and sordid from one's infancy--to be taught to respect one's self-to be habituated to the censorial inspection of the public eye-to look early to public opinion—to stand upon such elevated ground as to be enabled to take a large view of the wide spread and infinitely diversified combinations of men and affairs in a large society-to have leisure to read, to reflect, to converse—to be enabled to draw the court and attention of the wise and learned wherever they are to be found—to be habituated in armies to command and to obey—to be taught to despise danger in the pursuit of honour and duty—to be formed to the greatest degree of vigilance, foresight, and circumspection, in a state of things in which no fault is committed with impunity, and the slightest mistakes draw on the most ruinous consequences—to be led to a guarded and regulated conduct, from a sense that you are considered as an instructor of your fellow-citizens in their highest concerns, and that you act as a reconciler between God and man—to be employed as an administrator of law and justice, and to be thereby amongst the first benefactors of mankind.” Now, these attributes all belong to the education and the employments of our constitutional aristocracy, nor do they appertain in the same manner or degree to any other order of men. If, then, these be “a class of legitimate presumptions, which, taken as generalities, must be admitted for actual truths”—and that they are so, there cannot exist a doubt,—they must form the mind to virtue, rather than to vice. And in spite of the temptations of power and wealth, we are satisfied that the Peerage, in its aggregate of active public service and private benevolence, does exhibit the natural results of such a train of circumstances. Do we mean, therefore, to defend the present system of aristocratic education throughout all its arrangements ? Most assuredly not. But its fault is not that it is aristocratic—the error lies just the contrary way. The boy who mixes with the commonalty at a great public school, the youth who is cast amongst the ol hollou at the university, either rubs down his lofty feelings, or (if of weak parts) is toadied into an undue estimation of the place he inherits. Were his mind trained to the constant perception of the great theoretic maxim inherent in the pure nature of aristocracy, that to his honour, knowledge, prudence, and ability, it is committed, as one of the members of the hereditary senate, to maintain in equal balance all the parts of the constitution; to adapt legislation to the capacities of society, always a little preceding and stimulating the faculties of the time, and thus, not only to preserve but advance the prosperity, the freedom, and the happiness of millions--that his life being devoted to these higher purposes, no moment is to be idly wasted, but all his powers addressed to his exalted functions ;-were it diligently inculcated, that the amusements purchasable by his wealth are to be enjoyed as the gentle relaxations, not the constant occupations of his life, -were this the foundation and the superstructure of aristocratic education, the result would doubtless be to produce an order completely instructed in its noble offices. It would be separated by a wider distance from all below itself; but to support that very exaltation would demand more ability, more courtesy, more industry, more acquirement* ;-and this attained, a more profound
* Sufficient care is not exerted in respect to the society in which the youth of the aristocracy are allowed to range. We allude not only to the commonly received opinion that their early habits are too much entrusted to the groom and the game