Abbildungen der Seite

of men of the world— This merriment of parsons is mighty offensive. Independently of the indecorous tone, there are several expressions and allusions in Dr Warner's letters, and two or three in Gilly Williams's and Lord Carlisle's, which offend, not merely against good taste, but common decency; and Mr Jesse has exposed himself to much censure by printing them.

We are also obliged to omit many passages from the letters of Lord Holland, Miss Townshend, Mr Storer, the Dowager Lady Carlisle, and Lady Sarah Bunbury, which we had marked for insertion; as well as an entire letter of Horace Walpole's, (vol. i. p. 4,) which maintains his superiority as a writer of epistolary compositions.

In conclusion, we are happy to say that the comparison, suggested by these volumes, between the manners and morals of the last century and our own, is highly satisfactory. Intellectual tastes have nearly superseded the necessity, formerly felt by the unoccupied classes, of resorting to coarse indulgences or strong excitements; and respect for public opinion induces those among them who continue unreclaimed, to conceal their transgressions from the world. It is also worthy of note, that the few persons of noble birth or high connexion who have recently attracted attention by their laxity, are professed votaries of (what they call) pleasure; and are no longer encouraged by the example, or elevated by the companionship, of men distinguished in the senate, the cabinet, or the court. No Prime Minister escorts a woman of the town through the Crush-room of the Opera; no first Lord of the Admiralty permits his mistress to do the honours of his house, or weeps over her in the columns of the Morning Post; no Lord of the Bedchamber starts for Newmarket with a danseuse in his carriage, and her whole family in his train; our parliamentary leaders do not dissipate their best energies at the gaming-table; our privy councillors do not attend cock-fights; and among the many calumnies levelled at our public men, not one has been accused (as General Burgoyne was by Junius) of lying in wait for inexperienced lads to plunder at play.

Though the signs are less marked, the improvement in the female sex is not less certain; for it may safely be taken for granted, that the practice of gambling was fraught with the worst consequences to the finest feelings and best qualities of the sex. The chief danger is hinted at in The Provoked Husband.

'Lord Townley.-'Tis not your ill hours that always disturb me, but as often the ill company that occasion those hours.

[ocr errors]

Lady Townley.-Sure I don't understand you now, my

ill company do I keep?

Lord. What

Lord Townley.-Why, at best, women that lose their money, and

men that win it; or perhaps men that are voluntary bubbles at one game, in hopes a lady will give them fair play at another?'

The facts confirm the theory. Walpole's Letters, and the volumes before us, teem with allusions to proved or understood cases of matrimonial infidelity; and the manner in which notorious irregularities were brazened out, shows that the offenders did not always encounter the universal reprobation of society. Miss Berry, speaking, in her very instructive book, of the Duchess of Norfolk's divorce in 1697, observes :

Many circumstances of this lady's case show how much the ordinary habits of life were overstepped, and what precautions were thought necessary previous to such misconduct. A house taken at Lambeth, then a small and little frequented village, whose nearest communication with Westminster was by a horse-ferry this house, hired and resorted to under feigned names, and occupied by foreign servants, who it was supposed could not identify the lady, are not measures taken in a country where the crime they were meant to conceal was frequent.'-(England and France, vol. i. p. 297.)

This test would be fatal to the female nobility of England half a century later; for many of them took no pains whatever to conceal their immoralities. We are obliged, from obvious motives, to refrain from mentioning some conclusive instances; but it is notorious that Lady Vane gave Smollett the materials for the Memoirs of a Lady of Quality (herself) published in Peregrine Pickle; that Lady Townshend sat (perhaps not so willingly) for the portrait of Lady Bellaston in Tom Jones; and we can hardly do wrong in copying a note, which Lord Dover has annexed to the name of a Miss Edwards, in his edition of Walpole's Letters: Miss Edwards, an unmarried lady of great fortune, who (1742) openly kept Lord A. Hamilton.'

Gilly Williams mentions a caprice of a more respectable kind, which was far from uncommon at the period:

Lord Rockingham's youngest sister has just married her footman, John Sturgeon. Surely he is the very first of that name that ever had a Right Honourable annexed to it. I made the Duchess of Bedford laugh yesterday with the story of Lord March's handsome Jack wanting to go to live with Lady Harrington.'..


The girls talk of nothing but the match between Lord Rockingham's sister and her footman. Never so much and discretion met together; for she has entailed her fortune with as much circumspection as Lord Mansfield could have done, and has not left one cranny of the law unstopped. They used to pass many hours together, which she called teaching John the mathematics.'

Unless John was a very unapt scholar, he must soon have become as worthy an object of a lady's favour, so far as mental

culture was concerned, as Sir John Germaine; who, after occasioning the Duchess of Norfolk's divorce, married a noble heiress, Lady Betty Berkeley, and lived till the middle of the last century. Miss Berry tells us that he actually left a legacy to Sir Matthew Decker, under a belief that he was the author of the Gospel of St Matthew!


