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the honourable Rewards of honourable Actions, they do honour to their virtuous and honourable Descendants ; but if they were the Rewards of successful Villany,Treachery, or Treason, Venality or Corruption, or an infamous Prostitution of public Faith and Character, to the Vices and Follies of a Court, they leave a Stain and a Blot upon the Bearer, which descends, without any real Diminution of Infamy or Guilt, to the latest Posterity. But you will say, it is possible there may arise, in such a Family, a Man of superior Merit and Virtues who may retrieve its Honour, by being really worthy of all the undeferved Distinctions bestowed upon his worthless Ancestors. Doubtless this may be, and often is, the Case; but then this stiri returns to the old Foundation of perfonal Merit, as the only real and natural Fountain of Honour. Such a Perfon, as this View of the Case supposes, is not honourable because of his Descent from such a Stock, but because he has a fufficient Fund of Merit within himself, which would make him truly honourable, though he had sprung from the Dregs of the People. Personal Merit, therefore, founded in true Greatness of Soul, and real Virtue, always was, and always wil be, the fole Foundation of Honour. Nobles have been seen to dishonour their Titles by base and abject Vices, and Persons of mean Extraction have advanced and ennobled their Families by their great and excellent Qualities : And as it is more blessed to give than to receive, so it is more honourable and glorious to leave Honours to our Posterity, than to receive them 'from our Predecessors, to be the Authors and Founders of 'our own Nobility, and, to use the Expression of Tiberius, recorded by Tacitus, Annal. Lib. II. to be born
nourabite le natus. Cry great Man, us, who w
of one's Self, when he was endeavouring to palliate the Defect of Birth in Curtius Rufus, who was, in every other respect, a very great Man, Curtius Rufus videtur mihi ex fe natus. The first Founders of every honourable Family must have been fuch; must have raised themselves from an inferior State of Obfcurity and Poverty, must have been the Descendants of mean and ignoble Progenitors, unless we could suppose that the first great Man of the Family sprung out of the Earth, or dropt out of the Clouds, with all his Implements of Honour about him, laden with such a Stock of Titles, Coronets, Ribbands, and what not; as might be distributed among all his Posterity, from Generation to Generation.
Were the Genealogy of every Family, from the Flood down to this present Time, faithfully preserved, there would, probably, be no Man valued, or despised, on account of his Birth; there would not be a Beggar in the Street, or a Scoundrel in Newgate, but would find himself lineally descended from great Men: And it is no improbable Conjecture, that the poor Negroes, whom some of our Planters hardly consider as Part of our Species, are lineally descended from the Father of the Faithful, who was the Friend of God, (Isa. xli. 8.) Nor is there in the World a Family so rich, as not to have some poor; or fo noble and honourable, as not to have some vicious, lewd, lazy, worthless Branches descended from it, if not the Founders of it. I was once at a noble Lord's Table, where a fawning Parasite was offering up a good deal of this nauseous Family Incense, in return for a good Dinner, which he had just received. My Lord, who had a Soul too great, and a Taste too delicate, to relish such fulsome
Flattery, cut him short with this rough sensible Rebuke, Pr’ythee Ned, said he, let us have no more of this Stuff. That is, in my Opinion, the most honourable Family, that has the fewest R gues and Wh-res in it, It would, doubtless, be a very entertaining Sight, to see the Progenitors of any one Family in the World, for two or three thousand Years backward, passing in Review, with all their proper Ensigns of Dignity, or Marks of Infamy, all the proper Distinctions of Honour or Dishonour, Virtue or Vice, Riches or Poverty. How many Knaves and Fools, as well as Heroes and Philosophers, would appear in so long a Descent! How many different Scenes of Riches and Poverty, Scythes and Sceptres, Rags and Ribbands, Swords, Spades, and Pick-axes, &c. would diversify the motley Procession !
I was t'other Day to visit my honoured Friend and Kinsman Lecline ap Rhees, ap Shenken, ap Howell, ap Tudor, ap Gurgoin, Esq; who, like a primitive Hero and Philosopher, supports the Dignity of the most antient Family in the World upon a pretty patrimonial Eftate of 15l. per Annum, which he boasts has never been increased by Usury or Trade, by Rapine or Fraud, or diminished by Luxury, for above seven hundred Years last past. His chief Riches and Glory confift in a large Roll of Parchment, that will almost cover one Quarter of his Estate, in which he boasts a Pedigree, rising up to near an hundred Years after the Flood, though my good Cousin verily believes it might be proved, that he descended in a direct Line from Noah himself, and if that could be fairly made out, it would follow that he was lineally descended from Adam; and though any reasonable Man would think
Eltate Family in the ports the Dignita primitive
that as much as, in Conscience, he could expect of defire; yet, as my Cousin never makes any boast of this great Ancestor, he plainly insinuates that his Family fubfifted long before that pretended Father of Mankind was so much as thought of. As this Parchment-tree is very antient, and the Rats have made foine Depredations upon the Family, which have occasioned many Breaks and Mutilations in the Pedigree, Care has been taken, from time to time, to supply the several Vacancies with such Characters as may be supposed to do most Honour to the venerable Stock, and are most fit to appear in a Genealogy of Heroes. My Cousin, to say the Truth, is a complete Person of Honour. He knows how to support tbe Dignity of his Character, and, at the fame time, to shew, upon proper Occasions, all that Humility and Condescension that are inseparable from good Sense and true Honour ; so that, though he scorns to foul his Fingers with the dirty Business of Trade, or puzzle his Brains with the Pedantry of Learning, nor give place to any little, up-start, Post-diluvian Mushroom, who may have raised an Estate by his Hands, or his Brains ; yet he will sometimes humble himself so far as to honour them with a Visit, to accept of a Dinner, or fometimes Half a Crown, only to shew his Goodnature, and that he is no more above the receiving the Homage and Service of his Inferiors, than the richest Landlord from the poorest Tenant, or the greatest Prince from the meanest Subject; though perhaps he quickly forgets the Favour, and bescoundrels the Man that bestowed it. As he was one Day indulging the Vanity of his Heart among his honourable Ancestors, a Wag in the Company put him in mind
of his Grandfather, who had been hanged for SheepStealing. My Cousin, with a Sigh and a Shrug, acknowledged the Fact; but not without a hearty Curse upon the Memory of the then reigning Minifter, who, whilst he was lavishing away Honours and Titles, Posts and Pensions, upon some that better deserved his Fate, took no Care to prevent the untimely Fall of a truly great Man, by making him at least an Admiral, a General, a Judge, or a PrivyCounsellor.
Now, that there is no real, intrinsic, and substantial Good in all the Advantages of Birth and Fortune, even Folly itself must confess. But suppose there were; yet, considering the uncertain Duration, the precarious Tenure, that they may be forfeited, even in this Life, to the Sentence of Justice, or the Breath of the People, which alone can keep the Bubble in Play, and prevent its finking into nothing; or if not that, yet we are sure it will die with us; it will then fail us, when we shall have most Occasion for Comfort, I mean in the Agonies of Pain and Sickness, and the Hour of Death; no wise Man can think there is any thing valuable in it but the Opportunities and Interest it may give us to do more Good in the World, and promote the Benefit and Happiness of Mankind. Now, whether a Man that doats upon an imaginary Treasure, that only seems to stuff out an iinaginary Idea of human Greatness, but which can neither make him wiser, nor better ; that can neither give Health to his Body, nor Peace to his Mind; that can neither prolong his Life, nor give him Comfort at the Hour of Death, can have any better Pretensions to • Vol. I.