Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER XXX. - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
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LETTER XXX. - Vicesimus Knox, The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5 
The Works of Vicesimus Knox, D.D. with a Biographical Preface. In Seven Volumes (London: J. Mawman, 1824). Vol. 5.
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You took my advice, I find, and have been reading the eighth satire of Juvenal. I should be much pleased to hear your comments; but you desire my thoughts upon it. You know I am always ready to employ my literary leisure in complying with such requests as proceed from an ingenuous desire of information. Such a desire is itself a mark of a noble nature.
Juvenal's eighth satire contains sentiments which cannot be perfectly agreeable to the feelings of a corrupt and depraved nobility. But are they founded in truth? Then adopt them, my Lord; and relinquishing in your own mind all hereditary claims to distinction, found them on your own personal merit. Emulate the first founder of your family, if he was raised by virtue. Be ennobled by your own efforts; scorning to shine faintly, like the moon, with reflected light. Be a sun; not a planet, nor a satellite.
You have read this fine remain of antiquity in the original. It abounds in spirit and fire, as well as solid sense. I shall not recapitulate the sentiments, as they must lose much of their force in any expressions but those of their animated author. But let me prevail with you to learn the whole satire memoriter. You have been used to commit passages from the Latin classics to your memory; and you can remember nothing in any of them more conducive to your real honour, than the eighth satire of Juvenal. It is to be wished that it may be well translated, for the benefit of those of the young nobility who are not so well able to read it in the original as your Lordship. Even they may make out the meaning, with benefit to themselves, by the assistance of Madan's literal translation, and notes. Dryden or Johnson should have exerted all the vigour of their genius, in naturalising in our country a poem so full of instruction to those whose conduct and example is of the first consequence to society.
Do you think that my Lord ∗∗∗∗∗, or ∗∗∗, or ∗∗∗∗, would have disgraced their ancestors and the peerage, by their gross ignorance, their brutal behaviour, their low pursuits, their vulgar associates, if they had been impressed early in life with the ideas of the manly Juvenal on true nobility. But they were wretchedly educated, servilely flattered, surrounded by mean hirelings, ready, for their own interest, to gratify them in every folly, and to anticipate their whimsical wants.
A classical education contributes more than any thing I know to ennoble the mind. A boy conversant with the ancient Greeks and Romans imbibes the most generous ideas, and the tincture will not easily be lost. But you will say that Lord ∗∗∗, and ∗∗∗, and ∗∗, and ∗∗∗∗, had a classical education. Pardon me, my Lord, they were sent to schools where they might have had it, but they had it not. They relied on private tutors and plebeian school-fellows for all their exercises. They employed their time and thoughts in frolics, in spending money, and acquiring the reputation of fine fellows, who were above the plodding toil of application. They never caught the patriot spirit of a Junius Brutus, a Cato, or any of the noble personages handed down by Plutarch. But after spending a few years at a public school, to the injury of their health and principles, in learning a little of the elements of grammar, they rapidly run through Europe, and then returned to display the effects of their education, their political and philosophical and classical education, in corrupting boroughs, and managing an election. Feeble in mind, feeble in body, their estates and their characters equally ruined, they have nothing to support them but an empty title, the prejudices of the people in favour of birth, and the countenance of any minister, who may make use of them as tools of their ambition.
We give, says Juvenal, to mangy curs, the noble names of “Lion, Tiger, Leopard.” When we call ∗∗∗∗, ∗∗∗∗∗, ∗∗∗, and many others, Lords, we honour them much as we do the mangy curs of Juvenal.
If such men multiply, and the modern modes of education and modern manners seem favourable to their multiplication, can we expect that nobility will be honoured in England any more than it is in France? Be assured, my Lord, that the people will trample coronets under their feet, when they no longer sparkle with the gems of virtue; and wipe off armorial bearings from the coach doors, which have nothing to authorize them but the venal nonsense of the herald's office.
Such characters alone as that to which your Lordship is generously aspiring can save the ancient and magnificent fabric of nobility from falling into ruin under the assaults of common sense, and that free spirit which has borne all before it in America and France. You, and those who like you, consider what it is to be a nobleman indeed; honourable and respectable for your private and personal qualities, amiable and valuable to your generation for beneficent exertions; such only can form columns to support and adorn the splendid edifice. Will titled gamesters, players, grooms, sycophants, borough-mongers, maintain the exclusive privileges of nobility, against the united efforts of a people, who know how to estimate the real value of all political distinctions, and who, burning with a love of liberty, will not fail to destroy a corrupt aristocracy, as the natural enemy of every thing truly noble?
As I would plant and cultivate the oak of the forest, for the use of our future navies, for the defence and glory of our country; so would I raise and preserve a rising generation of nobles, enlightened with knowledge, animated with virtue, determined to support their eminence of station by eminent desert; and like Corinthian columns in a temple, exhibiting, with the beautiful foliage of the capital, perfect uprightness and solidity.
I look forward with pride and pleasure to that day, when the people will consider your Lordship as a support and ornament not only of the peerage, but of the nation; and if the hand of violence shall be cutting down the ancient tree of nobility, command it to be spared for the golden branch which you, and those who imitate you, shall display to the admiring multitude.
Go, my Lord, I entreat you, and study once more the eighth satire of Juvenal, and commit it to your memory, never to be effaced from the tablet.
I am, &c.