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The Galaxy Vol. XXIII—March, 1877.—No. 3   By:

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VOL. XXIII. MARCH, 1877. No. 3.

Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1877, by SHELDON & CO., in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.


More than one reader must have felt impatient with Milton for spoiling the fine epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester with such unfortunate lines as "A Viscount's daughter, an Earl's heir," and "No Marchioness, but now a queen." Probably the expressions sounded less absurd to his contemporaries than they do to us, for titles of nobility, however unworthily conferred, had more significance in the reign of James I. than they bear in the reign of Queen Victoria. The memorable despatch in which Collingwood announced the victory of Trafalgar, and which has been described by great writers as a masterpiece of simple narration began with these words: "Sir: The ever to be lamented death of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, in the moment of victory," etc. Now peers of all ranks, except the highest, are commonly spoken of under the general designation of "Lord So and So," and are rarely accorded in conversation the honors of "my lord," or "your lordship." Generally speaking, it may be said that in England titles, like decorations, are still greedily sought after, but when won are not openly displayed. They are felt by their bearers to be an anachronism, though no doubt a sufficiently agreeable one to those most immediately concerned.

Successive governments give as large a share of patronage to the peers and baronets, and their kinsfolk, as they reasonably can; while the Premier is only too glad to select men of rank as his colleagues in the Cabinet, if they are only possessed of decent abilities, and will work for a minister must be a hard worker in these days. Thus, Mr. Gladstone's administration, the first which was ever designated as "Radical," contained a large proportion of the aristocratic element in its ranks, though it was even made a charge against Mr. Gladstone by conservative and pseudo liberal papers, that he unjustly deprived the peerage of its due representation in the Cabinet.

As a matter of fact, when the Cabinet resigned it consisted of sixteen members. Of these, eight were peers or sons of peers. Of the remaining thirty six Parliamentary members of the administration, fourteen were peers or sons of peers. Mr. Disraeli's Cabinet numbers but twelve ministers. Of these six are peers, another is heir presumptive to a dukedom; while an eighth is a baronet; and of the remaining members of the administration, nineteen out of thirty eight are peers, baronets, or sons of peers. In the army and navy, in the diplomatic service, the peerage equally secures its full share of prizes; and even in the legal profession it is far from being a disadvantage to a young barrister that his name figures in the pages of Burke. In the Church a large proportion of the best livings are held by members of the same privileged class, and even the Stock Exchange lately showed itself eager to confer such honors as were in its gift on a duke's son, who had been courageous enough to "go into trade."

The British aristocracy is still, therefore, "a fact," if a favorite term of Mr. Carlyle's may be permitted in such a connexion, as it probably may, for the author of "The French Revolution" has himself been one of the latest eulogists of the governing families of England, and perhaps a few notes on the origin and history of some of the principal houses may not be unacceptable to American readers.

The House of Lords, as at present constituted, consists of something less than five hundred temporal peers. The first in order of hereditary precedence, after the princes of the blood royal, is the Duke of Norfolk, a blameless young gentleman of eight and twenty years, and a zealous Catholic, as it is generally supposed that a Howard is compelled to be by a mysterious law of his nature. As a matter of fact, however, no family in England has changed its religion so often... Continue reading book >>

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