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Sweet, and hope-breathing Flower! How ill agree
Expands the beauty of a purer clime;
The external radiance of that blest Sublime, Which tenderest Innocence may happiest see! And such the will of Heaven. Nor could it speak
More clearly to mankind.—That loveliest bloom, That Morn of Promise which began to break,
Clos’d in the dreary darkness of the tomb, Proclaim: ‘Look, Mortals, to that world on high, Where Sweetness, Genius, Goodness cannot die.
C. L. 4 Jan. 1804."*
However unequal the following may be to the subject, it is a tribute which the feelings of my heart demand that I should not withhold.
To CAPEL Lofft, Esq.
On reading the last Sonnet.
Son of the Muse, urge thy untir'd career
Right onward through the clouds of worldly wrong;
Thro' all the ills that round life's pathway throng;
With voice unfaultering speed the moral song;
* This is taken from “ LAURA," or Select Sonnets and Quatuorzains," a work since published-containing the most copious collection of compositions of this kind ever made, not only English, but both original and translations from the Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German-which will raise admiration in every enlightened mind, not only at the industry but at the learning and genius of the accomplished and amiable collector, who has himself executed the major part of the translations; and many of them with a happiness which will be sure in time to find its due praise.
Genius shall strains like these delighted hear,
Enraptur’d on the lay. The holy Muse
And on thy lyre drop fresh Castalian dews;
Jan. 17, 1809.
N'. LXI. On Birth.
“ Fortes creantur fortibus et bonis;
All the arguments, which have been urged to depreciate the lustre of high birth, apply only to an abuse of its advantages. No one of strong sense, no one of elevated sentiments, could ever for a moment suppose it a substitute for virtue, or talents. If on the contrary it does not operate as an incentive to the strenuous cultivation of the mind; to an honourable ambition, and to noble actions; it has really an injurious effect, for it exposes mediocrity of character, and still more it exhibits deficiencies, in a light more glaring by the contrast.
But let men boast of their splendid descent as they will, its glory must be considered as at best dormant, till accompanied by personal merit. There is no doubt that it gilds and graces the fame of a conspicuous character, but let him, whose personal
qualities are obscure, reserve it till it can be brought to co-operate with his own exertions.
The numbers are great of those, who presume to rest their claims to distinction on the merits of their ancestors alone. But what wise or spirited person will forbear to express scorn.for such empty boasts? Birth cannot put itself in competition with genius or virtue; it is only in conjunction with these that it displays a genuine brightness. On this account equal pretensions to birth alone, without the aid of something more, can never put persons on equality.
The various ways in which the consciousness of a brilliant descent influences an active rich and generous mind, it would require a wider space and deeper investigation to develope, than this cursory Essay will allow. It fans hope ; impels a daring courage ; breathes a generous complacency; calls forth a noble scorn of what is mean and vulgar, and directs the aspiring ambition to rule the empire of minds, if not of material kingdoms. It sets the possessor above the intimidation of ordinary greatness; and teaches him to treat the mean gewgaws with which undeserved elevation, or upstart wealth, endeavour to dazzle the world, with playful or indignant contempt.
Conscious that he has no obscurity in his origin which can be urged to disqualify him from those lofty stations, which his own efforts are put forth to acquire, he proceeds to his point firm and undaunted. There is a sort of self-depreciation in those who do not possess birth, which too frequently operates secretly to depress a noble ambition. The advan
tage of that feeling which had been so well expressed,
Possunt, quia posse videntur, is wanting in them. I say frequently, for it is not always so in minds, that ought to be conscious of it; and on the other hand it in too many cases controuls the aspirations of minds that ought not to be controlled by it.
The greatest characters have in very numerous instances risen from the most obscure progenitors. There is something animating in the contemplation of men who could thus emerge from the clouds and oppressions of an humble station, and who could break from the bonds of those circumstances in which it has too generally happened, that
Chill penury repress’d their noble rage,
At the same time it must be admitted, that low men derive from their condition some qualifications for rising in the world, which are not possessed by those who have been born and educated in the higher walks of life. Necessity will be content under many privations, and reconcile itself to many submissions, which a nobler spirit would spurn. Elevation is as often gained by corruption, and wicked compliances, as by merit. Greatness therefore and worldly prosperity are not in themselves proofs or even strong presumptions of desert in those who have been the fabricators of their own fortunes. We must scrupulously examine the grounds and nature of the progress of a vulgar man from its first point to wealth, place and honours, before we can pronounce that the consideration of his origin increases the glory of his subsequent distinction.
Of the major portion of those who have been thus exalted, I suspect it will be found, that neither superior virtues, nor superior talents have been the main ingredients of their prosperity; but habits of accommodation, of which their better-descended and more highly endowed rivals could not brook the practice.
Let me be excused for closing this Essay with a celebrated and often-cited passage from Lord Bacon.
“ As for nobility in particular persons, it is a reverend thing to see an ancient castle or building not in decay; or to see a fair timber-tree sound and perfect; how much more to behold an ancient noble family, which hath stood against the waves and weathers of time. Those that are first raised to nobility, are commonly more virtuous* but less innocent, than their descendants; for there is rarely any rising, but by a commixture of good and evil arts : but it is reason the memory of their virtues remain to their posterity, and their faults die with themselves. Nobility of birth commonly abateth industry; and he that is not industrious envieth him that is. Besides, noble persons cannot go much higher; and he that standeth at a stay, where others rise, can hardly avoid motions of envy. On the other side, nobility extinguisheth the passive
* Here virtuous must be used as synonimous to active and full of exertion.