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regard in consequence of it. Charles the Second's neglect of his favourite poet Butler did not make him look less gracious in the eyes of his courtiers, or of the wits and critics of the time. Burns's embarrassments, and the temptations to which he was exposed by his situation, degraded him ; but left no stigma on his patrons, who still meet to celebrate his memory, and consult about his monument, in the face of day. To enrich the mind of a country by works of art or science, and leave yourself poor, is not the way for any one to rank as respectable, at least in his life-time:--to oppress, to enslave, to cheat, and plunder it, is a much better way. “ The time gives evidence of it.” But the instances are common.
Respectability means a man's situation and success in life, not his character or conduct. The city merchant never loses his respectability till he becomes a bankrupt. After that, we hear no more of it or him. The Justice of the Peace, and the Parson of the parish, the Lord and the Squire, are allowed, by immemorial usage, to be very respectable people, though no one ever thinks of asking why. They are a sort of fixtures in this way. To take an example from one of them.
The Country Parson may pass his whole time, when he is not employed in the
cure of souls, in flattering his rich neighbours, and leaguing with them to snub his poor ones, in seizing poachers, and encouraging informers; he may be exorbitant in exacting his tithes, harsh to his servants, the dread and bye-word of the village where he resides, and yet all this, though it may be notorious, shall abate nothing of his respectability. It will not hinder his patron from giving him another living to play the petty tyrant in, or prevent him from riding over to the Squire's in his carriage and being well received, or from sitting on the bench of Justices with due decorum and with clerical dignity. The poor Curate,
Curate, in the mean time, who may be a real comfort to the bodies and minds of his parishioners, will be passed by without notice. Parson Adams, drinking his ale in Sir Thomas Booby's kitchen, makes no very respectable figure; but Sir Thomas himself was right worshipful, and his widow a person of honour !-A few such historiographers as Fielding would put an end to the farce of respectability, with several others like it. Peter Pounce, in the same author, was a consummation of this character, translated into the most vulgar English. The character of Captain Blifil, his epitaph, and funeral sermon, are worth tomes of casuistry and patched-up theories of moral sentiments.
Pope somewhere exclaims, in his fine indignant way,
“ What can ennoble sots, or knaves, or cowards ?
Alas! not all the blood of all the Howards." But this is the heraldry of poets, not of the world. In fact, the only way for a poet now-adays to emerge from the obscurity of poverty and genius, is to prostitute his pen, turn literary pimp to some borough-mongering lord, canvass for him at elections, and by this means aspire to the same importance, and be admitted on the same respectable footing with him as his valet, his steward, or his practising attorney. A Jew, a stock-jobber, a war-contractor, a successful monopolist, a Nabob, an India Director, or an African slave-dealer, are all very respectable people in their turn. A Member of Parliament is not only respectable, but honourable ;—"all honourable men!” Yet this circumstance, which implies such a world of respect, really means nothing. To say of any one that he is a Member of Parliament, is to say, at the same time, that he is not at all distinguished as such. No body ever thought of telling you, that Mr. Fox or Mr. Pitt were Members of Parliament. Such is the constant difference between names and things!
The most mischievous and offensive use of
this word has been in politics. By respectable people (in the fashionable cant of the day) are meant those who have not a particle of regard for any one but themselves, who have feathered their own nests, and only want to lie snug and warm in them. They have been set up and appealed to as the only friends of their country and the Constitution, while in truth they were friends to nothing but their own interest. With them all is well, if they are well off. They are raised by their lucky stars above the reach of the distresses of the community, and are cut off by their situation and sentiments, from any sympathy with their kind. They would see their country ruined before they would part with the least of their superfluities. Pampered in luxury and their own selfish comforts, they are proof against the calls of patriotism, and the cries of humanity. They would not get a scratch with a pin to save the universe. They are more affected by the overturning of a plate of turtlesoup than by the starving of a whole county. The most desperate characters, picked from the most necessitous and depraved classes, are not worse judges of politics than your true, staunch, thorough-paced “lives and fortunes men,” who have what is called a stake in the country, and see every thing through the medium of their cowardly and unprincipled hopes and fears.London is, perhaps, the only place in which the standard of respectability at all varies from the standard of money. There things go as much by appearance as by weight; and he may be said to be a respectable man who cuts a certain figure in
company by being dressed in the fashion, and venting a number of common-place things with tolerable grace and fluency. If a person there brings a certain share of information and good manners into mixed society, it is not asked, when he leaves it, whether he is rich or not. Lords and fiddlers, authors and common councilmen, editors of newspapers and parliamentary speakers meet together, and the difference is not so much marked as one would suppose.
To be an Edinburgh Reviewer is, I suspect, the highest rank in modern literary society.