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Title: Burke
Author: Morley, John, 1838-1923
Language: English
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_Printed 1888. Reprinted 1892, 1897, 1902, 1907_

(_A Library Edition, of the book published in the "English Men of
Letters Series_)


The present writer published a study on Burke some twenty years ago.
It was almost entirely critical, and in no sense a narrative. The
volume that is now submitted to my readers first appeared in the
series of _English Men of Letters_. It is biographical rather
than critical, and not more than about a score of pages have been
reproduced in it from the earlier book. Three pages have been inserted
from an article on Burke contributed by me to the new edition of the
_Encyclopoedia Britannica_; and I have to thank Messrs. Black for
the great courtesy with which they have allowed me to transcribe the
passage here. These borrowings from my former self, the reader will
perhaps be willing to excuse, on the old Greek principle that a man
may once say a thing as he would have it said, [Greek: dis de ouk
endechetai]--he can hardly say it twice.



























It will soon be a hundred and twenty years since Burke first took his
seat, in the House of Commons, and it is eighty-five years since his
voice ceased to be heard there. Since his death, as during his life,
opinion as to the place to which he is entitled among the eminent men
of his country has touched every extreme. Tories have extolled him as
the saviour of Europe. Whigs have detested him as the destroyer of his
party. One undiscriminating panegyrist calls him the most profound and
comprehensive of political philosophers that has yet existed in the
world. Another and more distinguished writer insists that he is a
resplendent and far-seeing rhetorician, rather than a deep and subtle
thinker. A third tells us that his works cannot be too much our study,
if we mean either to understand or to maintain against its various
enemies, open and concealed, designing and mistaken, the singular
constitution of this fortunate island. A fourth, on the contrary,
declares that it would be hard to find a single leading principle or
prevailing sentiment in one half of these works, to which something
extremely adverse cannot be found in the other half. A fifth calls
him one of the greatest men, and, Bacon alone excepted, the greatest
thinker, who ever devoted himself to the practice of English politics.
Yet, oddly enough, the author of the fifth verdict will have it that
this great man and great thinker was actually out of his mind when
he composed the pieces for which he has been most widely admired and

A sufficient interval has now passed to allow all the sediment of
party fanaticism to fall to the bottom. The circumstances of the world
have since Burke's time undergone variation enough to enable us
to judge, from many points of view, how far he was the splendid
pamphleteer of a faction, and how far he was a contributor to the
universal stock of enduring wisdom. Opinion is slowly, but without
reaction, settling down to the verdict that Burke is one of the
abiding names in our history, not because he either saved Europe
or destroyed the Whig party; but because he added to the permanent
considerations of wise political thought, and to the maxims of wise
practice in great affairs, and because he imprints himself upon us
with a magnificence and elevation of expression that places him among
the highest masters of literature, in one of its highest and most
commanding senses. Those who have acquired a love for abstract
politics amid the almost mathematical closeness and precision of
Hobbes, the philosophic calm of Locke or Mill, or even the majestic
and solemn fervour of Milton, are revolted by the unrestrained passion
and the decorated style of Burke. His passion appears hopelessly
fatal to success in the pursuit of Truth, who does not usually reveal
herself to followers thus inflamed. His ornate style appears fatal to
the cautious and precise method of statement, suitable to matter which
is not known at all unless it is known distinctly. Yet the natural
ardour which impelled Burke to clothe his judgments in glowing and
exaggerated phrases, is one secret of his power over us, because
it kindles in those who are capable of that generous infection a
respondent interest and sympathy. But more than this, the reader is
speedily conscious of the precedence in Burke of the facts of morality
and conduct, of the many interwoven affinities of human affection and
historical relation, over the unreal necessities of mere abstract
logic. Burke's mind was full of the matter of great truths, copiously
enriched from the fountains of generous and many-coloured feeling. He
thought about life as a whole, with all its infirmities and all its
pomps. With none of the mental exclusiveness of the moralist by
profession, he fills every page with solemn reference and meaning;
with none of the mechanical bustle of the common politician, he
is everywhere conscious of the mastery of laws, institutions, and
government over the character and happiness of men. Besides thus
diffusing a strong light over the awful tides of human circumstance,
Burke has the sacred gift of inspiring men to use a grave diligence
in caring for high things, and in making their lives at once rich and
austere. Such a part in literature is indeed high. We feel no emotion
of revolt when Mackintosh speaks of Shakespeare and Burke in the same
breath as being both of them above mere talent. And we do not dissent
when Macaulay, after reading Burke's works over, again, exclaims, "How
admirable! The greatest man since Milton."

The precise date of Burke's birth cannot be stated with certainty. All
that we can say is that it took place either in 1728 or 1729, and it
is possible that we may set it down in one or the other year, as we
choose to reckon by the old or the new style. The best opinion is that
he was born at Dublin on the 12th of January 1729 (N.S.) His father
was a solicitor in good practice, and is believed to have been
descended from some Bourkes of county Limerick, who held a respectable
local position in the time of the civil wars. Burke's mother belonged
to the Nagle family, which had a strong connection in the county of
Cork; they had been among the last adherents of James II., and they
remained firm Catholics. Mrs. Burke remained true to the Church of her
ancestors, and her only daughter was brought up in the same faith.
Edmund Burke and his two brothers, Garret and Richard, were bred in
the religion of their father; but Burke never, in after times, lost a
large and generous way of thinking about the more ancient creed of his
mother and his uncles.

In 1741 he was sent to school at Ballitore, a village some thirty
miles away from Dublin, where Abraham Shackleton, a Quaker from
Yorkshire, had established himself fifteen years before, and had
earned a wide reputation as a successful teacher and a good man.
According to Burke, he richly deserved this high character. It was to
Abraham Shackleton that he always professed to owe whatever gain had
come to him from education. If I am anything, he said many years
afterwards, it is the education I had there that has made me so. His
master's skill as a teacher did not impress him more than the example
which was every day set before him, of uprightness and simplicity of
heart. Thirty years later, when Burke had the news of Shackleton's
death (1771), "I had a true honour and affection," he wrote, "for that
excellent man. I feel something like a satisfaction in the midst of my
concern, that I was fortunate enough to have him once under my roof
before his departure." No man has ever had a deeper or more tender
reverence than Burke for homely goodness, simple purity, and all the
pieties of life; it may well be that this natural predisposition of
all characters, at once so genial and so serious as his, was finally
stamped in him by his first schoolmaster. It is true that he was only
two years at Ballitore, but two years at that plastic time often build
up habits in the mind that all the rest of a life is unable to pull

In 1743 Burke became a student of Trinity College, Dublin, and he
remained there until 1748, when he took his Bachelor's degree. These
five years do not appear to have been spent in strenuous industry in
the beaten paths of academic routine. Like so many other men of great
gifts, Burke in his youth was desultory and excursive. He roamed at
large over the varied heights that tempt our curiosity, as the dawn of
intelligence first lights them up one after another with bewitching
visions and illusive magic. "All my studies," Burke wrote in 1746,
when he was in the midst of them, "have rather proceeded from sallies
of passion, than from the preference of sound reason; and, like all
other natural appetites, have been very violent for a season, and
very soon cooled, and quite absorbed in the succeeding. I have often
thought it a humorous consideration to observe and sum up all the
madness of this kind I have fallen into, this two years past. First, I
was greatly taken with natural philosophy; which, while I should have
given my mind to logic, employed me incessantly. This I call my _furor
mathematicus_. But this worked off as soon as I began to read it in
the college, as men by repletion cast off their stomachs all they have
eaten. Then I turned back to logic and metaphysics. Here I remained a
good while, and with much pleasure, and this was my _furor logicus_,
a disease very common in the days of ignorance, and very uncommon in
these enlightened times. Next succeeded the _furor historicus_, which
also had its day, but is now no more, being entirely absorbed in the
_furor poeticus_."

