It is highly laudable to pay Respect to Men who are descended from worthy Ancestors, not only out of Gratitude to those who have done Good to Mankind, but as it is an Encouragement to others to follow their Example. But this is an Honour to be receiv'd, not demanded, by the Descendants of great Men; and they who are apt to remind us of their Ancestors, only put us upon making Comparisons to their own Disadvantage.
There is some Pretence for boasting of Wit, Beauty, Strength or Wealth, because the Communication of them may give Pleasure or Profit to others; but we can have no Merit, nor ought we to claim any Respect, because our Fathers acted well, whether we would or no.
The following Letter ridicules the Folly I have mentioned, in a new, and, I think, not disagreeable Light.
'Were the Genealogy of every Family preserved, there would probably be no Man valued or despis'd on Account of his Birth. There is scarce a Beggar in the Streets, who would not find himself lineally descended from some great Man; nor any one of the highest Title, who would not discover several base and indigent Persons among his Ancestors. It would be a pleasant Entertainment to see one Pedigree of Men appear together, under the same Characters they bore when they acted their respective Parts among the Living. Suppose therefore a Gentleman, full of his illustrious Family, should, in the same manner as Virgil makes Æneas look over his Descendants, see the whole Line of his Progenitors pass in a Review before his Eyes, and with how many varying Passions would he behold Shepherds and Soldiers, Statesmen and Artificers, Princes and Beggars, walk in the Procession of five thousand Years! How would his Heart sink or flutter at the several Sports of Fortune in a Scene so diversified with Rags and Purple, Handicraft Tools and Scepters, Ensigns of Dignity and Emblems of Disgrace; and how would his Fears and Apprehensions, his Transports and Mortifications, succeed one another, as the Line of his Genealogy appear'd bright or obscure?
'In most of the Pedigrees hung up in old Mansion Houses, you are sure to find the first in the Catalogue a great Statesman, or a Soldier with an honourable Commission. The Honest Artificer that begot him, and all his frugal Ancestors before him, are torn off from the Top of the Register; and you are not left to imagine, that the noble Founder of the Family ever had a Father. Were we to trace many boasted Lines farther backwards, we should lose them in a Mob of Tradesmen, or a Crowd of Rusticks, without hope of seeing them emerge again: Not unlike the old Appian Way, which after having run many Miles in Length, loses it self in a Bog.
'I lately made a Visit to an old Country Gentleman, who is very far gone in this sort of Family Madness. I found him in his Study perusing an old Register of his Family, which he had just then discover'd, as it was branched out in the Form of a Tree, upon a Skin of Parchment. Having the Honour to have some of his Blood in my Veins, he permitted me to cast my Eye over the Boughs of this venerable Plant; and asked my Advice in the Reforming of some of the superfluous Branches.
'We passed slightly over three or four of our immediate Fore-fathers, whom we knew by Tradition, but were soon stopped by an Alderman of London, who, I perceived, made my Kinsman's Heart go pit-a-pat. His Confusion increased when he found the Alderman's Father to be a Grasier; but he recovered his Fright upon seeing Justice of the Quorum at the end of his Titles. Things went on pretty well, as we threw our Eyes occasionally over the Tree, when unfortunately he perceived a Merchant-Tailor perched on a Bough, who was said greatly to have encreased the Estate; he was just a going to cut him off, if he had not seen Gent. after the Name of his Son; who was recorded to have mortgaged one of the Manors his honest Father had purchased. A Weaver, who was burnt for his Religion in the Reign of Queen Mary, was pruned away without Mercy; as was likewise a Yeoman, who died of a Fall from his own Cart. But great was our Triumph in one of the Blood who was beheaded for High-Treason; which nevertheless was not a little allayed by another of our Ancestors, who was hanged for stealing Sheep. The Expectations of my good Cousin were wonderfully raised by a Match into the Family of a Knight, but unfortunately for us this Branch proved Barren: On the other hand Margery the Milk-maid being twined round a Bough, it flourished out into so many Shoots, and bent with so much Fruit, that the old Gentleman was quite out of Countenance. To comfort me, under this Disgrace, he singled out a Branch ten times more fruitful than the other, which, he told me, he valued more than any in the Tree, and bad me be of good Comfort. This enormous Bough was a Graft out of a Welsh Heiress, with so many Ap's upon it that it might have made a little Grove by it self. From the Trunk of the Pedigree, which was chiefly composed of Labourers and Shepherds, arose a huge Sprout of Farmers; this was branched out into Yeomen; and ended in a Sheriff of the County, who was Knighted for his good Service to the Crown, in bringing up an Address. Several of the Names that seemed to disparage the Family, being looked upon as Mistakes, were lopped off as rotten or withered; as, on the contrary, no small Number appearing without any Titles, my Cousin, to supply the Defects of the Manuscript, added Esq; at the End of each of them.
'This Tree so pruned, dressed, and cultivated, was, within few Days, transplanted into a large Sheet of Vellum and placed in the great Hall, where it attracts the Veneration of his Tenants every Sunday Morning, while they wait till his Worship is ready to go to Church; wondering that a Man who had so many Fathers before him, should not be made a [Knight,]  or at least a Justice of the Peace.'
[Footnote 1: Lord,]Translation of motto: