Nonfiction > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. V. English Traits
XI. Aristocracy
THE FEUDAL character of the English state, now that it is getting obsolete, glares a little, in contrast with the democratic tendencies. The inequality of power and property shocks republican nerves. Palaces, halls, villas, walled parks, all over England, rival the splendor of royal seats. Many of the halls, like Haddon or Kedleston, are beautiful desolations. The proprietor never saw them, or never lived in them. Primogeniture built these sumptuous piles, and I suppose it is the sentiment of every traveller, as it was mine, It was well to come ere these were gone. Primogeniture is a cardinal rule of English property and institutions. Laws, customs, manners, the very persons and faces, affirm it.  1
  The frame of society is aristocratic, the taste of the people is loyal. The estates, names and manners of the nobles flatter the fancy of the people and conciliate the necessary support. In spite of broken faith, stolen charters and the devastation of society by the profligacy of the court, we take sides as we read for the loyal England and King Charles’s “return to his right” with his Cavaliers,—knowing what a heartless trifler he is, and what a crew of God-forsaken robbers they are. The people of England knew as much. But the fair idea of a settled government connecting itself with heraldic names, with the written and oral history of Europe, and, at last, with the Hebrew religion and the oldest traditions of the world, was too pleasing a vision to be shattered by a few offensive realities and the politics of shoe-makers and costermongers. 1 The hopes of the commoners take the same direction with the interest of the patricians. Every man who becomes rich buys land and does what he can to fortify the nobility, into which he hopes to rise. The Anglican clergy are identified with the aristocracy. Time and law have made the joining and moulding perfect in every part. The Cathedrals, the Universities, the national music, the popular romances, conspire to uphold the heraldry which the current politics of the day are sapping. 2 The taste of the people is conservative. They are proud of the castles, and of the language and symbol of chivalry. Even the word lord is the luckiest style that is used in any language to designate a patrician. The superior education and manners of the nobles recommend them to the country.  2
  The Norwegian pirate got what he could and held it for his eldest son. The Norman noble, who was the Norwegian pirate baptized, did likewise. There was this advantage of Western over Oriental nobility, that this was recruited from below. English history is aristocracy with the doors open. Who has courage and faculty, let him come in. Of course the terms of admission to this club are hard and high. The selfishness of the nobles comes in aid of the interest of the nation to require signal merit. Piracy and war gave place to trade, politics and letters; the war-lord to the law-lord; the law-lord to the merchant and the mill-owner; but the privilege was kept, whilst the means of obtaining it were changed.  3
  The foundations of these families lie deep in Norwegian exploits by sea and Saxon sturdiness on land. All nobility in its beginnings was somebody’s natural superiority. The things these English have done were not done without peril of life, nor without wisdom and conduct; and the first hands, it may be presumed, were often challenged to show their right to their honors, or yield them to better men. “He that will be a head, let him be a bridge,” said the Welsh chief Benegridran, when he carried all his men over the river on his back. “He shall have the book,” said the mother of Alfred, “who can read it;” and Alfred won it by that title: and I make no doubt that feudal tenure was no sinecure, but baron, knight and tenant often had their memories refreshed, in regard to the service by which they held their lands. The De Veres, Bohuns, Mowbrays and Plantagenets were not addicted to contemplation. The Middle Age adorned itself with proofs of manhood and devotion. Of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, the Emperor told Henry V. that no Christian king had such another knight for wisdom, nurture and manhood, and caused him to be named, “Father of curtesie.” “Our success in France,” says the historian, “lived and died with him.” 3  4
  The war-lord earned his honors, and no donation of land was large, as long as it brought the duty of protecting it, hour by hour, against a terrible enemy. In France and in England, the nobles were, down to a late day, born and bred to war: and the duel, which in peace still held them to the risks of war, diminished the envy that in trading and studious nations would else have pried into their title. They were looked on as men who played high for a great stake.  5
  Great estates are not sinecures, if they are to be kept great. A creative economy is the fuel of magnificence. In the same line of Warwick, the successor next but one to Beauchamp was the stout earl of Henry VI. and Edward IV. Few esteemed themselves in the mode, whose heads were not adorned with the black ragged staff, his badge. 4 At his house in London, six oxen were daily eaten at a breakfast, and every tavern was full of his meat, and who had any acquaintance in his family should have as much boiled and roast as he could carry on a long dagger.  6
  The new age brings new qualities into request; the virtues of pirates gave way to those of planters, merchants, senators and scholars. Comity, social talent and fine manners, no doubt, have had their part also. I have met somewhere with a historiette, which, whether more or less true in its particulars, carries a general truth. “How came the Duke of Bedford by his great landed estates? His ancestor having travelled on the continent, a lively, pleasant man, became the companion of a foreign prince wrecked on the Dorsetshire coast, where Mr. Russell lived. The prince recommended him to Henry VIII., who, liking his company, gave him a large share of the plundered church lands.”  7
