« PreviousContinue »
their paternity!-nor can I, for my own part, bow before that prejudice which arises from an absurd confusion of ideas, and concedes, because a man may dispose of his fortune as he pleases during his life, that he has the same privilege after his death.
There is as much difference between the rights of a man alive and dead, as between death and life. The rights you derive from society, are the result of duties you have to perform to society; talk then of the rights of a defunct-what are his duties ?—
How many instances are there where the testament which asserts the one, violates the other! How many instances are there, where the dead man commits an act of injustice from behind the tomb, which he dared not have committed in the face of public opinion!
It is not the dead father who has rights, but the living son. He has a right to the fortune left in the world by the persons who brought him into the world. He has this right equally, whether he was born first or last. The parent has no natural power over the goods he has left behind; they belong, in simple justice, to all his children. But the state has a power to supersede private rights on public grounds-and here-and here alone is the
basis on which the law of primogeniture can be founded, or the custom sanctioned and maintained.
Alas! for the mother who has watched her four sons receiving the same education, and imbibing the same desires; who has guarded the equality of their boyhood, and is now expecting the moment when life's inequalities are to commence, and they who have been playfellows and brothers are to become acquaintances and men! Lo! to one a fortune, which pampers desire to the rest, a poverty, made insupportable by education. Alas! I say, for the mother who sees her youngest born thrown into the world-tortured by its ambition and exposed to its temptations-crossing the seas to climes which harbour pestilence and death; sitting in the morning of life, surrounded by dark cares, in the gloomy corner of a counting house; driven, in the despair of an unsatisfied and querulous existence, to the turf, to the gambling-house, to Crockford's, Newmarket! and now, across that bright spot in the heart where hope was made compatible with honor, passes the up-springing shadow of those mean and desperate thoughts which, while they offer only an ignoble object, excite a terrible determination. I see you too, unhappy
woman! gazing bitterly on the blighted and drying-up youth of yonder daughter - on the cheek, yellow and pale, on the bosom disappearing, and the eye fading;—I see your agony as you turn away from the encouragement of that poor girl's affections, because forsooth she loves a younger brother, and has but a poor sister's portion! Who shall comfort you by saying that your eldest born keeps his thirty horses at Melton, and can give a £1,000 with facility for the embraces of a
But in this private injustice, there is, I do not deny it, a great political combination. Individual affection is not sacrificed without the idea of procuring state advantage; a certain class is created, defending the crown, protecting the people-a certain class, carrying into the state that principle of conservation to which it owes the transmission of its own power-furnishing, in its names and its position, a history of the past and an example to the future.
The real and great result of the system of inheritance, adopted by France, as compared with that system which still maintains, and which, let me allow the truth, is still cherished by many of all classes, in England,—is—not the minute and dangerous division of land,
but-the separation of land from the name of its hereditary possessor. The soil of a province may be no more divided than it was; but in ten years still having the same number of proprietors-it may have changed those proprietors fifty times. Thus ends the connexion between a particular family and a particular spot of ground; a connexion, which whatever be the barbarity of its origin, we have long been accustomed to consider natural, and to environ with our tender respect. Thus perish those associations that yet cling to the venerable avenue and antiquated porch-associations whichlet us not deny it-decorate human nature, and give to the present generation, so insufficient in itself, the memory of times gone by. Thus pass away those feelings which of old, taught the peasant to believe he was born under the wing of a legitimate protector; feelings which, whether feudal or patriarchal, sprang from something stronger than prejudice, even if they be not consecrated by philosophy.
Adieu to yon vestiges, dim and daily-fading, of other days!-You vanish altogether, should that principle vanish, which has placed England for centuries under the sway of an aristocracy, not forgetful of itself, but still mindful, I admit, of the greatness and the honor of the country.
You who would defend this aristocracy, will best do so-not by denying its faults, but by placing by the side of those faults, its virtues; not by saying that it is careless of place, repudiative of pensions, uncorrupted by kingly favour or vulgar applause; but by asserting, that, in spite of its various temptations, and its various transgressions, it nevertheless has had a heart alive to its country's greatness, and not insensible to popular rights. This aristocracy it was which carried through the camps of contending parties which saved from the fanatic hands of Cromwell, from the faithless guardianship of Charles, which rescued from the tyranny of James, and did not lay at the feet of William-those inspiring principles which make a nation consist in a nation's people, and of which the English, though they may now be surpassed by their disciples, were the great original apostles. This aristocracy it was which, when the sovereigns of Europe were prostrate at the feet of a military despot, alone, and fearlessly placed themselves athwart his path. Nor would there, perchance, at this moment, be a democracy in France, if at the time of which I am speaking, there had not been an aristocracy in England! In truth, the nobility of this country, notwithstanding their