This is from one of Burke's letters to Richard Shackleton, the son
of his schoolmaster, with whom he had formed one of those close
friendships that fill the life of generous youth, as ambition fills an
energetic manhood. Many tears were shed when the two boys parted at
Ballitore, and they kept up their intimacy by a steady correspondence.
They discuss the everlasting dispute as to the ultimate fate of those
who never heard the saving name of Christ. They send one another
copies of verses, and Burke prays for Shackleton's judgment on an
invocation of his new poem, to beauteous nymphs who haunt the dusky
wood, which hangs recumbent o'er the crystal flood. Burke is warned by
Shackleton to endeavour to live according to the rules of the Gospel,
and he humbly accepts the good advice, with the deprecatory plea
that in a town it is difficult to sit down to think seriously. It is
easier, he says, to follow the rules of the Gospel in the country than
at Trinity College, Dublin. In the region of profaner things the
two friends canvass the comparative worth of Sallust and of Tully's
Epistles. Burke holds for the historian, who has, he thinks, a
fine, easy, diversified narrative, mixed with reflection, moral and
political, neither very trite nor obvious, nor out of the way and
abstract; and this is the true beauty of historical observation.

Some pages of verse describe to Shackleton how his friend passes the
day, but the reader will perhaps be content to learn in humbler prose
that Burke rose with the dawn, and strode forth into the country
through fragrant gardens and the pride of May, until want of breakfast
drove him back unwillingly to the town, where amid lectures and
books his heart incessantly turned to the river and the fir-woods of
Ballitore. In the evening he again turned his back on the city, taking
his way "where Liffey rolls her dead dogs to the sea," along to the
wall on the shore, whence be delighted to see the sun sink into the
waters, gilding ocean, ships, and city as it vanished. Alas, it was
beneath the dignity of verse to tell us what we should most gladly
have known. For,

  "The muse nor can, nor will declare,
  What is my work, and what my studies there."

What serious nourishment Burke was laying in for his understanding we
cannot learn from any other source. He describes himself as spending
three hours almost every day in the public library; "the best way in
the world," he adds oddly enough, "of killing thought." I have read
some history, he says, and among other pieces of history, "I am
endeavouring to get a little into the accounts of this, our own poor
country,"--a pathetic expression, which represents Burke's perpetual
mood, as long as he lived, of affectionate pity for his native land.
Of the eminent Irishmen whose names adorn the annals of Trinity
College in the eighteenth century, Burke was only contemporary at the
University with one, the luckless sizar who in the fulness of time
wrote the _Vicar of Wakefield_. There is no evidence that at this time
he and Goldsmith were acquainted with one another. Flood had gone to
Oxford some time before. The one or two companions whom Burke mentions
in his letters are only shadows of names. The mighty Swift died in
1745, but there is nothing of Burke's upon the event. In the same year
came the Pretender's invasion, and Burke spoke of those who had taken
part in it in the same generous spirit that he always showed to the
partisans of lost historic causes.

Of his own family Burke says little, save that in 1746 his mother had
a dangerous illness. In all my life, he writes to his friend, I never
found so heavy a grief, nor really did I well know what it was before.
Burke's father is said to have been a man of angry and irritable
temper, and their disagreements were frequent. This unhappy
circumstance made the time for parting not unwelcome. In 1747 Burke's
name had been entered at the Middle Temple, and after taking his
degree, he prepared to go to England to pursue the ordinary course of
a lawyer's studies. He arrived in London in the early part of 1750.

A period of nine years followed, in which the circumstances of Burke's
life are enveloped in nearly complete obscurity. He seems to have kept
his terms in the regular way at the Temple, and from the mastery
of legal principles and methods which he afterwards showed in some
important transactions, we might infer that he did more to qualify
himself for practice than merely dine in the hall of his inn. For law,
alike as a profession and an instrument of mental discipline, he had
always the profound respect that it so amply deserves, though he saw
that it was not without drawbacks of its own. The law, he said, in
his fine description of George Grenville, in words that all who think
about schemes of education ought to ponder, "is, in my opinion, one of
the first and noblest of human sciences; _a science which does more to
quicken and invigorate the understanding than all the other kinds of
learning put together_; but it is not apt, except in persons very
happily born, to open and to liberalise the mind exactly in the
same proportion."[1] Burke was never called to the bar, and the
circumstance that, about the time when he ought to have been looking
for his first guinea, he published a couple of books which had as
little as possible to do with either law or equity, is a tolerably
sure sign that he had followed the same desultory courses at the
Temple as he had followed at Trinity College. We have only to tell
over again a very old story. The vague attractions of literature
prevailed over the duty of taking up a serious profession. His father,
who had set his heart on having a son in the rank of a barrister, was
first suspicious, then extremely indignant, and at last he withdrew
his son's allowance, or else reduced it so low that the recipient
could not possibly live upon it. This catastrophe took place some time
in 1755,--a year of note in the history of literature, as the date of
the publication of Johnson's _Dictionary_. It was upon literature, the
most seductive, the most deceiving, the most dangerous of professions,
that Burke, like so many hundreds of smaller men before and since, now
threw himself for a livelihood.

[Footnote 1: _American Taxation_.]

Of the details of the struggle we know very little. Burke was not fond
in after life of talking about his earlier days, not because he
had any false shame about the straits and hard shifts of youthful
neediness, but because he was endowed with a certain inborn
stateliness of nature, which made him unwilling to waste thoughts on
the less dignified parts of life. This is no unqualified virtue, and
Burke might have escaped some wearisome frets and embarrassments in
his existence, if he had been capable of letting the detail of the day
lie more heavily upon him. So far as it goes, however, it is a sign of
mental health that a man should be able to cast behind him the barren
memories of bygone squalor. We may be sure that whatever were the
external ordeals of his apprenticeship in the slippery craft of the
literary adventurer, Burke never failed in keeping for his constant
companions generous ambitions and high thoughts. He appears to have
frequented the debating clubs in Fleet Street and the Piazza of Covent
Garden, and he showed the common taste of his time for the theatre.
He was much of a wanderer, partly from the natural desire of restless
youth to see the world, and partly because his health was weak. In
after life he was a man of great strength, capable not only of bearing
the strain of prolonged application to books and papers in the
solitude of his library, but of bearing it at the same time with the
distracting combination of active business among men. At the date of
which we are speaking, he used to seek a milder air at Bristol, or in
Monmouthshire, or Wiltshire. He passed the summer in retired country
villages, reading and writing with desultory industry, in company
with William Burke, a namesake but perhaps no kinsman. It would
be interesting to know the plan and scope of his studies. We are
practically reduced to conjecture. In a letter of counsel to his son
in after years, he gave him a weighty piece of advice, which, is
pretty plainly the key to the reality and fruitfulness of his own
knowledge. "_Reading_," he said, "_and much reading, is good. But the
power of diversifying the matter infinitely in your own mind, and of
applying it to every occasion that arises, is far better; so don't
suppress the_ vivida vis." We have no more of Burke's doings than
obscure and tantalising glimpses, tantalising, because he was then at
the age when character usually either fritters itself away, or grows
strong on the inward sustenance of solid and resolute aspirations.
Writing from Battersea to his old comrade, Shackleton, in 1757,
he begins with an apology for a long silence which seems to have
continued from months to years. "I have broken all rules; I have
neglected all decorums; everything except that I have never forgot a
friend, whose good head and heart have made me esteem and love him.
What appearance there may have been of neglect, arises from my
manner of life; chequered with various designs; sometimes in London,
sometimes in remote parts of the country; sometimes in France, and
shortly, please God, to be in America."

