Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XXIV. Insolence of the higher Orders to the Middle Ranks and the Poor; with their affected Condescension, in certain Circumstances, to the lowest of the People. - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
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SECTION XXIV. Insolence of the higher Orders to the Middle Ranks and the Poor; with their affected Condescension, in certain Circumstances, to the lowest of the People. - 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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Insolence of the higher Orders to the Middle Ranks and the Poor; with their affected Condescension, in certain Circumstances, to the lowest of the People.
Public corruption must produce private. When pride is a ruling principle in the conduct of state affairs, it must display itself in every part of domestic life, accompanying its lordly possessor from the palace at St. James's and the levee in Downing-street, to the rural mansion in the distant county, to the convivial table, to the fire-side, to the stable, and to the dog-kennel.
A due degree of self-respect, a dignified behaviour, a demand of what is due to oneself, attended with a cheerful payment of what is due to others, are highly laudable, and have no connection with that senseless, sullen, cruel pride, which marks the spirit of despotism.
This latter sort of pride is totally destitute of feeling for others. It scarcely acknowledges the common tie of humanity. It stands alone, completely insulated from all human beings below it, and connected only by a narrow isthmus with those above it. It seems to think the world, and all that it contains, created for its own exclusive gratification. The men and women in it are merely instruments subservient to the will and pleasure of aristocratic insolence.
With this idea of its own privileges and claims, it is no wonder that it shows symptoms of extreme soreness and excessive irritation on the least opposition to its will and pleasure. Accordingly those of the human race, whose unhappy lot it is to be domestic or menial servants to persons of either sex who swell with the selfish pride of aristocracy, are kept in a state of abject servility, compelled to watch the looks and motions of the demigod or demigoddess, and spoken to with a severity of language seldom used to the horses in the stable, or the dogs in the kennel. No attendance by night or by day can be sufficient. Such superior beings cannot perform the most ordinary operations of nature without assistance, which degrades both the giver and receiver. They cannot put on their own clothes; but like eastern tyrants surrounded by slaves, stretch themselves on the couch of indolence, while their fellow-creatures, equals by nature, with trembling solicitude fasten a button, or tie a shoe-string. The slightest error, delay, or accident, draws down imprecations on the head of the offender, more terrible than the anathemas of a pope.
If the little Mogul affect spirit, then he talks, in his ire, of horsewhips, kicking down stairs, breaking every bone in the skin of the wretched operator, who, as human nature is prone to error, may have deviated, in adjusting a curl, from the standard of court propriety. When he has occasion to speak of one of his servants, he commonly says, “one of my rascals did this or that;” and when he speaks to them, especially on the slightest neglect or mistake, his choler breaks out into oaths, curses, and epithets, expressive of bitterness and venom, for which language has not yet found adequate terms. The genius of Homer, which described the wrath of Achilles, can alone paint in colour black enough the atrocity of the great man's ire. If it were not for that vulgar thing law, which, on such occasions, makes no distinctions, the great man would trample the little man, who has buckled his shoe awry, out of existence.
To maintain that accuracy of dress and splendour of appearance, which so superior a being thinks absolutely necessary, certain vulgar people, called tradesmen, must inevitably be employed; and in this country of plebeian liberty, they will no more work for a nabob, or a rich contractor, or a peer of the realm, without payment, than for a French sans culotte. But woe betide them, if they have the insufferable insolence to present their bills uncalled, though their families are starving, and their landlords are ejecting them from their habitations. “The insolence of the rascals!” exclaims the great man, “let them wait, let them call again, and think themselves well off if I do not chastise them with a horsewhip, or kick them down stairs, for knocking at my door, and bringing bills without order. But, d'ye hear: pay the scoundrels this time, and mind, I never deal with them any more!” Then follows a volley of oaths and curses on the heads of all such blackguards, low-lived wretches, scum of the earth, thieves, and pickpockets, that do not know how to keep their distance, and treat a gentleman with due respect. “Aye,” (he adds,) “there we see ‘the spirit of the times,’ the effect of these cursed doctrines, which those miscreants,∗ the philosophers, have broached, to the destruction of all law, order, and religion, throughout Europe.”
