Edmund Burke (1729–1797)
Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900)
BURKE, EDMUND (1729–1797), statesman, the second son of Richard Burke, an attorney resident in Dublin, appears to have been born—for the exact date is not absolutely certain—on 12 Jan. 1729, N. S. There is no ground for the often-repeated statement that his family belonged to Limerick. His father was a protestant; his mother, whose maiden name was Nagle, was a Roman catholic. Although brought up in his father's religion, Burke was accustomed to look on Roman Catholicism as the religion of many he loved, and thus early learnt the lesson of toleration. This lesson must have been still further impressed on him when, in 1741, he was sent to a school at Ballitore, co. Kildare, kept by Abraham Shackleton, a member of the Society of Friends, from whom he declared that he gained all that was really valuable in his education. With Shackleton's son Richard he formed a friendship which lasted through life. In 1743 he entered Trinity College, Dublin, and remained there until 1748. He seems to have studied diligently, but in a desultory fashion, taking up various subjects with eagerness, and dropping each in turn for some new pursuit (Works, i. 12). He made himself familiar with Latin authors, and especially with Cicero, 'the model on which he laboured to form his own character, in eloquence, in policy, in ethics, and philosophy' (Sir P. Francis to Lord Holland, p. 17). Although it has been asserted that he knew little of Greek, a letter of C. J. Fox states that he knew as much of that language as men usually do who have neglected it since their school or college days, and that the writer had heard him quote Homer and Pindar (Dilke, Papers of a Critic, ii. 312). He gained a scholarship by examination in 1746. His letters to Richard Shackleton during this period are such as any earnestly minded and ambitious youth might have written, and the verses sent with them do not show any special power. As in after life, his favourite recreation was to be among trees and gardens. He took his B.A. degree in the spring commencements of 1748, having been entered at the Middle Temple the year before, and in 1750 came up to London to study law. He did not apply himself steadfastly to work. His health was weak, and he seems to have spent much time in travelling about in company with his kinsman William Burke [q. v.], staying at Monmouth, at Turley House, Wiltshire, more than once at Bristol, and at other places. We scarcely know anything of this period of his life; for with the exception of one rather obscure fragment (Prior, 41), there is not a letter of his extant between 1752 and 1757. He seems to have broken off all communication even with R. Shackleton, for writing to him, 10 Aug. 1757, he says that he sends him a copy of his 'Philosophical Inquiry' 'as a sort of offering in atonement,' and speaks of himself as having been 'sometimes in London, sometimes in remote parts of the country, sometimes in France, and shortly, please God, to be in America' (Works, i. 17). In 1756 he was lodging over a bookseller’s shop near Temple Bar. He appears to have frequented the theatres and one or two debating societies, and to have made the acquaintance of some famous men, such as Garrick, with whom he formed a warm and lasting friendship.
Literary work was more to Burke’s taste than legal study. He was never called to the bar, and the rejection of the profession for which he was designed angered his father, who in 1755 withdrew either wholly or in part the allowance of 100l. a year he had hitherto made him. Burke was thus forced to depend on literature for his livelihood. He had probably already written his ‘Hints for an Essay on the Drama,' a short piece which remained unpublished until after his death. In 1756 he produced two works which at once gained him a high place in literature. The first of these, his ‘Vindication of Natural Society, in a Letter to Lord ——, by a late Noble Writer,' was called forth by the publication of Bolingbroke’s works in 1754, and is a satirical imitation both of his philosophy and his style. Applying Bolingbroke’s arguments against revealed religion to an examination of what is ironically called ‘artificial society,’ Burke exhibits the folly of demanding a reason for moral and social institutions, and, with a foresight which was one of the most remarkable traits of his genius, thus early distinguished the coming attack of rationalistic criticism on the established order, and marked it as his special foe. The lofty style and eloquent diction of Bolingbroke were so skilfully imitated in this little pamphlet, that even such critics as Warburton believed the satire to be a genuine work, and the careful study of the original left its mark on the style of the imitator (Morley, Life of Burke). 'The Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas on the Sublime and the Beautiful’ had been begun before Burke was nineteen, and had been laid aside for some years. This treatise, strange as some of its dicta are, was held by Johnson to be ‘an example of true criticism’ (Boswell, Life, iii. 91), and seemed to Lessing well worthy of translation. Burke‘s father was so pleased with this book that he sent him 100l. (Bisset, 36). Burke never ceased to take a warm and discriminating interest in all artistic matters, and is said to have ‘embraced the whole concerns of art, ancient as well as modern, foreign as well as domestic’ (Barry, Works, ii. 538). He was still in weak health, and accepted an invitation to stay with his physician, Dr. Nugent, in order to escape from noisy lodgings. He married the doctor's daughter Jane in the winter of 1756–7. According to one account, Burke became an inmate of Dr. Nugent’s house while on a visit to Bath, where the doctor lived before he removed to London. Up to the time of her marriage Mrs. Burke was a Roman catholic, but she conformed to her husband's religion. Burke’s marriage was a happy one; his wife was a gentle–tempered woman, and he was noted among his friends for his ‘orderly and amiable domestic habits’ (Boswwll, Life, vii. 250). They had two sons: Richard, born 1758, and Christopher, who died in childhood.
Early in 1757 Burke published ‘An Account of the European Settlements in America.' As regards the authorship of this book, he told Boswell, ‘I did not write it. I will not deny that a friend did, and I revised it.’ ‘Malone tells me,’ adds Boswell, ‘that it was written by William Burke, the cousin of Edmund, but it is everywhere evident that Burke himself has contributed a great deal to it’ (Boswell, Letters to Temple, p. 313). The early sheets of ‘The Abridgment of the History of England’ were also printed in this year, though the book itself was not published until after Burke’s death, The crisis of the war in 1758 probably moved Burke to undertake the production of the ‘Annual Register,' the first volume of which appeared in 1759. For this work Dodsley aid him 100l. a year. He never acknowledged his connection with this publication, and the amount of his contributions to it has never been ascertained. He evidently continued to write the ‘Survey of Events’ for some years after he entered political life, and even after he ceased to write it, about 1788, probably inspired and directed its composition. His literary successes brought him into society. Mrs. Montagu, writing in 1759, describes him as free from ‘pert pedantry, modest, and delicate' (Letters of Mrs. E. Montagu, iv. 211). He was now residing with his father~in-law in Wimpole Street. He was in want of money, and was anxious to obtain the appointment of consul at Madrid. His cause was espoused by Dr. Markham, head-master of Westminster (afterwards archbishop of York), who prevailed on the Duchess of Queensberry to write to Pitt on his behalf (Prior, 62). The application was rejected, and Pitt was thus the means of keeping his future antagonist from leaving the field of action.
Before the end of 1759 Burke was introduced by Lord Charlemont to William Gerard (‘Single-speech’) Hamilton (Memoirs of Lord Charlemont, i. 119). He engaged himself as a kind of private secretary to Hamilton, and the work his employer required of him shut him out from all authorship save in the ‘Annual Register.' On the other hand, his intimacy with Hamilton made him known to many persons of importance. In 1761 Hamilton was made secretary to the Earl of Halifax, and Burke went with him to Ireland. It was the year of the first outbreak of Whiteboyism, a movement which he attributed to local grievances, and not to political discontent (Works, i. 21). The policy of repression pursued by the government led him, probably about this time, to draw up some reflections on the penal code which remained unfinished, and were published after his death (ib. vi. l). After a year in Dublin he returned to England with Hamilton, who in the spring 1763 obtained for him a pension of 300l. a year. Burke, however, felt that he was doing himself an injustice in giving up all his time to Hamilton's service, and wrote plainly to his patron that he must be allowed some time for literary work, and that he could only accept the pension on that condition. In the autumn he was again in Ireland, but in May 1764 Hamilton lost his office, and Burke returned to live with his father-in-law in Queen Anne Street. Before he left Ireland he drew up an address to the king setting forth the hardships suffered by the Irish catholics, and left it with a friend. Fourteen years afterwards this document was forwarded to George III, and, it is said, did much towards reconciling him to the first instalment of religious toleration in Ireland (ib. i. 376). On his return to England Burke became a member of the club founded in the spring of that year at the Turk’s Head in Gerrard Street. His powers of conversation mads him one of its chief ornaments. Johnson declared that if you met him for the first time in the street, after five minutes' talk ‘you would say, This is an extraordinary man. He is never,' he said, ‘humdrum, never unwilling to talk, nor in haste to leave off.' ‘Burke’s talk,’ he remarked on another occasion, ‘is the ebullition of his mind; he does not talk from a desire of distinction, but because his mind is full.’ Partly perhaps because he thus spoke out of the abundance of his heart, he was not witty. ‘No, sir,’ Johnson said, ‘he never succeeds there. ’Tis low, ’tis conceit’ (Boswell, Life, iv. 23, 225). He had the power of making men love him. His friendship with Garrick, Reynolds, and Johnson was in each case only broken by death. To Garrick he looked in time of need. Reynolds made him one of his executors, and left him 2,000l. Johnson, when on his deathbed, said to him, ‘I must he in a wretched state indeed when your company would not be a delight to me.' Anxious to have such a man as Burke at his disposal, Hamilton offered him a yearly sum on condition that he devoted himself, wholly to his service. Burke refused to sell himself, and his jealous patron broke off his connection with him. Indignant at his imperious conduct, Burke, in April, threw up the pension he had received through his intercession. During the period of his poverty he had cared little for money. However small his means were, he was always ready to give to others. While still struggling unknown in London, he met Emin, the Armenian adventurer, then friendless and in distress, and took him to his lodgings. Offering him half a guinea, he said, ‘Upon my honour, this is all I have at present; please accept it’ (J. Emin, Life and Adventures, 90). By 1765, however, it is probable that his prospects were brighter. During his stay in Ireland in 1763 he befriended James Barry, the painter [q. v.], brought him back with him to London, and in 1765 undertook to defray the greater part of the expense of sending him abroad to study (Barry's Works, i. 9–26). This seems to show that he had by this time some command of money, and certain notices, which are given below, as to the means of his family in 1766, render it probable that his brother and cousin had already embarked in speculation. In after days Burke saved Crabbe from a debtors’ prison, lodged him in his own house, treated him as an honoured guest, and used his interest to gain the poet a livelihood.
In July 1765 Lord Rockingham, who had just been appointed first lord of the treasury, made Burke his private secretary. This appointment he owed to the good offices of his kinsman William Burke; it was the signal for all who grudged the rise of a man unconnected with any of the great houses to spread evil reports of him, and it was not long before the old Duke of Newcastle hurried to Lord Rockingham primed with slanders. The minister had been deceived; his new secretary was not merely an Irish adventurer, but a papist and a jesuit from St. Omer. Rockingham frankly told Burke what he had heard, and the spirit with which the secretary behaved won his entire confidence (Memoirs of Lord Charlemont, ii. 231). From this time onwards he looked on Burke as a personal friend as well as a useful ally. He advanced him large sums of money, and at his death directed that his bonds should be destroyed (Works, i. 504). These bonds are said to have been for 30,000l. The report that Burke was a catholic was not allowed to die out. Utterly without foundation as it was, the accusation wus too mischievous to he dropped by the pensioners of the powerful cliques of nobles and place-men, who were soon to have cause to hate and fear him, and sometimes supported by idle tales and often in its simple falsity it was brought against him over and over a in all through his life. Before the end of the year William Burke, then under-secretary to Conway, arranged with Lord Verney, with whom he was connected in business tmnsactions, that Burke should be returned to parliament for Wendover, one of the earl’s boroughs, while he himself was elected for another. Burke was returned on 28 Dec. (Members of Parliament, ii. l23), and took his seat 14 Jan. 1766. Johnson presaged his friend’s successful career: ‘Now we who know Mr. Burke,’ he said, ‘know that he will be one of the Hrst men in the country’ (Boswell, Life, vi. 80). His first speech was made on 27 Jan., on a motion that the petition sent from the American Congress should be received by parliament. Contrary to the opinion of the majority of the ministerial party to which he belonged, he argued that the petition should be received on the ground that it was in itself an acknowledgment of the right of the House (Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of George III, ii. 272; Bancroft, Hist. of U. States, iii. 551). A week later he acted with his party by speaking in favour of the Declaratory Resolutions. While allowing the right of taxation, he recommended a temponsing policy. Now, as ever, he refused to treat politics as an abstract science, and held duties rather than barren rights to be the true basis of political action. ‘Principles,' he said, ‘should be subordinate to government.' He had now established his position amor? the leading men of the house. ‘He made,’ Johnson wrote, ‘two speeches on the repeal of the Stamp Act, which were publicly commended by Mr. Pitt, and have filled the town with wonder’ (Boswell, Life, ii. 321). In the course of a debate held during the same session on the restriction on American trade Burke exhibited his attachment to the principle of commercial freedom, and bitterly jeered Grenville ou his reverence for the Navigation Act (Walpole, George III, ii. 316).
Burke seems by this time to have overcome his former weakness of constitution, though he suffered from a sharp attack of illness during his first session. Tall and vigorous, of dagniiied deportment, with massive brow an stern expression, he had an air of command. His voice was of great compass; his words came fast, but his thoughts seemed almost to overcome even his powers of utterance. Invective, sarcasm, metaphor, and argument followed hard after one another; his powers of description were gorgeous, his scorn was sublime, and in the midst of a discussion of some matter of ephemeral importance came enunciations of political wisdom which are for all time, and which illustrate the opinion that he was, ‘Bacon alone excepted, the greatest political thinker who has ever devoted himself to the practice of English politics’ (Buckle, Civilization in England, c. vii.) Although he spoke with an Irish accent, with awkard action, and in a harsh tone, his ‘imperial fancy’ and commanding eloquence excited universal admiration. No parliamentary orator has ever moved his audience as he now and again did. His speech on the employment of the Indians in war, for example, is said at one time to have almost choked Lord North, against whom it was delivered, with laughter, and at another to have drawn ‘iron tears down Barré's cheek' (Walpole to Mason, 12 Feb. 1778; Letters, vii. 29). Unfortunately, his power over the house did not last ; his thoughts were too deep for the greater part of the members, and were rather exhaustive discussions than direct contributions to debate (Morley, Life, 209), while the sustained loftiness of his style and a certain luck of sympathy with his audience marred the effect of his oratory. His temper was naturally hasty, and he was deficient in political tact (Correspondence of C. J. Fox, i. 86). Jealously excluded from office, with narrow means and disappointed hopes, he became soured and violent, and as die encountered neglect and rudeness, lost his dignity while he retained his vehemence. He wrote as he spoke, not in any set literary fashion, but with ease and vigour, taking Dryden's prose for his model, while at the same time he was under the influence of Bolingbroke’s rapid style (Memoirs of F. Horner, i. 348). Neither in speaking nor writing did he avoid using' wor of foreign origin, and he constantly heightened the effect of his appeals by a quick transition from the sonorous expression of lofty sentiments to a terse saying clothed in homely English. In some of these sayings, indeed, he overpassed the bounds of good taste, while his loftier heights were not always free from bombast. His utterances, however, were not all declamatory. When occasion demanded, he spoke with quiet dignity, and some of his writings, such as the Historical Surveys in the ‘Annual Register,' his protests written for the lords, and even certain of his pamphlets, are models of statesmanlike expression.
On the resignation of the Duke of Grafton, one of the secretaries of state, it was evident that the Rockingham administration would shortly come to an end. Conscious of the advantage he would gain by holding a high office even for a little while, Burke was ambitious and self-confident enough to imagine that he might be chosen to fill the duke’s place for the short time of office that yet remained to his party. A seat at the board of trade was suggested, perhaps actually offered to him. That, however, was not his object, and he declined it (Works, i. 154; Chatham Correspondence, iii. 111). On 7 June 1766 Rockingham was summarily displaced; Grafton came into office, and Burke’s hopes perished. Indignant at the treatment is leader had received, he set forth the services of the outgoing ministers in a little pamphlet called ‘A Short History of a Short Administration,' and heightened its effect by a letter in the ‘Public Advertiser' ironically purporting to answer it (Ann. Reg. 1765, 213).
In the summer of 1766 Burke visited Ireland, and spent a short time with his mother at the house of his sister Juliana, the wife of Mr. French of Loughrea. While there he received the freedom of the town of Galway. He also visited a small estate called Clohir on the Blackwater, which he had received the year before on the death of his brother Garrett, an attorney. It has not been satisfactorily ascertained, how this estate came into the hands of Garrett Burke. It is stated that it was conveyed to him by a catholic family in order to evade the rigour of the penal laws, and that he claimed it for himself (Dilke). Burke in 1777 was threatened with a lawsuit to recover this property. His legal position was evidently safe. He declared in a letter addressed probably to the solicitor of the claimant, Robert Nagle, that he had no reason to think that there had been any original wrong in the matter, and that he could not, in justice to his brother’s memory, admit the claim, but that he was willing to do what he could ‘voluntarily and cheerfully’ for the Nagle family (New Monthly Mag. 1826, xvi. 153). In 1790 he sold Clohir to Edmund Nagle for 3,000l.
On Burke's return from Ireland Lord Chatham wished to attach him to his administration. He insisted, however, on following Rockingham, though Grafton declared that ‘he would not have been obdurate if his demands had not been too extravagant' (Walpole, George III, ii. 378). In the course of the next session Burke forwarded the interests of his native land by opposing a motion to forbid the importation of Irish wool, and his speech on this occasion was rewarded by the grant of the freedom of Dublin. An attack on the East India Company on 9 Dec. 1766 called forth what Walpole declared to be ‘one of his finest speeches,' in which he ridiculed Chatham as ‘a great Invisible Power’ that left no minister in the House of Commons. It is scarcely too much to say that to the active opposition of Burke during this session is to be attributed the distinct position assumed by the Rockingham whigs. Yet while he was firmly attached to his party, and unsparingly mocked at the disorganisation which prevailed in Grafton's ministry, Goldsmith was mistaken, as far as this period of his career at least is concerned, in saying in 1773 that Burke by leaving literature for politics gave ‘to party what was meant for mankind’ (Retaliation). For though he held loyalty to his party to be the duty of every man ‘who believes in his own politics’ (‘Present Discontents,' Works, iii. 170), he showed his independence by alone refusing to vote for Dowdeswell’s roposition for reducing the land-tax (Walpole, George III, ii. 421). In May 1767, when the house lightly adopted Townshend's plan for laying duties on the American trade, Burke declared that the ministry would find out their mistake. ‘You will never,' he said, 'see a shilling from America’ (Cavendish, Rep. i. 39). By the acknowledgment of his opponents he was ‘the readiest man on all points, perhaps, in the house,’ and his pre-eminence shocked and disgusted them. It was grievous to them to find themselves helpless before the attacks of this ‘Irish adventurer,' a man whom the would jealously exclude from the high offices of state. To the magnates of his own party Burke now made himself indispensable. He wrote ‘protests’ for them, and during the vacation discussed affairs at their country houses with an energy they could scarcely understand, but of which Rockingham and the dukes of Newcastle and Richmond were glad to avail themselves (Works, i. 73, 75). On the meeting of parliament on 24 Nov. he spoke on the address with great applause, pointed out the futility of the king's speech, and taunting the ministers with having no policy for the relief of the poor during the prevailing scarcity, though the distress was so severe that riot would follow the despair of the people, and ‘the law, if enforced upon them, must be by the bloody assistance of a military hand’ (Parl. Hist. xvi. 386).
