The Fortunes of the Nobility
The British Aristocracy had always been the richest nobility in the world; but, its wealth was inordinately increased in the 19th Century. It derived all the advantage of the high prices of provisions and raw material induced by the establishment of manufactures. The nobility increased their rents, so as to restrict the profits of the farmers within as narrow limits as before, and compel the wages of the farm laborer to be stinted to a degree that deprives them of all the comforts of life.
The titled nobility further increased their wealth by intermarriages with the heiresses of the Middle class aristocracy. The British Islands were once full of small farms owned by resident farmers. But this yeoman class of country squires was rapidly becoming extinct. The nobility were buying up more lands in every generation. The aggregation of landed estates had already progressed so far that some half a dozen nobles owned half the lands in England.
While the landed nobility were thus increasing their wealth, by imposing heavier rents, and by intermarriages with the commercial aristocracy, the younger scions of the noble aristocracy, who constitute the great majority of the aristocratic class, suffered severely from the commercial system which, by concentrating manufactures and commerce in England, exaggerated the price of all the necessaries of life. The lower orders endured excessive privations; but it was doubtful whether the poorer class of the Aristocracy were not the most wretched people in England.
Reared in the enjoyment of luxury, and with all the inflated pride of their class, they were turned upon the world without the means necessary to support their rank. Their best hope was to obtain a settlement in life by marrying heiresses of the Middle class aristocracy. Failing this, the more fortunate obtained, by the influence of relatives, appointments under government. But even these had meager salaries, scarcely sufficient for support, much less to meet the expenses incident to their position in society. They married and raised families with that pinching economy which sacrificed comfort in the attempt to keep up appearances. But, worst of all, they had not the means of settling their children in life ; their pinched resources being strained to the utmost, to afford them an education suited to their quality.
The second generation of the younger branches of the Aristocracy would begin to feel severely the miseries of their position. Debarred from engaging in business by the pride of descent, they were utterly without resources to maintain their pretensions. They became, of necessity, hangers on of their noble relations. A few were so fortunate as to obtain the patronage and aid of the head of their house; but he was usually too much occupied in saving fortunes for his own younger children to extend much assistance to his brother's family.
Some of them were so fortunate as to marry heiresses. The others must become starving curates, pinch their way in the law, or accept some very subordinate position under government. They were provided for in some humble way; for they are too nearly related to the head of the house to be allowed to forfeit caste, by engaging in trade.
In the next generation, however, the children of the humble curates, struggling lawyers, army lieutenants, must crush their pride of descent, to engage in any humble employment that may offer the means of subsistence. This struggle between pride and poverty racked the soul with agony. The humble plebeian, whatever his privations, endured only physical suffering. He pined with hunger and shivered with cold; but he knew nothing of the torture of a spirit vainly struggling in fierce revolt against its destiny.
Perhaps no class on earth endured such complicated miseries as the impoverished scions of Aristocracy. They were wretched before, with means miserably inadequate to their wants. But the cost of living was vastly increased by the enhancement of prices caused by the centralization of commerce. The system which aggrandized the Nobility who inherit titles and estates, made victims of the great mass of the class distinguished by noble blood.
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