Bribery as a Way of Eighteenth Century Life

In the twelfth installment of Mr. B Speaks! a desperate Mr. B suggests bribing the judge to decide in his and Pamela's favor.

Not his finest moment, perhaps, but bribery was a way of life in the eighteenth century. What we call corruption, eighteenth-century politicians, magistrates, and average citizens called everyday business.

Your average politician would be expected to bring wads of cash and trinkets to any political rally. Bail money was paid directly into magistrates' pockets. Military officers had to purchase commissions, paying anywhere up to several thousand pounds. (When Darcy pays off Wickham at the end of Pride & Prejudice, part of the pay-off includes a better commission than the one Wickham purchased with his inheritance, something the profligate Wickham can't afford on his own.)

Imagine if the next time you went to an interview, you were expected to bring along your checkbook as well; you'd pay a little money to the interviewer, a little to the head of human resources, and a great deal of money to the company. These wouldn't be bribes; they would be "fees." (Oh, wait, I think I just describe unions.)

The British officers on the hills watched the slaughter
but couldn't stop it.
Such an approach naturally destroys merit-based pay. And military commissions caused major problems in the British army as rank and file military officers--many of whom had been in the military all their lives--saw incompetent, vain upper-class peacocks take positions that should have gone to more experienced men. The ridiculous (but brave) man who led the Charge of the Light Brigade was such a peacock, the sad thing being that not only the rank & file but many of the commissioned officers knew he was a petty-minded bully: he actually underwent a court-martial before the Crimean War and was dismissed from the military. But class nepotism overrode good sense, and he got back in. And the peacock didn't even die (at the time).

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