Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XV. The Manners of Tory Courtiers, and of those who ape them, as People of Fashion, inconsistent with Manliness, Truth, and Honesty; and their Prevalence injurious to a free Constitution, and the Happiness of Human Nature. - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
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SECTION XV. The Manners of Tory Courtiers, and of those who ape them, as People of Fashion, inconsistent with Manliness, Truth, and Honesty; and their Prevalence injurious to a free Constitution, and the Happiness of Human Nature. - 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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The Manners of Tory Courtiers, and of those who ape them, as People of Fashion, inconsistent with Manliness, Truth, and Honesty; and their Prevalence injurious to a free Constitution, and the Happiness of Human Nature.
Among a thousand anecdotes of the frivolity of the governing part of a despotic country, I select the following, merely as a slight specimen of the trifling disposition of those who, as they pretend, claim their elevated situations for the good of mankind.
“In the summer of the year 1775, the queen of France, being dressed in a light-brown silk, the king good-naturedly observed, it was couleur de puce, the colour of fleas; and instantly every lady in the land was uneasy till she had dressed herself in a silk gown of a flea colour. The rage was caught by the men; and the dyers worked night and day, without being able to supply the demand for flea colour. They nicely distinguished between an old and a young flea, and subdivided even the shades of its body. The belly, the back, the thigh, the head, were all marked by varying tints. This prevailing colour promised to be the fashion of the winter. The silk-mercers found it would hurt their trade. They therefore presented her majesty with patterns of new satins; who having chosen one, Monsieur exclaimed, it was the colour of her majesty's hair!
Immediately the fleas ceased to be favourites at court, and all were eager to be dressed in the colour of her majesty's hair. Servants were sent off at the moment from Fontainbleau to Paris, to purchase velvets, ratteens, and cloths of this colour. The current price of an ell in the morning had been forty livres, and it rose in the evening to eighty and ninety. The demand was so great, and the anxiety so eager, that some of her majesty's hair was actually obtained by bribery, and sent to the Gobelins, to Lyons, and other manufactories, that the exact shade might be caught and religiously preserved.”
Such was the little, mean, adulatory spirit of the court of France, and of the people who at that time imitated the court with more than apish mimicry. To show how little there is of truth and honesty in such servility, be it remembered, that the nation so eager to catch the very colour of the queen's hair, soon afterwards murderously cut off the head on which it grew. Nothing silly, nothing overstrained, can be lasting, because it wants a solid foundation. Let kings be careful how they confide in court compliments and the addresses of corruption. Mastiffs guard their master and his house better than spaniels.
While such a spirit prevails among the great, it is impossible that the happiness of man can be duly regarded by those who claim a right to govern him. Were frivolity and meanness are general, it is impossible that the people can be wise or happy. Gaiety, founded on levity or affectation, is not happiness. It laughs and talks, while the heart is either unmoved or dejected. Happiness is serious. The noise of folly is intended to dissipate thought; but no man would wish his thoughts to be dissipated, who finds any thing within him to think of with complacency.
Princes have always something important to think of, which, it might be supposed, would preclude the necessity of trifling amusements to kill time. Yet courts have always been remarkable for frivolity. This frivolity is not only contemptible in itself, unworthy of rational beings, especially when executing a most momentous trust, but productive of meanness, weakness, and corruption. Long experience has associated with the idea of a courtier in despotic courts, duplicity, insincerity, violation of promises, adulation, all the base and mean qualities, rendered still baser and meaner, by assuming, on public occasions, the varnish of hypocrisy.
Erasmus gives directions to a young man, in the manner of Swift, how to conduct himself at court. I believe they have never been presented to the English reader, and therefore I shall take the liberty of translating them, not only for the sake of affording amusement, but that it may be duly considered, whether or not persons who form their manners and principles after such models, are likely to be the friends of man, the assertors or the guardians of liberty: whether the slaves of fashion, who seem to separate themselves from others, as if they were a chosen tribe among the sons of men; as if they were made of such clay as forms the porcelain, while others are merely earthen ware; whether, I say, the slaves of fashion, which always apes a court in all its extravagancies, are likely to consult the happiness of the majority of mankind, the middle, lowest, and most useful classes, whom they despise, as an inferior species of beings; as the whites in the West Indies formerly looked down upon the negroes with disdain.
