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THE ARISTOCRACY OF ENGLAND, When Bonaparte called us “ a nation of shopkeepers,” John Bull laughed as loud as his neighbours, and appeared not the least ashamed of being a tradesman ; he was rather proud of the appellation than otherwise; but we do not feel equally flattered when foreigners say of us that we are " a nation of tuft-huniers ;” nor is the latter description equally true, though it is far from being altogether without justification, for it cannot be denied that an Englishman dearly loves a lord, and never misses an opportunity of cultivating the acquaintance of any branch or offset of the aristocracy :
“Does niggard fate no peers afford,
He takes of course to peers' relations,
Puts up with even the last creations.
With ‘Lord' and 'Duke,''twere sweet to call,
Is better than no lord at all.” The predominating element in our political constitution is confessedly aristocratic ; but that has happened to many a race illustrious in story, without their having the principle of aristocracy so closely interwoven as it is with the whole framework of British society, from the Queen, who rules over the land, to the “ old cozening quean," who tramps over the land, who claims to be queen of the Egyptians, and who, for the small tribute of a silver sixpence, promises the simple country maid that she shall be a great lady and ride in her coach.
In England, to be a great lady or lord is amongst the highest objects of earthly ambition; the next is to have any other sort of title; the next, to be acquainted with any one who has, or who might, would, could, should, or ought to have had a title, or any description of prefix or affix.
We possess extended dominion, so did Rome ; we have ships and commerce, so had Carthage; we have science and manufactures, so had Egypt; we have literature and military glory, but what are they compared with the undying renown of ancient Greece ? still there is no people more remarkable than the English for combining all the elements of national greatness. Though some may excel us in the degree, no country on earth can surpass England in the number of those qualities which keep men free, and render them famous. But there is one characteristic pre-eminently ours :-the English are an incarnation of the spirit and essence of aristocracy. He who is at once the greatest and the most popular amongst the poets of any nation, must be regarded as the most authentic expositor of the national sentiments. Now Shakspere, though he asserts and exemplifies the supremacy of mind, is no republican, but, on the contrary, manifests great reverence for high birth, high office, high bearing; as he himself expresses it in his own matchless phraseology,–
“ The primogenitive and due of birth
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels.”
Nothing can be more evident than that Shakspere was as thorough an aristocrat, as he was a thorough Englishman. From Geoffrey Chaucer to Walter Scott, there is scarcely to be found a popular writer who does not laud the gentle courtesy of knighthood, the high achievements of the brave and the far-descended, the stainless honour of the Peerage, and the dread majesty of the Crown. It would be idle to multiply instances ;-every foreigner notices it as a matter of course; every philosophical writer refers to it as an admitted principle. A recent author observes, that the people of England regard any sort of government as a great nuisance, only to be tolerated when the high offices of state are filled by men whose fathers and whose grandfathers were there before them. The mass of the people cannot abide the domination of their own upstart companions, Brown, Jones, or Robinson; but they can submit to a legislature which includes Pelhams and Clintons; the Plantagenets and the Russells; Howard, Cavendish, and Vane; Manners, Percy, or Villiers; the Campbell of Argyle ; the Fitzgerald of Desmond, or any Wynn or Williams who traces a descent from Cadwallader.
We have been led into these reflections by looking over a collection of Peerages. It is amongst popular delusions to suppose that none but persons of title purchase books relating to the titled orders; the experienced bibliopole well knows that to the gentry and the middle classes they are necessaries of life; and what a “ God-send” to them was the publication of “ Dodd's Peerage,” which tells them all about every body for the small charge of nine shillings. Princes, Peers, Bishops, Privy Councillors, Baronets, Knights, Lords, Ladies, Honourables, -as Othello says, "the general camp pioneers and all," quite correct, quite impartial, altered, amended, and revised every year; a pretty neat convenient book, that
every real lady and every
would-be lady can carry out in her carriage, and with which every gentleman must instruct himself if he wishes to be the oracle of his Club. But the author of that “ Peerage,” the learned and industious chronicler of the privileged orders, has in the present season taken a higher flight; heretofore he was contented with putting forth biographical dictionaries of the three estates of the realm, and all the cadets of all their houses, from the lordling of a month old, up to our Sovereign Lady the Queen; but in his new work on “ Dignities, Privilege, and Precedence,” Mc. Dodd disserts upon institutions rather than on persons-favours a most aristocratic public with explanatory and historical accounts of every order in the state, whether it be hereditary, personal, or official; whether connected with the executive government, the church, the legislature, the army, or the navy, the distinctions bestowed by a town-corporate, or the titles conferred by the “honour-giving sword ” of a Sovereign.