One of the hundred inscrutable rumours that hovered about Burke's name
was, that he at one time actually did visit America. This was just as
untrue as that he became a convert to the Catholic faith; or that he
was the lover of Peg Woffington; or that he contested Adam Smith's
chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow along with Hume, and that both
Burke and Hume were rejected in favour of some fortunate Mr. James
Clow. They are all alike unfounded. But the same letter informs
Shackleton of a circumstance more real and more important than any
of these, though its details are only doubtfully known. Burke had
married--when and where, we cannot tell. Probably the marriage took
place in the winter of 1756. His wife was the daughter of Dr. Nugent,
an Irish physician once settled at Bath. One story is that Burke
consulted him in one of his visits to the west of England, and fell in
love with his daughter. Another version makes Burke consult him after
Dr. Nugent had removed to London; and tells how the kindly physician,
considering that the noise and bustle of chambers over a shop must
hinder his patient's recovery, offered him rooms in his own house.
However these things may have been, all the evidence shows Burke to
have been fortunate in the choice or accident that bestowed upon him
his wife. Mrs. Burke, like her father, was, up to the time of her
marriage, a Catholic. Good judges belonging to her own sex describe
her as gentle, quiet, soft in her manners, and well-bred. She had the
qualities which best fitted and disposed her to soothe the vehemence
and irritability of her companion. Though she afterwards conformed to
the religion of her husband, it was no insignificant coincidence
that in two of the dearest relations of his life the atmosphere of
Catholicism was thus poured round the great preacher of the crusade
against the Revolution.

About the time of his marriage, Burke made his first appearance as an
author. It was in 1756 that he published _A Vindication of Natural
Society_, and the more important essay, _A Philosophical Inquiry into
the Origin of our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful_. The latter of
them had certainly been written a long time before, and there is even
a traditional story that Burke wrote it when he was only nineteen
years old. Both of these performances have in different degrees a
historic meaning, but neither of them would have survived to our own
day unless they had been associated with a name of power. A few
words will suffice to do justice to them here. And first as to the
_Vindication of Natural Society_. Its alternative title was, _A View
of the Miseries and Evils arising to Mankind from every Species of
Civil Society, in a Letter to Lord ----, by a late Noble Writer_.

Bolingbroke had died in 1751, and in 1754 his philosophical works
were posthumously given to the world by David Mallet, Dr. Johnson's
beggarly Scotchman, to whom Bolingbroke had left half-a-crown in his
will, for firing off a blunderbuss which he was afraid to fire
off himself. The world of letters had been keenly excited about
Bolingbroke. His busy and chequered career, his friendship with the
great wits of the previous generation, his splendid style, his bold
opinions, made him a dazzling figure. This was the late Noble Writer
whose opinions Burke intended to ridicule, by reducing them to an
absurdity in an exaggeration of Bolingbroke's own manner. As it
happened, the public did not readily perceive either the exaggeration
in the manner, or the satire in the matter. Excellent judges of style
made sure that the writing was really Bolingbroke's, and serious
critics of philosophy never doubted that the writer, whoever he was,
meant all that he said. We can hardly help agreeing with Godwin, when
he says that in Burke's treatise the evils of existing political
institutions, which had been described by Locke, are set forth more at
large, with incomparable force of reasoning and lustre of eloquence,
though the declared intention of the writer was to show that such
evils ought to be considered merely trivial. Years afterwards, Boswell
asked Johnson whether an imprudent publication by a certain friend of
his at an early period of his life would be likely to hurt him? "No,
sir," replied the sage; "not much; it might perhaps be mentioned at an
election." It is significant that in 1765, when Burke saw his chance
of a seat in Parliament, he thought it worth while to print a second
edition of his _Vindication_, with a preface to assure his readers
that the design of it was ironical. It has been remarked as a very
extraordinary circumstance that an author who had the greatest fame
of any man of his day as the master of a superb style, for this was
indeed Bolingbroke's position, should have been imitated to such
perfection by a mere novice, that accomplished critics like
Chesterfield and Warburton should have mistaken the copy for a
firstrate original. It is, however, to be remembered that the very
boldness and sweeping rapidity of Bolingbroke's prose rendered it more
fit for imitation than if its merits had been those of delicacy or
subtlety; and we must remember that the imitator was no pigmy, but
himself one of the giants. What is certain is that the study of
Bolingbroke which preceded this excellent imitation left a permanent
mark, and traces of Bolingbroke were never effaced from the style of

The point of the _Vindication_ is simple enough. It is to show that
the same instruments which Bolingbroke had employed in favour of
natural against revealed religion, could be employed with equal
success in favour of natural as against, what Burke calls, artificial
society. "Show me," cries the writer, "an absurdity in religion, and
I will undertake to show you a hundred for one in political laws and
institutions.... If, after all, you should confess all these things,
yet plead the necessity of political institutions, weak and wicked as
they are, I can argue with equal, perhaps superior force, concerning
the necessity of artificial religion; and every step you advance in
your argument, you add a strength to mine. So that if we are resolved
to submit our reason and our liberty to civil usurpation, we have
nothing to do but to conform as quietly as we can to the vulgar
notions which are connected with this, and take up the theology of
the vulgar as well as their politics. But if we think this necessity
rather imaginary than real, we should renounce their dreams of
society, together with their visions of religion, and vindicate
ourselves into perfect liberty."

The most interesting fact about this spirited performance is, that it
is a satirical literary handling of the great proposition which Burke
enforced, with all the thunder and lurid effulgence of his most
passionate rhetoric, five and thirty years later. This proposition is
that the world would fall into ruin, "if the practice of all moral
duties, and the foundations of society, rested upon having their
reasons made clear and demonstrative to every individual." The satire
is intended for an illustration of what with Burke was the cardinal
truth for men, namely, that if you encourage every individual to let
the imagination loose upon all subjects, without any restraint from a
sense of his own weakness, and his subordinate rank in the long scheme
of things, then there is nothing of all that the opinion of ages
has agreed to regard as excellent and venerable, which would not be
exposed to destruction at the hands of rationalistic criticism. This
was Burke's most fundamental and unswerving conviction from the first
piece that he wrote down to the last, and down to the last hour of his

It is a coincidence worth noticing that only two years before the
appearance of the _Vindication_, Rousseau had published the second
of the two memorable Discourses in which he insisted with serious
eloquence on that which Burke treats as a triumph of irony. He
believed, and many thousands of Frenchmen came to a speculative
agreement with him, that artificial society had marked a decline in
the felicity of man, and there are passages in the Discourse in which
he demonstrates this, that are easily interchangeable with passages
in the _Vindication_. Who would undertake to tell us from internal
evidence whether the following page, with its sombre glow, is an
extract from Burke, or an extract from the book which Rousseau begins
by the sentence that man is born free, yet is he everywhere in