“As you are now going to live at court,” (says Erasmus,) “I advise you, in the first place, never to repose the smallest degree of confidence in any man there who professes himself your friend, though he may smile upon you, and embrace you, and promise you; aye, and confirm his promise with an oath. Believe no man there a sincere friend to you; and do you take care to be a sincere friend to no man. Nevertheless, you must pretend to love all you see, and show the utmost suavity of manners and attentions to every individual. These attentions cost you not a farthing; therefore you may be as lavish of them as you please. Pay your salutations with the softest smiles in your countenance, shake hands with the appearance of most ardent cordiality, bow and give way to all, stand cap in hand, address every body by their titles of honour, praise without bounds, and promise most liberally.
I would have you every morning, before you go to the levee, practise in making up your face for the day at your looking-glass at home, that it may be ready to assume any part in the farce, and that no glimpse of your, real thoughts and feelings may appear. You must study your gestures carefully at home, that in the acting of the day your countenance, person, and conversation may all correspond, and assist each other in keeping up your character at the court masquerade.
These are the elements of the courtier's philosophy, in learning which, no man can be an apt scholar, unless he first of all divests himself of all sense of shame; and leaving his natural face at home, puts on a vizor, and wears it constantly too. In the next place, get scent of the various cabals and parties of the court; but be not in a hurry to attach yourself to any of them, till you have duly reconnoitred. When you have found out who is the king's favourite, you have your cue; mind to keep on the safe side of the vessel. If the king's favourite be a downright fool, you must not scruple to flatter him, so long as he is in favour with the god of your idolatry.
The god himself, to be sure, will require the main efforts of your skill. As often as you happen to be in the presence, you must exhibit a face of apparently honest delight, as if you were transported with the privilege of being so near the royal person. When once you have observed what he likes and dislikes, your business is done.”
He proceeds to advise his pupil to pursue his own interest, regardless of all honour and honesty, whenever they may be violated without detection. He tells him, in consulting his interest, to pay more court to enemies than friends, that he may turn their hearts, and bring them over to his side. I cannot, in this place, give the whole of the letter; but the curious reader may find it under number fifty-seven, in the twenty-eighth book of the London edition.
Erasmus drew from the life. Though a most profound scholar, yet he was not merely a scholar. He read the book of the world with as much accuracy as the volumes of his library. I have brought forward this letter, because I find it exemplified in the Precepts of Lord Chesterfield, and the Diary of Lord Melcombe. It appears, under the testimony of their own hands, that these men actually were the characters which Erasmus, in a vein of irony and sarcasm, advises his court-pupil to become. It appears from them, that many of the persons, with whom they acted, were similar. It follows that, if such men were great, wise, and good men, truth, honour, sincerity, friendship, and patriotism, are but empty names, devised by politicians to amuse and to delude a subject and an abject people.
But the people (I mean not a venal mob, employed by a minister or by a faction) are not so corrupted. They value truth, honour, sincerity, and patriotism; and in their conduct often display them in their utmost purity. Shall courtiers, then, be listened to, when they represent the people as a swinish multitude, or as venal wretches? Shall courtiers, such as Lord Melcombe, claim an exclusive right to direct human affairs, influencing senates to make and unmake laws at pleasure, and to cry havoc, when they please, and let slip the dogs of war on the poor, either at home or abroad? Shall a whole nation be proud to mimic a court, not only in dress, amusements, and all the vanity of fashion, but in sentiments, in morals, in politics, in religion, in no religion, in hypocrisy, in cruelty?
Lord Melcombe and Lord Chesterfield were leading men, able men, eloquent men, considered in their day as ornaments of the court and of the nation. But if even they exhibit both precepts and examples of extreme selfishness, of deceit, and of a total disregard to human happiness, what may we think of their numerous dependents, under-agents, persons attached to them by places, pensions, ribands, titles, expecting favours for themselves, or their natural children, or their cousins? Can we suppose these men to retain any regard for the public? Would they make any sacrifice to the general happiness of human nature? Would they assert liberty, or undergo trouble, loss, persecution, in defence of a constitution? They themselves would laugh at you, if you should suppose it possible. They can be considered in no other light than as vermin, sucking the blood of the people whom they despise.
