L O I T E R E R.
"Speak of us as we are."
PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR,
And sold by C. S. RANN, OXFORD;
Messr. EGERTONS, Whitehall, LONDON; Messrs. PEARSON
And ROLLASON, BIRMINGHAM; Mr. W. MEYLER, Grove,
BATH; AND Messrs. COWSLADE and SMART, READING.
L O I T E R E R.
SATURDAY, June 13, 1789.
Arma virumque Cano. VIRG.
SIR,I am not one of those men who send their communications to the author of a periodical work with any Sanguine expectation of making the world either much better, or much wiser than it was before; nor do I, at my time of life, flatter myself with the idea of decking these grey hairs with the chaplet of literary fame; but a subject which has long engaged my thoughts, and long roused my indignation prompts me at this time of day to turn Knight-Errant in behalf of a neglected cause.
Amongst the many alterations which have attended on modern times, there are doubtless many for the better; there are some roughnesses polish’d off, and some barbarisms softened away. But there is one venerable custom abused, which could be the object of popular dislike only because it defended a property which all envied but which few alone possessed. 1 allude, Mr. Loiterer, to the little care with which hereditary honors are preserved; a neglect of which is particularly assisted by, and chiefly evident in the indiscriminate use of arms which all, who can afford to have them painted, enjoy!! But a truce to exclamations. I will endeavour to practice upon paper the clearness, and precision which I often do upon parchment, when I am tracing up my own family with all its intermarriages, younger children, and collateral braches, to the reign of Alaric the Eloth. I shall therefore divide my subject in the following manner, First I shall endeavour to ascertain the earliest period when Arms were assumed, and the merits which entitled a man to bear them himself, and to transmit them to his heirs. Secondly, I shall mention the time when, and motives why the use of Arms became more vulgar, and promiscuous; and lastly I will state the folly and injustice which dictated the breach of the former, and the introduction of the latter custom.
If antiquity can sanctify forms, the advocates of Heraldry need not blush in tracing the use of Arms as early as the l century, and in confessing that they were adopted for no meaner purpose than to give an honourable distinction to the Soldiers of Religion, and the deliverers of Jerusalem. The devices which they assumed were of course analogous to the cause in which they fought; and we shall find upon proper enquiry that the cross is the most ancient and most honourable bearing. In after times when the passion for crusading had somewhat abated, and when the Chieftains of Britain fought no longer for Palestine, still there subsisted the original desire of acquiring military distinctions; and those who best displayed their valour, and their patriotism by defending their country, or by invading its enemies, assumed by the consent of all some memorable device. The choice of a soldier was naturally fixed on emblems of courage, or on symbols of battle, and next to the cross we may rank in honour, The points of spears, shattered scymitars, and bleeding hands; or beasts of prey, as Lions, Bears, and Tigers.
Such were the ornaments which our Ancestors bore on their shields, their fur-coats, or their helms; and lightly as the present age may esteem such honors, it should not be forgot that, in a more military one, they were of intrinsic value, because they were to be earned only by military desert; and because they were won on the fields of Crecy, of Poictiers, and Agincourt.
The merit of the Father naturally secures some respect to his Son; and the affection of the Latter would as naturally prompt him to follow the footsteps of his Sire; to fight by his side, to share his dangers, and his triumphs whilst alive, and to preserve his honors after He was dead. Thus were Arms deliver’d down from Father to Son, and what was not disallowed in the first stages of descent. soon became the legal inheritance of succeeding ones.
Having thus finished the first part of my plan, I shall next mention the ra (and memorable it is in the annals of England) when the assumption of Arms became more general, the laws of acquiring them less strict, and their value of course much diminished.
Accident, or Exigence, or perhaps both (for I wave all political disquisitions) removed the sceptre from hands of James IId, and seated a foreigner on the throne. William, though himself a Soldier, was nevertheless surrounded by favourites, who drew both their wealth and their existence from the commercial situation of their native swamps; who would in vain have searched for the merit of honorable Ancestry; and had they searched at all, would have found them busy in the looms of Flanders, or in draining the fens of Holland.