On 1 May 1768 Burke wrote to Shackleton: ‘I have made a push with all I could collect of my own, and the aid of my friends, to cast a little root in this country. I have purchased a house, with an estate of about six hundred acres of land, in Buckinghamshire, twenty-four miles from London, where I now am’ (Works, i. 77). This estate was Gregories, situated about a mile from Beaconsfield, and after 1770 generally called by its owner after that town. As Burke at the time of his marriage was certainly a poor man, this purchase is strange, and has given rise to much controversy. The purchase-money was about 20,600l., of which 14,000l. was raised by two mortgages, which remained on the property until the reversion was sold by Burke's widow Sir J. Napier, Burke, a Lecture, p. 61). How the remainder was raised, how Burke could have ventured tn so large a purchase, and how he expected to meet the expenses of living in such a place, have neverbeen satisfactorily explained. The explanation must he sought in the share he had in the profits derived from the speculations of certain members of his family. It has been satisfactorily proved that his brother Richard and his kinsman William, with whom he lived on terms of the closest intimacy, gambled desperately in stocks, and that Lord Verney was engaged with them (Dilke). All three were ruined by the fall of East India stock in June and July 1769. In the June of that year Burke was one of the proprietors of the East India Company, though in a letter written in 1772 he denied that he ever had 'any concern in the funds of the company (Works, i. 199). It is also certain that the same month to Garrick asking for the loan of 1,000l., and that from that time onwards he was always in the greatest need of money, on one occassion joining with W. Burke in a bond for so small a sum as 250l. For some time, however, the speculations of the Burkes prospered. In 1765 Burke was in a position to bear a large share in the expense of sending Barry to Italy. Writing to Barry in October 1766, W. Burke says; 'Whether Ned is employed or not is no matter of anxiety to us; 'and again in December, when expecting the downfall of the Rockingbam ministry: 'It suits my honour to be out of place, and so will our friend Mr. E. B. ; but our affairs are so weil arranged that, thank God, we have not a temptation to swerve from the straightest path of perfect honour' (Barry, Works, i. 24, 61, 77). Among the three Burkes there was the strictest alliance. Burke's house in London, and afterwards in the country, was the home of his brother and cousin, and at this time at least they all had one purse. In 1768 then, Burke, believing that the success that had hitherto attended the speculations of his brother and cousin would continue, was emboldened to buy Gregories, and to involve himself in the expenses which such a purchase naturally entailed. When in 1769 the crash came, it was too late to go back. As regards tho 6,000l. which complete the purchase, it has been assumed that this sum was lent by Lord Buckingham (Morley, Life, 35). On the other hand we find that in 1783 a suit in chancery was brought against Burke by Lord Verney to recover a sum of 6,000l., stated to have been lent to him in the spring of 1769 on the solicitation of his cousin William. In his answer Burke admitted borrowing 6,000l. in that year, but denied that he had it of Lord Verney, declaring also that the only relationship between him and William, as far as his knowledge went, consisted in the fact that their fathers called each other cousins. The pleadings in this suit make it probable that this 6,000l. was some sum that had accrued to Burke from the stockjobbing transactions of his brother and cousin ; that, not being personally liable for their dafalcations, he saved this sum out of the fire ; and that Lord Verney afterwards tried prove that he bad a right to it. The share Burke almost certainly had in the profit arising from the speculations of his kinsmen is perhaps the foundation of the amazing assertion that 'he received about 20,000l, from 'his family' (Prior). There is no direct evidence that he took part in these transactions, and there is no reason for supposing that they exercised any influence on his political conduct (on this matter see Dilke, Papers of a Critic, ii. 331-84). He certainly shared the good fortune of his kinsmen, and, though not ruined to the same extent that they were, shared also the consequences of their failure. From 1769 onwards he was never free from difficulties. He received help from some generous friends, such as Lord Rockingham, Garrick, and others. He was not a man to retrieve his losses by carefulness. He lived at Beaconfield not extravagantly, but not frugally, driving four black horses, and spending 2,500l. a year, exclusive of his expenses in London during the sessions of parliament (Stanhope, Life of Pitt, ii. 250). His letters to the great agriculturist, Arthur Young, show that when he was in the country be was an eager tanner, intent on cultivating his land in the most scientific and profitable fashion (Works, i. 123-32).
On the opening of the session of 1768-6, Burke exposed the dangers into which the carelessness of Grafton's ministry was leading the country as regards both its American policy and its acquiescence in the annexation of Corsica by France, a power which he always regarded with suspicion. In reply to Grenville's manifesto against the Rochingham party, he published early in 1769 his 'Observations on a late Publication on the Present State of the Nation.’ In this pamphlet, after a brilliant criticism of Grenville’s economic statements, he considers the proposed remedies; he rejects the idea of an enlar d franchise, on the ground ‘that it would be more in the spirit of our constitution by lessening the number to add to the weight and independeniy of our voters,’ and sets aside the propos for American representation as ‘contrary to nature' (Works, iii. 70). He always looked on any meddling with the constitution as a dangerous matter, and this reverence for the established order sometimes led him to speak and write as though its preservation were of greater moment than the liberty which was the very reason of its existence, while by his favourite metaphor of ‘equipoise ’ he represented the risk attending the slightest change (‘Present Discontents,’ Works, iii. 164; Morley, E B., a Study, 114). All his political wisdom was called for by the events of 1769. He strove vigorously, but unsuccessfully, against the action of the House of Commons with reference to Wi1kes, condemning Lord Weymouth’s letter to the Surrey magistrates, and pointing out that soldiers were not lawful executors of justice. In this debate and often during the session he was answered by the unblushing Rigby (Cavendish, Rep. i. 139-49). His arguments on this subject were received with clamour. On 15 April, when insisting that the house was engaging in a contest with the whole body of the freeholders of England by declaring Colonel Luttrell M.P. for Middlesex, he was interrupted ‘by a great noise in the house,' some member meanwhile whispering with the speaker. His temper was roused. ‘I will he heard,’ he exclaimed? ‘I will throw open the doors’ (the lobby and even the passages of the house were crowded) ‘and tell tell the people of England that when a man is addressing the chair in their behalf the attention of the speaker is engaged’ (ib. 378). During this session he opposed the bargain by which the government mulcted the East India Company of 400,000l. a year, and condemned the unconstitutional demand made upon the house for the payment of a debt on the civil list before the production of accounts. He also moved foran inquiry into the conduct of the vernment with reference to the riot in St. George’s Fields, the fruit of Weymouth’s ‘bloody scroll,’ denying that ‘the military power might be employed to any constitutional purpose whatever’ (ib. 310). The summer gdurke spent at Beaconsfield, where, as he writes to Rockingham, the rain put him to much expense in getting in his clover and deluged his hay (Works, i. 82). His farming anxieties, however, did not long interrupt a new work he had on hand (ib. 91). This was his ‘Thoughts on the Present Discontents,' which was published on 23 April 1770. To this pamphlet is to be attributed the regeneration of the whigs by the revival of the principles of 1688, which had been wellnigh forgotten by the intrigues of the Bedford faction (Morley, EB., a Study, 15). Burke defended the popular discontent, declaring that ‘in all dgputes between the people and their rulers the presumption was at least upon a par in favour of the people’ (Works, iii. 114). The fault lay with the administration; the power of the crown had revived under the name of influence, and the intrigues of the court cabal were taking the place of the interests of the people. Examining the popular remedies, he rejected the proposal for shortened parliaments, for frequent elections would, he believed, only increase the influence of the administration, nor would he shut all place-rnen out of parliament, for he held that corruption would thus be increased by concealment. The true remedies were to give weight to the opinion of the people by doing away with the secrecy of parliamentary proceedings, and to substitute loyal adherence to party for the influence of the court. The indignation with which the whig oligarchs received this pamphlet is depicted in the sneers of Walpole (George III, iv. 129-47). Chatham, who was aggrieved by the position it took with reference to reform, wrote to Rockingham that it would do great harm to the party, probably not expecting that Rockingham would show the letter to Burke. He did so, however, and twenty years after Burke was still indignant at it, though he warmly acknowledged ‘the great splendid side’ of his opponent’s character (Albemarle, Memoirs of Rockingham, ii. 195). The ang? of the advanced party was expressed by Mrs. Catherine Macaulay in a violent answer, entitled ‘Thoughts on the Causes of the Present Discontent.'
Burke soon carried the principles of his pamphlet into action by struggling for the political rights of the people. He is said, though on very doubtful authority (Anecd. of Junius, p. 15), to have defended the character of Johnson when attacked on account of the publication of the ‘False Alarm’ (there seems to be a confusion between Burke and Fitzherbert, Cav. Rep. i. 516). In the spring of the next year he upheld a motion on the law of libel, with the view of protecting the right of private persons to criticise the actions of their rulers, and took a prominent part in opposing the proceedings taken by the house against certain printers for publishing debates. Referring to the twenty-three divisions by which, on 14 March 1771, he and his friends hindered the business of the house, during the debate on the prohibition of printed reports, he declared that he took shame to himself that he never resorted to this expedient before as a means of hindering such measures. ‘Posterity,’ he said, ‘would bless the pertinaciousness of that day ’ (ib. ii. 395). The freedom of the press and the publication of parliamentary proceedings were its results, Burke strongly urged the removal of restrictions on the exportation of oorn, pointing out in committee, on 28 Feb. 1770, the identity of the interests of the consumer and the grower (ib. i. 476); and again when, on 15 April 1772, a bill was before the house to regulate the corn trade, he opposed the discontinuance of the bounty on exportation (Parl. Hist. xvii. 480). In the same session of 1772 he supported a bill to protect the holders of land against the dormant claims of the church (Works, vi. 155). He was constantly assailed by anonymous pamphleteers, whose virulence was increased by the belief that he was the author of the ‘Letters of Junius,' a report which he expressly denied, and for which there was not the slightest ground (ib. i. 133-8). It was nevertheless widely spread, and was encouraged by the hints of Francis (Memoirs of Sir Philip Francis, i. 220, 243; Grenville Papers, iv. 381, 391). During the summer of 1770 his wife’s health caused him some uneasiness; she regained her strength the next year, and Burke writes cheerfully to Shackleton (July 1771); his kinsman William was living with him, his brother Richard was expected from the West Indies, and his son was doing well at Westminster. Burke’s home life was happy; he entered into all work with energy, and discussed the principles of deep ploughing as eagerly as the fate of empires.
In 1772 Burke opposed a (petition from certain clergy to be relieved from subscription to the articles, arguing that the church as a voluntary society had a right to dictate her own terms of membership, and exposing the absurdity of the proposal to substitute a compulsory subscription to the Scriptures (ib. vi. 80-90). He gave his cordial support in 1773 to the bill for the relief of protestant dissenters from the test provided by the Act of Toleration. His love of religious freedom was, however, subordinate to his dislike of rationalistic criticism. ‘Infide1s,’ he said, ‘are outlaws of the constitution, not of this country, but of the human race. They are never, never to be supported, never to be tolerated‘ (Hn. vi. 100). The special cause of this vehemence was a visit he paid to Paris in February 1773, whither he went after leaving his son Richard at Auxerre to acquire French. On this visit he saw the Dauphiness at Versailles, that ‘delightful vision’ which some sixteen or seventeen years after he described in memorable words (ib. iv. 212). He supped often with Mme. du Deffand, who Wrote to Walpole that he spoke French with great difficulty but was most agreeable. At her house he met the Comte de Broglio, and at the house of the Duchesse de Luxembourg he heard the ‘ Barmécides ’ of La Harpe. In the salon of Mdlle. de l’Espinasse he found himself in the society of the Encyclopaedists, and had an insight into French morals and philosophy (Lettres de Mme. la Marquise du Deffand, ii. 377-93; Morley, Life, 67). He came back in March strengthened in his conservative principles. About this time his brother Richard, who had been ruined in 1769, appears as a speculator in land in St. Vincent. His title was disputed by government, and Burke was suspected of having been concerned in his gambling transactions (Dilke; H. Walpole to Mason, 23 March 1774, Letters, vi. 68). In the autumn of 1771 Burke had been appointed agent to the province of New York, with a salary of 500l. a year (Bancroft, Hist. of the U. States, v. 215). A more lucrative offer was made to him the next year. The East India Company was in difficulties, and dreaded the seizure of its territory by government. The directors wished to send Burke, at the head ofa supervisorship of three, to reform their administration. Burke took counsel with the Duke of Richmond, and refused the tempting offer for the sake of his party. That party was soon to receive an important addition. At least as early as 1766 Charles James Fox, then about seventeen, was intimate with Burke, admired his talents, and probabl before long introduced him to Lord Holland (Correspondence of C. J. Fox, i. 26, 69). In February 1772 Fox left North's administration, and he and Burke united in opposing the Royal Marriage Act. The breach was patche up, but in 1774 Fox finally went into opposition and thus became an ally of Burke, whom he always looked up to as his master in politics. For the next eight years the two friends joined in violent opposition to North’s administration. They led very different lives, for Burke neither drank nor played. and when, after a hard morning’s work, he used to call for Fox on his way to the house, he would find him fresh and ready for work, for his day had then only just begun.
In the spring of 1774 Burke urged the repeal of the tea duty in a speech afterwards published (‘On American taxation,’ Works, iii, 176), and vigorously opposed the penal bills for closing the port of Boston and annulling the Massachusetts charter. The dissolution of parliament in September caused him some anxiety, for Lord Verncy’s affairs compelled him to have candidates stand for Wendover who could bear the charges of the borough (ib. i. 237). Rockingham, however, found him a scat at Malton. On his way to the election there he was robbed of 10l. by a highwayrnan (ib. 246). While he was at dinner on the day of his election, 11 Oct., a deputation from Bristol arrived at Malton and informed him that he had been nominated for that city. He set off at once, and, arriving at Bristol in the afternoon of the 13th, the sixth day of the poll, drove straight to the mayor’s house, and, after a few minutes’ rest, addressed the electors in the Guildhall (ib. iii. 227). At the close of the poll, 3 Nov., he was elected by a maiority of 251. His colleague, Mr. Cruger, having declared himself willing to obey the instructions of his constituents, Burke explained the constitutional position of a parliamentary representative: ‘He owes you,’ he said, ‘not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion’ (ib. 236). His success afforded him great pleasure, and in a cheerful letter, dated 19 Nov., he describes how on his way home he visited his son Richard, then at Christ Church, Oxford, and ‘drank a glass of wine with him and his young friends (ib. 249). On 6 March 1775 he made an indignant protest against restraining the trade of the American colonies (Parl. Hist. xviii. 389), and on the 22nd brought forward his thirteen resolutions for conciliation 478 ; Works, iii. 241). He spoke for three hours. With the question of the right of taxation he would have nothing to do. ‘It is not,’ he said, ‘what a lawyer tells me I may do, but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me ought to do.‘ he resolutions were negatived by 270 to 78. Burke's health seems to have suffered from his unavailing exertions. On 15 May, in presenting a representation from the Assembly of New York, his American constituency, he said that he was too ill to makea long speech, and writing to Rockingham on 4 Aug. he spoke of an illness from which he had just recovered. ‘My head and heart,’ he said, ‘are full of anxious thoughts? Yet in spite of toil and sickness his spirits were elastic. Boswell, in a letter written at this time, thinks that ‘he must he one of the few men that may hope for continual happiness in this life, he has so much knowledge, so much animation, and the consciousness of so much fame' (Letters to Temple, 212). He was the centre of attraction at one or two London salon, and especially at Mrs. Vèsy's gatherings. There, and in other drawing-rooms where he was at ease, he would take a book, if he did not care for the company, and read aloud, sometimes choosing French poetry, which he read as though the words were to sound as in English (Memoirs of Dr. Burney, ii. 267, iii. 170.)
On the occasion of presenting a petition setting forth the in'u arisin to the Wiltshire clothiers from the Ameiican troubles, Burke made another attempt to bring the government to a peace and the rejection of his motion by 210 to 105 was considered a triumph by the minority (Parl. Hist. xviii. 963). In Novemher of the next year (1776) he seconded a motion for the revision of all acts aggrieving the colonies. On the rejection of this motion he, in common with the party to which he belonged, withdrew himself from parliament on a questions relating to America (ib. 1434; Ann. Reg. 1777, 48). This partial secession called forth his ‘Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol,’ which contains a defence of his opposition to the government measures. Although his attention was at this time chiefly directed to our colonial troubles, he joined with Sir W. Meredith in fighting against the brutality of the law and general manners at home. He brought in a bill to hinder wrecking, and in 1779 made an earnest protest against the punishment of the pillory. On his return to full parliamentary attendance, he made a motion, 6 Feb. 1778, against the employment of Indians in the war with America, supporting it with a speech of three hours and a half, which excited much applause that the ministers, who as usual on these occasions had cleared the house of strangers, were congratulated on their prudence, for it was said that had the public heard Burke’s speech their lives would have been in danger (ib 1778; and see above). The government of Lord North, indeed, gave ample cause for the indignation Burke was not slow to express. A few days after this speech on the Indian question Lord Mulgrave, in a debate on the navy estimates, acknowledged that not a shilling had been laid out on the purposes for which the last vote had been made, and treated the apropriation as a mere matter of form. At this open defiance of the principles of the constitution Burke's anger blaze out. Snatching ‘the line gilt book of estimates’ from the table, he flung it at the treasury bench, and, though the volume hit the candle and nearly hit Welbore Ellis, the treasumer of the navy, on the shins, no one seems to have dared to complain of this display of righteous wrath (Parl. Hist. xix. 730). On the motion for the trial of Sir Hugh Palliser for his conduct in the action off Ushant, Burke warmly upheld the cause of Admiral Keppel (ib. xx. 54-71), and in January 1779, in company with Rockingham and other great men of his party, went down to Portsmouth to be present at his trial by court-martial. Some parts of Keppel's defence are in his handwriting, and he shared in the joy felt at the verdict, which at once absolved the admiral and abased the ministers.
Burke's resistance to any change in the form of the constitution he venerated was accompanied by a desire to amend its working. He saw that the constitution was paralysed by corruption, and, with the idea of securing political health by enforcing economic purity, he laid before the house, 1 Feb. 1780, a plan for the better security of the independance of parliament and the economical reformation of the civil and other etablishments (Works, iii. 343). In a large and yet conservative spirit he sought to sweep away merely useless places and to destroy the accretions of jobbery which had grown round the court and had become at once a burden to the taxpayer and the food of ministerial corruption. He hoped to invigorate the constitution by sweeping away the useless places, the lavish pensions, and the ridiculous extravagance which enabled the court to keep a considerable number of members of parliament either in its immediate pay or hound to it by the expectation of future profit. North managed to defeat the bill by taking it in detail (Morley, E. B., a Study, 166).
Burke was too good an Irishman to be unmindful of the needs of Ireland. He saw clearly that the only means of bettering her condition was the admission of his countrymen to the privileges enjoyed by Englishmen, by the removal of trade restrictions, and by the relief of the catholics. Holding these views he naturally opposed the measure advocated in 1773 for imposing a tax on all absentee landlords, and in his ‘Letter to Sir C. Bingham ’ pointed out that, among other evils, such a, tax ‘would go directly against the happy communion of the privileges’ of the two kingdoms (Works, v. 502). In 1778 he joined Lord Nugent in obtaining some relief from the restrictions on trade, and finally, in 1779, succeeded in forcing Lord North to recognise the necessity of giving up the English monopolies (Parl. Hist. xx. 137, 1132, 1272). He also supported the slight relaxations of the penal laws made in 1778. On l8 May in the following year he advocated the relief of the Scotc catholics. Accordingly, on the outbreak of the Lord George Gordon riots in June 1780, his friends tried to persuade him to go out of town. He resolved, however, that the mob ‘should see that he was not to be forced nor intimidated from the straight line of what was right,’ and walked through the streets as usual, letting the people know who he was. He met with no annoyance. His house in Charles Street was occupied by a guard of soldiers, and he and his wife spent the week under the roof of General Burgoyne (Works, i. 432-5). Burke’s advocacy of the commercial rights of Ireland deeply offended the Bristol merchants, and his religious toleration increased their discontent (ib. 442). Parliament having been dissolved on 1 Sept. 1780, he Went down to Bristol and explained his views to his constituents. After a canvass of two days he found his election hopeless, and declined the poll (ib. iii. 407-47; Gent. Mag. l. 618). He stood by Fox during the Westminster election, and then went down to Beaconsfield, ‘wearied with the business, the company, the joy, and the debauch.' Lord Rockingham having provided him with a seat for his borough of Malton, Burke, in February 1781, again brought forward his bill for economical reform, but was defeated on the second reading by 233 to 190, On this occasion he was delighted at the speech made in support of his motion by William Pitt, and declared that he‘ was not a chip of the old block but the old block itself’ (Sir N. Wraxall, Hist. Mem. ii. 342). On the opening of the November session of 1781 Burke commented severely on the folly of the king's speech, which, in spite of the surrender of Cornwallis, still dwelt on the maintenance of our rights in America. Right, he said, signified nothing without might, and he compared the ministry to a man who would shear a wolf (Parl. Hist. xxii. 717). During the spring of the next year he and Fox made a series of attacks on the conduct of the war, which at last forced North to retire.
