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HEREDITARY RULERS.

SINCE nothing is absolute, either in the world of science or that of politics, nothing irreverent need be intended towards one of the most ancient and respected dogmas of the British Constitution, in calling up for self-defence and public justification the venerated theory that certain legislative functions specially appertain to the descendants of ennobled families, whose ancestors by the private favour of the sovereign, or through public deeds of valour and statesmanship, received the distinction of nobility as a reward for their commanding genius, or as a tribute to their assiduous devotion to the person of the Crown. No doubt, when we attempt to investigate the original grounds on which this theory is based, we find ourselves confronted by sentiments in its favour which are of world-old origin. Are we then to judge of the merits of these institutions relying specially on their antiquity and on their coeval development with our general civilisation, or are we to break away from the sacred thraldom of the 'quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus,' and consider the principle of hereditary qualification for government solely on the ground of its modern utility and application to the wants of the present day?

No doubt we live in a utilitarian age. The greatest of institutions is on its trial-the dogmas of an ancient church, and its sanction to claim the undivided faith of the people, are daily called in questionthe absolute is everywhere being discarded; everything is treated as relative. Is it not then almost an act of wisdom in the interests of a cherished monument, that we should draw it forth to public gaze and defend its existence and its claims to general respect, not on the ground of some mystical atmosphere with which it may be surrounded, but on its own solid qualities, as representing in themselves something of those elements of continuity in the life history of a nation-something which has a necessary part and share in the physical function of the political body, and without which the social organism must either starve in some portion of its field of energy, or be thrown back to a ruder and less evolved form of development?

And if in this task we fail, from some flaw in our reasoning, some blot in the arguments with which we would wish to fortify ourselves in our old beliefs, should we for this reason retire discomfited from

the contest, and fall back upon the mystical argument of old? Certainly not. Unless the hereditary system can take its stand on the solid ground of general utility and suitableness to the best interests of the country, it is a simple potsherd-a broken vessel-its days are numbered -its kingdom must be taken from it and given to another. Lastly, if we do thus fail, is there no compromise (gentle word!) to be arrived at-no media via? Is heredity false in theory, bad in practice, ineradicably wrong in conception? This question we must clearly answer at starting.

The philospher who would sit quietly in his study and construct from the dry bones of his preconceived imagination the elements of a new world inhabited by a race of mortals or immortals, as the case might be, endowed with energies different from our own, and influenced by other surroundings, might well conceive a world fashioned after some fresh ideal. He would in his new system combine some pet abstract conceptions of ethics, some cherished. dogma of his own philosophy; thus would he hand over to nature a new order of things in which both phenomena and noumena would be of his own creation, and the great world law of continuity might be unknown. Yet we live in no dream-world in England; and whatever may be the merit of abstract reasoning on the ultimate nature of things, and the search after ideal standards of human excellence, we English prefer to consider ourselves above all things a practical people; and, although we certainly eschew metaphysics in our political reasonings, we are none the less given to being influenced by sentiment; so much so that there is no single one of our social institutions about which there does not cling this halo; and there is scarcely any problem that we could argue about, either social or religious, in which we must not reckon with this highly indeterminate quantity.

A great writer lately departed was a true prophet of this order. To him ideas were great living entities. There was the 'kingly idea,' the aristocratic idea,' 'the eternal established order of things.' He clothed them in his mind with symbols; the outward pomp and show of things were the raiment beneath which there lived a burning soul—the everlasting yea and nay.' Yet this is in truth nothing but transcendental imagery, although it has not lost its power of appeal to many minds, not withstanding the general materialism of the age.

There are still many who would rather not seek out for themselves, or have put before them, the grounds and reasons for their beliefs; these things which they have inherited would in their eyes lose half their almost sacred value, if we were to call upon them to justify the reasons for the faith which is in them. There is yet, however, another class, larger perhaps than the former, more energetic and with clearer views. To them no institution is good that does not satisfy the conditions of general utility; and, if they observe a falling off from this standard, they will put the institution or dogma, as the

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case may be, upon its trial, and judge it by the hard canon of fact

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The schoolmaster and the iconoclast are abroad together; and it is no use either deploring the fact or raising the cry of sacrilege. The hereditary principle is one of those institutions which are most widely and generally menaced, and we must defend it if we can.

'Tis but a hundred years ago, and there yet lived in the minds of many the old-world belief in the theory of Divine right of kings. They worshipped, with the veneration of Russian serfs, the hand that disposed of their destinies. In England, it is true, this belief was rudely shaken in the seventeenth century; yet it died hard, and there were eminent ecclesiastics in the last century who did not think it beneath either their dignity or their intelligence to uphold the doctrine from the pulpit.

