« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
tendency to cloud his understanding, and warp his decisions. They dispose him to take for granted the propriety of erroncous and doubtful principles of action; to be misled in the application of reasonable principles; and to be biassed by the impulse of ambition and interest. They prove equally injurious in their consequences, when permitted to prevail, to his own true happiness, and to that of the public.
The passion which strikes the deepest root in the breast of the Nobleman is pride. Raised above his fellow-citizens, he is prone to look down upon them with contempt; and to treat them with repulsive formality, with lofty indifference, or with arrogant condescension. The sentiment of pride is cherished in the hereditary Peer by his recollection of the recorded nobility of his ancestors ; in the newly-cre.
; ated Lord, by a fondness for his recent dignity, and an opinion of his personal merit and importance. Hence they are alike tempted to regard themselves, not as public officers invested by their equals, and solely for the general good, with peculiar honours and authority; not as magistrates responsible in their collective K 3
capacity to their country, and possessing functions which the Nation at large retains a right to abridge or annihilate, if experience should ever prove their continuance useless or noxious ; but as holding their legal rights by an indefeasible prescription, never to be questioned under any possible circumstances whatever because it has once been established. Hence too they are liable to be actuated by a secret desire of enlarging the prerogatives of the Peerage, and to look with a jealous eye on the powers enjoyed by the ranks of society inferior to themselves ; especially on the privileges and jurisdiction of the popular Representatives, which they perceive to be more nearly on a level with their own, and feel a conti, nually operative restraint. From the concurrence of all these motives they are apt to entertain an unconquerable aversion to measures which they deem the result of vulgar prejudice; and frequently permit their love of order (a) to degenerate into an indiscriminate
(a) This principle, laudable in itself, may be expected frequently to act with too strong a bias on those members of the House of Peers in particular, who owe their dignity
opposition to reform and innovation. These circumstances, joined to their attachment to the Crown as the fountain of honour, and their propensity to the splendour and pomp Court in which they are habituated to move, will naturally incline them to give every degree of preponderance to the monarchical branch of the Constitution compatible with their own legislative weight. As members of the Legislature, they are under strong tempta. tions to be influenced in their public conduct by views of personal honour and emolument; and are especially exposed to them after having once tasted the pleasure of being elevated from a lower to a higher degree in the scale of pre-eminence. For it is not unknown to those who have opportunities of inspecting the proceedings of persons in public life, that he who is advanced to any rank of nobility is usually to eminence in the Law, or to their stations in the Established Church. For the natural effect of their profeffions is, to dispose them in favour of every thing which has the sanction of precedent and the authority of ancient custom. And as their advancement to the Upper House seldom takes place until the earneftness and alaerity of youth have fubsided ; their time of life in general strengthens their Ailinclination even to moderate and reasonable changes.
more ambitious to be raised a step higher, than a Commoner of distinction is to be created a Peer. And finally, they are not unfrequently seduced by the constitutional permanency of the rights which they possess (a permancncy essential to the proper discharge of those functions, and the attainment of those important ends, in which the utility of an order of Peerage consists) to sink into indolence and fupinenefs, and to lose all zeal for distinguishing themselves by meritorious exertions.
A thorough insight into the prejudices and temptations peculiar to elevated rank is no less requisite to a Peer than an intimate knowledge of his positive duties. Neither are these disadvantages to be overlooked by the Commoner, who has the option of a Peerage. For he is bound in the sight of God, while he estimates on the one hand the enlarged opportunities of doing good which he may gain by the promotion, fairly to appreciate on the other the additional danger of contracting, blamable habits, views, and dispositions, to which himself, his family, and his connections may be likely to be exposed by his acceptance of it;
and to decide, not from the suggestions of va. nity or ambition, but according to the preponderance of those motives alone which Christianity recognizes and approves. Similar reflections, as far as they are applicable, ought to determine the Peer who has the offer of ad. vancement in rank, as to the answer which he gives to the proposal.
The duties which, in addition to the general obligations of British subjects, are immediately incumbent on Peers, relate either to the discharge of their public functions, or to their conduct in private life. Those of the former description may properly be investigated in the first place.
1. The public duties of a Peer, that is to fay, the duties arising from his situation as a member of the Upper House of Parliament, afford a wide field for practical remarks. Appointed to watch over the welfare of the realm, and entitled to a permanent seat in its councils, he is bound early to direct his views to the subjects likely to be brought before him, and to furnish himself with information on