On the accession of the Rockingham whigs to office Burke was not offered a seat in the cabinet, and the party thus threw away a ‘ real guarantee ’ against the preponderance of the Shelburne section in the administration (Russell, Life and Times C. J. Fox, i. 284). The constant exclusion of Burke from cabinet office was to some extent due to the fact that he was a difficult man to work with. Fox once said that he was ‘a most impracticable person, a most unmanageable colleague; that he never would support any measure, however convinced he might be in his heart of its utility, if it had been prepared by another’ (S. Rogers, Table-talk, 81).' This, however, was said after the rupture of their long alliance, and, though Burke evidently lost his self-control at a later period, is only partially true of him in 1782. The most effectual cause of his exclusion was the narrow jealousy with which the whig oligarchs regarded the rise of the Irish adventurer. Burke was a pointed paymaster of the forces. He actively forwarded the concession of self-government made to Ireland by the repeal of 6 Geo. I and other acts. ‘Her cause,' he said on 16 April, ‘was nearest to his heart, and nothing gave him so much satisfaction when he was first honoured with a seat in that house, as that it might be in his power to be of service to the country that gave him birth’ (Parl. Hist, xxiii, 33). Burke's proposals for economical reform formed the chief subject of discussion in the cabinet. An attempt was made to place the matter in the hands of the crown. Burke drew up reasons to be urged by Rockingham on the king, showing that the reform ought to proceed from parliament (Works, i, 492). The king yielded. A compromise was effected; and though Burke was forced to give up a large part of his scheme, he was able to carry some substantial reforms affecting public offices. Among these was the regulation of the office he himself held. It had been the custom for the paymaster to keep the balances of public money in his own hands until the audit. Burke fixed the salary at 4,000l. a year, and paid in his balances to the Bank of England, thus increasing the income of the country by a large sum. He made his son Richard his deputy, with a salary of 500l. At the same time he was given to understand that ‘something considerable’ would be secured for his wife and son (ib. i. 500). By the death of Rockingham on 1 July Burke lost not only a true friend, but a wise leader who directed and controlled his fervour (Life of Fox, i. 319). In his difficulties with Shelburne Fox took counsel with Burke, who, while advising him to refuse to act ‘as a clerk in Lord Shelburne’s administration,' urged him to put off his resignation until the next session (Mem. and Corresp. of C. J. Fox, i. 457), Fox, however, resigned at once, and Burke followed him out of office.
Having thus lost office before the promised provision had been made for his wife and son, Burke sought to secure for his son the reversion of the rich sinecure of the clerkship of the pells. He failed in his attempt. His conduct in this matter has been severely blamed (ib. i. 451). He had, however, been led to expect some reward; he had certainly a far stronger claim than the crowd of noble place-men and pensioners who enjoyed the wealth of the country in idleness, and, however objectionable such arrangements were, they formed the recognised mode of rewarding public services. Burke acquiesced in the extraordinary coalition between Fox and North, and on the overthrow of Shelburne’s administration in February 1783 again accepted the office of paymaster in the Portland government. On his return to office he incurred considerable censure by reinstating two clerks, Powell and Bembridge, who had been dismissed by his predecessor for fraud. Powell was believed to have been mixed up with ‘the Burkes’ in their operations in India stock (Drum), and his suicide and the conviction of Bembridge were held to be proofs of Burke’s corrupt motives. He warmly defended his conduct, and in a debate on 2 May waxed so violently angry that Sheridan pulled him down on his seat from a motive of friendship. He declared that ‘he acted upon his conscience and his judgment in protecting men he believed to the simply unfortunate’ (Parl. Hist. xxiii. 801, 902). The ministers were pledged to take measures to promote the good government of India. Burke had for man years been deeply interested in the affairs of that country. He highly disapproved of North’s Regulating Act, and as early as 1773 expressed his distrust of Hastings, the first governor-general appointed in accordance with it (Macknight, ii. 25). He served on the select committee on the affairs of the East India Company, and in 1783 drew up the ‘Ninth Report,’ ‘one of the most luminous and exhaustive of English state papers’ (Morley), on the trade of Bengal and the system pursued by Hastings, an the ‘Eleventh Report,' dealing with the question of presents. He also prepared the draft of the famous East India Bill introduced by Fox in December (Works, i. 515), and supported it by a speech which Wraxall, who was no friend of his, declared to be the finest composition pronounced in the House of Commons while he was a member of it. On 18 Dec. the ministers were dismissed. Burke had been out of spirits during the continuance of the coalition ministry. Such reminders, indeed, as the ‘Beauties of Fox, Burke, and North,’ a collection of the bitter things he and Fox had said of their-then colleague in past days, were scarcely needed to make him feel that he was out of place by the side of the minister whom he had so unmercifully assailed, and the lofty tone of the invectives he had uttered made the union seem especially unnatural. He found his influence weakened. On one occasion when he rose to speak, a number of members noisily left the house, and he resumed his seat in anger. His depression did not escape Miss Burney, who remarks upon it. Burke, who had lately made her acquaintance, greatly admired her.
He sat up all night reading ‘Evelina,' and carried ‘Cecilia’ about with him, readign it at every leisure moment until he had finished it. His last official act was to procure Dr. Burney the appointment of organist at Chelsea College (Mme. d’Arblay, Diary, ii, 271; Memoirs of Dr. Burney, ii. 376; Macknight, iii. 58–60).
Burke’s depression seems to have continued during the early months of 1784, and he took little part in politics. Having been elected lord rector of Glasgow, he visited the university in April, and was installed in his office. It is said that, on rising to deliver an address on this occasion, he for once found himself at fault, declaring that he had never before addressed so learned a body, though he afterwards made a speech which was received with much applause. The triumph of Pitt and the king, and the consciousness that public opinion was against him, led him, on the meeting of the new parliament, to move a representation to his majesty on the constitutional aspect of the late dissolution (Works, iii. 515). Two hours were occupied in reading this document; the house heard it with impatience, and negatived it without a division. He was now constantly greeted with rude interruptions when he rose to speak. ‘I could teach a pack of hounds,’ he said on one such occasion, ‘to yelp with greater melody and more comprehension.' The anonymous attacks upon his character,‘the hunt of obloquy,‘ never ceased. One charge brought against him by the ‘Public Advertiser ’ was so gross that he was forced to prosecute the printer, and obtained a verdict for 100l. damages and costs (Ann. Reg. 1784, p. 197). At Beaconsfield he found peace and happiness. There he entertained his old friends, with his own hands dispensed food and medicine to the poor, and now and then patronised a company of strolling players, and helped to replenish their wardrobe. He was a constant attendant at the parish church, and used to spend the time between morning and evening prayer in chatting with the parson.
Burke was now steadfastly set on making Hastings answer for his misdeeds. Great difficulties stood in his way; the house where Pitt was now supreme had ceased to treat him with respect, and his speech of 28 July on the ministers' India Bill, which certainly contained a passage at once vehement and ludicrous, was unfavourably received (Parl. Hist. xxiv. 1214). Pitt threw obstacles in his way, and Major Scott, the agent of Hastings, taunted him with the non-fulfilment of his threats. The opposition, however, took up the matter, and on 28 Feb. 1785 Fox moved for papers relating to the debts of the nabob of Arcot, On this occasion Burke made a speech full of eloquence and of surprising knowledge of this intricate subject (Works, iv. 1). Even while fully engaged in preparing for his great attack, he was alive to wrong in every shape, and effectually interfered to prevent the establishment of a penal settlement in the unhealthy district of the Gambia river (Parl. Hist. xxv. 391, 431). When, in July, Pitt brought forward his resolutions on Irish commerce, by which Ireland would have attained perfect equality in trade, subject to a contribution to certain imperial objects, Burke, contrary, as it seemed, to his former policy, oppose the minister. His conduct has been blamed as factious (Morley, E. B., a Study, 188). Allowance should, however, be made for his susceptibility on all matters affecting his native country, quickened as it was in this case by his remembrance of American disaster, for he based his opposition on the ground that the resolutions were imposing a ‘tribute’ on Ireland, and indicated a policy such as had led to the contest with America (Parl. Hist. xxv. 647). His re-election at Glasgow was the cause of another visit to Scotland in the autumn of this year, and of a very pleasant tour over a considerable part of that country (Works, i. 522). In the course of this tour, on which he was accompanied by his son and his friend Windham, he visited Minto, the seat of Sir G. Elliot, where he astonished Dr. Somerville of Jedburgh, who gives an interesting account of his conversations with him, by the richness of his language and the universality of his knowledge (T. Somerville, Own Life and Times, 220–3). The early part of 1786 was taken up with the preliminaries of the attack on Hastings, in which Burke found an eager ally in Philip Francis, with motions for papers and the like. On 1 June he moved the Rohilla charge, and, though ably supported by Fox, was defeated by 119 to 67. Pitt, however, unexpectedly agreed to an article of the impeachment moved by Fox, and Burke thus gained his object. Other charges were moved by Sheridan, Windham, and Francis, but Burke inspired every speaker, and took an active part in the debates. At length, 10 May 1787, attended by a majority of the commons, he appeared at the bar of the House of Peers, and solemnly impeached Hastings of high crimes and misdemeanours (Parl. Hist. xxvi. 1149).
Burke still had much opposition to contend with, and the refusal of house to appoint Francis a manager of the impeachment, ‘a blow he was not prepared to meet,’ much discouraged him (Memoirs of Sir Philip Francis, ii. 243). On 13 Feb. 1788, the first, day of the trial, Westminster Hall presented the famous scene described by Lord Macaulay (Essay on Warren Hastings). Burke, as head of the managers for the impeachmcnt, solemnly entered the hall. He walked alone, holding a scroll in his hand, his brow ‘knit with deep labouring thought’ (Mme. d'Arblay, Diary, iv. 59). On 15 Feb. he began his opening speech (Works, vii. 279), which formed an introduction to the whole body of charges. He spoke during four sittings. On the evening of the l7th, after describing the cruelties practised by Debi Sing on the natives of Bengal, he was overpowered by indignation, and seized with an attack which made it necessary for him to break off his speech. On the next day he concluded it with a stately peroration. The effects of his exertion do not seem to have passed away for some time, for on 1 May he wrote to the speaker excusing his absence from the house on the plea of illness and the necessity of a short rest (ib. i. 541). On 6 June, on a motion relating to the expenses of the trial, he eloquently complimented Sheridan on his speech on the princesses of Oude. In the course of this summer Burke was successful in a lawsuit with a neighbour, Mr. Waller of Hall Barn, who claimed some manorial rights over his estate. His constant need of money is proved by his grateful acceptance in July of a gift of 1,000l. from his friend Dr. Brocklesby (ib. 544).
When, in November 1788, Fox was called home from the continent by the news of the king’s insanity, Burke expected to be summoned by his friend, who was now generally looked upon by his party as the future minister (ib. i. 545). Fox, however, did not send for him, and though Burke joined him in upholding the right of the Prince of Wales to the regency, and in opposing Pitt’s restrictions, he was treated with neglect. Some difficulty arose as to finding a chancellor of the exchequer for the cabinet it was proposed to form in case the party succeeded in turning Pitt out of office, but Burke’s name was not approved. At a private meeting of some of the leaders of the Portland party, held 9 Jan. 1789, it was determine to again appoint him to the insignificant post of paymaster, and to secure him a pension of 2,000l., with the reversion of half to his son and half to Mrs. Burke, and to give office to his brother Richard. The Duke of Portland, Windham, and Elliot, who were his sincere friends, believed that this was ‘acting in a manner equal to Burke's merits’ (Life and Letters of Sir G. Elliot, 261-3). Several special difficulties stood in the way of his nomination to cabinet office at this crisis. With the Prince of Wales and his set he had nothing in common save the politics of the party. ‘I know no more,‘ he said, in December 1788, ‘of Carlton House than I do of Buckingham House.’ Always irritable, even with friends so true as Windham, he seems when vexed by opposition to have lost all control over himself (Windham, Diary, 112, 167). His vehemence in debate increased with neglect. On 6 Feb., for example, he declared the conduct of the ministers ‘verging to treasons, for which the justice of their country would, he trusted, one day overtake them and bring them to trial’ (Parl. Hist. xxvii. 1171). He was accused, not altogether unjustly, of outraging propriety in his speeches on the king's condition (Sir N. Wraxall, Posth. Mem. iii. 323, 346). His enemies, and indeed ‘half the kingdom, considered him little better than an ingenious madman’ (Windham, 213). These causes, combined with his poverty, the scandalous stories of his enemies, the constantly repeated accusation that he was ‘Junius,’ and above all the exclusiveness of the whig aristocrats, hindered the due recognition of his services and talents. The dignified letter he composed for the prince accepting the regency is a sufficient proof that when unchafed by the insults of Pitt’s rank and file, unvexed by neglect, and unexcited by debate, his wisdom and judgment were not less than in earlier years. He longed to ‘retire’ for good and all, but the Indian business ‘kept him bound' (Works, i. 549). He resumed this business in April. Public interest in the trial had now declined. Burke had become unpopular, and the friends of Hastings were strong in the house. A violent expression used by Burke respecting the death of Nuncomar was made the occasion of a vote of censure, passed 4 May. Contrary to Fox's wish, Burke continued the trial the next day, and the difference of opinion occasioned a slight soreness between them (Corresp. of C. J. Fox, ii. 355). Burke has been accused ‘of surrendering himself at this period of his career to a systematic factiousness that fell little short of being downright unscrupulous (Morley, E. B. a Study, 27) He certainly worked hard for his party, for he had not as yet seen reason to differ from its general policy, and in such circumstances he ever held loyalty to his party to be incumbent on a statesman. He wrote, it is true, to Fox, on 9 Sept. 1789, suggesting that he should conciliate Dr. Priestley and his followers, in view of a general election (Corresp. of C. J. Fox, ii. 360). There is, however, nothing in this letter contrary to the principles he held in 1773. He disliked and distrusted the unitarians then, and he did so now, but that was no reason why his party should lose their support for law; of a piece of ordinary civility such as he recommended. As early as 1780 Burke had drawn up regulations to mitigate the evils of the slave trade, and of thc employment of slaves, in the form of a letter to Dundas (published in 1792). He therefore hailed with delight the attack made on the trade by Wilberforce. On 9 May 1788, in the debate on Pitt’s motion for inquiry, he declared that he wished for its total abolition, and on 12 May 1789 warmly praised the speech with which Wilberforce introduced his resolutions (Parl. Hist. xxvii. 502, xxviii. 69, 96; Life of Wilberforce, i. 171).
Having been requested by a friend, M. Dupont, to send him his opinion of the revolutionary movements in France, Burke wrote to him in October, though the letter was not sent until some weeks after. In the meantime the open expression of sympathy with these movements, and especially the proceedings of the Revolutionary Society on 4 Nov., stirred him to write his ‘Reflections on the Revolution’ as a warning to its English admirers. Loving ‘liberty only in the guise of order,’ he saw in the events of 6 Oct. an impending attack on the order which through all his life he had so deeply reverenced. In a debate on the army estimates, 9 Feb. 1790, he spoke strongly against the French democracy. Fox, who saw in the taking of the Bastille the greatest and the best event that ever happened in the world, made him a soothing answer. Sheridan sharply opposed his views, and Burke at once declared himself separated from him in politics. The neglect of Burke by the Carlton House faction must, to some extent at least, have been due to Sheridan's jealousy, and his speech on this occasion was evidiently intended to provoke Burke’s wrath (Parl. Hist. xxviii. 370). On 2 March Burke opposed Fox's bill for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. His fear of the spread of revolutionary opinions in England made him untrue to the policy of toleration he had so long upheld. ‘It was not a time,' he said, ‘to weaken the safeguards of the established church.’ Fox declared that Burke’s speech filled him with grief and shame. The bill was lost (ib. 387). In the course of this year Burke was gratified by the appointment of his son, now a barrister, as legal adviser of the Irish Catholic Committee. Meanwhile the ‘Reflections’ was slowly written and rewritten. Some proofs were sent to Francis in February. He returned them with some strong expressions of disapproval, mocking at the celebrated passage about the queen as ‘pure foppery.’ Burke, in answer, declared that when he wrote it the tears ‘wetted his paper’ (Works, i. 574). At last, after a year’s labour, the ‘Reflections' was issued on 1 Nov. 1790. Before a year had passed eleven editions of it were called for. The king was delighted; it was, he said, ‘a good book, a very good book ; every gentleman ought to read it.” The Oxford graduates presented their congratulations through Windham; it was proposed to grant him the degree of D.C.L., but the motion was defeated. This annoyed him greatly, and when, in 1793, an honorary degree was offered him, he refused it on the ground that his name had been rejected previously. From Dublin he received the LL.D. degree. The effect of the ‘Reflections’ was extraordinary. It created a reaction against the revolution; it divided Englishmen into two parties and did much to ruin the whigs, and to produce a new political combination. Chief among the many answers it called forth in England is the ‘Vindicæ' Gallicæ’ of James Mackintosh. In a different strain, but with not less effect, it had already been met by Paine's ‘Rights of Man.' One sentence in the ‘Reflections,' representing learning as ‘trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude’ (ib. iv. 215), drew forth a crowd of bitter retorts; it was explained as intended to refer to Bailly. Abroad the ‘Reflections' created no less stir than at home, and Burke received the compliments of different foreign sovereigns. His political foresight is exhibited by his prophecy of the time when, all restraints that mitigate despotism being removed, France would fella prey to arbitrary ppwer. Nevertheless, in site of these and other philosophical remarks, the book contains the pleadings of an advocate rather than the reflections of a philosopher. It exhibits ignorance of the character of the French oonstitution before the revolution; it fails to recognise the social causes of the movement, and, dwelling on the sufferings of the few, it ignores the deliverance of the many.
In the parliament which met in November 1790 Burke was again returned for Malton. As the friends of Hastings hoped that the dissolution would be hcl to are put an end to the impeachment, Burke moved for a committee to consider the state of the trial. Pitt and Fox alike joined with him in advocating the constitutional principle, which was affirmed after three days' debate, that an impeachment is not abated by a dissolution of parliament. Although Burke and Fox still met on friendly terms, it was evident that the strong views each held on the subject of the revolution must before long formally break their alliance. The growing alienation of Burke from Fox and the party for which he had so lorig worked caused him pain and anxiety (Elliot, i. 364-70), and it was at this time probably that he said to Addington, ‘I am not well, Speaker; I eat too much, I drink too much, and I sleep too little ’ (Pellew, Life of Sidmouth, i. 85). Early in 1791 Burke published his ‘Letter to a Member of the National Assembly’ (Works, iv. 359). In a debate in April, Fox, provoked by this renewed attack, uttered a warm panegyric on the new French constitution. Burke rose to reply in visible emotion, but was forced to give way to the division (Parl. Hist. xxix. 249). Every effort was used to persuade Burke to let the matter pass, but ‘knowing the authority of his friend's name; he believed it necessary to bring his panegyric to trial (Ann. Reg. 1791, 115). The Quebec Bill would, he knew, give him an opportunity, und he acquainted some members of the administration with his intention. On 21 April Fox visited him and begged him to defer the final rupture, but it was too late. They walked down to the house together. In the course of a speech on the postponement of the bill, Fox, ‘meeting what he could not avoid’ to some extent, challenged Burke to express his decision, and Burke declared that ‘dear as was his friend the love of his country was dearer still’ (Parl. Hist. xxix. 362). On 6 May the house reassembled after the holidays, and, the Quebec Bill being again brought forward, Burke spoke at length on the revolution. He was called to order by various members and jeered at by Fox. Baited by one and another ignoble foe, he exclaimed:
The little dogs and all—
Tray, Blanch, and sweetheart—see, they bark at me.
