Aristocratic Vice

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Aristocratic Vice:

Description Reviews. Andrew has demonstrated an impressive knowledge of the contents of 18th-century newspapers and she brings great familiarity with non-canonical sources around morality notably sermons and pamphlet literature. Also of Interest. The Triumph of Robert the Bruce. Read the full text.

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Please review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article. Abstract This paper seeks to trace the evolution and nature of changing ideas about crime and vice in 18th century England.

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Aristocratic Vice

Of the desire for esteem, John Mackqueen commented, "let a generous Ambition after a high Reputation or desire of Fame be reckon'd, and justly too, as one of the most considerable Springs of magnanimous Deeds. This acknowledgment of the power of the desire for esteem was surprising, for, from the time of Hobbes onward, all social commentators agreed that mankind's strongest passion, the first law of nature, was the desire for self-preservation, and mankind's greatest fear that of personal annihilation.

Before we can consider the centrality of courage to aristocratic honor, therefore, we must briefly look into this position. Though the notion of self-preservation was not absent in pre-modern and early modern thought, it is really only after the mid-seventeenth century that the concept became widespread, not only amongst moralists and philosophers, but also in poetry and popular writing.

Cultural Skirmishes in 18th Century England: The Attack on Aristocratic Vice

It was humorously employed by Robert Heath in a poem arguing against excessive tooth-pulling:. I'm sure That self-preservation Nature Commands: what should we more preserve Than teeth In a post-Restoration sermon, the clergyman explained that upon "self-preserving Principles, Submission may sometimes be yielded to the lawful Commands of an unlawful Since this prime directive was thought to be innate and equal in all ranks of men, the ability to face death with equanimity was even more exalted than it had been earlier, when courage was presented as part of the nature of the aristocratic military male.

Thus an "Officer," celebrating this ability, noted:. A Brave Contempt of what is so dreadful , and cannot therefore be natural; but must be produced in us by some Motive stronger than the Fear of what we so abhor : And this is a Vast Desire of Honour , and Love of doing Good , which only some noble and diffusive Minds are inspired with. Mandeville concurred: "The Passion [that Courage] has to struggle with, is the most violent and stubborn, and consequently the hardest to be conquer'd, the Fear of Death: The least Conflict with it is harsh Work, and a difficult Task.

Donna T. Andrew

By the early eighteenth century, then, the aristocratic male quality par excellence was courage. Since there had never been any Thing But courage was not only a quality reserved for the battlefield, and honor was not only a principle active among military men. A man without courage would not stand up for what he knew to be true or just because of his fear of rebuke or chastisement:.

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He has not Courage, and he that dares not look Danger in the Face, dares not to be Honest. By the early eighteenth century, however, those applauding the values embodied in the aristocratic code of honor were facing attack, for a tide of criticism, aimed not only against its inevitable abuses, but at some of the central tenets of the code, was becoming common, and its proponents scarcer.

Of course, the force of these objections may be more seeming than actual. For as we have seen, when a system of social practices is widely accepted, there is little need to applaud or defend it.

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Criticism therefore may be an inverse measure of the entrenchedness of a system. But on the discursive level, at least, between the second and the sixth decades of the eighteenth century, a vigorous debate raged about the nature and value of aristocratic mores, about the relation of honor and honesty, and about the role of honor in a well-ordered civil polity.

The single quality that most defined aristocratic practice and behavior was pride: pride of birth, of breeding, of position. At its best, pride, it was said, could lead noblemen to lives of "noblesse oblige," of service without recompense, except of recognition and esteem.

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