Yet these, and such as these, are the men who are indefatigable in declaiming against the people, talking of the mischiefs of popular government, and the danger of admitting the rights of man. These, and such as these, are the strenuous opposers of all reform in the representation. These, and such as these, call attempts at innovations, though evidently improvements, seditious. These are the alarmists, who cry out the church or the state is in danger, in order to persecute honest men, or to introduce the military. The military is their delight and their fortress; and to compass their own base ends, they will not hesitate to bathe their arms in human blood, even up to their very shoulders. Their whole object is to aggrandize a power, of which they pant to participate; and from which alone, destitute as they are of merit and goodness, they can hope for lucre and the distinctions of vanity.
“Where the ruling mischief,” says the author of the Estimate, “prevails among the great, then even the palliative remedies cannot easily be applied. The reason is manifest: a coercive power is wanting. They who should cure the evil are the very delinquents; and moral and political physic no distempered mind will ever administer to itself.
“Necessity therefore, and necessity alone, must in such a case be the parent of reformation. So long as degenerate and unprincipled manners can support themselves, they will be deaf to reason, blind to consequences, and obstinate in the long-established pursuit of gain and pleasure. In such minds, the idea of a public has no place. Nor can such minds be ever awakened from their fatal dream, till either the voice of an abused people rouse them into fear, or the state itself totter, through the general incapacity, cowardice, and disunion of those who support it.
“Whenever this compelling power, necessity, shall appear, then, and not till then, may we hope that our deliverance is at hand. Effeminacy, rapacity, and faction will then be ready to resign the reins they would now usurp. One common danger would create one common interest. Virtue may rise on the ruins of corruption.
“One kind of necessity, and which I call an internal necessity, would arise, when the voice of an abused people should rouse the great into fear.
“I am not ignorant, that it hath been a point of debate, whether, in political matters, the general voice of a people ought to be held worth much regard? Right sorry I am to observe, that this doubt is the growth of later times; of times, too, which boast their love of freedom; but ought, surely, to blush, when they look back on the generous sentiments of ancient days, which days we stigmatize with the name of slavish.
“Thus runs the writ of summons to the parliament of the 23d of Edward the First:—The King, to the venerable father in Christ R. Archbishop of Canterbury, greeting: As the most just law, established by the provident wisdom of princes, doth appoint, that what concerns all, should be approved by all; so it evidently implies, that dangers common to all, should be obviated by remedies provided by all. Ut quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus approbetur;—sic et innuit evidenter, ut communibus periculis per remedia provisa communiter obvietur. A noble acknowledgment from an English king, which ought never, sure, to be forgotten, or trodden under foot by English subjects.
“There are two manifest reasons why, in a degenerated state, and a declining period, the united voice of a people is, in general, the surest test of truth in all essential matters on which their own welfare depends, so far as the ends of political measures are concerned.
“First, because in such a period, and such a state, the body of a people are naturally the least corrupt part of such a people: for all general corruptions, of whatever kind, begin among the leaders, and descend from these to the lower ranks. Take such a state, therefore, in what period of degeneracy you please, the higher ranks will, in the natural course of things, be farther gone in the ruling evils than the lower; and therefore the less to be relied on.
“Secondly, a still more cogent reason is, that the general body of the people have not such a bias hung upon their judgment by the prevalence of personal and particular interest, as the great, in all things which relate to state matters. It is of no particular and personal consequence to the general body of a people, what men are employed, provided the general welfare be accomplished; because nothing but the general welfare can be an object of desire to the general body. But it is of much particular and personal consequence to the great, what men are employed; because, through their connections and alliances, they must generally find either their friends or enemies in power. Their own private interests, therefore, naturally throw a bias on their judgments, and destroy that impartiality which the general body of an uncorrupt people doth naturally possess.
“Hence, then, it appears, that the united voice of an uncorrupt people is, in general, the safest test of political good and evil.”
Is it not then time to be alarmed for the public good, when great pains are taken to depreciate the people; when the names of jacobin, democrat, leveller, traitor, and mover of sedition, are artfully thrown, by courtiers and their adherents, on every man who has sense and virtue enough to maintain the cause of liberty; that cause, which established the revolution on the ruins of despotism, and placed the present family on the throne, as the guardians of a free constitution? I cannot think such courtiers, however they may fawn, for their own interest, on the person of the monarch, friends, in their hearts, to a limited monarchy. If they could and dared, they would restore a Stuart. But as that is impracticable, they would transfuse the principles of the Stuarts into the bosom of a Brunswick. To expose their selfish meanness, and frustrate their base design, is equally the duty and interest of the king and the people.