(Pellew, i. 85). Fox spoke plainly of the difference of opinion between them. Burke in his reply referred to the desertion of friends. ‘There is no loss of friends; Fox whispered. Yes, he answered, there was a loss of friends—he knew the price of his conduct—he had done his duty at the price of his friend—their friendship was at an end. When Fox rose, some minutes passed before he could speak for tears (Parl. Hist. xxix. 361-88). Burke’s separation from his party brought on him a storm of calumny. It was asserted that he led Fox on to speak of the revolution that he might prejudice the king against him. Burke complained of the report in a debate on ll May, and as he and Fox defended each his own conduct, the breach between them was widened (ib. 416~26). Burke stood alone, for he had cut himself ofi, for a while at least, from the part of which he had so long been the life and the instructor. He now undauntedly set himself to enlighten his friends and lead them back to the true principles of 1688. At the end of the session he went down to Margate with his wife and his niece, Miss French, who was now living with him, and finished his ‘Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs’ (Works, iv. 392). In December he brought out his ‘Thoughts on French Affairs ’ (tb, 551), a pamphlet exhibiting the revolution as no mere political change, but as concerned, like the Reformation, with doctrines and o inious which would certainly spread unless checked by a coalition of powers. While at Margate he received a visit from Calonne, who came from the refugees at Coblentz to seek his advice. He sent his son Richard to represent him at Coblentz, a step which was allowed though not authorised by the government, while the Chevalier de la Bintinnaye was sent to represent the princes at Beaconsfield (ib. i. 633). No advice, however, could help men so impracticable as the Coblentz refugees. Richard returned home and was at once engaged by the Irish catholics, who hoped through him to gain his father’s guidance. This mission called forth the letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe, written in January 1792, in which the whole question of religious toleration in Ireland is discussed. In February Burke attended the funeral of his old friend Sir Joshua Reynolds, who leit him his executor with a legacy of 2,000l., and appointed him guardian of his niece, Miss Palmer, shortly afterwards married to Lord Inchiquin. Burke immediately sent 100l. by his son to two poor women by the Blackwater, one of them by birth a Nagle and probably one of his mother's family, adding ‘God knows how little we can spare it’ (ib. ii. 91). He took little part in the debates of this session. He opposed Grey’s notice of motion on parliamentary reform. Anger at the sympathy the unitarians expressed with the revolution and fear of disturbing the established order again led him, in May 1792, to forget his tolleant principles and oppose Fox’s motion for the repeal of certain penal statutes respecting religious opinions (Parl. Hist. xxix. 1381).
Burke now held a unique position. ‘He is,’ writes Elliot, ‘a sort of power in Europe, though totally without any of those means, or the smallest share in them, which give or maintain power in other men.’ He was in correspondence with Monsieur (Louis XVIII) the Count of Artois, and the French royalists. All hope of help from England was founded on his advocacy. He deprecated the partition of Poland, and counselled Stanislaus to reserve a liberal policy. The catholics of Ireland looked upon him as their champion. Without office himself, he was engaged in persuading a large section of the whigs under the nominal headship of the Duke of Portland to join Pitt’s supporters, and in spite of violence to private affection to separate themselves from Fox (Corresp. of C. J. Fox, iii. 20). As each succeeding act of the revolution became more bloody, his foresight was praised more widely. He eagerly urged the necessity of war, and Pitt listened to his advice with respect. In September 1792 he was at Bath for his wife’s health. He went up to London during his visit in order to be present at the meetings of the committee for the relief of the French refugees, a matter in which he took the deepest interest (Works, ii. 145, 149). On the opening of the session he found Fox, whose following had now shrunk to fifty, as much opposed to his views as ever. Burke now definitely took his place on the ministerial side. In the debate on the Alien Bill, 28 Dec., having mentioned that an order had been given at Birmingham for 3,000 daggers, he suddenly produced a specimen which had been given him on his way to the house [see Burges, Sir James Bland], and threw it with some vehemence on the floor. ‘This,’ he said, pointing to it, ‘is what you are to gain by an alliance with France’ (Parl. Hist. xxx. 189). This melodramatic scene was caricatured by Gillray, and much mocked at by Fox’s party. Sherdan taunted Burke with it on 28 Feb. following. On the same evening Fox declared that many of Burke's statements were untrue, and an unseemly wrangle ensued (ib. 537, 554). The declaration of war with France increased Burke’s popularity. He maintained his influence with the leading politicians in spite of certain social drawbacks. At a time when political power was closely connected with social re ations, Burke's house was badly managed. The meals were irregular (Windam, 297; Prior, 180) and the company doubtful. Young Richard had come back from Ireland, having mismanaged his business there, ‘quite nauseated by all mankind;’ William Burke had come back from India as penniless as he went away, to be a charge on his kinsman; Richard, Burke’s brother, was noisy, and his niece, Miss French, ‘the most perfect she-Paddy that ever was caught’ (Elliot, ii. 136). A vote of confidence in Fox having been passed by the Whig Club in 1793, Burke and several others seceded from it. With reference to his dispute Burke drew up his ‘Observations for the Conduct of the Minority’ during the session, for the private consideration of the Duke of Portland (Works, v. 65). This memorial was surreptitiously printed in 1797 by a dishonest secretary with the second title of ‘Fifty-four Articles of Impeachment against the Right Hon. C. J. Fox.' Although Burke rejoiced at the declaration of the war with France, he strongly disapproved of the character it assumed. What he wished for was a war against Jacobinism on behalf of Louis XVII and of religion, while Pitt and our allies each sought some separate and selfish object. He would have made the war a crusade, a war against atheism and rebellion. It was monstrous in his eyes that while the Jacobins never pardoned, the allies treated the most bloody and merciless offenders as prisoners of war instead of calling them to strict account. These views he embodied in a new pamphlet, begun while he was at Beaconsfield in the autumn of 1793 (ib. 19, ii. 236; Corresp. of C. J. Fox, iii. 31). He deeply felt his alienation from Fox, and expressed his sorrow in a letter to Portland, who wished him to come to a meeting to be held in January 1794 in order to ascertain the possibility of a coalition. He was not, however, prepared for a reconciliation, nor did he see any desire for it on Fox’s side (Works, ii. 243, 248). Early in the year he lost his brother Richard. He remained some time at Beaconsfield, and when he returned to London took little part in business for some time. During April he had more than one passage of arms with Sheridan. In a debate on the Volunteer Corps Bill Burke quoted some doggerel lines of an American writer:
Solid men of Boston make no long potations,
Solid men of Boston make no long orations.
Bow! wow! wow!
Sheridan in reply taunted him with his alleged inconsistency by quoting two other lines from the same source:
He went to Daddy Jerky, by Trimmer Hall attended:
In such company, good lack! how his morals must be mended!
Bow! wow! wow!
Burke bitterly resented the sneer (Parl. Hist. xxxi. 210).
The trial of Hastings was now drawing to a close, and on 30 April Burke presented to the House of Commons the report he drew up for the committee appointed to inspect the Lords’ Journals with reference to its duration (Works, viii. 39). A month later he began his nine days’ speech (28 May to 16 June) in reply to the defence, containing a justification of the impeachimpeachment. At its close his long labours in the cause were ended, and on 20June he and the other managers received the thanks of the house. At the prorogation in July Burke retired from parliament. The same month the formal union which he had done so much to bring about was made between the Portland whigs and the ministry. Lord Fitzwilliam gave Burke’s seat to his son Richard, and Burke went to Malton to witness the election. On 2 Aug. his son died. The blow shattered Burke’s life, and he went down to Beaconsfield broken in heart. In the midst of his sorrow he took an active interest in the subscription for the relief of the French clergy, and sent 50l. to his son's old friend the Abbé de la Bintinnaye. On 30 Aug. he was informed that the king had granted him an immediate pension of 1,200l. a year, on the joint lives of himself and Mrs. Burke, and that during the next session an application would be made to parliament for the grant of a larger sum. As his debts were troublesome, he asked that this pension might be antedated to the beginning of the year. This was done. Pitt found means for the larger pension without applying to the house, and a further sum of 2,500l. a year was granted him for his own life out of the West India 4½ per cents (Stanhope, Life of Pitt, ii. 245-50). Burke expressed his thankfulness for these grants, but was displeased that the second pension was not brought before the house. The civil list pension he seems to have sold at once for the payment of his debts (Dilke).
The recall of Lord Fitzwilliam from Ireland early in 1795 excited Burke’s fears for the cause of religious toleration in his native land, and was the occasion of his second letter to Sir Hercules Lingishe, written on 26 May (Works, vi. 47? He corresponded constantly on this subject with Dr. Hussey (afterwards bishop of Waterford), and took a strong interest in the foundation of the catholic college at Maynooth, of which Hussey was the first president. On 23 April he was present at the acquittal of Hastings, after a trial of seven years, ‘that principal act which he said was to be the glory or the shame of his whole public life’ (ib. ii. 309). He then went back to Beaconsfield and interested himself in the lives of his poor neighbours, in the growth of his trees an the management of his farm. At the end of the year he was occupied in writing a reply to a pamphlet by Lord Auckland entitled ‘Remarks on the Apparent Circumstances of the War.’ This reply remained unfinished, and was published after his death under the title of the ‘Fourth Letter on a Regicide Peace] An attack made on his pension in the House of Lords by the Duke of Bedford and Lord Lauderdale caused him to lay aside this work to write his indignant ‘Letter to a Noble Lord’ (ib. v. 213). This reply in its turn called forth a crowd of answers. ln the spring of 1796 he drew up a scheme for a school for the sons of French emigrants, which, with the co-operation of the government, he established at Penn, a village near Beaconsfield. Among the children of this school he seemed almost to forget his load of sorrow, and his former adversary, Mackintosh, who warmly admired him, when on a visit to Beaconsfield at Christmas in 1796 saw Burke romp with the little ones ‘with cordial glee’ (Life of Sir James Mackintosh, 87-94). The melancholy of Burke’s life was also cheered by the kindness and the frequent presence of his friends Windham, now secretary at war, and Dr. Laurence. During the summer of 1796 he worked at the first two ‘Letters on a Regicide Peace.’ Their publication was delayed by a severe attack of illness in July. He went to Bath accompanied by his wife and William Burke, and returned somewhat better in September. A dispute having arisen with Owen, his publisher, he transferred the right of publishing his forthcoming letters to another house. Greatly to his annoyance, Owen brought out an unauthorised copy of his ‘Letters on a Regicide Peace,’ and the two editions appeared together, almost on the day on which Lord Malmesbury set out on his abortive embassy (Macknight, iii. 675). The exhibition of the character of these negotiations in the third letter was Burke's last work. His disease, found after death to have been internal abscesses, grew rapidly worse, and Windham persuaded him to again visit Bath in the end of January. ‘Your life,’ he wrote, ‘is at this moment of more consequence than that of any man living’ (Works, ii. 366). The war party indeed ‘depended on Burke’s pen and Hoche’s sword.' He worked in the intervals of pain. Windham came to him as soon as business allowed, and Wilberforce, who visited him at Bath, remarked how his part came to the dying statesman as men sought Ahithophel, ‘as if one who went to inquire of the oracle of the Lord’ (Life of Wilberforce, ii. 211). While he lay ill, Owen published the unauthorised edition of ‘Observations on the Conduct of the Minority,’ but Burke was not told of it until an injunction to stop the sale had been obtained. At the end of May he returned to Beaconsfield, conscious that all hopes of any recovery were at an end, not grieving for himself, but dwelling with sorrow and indignation on the troubles of Ireland (Works, ii. 396). He retained his faculties during his illness. On the last day of his life he spoke of his hatred of the revolutionary spirit in France, and of his belief that the war was for the good of humanity: he listened to some essays of Addison, in which he ever took delight, and then, after he had talked awhile and sent messages to his friends, he died just after midnight on Sunday morning, 9 July 1797 (Gent. Mag. lxix. pt. i. 621). Fox, with characteristic generosity, proposed in the house that he should be buried in Westminster Abbey and at the public expense. Burke, however, had wished otherwise, and on 15 July, in accordance with his directions, he was buried in the parish church of Beaconsfield, his pall-bearers being the leaders of that old whig party which for thirty years he had animated, instructed, and at last converted to conservatism. On the 13th George Canning wrote to one of Lord Malmesbury's embassy, 'There is but one event, but that is an event for the world—Burke is dead' (Malmesbury, Diaries, iii. 398).
A collective edition of Burke's works was published, with his approval, in three volumes quarto, in 1792, comprising the works enumerated in the list given below down to the first letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe inclusive. At his death Dr. F. Laurence and Dr. W. King (afterwards bishop of Rochester) were entrusted with the care of his papers. They at once began to prepare a collective edition in sixteen volumes octavo; but the death of Laurence in 1808, when half the sixteen-volume edition was through the press, left Dr. King to carry on the work alone. The quarto edition of 1792 begins the posthumous works with vol. iv., and was completed in eight volumes in 1827. In the sixteen volumes of the octavo edition, published concurrently with the completion of the quarto edition, the orthography is made uniform—for as Burke used the services of others, both in writing and correcting for press, considerable differences exist in the early editions of his various works—references are verified, and the speech introducing the report presented 30 April 1794 is inserted. The first eight volumes, containing the works printed or in the press during the lifetime of the author down to the 'Third Letter on a Regicide Peace' inclusive, were published in 1803. A reissue of these volumes was made in 1808. The twelfth volume was issued in 1813, and the whole was completed in 1827. A new edition of the first eight volumes, with portrait and life, was issued in 1823. The contents of vols, i-xii., which tool; in the articles of the charge against Hastings, were printed, with a biographical and critical introduction, in two volumes large octavo, double columns, in 1834. These editions, and all described in this notice except when especially stated otherwise, were published in London. In 1806 an octavo edition was begun at Boston, U.S., vols. i-iv. being published that year; vols. v. and vi. were published at New York in 1813, and vol. vii. at Boston in 1827. The whole set was issued at Boston in 1826-7. An edition published at Boston in 1839, in nine volumes octavo, comprises the entire contents of the English sixteen-volume edition, and also contains the' Account of the European Settlements in America' not included in it. This edit ion, moreover, has the correspondence between Burke and Dr. Laurence, also published separately in 1827 (see Edin. Ber. No.92),and was therefore better than any preceding edition. In 1852 another edition was issued in London, under the title of ' 'Works and Correspondence,' in eight volumes octavo. This edition is in some respects to be preferred to the Boston one; for the type is thicker and the paper better. The Boston edition has in certain cases adopted the American fashion of spelling, and the addition of the Laurence letters is balanced in the English edition by a large mass of well-arranged general correspondence, originally published as a separate work by Earl Fitzwilliam and Sir R. Bourke. 'The European Settlements' is not included in the 1852 edition, and as the share Burke took in its composition cannot be ascertained the omission is not to be regretted. The references in the foregoing biographical notice are to the edition of 1852. A reprint of the' Works' has been issued in Bohn's 'British Classics,' 1853, 8vo, with a preliminary volume containing Prior's' Life' (5th ed.) and two supplementary volumes of speeches. The references to Prior in the above are to this, the revised edition of his 'Life of Burke.' Other collections of the speeches have been made, together with some of the political tracts—Dublin, 1777, 8vo; London, 4 vols., 1816, 8vo: with memoir by J. Burke, Dublin, 1854, 12mo. Besides the Laurence correspondence, a collection of Burke's letters, 1744-97, was edited by Earl Fitzwilliam and Sir R. Bourke in 4 vols., 1844, 8vo. This collection forms the first two volumes of the ' Works and Correspondence,' 1852. A volume of select works is included in the 'World Library of Standard Works,' 1876,8vo. The letters, speeches, and tracts on Irish affairs were edited by M. Arnold in 1881, and three volumes of ' Select Works'—
- 'Thoughts on the Present Discontents and Speeches on America.'
- 'Reflections on the French Revolution.’
- ‘Four Letters on the Regicide Peace'—have been edited, with excellent introductions and notes, by E. J. Payne, Clarendon Press Series, Oxford, 1866-78, 8vo. Burke's ‘Opinions on Reform' is a thin volume of extracts compiled by T. H. Burke, 1831, 8vo, and only deserves mention as illustrating the importance attached to his opinions at the time of its publication.
The works of Burke contained in the more complete collective editions are, besides letters:
- ‘A Vindication of Natural Society, &c., in a Letter to Lord ——, by a late Noble Writer,’ 1756, 8vo; also in ‘Fugitive Pieces,’ vol. ii. 1762, 12mo; a. new edition, in a ‘Letter to Lord D—— Oxford, 1796, 12mo.
- ‘A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful,' 1756, 8vo; 2nd edition, to which is added a ‘Discourse concerning Taste,’ 1757; 8th edition, 1776, &c.; also in 1823 and 1824, 12mo; translated into French, with short Life by E. Lagentie de Lavaïsse, Paris, an. xi. 1803, 8vo, and into German by C. Garvé, Riga, 1773, 8vo.
- ‘A Short Account of a Short Administration,' 1766.
- ‘Observations on a late Publication intitled “The Present State of the Nation," 1769, 4to.
- ‘Thoughts on the Causes of the Present Discontent,' 1770.
- Speech on American Taxation, 1774, 8vo, Bristol, 1777; translated, ‘Reden’ on American Taxation and on Conciliation with America, &c. Goths, 1864, 8vo.
- Speeches at Bristol in 1771, London, 1774, 8vo.
- Speech on Conciliation with America, 1775, 1778 (see 6).
- Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, London, 1777, 8vo.
- Letter to Two Gentlemen in Bristol on Trade with Ireland, London, 1778, 8vo.
- Speech on Economic Reform, &c., London, 1780, 8vo, republished 1831, 8vo.
- Speeches at the Bristol Election, 1780, 8vo, and Dublin.
- ‘On Fox's East India Bill,’ 1784, 8vo, and Dublin.
- ‘Representation to His Majesty, moved 14 June 1784,’ new edition 1786, 4to.
- Speech on the Debts of the Nabob of Arcot, 1785, 8vo, and Dublin.
- ‘On the Army Estimates] substance of speech, 1790, 8vo.
- ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France,’ &c., 1790, 8vo; 8th edition, Dublin, 1791; 11th edition 1791; new edition,with alterations by editor (S. J.), 1793, 12mo; 1830, 16mo; new edition, London (printed at Edinburgh), with biographical notice, 1868; and in 1872 in Nonpareil Series of English Classics; translated, ‘Sur la Revolution, &c., traduit par le B. de B., Londres,’ 1790, 8vo; ‘Réflections sur la Révolution, &c., Lettre de B. au Traducteur (Dupont), Paris et Londres,’ 1790, 8vo; ‘Betrachtungen über die Französische Rev. F. Gentz, Berlin, 1793.
- Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, London, 1791, 8vo; reprints Dublin and Paris; trans1ated, ‘Lettre à un Membre,’ &c., Paris, 1811 (1791), 8vo; ‘Letters del Signor B.,’ &c., Ferrara, 1793, 8vo.
- ‘Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs,’ London, 1791; 2nd edition, revised, 1791.
- Letter to a Peer of Ireland (Lord Kenmare) on the Penal Laws, London, 1782, 1785; Dublin, 1791; edited by H. C. Clifford, 1824.
- Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe, M.P., 1792, 8vo.
- ‘Hints for a Memorial to be delivered to Mons. de M. M.’
- ‘Thoughts on French Affairs,' 1797, 8vo (posth.)
- ‘Heads for Consideration on the Present State of Affairs.’
- ‘Remarks on the Policy of the Allies.'
- ‘Observations on the Conduct of the Minority.' This letter was of a private nature. It was sent to the Duke of Portland as a protest against the vote of the Whig Club in 1793. Through the dishonesty of Swift, Burke‘s secretary, it was printed and circulated in 1797, with the second title, ‘Fifty-four Articles of Impeachment against the Right Hon. C. J. Fox,' 1797, 8vo. Burke was therefore compelled to issue a corrected copy, to which he appended his private letter to the duke, 1797, 8vo.
- Letter to W. Elliot, Esq., dated 1795.
- Preface to the ‘Address of the 'Address of M. Brissot to his Constituents, translated by William Burke, 1794.
- ‘Thoughts and Details on Scarcity,’ originally resented to W. Pitt November 1795. Burlie intended to recast the memorial, and advertised it under the title of ‘Letters on Rural Economics addressed to Mr. A. Young.' These letters remained in a fragmentary state at his death, and were worked into the ‘Thoughts and Details’ by the editors, who published the ‘Memorial,' 1800, 8vo.
- A Letter to a Noble Lord, &c. 24 Feb. 1796, 8vo; editions 2-4, of Williams and of Owen, differ; 13th edition 1796; first American edition—a Letter from E. B., &c,, with preface by P. Porcupine (W. Cobbett)—Philadelphia, 1796, 8vo; London, 1831, 8vo; Edinburgh, 1837, in Cabinet Library of Scarce Tracts, 8vo; translations——‘Lettre du très honorable E. B.,’ &c., Paris, 1796, 8vo; ‘E. Burke’s Rechtfertigung seines politischen Lebens,' Berlin, 1796, 8vo.
- ‘Thoughts on the Prospect of a Peace with the Regicide Directory, letters i. and ii., editions 1-1l, 1798, 8vo; translated, ‘Lettres d’E. B. à un Membre de la Chambre des Communes,' &e.,Paris (1796), 8vo.
- The Third Letter on the Regicide Peace, by the late Right Hon. E. B., London, 1797, 8vo; this Letter was left in a fragmentary state, the revision was completed, and some connecting gags supplied by his friends.
- The Fourth Letter on the Regicide Peace, fragmentary, is addressed to Lord Fitzwilliam, and begins with an answer to Lord Auckland's pamphlet, ‘Remarks on the Apparent Circumstances of the War,’ 1795. It was Written in December 1795, and was printed in 4to and 16 vol. octavo editions, 1812, being the first article in vol. v. of 4to, sometimes called the second posthumous volume, in vol. ix. of 8vo edition.
- A Letter to the Empress of Russia, dated 1791.
- A Letter to Sir Charles Bingham, dated 1773.
- A Letter to the Hon. C. J. Fox, dated 1777.
- A Letter to the Marquis of Rockingham, dated 1777.
- An Address to the King (sent with 36).
- An Address to the British colonists in America.
- A Letter to the Right Hon. E. Pery, 1778.
- A Letter to T. Burgh, Esq., with title ‘A Letter from Edmund Burke, Esq., in vindication of his conduct with regard to the affairs of Ireland; London and Dulimlin, 1780.
- A Letter to J. Merlott, Esq., 1780.
- Letters and Reflections on the Execution of the Rioters in 1780.
- A Letter to the Right Hon. H. Dundas, with the sketch of a Negro Code, drawn up 1780, 1792.
- A Letter on the Duration of Parliaments, to the Chairman of the Buckinghamshire Meeting, 1780.
- Tracts relative to the Popery Laws in Ireland.
- A Letter to Sir W. Smith, 1795.
- Second Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe (cf. 21 above), 1795.
- A Letter to R. Burke, Esq. (n. d.)
- A Letter on the Affairs of Ireland, 1797.
- ‘Fragments and Notes of Speeches.’
- ‘Hints for an Essay on the Drama.’
- ‘An Essay towards an Abridgement of the English History.’
- ‘Reports IX. and XI. from the Select Committee on the East India Company,' 1783.
- ‘Articles of Charge against Warren Hastings, presented 4 April 1786, published in four parts, 1786.
- Speeches on the Impeachment, published, with Introduction, 17752, 8vo.
- ‘Report from the Committee appointed to inspect the Lords' Journals, printed 1794.
- Speeches on the Impeachment. Reply. Sundry fragments, notes, &c. The titles of the foregoing have in some cases been abbreviated.
A satisfactory edition of Burke's works is still a want. Many of his letters are scattered through various printed books, such as Parkes’s ‘Memoirs of Sir P. Francis’ and Hardy’s ‘Memoirs of Lord Charlemont;' some few are in periodical publications, in the ‘Morning Herald’ and other papers, and a large number probably are still imprinted and in private hands. Almon declares that 'some at least of the letters signed Valens, which appeared at intervals, and especially, in 1775-6, in the ‘Evening Post,’ were partly written by Burke. That he looked over them is likely enough, but they probably were the work of William Burke, to whom, indeed, Almon ascribes a share in them; they are by no means equal to Burke's own productions. ‘A new edition of the Works might contain some speeches not hitherto separately printed or in the collective editions, some of the surveys of the events of each year contributed to the ‘Annual Register,” and at least those during the seven years’ war, reprinted in a separate form as ‘A Compleat History of the Late War; or Annual Register of its Rise, Progress, and Events in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America,’ 1763, 8vo. The protest of the Rockingham lords against the Dividend Bill should be given as a. specimen of the terse and lucid style which Burke used in drawing up such documents, and along with his reports and speeches on Indian affairs should be printed 'Heads of Objections to be Enquired into before it will be advisable to take P. Benfield again into the Company's service. …’ 1780, 4to.
[Memoirs of Burke have been published by Charles MacCormick, 1798, 4to, a coarse and badly written party attack, by Robert Basset, A Life of E. B., comprehending an impartial an account of his Literary and Political Efforts, 1798, revised 1800, 8vo, hasty and uncritical; by Sir James Prior, second edition enlarged, 1826, fifth edition revised, 2 vols., companion to Works in Bohn’s British Classics, 1854—this, the first biography of any real value, still remains, on the whole, the best; by George Croly, 1840, 8vo, a political life, republished from Blackwoods Magazine, by P. Burke, 1851, 8vo, utterly valueless; by Macknight, History of the Life and Times E.B., 1858, 3 vols. 8vo, prolix, pompous, and uncritical, but containing a large amount of information; by Sir Joseph Napier, A Lecture, Dublin, 1863, 8vo, by John Morley in English Men of Letters series, 1879, a short and admirable sketch, also by the same author Burke, a Historical Study, 1867, 8vo, the best estimate of Burke’s political position; The Papers of a critic, by C. W. Dilke, 1875, 8vo, chiefly from the Athenæum, contain it searching investigation into Burke’s money affairs. A brilliant review of Burke's intellectual powers and of the place he fills in the history of social progress will be found in Buckle's History of Civilization in England, i. 455-76, ed, 1873, Burke’s Works and Correspondence, ed. 1852, Graduates of Trinity College, Dublin; Sir Philip Francis’s Letter Missive to Lord Holland; Memoirs of F. Horner, ed. L. Horner, 2nd ed.; Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu's Diary and Letters, ed. Matthew Montagu; Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. 1835; Letters to Rev. J. W. Temple, 1857, Emin's Life and Adventures; James Barry's works, 1809; Hardy's Memoirs of the Earl of Charlemont, 1812; Return of the Members of Parliament; Parliamentary History, xvi-xxxi; Cavendish's Reports of the Unreported Parliament; H. Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George III, 1845; Letters of H. Walpole, ed. P. Cunningham; Lord J. Russell’s Memorials and Correspondence of C. J. Fox; Stanhope's Life of Pitt; Earl of Albemarle’s Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham; Parkes's Memoirs of Sir Philip Francis, ed. Merivale; R. J. and S. Wilberforce's Life of W. Wilberforce, 1838; Grenville Papers, ed. W. J. Smith; Madame d’Arblay's Diary and Letters, 1842, and Memoirs of Dr. Burney, 1832; T. Keppel’s Life of Lord Keppel; Sir N. Wraxall’s Memoirs of own Time, 3rd ed., and Posthumous Memoirs, 1836; Pellew's Life of Lord Sidmouth; Cornwallis Correspondence, ed. Ross; Roger's Table-talk, ed. A. Dyce; Somerville’s Own Life and Times; Sir Gilbert Elliot, earl of Minto, Life and Letters by the Countess of Minto; Windham’s Diary, 1784-1810, ed. Mrs. H. Baring; R. J. Mackintosh's Memoirs of Sir James Mackintosh; Earl of Malmesbury’s Diaries and Correspondence, 1844; Almon's Anecdotes, 1797; Moore’s Life of Sheridan, 3rd ed.; Sir G. C. Lewis’s Administrations of Great Britain; Bancroft's History of the United States; Annual Register, 1766, 1777, 1784; Gent. Mag. l. lxix.; New Monthly Mag. 1826.]
Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition (1911)
BURKE, EDMUND (1729–1797), British statesman and political writer. His is one of the greatest names in the history of political literature. There have been many more important statesmen, for he was never tried in a position of supreme responsibility. There have been many more effective orators, for lack of imaginative suppleness prevented him from penetrating to the inner mind of his hearers; defects in delivery weakened the intrinsic persuasiveness of his reasoning; and he had not that commanding authority of character and personality which has so often been the secret of triumphant eloquence. There have been many subtler, more original and more systematic thinkers about the conditions of the social union. But no one that ever lived used the general ideas of the thinker more successfully to judge the particular problems of the statesman. No one has ever come so close to the details of practical politics, and at the same time remembered that these can only be understood and only dealt with by the aid of the broad conceptions of political philosophy. And what is more than all for perpetuity of fame, he was one of the great masters of the high and difficult art of elaborate composition.
A certain doubtfulness hangs over the circumstances of Burke’s life previous to the opening of his public career. The very date of his birth is variously stated. The most probable opinion is that he was born at Dublin on the 12th of January 1729, new style. Of his family we know little more than his father was a Protestant attorney, practising in Dublin, and that his mother was a Catholic, a member of the family of Nagle. He had at least one sister, from whom descended the only existing representatives of Burke’s family; and he had at least two brothers, Garret Burke and Richard Burke, the one older and the other younger than Edmund. The sister, afterwards Mrs French, was brought up and remained throughout life in the religious faith of her mother; Edmund and his brothers followed that of their father. In 1741 the three brothers were sent to school at Ballitore in the county of Kildare, kept by Abraham Shackleton, an Englishman, and a member of the Society of Friends. He appears to have been an excellent teacher and a good and pious man. Burke always looked back on his own connexion with the school at Ballitore as among the most fortunate circumstances of his life. Between himself and a son of his instructor there sprang up a close and affectionate friendship, and, unlike so many of the exquisite attachments of youth, this was not choked by the dust of life, nor parted by divergence of pursuit. Richard Shackleton was endowed with a grave, pure and tranquil nature, constant and austere, yet not without those gentle elements that often redeem the drier qualities of his religious persuasion. When Burke had become one of the most famous men in Europe, no visitor to his house was more welcome than the friend with whom long years before he had tried poetic flights, and exchanged all the sanguine confidences of boyhood. And we are touched to think of the simple-minded guest secretly praying, in the solitude of his room in the fine house at Beaconsfield, that the way of his anxious and overburdened host might be guided by a divine hand.
In 1743 Burke became a student at Trinity College, Dublin, where Oliver Goldsmith was also a student at the same time. But the serious pupil of Abraham Shackleton would not be likely to see much of the wild and squalid sizar. Henry Flood, who was two years younger than Burke, had gone to complete his education at Oxford. Burke, like Goldsmith, achieved no academic distinction. His character was never at any time of the academic cast. The minor accuracies, the limitation of range, the treading and re-treading of the same small patch of ground, the concentration of interest in success before a board of examiners, were all uncongenial to a nature of exuberant intellectual curiosity and of strenuous and self-reliant originality. His knowledge of Greek and Latin was never thorough, nor had he any turn for critical niceties. He could quote Homer and Pindar, and he had read Aristotle. Like others who have gone through the conventional course of instruction, he kept a place in his memory for the various charms of Virgil and Horace, of Tacitus and Ovid; but the master whose page by night and by day he turned with devout hand, was the copious, energetic, flexible, diversified and brilliant genius of the declamations for Archias the poet and for Milo, against Catiline and against Antony, the author of the disputations at Tusculum and the orations against Verres. Cicero was ever to him the mightiest of the ancient names. In English literature Milton seems to have been more familiar to him than Shakespeare, and Spenser was perhaps more of a favourite with him than either.
It is too often the case to be a mere accident that men who become eminent for wide compass of understanding and penetrating comprehension, are in their adolescence unsettled and desultory. Of this Burke is a signal illustration. He left Trinity in 1748, with no great stock of well-ordered knowledge. He neither derived the benefits nor suffered the drawbacks of systematic intellectual discipline.
After taking his degree at Dublin he went in the year 1750 to London to keep terms at the Temple. The ten years that followed were passed in obscure industry. Burke was always extremely reserved about his private affairs. All that we know of Burke exhibits him as inspired by a resolute pride, a certain stateliness and imperious elevation of mind. Such a character, while free from any weak shame about the shabby necessities of early struggles, yet is naturally unwilling to make them prominent in after life. There is nothing dishonourable in such an inclination. “I was not swaddled and rocked and dandled into a legislator,” wrote Burke when very near the end of his days: “Nitor in adversum is the motto for a man like me. At every step of my progress in life (for in every step I was traversed and opposed), and at every turnpike I met, I was obliged to show my passport. Otherwise no rank, no toleration even, for me.”
All sorts of whispers have been circulated by idle or malicious gossip about Burke’s first manhood. He is said to have been one of the numerous lovers of his fascinating countrywoman, Margaret Woffington. It is hinted that he made a mysterious visit to the American colonies. He was for years accused of having gone over to the Church of Rome, and afterwards recanting. There is not a tittle of positive evidence for these or any of the other statements to Burke’s discredit. The common story that he was a candidate for Adam Smith’s chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow, when Hume was rejected in favour of an obscure nobody (1751), can be shown to be wholly false. Like a great many other youths with an eminent destiny before them, Burke conceived a strong distaste for the profession of the law. His father, who was an attorney of substance, had a distaste still stronger for so vagrant a profession as letters were in that day. He withdrew the annual allowance, and Burke set to work to win for himself by indefatigable industry and capability in the public interest that position of power or pre-eminence which his detractors acquired either by accident of birth and connexions or else by the vile arts of political intrigue. He began at the bottom of the ladder, mixing with the Bohemian society that haunted the Temple, practising oratory in the free and easy debating societies of Covent Garden and the Strand, and writing for the booksellers.
In 1756 he made his first mark by a satire upon Bolingbroke entitled A Vindication of Natural Society. It purported to be a posthumous work from the pen of Bolingbroke, and to present a view of the miseries and evils arising to mankind from every species of artificial society. The imitation of the fine style of that magnificent writer but bad patriot is admirable. As a satire the piece is a failure, for the simple reason that the substance of it might well pass for a perfectly true, no less than a very eloquent statement of social blunders and calamities. Such acute critics as Chesterfield and Warburton thought the performance serious. Rousseau, whose famous discourse on the evils of civilization had appeared six years before, would have read Burke’s ironical vindication of natural society without a suspicion of its irony. There have indeed been found persons who insist that the Vindication was a really serious expression of the writer’s own opinions. This is absolutely incredible, for various reasons. Burke felt now, as he did thirty years later, that civil institutions cannot wisely or safely be measured by the tests of pure reason. His sagacity discerned that the rationalism by which Bolingbroke and the deistic school believed themselves to have overthrown revealed religion, was equally calculated to undermine the structure of political government. This was precisely the actual course on which speculation was entering in France at that moment. His Vindication is meant to be a reduction to an absurdity. The rising revolutionary school in France, if they had read it, would have taken it for a demonstration of the theorem to be proved. The only interest of the piece for us lies in the proof which it furnishes, that at the opening of his life Burke had the same scornful antipathy to political rationalism which flamed out in such overwhelming passion at its close.
In the same year (1756) appeared the Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful, a crude and narrow performance in many respects, yet marked by an independent use of the writer’s mind, and not without fertile suggestion. It attracted the attention of the rising aesthetic school in Germany. Lessing set about the translation and annotation of it, and Moses Mendelssohn borrowed from Burke’s speculation at least one of the most fruitful and important ideas of his own influential theories on the sentiments. In England the Inquiry had considerable vogue, but it has left no permanent trace in the development of aesthetic thought.
Burke’s literary industry in town was relieved by frequent excursions to the western parts of England, in company with William Burke. There was a lasting intimacy between the two namesakes, and they seem to have been involved together in some important passages of their lives; but we have Edmund Burke’s authority for believing that they were probably not kinsmen. The seclusion of these rural sojourns, originally dictated by delicate health, was as wholesome to the mind as to the body. Few men, if any, have ever acquired a settled mental habit of surveying human affairs broadly, of watching the play of passion, interest, circumstance, in all its comprehensiveness, and of applying the instruments of general conceptions and wide principles to its interpretation with respectable constancy, unless they have at some early period of their manhood resolved the greater problems of society in independence and isolation. By 1756 the cast of Burke’s opinions was decisively fixed, and they underwent no radical change.
He began a series of Hints on the Drama. He wrote a portion of an Abridgment of the History of England, and brought it down as far as the reign of John. It included, as was natural enough in a warm admirer of Montesquieu, a fragment on law, of which he justly said that it ought to be the leading science in every well-ordered commonwealth. Burke’s early interest in America was shown by an Account of the European Settlements on that continent. Such works were evidently a sign that his mind was turning away from abstract speculation to the great political and economic fields, and to the more visible conditions of social stability and the growth of nations. This interest in the concrete phenomena of society inspired him with the idea of the Annual Register (1759), which he designed to present a broad grouping of the chief movements of each year. The execution was as excellent as the conception, and if we reflect that it was begun in the midst of that momentous war which raised England to her climax of territorial greatness in East and West, we may easily realize how the task of describing these portentous and far-reaching events would be likely to strengthen Burke’s habits of wide and laborious observation, as well as to give him firmness and confidence in the exercise of his own judgment. Dodsley gave him £100 for each annual volume, and the sum was welcome enough, for towards the end of 1756 Burke had married. His wife was the daughter of a Dr Nugent, a physician at Bath. She is always spoken of by his friends as a mild, reasonable and obliging person, whose amiability and gentle sense did much to soothe the too nervous and excitable temperament of her husband. She had been brought up, there is good reason to believe, as a Catholic, and she was probably a member of that communion at the time of her marriage. Dr Nugent eventually took up his residence with his son-in-law in London, and became a popular member of that famous group of men of letters and artists whom Boswell has made so familiar and so dear to all later generations. Burke, however, had no intention of being dependent. His consciousness of his own powers animated him with a most justifiable ambition, if ever there was one, to play a part in the conduct of national affairs. Friends shared this ambition on his behalf; one of these was Lord Charlemont. He introduced Burke to William Gerard Hamilton (1759), now only remembered by the nickname “single-speech,” derived from the circumstance of his having made a single brilliant speech in the House of Commons, which was followed by years of almost unbroken silence. Hamilton was by no means devoid of sense and acuteness, but in character he was one of the most despicable men then alive. There is not a word too many nor too strong in the description of him by one of Burke’s friends, as “a sullen, vain, proud, selfish, cankered-hearted, envious reptile.” The reptile’s connexion, however, was for a time of considerable use to Burke. When he was made Irish secretary, Burke accompanied him to Dublin, and there learnt Oxenstiern’s eternal lesson, that awaits all who penetrate behind the scenes of government, quam parva sapientia mundus regitur.