  The pretence is that the noble is of unbroken descent from the Norman, and has never worked for eight hundred years. But the fact is otherwise. Where is Bohun? where is De Vere? The lawyer, the farmer, the silk-mercer lies perdu under the coronet, and winks to the antiquary to say nothing; especially skilful lawyers, nobody’s sons, who did some piece of work at a nice moment for government and were rewarded with ermine.  8
  The national tastes of the English do not lead them to the life of the courtier, but to secure the comfort and independence of their homes. The aristocracy are marked by their predilection for country-life. They are called the county-families. They have often no residence in London and only go thither a short time, during the season, to see the opera; but they concentrate the love and labor of many generations on the building, planting and decoration of their homesteads. Some of them are too old and too proud to wear titles, or, as Sheridan said of Coke, “disdain to hide their head in a coronet;” and some curious examples are cited to show the stability of English families. Their proverb is, that fifty miles from London, a family will last a hundred years; at a hundred miles, two hundred years; and so on; but I doubt that steam, the enemy of time as well as of space, will disturb these ancient rules. Sir Henry Wotton says of the first Duke of Buckingham, “He was born at Brookeby in Leicestershire, where his ancestors had chiefly continued about the space of four hundred years, rather without obscurity, than with any great lustre.” 5 Wraxall says that in 1781, Lord Surrey, afterwards Duke of Norfolk, told him that when the year 1783 should arrive, he meant to give a grand festival to all the descendants of the body of Jockey of Norfolk, 6 to mark the day when the dukedom should have remained three hundred years in their house, since its creation by Richard III. Pepys tells us, in writing of an Earl Oxford, in 1666, that the honor had now remained in that name and blood six hundred years.  9
  This long descent of families and this cleaving through ages to the same spot of ground, captivates the imagination. 7 It has too a connection with the names of the towns and districts of the country.  10
  The names are excellent,—an atmosphere of legendary melody spread over the land. Older than all epics and histories which clothe a nation, this undershirt sits close to the body. What history too, and what stores of primitive and savage observation it infolds! Cambridge is the bridge of the Cam; Sheffield the field of the river Sheaf; Leicester the castra, or camp, of the Lear, or Leir (now Soar); Rochdale, of the Roch; Exeter or Excester, the castra of the Ex; Exmouth, Dartmouth, Sidmouth, Teignmouth, the mouths of the Ex, Dart, Sid and Teign rivers. Waltham is strong town; Radcliffe is red cliff; and so on:—a sincerity and use in naming very striking to an American, whose country is whitewashed all over by unmeaning names, the cast-off clothes of the country from which its emigrants came; or named at a pinch from a psalm-tune. But the English are those “barbarians” of Jamblichus, 8 who “are stable in their manners, and firmly continue to employ the same words, which also are dear to the gods.”  11
  ’T is an old sneer that the Irish peerage drew their names from playbooks. The English lords do not call their lands after their own names, but call themselves after their lands, as if the man represented the country that bred him; and they rightly wear the token of the glebe that gave them birth, suggesting that the tie is not cut, but that there in London,—the crags of Argyle, the kail of Cornwall, the downs of Devon, the iron of Wales, the clays of Stafford are neither forgetting nor forgotten, but know the man who was born by them and who, like the long line of his fathers, has carried that crag, that shore, dale, fen, or woodland, in his blood and manners. It has, too, the advantage of suggesting responsibleness. A susceptible man could not wear a name which represented in a strict sense a city or a county of England, without hearing in it a challenge to duty and honor.  12
  The predilection of the patricians for residence in the country, combined with the degree of liberty possessed by the peasant, makes the safety of the English hall. Mirabeau wrote prophetically from England, in 1784, “If revolution break out in France, I tremble for the aristocracy: their châteaux will be reduced to ashes and their blood be spilt in torrents. The English tenant would defend his lord to the last extremity.” 9 The English go to their estates for grandeur. The French live at court, and exile themselves to their estates for economy. As they do not mean to live with their tenants, they do not conciliate them, but wring from them the last sous. Evelyn writes from Blois, in 1644: “The wolves are here in such numbers, that they often come and take children out of the streets; yet will not the Duke, who is sovereign here, permit them to be destroyed.”  13
  In evidence of the wealth amassed by ancient families, the traveller is shown the palaces in Piccadilly, Burlington House, Devonshire House, Lansdowne House in Berkshire Square, and lower down in the city, a few noble houses which still withstand in all their amplitude the encroachment of streets. The Duke of Bedford includes or included a mile square in the heart of London, where the British Museum, once Montague House, now stands, and the land occupied by Woburn Square, Bedford Square, Russell Square. The Marquis of Westminster built within a few years the series of squares called Belgravia. Stafford House 10 is the noblest palace in London. Northumberland House holds its place by Charing Cross. 11 Chesterfield House remains in Audley Street. Sion House and Holland House are in the suburbs. But most of the historical houses are masked or lost in the modern uses to which trade or charity has converted them. A multitude of town palaces contain inestimable galleries of art.  14
