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If genius and literature do not exalt our minds above the influence of this vulgar kind of greatness, how little of real dignity do they produce! A froward insolence to superior station arises often from a selfish and uneducated temper; but a complacent indifference to those beams of false splendour, by which it too frequently attempts to dazzle our eyes, is among the most enviable traits of a cultivated and enlarged understanding.
This was one of the most prominent and admirable of the many prominent and admirable features of Burns the poet. No contrast between the meanness of his own birth and early habits, and the glare of titles and riches, overset his manly and powerful mind. Yet he is said to have marked well the shades between the aristocracy of rank and the aristocracy of genius, and to have properly allowed to each the due portion of respect.
Swift seems to have betrayed a pettish and unmeasured disregard of those, who were lifted above him by the adventitious qualities of artificial society. By this very sort of disregard he gave proof of the violence of their operation on him. Had Swift been placed by birth or fortune in the highest classes, his pride and haughtiness would have been insufferable.
I despise neither titles nor wealth: I am an aristocrat, convinced of the wisdom and necessity of the subordination of ranks; and by no means un. willing to concede proper civility and precedence to them. I would have no man, to whom they belong, forego them; nor can I contemplate with apathy the blood of illustrious ancestors flowing in any
one's veins. But when these claims of superiority are put in competition with moral and intellectual qualities, I feel indignant, and cannot suppress my contempt for the person in whose mind they are not eclipsed.
It has sometimes been the hard lot of men of strong endowments to be dependents at the tables of nobility. What can we expect from them in this situation that is not servile and mean?
A head and heart purged from all vain influences, and neither cringing or insolent to the high, nor supercilious to the low, are what we demand from a due cultivation of the seeds of intellectual excellence.
Never was there a time when a solid understanding was in so little danger from the bewitching brilliance of power, and honours, and money, as at present. The age of the splendour of statesmen and peers is past; we have few men of independent estates and ancient titles; and still fewer whose personal qualities invest them with glory and command. All, or almost all, is heavy, dull, ungenerous, creeping, selfish, and narrow. No liberal regard to genius, no feeling of the enthusiasms of eloquence, no sense of the splendour of the past, no conception of "the shadowy tribes of mind;" no conscientious delicacy towards ancient pretensions; but a sad and low submission to the operation of shillings and pence, covered over with new or half-old titles, obtained by servility and corruption in office, and considered as grounds of monopoly and exclusion of all but themselves!
How very short a space has elapsed, since we were illuminated by the radiant talents of Burke, Fox and Pitt together; and we had shining in the same sphere many other men, great by nature, who are all now silent in the grave! A dull and fearful calm has succeeded the bright storms of their amazing powers.
In the annals of human nature, Plutus has been a god always too much worshipped, and generally from the most sordid motives. Hateful dispositions, which esteem every thing attractive and amiable in the rich, and every thing wrong or unworthy of notice in the poor and the humble! Which can find wit in the silly jests of the purse-laden fool; and cannot listen to wisdom itself from the lips of one who possesses neither fortune nor rank!
To weak minds there is much in the show of equipages and attendants, and gaudy houses, and splendid dress; to the sensual there is much in the luxury of well-covered tables; and to the interested there are attractions in the spoils of patronage. We see these delusions operating on understandings, from which nature had promised better things. But all I shall say further at present of any one under such influence is the following citation:
"Hic niger est: hunc tu, Romane, caveto !" April 9, 1808.
N°. XXXII, Character of, and extracts from Habingdon's CASTARA.
"To virtue only and her friends a friend,
The world beside may murmur or commend."
As it has been insinuated, I think a little hardly, that my Essays, having little relation to ancient literature, are not sufficiently connected with the primary object of this work, I shall fill the present paper with extracts from an old poet, whose compositions appear to me to have been most unjustly neglected.
WILLIAM HABINGDON, a Worcestershire gentleman, of noble alliances, flourished in the reign of Charles I. He was born at Hendlip, Nov. 4, 1605. His mother was Mary, sister to William Parker, Lord Morley, and Monteagle; and is supposed to be the person who wrote the warning letter to her brother, which led to the discovery of the Gun-powder plot. Her husband and son were bigoted Catholics. William married Lucy daughter of William Herbert, Lord Powis, whose mother was a Percy: and this Lady, under the character of CASTARA, formed the principal subject of his poems, which were first published in 1635, 8vo. and again under the title of Castara; and had a third edition under the last title, 1640, 12mo..
They possess much elegance, much poetical fancy; and are almost every where tinged with a deep moral cast, which ought to have made their fame
permanent. Indeed I cannot easily account for the neglect of them. I do not mean that they are not very commonly known among collectors; but the public is little acquainted with them.
The following extracts have not hitherto, I believe, been offered to the notice of modern readers. They are replete with those ethical charms which make them not ill-placed in a Ruminator.
To my worthy Cousin Mr. E. C. In praise of the City Life in the long Vacation.
"I like the green plush which your meadows wear,
In mind and fortune, thither should retire;
In this your error. Now's the time alone
Where lies her husband's factor. When from hence