The penal laws against the Catholics, the iniquitous restrictions on Irish trade and industry, the selfish factiousness of the parliament, the jobbery and corruption of administration, the absenteeism of the landlords, and all the other too familiar elements of that mischievous and fatal system, were then in full force. As was shown afterwards, they made an impression upon Burke that was never effaced. So much iniquity and so much disorder may well have struck deep on one whose two chief political sentiments were a passion for order and a passion for justice. He may have anticipated with something of remorse the reflection of a modern historian, that the absenteeism of her landlords has been less of a curse to Ireland than the absenteeism of her men of genius. At least he was never an absentee in heart. He always took the interest of an ardent patriot in his unfortunate country; and, as we shall see, made more than one weighty sacrifice on behalf of the principles which he deemed to be bound up with her welfare.
When Hamilton retired from his post, Burke accompanied him back to London, with a pension of £300 a year on the Irish Establishment. This modest allowance he hardly enjoyed for more than a single year. His patron having discovered the value of so laborious and powerful a subaltern, wished to bind Burke permanently to his service. Burke declined to sell himself into final bondage of this kind. When Hamilton continued to press his odious pretensions they quarrelled (1765), and Burke threw up his pension. He soon received a more important piece of preferment than any which he could ever have procured through Hamilton.
The accession of George III. to the throne in 1760 had been followed by the disgrace of Pitt, the dismissal of Newcastle, and the rise of Bute. These events marked the resolution of the court to change the political system which had been created by the Revolution of 1688. That system placed the government of the country in the hands of a territorial oligarchy, composed of a few families of large possessions, fairly enlightened principles, and shrewd political sense. It had been preserved by the existence of a Pretender. The two first kings of the house of Hanover could only keep the crown on their own heads by conciliating the Revolution families and accepting Revolution principles. By 1760 all peril to the dynasty was at an end. George III., or those about him, insisted on substituting for the aristocratic division of political power a substantial concentration of it in the hands of the sovereign. The ministers were no longer to be the members of a great party, acting together in pursuance of a common policy accepted by them all as a united body; they were to become nominees of the court, each holding himself answerable not to his colleagues but to the king, separately, individually and by department. George III. had before his eyes the government of his cousin the great Frederick; but not every one can bend the bow of Ulysses, and, apart from difference of personal capacity and historic tradition, he forgot that a territorial and commercial aristocracy cannot be dealt with in the spirit of the barrack and the drill-ground. But he made the attempt, and resistance to that attempt supplies the keynote to the first twenty-five years of Burke’s political life.
Along with the change in system went high-handed and absolutist tendencies in policy. The first stage of the new experiment was very short. Bute, in a panic at the storm of unpopularity that menaced him, resigned in 1763. George Grenville and the less enlightened section of the Whigs took his place. They proceeded to tax the American colonists, to interpose vexatiously against their trade, to threaten the liberty of the subject at home by general warrants, and to stifle the liberty of public discussion by prosecutions of the press. Their arbitrary methods disgusted the nation, and the personal arrogance of the ministers at last disgusted the king. The system received a temporary check. Grenville fell, and the king was forced to deliver himself into the hands of the orthodox section of the Whigs. The marquess of Rockingham (July 10, 1765) became prime minister, and he was induced to make Burke his private secretary. Before Burke had begun his duties, an incident occurred which illustrates the character of the two men. The old duke of Newcastle, probably desiring a post for some nominee of his own, conveyed to the ear of the new minister various absurd rumours prejudicial to Burke,—that he was an Irish papist, that his real name was O’Bourke, that he had been a Jesuit, that he was an emissary from St Omer’s. Lord Rockingham repeated these tales to Burke, who of course denied them with indignation. His chief declared himself satisfied, but Burke, from a feeling that the indispensable confidence between them was impaired, at once expressed a strong desire to resign his post. Lord Rockingham prevailed upon him to reconsider his resolve, and from that day until Lord Rockingham’s death in 1782, their relations were those of the closest friendship and confidence.
The first Rockingham administration only lasted a year and a few days, ending in July 1766. The uprightness and good sense of its leaders did not compensate for the weakness of their political connexions. They were unable to stand against the coldness of the king, against the hostility of the powerful and selfish faction of Bedford Whigs, and, above all, against the towering predominance of William Pitt. That Pitt did not join them is one of the many fatal miscarriages of history, as it is one of the many serious reproaches to be made against that extraordinary man’s chequered and uneven course. An alliance between Pitt and the Rockingham party was the surest guarantee of a wise and liberal policy towards the colonies. He went further than they did, in holding, like Lord Camden, the doctrine that taxation went with representation, and that therefore parliament had no right to tax the unrepresented colonists. The ministry asserted, what no competent jurist would now think of denying, that parliament is sovereign; but they went heartily with Pitt in pronouncing the exercise of the right of taxation in the case of the American colonists to be thoroughly impolitic and inexpedient. No practical difference, therefore, existed upon the important question of the hour. But Pitt’s prodigious egoism, stimulated by the mischievous counsels of men of the stamp of Lord Shelburne, prevented the fusion of the only two sections of the Whig party that were at once able, enlightened and disinterested enough to carry on the government efficiently, to check the arbitrary temper of the king, and to command the confidence of the nation. Such an opportunity did not return.
The ministerial policy towards the colonies was defended by Burke with splendid and unanswerable eloquence. He had been returned to the House of Commons for the pocket borough of Wendover, and his first speech (January 27, 1766) was felt to be the rising of a new light. For the space of a quarter of a century, from this time down to 1790, Burke was one of the chief guides and inspirers of a revived Whig party. The “age of small factions” was now succeeded by an age of great principles, and selfish ties of mere families and persons were transformed into a union resting on common conviction and patriotic aims. It was Burke who did more than any one else to give to the Opposition, under the first half of the reign of George III., this stamp of elevation and grandeur. Before leaving office the Rockingham government repealed the Stamp Act; confirmed the personal liberty of the subject by forcing on the House of Commons one resolution against general warrants, and another against the seizure of papers; and relieved private houses from the intrusion of officers of excise, by repealing the cider tax. Nothing so good was done in an English parliament for nearly twenty years to come. George Grenville, whom the Rockinghams had displaced, and who was bitterly incensed at their formal reversal of his policy, printed a pamphlet to demonstrate his own wisdom and statesmanship. Burke replied in his Observations on a late Publication on the Present State of the Nation (1769), in which he showed for the first time that he had not only as much knowledge of commerce and finance, and as firm a hand, in dealing with figures as Grenville himself, but also a broad, general and luminous way of conceiving and treating politics, in which neither then nor since has he had any rival among English publicists.
It is one of the perplexing points in Burke’s private history to know how he lived during these long years of parliamentary opposition. It is certainly not altogether mere impertinence to ask of a public man how he gets what he lives upon, for independence of spirit, which is so hard to the man who lays his head on the debtor’s pillow, is the prime virtue in such men. Probity in money is assuredly one of the keys to character, though we must be very careful in ascertaining and proportioning all the circumstances. Now, in 1769, Burke bought an estate at Beaconsfield, in the county of Buckingham. It was about 600 acres in extent, was worth some £500 a year, and cost £22,000. People have been asking ever since how the penniless man of letters was able to raise so large a sum in the first instance, and how he was able to keep up a respectable establishment afterwards. The suspicions of those who are never sorry to disparage the great have been of various kinds. Burke was a gambler, they hint, in Indian stock, like his kinsmen Richard and William, and like Lord Verney, his political patron at Wendover. Perhaps again, his activity on behalf of Indian princes, like the raja of Tanjore, was not disinterested and did not go unrewarded. The answer to all these calumnious innuendoes is to be found in documents and title-deeds of decisive authority, and is simple enough. It is, in short, this. Burke inherited a small property from his elder brother, which he realized. Lord Rockingham advanced him a certain sum (£6000). The remainder, amounting to no less than two-thirds of the purchase-money, was raised on mortgage, and was never paid off during Burke’s life. The rest of the story is equally simple, but more painful. Burke made some sort of income out of his 600 acres; he was for a short time agent for New York, with a salary of £700; he continued to work at the Annual Register down to 1788. But, when all is told, he never made as much as he spent; and in spite of considerable assistance from Lord Rockingham, amounting it is sometimes said to as much as £30,000, Burke, like the younger Pitt, got every year deeper into debt. Pitt’s debts were the result of a wasteful indifference to his private affairs. Burke, on the contrary, was assiduous and orderly, and had none of the vices of profusion. But he had that quality which Aristotle places high among the virtues—the noble mean of Magnificence, standing midway between the two extremes of vulgar ostentation and narrow pettiness. He was indifferent to luxury, and sought to make life, not commodious nor soft, but high and dignified in a refined way. He loved art, filled his house with statues and pictures, and extended a generous patronage to the painters. He was a collector of books, and, as Crabbe and less conspicuous men discovered, a helpful friend to their writers. Guests were ever welcome at his board; the opulence of his mind and the fervid copiousness of his talk naturally made the guests of such a man very numerous. Non invideo equidem, miror magis, was Johnson’s good-natured remark, when he was taken over his friend’s fine house and pleasant gardens. Johnson was of a very different type. There was something in this external dignity which went with Burke’s imperious spirit, his spacious imagination, his turn for all things stately and imposing. We may say, if we please, that Johnson had the far truer and loftier dignity of the two; but we have to take such men as Burke with the defects that belong to their qualities. And there was no corruption in Burke’s outlay. When the Pitt administration was formed in 1766, he might have had office, and Lord Rockingham wished him to accept it, but he honourably took his fate with the party. He may have spent £3000 a year, where he would have been more prudent to spend only £2000. But nobody was wronged; his creditors were all paid in time, and his hands were at least clean of traffic in reversions, clerkships, tellerships and all the rest of the rich sinecures which it was thought no shame in those days for the aristocracy of the land and the robe to wrangle for, and gorge themselves upon, with the fierce voracity of famishing wolves. The most we can say is that Burke, like Pitt, was too deeply absorbed in beneficent service in the affairs of his country, to have for his own affairs the solicitude that would have been prudent.
In the midst of intense political preoccupations, Burke always found time to keep up his intimacy with the brilliant group of his earlier friends. He was one of the commanding figures at the club at the Turk’s Head, with Reynolds and Garrick, Goldsmith and Johnson. The old sage who held that the first Whig was the Devil, was yet compelled to forgive Burke’s politics for the sake of his magnificent gifts. “I would not talk to him of the Rockingham party,” he used to say, “but I love his knowledge, his genius, his diffusion and affluence of conversation.” And everybody knows Johnson’s vivid account of him: “Burke, Sir, is such a man that if you met him for the first time in the street, where you were stopped by a drove of oxen, and you and he stepped aside to take shelter but for five minutes, he’d talk to you in such a manner that when you parted you would say, ‘This is an extraordinary man.’ ” They all grieved that public business should draw to party what was meant for mankind. They deplored that the nice and difficult test of answering Berkeley had not been undertaken, as was once intended, by Burke, and sighed to think what an admirable display of subtlety and brilliance such a contention would have afforded them, had not politics “turned him from active philosophy aside.” There was no jealousy in this. They did not grudge Burke being the first man in the House of Commons, for they admitted that he would have been the first man anywhere.
With all his hatred for the book-man in politics, Burke owed much of his own distinction to that generous richness and breadth of judgment which had been ripened in him by literature and his practice in it. He showed that books are a better preparation for statesmanship than early training in the subordinate posts and among the permanent officials of a public department. There is no copiousness of literary reference in his work, such as over-abounded in the civil and ecclesiastical publicists of the 17th century. Nor can we truly say that there is much, though there is certainly some, of that tact which literature is alleged to confer on those who approach it in a just spirit and with the true gift. The influence of literature on Burke lay partly in the direction of emancipation from the mechanical formulae of practical politics; partly in the association which it engendered, in a powerful understanding like his, between politics and the moral forces of the world, and between political maxims and the old and great sentences of morals; partly in drawing him, even when resting his case on prudence and expediency, to appeal to the widest and highest sympathies; partly, and more than all, in opening his thoughts to the many conditions, possibilities and “varieties of untried being,” in human character and situation, and so giving an incomparable flexibility to his methods of political approach.
This flexibility is not to be found in his manner of composition. That derives its immense power from other sources; from passion, intensity, imagination, size, truth, cogency of logical reason. Those who insist on charm, on winningness in style, on subtle harmonies and fine exquisiteness of suggestion, are disappointed in Burke: they even find him stiff and over-coloured. And there are blemishes of this kind. His banter is nearly always ungainly, his wit blunt, as Johnson said, and often unseasonable. As is usual with a man who has not true humour, Burke is also without true pathos. The thought of wrong or misery moved him less to pity for the victim than to anger against the cause. Again, there are some gratuitous and unredeemed vulgarities; some images that make us shudder. But only a literary fop can be detained by specks like these.
The varieties of Burke’s literary or rhetorical method are very striking. It is almost incredible that the superb imaginative amplification of the description of Hyder Ali’s descent upon the Carnatic should be from the same pen as the grave, simple, unadorned Address to the King (1777), where each sentence falls on the ear with the accent of some golden-tongued oracle of the wise gods. His stride is the stride of a giant, from the sentimental beauty of the picture of Marie Antoinette at Versailles, or the red horror of the tale of Debi Sing in Rungpore, to the learning, positiveness and cool judicial mastery of the Report on the Lords’ Journals (1794), which Philip Francis, no mean judge, declared on the whole to be the “most eminent and extraordinary” of all his productions. But even in the coolest and driest of his pieces there is the mark of greatness, of grasp, of comprehension. In all its varieties Burke’s style is noble, earnest, deep-flowing, because his sentiment was lofty and fervid, and went with sincerity and ardent disciplined travail of judgment. He had the style of his subjects; the amplitude, the weightiness, the laboriousness, the sense, the high flight, the grandeur, proper to a man dealing with imperial themes, with the fortunes of great societies, with the sacredness of law, the freedom of nations, the justice of rulers. Burke will always be read with delight and edification, because in the midst of discussions on the local and the accidental, he scatters apophthegms that take us into the regions of lasting wisdom. In the midst of the torrent of his most strenuous and passionate deliverances, he suddenly rises aloof from his immediate subject, and in all tranquillity reminds us of some permanent relation of things, some enduring truth of human life or human society. We do not hear the organ tones of Milton, for faith and freedom had other notes in the 18th century. There is none of the complacent and wise-browed sagacity of Bacon, for Burke’s were days of personal strife and fire and civil division. We are not exhilarated by the cheerfulness, the polish, the fine manners of Bolingbroke, for Burke had an anxious conscience, and was earnest and intent that the good should triumph. And yet Burke is among the greatest of those who have wrought marvels in the prose of our English tongue.
Not all the transactions in which Burke was a combatant could furnish an imperial theme. We need not tell over again the story of Wilkes and the Middlesex election. The Rockingham ministry had been succeeded by a composite government, of which it was intended that Pitt, now made Lord Chatham and privy seal, should be the real chief. Chatham’s health and mind fell into disorder almost immediately after the ministry had been formed. The duke of Grafton was its nominal head, but party ties had been broken, the political connexions of the ministers were dissolved, and, in truth, the king was now at last a king indeed, who not only reigned but governed. The revival of high doctrines of prerogative in the crown was accompanied by a revival of high doctrines of privilege in the House of Commons, and the ministry was so smitten with weakness and confusion as to be unable to resist the current of arbitrary policy, and not many of them were even willing to resist it. The unconstitutional prosecution of Wilkes was followed by the fatal recourse to new plans for raising taxes in the American colonies. These two points made the rallying ground of the new Whig opposition. Burke helped to smooth matters for a practical union between the Rockingham party and the powerful triumvirate, composed of Chatham, whose understanding had recovered from its late disorder, and of his brothers-in-law, Lord Temple and George Grenville. He was active in urging petitions from the freeholders of the counties, protesting against the unconstitutional invasion of the right of election. And he added a durable masterpiece to political literature in a pamphlet which he called Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770). The immediate object of this excellent piece was to hold up the court scheme of weak, divided and dependent administrations in the light of its real purpose and design; to describe the distempers which had been engendered in parliament by the growth of royal influence and the faction of the king’s friends; to show that the newly formed Whig party had combined for truly public ends, and was no mere family knot like the Grenvilles and the Bedfords; and, finally, to press for the hearty concurrence both of public men and of the nation at large in combining against “a faction ruling by the private instructions of a court against the general sense of the people.” The pamphlet was disliked by Chatham on the one hand, on no reasonable grounds that we can discover; it was denounced by the extreme popular party of the Bill of Rights, on the other hand, for its moderation and conservatism. In truth, there is as strong a vein of conservative feeling in the pamphlet of 1770 as in the more resplendent pamphlet of 1790. “Our constitution,” he said, “stands on a nice equipoise, with steep precipices and deep waters upon all sides of it. In removing it from a dangerous leaning towards one side, there may be a risk of oversetting it on the other. Every project of a material change in a government so complicated as ours is a matter full of difficulties; in which a considerate man will not be too ready to decide, a prudent man too ready to undertake, or an honest man too ready to promise.” Neither now nor ever had Burke any other real conception of a polity for England than government by the territorial aristocracy in the interests of the nation at large, and especially in the interests of commerce, to the vital importance of which in our economy he was always keenly and wisely alive. The policy of George III., and the support which it found among men who were weary of Whig factions, disturbed this scheme, and therefore Burke denounced both the court policy and the court party with all his heart and all his strength.
Eloquence and good sense, however, were impotent in the face of such forces as were at this time arrayed against a government at once strong and liberal. The court was confident that a union between Chatham and the Rockinghams was impossible. The union was in fact hindered by the waywardness and the absurd pretences of Chatham, and the want of force in Lord Rockingham. In the nation at large, the late violent ferment had been followed by as remarkable a deadness and vapidity, and Burke himself had to admit a year or two later that any remarkable robbery at Hounslow Heath would make more conversation than all the disturbances of America. The duke of Grafton went out, and Lord North became the head of a government, which lasted twelve years (1770–1782), and brought about more than all the disasters that Burke had foretold as the inevitable issue of the royal policy. For the first six years of this lamentable period Burke was actively employed in stimulating, informing and guiding the patrician chiefs of his party. “Indeed, Burke,” said the duke of Richmond, “you have more merit than any man in keeping us together.” They were well-meaning and patriotic men, but it was not always easy to get them to prefer politics to fox-hunting. When he reached his lodgings at night after a day in the city or a skirmish in the House of Commons, Burke used to find a note from the duke of Richmond or the marquess of Rockingham, praying him to draw a protest to be entered on the Journals of the Lords, and in fact he drew all the principal protests of his party between 1767 and 1782. The accession of Charles James Fox to the Whig party, which took place at this time, and was so important an event in its history, was mainly due to the teaching and influence of Burke. In the House of Commons his industry was almost excessive. He was taxed with speaking too often, and with being too forward. And he was mortified by a more serious charge than murmurs about superfluity of zeal. Men said and said again that he was Junius. His very proper unwillingness to stoop to deny an accusation, that would have been so disgraceful if it had been true, made ill-natured and silly people the more convinced that it was not wholly false. But whatever the London world may have thought of him, Burke’s energy and devotion of character impressed the better minds in the country. In 1774 he received the great distinction of being chosen as one of its representatives by Bristol, then the second town in the kingdom.