  In the country, the size of private estates is more impressive. From Barnard Castle I rode on the highway twenty-three miles from High Force, a fall of the Tees, towards Darlington, past Raby Castle, through the estate of the Duke of Cleveland. The Marquis of Breadalbane rides out of his house a hundred miles in a straight line to the sea, on his own property. The Duke of Sutherland owns the County of Sutherland, stretching across Scotland from sea to sea. The Duke of Devonshire, besides his other estates, owns 96,000 acres in the County of Derby. The Duke of Richmond has 40,000 acres at Goodwood and 300,000 at Gordon Castle. The Duke of Norfolk’s park in Sussex is fifteen miles in circuit. An agriculturist bought lately the island of Lewes, in Hebrides, containing 500,000 acres. The possessions of the Earl of Lonsdale gave him eight seats in Parliament. This is the Heptarchy again; and before the Reform of 1832, one hundred and fifty-four persons sent three hundred and seven members to Parliament. The borough-mongers governed England.  15
  These large domains are growing larger. The great estates are absorbing the small freeholds. In 1786 the soil of England was owned by 250,000 corporations and proprietors; and in 1822, by 32,000. These broad estates find room in this narrow island. All over England, scattered at short intervals among ship-yards, mills, mines and forges, are the paradises of the nobles, where the livelong repose and refinement are heightened by the contrast with the roar of industry and necessity, out of which you have stepped aside.  16
  I was surprised to observe the very small attendance usually in the House of Lords. Out of five hundred and seventy-three peers, on ordinary days only twenty or thirty. Where are they? I asked. “At home on their estates, devoured by ennui, or in the Alps, or up the Rhine, in the Harz Mountains, or in Egypt, or in India, on the Ghauts.” But, with such interests at stake, how can these men afford to neglect them? “O,” replied my friend, “why should they work for themselves, when every man in England works for them and will suffer before they come to harm?” The hardest radical instantly uncovers and changes his tone to a lord. It was remarked, on the 10th April, 1848 (the day of the Chartist demonstration), that the upper classes were for the first time actively interesting themselves in their own defence, and men of rank were sworn special constables with the rest. “Besides, why need they sit out the debate? Has not the Duke of Wellington, at this moment, their proxies—the proxies of fifty peers—in his pocket, to vote for them if there be an emergency?” 12  17
  It is however true that the existence of the House of Peers as a branch of the government entitles them to fill half the Cabinet; and their weight of property and station gives them a virtual nomination of the other half; whilst they have their share in the subordinate offices, as a school of training. This monopoly of political power has given them their intellectual and social eminence in Europe. 13 A few law lords and a few political lords take the brunt of public business. In the army, the nobility fill a large part of the high commissions, and give to these a tone of expense and splendor and also of exclusiveness. 14 They have borne their full share of duty and danger in this service, and there are few noble families which have not paid, in some of their members, the debt of life or limb in the sacrifices of the Russian war. For the rest, the nobility have the lead in matters of state and of expense; in questions of taste, in social usages, in convivial and domestic hospitalities. In general, all that is required of them is to sit securely, to preside at public meetings, to countenance charities and to give the example of that decorum so dear to the British heart.  18
  If one asks, in the critical spirit of the day, what service this class have rendered?—uses appear, or they would have perished long ago. Some of these are easily enumerated, others more subtle make a part of unconscious history. 15 Their institution is one step in the progress of society. For a race yields a nobility in some form, however we name the lords, as surely as it yields women.  19
  The English nobles are high-spirited, active, educated men, born to wealth and power, who have run through every country and kept in every country the best company, have seen every secret of art and nature, and, when men of any ability or ambition, have been consulted in the conduct of every important action. You cannot wield great agencies without lending yourself to them, and when it happens that the spirit of the earl meets his rank and duties, we have the best examples of behavior. Power of any kind readily appears in the manners; and beneficent power, le talent de bien faire, gives a majesty which cannot be concealed or resisted.  20
  These people seem to gain as much as they lose by their position. They survey society as from the top of St. Paul’s, and if they never hear plain truth from men, they see the best of everything, in every kind, and they see things so grouped and amassed as to infer easily the sum and genius, instead of tedious particularities. Their good behavior deserves all its fame, and they have that simplicity and that air of repose which are the finest ornament of greatness. 16  21