We all very stoically despise a merit which we possess not; yet at the same time take infinite pains in despoiling those who do. To this effect, Men, who were conscious of their want of family, strenuously endeavoured to lessen the value of it in the estimation of the Public. Their first manœuvre was of course to confound all customs which tended to distinguish honorable professions and ancient families from the upstart Sons of trade. In these attempts they were not a little assisted by the recent changes which had taken place in our Constitution, which had crushed the inordinate power of the Barons, and confirmed a third estate in their long contested rights; But this alone would not have secured them success. They saw that as long as Heraldry remained inviolate and entire, so long in spite of wealth and power would there be a strong- marked line drawn between the Gentle and Commercial part of the Kingdom. To level therefore this obstruction was their business; and Circumstances assisted them. Tilts and Tournaments were now no more, and Armour was rarely used in battles where artillery alone could decide the fortune of the Day. Of course there was seldom any opportunity of signalising personal courage amidst the regularity of systematic murder. When they put off their Shields and their Helmets; they laid aside also their plumes, and their devices. What had once been the defence of a Monarch in the day of battle, could now only be blazoned as an ornament to domestic equipage. This rendered it an easy matter for the rich and the indolent to display arms which they had no real claim to. The Merchant and the Burgess who would tremble to purchase distinction by danger, or to acquire the right of bearing arms as an ornament at home at the price of having wielded them as weapons abroad, could now engrave them of their sideboard, or plaister them on their Chariot with as much composure as the first Peer of the Realm.
Having thus traced the Origin, the Use, and the Abuse of Heraldry, I shall conclude with mentioning some of the reasons which make me so warm an Advocate for the stricter construction of its laws, and so incensed against those who infringe them.
What my private sentiments are, most of my Readers will by this time have pretty well guessed. They will think that I have no small share of family pride. Be it so. And I will be free to confess that I do think a pedigree of Warriors and Patriots confer truer nobility on their descendant than the Sword or the Garter of a Sovereign. Yes. I would have every one who possesses this Nobility make it his first, and greatest care to preserve it inviolate. Don’t mistake me, Mr. Loiterer, I am not an Advocate for erecting that impolitic and ungenerous barrier between two ranks of the same State, which elevates the most infamous individual of the one into a Patrician, and debases the most illustrious of the other to the level of a Vassal. No. I detest a custom which pampers the vanity of a Despicable Senate by the slavery of a virtuous Commonalty. I detest alike the principles of an Italian Republic, or a Gallic Despotism. But as a long series of titled Ancestry confer in the opinion of all some honour on their Descendant; so am I apt to think that a long series of virtuous ones promise in some degree of virtuous offspring. At least if the prevalence of blood be not as certain in the human species as it evidently is in many others, I am sure that the conscious pride of representing an illustrious family will often fix the wavering, and confirm the weak. The fear of shame will produce the same fruits as the love of praise; and many who would probably indulge their vices, could they escape detection, have been roused to a sense of their duty through the dread of conspicuous infamy. For this reason would I have every innocent distinction of family carefully preserved; it may stimulate some minds to virtue, it can deter none from it.
One word more, Mr. Loiterer, and I have done. Should this letter be deemed worthy of publication, and should it meet the eye of the world, I am not ignorant of what the world would say. My Readers will think my remarks unseasonable, and my subject out of date.
It will be urged that I am uselessly, perhaps foolishly employed in defending a cause which nobody regards, and in celebrating honors which none esteem. It is this very reproof against which I lodge my accusation. Why are honors disregarded? and why is Heraldry despised? I blame those who neglect their own property, full as much as I do those who invade that of another; and if the presumption of our Commonalty is often reprehensible, the indolence of our Nobility is ever unpardonable. Why does not some one of them stand forth, who is by rank or office entitled to be a guardian of neglected rights? There is such an office extant; and it has not very long since been exercised. Let our Nobles exert themselves, and English Nobility will be genuine.
Nor do I refuse their proper praise to the commercial part of my fellow Countrymen; I know their worth as individuals, and their value as British subjects. I do not wish to deprive them of their rights; nor would I have them usurp those of others. Arms are the property of Nobility; too often (Heaven knows) almost their only property. Then why deprive them of it? Commerce can afford to be without it; her wealth and her credit stand on surer foundations than parchment or plumes. But a man who has no other riches than family pride, should not be envied his little all, In resigning real opulence, and of course real authority to the votaries of Commerce, he expects from them the reciprocal indulgence of enjoying fancied dignity unsullied, and imagined wealth undisputed.
I am, Dear Sir, yours, &c.
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