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FOR JANUARY 1799.
FOR THE EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.
The GLEANER, N°. III. (To be continued. Monthly.)
"When great addition swells, and virtue none,
Is good without a name; vileness is fo The property by what it is, fhould go, Not by the title ;-Honours beft thrive, When rather from ourselves we them derive, Than from our foregoers." HEN we view, with an attentive eye and a forrowing heart, the miferies that are every day accumulating around us, we will be induced to attempt to trace their origin. al caufes; and for that purpofe we muft fix upon fome prominent evil, the fource of which has been of fuf ficient magnitude, and the confequences flowing from it, of fo dan gerous a tendency, as to fupport the arguments which may occur to us, and authorife the inferences which may thence be deduced. Confcious of the disadvantages which a writer muft labour under, who steps forward to combat prejudices which have been of a long ftanding; which are fupported by all the power and intereft of the wealthy and the noble; yet confider it as a duty incumbent upon every member of fociety, to endeav our to draw afide the flimfy veil which as carefully concealed from the
eyes of the public, dangerous and in, jurious affumptions, and to declare the opinion he may have formed of their nature, and confequences From the perufal of the annals of History and Biography, I am fully convinced that the privileges attached to the ill-founded right of primogeniture, are the great causes of all the distress that is now darkening the horizon of Great Britain; a right in itself inconfiftent with found reafon; which derives no other origin but that drawn from old feudal cuftoms; and which ought to have been long fince exploded along with them, when their neceffity no longer exifted; and I fhall endeavour to convert this affertion into matter of fact, by offering proofs in fupport of it, the strength of which it will be in the power of every reader to judge of
I have arranged my thoughts upon this fubject under four titles: A 2
Firstly, I fhall endeavour, as concifely as poffible, to fhew the origin of the privileges of primogeniture.
quered his enemies, he bestowed upon his principal foldiers or captain, according to their merit, the poffeffions of the vanquished; and in order that he might the better preserve his conqueft, and at the fame time fupport his own power and that of his tribe, he made it a condition, that each, according to the extent and the value of his property, fhould either attend perfonally or furnish a certain quota of foldiers, in cafe of war or of any emergency that might render their affillance and fupport requifite. "Thefe captains (alfo,) after retain
The privileges of primogeniture, which are now converted into rightsing what was proper for them. originated with the feudal fyftem, in "felves, proportioned the refidue athe early ages of military barbarism. "mong a lower rank of officers, unIn the first dawning of fociety, before "der the conditions of fidelity and the population was equal to the ex-military fervice;" (Erfkine, B. II. Tit. iii. §. 3.) and these again dif. tributed part of their poffeffions mong the peaceable and unwarlike part of the tribe "under the condi
tion that the Grantee fhould, in "place of ferving the Granter in war, "cultivate and fow the grounds "which the Granter kept in his na"tural poffeffion." (Erskine, B. II. Tit. iv. §. 5.)-Hence arose the Feudal Syftem.
tent of country, each man feized up-. on the fpot of ground which he conceived to be moft fit for his purposes; when it became inadequate to them, he removed from it; and at his removal any other perfon could occupy it, without a violation of the common rights and laws of nature. Af. terwards, as the population increafed, it was found to be productive of effential and general utility, for a num ber of families to affociate together and to form themselves into tribes: and in that event it was neceffary for each family to occupy and cultivate the fame spot for a fucceffion of years; the circumftance of doing fo, conftituting a fufficient right of property. When the intereft of different tribes were contrary to each other, each party naturally had recourfe to force, to fupport that which was moft dear to it; and anongst a number of men, there always was, and ever will be, fome perfon particularly diftinguifhed from the generality, for his fuperior powers; and fuch a perfon, in cafes of difficulty, as a neceffary confequence, took the chief command, and conducted and directed the operations of his countrymen. When chief was fuccefstul in battle, and con
Secondly, I fhall confider thefe privi
leges as a moral wrong. Thirdly, I fhall confider them as a dangerous political evil. And, Laftly, I shall conclude, by propofing a remedy againft the numerous abuses of which thefe privi leges are the primeval fource.
Thefe chiefs, who were at first appointed by the general voice of their tribe to command only for a certain time, in cafes of neceffity, found fupreme power fo intoxicating, that they made attempts, and frequently with fuccefs, to continue it during their lifetime; and their foldiers who were in ufual ardently attached to them, from admiration of their fuperior bravery, bodily ftrength, good conduct, and other perfonal motives, foon had an additional tye to induce them to continue their fupport, in the hopes of plunder and of reward.
Hence originated Nobility. To continue the prerogative of government to his pofterity, was the next defire that arose in the mind of the chief; for this purpose, and to prevent any diffenfions in his family,
it was neceffary to fix upon fome particular diftinction to afcertain the fucceffor to his dignity and power; and his eldest fon naturally occurred to him as being, on many accounts, the perfon molt fit to fulfil his inten tions.
In the event of his vaffal having a numerous progeny, the chief retain ed the power of nominating any one of the fons of the deceafed to fill his father's ftation; and although the chofen perfon was obliged by the law of nature and by general practice to provide for the remainder of the family, as he received the whole property belonging to it, he also had it in his power to fend fome of his brothers to fulfil the duties of his vaffalage; while he himself, if his difpofition inclined not to warfare, enjoyed the "otium cum dignitate," at home. Thefe foldiers, if their party was fuccefsful, received the rewards of their valour; but if on the contrary they were defeated and efcaped the perils of the battle, they returned to the land, of their ancestors, and affisted in domeftic employments until they were again called upon to take a fare in more active scenes.