It has been thought by some that we have lost in grace what we have gained in decency, and that society is no longer so gay, easy, accomplished, or even lettered, as it used to be. Miss Berry, though she commends the fashion which encouraged occupation and mental acquirements, cannot refrain from a sly sarcasm at the new prodigies, who were already great orators at Eton, ' and profound politicians before they left Christchurch or Tri'nity, the gentlemen to whom it was easier to be foolishly bustling than seriously employed;' and Mr Moore maintains a yet more startling doctrine: Without any disparagement of the many and useful talents which are at present nowhere more 'conspicuous than in the upper ranks of society, it may be owned that for wit, social powers, and literary accomplishments, the 'political men of the period under consideration (1780) formed 'such an assemblage as it would be flattery to say that our own 'times can parallel. The natural tendency of the French Revolution was to produce in the higher classes of England an in'creased reserve of manner, and of course a proportionate restraint ' on all within their circle, which have been fatal to conviviality and humour, and not very propitious to wit-subduing both manners and conversation to a sort of polished level, to rise ' above which is often thought almost as vulgar as to sink below • it. Of the greater ease of manners that existed some forty or fifty years ago, one trifling but not the less significant indication was the habit, then prevalent among men of high station, of calling each other by such familiar names as Dick, Jack, Tom, &c. &c -a mode of address that brings with it in its very 'sound the notion of conviviality and playfulness, and, however unrefined, implies at least that ease and sea-room in which wit 'spreads its canvass most fearlessly.-Life of Sheridan.

[ocr errors]


We differ with unfeigned reluctance from Mr Moore; but he is surely mistaken in supposing that the higher classes in England have contracted an increased reserve of manner in consequence of the French Revolution; or shown more anxiety on that account to intrench themselves within the privileges of their rank. On the contrary, the tendency of that event, and our own Reform Bill, was and is to make them more anxious to identify themselves in feeling and interest with the people. If they have ceased to be familiar, it is because they have ceased to be exclusive; restraint is necessary, because society is mixed; and there is no reason why men of rank should change their mode of ad

[ocr errors]

dress to men of rank, except that they live less with one another, and more with the world at large. The very peculiarity in question was observed by Mrs Trollope in the most exclusive coterie in Europe, the crême de la crême of Vienna. All the ladies address each other by their Christian names, and you may pass evening after evening surrounded by Princesses and Countesses, without ever hearing any other appellations than Therese, Flora, Laura, or Pepe.'


[ocr errors]

This may be very agreeable for the privileged few, and we readily admit that intimacy is a great promoter of humour. Few of Selwyn's bon-mots could have been hazarded at a mixed party. But we are as far as ever from admitting Mr Moore's proposition in the main. It is not flattery, but sober truth to say, that our public men have contracted no reserve beyond that which the voluntary enlargement of their circle has entailed upon them. It would be difficult to contend that they have impaired their social powers by mixing with eminent authors, men of science, and artists, whatever influence these may have exercised upon their wit or humour; and, even as regards wit or humour, it would simply be necessary to run over a few known names to vindicate our equality in both. Modern conversation is rich with the product of every soil, the spoils of every clime; and it would be a grave error to suppose that those who contribute most to it seldom meet in intimacy. They meet very often, but they belong to several co-equal and intersecting circles, instead of keeping to one, and making that the sole object of interest.

[ocr errors]

There are signs, moreover, that he who runs may read. It is clear that they talked politics as much as we do; perhaps more, since their eagerness was so manifest to a Frenchwoman. Madame de Boufflers (writes Williams in 1763) is out of patience with our politics, and our ridiculous abuse of every person who either governs or is likely to govern us.' This was a serious drawback, but not the most serious. Selwyn's principal. correspondents were not dandies and fine ladies, but the most cultivated men and women of the highest class; including several: on whom Mr Moore would rely, if we came to a division on the question. The masterpieces of English light literature, and several other standard works, appeared during their correspondence. Yet neither Fielding, Richardson, Smollett, Gray, Goldsmith, Hume, Robertson, Johnson, Gibbon, or even Burke, elicits a remark. There is one allusion to Garrick, (by Rigby ;) one to Reynolds, (by Lord Carlisle ;) and one to Gainsborough, (by Gilly Williams,) as the painter by whom, if you remember, we once saw the caricature of old Winchilsea.'

There was no want of classical acquirement, it is true; many wrote graceful verses; and Fox and Walpole had a taste for

contemporary literature; but Fox kept it to himself for lack of sympathy, and Walpole was ashamed of it. By literature, however, must be understood merely the Belles Lettres; for Fox confessed late in life that he had never been able to get through The Wealth of Nations.

Familiarity, again, is a great charm, but the habits which are the conditions of its existence, beget monotony. In Charles the Second's reign, when it was the fashion to go to sea and fight the Dutch, instead of taking lodgings at Melton or attending Battues, Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, tells us in his Memoirs, that a party of gay, witty, lettered profligates were becalmed on board the Duke of York's ship, and got so tired of one another, that the first care each took on landing was to ascertain where the rest were going, in order to get away from them. We are not aware whether the habitués of White's or Brookes's, seventy or eighty years ago, were ever brought to such a pass; but we know (and there is no getting over this) that they habitually resorted to the gaming-table

Unknown to such, when sensual pleasures cloy,
To fill the languid pause with finer joy.'

With rare exceptions, the most accomplished persons, about to risk more than they can afford to lose, will be found both illdisposed, and ill-qualified, for the easy equable enjoyment of conversation; though (with the aid of wine) they may have their occasional bursts of sparkling pleasantry.

To sum up all there is a halo floating over certain periods; dazzling associations may cluster round a name: ''tis distance lends enchantment to the view;' and living witnesses, who have known both generations, will always, by a law of our nature, award the palm to the companions of their youth. But it will require stronger arguments than have been adduced yet, to convince us that the social powers of any class have fallen off, whilst morality, taste, knowledge, general freedom of intercourse, and liberality of opinion, have been advancing; or that the mind necessarily loses any portion of its playfulness, when it quits the enervating atmosphere of idleness and dissipation, for the purer air and brighter skies of Art, Literature, and Philosophy.

« ZurückWeiter »