  The upper classes have only birth, say the people here, and not thoughts. Yes, but they have manners, and it is wonderful how much talent runs into manners:—nowhere and never so much as in England. They have the sense of superiority, the absence of all the ambitious effort which disgusts in the aspiring classes, a pure tone of thought and feeling, and the power to command, among their other luxuries, the presence of the most accomplished men in their festive meetings.  22
  Loyalty is in the English a sub-religion. They wear the laws as ornaments, and walk by their faith in their painted May-Fair as if among the forms of gods. The economist of 1855 who asks, Of what use are the lords? may learn of Franklin to ask, Of what use is a baby? They have been a social church proper to inspire sentiments mutually honoring the lover and the loved. Politeness is the ritual of society, as prayers are of the church, a school of manners, and a gentle blessing to the age in which it grew. ’T is a romance adorning English life with a larger horizon; a midway heaven, fulfilling to their sense their fairy tales and poetry. This, just as far as the breeding of the nobleman really made him brave, handsome, accomplished and great-hearted.  23
  On general grounds, whatever tends to form manners or to finish men, has a great value. Every one who has tasted the delight of friendship will respect every social guard which our manners can establish, tending to secure from the intrusion of frivolous and distasteful people. The jealousy of every class to guard itself is a testimony to the reality they have found in life. When a man once knows that he has done justice to himself, let him dismiss all terrors of aristocracy as superstitions, so far as he is concerned. He who keeps the door of a mine, whether of cobalt, or mercury, or nickel, or plumbago, securely knows that the world cannot do without him. Everybody who is real is open and ready for that which is also real.  24
  Besides, these are they who make England that strongbox and museum it is; who gather and protect works of art, dragged from amidst burning cities and revolutionary countries, and brought hither out of all the world. I look with respect at houses six, seven, eight hundred, or, like Warwick Castle, nine hundred years old. I pardoned high park-fences, when I saw that besides does and pheasants, these have preserved Arundel marbles, Townley galleries, Howard and Spenserian libraries, Warwick and Portland vases, Saxon manuscripts, monastic architectures, millennial trees, and breeds of cattle elsewhere extinct. In these manors, after the frenzy of war and destruction subsides a little, the antiquary finds the frailest Roman jar or crumbling Egyptian mummy-case, without so much as a new layer of dust, keeping the series of history unbroken and waiting for its interpreter, who is sure to arrive. These lords are the treasurers and librarians of mankind, engaged by their pride and wealth to this function.  25
  Yet there were other works for British dukes to do. George London, Quintinye, Evelyn, had taught them to make gardens. Arthur Young, Bakewell and Mechi have made them agricultural. 17 Scotland was a camp until the day of Culloden. The Dukes of Athol, Sutherland, Buccleugh and the Marquis of Breadalbane have introduced the rape-culture, the sheep-farm, wheat, drainage, the plantation of forests, the artificial replenishment of lakes and ponds with fish, the renting of game-preserves. Against the cry of the old tenantry and the sympathetic cry of the English press, they have rooted out and planted anew, and now six millions of people live, and live better, on the same land that fed three millions.  26
  The English barons, in every period, have been brave and great, after the estimate and opinion of their times. The grand old halls scattered up and down in England, are dumb vouchers to the state and broad hospitality of their ancient lords. Shakspeare’s portraits of good Duke Humphrey, of Warwick, of Northumberland, of Talbot, were drawn in strict consonance with the traditions. A sketch of the Earl of Shrewsbury, from the pen of Queen Elizabeth’s archbishop Parker; 18 Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s autobiography; 19 the letters and essays of Sir Philip Sidney; the anecdotes preserved by the antiquaries Fuller and Collins; some glimpses at the interiors of noble houses, which we owe to Pepys and Evelyn; the details which Ben Jonson’s masques (performed at Kenilworth, Althorpe, Belvoir and other noble houses), record or suggest; down to Aubrey’s passages of the life of Hobbes in the house of the Earl of Devon, are favorable pictures of a romantic style of manners. Penshurst still shines for us, and its Christmas revels, “where logs not burn, but men.” At Wilton House the “Arcadia” was written, amidst conversations with Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, a man of no vulgar mind, as his own poems declare him. 20 I must hold Ludlow Castle an honest house, for which Milton’s “Comus” was written, and the company nobly bred which performed it with knowledge and sympathy. In the roll of nobles are found poets, philosophers, chemists, astronomers, also men of solid virtues and of lofty sentiments; often they have been the friends and patrons of genius and learning, and especially of the fine arts; and at this moment, almost every great house has its sumptuous picture-gallery.  27
