Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER LVII. - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
LETTER LVII. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Enough of discipline. I congratulate you on your proficiency; and, with a full confidence in your good sense and good conduct, lay aside the gravity of advice. Man lives not for business alone; but to enjoy, at proper seasons, the rich repast of pleasure which the God of nature has placed before him. Think not, that in recommending application to letters, and the preservation of your dignity, I would prohibit all pursuit of pleasure. Many are the necessary intervals of study and public affairs, which cannot be more usefully employed, than in liberal, gentleman-like, rational diversions. None will have acquired a better right to such indulgences, than one who shall have spent his time in improving his mind and preserving his dignity, not to gratify pride, but that he may be found extensively useful, and therefore truly honourable. He requires amusements for the health of his mind, and he has a just claim to them. Is the honey to be engrossed by the idle drone, who brings nothing into the hive; who neither assists in the construction of the cells, nor the increase of stores, nor the general defence? It is not, however, necessary to urge this point, because most young men, high in rank and affluent in fortune, want no other impulse to the gaieties of life, but their own propensities to them; and are self-taught proficients in the school of pleasure.
An idea prevails among the superficial, that scholars are often destitute of the agreeable and companionable qualities; and that they think too much on all that occurs, to admit that light, airy, frivolous nothingness which passes away elegant or dissipated leisure in thoughtless gaiety. Thus dunces triumph, in their animal vivacity, over men of sense. They are loud, audacious, and unfeeling; and often reduce the modest man of genius to silence and apparent insignificance, by their unblushing effrontery. Thus, among the ladies, and in all gay society, the most accomplished young men sometimes appear below themselves, and almost yield without a contest, their claims to superiority. Now, my Lord, I wish you on no occasion to appear inferior; but, for the sake of doing justice to the solid improvements you have made, the real graces whom you have courted, to shine equally in the senate and the assembly, in the library and at the dinner-table. Polish yourself, therefore, your external manners I mean, by elegant pleasures, in chosen society.
Sacrifice to the Graces, as you have already cultivated the Muses and the Virtues. This assemblage of goddesses, rendered propitious, will unite in forming that celebrated character, seldom indeed seen, an all-accomplished man. I contend that in pursuing the art of pleasing, you become not an artful, crafty sycophant, renouncing, together with honesty and sincerity, all just pretensions to nobility. To appear kind and gentle and agreeable, be so. Let your brilliants bear the examination of the nicest lapidary. Let not your side-board be furnished with plated baubles, but solid silver and gold. How can a man pretend to honour, whose whole intercourse with his fellow-creatures is founded on deceit? What satisfaction in friendship and conversation can be felt by the mean man, though by abuse called a nobleman, who, in the tenderest intercourse, in his warmest professions, has been acting a part like a player; and whose mind, if it could be laid open, would, like a whited sepulchre, present rottenness to the view, and increase abhorrence by a mean endeavour to cheat the eye by concealing deformity?
To sweeten the temper, and dissipate the clouds of the mental horizon, I advise you to participate in elegant amusements. But let them not degrade, by leading you to low company; low, I mean, not only in rank, but in accomplishments, in virtue, and the liberal qualities of a liberal education. A peer may be pleased with music, without associating with fidlers; he may be delighted in theatres, without making players his bosom friends; he may admire a dancer's agility, without rendering him his confidential companion. Lord ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ fills his noble mansion in the summer with opera singers, French dancers, comic actors, musicians, firework makers. who dine, and sup, and sleep for months under his roof; while his door never opens to the clergy in his neighbourhood, to any of the professions, to capital artists, to men of letters and science, or to the poor. Thus he forfeits his popularity, loses much pleasant conversation, and renders, as far as his influence extends, the whole peerage contemptible. He must possess but little mind, who can acquiesce in the society of persons, who, whatever dexterity or agility they boast, or whatever theatrical excellence they display; are usually unprepared by education and company to become the familiar confidential associates of hereditary law-givers, high-born and high-bred peers of the realm. There are public places for all amusements, and they are there conducted with the greatest skill: he who is not contented with attending these, but chooses to domesticate the performers, evinces that he has no resources in himself; that letters, science, politics, have no charms for him; and that he is unworthy the distinctions which the laws of his country allow him, solely because his forefather earned them.
You will never be reduced to the wretched necessity of keeping buffoons in your house, if you preserve a relish for rational conversation with persons of sense and character; if you take care to cherish a taste for literature; if you partake in the common amusements, at due seasons; and, above all, if you give your attention to state affairs, to the public happiness, the proper province of a real nobleman.
In public affairs you will, I conclude, from the principles you have imbibed in the schools of antiquity, ever lean to the side of liberty and the people. Common sense dictates, and common humanity eagerly adopts the idea, that the few were made for the many, not the many for the few. Your greatness of mind will sacrifice every selfish view to the public benefit. If a reform should be required, which may render it necessary that you should give up your dominion over the borough of ∗ ∗ ∗, or that of ∗ ∗ ∗, or that of ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗, and your influence in the county election, you will renounce them with alacrity, you will, if you act consistently with those ideas of justice and honour, which I know you entertain, be among the first to promote such a reform, whatever it may cost you.
Human affairs, we all know, will ever stop at a point far below perfection; but it is the business of man in society, to be ever urging the stone up the hill. Time causes every human institution to recede from its original purpose. No wonder that the constitution of a senate, established in very early times, should at length want renewal. What good and substantial reason can be assigned, why the present generation may not enjoy the benefit of its renewal, as well as some future? Not only liberty and the true spirit of the constitution are interested in a reform of parliment, but the manners of the people, and consequently their happiness, the ultimate end of all government. Corruption will no longer pervade all ranks, in every competition, from a county election to the choice of a parish beadle. Merit will dare to emerge from her shade. Truth, no longer overborne, will advance, with all her native confidence, to put in her claim to just esteem. Astræa will return from her exile. Long services, or great talents and acquirements, employed for the public good, will meet with their reward. The prizes, which justly belong to merit, will not be lavishly expended in purchasing majorities directed in their decisions by one man. Young adventurers, in all the professions, will aspire at excellence, with a prospect of honour and emolument in their mature age, even though they should want that succedaneum for every excellence, a friend;—a friend among borough-mongers, a patron among those who employ the advantages of birth and fortune, in influencing votes, where votes cannot be influenced consistently with honour or honesty.
You, my Lord, will worship with me in the temple of Liberty, built, as it is in England, on the massy arches of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy; but if the foundation is decayed, you will, in your veneration for the goddess, endeavour to preserve her shrine from falling, and urge the people to employ the most skilful masons, the best marble, and the strongest cement in its repair.
Thus repaired, enter the temple with me, my Lord, and let us unite our voices to the general anthems of whole nations, hailing the sun of reason as it daily bursts through the clouds of prejudice, celebrating the nobility of nature and virtue, and doing willing homage to the majesty of the people, while we dutifully obey the executive powers, constituted and maintained by the nation, as guardians and protectors of the public felicity.
I am, &c.
the SPIRIT of DESPOTISM.
[First printed in 1795.]