    There are in Great Britain upwards of a hundred thousand people
    employed in lead, tin, iron, copper, and coal mines; these unhappy
    wretches scarce ever see the light of the sun; they are buried in
    the bowels of the earth; there they work at a severe and dismal
    task, without the least prospect of being delivered from it; they
    subsist upon the coarsest and worst sort of fare; they have their
    health miserably impaired, and their lives cut short, by being
    perpetually confined in the close vapour of these malignant
    minerals. A hundred thousand more at least are tortured without
    remission by the suffocating smoke, intense fires, and constant
    drudgery, necessary in refining and managing the products of those
    mines. If any man informed us that two hundred thousand innocent
    persons were condemned to so intolerable slavery, how should
    we pity the unhappy sufferers, and how great would be our just
    indignation against those who inflicted so cruel and ignominious
    a punishment!... But this number, considerable as it is, and the
    slavery, with all its baseness and horror, which we have at home,
    is nothing to what the rest of the world affords of the same
    nature. Millions daily bathed in the poisonous damps and
    destructive effluvia of lead, silver, copper, and arsenic, to say
    nothing of those other employments, those stations of wretchedness
    and contempt, in which civil society has placed the numerous
    _enfans perdus_ of her army. Would any rational man submit to one
    of the most tolerable of these drudgeries, for all the artificial
    enjoyments which policy has made to result from them?... Indeed
    the blindness of one part of mankind co-operating with the frenzy
    and villainy of the other, has been the real builder of this
    respectable fabric of political society: and as the blindness of
    mankind has caused their slavery, in return their state of slavery
    is made a pretence for continuing them in a state of blindness;
    for the politician will tell you gravely that their life of
    servitude disqualifies the greater part of the race of man for a
    search of truth, and supplies them with no other than mean and
    insufficient ideas. This is but too true; and this is one of the
    reasons for which I blame such institutions.

From the very beginning, therefore, Burke was drawn to the deepest of
all the currents in the thought of the eighteenth century. Johnson and
Goldsmith continued the traditions of social and polite literature
which had been established by the Queen Anne men. Warburton and a
whole host of apologists carried on the battle against deism and
infidelity. Hume, after furnishing the arsenal of scepticism with
a new array of deadlier engines and more abundant ammunition, had
betaken himself placidly to the composition of history. What is
remarkable in Burke's first performance is his discernment of the
important fact, that behind the intellectual disturbances in the
sphere of philosophy, and the noisier agitations in the sphere of
theology, there silently stalked a force that might shake the whole
fabric of civil society itself. In France, as all students of its
speculative history are agreed, there came a time in the eighteenth
century when theological controversy was turned into political
controversy. Innovators left the question about the truth of
Christianity, and busied themselves with questions about the ends
and means of governments. The appearance of Burke's _Vindication
of Natural Society_ coincides in time with the beginning of this
important transformation. Burke foresaw from the first what, if
rationalism were allowed to run an unimpeded course, would be the
really great business of the second halt of his century.

If in his first book Burke showed how alive he was to the profound
movement of the time, in the second he dealt with one of the most
serious of its more superficial interests. The essay on the Sublime
and Beautiful fell in with a set of topics on which the curiosity of
the better minds of the age, alike in France, England, and Germany,
was fully stirred. In England the essay has been ordinarily slighted;
it has perhaps been overshadowed by its author's fame in weightier
matters. The nearest approach to a full and serious treatment of its
main positions is to be found in Dugald Stewart's lectures. The
great rhetorical art-critic of our own day refers to it in words of
disparagement, and in truth it has none of the flummery of modern
criticism. It is a piece of hard thinking, and it has the distinction
of having interested and stimulated Lessing, the author of _Laoköon_
(1766), by far the most definitely valuable of all the contributions
to aesthetic thought in an age which was not poor in them. Lessing was
so struck with the _Inquiry_ that he set about a translation of it,
and the correspondence between him and Moses Mendelssohn on the
questions which Burke had raised contains the germs of the doctrine as
to poetry and painting which _Laoköon_ afterwards made so famous. Its
influence on Lessing and on Kant was such as to justify the German
historian of the literature of the century in bestowing on it the
coveted epithet of epoch-making.

The book is full of crudities. We feel the worse side of the
eighteenth century when Burke tells us that a thirst for Variety in
architecture is sure to leave very little true taste; or that an air
of robustness and strength is very prejudicial to beauty; or that sad
fuscous colours are indispensable for sublimity. Many of the sections,
again, are little more than expanded definitions from the dictionary.
Any tyro may now be shocked at such a proposition as that beauty acts
by relaxing the solids of the whole system. But at least one signal
merit remains to the _Inquiry_. It was a vigorous enlargement of the
principle, which Addison had not long before timidly illustrated, that
critics of art seek its principles in the wrong place, so long as
they limit their search to poems, pictures, engravings, statues, and
buildings, instead of first arranging the sentiments and faculties in
man to which art makes its appeal. Addison's treatment was slight and
merely literary; Burke dealt boldly with his subject on the base of
the most scientific psychology that was then within his reach. To
approach it on the psychological side at all was to make a distinct
and remarkable advance in the method of the inquiry which he had taken
in hand.



Burke was thirty years old before he approached even the threshold of
the arena in which he was destined to be so great a figure. He had
made a mark in literature, and it was to literature rather than to
public affairs that his ambition turned. He had naturally become
acquainted with the brother-authors who haunted the coffee-houses in
Fleet Street; and Burke, along with his father-in-law, Dr. Nugent,
was one of the first members of the immortal club where Johnson did
conversational battle with all comers. We shall, in a later chapter,
have something to say on Burke's friendships with the followers of
his first profession, and on the active sympathy with which he helped
those who were struggling into authorship. Meanwhile, the fragments
that remain of his own attempts in this direction are no considerable
contributions. His _Hints for an Essay on the Drama_ are jejune and
infertile, when compared with the vigorous and original thought of
Diderot and Lessing at about the same period. He wrote an Account of
the European Settlements in America. His _Abridgment of the History of
England_ comes down no further than to the reign of John. A much more
important undertaking than his history of the past was his design for
a yearly chronicle of the present. The _Annual Register_ began to
appear in 1759. Dodsley, the bookseller of Pall Mall, provided the
sinews of war, and he gave Burke a hundred pounds a year for his
survey of the great events which were then passing in the world. The
scheme was probably born of the circumstances of the hour, for this
was the climax of the Seven Years' War. The clang of arms was heard in
every quarter of the globe, and in East and West new lands were being
brought under the dominion of Great Britain.

In this exciting crisis of national affairs, Burke began to be
acquainted with public men. In 1759 he was introduced, probably by
Lord Charlemont, to William Gerard Hamilton, who only survives in our
memories by his nickname of Single-speech. As a matter of fact, he
made many speeches in Parliament, and some good ones, but none so
good as the first, delivered in a debate in 1755, in which Pitt, Fox,
Grenville, and Murray all took part, and were all outshone by the
new luminary. But the new luminary never shone again with its first
brilliance. He sought Burke out on the strength of the success of the
_Vindication of Natural Society_, and he seems to have had a taste for
good company. Horace Walpole describes a dinner at his house in the
summer of 1761. "There were Garrick," he says, "and a young Mr. Burke,
who wrote a book in the style of Lord Bolingbroke, that is much
admired. He is a sensible man, but has not worn off his authorism yet,
and thinks there is nothing so charming as writers, and to be one. He
will know better one of these days." The prophecy came true in time,
but it was Burke's passion for authorism that eventually led to a
rupture with his first patron. Hamilton was a man of ability, but
selfish and unreasonable. Dr. Leland afterwards described him
compendiously as a sullen, vain, proud, selfish, canker-hearted,
envious reptile.