  Of course there is another side to this gorgeous show. Every victory was the defeat of a party only less worthy. Castles are proud things, but ’t is safest to be outside of them. War is a foul game, and yet war is not the worst part of aristocratic history. In later times, when the baron, educated only for war, with his brains paralyzed by his stomach, found himself idle at home, he grew fat and wanton and a sorry brute. 21 Grammont, Pepys and Evelyn show the kennels to which the king and court went in quest of pleasure. Prostitutes taken from the theatres were made duchesses, their bastards dukes and earls. “The young men sat uppermost, the old serious lords were out of favor.” The discourse that the king’s companions had with him was “poor and frothy.” No man who valued his head might do what these pot-companions familiarly did with the king. In logical sequence of these dignified revels, Pepys can tell the beggarly shifts to which the king was reduced, who could not find paper at his council table, and “no handkerchers” in his ward-robe, “and but three bands to his neck,” and the linen-draper and the stationer were out of pocket and refusing to trust him, and the baker will not bring bread any longer. Meantime the English Channel was swept and London threatened by the Dutch fleet, manned too by English sailors, who, having been cheated of their pay for years by the king, enlisted with the enemy.  28
  The Selwyn 22 correspondence, in the reign of George III., discloses a rottenness in the aristocracy which threatened to decompose the state. The sycophancy and sale of votes and honor, for place and title; lewdness, gaming, smuggling, bribery and cheating; the sneer at the childish indiscretion of quarrelling with ten thousand a year; the want of ideas; the splendor of the titles, and the apathy of the nation, are instructive, and make the reader pause and explore the firm bounds which confined these vices to a handful of rich men. In the reign of the Fourth George, things do not seem to have mended, and the rotten debauchee let down from a window by an inclined plane into his coach to take the air, was a scandal to Europe which the ill fame of his queen and of his family did nothing to retrieve.  29
  Under the present reign the perfect decorum of the Court is thought to have put a check on the gross vices of the aristocracy; yet gaming, racing, drinking and mistresses bring them down, and the democrat can still gather scandals, if he will. Dismal anecdotes abound, verifying the gossip of the last generation, of dukes served by bailiffs, with all their plate in pawn; of great lords living by the showing of their houses, and of an old man wheeled in his chair from room to room, whilst his chambers are exhibited to the visitor for money; of ruined dukes and earls living in exile for debt. The historic names of the Buckinghams, Beauforts, Marlboroughs and Hertfords have gained no new lustre, and now and then darker scandals break out, ominous as the new chapters added under the Orleans dynasty to the “Causes Célèbres” 23 in France. Even peers who are men of worth and public spirit are overtaken and embarrassed by their vast expense. The respectable Duke of Devonshire, willing to be the Mæcenas and Lucullus of his island, is reported to have said that he cannot live at Chatsworth but one month in the year. Their many houses eat them up. They cannot sell them, because they are entailed. They will not let them, for pride’s sake, but keep them empty, aired, and the grounds mown and dressed, at a cost of four or five thousand pounds a year. The spending is for a great part in servants, in many houses exceeding a hundred.  30
  Most of them are only chargeable with idleness, which, because it squanders such vast power of benefit, has the mischief of crime. “They might be little Providences on earth,” said my friend, “and they are, for the most part, jockeys and fops.” Campbell says, “Acquaintance with the nobility, I could never keep up. It requires a life of idleness, dressing and attendance on their parties.” I suppose too that a feeling of self-respect is driving cultivated men out of this society, as if the noble were slow to receive the lessons of the times and had not learned to disguise his pride of place. A man of wit, who is also one of the celebrities of wealth and fashion, confessed to his friend that he could not enter their houses without being made to feel that they were great lords, and he a low plebeian. With the tribe of artistes, including the musical tribe, the patrician morgue keeps no terms, but excludes them. When Julia Grisi and Mario sang at the houses of the Duke of Wellington and other grandees, a cord was stretched between the singer and the company.  31
  When every noble was a soldier, they were carefully bred to great personal prowess. The education of a soldier is a simpler affair than that of an earl in the nineteenth century. And this was very seriously pursued; they were expert in every species of equitation, to the most dangerous practices, and this down to the accession of William of Orange. But graver men appear to have trained their sons for civil affairs. Elizabeth extended her thought to the future; and Sir Philip Sidney in his letter to his brother, and Milton and Evelyn, gave plain and hearty counsel. Already too the English noble and squire were preparing for the career of the country-gentleman and his peaceable expense. They went from city to city, learning receipts to make perfumes, sweet powders, pomanders, antidotes, gathering seeds, gems, coins and divers curiosities, preparing for a private life thereafter, in which they should take pleasure in these recreations.  32
  All advantages given to absolve the young patrician from intellectual labor are of course mistaken. “In the university, noblemen are exempted from the public exercises for the degree, etc., by which they attain a degree called honorary. 24 At the same time, the fees they have to pay for matriculation, and on all other occasions, are much higher.” 25 Fuller records “the observation of foreigners, that Englishmen, by making their children gentlemen before they are men, cause they are so seldom wise men.” 26 This cockering justifies Dr. Johnson’s bitter apology for primogeniture, that “it makes but one fool in a family.”  33
