Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XXVI. The excessive Love of Distinction and Power which prevails wherever the Spirit of Despotism exists, deadens some of the finest Feelings of the Heart, and counteracts the Laws of Nature. - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
SECTION XXVI. The excessive Love of Distinction and Power which prevails wherever the Spirit of Despotism exists, deadens some of the finest Feelings of the Heart, and counteracts the Laws of 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.
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.
The excessive Love of Distinction and Power which prevails wherever the Spirit of Despotism exists, deadens some of the finest Feelings of the Heart, and counteracts the Laws of Nature.
In a system of manners, which renders the possession of riches more honourable than the possession of virtue, which attaches a degree of merit to hereditary rank and nominal distinctions, above all that personal exertions can possibly acquire, the natural ideas of right and wrong are confounded; and man, becomes a depraved, artificial animal, pursues preeminence in society, by counteracting nature, as well as by violating justice.
That he counteracts nature, under such a system, will be evident, on considering the present state of conjugal union among those who appear to place the chief good of man in riches, splendour, title, power, and courtly distinctions. Love is every day sacrificed, by the loveliest of the species, on the altar of pride.
The fine sensibilities of the heart, if suffered to influence the choice of a companion for life, might lead to family degradation. “Nature then, avaunt,” (exclaims Aristocracy.) “Love is a vulgar passion. The simplest damsel, that slumbers under the roof of straw, feels it in all its ardour. Daughter, you have nobler objects than mere nature presents. Remember your birth. You must make an alliance which may aggrandize the family, which may add title to our riches, or new brilliancy to our title.”
In vain have the Loves and the Graces moulded her shape and face with the nicest symmetry. In vain has art added her finest polish to the work of nature. Poor Iphigenia must be sacrificed. Her heart, peradventure, has chosen its mate, and happy would she be, if she could renounce all the embarrassments of high fortune, and emulate the turtle-dove of the vale. But no; she must not tell her love. Perhaps the object of it is only a commoner; perhaps he is only a younger brother; perhaps he has little to recommend him but youth, sense, honour, and virtue. He cannot keep her an equipage. He has no mansion-house. Yet her heart inclines to him, and both God and nature approve her choice; but neither her heart, nor God, nor nature, will be heard, when pride and aristocratical insolence lift up their imperious voice, and command her to remember her rank, and keep up the family dignity.
Lord ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ is introduced as a suitor, under the father's authority. Lord ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ influences five or six boroughs, and the junction of such an interest with that of the family must, in all human probability, secure a riband, and perhaps a marquisate.
His lordship is twenty years older than poor Iphigenia. His life has been spent, from infancy, in the midst of luxuries and pleasures, to speak of it in the softest terms. He has a lively juvenile pertness about him; but his person has all the marks of a broken constitution.
Behold, then, the suitor, alighting from a high phaeton, beautifully adorned with coats of arms, not only on the sides and back, but on the lining, drawn by four cream-coloured ponies, and followed by two fine figures of men in white liveries, with horses richly caparisoned, and displaying, in every part, where it is possible, coronets of silver.
Iphigenia appears delighted at the honour of his proposal, though her heart, when she reclines on her pillow, feels a pang of regret which no language can describe. The struggle between love and pride is violent; but it passes in secret. She hears of nothing among her companions, but of the great alliance she is going to make with an ancient and illustrious family. Splendid mansions, glittering carriages, birth-day dresses, flit before her imagination. Above all, the delightful idea that she shall take precedence of those who now think themselves her equals and superiors, dispels every thought of love. As to the man, the husband, he is scarcely considered at all, or he must be considered with disgust. But his title, his house in town, his mansions and parks in the country, his parliamentary interest, the favour in which he stands at court, the brilliant appearance he makes in the realms of fashion; these, added to a father's influence, determine Iphigenia at once to forget the object of her love, and give her hand to deformity, disease, and folly. She marries: the family estates and influence are united, and the battered, worn-out bridegroom becomes, in time, a marquis.
The puny offspring of such connubial alliances are trained in the same idolatrous veneration of rank, title, and grandeur; and woman, formed to love and be beloved, sacrifices her happiness to family pride, and lives and dies a legal prostitute, without once tasting the exquisite and natural delight of virtuous, equal, and sincere affection.—Taught from the cradle to believe herself a superior being, she is cheated of the happiness which falls to the lot of those who view their fellow-creatures as one great family, and are not too proud to partake of the common banquet of life, and to choose a partner like the turtle of the vale.
Now mark the consequence. In no rank of society is conjugal happiness more rarely found than among those who have imbibed most copiously the aristocratical principles of selfish pride. The present age abounds with public and notorious instances of infelicity of this sort in the highest ranks of society. It would be painful to dwell upon them. I drop a tear of pity on the lovely victims to despotism, and let the curtain fall.
But surely that degree of pride, nursed by ill-constructed systems of society, which leads to the violation of the first law of nature, and produces misery of the severest kind, ought to be disgraced and reprobated by all who have hearts sufficiently tender to sympathize with the sufferings of their fellow-mortals. Love, and the natural affections between human creatures, are the sweet ingredients which Providence has thrown into the cup of life, to sweeten the bitter beverage. And that state of society, which divests man of his nature, which renders him a factitious creature, which hardens his heart with selfishness, and swells him with the morbid tumours of vanity, deserves execration. It increases all the natural misery of man, and withholds the anodyne.
Something may be said in excuse for the more amiable part of the species, when they discard love from their bosoms to indulge pride. Their haughty fathers too often inculcate the lesson of pride from the earliest infancy; and teach them to think nothing really beautiful and lovely, which is not marked by fashion, or varnished by titles, riches, and heraldic honours. The men in general set them the example. They lavish their love on the courtesan, and follow prudence in the choice of a wife; that is, they seek not a heart that beats in unison with their own, but a legal connection which increases their fortune, or aggrandizes their situation. A marriage of love, at an age when the heart is most prone to it, is considered as a folly and a misfortune, unless it advances the man in society. The women learn to retaliate, and to give their hands without their hearts; gratifying pride at the expense of love.
When truth, justice, reason, and nature are little regarded, in competition with the desire of distinction, which is the case wherever the spirit of despotism has insinuated itself, all true and solid happiness will be sacrificed for the appearance of superiority in birth, in possessions, in houses and carriages, and above all, in court favour. The tenderest ties of consanguinity, affinity, and friendship, snap asunder when opposed to the force of any thing which is likely to contribute to personal splendour or family pride, political consequence, influence at elections, and finally, to the honours conferred by royalty. The little aspirants to subordinate degrees of despotism, are continually crawling up the hill, ever looking at the brilliant object on the summit, and leaving below, all that love and nature teach them to embrace.
From this principle, unnatural as it is, arises the anxious desire of aristocratical bigots to make, as they express it, an eldest son; to starve, or at least to distress a dozen sons and daughters, in order to leave behind them one great representative, who may continue to toil in the pursuit of civil preeminence, for the gratification of family pride. The privileges of primogeniture tend to establish a class of individuals all over the land, who are interested, and sufficiently inclined, from pride as well as interest, to promote the spirit of despotism. They would have no objection to the feudal system, in which the only distinction was that of lords and vassals. Not contented with engrossing the property which ought to be shared among their brothers and sisters, they claim privileges in consequence of their property, and, in proportion to their acres assume a lead in their counties, which ought only to be conceded to integrity united with talent.
When the laws of nature, and eternal truth and justice, are violated, no wonder that despotism advances, and man is degraded.