Although it would be foreign to my fubject, and inapplicable to the purposes I have in view, to trace the origin of Parliaments, it may be neither improper nor unneceffary to mention here, that when the chief and his followers went to fight the battles of their country, the people appointed those men who were rendered venerable on account of their age, and whofe wifdom was prefumed to be matured by experience, to attend to the affairs of the community; that they had a military body under their command fufficient to enforce their refolutions; and that the public, finding them to be a very proper, and often an effectual check upon the encroachments of the chief and his principal vaffals, afferted and fupport ed their right to have a Council of
Ancients, whofe opinion had great weight, and was of effential ufe, ia urging forward war, or preferving peace.
When it was afterwards perceived, that the intereft of feveral tribes had a near connection, and that it was neceffary to combine their mutual forces agaiuft a common enemy; the different chiefs met together and chofe, from amongst themielves, fome one as a fupreme commander, who was peculiarly distinguished by his fuperior talents, and who was invefted with power, not only to controul the inclinations of the others, but alfo to procure by the means of coercion, an implicit obedience to his orders. Thefe commanders in chief, during the courfe of the war,` had many opportunities of gaining the affections of the foldiery and of the inferior officers, in an eminent degree: urged by a wish to aggrandife their family they often endeavoured to retain the fupreme command when it was no longer neceffary to do fo, and when the purposes to effectuate which they had been invested with it, were completed; and although oppofition to fo infamous an ufurpation and fo flagrant a breach of faith was often fuccefsful, yet it fometimes had only the effect of confirming that power which it was intended to deftroy.
Actuated alia by an anxious defire to perpetuate to their defcendents the authority which they had ufurped, they continued, by the utmost attention to the public intereft, and by carefully avoiding every species of tyranny, to ingratiate them!elves with their fubjects, and to render their authority folid and lafting. They alfo had the policy to attach the military part of their vaflals to the intereft of their intended fucceffors, by caufing them to take an active part in the exercifes and fatigue of the foldiers, and by rendering them if poffible, complete maters of the practical
practical part of war. And to these circumftances does Monarchy owe its origin.
As the poffeffions of the king in creased, it was no longer in his power to difcriminate the various qualities of the children of his numerons vaffals, or to discern the one most fit for his service; he therefore gave up the privilege of naming a particular fucceffor, and in place thereof, he ef tablished the rights of primogeniture. By this act, he was affured of fome perfon being always prepared to fulfil the obligations of the feudal te nure; and he had reafon to believe, that by connecting the interefts of his eldeft fon with that of his vaffals, his throne would be more powerfully fupported.
When the clouds of fuperftition and barbarim began to difperfe; when the lights of reafon and literature began to beam upon and illumine the minds of the majority of the nation, the feudal fyftem became no longer neceffary for its prefervation and protection; military tenures were firft neglected, next allowed to fall into diffuetude, and finally abolifhed, or converted into a pecuniary confideration. The magnificence and the pomp of chivalry yielded to the lefs heroic, but more valuable interefts of commerce; the activity of the knights to the buftle of the feamen; and the people in fome de gree emerged from the miferable fituation of flavery, in which they had been fo long plunged, into the proud and dignified rank of freemen. But although the feudal fyftem was ftripped of its most evident and pernicious powers, the baneful effects of it are ftill to be discovered at this period. It was the intereft of the opuJent and of the noble, to preserve the fecret links of that oppreffive chain, which had apparently been burit by the efforts of the public, and in the
injurious and deftructive confequences of entails, in the oppreffion of younger brothers for the aggrandifement of the elder, we may discern that system of ariftocracy which muft eventually deftroy the liberty of every nation in which it is exercised.
After having detailed the origin of the privileges of birthright, I have now to confider them as a moral wrong to iociety, and as an injury of the greatest magnitude to all younger children, particularly to those of landed proprietors. In order to illuftrate this affertion, I shall trace the fate of the family of a man possessed of an eftate, the annual income of which may be L.5000; fuppofing him to have five fous, befides daughters. To begin with the eldeft fon. As he is to be the future reprefentative of an antient family, derived from a long line of ancestry, his early years are watched over with the moft anxious folicitude; he is indulged in every caprice that youthful imagination may prompt him to be guilty of, and his palate is gratified with every nicety which may be deemed not prejudicial to the fuppofed delicacy of his conftitution. Thus he is foftered in the downy, lap of pleafure and eafe until he arrives at an age when it is neceffary he fhould begin to learn not only his native. language, but also thofe foreign ones which are efteemed effentially requifite in completing the education of a gentleman; for this purpose a tutor is procured, who is reftricted from curbing those unruly paffions which have been acquired by the mode in which the young gentleman has been brought up; and from forcing a strict attention to ftudy, as his health might thereby be injured, or he might adopt the pedantic manners of his preceptor. He is early introduced into company, and is encouraged by the parafites of the family, and by the fondnefs of his parents, to perfevere in pertness, which is called wit, and