In 1761 Hamilton went to Ireland as secretary to Lord Halifax, and
Burke accompanied him in some indefinite capacity. "The absenteeism of
her men of genius," an eminent historian has said, "was a worse wrong
to Ireland than the absenteeism of her landlords. If Edmund Burke had
remained in the country where Providence had placed him, he might have
changed the current of its history." [1] It is at least to be said
that Burke was never so absorbed in other affairs as to forget the
peculiar interests of his native land. We have his own word, and his
career does not belie it, that in the elation with which he was filled
on being elected a member of Parliament, what was first and uppermost
in his thoughts was the hope of being somewhat useful to the place of
his birth and education; and to the last he had in it "a dearness of
instinct more than he could justify to reason." In fact the affairs
of Ireland had a most important part in Burke's life at one or two
critical moments, and this is as convenient a place as we are likely
to find for describing in a few words what were the issues. The brief
space can hardly be grudged in an account of a great political writer,
for Ireland had furnished the chief ordeal, test, and standard of
English statesmen.

[Footnote 1: Fronde's _Ireland_, ii. 214.]

Ireland in the middle of the eighteenth century was to England just
what the American colonies would have been, if they had contained,
besides the European settlers, more than twice their number of
unenslaved negroes. After the suppression of the great rebellion of
Tyrconnel by William of Orange, nearly the whole of the land was
confiscated, the peasants were made beggars and outlaws, the Penal
Laws against the Catholics were enacted and enforced, and the
grand reign of Protestant Ascendancy began in all its vileness and
completeness. The Protestants and landlords were supreme; the peasants
and the Catholics were prostrate in despair. The Revolution brought
about in Ireland just the reverse of what it effected in England. Here
it delivered the body of the nation from the attempted supremacy of a
small sect. There it made a small sect supreme over the body of the
nation. "It was, to say the truth," Burke wrote, "not a revolution but
a conquest," and the policy of conquest was treated as the just and
normal system of government. The last conquest of England was in the
eleventh century. The last conquest of Ireland was at the very end of
the seventeenth.

Sixty years after the event, when Burke revisited Ireland, some
important changes had taken place. The English settlers of the
beginning of the century had formed an Irish interest. They had become
Anglo-Irish, just as the colonists still further west had formed a
colonial interest and become Anglo-American. The same conduct on
the part of the mother country promoted the growth of these hostile
interests in both cases. The commercial policy pursued by England
towards America was identical with that pursued towards Ireland. The
industry of the Anglo-Irish traders was restricted, their commerce
and even their production fettered, their prosperity checked, for the
benefit of the merchants of Manchester and Bristol. _Crescit Roma
Albae ruinis_. "The bulk of the people," said Stone, the Primate, "are
not regularly either lodged, clothed, or fed; and those things which
in England are called necessaries of life, are to us only accidents,
and we can, and in many places do, subsist without them." On the
other hand, the peasantry had gradually taken heart to resent their
spoliation and attempted extirpation, and in 1761 their misery
under the exactions of landlords and a church which tried to spread
Christianity by the brotherly agency of the tithe-proctor, gave birth
to Whiteboyism--a terrible spectre, which, under various names and
with various modifications, has ridden Ireland down to our own time.

Burke saw the Protestant traders of the dependency the victims of
the colonial and commercial system; the Catholic landowners legally
dispossessed by the operation of the penal laws; the Catholic
peasantry deeply penetrated with an insurgent and vindictive spirit;
and the Imperial Government standing very much aloof, and leaving the
country to the tender mercies of the Undertakers and some Protestant
churchmen. The Anglo-Irish were bitterly discontented with the
mother country; and the Catholic native Irish were regarded by their
Protestant oppressors with exactly that combination of intense
contempt and loathing, and intense rage and terror, which their
American counterpart would have divided between the Negro and the Red
Indian. To the Anglo-Irish the native peasant was as odious as the
first, and as terrible as the second. Even at the close of the century
Burke could declare that the various descriptions of the people were
kept as much apart as if they were not only separate nations, but
separate species. There were thousands, he says, who had never talked
to a Roman Catholic in their whole lives, unless they happened to talk
to a gardener's workman or some other labourer of the second or third
order; while a little time before this they were so averse to have
them near their persons, that they would not employ even those who
could never find their way beyond the stables. Chesterfield, a
thoroughly impartial and just observer, said in 1764 that the poor
people in Ireland were used worse than negroes by their masters and
the middlemen. We should never forget that in the transactions with
the English Government during the eighteenth century, the people
concerned were not the Irish, but the Anglo-Irish, the colonists
of 1691. They were an aristocracy, as Adam Smith said of them, not
founded in the natural and respectable distinctions of birth and
fortune, but in the most odious of all distinctions, those of
religious and political prejudices--distinctions which, more than any
other, animate both the insolence of the oppressors and the hatred and
indignation of the oppressed.

The directions in which Irish improvement would move were clear from
the middle of the century to men with much less foresight than
Burke had. The removal of all commercial restrictions, either by
Independence or Union, on the one hand, and the gradual emancipation
of the Catholics, on the other, were the two processes to which every
consideration of good government manifestly pointed. The first proved
a much shorter and simpler process than the second. To the first
the only obstacle was the blindness and selfishness of the English
merchants. The second had to overcome the virulent opposition of the
tyrannical Protestant faction in Ireland, and the disgraceful but
deep-rooted antipathies of the English nation. The history of the
relation between the mother country and her dependency during Brake's
life, may be characterised as a commercial and legislative struggle
between the imperial government and the Anglo-Irish interest, in which
each side for its own convenience, as the turn served, drew support
from the Catholic majority.

A Whiteboy outbreak, attended by the usual circumstances of disorder
and violence, took place while Burke was in Ireland. It suited the
interests of faction to represent these commotions as the symptoms of
a deliberate rebellion. The malcontents were represented as carrying
on treasonable correspondence, sometimes with Spain and sometimes
with France; they were accused of receiving money and arms from their
foreign sympathisers, and of aiming at throwing off the English rule.
Burke says that he had means and the desire of informing himself to
the bottom upon the matter, and he came strongly to the conclusion
that this was not a true view of what had happened. What had happened
was due, he thought, to no plot, but to superficial and fortuitous
circumstances. He consequently did not shrink from describing it as
criminal, that the king's Catholic subjects in Ireland should have
been subjected, on no good grounds, to harassing persecution, and that
numbers of them should have been ruined in fortune, imprisoned, tried,
and capitally executed for a rebellion which was no rebellion at all.
The episode is only important as illustrating the strong and manly
temper in which Burke, unlike too many of his countrymen with fortunes
to make by English favour, uniformly considered the circumstances of
his country. It was not until a later time that he had an opportunity
of acting conspicuously on her behalf, but whatever influence he came
to acquire with his party was unflinchingly used against the cruelty
of English prejudice.

Burke appears to have remained in Ireland for two years (1761-63). In
1763 Hamilton, who had found him an invaluable auxiliary, procured for
him, principally with the aid of the Primate Stone, a pension of three
hundred pounds a year from the Irish Treasury. In thanking him for
this service, Burke proceeded to bargain that the obligation should
not bind him to give to his patron the whole of his time. He insisted
on being left with a discreet liberty to continue a little work which
he had as a rent-charge upon his thoughts. Whatever advantages he had
acquired, he says, had been due to literary reputation, and he could
only hope for a continuance of such advantages on condition of doing
something to keep the same reputation alive. What this literary design
was, we do not know with certainty. It is believed to have been a
history of England, of which, as I have said, a fragment remains.
Whatever the work may have been, it was an offence to Hamilton. With
an irrational stubbornness, that may well astound us when we think of
the noble genius that he thus wished to confine to paltry personal
duties, he persisted that Burke should bind himself to his service for
life, and to the exclusion of other interests. "To circumscribe my
hopes," cried Burke, "to give up even the possibility of liberty, to
annihilate myself for ever!" He threw up the pension, which he had
held for two years, and declined all further connection with Hamilton,
whom he roundly described as an infamous scoundrel. "Six of the
best years of my life he took me from every pursuit of my literary
reputation, or of improvement of my fortune.... In all this time you
may easily conceive how much I felt at seeing myself left behind
by almost all of my contemporaries. There never was a season more
favourable for any man who chose to enter into the career of public
life; and I think I am not guilty of ostentation in supposing my own
moral character and my industry, my friends and connections, when Mr.
Hamilton first sought my acquaintance, were not at all inferior to
those of several whose fortune is at this day upon a very different
footing from mine."

