The history of the Peerage is a history of intrigue, profligacy, corruption, jobbing, and peculation.
Repulsive as the Spirit of Aristocracy has ever been, it is not to be doubted that it has, in many features, largely degenerated over the last two hundred years. It did at one time exhibit qualities, which, if they could not command respect or esteem, did not fail to excite wonder and admiration.
But its high chivalry has degenerated into pure chicanery; its lofty courage has degenerated into low cunning; its disregard of mere wealth has given way to a grinding and huckstering spirit of money-getting and money keeping; its ambition for personal prowess has been transmuted into a peddling and pettifogging appetite for the vulgar means and materials to maintain its mischievous eminence.
Toland (Life of Milton, p. 2) has justly observed that “those distinctions which the brave and the wise have justly obtained from their country, descend indifferently to cowards, traitors, or fools, and spoil the better souls from endeavouring to equal or exceed the merits of their ancestors.”
The Peerage furnishes abundant illustrations of the truth of this remark; and so long as human nature remains what it now is, hereditary honours must be prolific with mischief.
~ William Carpenter, A Peerage for the People, 1835, 1841
(paragraph breaks added to spare 21st Century sensibilities)