  The revolution in society has reached this class. The great powers of industrial art have no exclusion of name or blood. The tools of our time, namely steam, ships, printing, money and popular education, belong to those who can handle them; and their effect has been that advantages once confined to men of family are now open to the whole middle class. The road that grandeur levels for his coach, toil can travel in his cart.  34
  This is more manifest every day, but I think it is true throughout English history. English history, wisely read, is the vindication of the brain of that people. Here at last were climate and condition friendly to the working faculty. Who now will work and dare, shall rule. This is the charter, or the chartism, which fogs and seas and rains proclaimed,—that intellect and personal force should make the law; that industry and administrative talent should administer; that work should wear the crown. I know that not this, but something else is pretended. The fiction with which the noble and the bystander equally please themselves is that the former is of unbroken descent from the Norman, and so has never worked for eight hundred years. All the families are new, but the name is old, and they have made a covenant with their memories not to disturb it. But the analysis of the peerage and gentry shows the rapid decay and extinction of old families, the continual recruiting of these from new blood. 27 The doors, though ostentatiously guarded, are really open, and hence the power of the bribe. All the barriers to rank only whet the thirst and enhance the prize. “Now,” said Nelson, when clearing for battle, “a peerage, or Westminster Abbey!” “I have no illusion left,” said Sidney Smith, “but the Archbishop of Canterbury.” “The lawyers,” said Burke, “are only birds of passage in this House of Commons,” and then added, with a new figure, “they have their best bower anchor in the House of Lords.”  35
  Another stride that has been taken appears in the perishing of heraldry. Whilst the privileges of nobility are passing to the middle class, the badge is discredited and the titles of lordship are getting musty and cumbersome. I wonder that sensible men have not been already impatient of them. They belong, with wigs, powder and scarlet coats, to an earlier age and may be advantageously consigned, with paint and tattoo, to the dignitaries of Australia and Polynesia.  36
  A multitude of English, educated at the universities, bred into their society with manners, ability and the gifts of fortune, are every day confronting the peers on a footing of equality, and outstripping them, as often, in the race of honor and influence. That cultivated class is large and ever enlarging. It is computed that, with titles and without, there are seventy thousand of these people coming and going in London, who make up what is called high society. They cannot shut their eyes to the fact that an untitled nobility possess all the power without the inconveniences that belong to rank, and the rich Englishman goes over the world at the present day, drawing more than all the advantages which the strongest of his kings could command.  37
Note 1. One is reminded here of the glamour which Scott by his Waverley Novels had thrown around the nobility of England, even for readers of democratic predilections; and yet with a fairness and humanity, Tory though he was, towards the humble vassal and down-trodden peasant.
  “There ’s Derby and Cavendish, dread of their foes;
  There ’s Erin’s high Ormond and Scotland’s Montrose!
  Would you match the base Skippon and Massey and Brown
  With the Barons of England that fight for the Crown?”
“The Cavalier,” Rokeby.    
Note 2. Mr. Emerson used to tell his children of an old miracle-play in which Jesus, before submitting to be crucified, stood on his rights of knighthood as a direct descendant of King David, and challenged Pontius Pilate to single combat. [back]
Note 3. Fuller’s Worthies, vol. ii. In Mr. Emerson’s notebook he gives these two fine pictures of the earl, from Fuller: “At a joust in France, fighting with Sir Collard Fines, he so bore himself that the French thought he was tied to the saddle, and to confute their jealousies, he alighted and remounted.” “Crossing into Normandy, the ship was tossed with such a tempest that Warwick caused himself and lady and infant son to be bound to the mainmast, with his armour and coat of arms upon him, that he might be known and buried aright. Yet he died in his bed.” [back]
Note 4. The Bear and Ragged Staff was the full cognizance of the Earls of Warwick. [back]
Note 5. Reliquiæ Wottonianæ. This was George Villiers, the favorite of James I. and Charles I., the first duke after the revival of the title. There had been Dukes of Buckingham of the House of Stafford, but the title became extinct with the execution, by Richard III., of “the deep-revolving wily Buckingham.” [back]
Note 6. In Shakspeare’s Richard III., on the morning of the battle of Bosworth Field, fatal to him, this duke, a stanch adherent of the usurper, finds this scroll in his tent:—
  “Jockey of Norfolk, be not too bold,
  For Dickon thy master is bought and sold.”
Note 7. Compare the Earth-Song in “Hamatreya” in the Poems. [back]
Note 8. Jamblichus of Chalcis, in the fourth century B. C., a Syrian Neo-Platonist. Of him Mr. Emerson said more than once in his journals, “I expect a revival in the churches to be caused by the reading of Jamblichus.” [back]
Note 9. Opportunity to test this statement seemed to be at hand during Mr. Emerson’s visit. In a letter to his wife, April 20, 1848, he wrote, “I read the newspaper daily, and the revolution, fixed for the 10th instant, occupied all men’s thought until the Chartist petition was actually carried to the Commons.” [back]
Note 10. The residence of the Duke of Sutherland. Of his visit there Mr. Emerson wrote to a friend:—
JUNE 21st, 1848.    
  The Duchess of Sutherland sent for me to come to lunch with her at two o’clock, and she would show me Stafford House. Now you must know this eminent lady lives in the best house in the Kingdom, the Queen’s not excepted. I went, and was received with great courtesy by the Duchess, who is a fair, large woman, of good figure, with much dignity and sweetness, and the kindest manners. She was surrounded by company, and she presented me to the Duke of Argyle, her son-in-law, and to her sisters, the Ladies Howard. After we left the table we went through this magnificent palace, this young and friendly Duke of Argyle being my guide. He told me he had never seen so fine a banquet hall as the one we were entering; and galleries, saloons, and ante-rooms were all in the same regal proportions and richness, full everywhere with sculpture and painting. We found the Duchess in the gallery, and she showed me her most valued pictures. I asked her if she did not come on fine mornings to walk alone amidst these beautiful forms; which she professed she liked well to do. She took care to have every best thing pointed out to me, and invited me to come and see the gallery alone whenever I liked. I assure you in this little visit the two parts of Duchess and of Palace were well and truly played.… I had seen nothing so sumptuous as was all this. One would so gladly forget that there was anything else in England than these golden chambers and the high and gentle people who walk in them! May the grim Revolution with his iron hand—if come he must—come slowly and late to Stafford House, and deal softly with its inmates!

  Concerning the meeting between this noble lady and Mr. Emerson, his friend wrote to him:—
  I hope you penetrated the Armida Palace and did your devoir to the sublime Duchess and her Luncheon yesterday! I cannot without a certain internal amusement (foreign enough to my present humor) represent to myself such a conjunction of opposite stars! But you carry a new image off with you, and are a gainer, you. Allons.….
Yours ever truly,
Note 11. Of Northumberland House, which stood until 1874 in Trafalgar Square, Augustus Hare said:—“One only of the great Strand palaces survived entire till our own time, and our own generation has seen and mourned the loss of Northumberland House, one of the noblest Jacobean buildings in England and the most picturesque feature in London.” [back]
Note 12. Mr. Emerson, though sympathizing with the rising of the people to assert their proper rights, took a certain pleasure in the courage shown by both sides when the storm threatened. In a letter home he said:—“One thing is certain: that if the peace of England should be broken up, the aristocracy here—or, I should say, the rich—are stout-hearted and as ready to fight for their own as the poor; are not very likely to run away.” He gives this instance of “standing by one’s order” from the previous century:—
  “Earl Spencer when asked why he left Fox and voted for the War (in 1793), wrote:—
  “‘I will be very frank with you. My lot is cast among the nobility. It is not my fault that I was thus born, and that I thus inherit. I wish to remain what I am, and to hand my father’s titles and estates down to my heirs. I do not know that I thus seek my own gratification at the expense of my country, which has been very great, free and happy, under this order of things. I am satisfied that if we do not go to war with the French, this order of things will be destroyed. We may fall by the War, but we must fall without it. The thing is worth fighting for, and to fight for it we are resolved.’” [back]
Note 13. The following notes on English politics were used in lectures on Mr. Emerson’s return:—
  “The English youth, highborn, has a narrow road to travel. Besides his horse and gun and his clubhouse, all he knows is the door of the House of Commons. So aristocratic is the frame of society, that the House of Commons is in the hands of the House of Lords. The Commons are the lords that shall be. Of the 658 members of the lower House, 455 have been lately shown to be representatives of the House of Lords. Before 1832 the House was violently patrician. In 1793, it was declared in a petition presented to the House by the (afterward) Earl Grey, that 307 members were put into the House by 154 persons, owners and patrons of boroughs. The Reform Bill in 1832 reduced the patronage, yet a majority of seats in the House may be filled by the nominees of the nobility. Of the Cabinet, one half is usually peers, and the other half relations of peers. Thus the aristocracy have the direction of public affairs. They naturally prize this as a career. ‘Politics,’ said the Duke of Norfolk to Shelley, ‘is the proper career of a young man of ability in your station. That career is most advantageous, because it is a monopoly.’ A little success in that line goes far, since the number of competitors is limited. In such a Parliament class-legislation is inevitable; and offices and pensions are given to those who have votes and patronage to buy them with. Mr. Peyronnet Thompson’s theory of aristocracy is, ‘To make one of a family strong enough to compel the public to support all the rest.’ And it only needs to look into the files of newspapers opposed to the Government in the last century to find many ugly anecdotes, which, after all allowance for party exaggeration, expose the manner of saddling the public with pensions for their children, relatives, tutors, and even bastards. The Duke of Beaufort’s will left annual sums to his younger sons, which, with great naïveté, he devised should be paid until they should obtain places or pensions to certain amounts, under Government.
  “An Earl of Uxbridge, with an estate of £60,000 a year, obtained an annual pension for his daughter of £300, in her own name; and after her marriage, another pension of the like sum to her, in the list of Scotch pensions, under her new name of Erskine. She continued to draw both, and the journals had their joke on the double Lady Louisa.