It was not long before a more important opening offered itself, which
speedily brought Burke into the main stream of public life. In the
summer of 1765 a change of ministry took place. It was the third since
the king's accession five years ago. First, Pitt had been disgraced,
and the old Duke of Newcastle dismissed. Then Bute came into power,
but Bute quailed before the storm of calumny and hate which his Scotch
nationality, and the supposed source of his power over the king, had
raised in every town in England. After Lord Bute, George Grenville
undertook the Government. Before he had been many months in office,
he had sown the seeds of war in the colonies, wearied Parliament,
and disgusted the king. In June 1765 Grenville was dismissed. With
profound reluctance the king had no other choice than to summon Lord
Rockingham, and Lord Rockingham, in a happy moment for himself and his
party, was induced to offer Burke a post as his private secretary.
A government by country gentlemen is too apt to be a government of
ignorance, and Lord Rockingham was without either experience or
knowledge. He felt, or friends felt for him, the advantage of having
at his side a man who was chiefly known as an author in the service
of Dodsley, and as having conducted the _Annual Register_ with great
ability, but who even then was widely spoken of as nothing less than
an encyclopaedia of political knowledge.

It is commonly believed that Burke was commended to Lord Rockingham by
William Fitzherbert. Fitzherbert was President of the Board of Trade
in the new government, but he is more likely to be remembered as Dr.
Johnson's famous example of the truth of the observation, that a
man will please more upon the whole by negative qualities than by
positive, because he was the most acceptable man in London, and yet
overpowered nobody by the superiority of his talents, made no man
think worse of himself by being his rival, seemed always to listen,
did not oblige you to hear much from him, and did not oppose what
you said. Besides Fitzherbert's influence, we have it on Burke's own
authority that his promotion was partly due to that mysterious person,
William Burke, who was at the same time appointed an under-secretary
of state. There must have been unpleasant rumours afloat as to the
Burke connection, and we shall presently consider what they were
worth. Meanwhile, it is enough to say that the old Duke of Newcastle
hurried to the new premier, and told him the appointment would never
do; that the new secretary was not only an Irish adventurer, which was
true, but that he was an Irish papist, which was not true; that he was
a Jesuit, that he was a spy from Saint Omer's, and that his real name
was O'Bourke. Lord Rockingham behaved like a man of sense and honour,
sent for Burke, and repeated to him what he had heard. Burke warmly
denounced the truthlessness of the Duke's tattle. He insisted that
the reports which his chief had heard would probably, even unknown to
himself, create in his mind such suspicions as would stand in the way
of a thorough confidence. No earthly consideration, he said, should
induce him to continue in relations with a man whose trust in him was
not entire; and he pressed his resignation. To this Lord Rockingham
would not consent, and from that time until his death, seventeen
years afterwards, the relations between them were those of loyal and
honourable service on the one hand, and generous and appreciative
friendship on the other. Six and twenty years afterwards (1791) Burke
remembered the month in which he had first become connected with a
man whose memory, he said, will ever be precious to Englishmen of
all parties, as long as the ideas of honour and virtue, public and
private, are understood and cherished in this nation.

The Rockingham ministry remained in office for a year and twenty days
(1765-66). About the middle of this term (December 26, 1765) Burke was
returned to Parliament for the borough of Wendover, by the influence
of Lord Verney, who owned it, and who also returned William Burke for
another borough. Lord Verney was an Irish peer, with large property in
Buckinghamshire; he now represented that county in Parliament. It
was William Burke's influence with Lord Verney that procured for his
namesake the seat at Wendover. Burke made his first speech in the
House of Commons a few days after the opening of the session of 1766
(January 27), and was honoured by a compliment from Pitt, still the
Great Commoner. A week later he spoke again on the same momentous
theme, the complaints of the American colonists, and his success was
so marked that good judges predicted, in the stiff phraseology of the
time, that he would soon add the palm of the orator to the laurel of
the writer and the philosopher. The friendly Dr. Johnson wrote to
Langton that Burke had gained more reputation than any man at his
first appearance had ever gained before. The session was a great
triumph to the new member, but it brought neither strength nor
popularity to the administration. At the end of it the king dismissed
them, and the Chatham Government was formed--that strange combination
which has been made famous by Burke's description of it as a piece of
joinery so crossly indented and whimsically dovetailed, such a piece
of diversified mosaic, such a tessellated pavement without cement,
that it was indeed a very curious show, but utterly unsafe to touch
and unsure to stand upon. There was no obvious reason why Burke should
not have joined the new ministry. The change was at first one of
persons rather than of principles or of measures. To put himself, as
Burke afterwards said, out of the way of the negotiations which were
then being carried on very eagerly and through many channels with the
Earl of Chatham, he went to Ireland very soon after the change of
ministry. He was free from party engagements, and more than this, he
was free at the express desire of his friends; for on the very day of
his return the Marquis of Rockingham wished him to accept office under
the new system. Burke "believes he might have had such a situation,
but he cheerfully took his fate with his party." In a short time he
rendered his party the first of a long series of splendid literary
services by writing his _Observations on the Present State of the
Nation_ (1769). It was a reply to a pamphlet by George Grenville, in
which the disappointed minister accused his successors of ruining the
country. Burke, in answering the charge, showed a grasp of commercial
and fiscal details at least equal to that of Grenville himself, then
considered the first man of his time in dealing with the national
trade and resources. To this easy mastery of the special facts of the
discussion, Burke added the far rarer art of lighting them up by broad
principles, and placing himself and his readers at the highest and
most effective point of view for commanding their general bearings.

If Burke had been the Irish adventurer that his enemies described, he
might well have seized with impatience the opening to office that the
recent exhibition of his powers in the House of Commons had now made
accessible to him. There was not a man in Great Britain to whom the
emoluments of office would have been more useful. It is one of the
standing mysteries in literary biography how Burke could think of
entering Parliament without any means that anybody can now trace of
earning a fitting livelihood. Yet at this time Burke, whom we saw not
long ago writing for the booksellers, had become affluent enough to
pay a yearly allowance to Barry, the painter, in order to enable him
to study the pictures in the great European galleries, and to make a
prolonged residence at Rome. A little later he took a step which
makes the riddle still more difficult, and which has given abundant
employment to wits who are _maximi in minimis_, and think that every
question which they can ask, yet to which history has thought it worth
while to leave no answer, is somehow a triumph of their own learning
and dialectic.

