« PreviousContinue »
No. IV. MONDAY, APRIL 6, 1719.
CONSIDERATIONS UPON THE REPORTS ABOUT THE PEERAGE, CONTINUED; IN PARTICULAR,
WITH RELATION TO THE SCOTS NOBILITY. WITI REMARKS ON THE PATRICIAN, No. II. AND THE OLD WHIG, NO. II. BY A MEMBER OF TUE HOUSE OF COMMONS
THE PLEBEIAN has been obliged to object to the Old Whig, one of the Infirmities of Age, viz. Slouness; and he must now take notice of another, though he does it with great reluctance, that is, want of Memory; for the old Gentleman seems to have forgot, that at his first appearance he promised the public a particular Treatise on the subject of the Peerage, as it relates to Scotland, p. 304.
There is at present very little probability that he will be so good as his word, and therefore I shall not delay any longer publishing something that is come to my hands on that head, which in my opinion may be of use in this controversy. Indeed, I am informed, that it has already been produced in a weekly pamphlet, which very few people, I fear, ever read, called The Honest Gentleman; and therefore I hope at least to be excused in making it more public, and in using this worthy person as an ally in this quarrel, since I have so strong a confederacy against me.
What I am speaking of, is a Letter from a Nobleman of Scotland to a Gentleman of England. When I mention a Scotish Nobleman, I would not have it understood to be one of the Elect, but one of the Outcasts; and as the case of those unfortunate persons will be, if possible, more abject and deplorable than that of the Commons of England, it is not strange that the PLEBETAN should endeavour to do them what service he can.
THE LETTER IS AS FOLLOWS.
If the pleasure of doing good be indeed its own reward, you will easily excuse the trouble of this letter. Nothing is so talkative as misfor. tune: But they surely may be allowed to speak for themselves, who, as they find to their great surprize, have none to speak for them.
"I was born a Peer of Scotland, formerly a character of some importance, but at present (I am afraid) degenerating into so little significancy, that perhaps this is the last time there will be any reputation to me in owning it.
“Every one that is acquainted with our history sees very well how much we gained, and what we lost, by the Union. We lost our Senate and our Senators; we lost the service of many of our great men, and they seem to have lost I know not what. But yet it might be remembered by your free and generous nation, that when we resigned ourselves to that Union, we intended at least to have retained the rights of mon and subjects, without the least suspicion of any encroachments upon us, which you have ever so bravely rejected from yourselves. And even at this Union, there were some articles agreed to, which seem to make for our country, and which it would be very proper for the party in the present design to consult; and if after that they can deliberately give us up, they merit all the reproaches that the injuries of a betrayed ruined people can extort from them. We justly call ourselves a ruined people : for if at present we are any thing short of it, what may we not expect from those, if any such there are, who shall dare to assume a Power which we nerer gave them; and that not to be used for our advantage, but to the injury of the nation they represent, and the Peerage of which they are part? It is certain, a principle that can at any time prevail above the Love of one's country, may engage them at some time or other in any designs, to the very extinction of it.
“Next to the pleasure that flows from the conscious innocence of an honest heart and a good meaning, the art of disguising and palliating a bad one gives the greatest, though the falsest satisfaction. Thus I have heard it has been alledged by some who have been too advantageously engaged on one side of the question, that there is a very ingenious distinction to be made between absolutely violating such and such articles, and a commodious deviation from them, for certain reasons; though a plain man would not immediately find out the real difference.
"I have read in very old books, that Justice was once the end of Power, and that the Great were such as were meritorious and useful. But if this Bill should pass, it would seem that those errors are to be exploded by this Bill; and yet many of the most ancient families among us believe, that they and their descendants are thereby to be made unhappy and uneasy to themselves, and useless to their country. They think the
title of a Lord is the most insignificant part of his character ; but when it is worn to adorn the merit and services of a truly great Man, it exposes Virtue in the most amiable light to universal emulation.—How irksome will it be to many a great spirit to be thought a mere Lord, to reflect on the worth of his great ancestors, and to inherit only their title; to have every talent of being useful, but the Power; to hear his father's called good, and great, and wise, and himself his Lordship!--May we not expect that if great men should find themselves thus managed out of their birthrights, they will not easily resign themselves to a life of indolence and supineness, but still hope that some occasion or other may court them to ac• tion elsewhere? God forbid it should be against that country which shall have so injuriously rendered them supernumerary to its happiness, and which would then perhaps too late find them fatal to it.
"In such case they will, no doubt, pretend in their justification, that by having been thus divested of their birth-right, in representing themselves, or the right at least of electing their Representatives, that they apprehended they were implicitly disclaimed by the Government, and reduced to the condition of outlaws, and thereby discharged from the obligations and laws of society.
“But as the injuries, which we fear may be done us by this Bill, do not so nearly affect you, I might give several reasons, why as Englishmen you should reject it; and shew you, that at the same time that it will be the greatest discouragement to the merit of the Commonalty, it may end in equal dishonour to the Peerage.
“As to the Commonalty, it is apparent that almost every great Genius has for a long time been produced among them, and all the posts of service have been filled by such who were born Commoners, while the offices of mere favour and show have been supplied from elsewhere. The reason of this is evident. A Commoner finds a great deal of merit necessary to his character, as an Equivalent for the want of Quality; while the young Lord, infinitely satisfied with the adulations of his creatures and dependants, with ease believes what is their interest to teil him, and so aims no higher. But, should this Bill pass, a Commoner will have as little incitement to great actions as a Peer, and be as far below the possibility of rising, as a Lord is often above it.
