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Defence Of The English Peerage
by [?]

It is by a continued secretion (so to speak) of all which forces itself to the surface of national importance in the way of patriotic services that the English peerage keeps itself alive. Stop the laurelled trophies of the noble sailor or soldier pouring out his heart’s blood for his country, stop the intellectual movement of the lawyer or the senatorial counsellor, and immediately the sources are suffocated through which our peerage is self-restorative. The simple truth is, how humiliating soever it may prove I care not, that whether positively by cutting off the honourable sources of addition, or negatively by cutting off the ordinary source of subtraction, the other peerages of Europe are peerages of Faineans. Pretend not to crucify for ignominy the sensual and torpid princes of the Franks; in the same boat row all the peerages that can have preserved their regular hereditary descent amongst civil feuds which ought to have wrecked them. The Spanish, the Scotch, the Walloon nobility are all of them nobilities from which their several countries would do well to cut themselves loose, so far as that is possible. How came you, my lord, we justly say to this and that man, proud of his ancient descent, to have brought down your wretched carcase to this generation, except by having shrunk from all your bloody duties, and from all the chances that beset a gallant participation in the dreadful enmities of your country? Would you make it a reproach to the Roman Fabii that 299 of that house perished in fighting for their dear motherland? And that, if a solitary Fabius survived for the rekindling of the house, it was because the restorer of his house had been an infant at the aera of his household catastrophe. And if, through such burning examples of patriotism, far remote collateral descendants entered upon the succession, was this a reproach? Was this held to vitiate or to impair the heraldic honours? A disturbance, a convulsion, that shook the house back into its primitive simplicities of standing, was that a shock to its hereditary grandeur? If it had been, there perished the efficient fountain of nobility as any national or patriotic honour; that being extinguished, it became a vile, personal distinction. For instance, like the Roman Fabii, the major part of the English nobility was destroyed in the contest (though so short a contest) of the two Roses. To restore it at all, recourse was had to every mode of healing family wounds through distant marriage connections, etc. But in the meantime, to a Spanish or a Scottish nobleman, who should have insisted upon the directness of his descent, the proper answer would have been: ‘Dog! in what kennel were you lurking when such and such civil feuds were being agitated? As an honest man, as a gallant man, ten times over you ought to have died, had you felt, which the English nobility of the fifteenth century did feel, that your peerage was your summons to the field of battle and the scaffold.’ For, again in later years than the fifteenth century, the English nobility–those even who, like the Scotch, had gained their family wealth by plundering the Church–in some measure washed out this original taint by standing forward as champions of what they considered (falsely or truly) national interests. The Russells, the Cavendishes, the Sidneys, even in times of universal profligacy, have held aloft the standard of their order; and no one can forget the many peers in Charles I.’s time, such as Falkland, or the Spencers (Sunderland), or the Comptons (Northampton), who felt and owned their paramount duty to lie in public self-dedication, and died therefore, and oftentimes left their inheritances a desolation. ‘Thus far’–oh heavens! with what bitterness I said this, knowing it a thing undeniable by W. W. or by Sir George–you, the peerages that pretend to try conclusions with the English, you–French, German, Walloon, Spanish, Scottish–are able to do so simply because you are faineans, because in time of public danger you hid yourselves under your mammas’ petticoats, whilst the glorious work of reaping a bloody harvest was being done by others.