We must go back far into the origin of things to find the sanction for an old creed. The belief that the king reigned by Divine right, and that beneath him ruled the feudal lord, was an idea which was early ingrained into the mind of the people by the great co-equal of the Crown and Nobility-the Church. In early days there was a trial of strength between the two great ruling powers-the king and his nobles on the one hand, and the Church on the other. We all know how that contest ended in England. The early Reformation, which before all things was a political movement in Henry the Eighth's reign, was the answer which the Crown hurled back on the pretensions of the Church. The Church was signally defeated, and the Crown, vulgarly speaking, stepped into its shoes. The arbitrary act of an English king is become to-day a cherished dogma of the State, and from this period we date not a few of our civil and religious liberties. In those days the Crown was supreme in England, the various wars of succession had ended, and, except for family rivalries and party feuds, we hear no more in England of the country being divided against itself, in civil war over the rights of respective pretenders to the Crown, till the day when Charles found. himself drawn up in battle array before the forces of the Parliament. It is from the Commonwealth that our real political history begins; yet its important features, so far as concerns the question we are discussing, do not commence till later, when the English aristocracy wrested from the Crown the political power it formerly possessed and held it over in trust for the people. This last condition of things we call in England Constitutional Government. We must, however, mark a difference in what was the state of Constitutional Government in its origin, and what it afterwards became.

The Peers and landowners, who in the name of the people rightly dispossessed the Crown of its prerogative in the seventeenth century, only repeated what the Crown had done regarding the Roman Church in the sixteenth. The victory was not only won after severe contest,

but the victor on each occasion had perpetually to keep his senses alive to the movements of his half-scotched antagonist. The Romish Church was perpetually scheming to regain its lost power: hence the rallying cry for the people became the Protestant cause, in the same way as later on the Parliamentary war-cry against the Crown was encroachment of the prerogative, or selecting a ministry against the will of the people. Thus things went on comfortably for the upper class during the whole of the eighteenth century, which was to them what the Elizabethan era was to the power of the Crown. Both parties at these respective periods reached their apogee. Each have receded since in their respective ratios.

A new power has come upon the field. The people wish to manage their affairs for themselves. Formerly the Crown, tempered or controlled by a nobility, exercised absolute power; next the nobility, controlled by the middle classes, governed as an oligarchy; lastly the people wished to govern. Mark however the change. The nobility which during the last century was hostile to the independent exercise of the prerogative, although it constituted itself its greatest defender in the Constitution, has now, since the great Reform Bill which sealed the fate of the paramount power of this class, become the staunchest ally of the Crown in maintaining its rights and privileges before the rising power of popular ministries which represent specially the power of the people. The influence of the nobility is not gone, but it has become circumscribed; it is shared with others the essential character of class legislation is being rapidly impaired, and the even see-saw which the privileged class kept going before the country for so many generations, by alternating the two elements of Whig and Tory in the administration, no longer succeeds to content a people who long for a personal share in the government, and desire the existence of ministries chosen purely by themselves.

Not a few persons will say that this is a basely misleading analysis of the great events of English history, and that the great causes for which men fought and died are not to be profaned by attaching to them the unworthy motive of power. We are not going to assert that patriotism was an element completely absent from the action of either great party which in turn possessed the reins of absolute power. England would not be the England of to-day if it had been so; nevertheless it is an undoubted fact in the history of a class or family, as it is in that of a people, and particularly of the English, that power for itself is the strongest motive which acts in influencing human action. The pursuit of politics is the search for power tempered by the sentiment called patriotism. If any one cares to deny the definition, he may do so-it will not alter the fact, unless he can prove that the majority of the world are a mass of invertebrate humanitarians.

There was a time in the history of this country when the hereditary principle can hardly have been said to exist. The early Saxon parliament, and later on the feudal parliament, exercised the right of occasionally departing from the direct line of royal succession, and deposed kings at their pleasure. Not only on the one hand did the barons or parliament of the nation require that each step in succession to the throne should be confirmed by them, but the Crown itself in its dealings with its barons was at one time very chary of conceding indefeasible succession to the estates which it granted to the feudal lords. Nevertheless the hereditary custom rapidly sprang up, and long before Henry the Eighth's reign became an established order of the realm both as regarded the Crown and also the nobility. It could hardly be denied that this was almost a necessary line of growth for State and social institutions to have taken. The men best fitted to lead in rough or troublesome times were clearly the powerful military castes. They alone were able to gather round them the active spirits among the people; and though they may not, and often did not, represent the highest light and wisdom of the country, they possessed the energy of character required in rulers amidst unsettled times. A system of hereditary descent of titles and dignities was the best means of, as it were, breeding up a distinct class, whose earliest impressions should be those of being destined to a particular profession, and the inheritance of certain responsibilities to maintain unimpaired the national great

ness.

Had the feudal system simply developed a caste and there stopped, it would have left little of its traces in our Constitution in the present day. The nobility of France developed pari passu with our own; but, while the French noblesse stagnated, ours progressed. The exemption from taxation and various privileges of the French nobles cut them off completely from the bourgeoisie-they became a caste in the true sense of the word. The English nobility, on the other hand, never at any period of its history, even during the troublous times of the seventeenth century, lost its touch with the people. For this and for many other reasons the hereditary principle has been accepted and respected by the people of this country. They have been used to attribute to its influence the rise and maintenance of great families whose names are scattered everywhere through the pages of English history, now on the battle-field, now in the council, now in the parliament.

Nobles have died on the scaffold for the cause of liberty, and have alternately fought for or against the king and their own class; and whatever has been the chequered history of this country's progress, we find at every page the nobility more or less active on the popular side, defending the rights and liberties of the people. This is very different from what we find in the history of France, where the decay of the baronial system and that of the French nobility went

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