In the events which ended in the emancipation of the American colonies from the monarchy, Burke’s political genius shone with an effulgence that was worthy of the great affairs over which it shed so magnificent an illumination. His speeches are almost the one monument of the struggle on which a lover of English greatness can look back with pride and a sense of worthiness, such as a churchman feels when he reads Bossuet, or an Anglican when he turns over the pages of Taylor or of Hooker. Burke’s attitude in these high transactions is really more impressive than Chatham’s, because he was far less theatrical than Chatham; and while he was no less nobly passionate for freedom and justice, in his passion was fused the most strenuous political argumentation and sterling reason of state. On the other hand he was wholly free from that quality which he ascribed to Lord George Sackville, a man “apt to take a sort of undecided, equivocal, narrow ground, that evades the substantial merits of the question, and puts the whole upon some temporary, local, accidental or personal consideration.” He rose to the full height of that great argument. Burke here and everywhere else displayed the rare art of filling his subject with generalities, and yet never intruding commonplaces. No publicist who deals as largely in general propositions has ever been as free from truisms; no one has ever treated great themes with so much elevation, and yet been so wholly secured against the pitfalls of emptiness and the vague. And it is instructive to compare the foundation of all his pleas for the colonists with that on which they erected their own theoretic declaration of independence. The American leaders were impregnated with the metaphysical ideas of rights which had come to them from the rising revolutionary school in France. Burke no more adopted the doctrines of Jefferson in 1776 than he adopted the doctrines of Robespierre in 1793. He says nothing about men being born free and equal, and on the other hand he never denies the position of the court and the country at large, that the home legislature, being sovereign, had the right to tax the colonies. What he does say is that the exercise of such a right was not practicable; that if it were practicable, it was inexpedient; and that, even if this had not been inexpedient, yet, after the colonies had taken to arms, to crush their resistance by military force would not be more disastrous to them than it would be unfortunate for the ancient liberties of Great Britain. Into abstract discussion he would not enter. “Show the thing you contend for to be reason; show it to be common sense; show it to be the means of attaining some useful end.” “The question with me is not whether you have a right to render your people miserable, but whether it is not your interest to make them happy.” There is no difference in social spirit and doctrine between his protests against the maxims of the English common people as to the colonists, and his protests against the maxims of the French common people as to the court and the nobles; and it is impossible to find a single principle either asserted or implied in the speeches on the American revolution which was afterwards repudiated in the writings on the revolution in France.
It is one of the signs of Burke’s singular and varied eminence that hardly any two people agree precisely which of his works to mark as the masterpiece. Every speech or tract that he composed on a great subject becomes, as we read it, the rival of every other. But the Speech on Conciliation (1775) has, perhaps, been more universally admired than any of his other productions, partly because its maxims are of a simpler and less disputable kind than those which adorn the pieces on France, and partly because it is most strongly characterized by that deep ethical quality which is the prime secret of Burke’s great style and literary mastery. In this speech, moreover, and in the only less powerful one of the preceding year upon American taxation, as well as in the Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol in 1777, we see the all-important truth conspicuously illustrated that half of his eloquence always comes of the thoroughness with which he gets up his case. No eminent man has ever done more than Burke to justify the definition of genius as the consummation of the faculty of taking pains. Labour incessant and intense, if it was not the source, was at least an inseparable condition of his power. And magnificent rhetorician though he was, his labour was given less to his diction than to the facts; his heart was less in the form than the matter. It is true that his manuscripts were blotted and smeared, and that he made so many alterations in the proofs that the printer found it worth while to have the whole set up in type afresh. But there is no polish in his style, as in that of Junius for example, though there is something a thousand times better than polish. “Why will you not allow yourself to be persuaded,” said Francis after reading the Reflections, “that polish is material to preservation?” Burke always accepted the rebuke, and flung himself into vindication of the sense, substance and veracity of what he had written. His writing is magnificent, because he knew so much, thought so comprehensively, and felt so strongly.
The succession of failures in America, culminating in Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown in October 1781, wearied the nation, and at length the persistent and powerful attacks of the opposition began to tell. “At this time,” wrote Burke, in words of manly self-assertion, thirteen years afterwards, “having a momentary lead (1780–1782), so aided and so encouraged, and as a feeble instrument in a mighty hand—I do not say I saved my country—I am sure I did my country important service. There were few indeed at that time that did not acknowledge it. It was but one voice, that no man in the kingdom better deserved an honourable provision should be made for him.” In the spring of 1782 Lord North resigned. It seemed as if the court system which Burke had been denouncing for a dozen years was now finally broken, and as if the party which he had been the chief instrument in instructing, directing and keeping together must now inevitably possess power for many years to come. Yet in a few months the whole fabric had fallen, and the Whigs were thrown into opposition for the rest of the century. The story cannot be omitted in the most summary account of Burke’s life. Lord Rockingham came into office on the fall of North. Burke was rewarded for services beyond price by being made paymaster of the forces, with the rank of a privy councillor. He had lost his seat for Bristol two years before, in consequence of his courageous advocacy of a measure of tolerance for the Catholics, and his still more courageous exposure of the enormities of the commercial policy of England towards Ireland. He sat during the rest of his parliamentary life (to 1794) for Malton, a pocket borough first of Lord Rockingham’s, then of Lord Fitzwilliam’s. Burke’s first tenure of office was very brief. He had brought forward in 1780 a comprehensive scheme of economical reform, with the design of limiting the resources of jobbery and corruption which the crown was able to use to strengthen its own sinister influence in parliament. Administrative reform was, next to peace with the colonies, the part of the scheme of the new ministry to which the king most warmly objected. It was carried out with greater moderation than had been foreshadowed in opposition. But at any rate Burke’s own office was not spared. While Charles Fox’s father was at the pay-office (1765–1778) he realized as the interest of the cash balances which he was allowed to retain in his hands, nearly a quarter of a million of money. When Burke came to this post the salary was settled at £4000 a year. He did not enjoy the income long. In July 1782 Lord Rockingham died; Lord Shelburne took his place; Fox, who inherited from his father a belief in Lord Shelburne’s duplicity, which his own experience of him as a colleague during the last three months had made stronger, declined to serve under him. Burke, though he had not encouraged Fox to take this step, still with his usual loyalty followed him out of office. This may have been a proper thing to do if their distrust of Shelburne was incurable, but the next step, coalition with Lord North against him, was not only a political blunder, but a shock to party morality, which brought speedy retribution. Either they had been wrong, and violently wrong, for a dozen years, or else Lord North was the guiltiest political instrument since Strafford. Burke attempted to defend the alliance on the ground of the substantial agreement between Fox and North in public aims. The defence is wholly untenable. The Rockingham Whigs were as substantially in agreement on public affairs with the Shelburne Whigs as they were with Lord North. The movement was one of the worst in the history of English party. It served its immediate purpose, however, for Lord Shelburne found himself (February 24, 1783) too weak to carry on the government, and was succeeded by the members of the coalition, with the duke of Portland for prime minister (April 2, 1783). Burke went back to his old post at the pay-office and was soon engaged in framing and drawing the famous India Bill. This was long supposed to be the work of Fox, who was politically responsible for it. We may be sure that neither he nor Burke would have devised any government for India which they did not honestly believe to be for the advantage both of that country and of England. But it cannot be disguised that Burke had thoroughly persuaded himself that it was indispensable in the interests of English freedom to strengthen the party hostile to the court. As we have already said, dread of the peril to the constitution from the new aims of George III. was the main inspiration of Burke’s political action in home affairs for the best part of his political life. The India Bill strengthened the anti-court party by transferring the government of India to seven persons named in the bill, and neither appointed nor removable by the crown. In other words, the bill gave the government to a board chosen directly by the House of Commons; and it had the incidental advantage of conferring on the ministerial party patronage valued at £300,000 a year, which would remain for a fixed term of years out of reach of the king. In a word, judging the India Bill from a party point of view, we see that Burke was now completing the aim of his project of economic reform. That measure had weakened the influence of the crown by limiting its patronage. The measure for India weakened the influence of the crown by giving a mass of patronage to the party which the king hated. But this was not to be. The India Bill was thrown out by means of a royal intrigue in the Lords, and the ministers were instantly dismissed (December 18, 1783). Young William Pitt, then only in his twenty-fifth year, had been chancellor of the exchequer in Lord Shelburne’s short ministry, and had refused to enter the coalition government from an honourable repugnance to join Lord North. He was now made prime minister. The country in the election of the next year ratified the king’s judgment against the Portland combination; and the hopes which Burke had cherished for a political lifetime were irretrievably ruined.
The six years that followed the great rout of the orthodox Whigs were years of repose for the country, but it was now that Burke engaged in the most laborious and formidable enterprise of his life, the impeachment of Warren Hastings for high crimes and misdemeanours in his government of India. His interest in that country was of old date. It arose partly from the fact of William Burke’s residence there, partly from his friendship with Philip Francis, but most of all, we suspect, from the effect which he observed Indian influence to have in demoralizing the House of Commons. “Take my advice for once in your life,” Francis wrote to Shee; “lay aside 40,000 rupees for a seat in parliament: in this country that alone makes all the difference between somebody and nobody.” The relations, moreover, between the East India Company and the government were of the most important kind, and occupied Burke’s closest attention from the beginning of the American war down to his own India Bill and that of Pitt and Dundas. In February 1785 he delivered one of the most famous of all his speeches, that on the nabob of Arcot’s debts. The real point of this superb declamation was Burke’s conviction that ministers supported the claims of the fraudulent creditors in order to secure the corrupt advantages of a sinister parliamentary interest. His proceedings against Hastings had a deeper spring. The story of Hastings’s crimes, as Macaulay says, made the blood of Burke boil in his veins. He had a native abhorrence of cruelty, of injustice, of disorder, of oppression, of tyranny, and all these things in all their degrees marked Hastings’s course in India. They were, moreover, concentrated in individual cases, which exercised Burke’s passionate imagination to its profoundest depths, and raised it to such a glow of fiery intensity as has never been rivalled in our history. For it endured for fourteen years, and was just as burning and as terrible when Hastings was acquitted in 1795, as in the select committee of 1781 when Hastings’s enormities were first revealed. “If I were to call for a reward,” wrote Burke, “it would be for the services in which for fourteen years, without intermission, I showed the most industry and had the least success, I mean in the affairs of India; they are those on which I value myself the most; most for the importance; most for the labour; most for the judgment; most for constancy and perseverance in the pursuit.” Sheridan’s speech in the House of Commons upon the charge relative to the begums of Oude probably excelled anything that Burke achieved, as a dazzling performance abounding in the most surprising literary and rhetorical effects. But neither Sheridan nor Fox was capable of that sustained and overflowing indignation at outraged justice and oppressed humanity, that consuming moral fire, which burst forth again and again from the chief manager of the impeachment, with such scorching might as drove even the cool and intrepid Hastings beyond all self-control, and made him cry out with protests and exclamations like a criminal writhing under the scourge. Burke, no doubt, in the course of that unparalleled trial showed some prejudice; made some minor overstatements of his case; used many intemperances; and suffered himself to be provoked into expressions of heat and impatience by the cabals of the defendant and his party, and the intolerable incompetence of the tribunal. It is one of the inscrutable perplexities of human affairs, that in the logic of practical life, in order to reach conclusions that cover enough for truth, we are constantly driven to premises that cover too much, and that in order to secure their right weight to justice and reason good men are forced to fling the two-edged sword of passion into the same scale. But these excuses were mere trifles, and well deserve to be forgiven, when we think that though the offender was in form acquitted, yet Burke succeeded in these fourteen years of laborious effort in laying the foundations once for all of a moral, just, philanthropic and responsible public opinion in England with reference to India, and in doing so performed perhaps the most magnificent service that any statesman has ever had it in his power to render to humanity.
Burke’s first decisive step against Hastings was a motion for papers in the spring of 1786; the thanks of the House of Commons to the managers of the impeachment were voted in the summer of 1794. But in those eight years some of the most astonishing events in history had changed the political face of Europe. Burke was more than sixty years old when the states-general met at Versailles in the spring of 1789. He had taken a prominent part on the side of freedom in the revolution which stripped England of her empire in the West. He had taken a prominent part on the side of justice, humanity and order in dealing with the revolution which had brought to England new empire in the East. The same vehement passion for freedom, justice, humanity and order was roused in him at a very early stage of the third great revolution in his history—the revolution which overthrew the old monarchy in France. From the first Burke looked on the events of 1789 with doubt and misgiving. He had been in France in 1773, where he had not only the famous vision of Marie Antoinette at Versailles, “glittering like the morning star, full of life, and splendour and joy,” but had also supped and discussed with some of the destroyers, the encyclopaedists, “the sophisters, economists and calculators.” His first speech on his return to England was a warning (March 17, 1773) that the props of good government were beginning to fail under the systematic attacks of unbelievers, and that principles were being propagated that would not leave to civil society any stability. The apprehension never died out in his mind; and when he knew that the principles and abstractions, the un-English dialect and destructive dialectic, of his former acquaintances were predominant in the National Assembly, his suspicion that the movement would end in disastrous miscarriage waxed into certainty.
The scene grew still more sinister in his eyes after the march of the mob from Paris to Versailles in October, and the violent transport of the king and queen from Versailles to Paris. The same hatred of lawlessness and violence which fired him with a divine rage against the Indian malefactors was aroused by the violence and lawlessness of the Parisian insurgents. The same disgust for abstractions and naked doctrines of right that had stirred him against the pretensions of the British parliament in 1774 and 1776, was revived in as lively a degree by political conceptions which he judged to be identical in the French assembly of 1789. And this anger and disgust were exasperated by the dread with which certain proceedings in England had inspired him, that the aims, principles, methods and language which he so misdoubted or abhorred in France were likely to infect the people of Great Britain.
In November 1790 the town, which had long been eagerly expecting a manifesto from Burke’s pen, was electrified by the Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the proceedings in certain societies in London relative to that event. The generous Windham made an entry in his diary of his reception of the new book. “What shall be said,” he added, “of the state of things, when it is remembered that the writer is a man decried, persecuted and proscribed; not being much valued even by his own party, and by half the nation considered as little better than an ingenious madman?” But the writer now ceased to be decried, persecuted and proscribed, and his book was seized as the expression of that new current of opinion in Europe which the more recent events of the Revolution had slowly set flowing. Its vogue was instant and enormous. Eleven editions were exhausted in little more than a year, and there is probably not much exaggeration in the estimate that 30,000 copies were sold before Burke’s death seven years afterwards. George III. was extravagantly delighted; Stanislaus of Poland sent Burke words of thanks and high glorification and a gold medal. Catherine of Russia, the friend of Voltaire and the benefactress of Diderot, sent her congratulations to the man who denounced French philosophers as miscreants and wretches. “One wonders,” Romilly said, by and by, “that Burke is not ashamed at such success.” Mackintosh replied to him temperately in the Vindiciae Gallicae, and Thomas Paine replied to him less temperately but far more trenchantly and more shrewdly in the Rights of Man. Arthur Young, with whom he had corresponded years before on the mysteries of deep ploughing and fattening hogs, added a cogent polemical chapter to that ever admirable work, in which he showed that he knew as much more than Burke about the old system of France as he knew more than Burke about soils and roots. Philip Francis, to whom he had shown the proof-sheets, had tried to dissuade Burke from publishing his performance. The passage about Marie Antoinette, which has since become a stock piece in books of recitation, seemed to Francis a mere piece of foppery; for was she not a Messalina and a jade? “I know nothing of your story of Messalina,” answered Burke; “am I obliged to prove judicially the virtues of all those I shall see suffering every kind of wrong and contumely and risk of life, before I endeavour to interest others in their sufferings?... Are not high rank, great splendour of descent, great personal elegance and outward accomplishments ingredients of moment in forming the interest we take in the misfortunes of men?... I tell you again that the recollection of the manner in which I saw the queen of France in 1774, and the contrast between that brilliancy, splendour and beauty, with the prostrate homage of a nation to her, and the abominable scene of 1780 which I was describing, did draw tears from me and wetted my paper. These tears came again into my eyes almost as often as I looked at the description,—they may again. You do not believe this fact, nor that these are my real feelings; but that the whole is affected, or as you express it, downright foppery. My friend, I tell you it is truth; and that it is true and will be truth when you and I are no more; and will exist as long as men with their natural feelings shall exist” (Corr. iii. 139).
Burke’s conservatism was, as such a passage as this may illustrate, the result partly of strong imaginative associations clustering round the more imposing symbols of social continuity, partly of a sort of corresponding conviction in his reason that there are certain permanent elements of human nature out of which the European order had risen and which that order satisfied, and of whose immense merits, as of its mighty strength, the revolutionary party in France were most fatally ignorant. When Romilly saw Diderot in 1783, the great encyclopaedic chief assured him that submission to kings and belief in God would be at an end all over the world in a very few years. When Condorcet described the Tenth Epoch in the long development of human progress, he was sure not only that fulness of light and perfection of happiness would come to the sons of men, but that they were coming with all speed. Only those who know the incredible rashness of the revolutionary doctrine in the mouths of its most powerful professors at that time; only those who know their absorption in ends and their inconsiderateness about means, can feel how profoundly right Burke was in all this part of his contention. Napoleon, who had begun life as a disciple of Rousseau, confirmed the wisdom of the philosophy of Burke when he came to make the Concordat. That measure was in one sense the outcome of a mere sinister expediency, but that such a measure was expedient at all sufficed to prove that Burke’s view of the present possibilities of social change was right, and the view of the Rousseauites and too sanguine Perfectibilitarians wrong. As we have seen, Burke’s very first niece, the satire on Bolingbroke, sprang from his conviction that merely rationalistic or destructive criticism, applied to the vast complexities of man in the social union, is either mischievous or futile, and mischievous exactly in proportion as it is not futile.
To discuss Burke’s writings on the Revolution would be to write first a volume upon the abstract theory of society, and then a second volume on the history of France. But we may make one or two further remarks. One of the most common charges against Burke was that he allowed his imagination and pity to be touched only by the sorrows of kings and queens, and forgot the thousands of oppressed and famine-stricken toilers of the land. “No tears are shed for nations,” cried Francis, whose sympathy for the Revolution was as passionate as Burke’s execration of it. “When the provinces are scourged to the bone by a mercenary and merciless military power, and every drop of its blood and substance extorted from it by the edicts of a royal council, the case seems very tolerable to those who are not involved in it. When thousands after thousands are dragooned out of their country for the sake of their religion, or sent to row in the galleys for selling salt against law,—when the liberty of every individual is at the mercy of every prostitute, pimp or parasite that has access to power or any of its basest substitutes,—my mind, I own, is not at once prepared to be satisfied with gentle palliatives for such disorders” (Francis to Burke, November 3, 1790). This is a very terse way of putting a crucial objection to Burke’s whole view of French affairs in 1789. His answer was tolerably simple. The Revolution, though it had made an end of the Bastille, did not bring the only real practical liberty, that is to say, the liberty which comes with settled courts of justice, administering settled laws, undisturbed by popular fury, independent of everything but law, and with a clear law for their direction. The people, he contended, were no worse off under the old monarchy than they will be in the long run under assemblies that are bound by the necessity of feeding one part of the community at the grievous charge of other parts, as necessitous as those who are so fed; that are obliged to flatter those who have their lives at their disposal by tolerating acts of doubtful influence on commerce and agriculture, and for the sake of precarious relief to sow the seeds of lasting want; that will be driven to be the instruments of the violence of others from a sense of their own weakness, and, by want of authority to assess equal and proportioned charges upon all, will be compelled to lay a strong hand upon the possessions of a part. As against the moderate section of the Constituent Assembly this was just.