In 1769 Burke purchased a house and lands known as Gregories, in the
parishes of Penn and Beaconsfield, in the county of Bucks. It has
often been asked, and naturally enough, how a man who, hardly more
than a few months before, was still contented to earn an extra hundred
pounds a year by writing for Dodsley, should now have launched out as
the buyer of a fine house and estate, which cost upwards of twenty-two
thousand pounds, which could not be kept up on less than two thousand
five hundred a year, and of which the returns did not amount to
one-fifth of that sum. Whence did he procure the money, and what is
perhaps more difficult to answer, how came he first to entertain the
idea of a design so ill-proportioned to anything that we can now
discern in his means and prospects? The common answer from Burke's
enemies, and even from some neutral inquirers, gives to every lover
of this great man's high character an unpleasant shock. It is alleged
that he had plunged into furious gambling in East India stock. The
charge was current at the time, and it was speedily revived when
Burke's abandonment of his party, after the French Revolution, exposed
him to a thousand attacks of reckless and uncontrolled virulence. It
has been stirred by one or two pertinacious critics nearer our own
time, and none of the biographers have dealt with the perplexities
of the matter as they ought to have done. Nobody, indeed, has ever
pretended to find one jot or tittle of direct evidence that Burke
himself took a part in the gambling in India or other stocks. There is
evidence that he was a holder of the stock, and no more. But what is
undeniable is that Richard Burke, his brother, William Burke, his
intimate if not his kinsman, and Lord Verney, his political patron,
were all three at this time engaged together in immense transactions
in East India stock; that in 1769 the stock fell violently; that they
were unable to pay their differences; and that in the year when Edmund
Burke bought Gregories, the other three were utterly ruined, two of
them beyond retrieval. Again it is clear that, after this, Richard
Burke was engaged in land-jobbing in the West Indies; that his claims
were disputed by the Government as questionable and dishonest; and
that he lost his case. Edmund Burke was said, in the gossip of the
day, to be deeply interested in land at Saint Vincent's. But there
is no evidence. What cannot be denied is that an unpleasant taint of
speculation and financial adventurership hung at one time about the
whole connection, and that the adventures invariably came to an
unlucky end.

Whether Edmund Burke and William Burke were relations or not, and if
so, in what degree they were relations, neither of them ever knew;
they believed that their fathers sometimes called one another cousins,
and that was all that they had to say on the subject. But they were as
intimate as brothers, and when William Burke went to mend his broken
fortunes in India, Edmund Burke commended him to Philip Francis--then
fighting his deadly duel of five years with Warren Hastings at
Calcutta--as one whom he had tenderly loved, highly valued, and
continually lived with in an union not to be expressed, quite since
their boyish years. "Looking back to the course of my life," he wrote
in 1771, "I remember no one considerable benefit in the whole of it
which I did not, mediately or immediately, derive from William Burke."
There is nothing intrinsically incredible, therefore, considering this
intimacy and the community of purse and home which subsisted among the
three Burkes, in the theory that when Edmund Burke bought his property
in Buckinghamshire, he looked for help from the speculations of
Richard and William. However this may have been, from them no help
came. Many years afterwards (1783) Lord Verney filed a bill in
Chancery claiming from Edmund Burke a sum of £6000, which he alleged
that he had lent at the instigation of William Burke, to assist in
completing the purchase of Beaconsfield. Burke's sworn answer denied
all knowledge of the transaction, and the plaintiff did not get the
relief for which he had prayed.

In a letter to Shackleton (May 1, 1768), Burke gave the following
account of what he had done:--"I have made a push," he says, "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. It is a place exceedingly pleasant; and I propose, God
willing, to become a farmer in good earnest. You, who are classical,
will not be displeased to know that it was formerly the seat of
Waller, the poet, whose house, or part of it, makes at present the
farmhouse within an hundred yards of me." The details of the actual
purchase of Beaconsfield have been made tolerably clear. The price was
twenty-two thousand pounds, more or less. Fourteen thousand were left
on mortgage, which remained outstanding until the sale of the property
by Mrs. Burke in 1812. Garret Burke, the elder brother, had shortly
before the purchase made Edmund his residuary legatee, and it is
guessed that of this bequest two thousand pounds were in cash. The
balance of six thousand was advanced by Lord Rockingham on Burke's

The purchase after all was the smallest part of the matter, and it
still remains a puzzle not only how Burke was able to maintain so
handsome an establishment, but how he could ever suppose it likely
that he would be able to maintain it. He counted, no doubt, on making
some sort of income by farming. The Irish estate, which he had
inherited from his brother, brought in five hundred a year (Arthur
Young's _Ireland_, ii. 193). For a short time he received a salary of
seven hundred pounds a year as agent for New York. We may perhaps
take for granted that he made as much more out of his acres. He
received something from Dodsley for his work on the _Annual Register_
down to 1788. But when all these resources have been counted up, we
cannot but see the gulf of a great yearly deficit. The unhappy truth
is that from the middle of 1769, when we find him applying to Garrick
for the loan of a thousand pounds, down to 1794, when the king gave
him a pension, Burke was never free from the harassing strain of debts
and want of money. It has been stated with good show of authority,
that his obligations to Lord Rockingham amounted to not less than
thirty thousand pounds. When that nobleman died (1782), with a
generosity which is not the less honourable to him for having been so
richly earned by the faithful friend who was the object of it, he
left instructions to his executors that all Burke's bonds should be

We may indeed wish from the bottom of our hearts that all this had
been otherwise. But those who press it as a reproach against Burke's
memory, may be justly reminded that when Pitt died, after drawing the
pay of a minister for twenty years, he left debts to the amount of
forty thousand pounds. Burke, as I have said elsewhere, 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. At least, every creditor was paid in good time, and nobody
suffered but himself. Those who think these disagreeable matters of
supreme importance, and allow such things to stand between them and
Brake's greatness, are like the people--slightly to alter a figure
from a philosopher of old--who, when they went to Olympia, could only
perceive that they were scorched by the sun, and pressed by the crowd,
and deprived of comfortable means of bathing, and wetted by the rain,
and that life was full of disagreeable and troublesome things, and so
they almost forgot the great colossus of ivory and gold, Phidias's
statue of Zeus, which they had come to see, and which stood in all its
glory and power before their perturbed and foolish vision.

There have been few men in history with whom personal objects counted
for so little as they counted with Burke. He really did what so many
public men only feign to do. He forgot that he had any interests of
his own to be promoted, apart from the interests of the party with
which he acted, and from those of the whole nation, for which he held
himself a trustee. What William Burke said of him in 1766 was true
throughout his life, "Ned is full of real business, intent upon doing
solid good to his country, as much as if he was to receive twenty
per cent from the Empire." Such men as the shrewd and impudent Bigby
atoned for a plebeian origin by the arts of dependence and a judicious
servility, and drew more of the public money from the pay-office in
half a dozen quarter-days than Burke received in all his life. It was
not by such arts that Burke rose. When we remember all the untold
bitterness of the struggle in which he was engaged, from the time when
the old Duke of Newcastle tried to make the Marquis of Rockingham
dismiss his new private secretary as an Irish Jesuit in disguise
(1765), down to the time when the Duke of Bedford, himself battening
"in grants to the house of Russell, so enormous as not only to outrage
economy, but even to stagger credibility," assailed the Government for
giving Burke a moderate pension, we may almost imagine that if Johnson
had imitated the famous Tenth Satire a little later, he would have
been tempted to apply the poet's cynical criticism of the career
heroic to the greater Cicero of his own day. "I was not," Burke said,
in a passage of lofty dignity, "like his Grace of Bedford, swaddled
and rocked and dandled into a legislator; _Nitor in adversum_ is the
motto for a man like me. I possessed not one of the qualities, nor
cultivated one of the arts, that recommend men to the favour and
protection of the great. I was not made for a minion or a tool. As
little did I follow the trade of winning the hearts, by imposing on
the understandings of the people. At every step of my progress in
life, for in every step was I traversed and opposed, and at every
turnpike I met, I was obliged to show my passport, and again and again
to prove my sole title to the honour of being useful to my country, by
a proof that I was not wholly unacquainted with its laws and the whole
system of its interests both abroad and at home; otherwise no rank, no
toleration even for me."