Almost every successful book must be regarded as an outpouring of the spirit of the times; and yet, is it not most extraordinary that we should have been so long without some regular treatise upon that which occupies so much of the thoughts and conversation of the English, men, women, and children? Reader, do you desire to be acquainted with that complex and little known system called “ precedence?" In this work on dignities, you have the only account that
has any pretensions to being considered clear, practical, and complete; the first or general table of which consists of one hundred and fifty-three divisions, there being a concise and satisfactory disquisition under each head; and there are, besides, thirteen or fourteen other tables of precedence arranged in a variety of forms. It is as useful as a manual for grown up horsemen; for it teaches those who enter good society late in life, the means of escaping a great deal of ridicule. Let the reader ask himself, if he really does know what a Duke originally was, what he has been, and what he is ?—what is meant by such words as accession, demise, and abdication, when used in reference to royalty ? and what are the incidents of those acts ?– What is Prerogative? who constitute the Royal Family? who are the great officers of state? what are their functions, privileges, emoluments, and liabilities? what is the difference between a Lord Great Chamberlain and a Chamberlain of the Household ? what is an Exon, or a Groom of the Stole ? what are the true distinctions between Peers of England, of Scotland, and of Ireland? what are the four kinds of Baronies ?-Who but men learned in the law of Parliament have any exact knowledge respecting succession, alienation, extinction, attainder, forfeiture, abeyance, or dormancy?-and yet we have been till now without a popular and familiar work on the subject, though ladies and gentlemen do talk of these things as townsfolk" babble of green fields," without knowing much about them. In such people the love of the subject is strong, but the knowledge is scanty; and our author, precisely understanding the thing required, produces a sort of book that evidently hits the prevailing
taste, and ministers to that appetite for being familiar with the great, which every one indulges openly or in secret; which some men would wish to deny, yet which no man can conceal from himself.
But, to do Mr. Dodd common justice, though he has written a work which suits the popular taste, he has performed a better and more honourable task- he has inade a valuable contribution to the history of England, in a volume containing four or five hundred separate articles, illustrative of subjects with which the general reader is but imperfectly acquainted, and affording aids to the historical student and the political writer, which cannot fail to be highly appreciated by both those classes.
“ Much thinking on these topics," as Lord Brougham somewhere says, it is difficult not to regard the aristocracy of England as a body standing in a more extraordinary position, and influenced by more complex relations, than any similar description of men; it could, therefore, have been no holiday pastime to ransack great public libraries and curious private collections, to pick up rare volumes, to examine old statutes and state papers, to compare authorities—to digest, arrange, and give a modern and popular view of these crude materialsin short, to create a “ royal road" to a mass of knowledge which most people desired to possess, but which few had the patience or the leisure to acquire. A desire to be acquainted with the institutions which maintain, divide, and regulate the various ranks of society, may now be liberally indulged through the medium of an agreeable work, which has had the effect of extricating from confusion and technicality a huge mass of knowledge, respecting which the public curiosity has been ardent, though till now unsatisfied.
In looking over this volume, some curious views of the Peerage and upper classes in general have presented themselves. For example, the subjoined table shows the relative proportion in which courtesy titles are distributed:
Dukes, Marquises, and Earls, having secondary and
213 Dukes, Marquises, and Earls, having no male issue
Dukes and Marquises whose issue are entitled to
the prefix of “ Lord” or “ Lady"
Viscounts and Barons whose male and female issue
are styled “Honourable"
The following shows the numbers who belong to the Knightage of
743 Order of St. Michael and St. George
32 Order of the Guelphs
905 Knights Bachelor
We now give a classification of the existing Baronetcies of the three kingdoms.
Baronetcies of England, Great Britain, and the
United Kingdom, not connected rith peerages 738
Baronets of Scotland or Nova Scotia not possessing
Peers of the realm
Baronets of Ireland not possessing peerages
who are also Peers of the realm
Existing Baronets of England, Great Britain, and
of Scotland or Nova Scotia
Deduct Baronets who are also Peers of the realm
The following presents a view of the Peerage of England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom, as at present existing :Dukes.
Peers holding superior Scottish titles
Peers of Parliament not purely English
Table of the Peerage of Scotland as at present existing :
including Having no additional
those with English English Title.
Parliamentary Representative Peers
British peerages in addition to their Scottish titles
Peers of Parliament supplied by the Scottish peerage