One secret of Burke’s views of the Revolution was the contempt which he had conceived for the popular leaders in the earlier stages of the movement. In spite of much excellence of intention, much heroism, much energy, it is hardly to be denied that the leaders whom that movement brought to the surface were almost without exception men of the poorest political capacity. Danton, no doubt, was abler than most of the others, yet the timidity or temerity with which he allowed himself to be vanquished by Robespierre showed that even he was not a man of commanding quality. The spectacle of men so rash, and so incapable of controlling the forces which they seemed to have presumptuously summoned, excited in Burke both indignation and contempt. And the leaders of the Constituent who came first on the stage, and hoped to make a revolution with rose-water, and hardly realized any more than Burke did how rotten was the structure which they had undertaken to build up, almost deserved his contempt, even if, as is certainly true, they did not deserve his indignation. It was only by revolutionary methods, which are in their essence and for a time as arbitrary as despotic methods, that the knot could be cut. Burke’s vital error was his inability to see that a root and branch revolution was, under the conditions, inevitable. His cardinal position, from which he deduced so many important conclusions, namely, that, the parts and organs of the old constitution of France were sound, and only needed moderate invigoration, is absolutely mistaken and untenable. There was not a single chamber in the old fabric that was not crumbling and tottering. The court was frivolous, vacillating, stone deaf and stone blind; the gentry were amiable, but distinctly bent to the very last on holding to their privileges, and they were wholly devoid both of the political experience that only comes of practical responsibility for public affairs, and of the political sagacity that only comes of political experience. The parliaments or tribunals were nests of faction and of the deepest social incompetence. The very sword of the state broke short in the king’s hand. If the king or queen could either have had the political genius of Frederick the Great, or could have had the good fortune to find a minister with that genius, and the good sense and good faith to trust and stand by him against mobs of aristocrats and mobs of democrats; if the army had been sound and the states-general had been convoked at Bourges or Tours instead of at Paris, then the type of French monarchy and French society might have been modernized without convulsion. But none of these conditions existed.
When he dealt with the affairs of India Burke passed over the circumstances of our acquisition of power in that continent. “There is a sacred veil to be drawn over the beginnings of all government,” he said. “The first step to empire is revolution, by which power is conferred; the next is good laws, good order, good institutions, to give that power stability.” Exactly on this broad principle of political force, revolution was the first step to the assumption by the people of France of their own government. Granted that the Revolution was inevitable and indispensable, how was the nation to make the best of it? And how were surrounding nations to make the best of it? This was the true point of view. But Burke never placed himself at such a point. He never conceded the postulate, because, though he knew France better than anybody in England except Arthur Young, he did not know her condition well enough. “Alas!” he said, “they little know how many a weary step is to be taken before they can form themselves into a mass which has a true political personality.”
Burke’s view of French affairs, however consistent with all his former political conceptions, put an end to more than one of his old political friendships. He had never been popular in the House of Commons, and the vehemence, sometimes amounting to fury, which he had shown in the debates on the India Bill, on the regency, on the impeachment of Hastings, had made him unpopular even among men on his own side. In May 1789—that memorable month of May in which the states-general marched in impressive array to hear a sermon at the church of Notre Dame at Versailles—a vote of censure had actually been passed on him in the House of Commons for a too severe expression used against Hastings. Fox, who led the party, and Sheridan, who led Fox, were the intimates of the prince of Wales; and Burke would have been as much out of place in that circle of gamblers and profligates as Milton would have been out of place in the court of the Restoration. The prince, as somebody said, was like his father in having closets within cabinets and cupboards within closets. When the debates on the regency were at their height we have Burke’s word that he was not admitted to the private counsels of the party. Though Fox and he were on friendly terms in society, yet Burke admits that for a considerable period before 1790 there had been between them “distance, coolness and want of confidence, if not total alienation on his part.” The younger Whigs had begun to press for shorter parliaments, for the ballot, for redistribution of political power. Burke had never looked with any favour on these projects. His experience of the sentiment of the populace in the two greatest concerns of his life,—American affairs and Indian affairs,—had not been likely to prepossess him in favour of the popular voice as the voice of superior political wisdom. He did not absolutely object to some remedy in the state of representation (Corr. ii. 387), still he vigorously resisted such proposals as the duke of Richmond’s in 1780 for manhood suffrage. The general ground was this:—“The machine itself is well enough to answer any good purpose, provided the materials were sound. But what signifies the arrangement of rottenness?”
Bad as the parliaments of George III. were, they contained their full share of eminent and capable men; and, what is more, their very defects were the exact counterparts of what we now look back upon as the prevailing stupidity in the country. What Burke valued was good government. His Report on the Causes of the Duration of Mr Hastings’s Trial shows how wide and sound were his views of law reform. His Thoughts on Scarcity attest his enlightenment on the central necessities of trade and manufacture, and even furnished arguments to Cobden fifty years afterwards. Pitt’s parliaments were competent to discuss, and willing to pass, all measures for which the average political intelligence of the country was ripe. Burke did not believe that altered machinery was at that time needed to improve the quality of legislation. If wiser legislation followed the great reform of 1832, Burke would have said this was because the political intelligence of the country had improved.
Though averse at all times to taking up parliamentary reform, he thought all such projects downright crimes in the agitation of 1791–1792. This was the view taken by Burke, but it was not the view of Fox, nor of Sheridan, nor of Francis, nor of many others of his party, and difference of opinion here was naturally followed by difference of opinion upon affairs in France. Fox, Grey, Windham, Sheridan, Francis, Lord Fitzwilliam, and most of the other Whig leaders, welcomed the Revolution in France. And so did Pitt, too, for some time. “How much the greatest event it is that ever happened in the world,” cried Fox, with the exaggeration of a man ready to dance the carmagnole, “and how much the best!” The dissension between a man who felt so passionately as Burke, and a man who spoke so impulsively as Charles Fox, lay in the very nature of things. Between Sheridan and Burke there was an open breach in the House of Commons upon the Revolution so early as February 1790, and Sheridan’s influence with Fox was strong. This divergence of opinion destroyed all the elation that Burke might well have felt at his compliments from kings, his gold medals, his twelve editions. But he was too fiercely in earnest in his horror of Jacobinism to allow mere party associations to guide him. In May 1791 the thundercloud burst, and a public rupture between Burke and Fox took place in the House of Commons.
The scene is famous in English parliamentary annals. The minister had introduced a measure for the division of the province of Canada and for the establishment of a local legislature in each division. Fox in the course of debate went out of his way to laud the Revolution, and to sneer at some of the most effective passages in the Reflections. Burke was not present, but he announced his determination to reply. On the day when the Quebec Bill was to come on again, Fox called upon Burke, and the pair walked together from Burke’s house in Duke Street down to Westminster. The Quebec Bill was recommitted, and Burke at once rose and soon began to talk his usual language against the Revolution, the rights of man, and Jacobinism whether English or French. There was a call to order. Fox, who was as sharp and intolerant in the House as he was amiable out of it, interposed with some words of contemptuous irony. Pitt, Grey, Lord Sheffield, all plunged into confused and angry debate as to whether the French Revolution was a good thing, and whether the French Revolution, good or bad, had anything to do with the Quebec Bill. At length Fox, in seconding a motion for confining the debate to its proper subject, burst into the fatal question beyond the subject, taxing Burke with inconsistency, and taunting him with having forgotten that ever-admirable saying of his own about the insurgent colonists, that he did not know how to draw an indictment against a whole nation. Burke replied in tones of firm self-repression; complained of the attack that had been made upon him; reviewed Fox’s charges of inconsistency; enumerated the points on which they had disagreed, and remarked that such disagreements had never broken their friendship. But whatever the risk of enmity, and however bitter the loss of friendship, he would never cease from the warning to flee from the French constitution. “But there is no loss of friends,” said Fox in an eager undertone. “Yes,” said Burke, “there is a loss of friends. I know the penalty of toy conduct. I have done my duty at the price of my friend—our friendship is at an end.” Fox rose, but was so overcome that for some moments he could not speak. At length, his eyes streaming with tears, and in a broken voice, he deplored the breach of a twenty years’ friendship on a political question. Burke was inexorable. To him the political question was so vivid, so real, so intense, as to make all personal sentiment no more than dust in the balance. Burke confronted Jacobinism with the relentlessness of a Jacobin. The rupture was never healed, and Fox and he had no relations with one another henceforth beyond such formal interviews as took place in the manager’s box in Westminster Hall in connexion with the impeachment.
A few months afterwards Burke published the Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, a grave, calm and most cogent vindication of the perfect consistency of his criticisms upon the English Revolution of 1688 and upon the French Revolution of 1789, with the doctrines of the great Whigs who conducted and afterwards defended in Anne’s reign the transfer of the crown from James to William and Mary. The Appeal was justly accepted as a satisfactory performance for the purpose with which it was written. Events, however, were doing more than words could do, to confirm the public opinion of Burke’s sagacity and foresight. He had always divined by the instinct of hatred that the French moderates must gradually be swept away by the Jacobins, and now it was all coming true. The humiliation of the king and queen after their capture at Varennes; the compulsory acceptance of the constitution; the plain incompetence of the new Legislative Assembly; the growing violence of the Parisian mob, and the ascendency of the Jacobins at the Common Hall; the fierce day of the 20th of June (1792), when the mob flooded the Tuileries, and the bloodier day of the 10th of August, when the Swiss guard was massacred and the royal family flung into prison; the murders in the prisons in September; the trial and execution of the king in January (1793); the proscription of the Girondins in June, the execution of the queen in October—if we realize the impression likely to be made upon the sober and homely English imagination by such a heightening of horror by horror, we may easily understand how people came to listen to Burke’s voice as the voice of inspiration, and to look on his burning anger as the holy fervour of a prophet of the Lord.
Fox still held to his old opinions as stoutly as he could, and condemned and opposed the war which England had declared against the French republic. Burke, who was profoundly incapable of the meanness of letting personal estrangement blind his eyes to what was best for the commonwealth, kept hoping against hope that each new trait of excess in France would at length bring the great Whig leader to a better mind. He used to declaim by the hour in the conclaves at Burlington House upon the necessity of securing Fox; upon the strength which his genius would lend to the administration in its task of grappling with the sanguinary giant; upon the impossibility, at least, of doing either with him or without him. Fox’s most important political friends who had long wavered, at length, to Burke’s great satisfaction, went over to the side of the government. In July 1794 the duke of Portland, Lord Fitzwilliam, Windham and Grenville took office under Pitt. Fox was left with a minority which was satirically said not to have been more than enough to fill a hackney coach. “That is a calumny,” said one of the party, “we should have filled two.” The war was prosecuted with the aid of both the great parliamentary parties of the country, and with the approval of the great bulk of the nation. Perhaps the one man in England who in his heart approved of it less than any other was William Pitt. The difference between Pitt and Burke was nearly as great as that between Burke and Fox. Burke would be content with nothing short of a crusade against France, and war to the death with her rulers. “I cannot persuade myself,” he said, “that this war bears any the least resemblance to any that has ever existed in the world. I cannot persuade myself that any examples or any reasonings drawn from other wars and other politics are at all applicable to it” (Corr. iv. 219). Pitt, on the other hand, as Lord Russell truly says, treated Robespierre and Carnot as he would have treated any other French rulers, whose ambition was to be resisted, and whose interference in the affairs of other nations was to be checked. And he entered upon the matter in the spirit of a man of business, by sending ships to seize some islands belonging to France in the West Indies, so as to make certain of repayment of the expenses of the war.
In the summer of 1794 Burke was struck to the ground by a blow to his deepest affection in life, and he never recovered from it. His whole soul was wrapped up in his only son, of whose abilities he had the most extravagant estimate and hope. All the evidence goes to show that Richard Burke was one of the most presumptuous and empty-headed of human beings. “He is the most impudent and opiniative fellow I ever knew,” said Wolfe Tone. Gilbert Elliot, a very different man, gives the same account. “Burke,” he says, describing a dinner party at Lord Fitzwilliam’s in 1793, “has now got such a train after him as would sink anybody but himself: his son, who is quite nauseated by all mankind; his brother, who is liked better than his son, but is rather oppressive with animal spirits and brogue; and his cousin, William Burke, who is just returned unexpectedly from India, as much ruined as when he went years ago, and who is a fresh charge on any prospects of power Burke may ever have. Mrs Burke has in her train Miss French [Burke’s niece], the most perfect She Paddy that ever was caught. Notwithstanding these disadvantages Burke is in himself a sort of power in the state. It is not too much to say that he is a sort of power in Europe, though totally without any of those means or the smallest share in them which give or maintain power in other men.” Burke accepted the position of a power in Europe seriously. Though no man was ever more free from anything like the egoism of the intellectual coxcomb, yet he abounded in that active self-confidence and self-assertion which is natural in men who are conscious of great powers, and strenuous in promoting great causes. In the summer of 1791 he despatched his son to Coblenz to give advice to the royalist exiles, then under the direction of Calonne, and to report to him at Beaconsfield their disposition and prospects. Richard Burke was received with many compliments, but of course nothing came of his mission, and the only impression that remains with the reader of his prolix story is his tale of the two royal brothers, who afterwards became Louis XVIII. and Charles X., meeting after some parting, and embracing one another with many tears on board a boat in the middle of the Rhine, while some of the courtiers raised a cry of “Long live the king”—the king who had a few weeks before been carried back in triumph to his capital with Mayor Pétion in his coach. When we think of the pass to which things had come in Paris by this time, and of the unappeasable ferment that boiled round the court, there is a certain touch of the ludicrous in the notion of poor Richard Burke writing to Louis XVI. a letter of wise advice how to comport himself.
At the end of the same year, with the approval of his father he started for Ireland as the adviser of the Catholic Association. He made a wretched emissary, and there was no limit to his arrogance, noisiness and indiscretion. The Irish agitators were glad to give him two thousand guineas and to send him home. The mission is associated with a more important thing, his father’s Letters to Sir Hercules Langrishe, advocating the admission of the Irish Catholics to the franchise. This short piece abounds richly in maxims of moral and political prudence. And Burke exhibited considerable courage in writing it; for many of its maxims seem to involve a contradiction, first, to the principles on which he withstood the movement in France, and second, to his attitude upon the subject of parliamentary reform. The contradiction is in fact only superficial. Burke was not the man to fall unawares into a trap of this kind. His defence of Catholic relief—and it had been the conviction of a lifetime—was very properly founded on propositions which were true of Ireland, and were true neither of France nor of the quality of parliamentary representation in England. Yet Burke threw such breadth and generality over all he wrote that even these propositions, relative as they were, form a short manual of statesmanship.
At the close of the session of 1794 the impeachment of Hastings had come to an end, and Burke bade farewell to parliament. Richard Burke was elected in his father’s place at Malton. The king was bent on making the champion of the old order of Europe a peer. His title was to be Lord Beaconsfield, and it was designed to annex to the title an income for three lives. The patent was being made ready, when all was arrested by the sudden death of the son who was to Burke more than life. The old man’s grief was agonizing and inconsolable. “The storm has gone over me,” he wrote in words which are well known, but which can hardly be repeated too often for any who have an ear for the cadences of noble and pathetic speech,—“The storm has gone over me, and I lie like one of those old oaks which the late hurricane has scattered about me. I am stripped of all my honours; I am torn up by the roots and lie prostrate on the earth. . . . I am alone. I have none to meet my enemies in the gate. . . . I live in an inverted order. They who ought to have succeeded me have gone before me. They who should have been to me as posterity are in the place of ancestors.”
A pension of £2500 was all that Burke could now be persuaded to accept. The duke of Bedford and Lord Lauderdale made some remarks in parliament upon this paltry reward to a man who, in conducting a great trial on the public behalf, had worked harder for nearly ten years than any minister in any cabinet of the reign. But it was not yet safe to kick up heels in face of the dying lion. The vileness of such criticism was punished, as it deserved to be, in the Letter to a Noble Lord (1796), in which Burke showed the usual art of all his compositions in shaking aside the insignificances of a subject. He turned mere personal defence and retaliation into an occasion for a lofty enforcement of constitutional principles, and this, too, with a relevancy and pertinence of consummate skilfulness. There was to be one more great effort before the end.
In the spring of 1796 Pitt’s constant anxiety for peace had become more earnest than ever. He had found out the instability of the coalition and the power of France. Like the thrifty steward he was, he saw with growing concern the waste of the national resources and the strain upon commerce, with a public debt swollen to what then seemed the desperate sum of £400,000,000. Burke at the notion of negotiation flamed out in the Letters on a Regicide Peace, in some respects the most splendid of all his compositions. They glow with passion, and yet with all their rapidity is such steadfastness, the fervour of imagination is so skilfully tempered by close and plausible reasoning, and the whole is wrought with such strength and fire, that we hardly know where else to look either in Burke’s own writings or elsewhere for such an exhibition of the rhetorical resources of our language. We cannot wonder that the whole nation was stirred to the very depths, or that they strengthened the aversion of the king, of Windham and other important personages in the government against the plans of Pitt. The prudence of their drift must be settled by external considerations. Those who think that the French were likely to show a moderation and practical reasonableness in success, such as they had never shown in the hour of imminent ruin, will find Burke’s judgment full of error and mischief. Those, on the contrary, who think that the nation which was on the very eve of surrendering itself to the Napoleonic absolutism was not in a hopeful humour for peace and the European order, will believe that Burke’s protests were as perspicacious as they were powerful, and that anything which chilled the energy of the war was as fatal as he declared it to be.
When the third and most impressive of these astonishing productions came into the hands of the public, the writer was no more. Burke died on the 8th of July 1797. Fox, who with all his faults was never wanting in a fine and generous sensibility, proposed that there should be a public funeral, and that the body should lie among the illustrious dead in Westminster Abbey. Burke, however, had left strict injunctions that his burial should be private; and he was laid in the little church at Beaconsfield. It was the year of Campo Formio. So a black whirl and torment of rapine, violence and fraud was encircling the Western world, as a life went out which, notwithstanding some eccentricities and some aberrations, had made great tides in human destiny very luminous. (J. Mo.)
Authorities.—Of the Collected Works, there are two main editions—the quarto and the octavo. (1) Quarto, in eight volumes, begun in 1792, under the editorship of Dr F. Lawrence; vols. i.-iii. were published in 1792; vols. iv.-viii., edited by Dr Walter King, sometime bishop of Rochester, were completed in 1827. (2) Octavo in sixteen volumes. This was begun at Burke’s death, also by Drs Lawrence and King; vols. i.-viii. were published in 1803 and reissued in 1808, when Dr Lawrence died; vols. ix.-xii. were published in 1813 and the remaining four vols. in 1827. A new edition of vols. i.-viii. was published in 1823 and the contents of vols. i.-xii. in 2 vols. octavo in 1834. An edition in nine volumes was published in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1839. This contains the whole of the English edition in sixteen volumes, with a reprint of the Account of the European Settlements in America which is not in the English edition.
Among the numerous editions published later may be mentioned that in Bohn’s British Classics, published in 1853. This contains the fifth edition of Sir James Prior’s life; also an edition in twelve volumes, octavo, published by J. C. Nimmo, 1898. There is an edition of the Select Works of Burke with introduction and notes by E. J. Payne in the Clarendon Press series, new edition, 3 vols., 1897. The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, edited by Earl Fitzwilliam and Sir R. Bourke, with appendix, detached papers and notes for speeches, was published in 4 vols., 1844. The Speeches of Edmund Burke, in the House of Commons and Westminster Hall, were published in 4 vols., 1816. Other editions of the speeches are those On Irish Affairs, collected and arranged by Matthew Arnold, with a preface (1881), On American Taxation, On Conciliation with America, together with the Letter to the Sheriff of Bristol, edited with introduction and notes by F. G. Selby (1895).
The standard life of Burke is that by Sir James Prior, Memoir of the Life and Character of Edmund Burke with Specimens of his Poetry and Letters (1824). The lives by C. MacCormick (1798) by R. Bisset (1798, 1800) are of little value. Other lives are those by the Rev. George Croly (2 vols., 1847), and by T. MacKnight (3 vols., 1898). Of critical estimates of Burke’s life the Edmund Burke of John Morley, “English Men of Letters” series (1879), is an elaboration of the above article; see also his Burke, a Historical Study (1867); “Three Essays on Burke,” by Sir James Fitzjames Stephen in Horae Sabbaticae, series iii. (1892); and Peptographia Dublinensis, Memorial Discourses preached in the Chapel of Trinity College, Dublin, 1895–1902; Edmund Burke, by G. Chadwick, bishop of Derry (1902).