The middle rank of people, who reside in his vicinity, he takes no more notice of, than if they lived at the arctic or antarctic pole. He keeps them at a distance, because, though not so rich as himself, yet claiming and supporting the rank of gentlemen, they would be likely to approach too near, and perhaps presume upon something of an equality, not only by nature, but by self-esteem and institution. He passes his next-door neighbours in his carriage or on horseback, in his daily rides, without condescending to turn his eyes upon them. He does not recollect even their names. They may be very good sort of people, for any thing he knows to the contrary; but really he has not the honour of knowing them. A despot will not bear a rival near his throne; and therefore he cannot bear any who, with inferior fortunes, might happen to equal him in spirit, in sense, in behaviour, and in education. But if there is any body in the neighbourhood very low indeed; so low, as to be removed from all possibility of clashing with his importance, such an one he will make a companion, and show him most marvellous marks of humility and condescension. Indeed, for the sake of obtaining a little popularity, he will notice cottagers and poor children at play, and make extremely free with clowns, jockies, grooms, huntsmen, and all who have any thing to do with dog and horse flesh. But keep your distance, ye little squires, parsons, and professional men, who make saucy pretensions to knowledge or ingenuity. However, he can never be at a loss for company, while he and his equals drive phaetons and four, to dine with each other at fifteen miles distance, and while officers are quartered in the vicinity. He is abjectly servile to his superiors; insolent and neglectful to the middle ranks; and free and easy to the humble sons of poverty, who will bear a volley of oaths whenever he thinks proper to discharge them, and who, if spit upon, will not spit again, because they are his workmen, tenants, or toad-eaters.
He who can eradicate such insolence from a neighbourhood, by treating it with the contempt and ridicule which it deserves, certainly contributes to the happiness of society. It is confined in its sphere of action; but it is the same sort of despotism which ravaged Poland, and deluges the earth with human gore. In a free country like this, where law and liberty flourish, it is a vulture in a cage, but still it is a vulture; and the little birds, to whom nature has given the free air to range in, ought to unite in endeavouring to destroy it.
Does any sensible man believe that such persons, if their power were equal to their will, would suffer freeholders of forty shillings a-year, to vote for members of parliament; or juries of twelve honest plebeians to decide in state trials, where ministers are anxious (as they value their places) for a verdict favourable to their administration? They would not permit, if they could help it, the middle ranks to breathe the common air, or feel the genial sun, which God has given to shine indiscriminately on the palace and the cottage. They are as much enemies to kings as to the people, because they would, if possible, be kings themselves; but as that is impossible, they crouch, like fawning spaniels, to the hand which has it in its power to throw them a bone.
This description of persons is peculiarly formidable to liberty, because they are insatiably greedy of power. From their order chiefly arise the purchasers of boroughs, in which they traffic on speculation, like dealers in hops, determined to resell their commodity, as soon as they can, to the best bidder. They are also of that hardened effrontery which pushes its way to public employment, stands forward at court, and, on all occasions, assumes that importance, which, from the general diffidence of the better part of mankind, is but too easily conceded to the most impudent pretensions. In consequence of this unblushing assurance, this arrogant, audacious presumption, this hardened temper, which can bear repulse without being abashed or dispirited, they oftenest rise to the highest posts; and such as would be posts of honour, if they were not filled by men who have not one quality of a beneficent nature, or which deserves the esteem of their fellow-creatures. But though they have no inclination to do good; they acquire the power, which they fail not to exercise, of doing much evil. They encourage arbitrary principles. They depreciate the people on all occasions; and add weight and confidence to the aristocratical confederacy. They may sometimes be men of parts. They are seldom deficient in the graces of Lord Chesterfield. But they are hard-hearted, selfish wretches, attached to the childish vanity of the world, and preferring a title or a riband to the peace, the lives, the property, and the liberty of their fellow-mortals; all which they are ready to sacrifice, even for the chance of pleasing a prime minister, and obtaining some bauble, which reason must ever despise, when it is not the badge of experienced virtues. “One of these,” (says an old writer,)∗ “values being called his grace, or noble marquis,” (unideal names as they are,) “more than a million of lives, provided that in such a general destruction he can save one; and to confirm themselves in their ill-gotten honours, they generally hatch plots, suborn rebellions, or any thing that they think can create business, keep themselves from being questioned, and thin mankind, whereby they lose so many of their enemies.”
[∗]An expression of a Member of the House of Lords, when speaking of modern philosophers.
[∗]Samuel Johnson; not the lexicographer, whose religion was often popish superstition, and whose loyalty the most irrational toryism. I venerate his abilities and his private virtues; but detest his politics. He would have displaced the Brunswick family for the Stuarts, if his power had kept pace with his inclinations.