THE PUBLIC OF THE LAST CENTURY.
THERE are words in the English language which are always used in the same sense, but in all succeeding ages mean different degrees of the things: they are as elastic as Mrs. SHOOLBRED'S patent stays, which accommodate themselves to every variation of the married female form. Two of these words are the World and the Public. We read' such books as HORACE WALPOLE*S charming Letters, and, seeing phrases embracing " the world" and the " public," take them in the modern sense; but the Public of GEORGE the First's reign is no more the Public of WILLIAM the Fourth's, or indeed any other of his successors, than the groat of EDWARD the First is the groat of a modern fourpence. There is a change in the currrency of words, as of coins. When WALPOLE' speaks of the World of England, it may almost be reckoned upon the fingers : the World was but the aristocratic frequenters of London, with a tail of led captains, sharpers, adventurers, broken younger sons, and kept-mistresses ; they were surrounded by a set of camp- suttlers, in the shape of tradespeople, who in fact hedged in the World, and aided in forming the Public. Where was the English Nation at this time ? It was not ; because, though the elements existed, there was no means of communication—no moral com- bination among them. When it did show itself, it was only when some striking event, by its greatness and energy, forced a passage through the difficult channels that then served for intercourse; and being in a great measure ignorant, prejudiced, and unused to power, it showed itself unhappily, and in the shape of mobs. The English Nation appears on occasion of the Jew Bill, the persecution of BYNG, the Lord GEORGE GORDON riots, and those at Birmingham, when it burnt Dr. PRIESTLEY'S house, instruments, and books, and would have sacrificed himself if he had been laid hold of. The Country party was not the Na- tion—let no one imagine it. It consisted of Jacobite landholders, who could not themselves have given any better reason for being called the Country party, than that they chiefly consisted of country gentlemen, dwelling on their estates, as unapproachable from the badness of roads as their heads were impervious by reason of the wretchedness of their education. What, then, was the World, at the time we are speaking of? Read WALPOLE'S Letters. In con- sequence of the smallness of this world—its wealth mixed up with genteel poverty, and its irresponsibility to any public opinion but its own—it was a world of a most extravagant kind : immoral, licentious, riotous, flighty, profuse, and mean, by turns. The ex- travagancies of the times. of the Second GEORGE, and which occur
o continually in the Letters we allude to, could only be committed
now at the risk of the It as; lust cor the prison, or at any rate at the expense of utter loss of character. The class to which we refer is now chastened by the extension of public opinion, and by the wholesome contiguity of proximate classee, which soften down the distinctions of society, and irevent much of that egotism which in those times ventured every thing with impunity when combined with rank and power. Instances occur in 'Waneor.n so constantly, that it is almost useless to refer to them. The publication of Lady VANE'S Me- moirs, by herself (with the aid of SMOLLETT), is a,case full of meaning : they v. ho read them, and reflect that there was no pres- sure of want or other motive to satisfy titan a species of gross va- nity, and that the lady lived afterwards and was not shunned, may form a pretty correct idea of her times. Then think of the House of Commons adjourning at three o'clock to see a play acted by some people of fashion at Drury Lane; or of HORACE 'WALPOLE, the Uncle, dashing off his nig in the said House when his gray hairs were alluded to: or of his fighting a duel on its staircase; or of the celebrated Marshal WADE gambling at a low place and losing his snuffbox, whereupon the company was searched, and one gentleman found to have half a fowl-in his pocket, the gift of a waiter, and on his pleading gentility, was presented with a hundred pounds by the Marshal! What shall we say of two members of Parliament—Taaee, and young Moarranu, the son of Lady MARY Wove-Ley—being tried, and found guilty of for- gery, or coining, or something of the sort, at Paris, and being con- demned to the Chltelet ? Members of Parliament, indeed, have not so much improved as some other classes. The rage about the beautiful CUNNINGS, too, could only happen in such times : and then their ignorance, their extravagance !—not greater, however, than the powerful noblemen that espoused them : What a scene is this to have passed partly in the eye of the world, and all of it without any reprehension from the world ! The Duke of HAMIL- TON, it must be observed, fell in love with the younger GUNNING at a masquerade about six weeks before the time mentioned below. " About a fortnight since, at an immense assembly at mv Lord Chesterfield's, made to show the house, which is really most magnificent, -Duke Hamilton made violent love at one end of the room, while he was playing at pharaoh at the other end : that is, he saw neither the bank or his own cards, which were three hundred pounds each : he soon lost a thousand pounds. I own I was so little a pro- fessor in love, that I thought all this parade looked ill for the poor girl ; and could not conceive if he was so much engaged with his mistress, why he played at all. However, two nights afterwards, being left alone with her, while her mother and sister were at Bedford House, he found himself so impatient, that he sent for a parson. The doctor refused to perform the ceremony without license or ring : the Duke swore he would send for the Archbishop : at last they were married with a ring of the bed-curtain, at half an hour after twelve at night, at Mayfair Chapel. The Scotch are enraged : the women mad that so much beauty has had its effect : and what is most silly, my Lord Coventry declares that now he will marry the other."— Walpole's Letters to Sir H. Mann, Vol. III. p. 51.
The beauty of the CUNNINGS extended its influence beyond the World to the Mob. Seven hundred persons sat up all night in and about an inn in Yorkshire, to see the Dutchess of HAMILTON get into her post-chaise next morning. A shoemaker at Worcester got two guineas by showing Lady COVENTRY'S shoe at a penny a piece.
At a time when extravagance was the rage, when men vied with each other in tavern-bills, high play, and in such ridiculous contests as driving geese against turkeys up from Norwich, poverty and crime raged among the dregs of the Town. There was no police, and no safety : at one time no one stirred out after mid- night without a guard; and on a famous highwayman being taken, he became the fashion, and all the nobility flocked to see him.
"Lord Mountford, at the head of half White's, went the first day [to see him : his name was M‘Lean—he was the son of en Irish Dean]: his aunt was crying over him as soon as they were withdrawn, she said to him, knowing they were of White's, ' My dear, what did the Lords say to you? have you ever been concerned with any of them ?'—Was it not admirable? What a favourable idea people must have of White's!—and what if White's should not deserve a much better ! But the chief personages who have been to comfort and weep over this fallen hero, are Lady Caroline Petersham and Miss Ashe I called them Polly and Lucy, and asked them if he did not sing,
Thus I stand like the Turk with his dories around. "
The conclusion of the paragraph is as characteristic of the times as of WALPOLE-
" Another celebrated Polly has been arrested—even the old Cuzzoni. The Prince of Wales bailed her : who will do as much for him ?"—Vol. I. p. 470.
Our World is very bad, to be sure, and is not wanting in its follies and its crimes; but it must always be remembered that it is a thousand times bigger than the World of WALPOLE; and though there is now perhaps even more of extreme misery and poverty than in his days, the mass of respectability, and the gene- ral tone of morality and social feeling, far exceed any thing that WALPOLE or his contemporaries had a notion of.