“ As to the Peerage, if we look into their assembly, and compare the many that sit there by right of descent, with the characters of those who were first created to those honours, and consider the modern education by which they are usually formed to their future greatness, how much loose. ness, flattery, and false politeness, they affect from their first entrance into life; we shall be able to form some notion of what sort of Geniuses that assembly will be composed twenty years hence, in case this Bill should pass, which is ever to be our supreme court of Judicature, but will be incapable of receiving into it even the most conspicuous merit of the age: I
fancy it will very little resemble the body of ancient Barons of this King dom, whose actions supply such an illustrious part of our history. On the contrary, we may expect, that as they have before been voted useless, they will be in danger of being really so; and if that is ever the case, though now and then a family should be extinct, and thereby an obstacle to virtuous actions be removed, it will be in vain to endeavour to retrieve their Honour, by thinking to supply the extinction with a man of worth and merit, who will not be over fond of making one in so indifferent an assembly. So that this project, which pretends to do so much for the honour of the House, may prove as injurious to it, as to every one that is excluded from it.
“A Commoner should not too carelessly reply to this objection, That the more insignificant that House appears, the greater weight is in the Representatives of the people; for the Commons are the guardians of the Constitution in general, as well as the private rights of their Electors in particular: besides, it does not seem upon just reflection so expedient, that that Court, which is the dernier resort of Justice, should ever be filled with such Judges as they might despair or disdain to apply to for relief.
But, in fine, if public justice is as obligatory as private; if what is so injurious to our Country may be as fatal to yours; if such a Bill would be the greatest provocation to disaffection and uneasiness to a powerful body among us, and the greatest discouragement to merit both to you and us; if it would prove prejudicial to the reputation of the Peerage, though not to their power, which is worst of all, for at the same time it would lay the foundation of a most wretched Aristocracy; if the notions of Faith and Honour are not obliterated; if the most solemn engagements are any more than words; if we ought not to violate the Rights of Nations for mere private convenience; this Bill will be rejected with the detestation with which all true Britons will treat every incroachment on the rights of mankind, or their fellow-subjects. I am, Sir, &c."
I cannot but think that what this Noble Briton has here said on the proposal for turning sixteen Scottish elective Peers into twenty-five here. ditary ones, to the exclusion of all the rest of their principals, must make great impression upon every one that thoroughly considers it. I have not yet troubled the publick, throughout the whole course of this affair, with my thoughts on this point. For my part, I am so far from being of opin. ion that this precarious situation of the Scotch Peers is an Evil in the Body of the House of Lords that wants to be remedied, that it seems to me to be a very fortunale circumstance, and the best remedy that can be provided for the Nl that both the Lords and Commons complain of. Indeed, if the Lords can be satisfied with nothing less than being made absolutely Independent, which, as it has been plainly shewn, is entirely destroying the Constitution ; I must confess this will not answer their purpose: but if it be reasonable they should be under some influence of the Crown, as the
other branch of the Legislature is, and, however, may be desirous that their dignity be not debased, nor their weight diminished by the frequent additions of Peers, which the necessities of affairs may require to be made to their Body; is it not in this case a desirable circumstance, that the Crown can change once in three or four, or a few years more at farthest, no many of their Members as may answer the intentions of the Government, and not add to their number And in like manner, if the Commons are apprehensive that the frequent draughts out of their Body, to make an over-balance in the House of Peers, are detrimental to their power, in point of property, by taking so many considerable estates from them; are they to be instrumental in changing that precarious situation of so many Members of the Upper House, as leaves it in the power of the crown to make such alterations in that House, from time to time, as the Crown may think expedient without taking one Member from the Commons !
Besides, there is a reason of another nature why the Commons, in my Judgment, ought to rest very well satisfied that the Crown has this Power over so many Members of the other House; because it is just the same kind of Power as the Crown has over the Commons themselves. And in some circumstances this may prove even such a check upon the Crown as the Commons may reap advantage from, and prevent the putting such sudden periods to their Being, as have been known formerly. Nay, I very. much suspect, that if the proposed alteration should be made, the effect of it would be very soon felt; and if so, I beg Gentlemen would consider with themselves, what reception they may in all probability meet with from the general Body of the Commons of England, immediately after their having given such Power to the House of Peers, as no one ever ventured to mention to their ancestors. How this matter is understood in the country, we hear from all parts already; and this is indeed an Advantage from the late Recess on the side of those who are against the Bill.
But to return from this digression. How little soever what has been said may relish with some of those of another body, I am speaking here as a Commoner of England; as one that has no ambitious desire of being a Lord, but very great apprehensions of being a Vassal. As the House of Lords now stands, there are several members of it in the same circumstances with myself; what reason have I to consent to any thing that shall put any of them into a more independent state than I found them? Is there any or
of their Lordships that would not laugh at a proposal for making any numbers of the Commons hereditary, who are now all elective, though it might be done with the same justice as to their principals ? Their Lordships would all say, That is the Constitution of the House of Commons, and there we will leave it. And has not this been the Constitution of the House of Lords ever since the British nation was united!
It is allowed that, according to the treaties between the two kingdoms, confirmed by the most solemn Acts of Parliament, this is true. But then