  “These abuses were much mended by the Reform Bill. In 1780, Mr. Pitt said in the House that, ‘Without a reform in Parliament, it was impossible for any honest man to remain a minister of England.’” [back]
Note 14. Commissions in the army could then be bought. [back]
Note 15. Again from the stray sheets on English politics:—
  “One wonders how a Parliament thus constituted remains in any manner representative of the bulk of the population. But many of the younger nobles espouse the popular cause and the classes of trade and manufactures force their voices into the House. Men of brilliant popular talents like Burke, Pitt, Mackintosh, Macaulay, Canning, Sheridan, sit for the close boroughs, and, one thing with another, we have got in modern times a wonderful assembly, its moral reputation much mended, though bribery is still permitted, but its intellectual and social reputation supreme.
  “It is petulant—the common saying is that no question can be mooted, no statement made there but, out of 654 members, will find some fit and ready to sift it. That, especially, it is the most severe anthropometer or test of men. Canning said, when alarm was expressed at the probable return of O’Connell and his friends to Parliament, ‘It is in Parliament I wish to see them. I have never known a demagogue who, when elected to a seat in this house, did not in the course of six months shrink to his proper dimensions.’” [back]
Note 16.
                      “That repose
Which stamps the caste of Vere de Vere.”
      Tennyson, “Lady Clara Vere de Vere.”
  Of his experiences in London society Mr. Emerson wrote: “I am to say what is strange, but it so happened, that the higher were the persons in the social scale whom I conversed with, the less marked was their national accent, and the more I found them like the most cultivated persons in America.” [back]
Note 17. Jean de la Quintinie wrote a book on gardening which was translated into English by John Evelyn.
  Arthur Young was an agricultural experimenter and writer in the last part of the eighteenth century, and wrote several important works on the subject of agriculture in England and the use of waste lands. His Travels in France is quoted by Carlyle often in his French Revolution. George III. contributed to his Annals of Agriculture under the name of Ralph Robinson.
  In these Annals, Young highly praises the improvements in cultivation and cattle-breeding made by Robert Bakewell in the middle of the eighteenth century.
  John Joseph Mechi, a great authority on scientific farming, attained remarkable results in Essex by irrigating his farm with liquefied manure by steam-power. [back]
Note 18. In Dibdin’s Literary Reminiscences, vol. I., xii. [back]
Note 19. Mr. Emerson took great pleasure in the naïf account of his life and adventures, given by the valiant and philosophic Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury. He was the elder brother of George Herbert, the poet. [back]
Note 20. Penshurst in Kent was Sir Philip Sidney’s birthplace, and Wilton House the residence of his sister the Countess of Pembroke.
  Sir Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, wrote The Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney. [back]
Note 21. In the lecture “Natural Aristocracy” which Mr. Emerson gave in London, after granting the claims of the really great to honor and place, he said, “But mankind do not extend the same indulgence to those who claim and enjoy the same prerogative, but render no returns. The day is darkened when the golden river runs down into mud; when genius grows idle and wanton and reckless of its fine duties of being Saint, Prophet, Inspirer to its humble fellows, baulks their respect and confounds their understanding by silly extravagances…. To live without duties is obscene.” He made so much allowance for the outrages to which the misdeeds of idle aristocrats might incite the poor and ignorant that Lord Morpeth urged him to suppress the passage, should he give the lecture again. It still stands in the essay on “Aristocracy” in Lectures and Biographical Sketches. [back]
Note 22. George Selwyn (1719–91), the friend of Horace Walpole. [back]
Note 23. Causes Célèbres Étrangères, publiées en France pour la première fois, et traduites de l’Espagnol, l’Italien et l’Allemagne. Paris: 1827–28. Par une Sociétê de jurisconsultes et de gens de lettres.
  Another work of the same kind is the Causes Célèbres, Répertoire générale des causes célèbres anciennes et modernes, rédigé par une Société d’hommes de lettres sous la direction de B. Saint-Edme. Paris: Rosier, 1834–35.
  An English work appeared in 1849, entitled: Celebrated Trials connected with the Aristocracy in the Relations of Private Life. London: W. Benning & Co., 1849. [back]
Note 24. A clergyman who prepared students for the examinations of admission to Oxford and Cambridge told the editor that, even in the colleges in which the standard of scholarship was very high, rank was, to some extent, accepted as an equivalent. [back]
Note 25. History of English Universities, “Die englischen Universitäten,” by Victor Aimé Huber (2 vols. Cassel, 1839–40), was translated into English by Francis William Newman. [back]
Note 26.
  “Some great estates provide, but not
  A mastering mind, so both are lost thereby.”
Herbert, The Church Porch.    
Note 27.
  The lord is the peasant that was,
The peasant the lord that shall be.
*        *        *        *        *
Who liveth in the palace hall
Waneth fast and spendeth all.
“Woodnotes,” II., Poems.    

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