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I feel no common pleasure in being able to prove the justness of these observations of Mr. LOFFt, by one of his own Sonnets, than which a nobler does not exist in the English language, even including those of Milton.
66 SONNET. Occasioned by one of Miss Caroline Symmons “on a
blighted Rose-bud,” written in her 12th year; she
Who little have employ'd the boon of Time !
While thee Death cropt in the first dawn of prime;
Expands the beauty of a purer clime;
The eternal radiance of that blest Sublime
More clearly to mankind.—That loveliest bloom,
Clos'd in the dreary darkness of the Tomb
permitted you to have continued in it. Where, to be silent as to any living characters, we can think of such men (all of them more or less cotempo raries) as Mr. Charles Yorke, the Earl of Hardwicke, Earl Camden, the Earl of Mansfield, Mr. John Lee, Sir Michael Foster, Sir William Blackstone, Sir William Jones, it conveys the plea:ing and satisfactory sentiment that the ENGLISH Bar has been, and may it ever be, not incompatible with the most elegant, the most enlightened, the most cultivated, vigorous, upright, and comprehensive minds; with the steadiest attachment to freedom, to their country, and to the bust interests of human society: that it may ever supply the most splendid, noblest, and most permanently effectual opportunities of promoting all these pure and su: lime objects !"
85 Proclaim: “Look, Mortals, to that world on high, Where Sweetness, Genius, Goodness cannot die.'
C. L. 4 Jan. 1804."*
However unequal the following may be to the subject, it is a tribute which the feelings of my heart demand that I should not withhold.
To CAPEL Lofft, Esq.
On reading the last Sonnet.
Son of the Muse, urge thy untir'd career
Right onward thro' the clouds of worldly wrong;
Thro' all the ills that round life's pathway throng ;
With voice unfaultering speed the moral song;
And pour the copious stream of Truth along!
Enraptur'd on the lay. The holy Muse
And on thy lyre drop fresh Castalian dews;
Jan. 17, 1809.
• This is taken from “ LAURA, or Select Sonnets and Quatuorzains," a work not yet published-containing the most copious collection of compositions of this kind ever made, not only English, but both original and trans. lations from the Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German which will raise admiration in every enlightened mind, not only at the industry but at the learning and genius of the accomplished and amiable colo lector, who has himself executed the major part of the translations; and many of them with a happiness which will be sure in time to find its dus praise.
All the arguments, which have been urged to depreciate the lustre of high birth, apply only to an abuse of its advantages. No one of strong sense, no one of elevated sentiments, could ever for a moment suppose it a substitute for virtue, or talents. If on the contrary it does not operate as an incentive to the strenuous cultivation of the mind; to an honourable ambition, and to noble actions; it has really an injurious effect, for it exposes mediocrity of character, and still more it exhibits deficiencies, in a light more glaring by the contrast.
But let men boast of their splendid descent as they will, its glory must be considered as at best dormant, till accompanied by personal merits. There is no doubt that il gilds and graces the fame of a conspicuous character, but let him, whose personal qualities are obscure, reserve it till it can be brought to co-operate with his own exertions.
The numbers are great of those, who presume to rest their claims to distinction on the merits of their ancestors alone. But what wise or spirited person will forbear to express scorn for such empty boasts? Birth cannot put itself in competition with genius or virtue ; it is only in conjunction with these that it displays a genuine brightness. On this account equal pretensions to birth alone, without the aid of something more, can never put persons on an equality.
The various ways in which the consciousness of a brilliant descent influences an active rich and generous mind, it would require a wider space and deeper inves
tigation to develope, than this cursory essay will allow. It fans hope; impels a daring courage; breathes a generous complacency; calls' forth a noble scorn of what is mean and vulgar, and directs the aspiring anıbition to rule the empire of minds, if not of material kingdoms. It sets the possessor above the intimidation of ordinary greatness; and teaches him to treat the mean gewgaws with which undeserved elevation, or upstart wealth, endeavour to dazzle the world, with playful or indignant contempt.
Conscious that he has no obscurity in his origin which can be urged to disqualify him from those lofty stations, which his own efforts are put forth to acquire, he proceeds to his point firm and undaunted. There is a sort of self-depreciation in those who do not possess birth, which too frequently operates secretly to depress a noble ambition. The advantage of that feeling which has been so well expressed,
Possunt, quia posse videntur, is wanting in them. I say frequently, for it is not always so in minds, that ought to be conscious of it; and on the other hand it in too many cases controls the aspirations of minds that ought not to be controlled by it.
The greatest characters have in very numerous instances risen from the most obscure progenitors. There is something animating in the contemplation of men who could thus emerge from the clouds and oppressions of an humble station, and who could break from the bonds of those circumstances in which it has too generally happened, that
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,
At the same time it must be admitted, that low men derive from their condition some qualifications for rising in the world, which are not possessed by those who have been born and educated in the higher walks of life. Necessity will be content under many privations, and reconcile itself to many submissions, which a nobler spirit would spurn. Elevation is as often gained by corruption, and wicked compliances, as by merit. Greatness therefore and worldly prosperity are not in themselves proofs or even strong presumptions of desert in those who have been the fabricators of their own fortunes. We must scrupulously examine the grounds and nature of the progress of a vulgar man from its first point to wealth, place and honours, before we can pronounce that the consideration of his origin increases the glory of his subsequent distinction.
Of the major portion of those who have been thus exalted, I suspect it will be found, that neither superior virtues, nor superior talents have been the main ingredients of their prosperity; but habits of accommodation, of which their better-descended and more highlyendowed rivals could not brook the practice.
Let me be excused for closing this essay with a celebrated, and often-cited passage from Lord Racon.
“ As for nobility in particular persons, it is a reverend thing to see an ancient castle or building not in decay; or to see a fair timber tree sound and perfect; how much more to behold an ancient noble family, which hath stood against the waves and weathers of time. Those that are first raised to nobility, are commonly more virtuous* but less innocent, than
Here virtuous must be used as synonimous to active and full of exertion.