Foreign observers of our affairs looked upon the state of England
between the accession of George III. and the loss of the American
colonies (1760-76) with mixed disgust and satisfaction. Their instinct
as absolute rulers was revolted by a spectacle of unbridled faction
and raging anarchy; their envy was soothed by the growing weakness of
a power which Chatham had so short a time before left at the highest
point of grandeur and strength. Frederick the Great spoke with
contempt of the insolence of Opposition and the virulence of parties;
and vowed that, petty German prince as he was, he would not change
places with the King of England. The Emperor Joseph pronounced
positively that Great Britain was declining, that Parliament was
ruining itself, and that the colonies threatened a catastrophe.
Catherine of Russia thought that nothing would restore its ancient
vigour to the realm, short of the bracing and heroic remedy of a war.
Even at home, such shrewd and experienced onlookers as Horace Walpole
suspected that the state of the country was more serious than it had
been since the Great Rebellion, and declared it to be approaching by
fast strides to some sharp crisis. Men who remembered their Roman
history, fancied that they saw every symptom of confusion that
preceded the ruin of the Commonwealth, and began to inquire uneasily
what was the temper of the army. Men who remembered the story of the
violence and insatiable factiousness of Florence, turned again to
Macchiavelli and to Guicciardini, to trace a parallel between the
fierce city on the Arno and the fierce city on the Thames. When the
King of Sweden, in 1772, carried out a revolution, by abolishing an
oligarchic council and assuming the powers of a dictator, with the
assent of his people, there were actually serious men in England who
thought that the English, after having been guilty of every meanness
and corruption, would soon, like the Swedes, own themselves unworthy
to be free. The Duke of Richmond, who happened to have a claim to a
peerage and an estate in France, excused himself for taking so much
pains to establish his claim to them, by gravely asking who knew that
a time might not soon come when England would not be worth living in,
and when a retreat to France might be a very happy thing for a free
man to have?

The reign had begun by a furious outbreak of hatred between the
English and the Scotch. Lord Bute had been driven from office, not
merely because he was supposed to owe his power to a scandalous
friendship with the king's mother, but because he was accused of
crowding the public service with his detested countrymen from the
other side of the Tweed. He fell, less from disapproval of his policy,
than from rude prejudice against his country. The flow of angry
emotion had not subsided before the whisper of strife in the American
colonies began to trouble the air; and before that had waxed loud, the
Middlesex election had blown into a portentous hurricane. This was the
first great constitutional case after Burke came into the House of
Commons. As, moreover, it became a leading element in the crisis which
was the occasion of Burke's first remarkable essay in the literature
of politics, it is as well to go over the facts.

The Parliament to which he had first been returned, now approaching
the expiry of its legal term, was dissolved in the spring of 1768.
Wilkes, then an outlaw in Paris, returned to England, and announced
himself as a candidate for the city. When the election was over, his
name stood last on the poll. But his ancient fame as the opponent
and victim of the court five years before, was revived. After his
rejection in the city, he found himself strong enough to stand for
the county of Middlesex. Here he was returned at the head of the poll
after an excited election. Wilkes had been tried in 1764, and found
guilty by the King's Bench of republishing Number Forty-five of the
_North Briton_, and of printing and publishing the _Essay on Woman_.
He had not appeared to receive sentence, and had been outlawed in
consequence. After his election for Middlesex, he obtained a reversal
of his outlawry on a point of technical form. He then came up for
sentence under the original verdict. The court sent him to prison
for twenty-two months, and condemned him to pay a fine of a thousand

Wilkes was in prison when the second session of the new Parliament
began. His case came before the House in November 1768, on his own
petition, accusing Lord Mansfield of altering the record at his trial.
After many acrimonious debates and examinations of Wilkes and others
at the bar of the House, at length, by 219 votes against 136, the
famous motion was passed which expelled him from the House. Another
election for Middlesex was now held, and Wilkes was returned without
opposition. The day after the return, the House of Commons resolved by
an immense majority, that having been expelled, Wilkes was incapable
of serving in that Parliament. The following month Wilkes was once
more elected. The House once more declared the election void. In April
another election took place, and this time the Government put forward
Colonel Luttrell, who vacated his seat for Bossiney for the purpose of
opposing Wilkes. There was the same result, and for the fourth time
Wilkes was at the head of the poll. The House ordered the return to be
altered, and after hearing by counsel the freeholders of Middlesex who
petitioned against the alteration, finally confirmed it (May 8, 1769)
by a majority of 221 to 152. According to Lord Temple, this was the
greatest majority ever known on the last day of a session.

The purport and significance of these arbitrary proceedings need
little interpretation. The House, according to the authorities, had a
constitutional right to expel Wilkes, though the grounds on which even
this is defended would probably be questioned if a similar case were
to arise in our own day. But a single branch of the legislature could
have no power to pass an incapacitating vote either against Wilkes or
anybody else. An Act of Parliament is the least instrument by which
such incapacity could be imposed. The House might perhaps expel
Wilkes, but it could not either legally or with regard to the less
definite limits of constitutional morality, decide whom the Middlesex
freeholders should not elect, and it could not therefore set aside
their representative, who was then free from any disabling quality.
Lord Camden did not much exaggerate, when he declared in a debate on
the subject in the House of Lords, that the judgment passed upon the
Middlesex election had given the constitution a more dangerous
wound than any which were given during the twelve years' absence
of Parliament in the reign of Charles I. The House of Commons was
usurping another form of that very dispensing power, for pretending
to which the last of the Stuart sovereigns had lost his crown. If the
House by a vote could deprive Wilkes of a right to sit, what legal or
constitutional impediment would there be in the way, if the majority
were at any time disposed to declare all their most formidable
opponents in the minority incapable of sitting?

In the same Parliament, there was another and scarcely less remarkable
case of Privilege, "that eldest son of Prerogative," as Burke truly
called it, "and inheriting all the vices of its parent." Certain
printers were accused of breach of privilege for reporting the debates
of the House (March, 1771). The messenger of the serjeant-at-arms
attempted to take one of them into custody in his own shop in the
city. A constable was standing by, designedly, it has been supposed,
and Miller, the printer, gave the messenger into his custody for an
assault. The case came on before the Lord Mayor, Alderman Wilkes,
and Alderman Oliver, the same evening, and the result was that the
messenger of the House was committed. The city doctrine was, that
if the House of Commons had a serjeant-at-arms, they had a
serjeant-at-mace. If the House of Commons could send their citizens
to Newgate, they could send its messenger to the Compter. Two other
printers were collusively arrested, brought before Wilkes and Oliver,
and at once liberated.

The Commons instantly resolved on stern measures. The Lord Mayor and
Oliver were taken and despatched to the Tower, where they lay until
the prorogation of Parliament. Wilkes stubbornly refused to pay any
attention to repeated summonses to attend at the bar of the House,
very properly insisting that he ought to be summoned to attend _in his
place_ as member for Middlesex. Besides committing Crosby and Oliver
to the Tower, the House summoned the Lord Mayor's clerk to attend with
his books, and then and there forced him to strike out the record of
the recognisances into which their messenger had entered on being
committed at the Mansion House. No Stuart ever did anything more
arbitrary and illegal. The House deliberately intended to constitute
itself, as Burke had said two years before, an arbitrary and despotic
assembly. "The distempers of monarchy were the great subjects of
apprehension and redress in the last century. In this, the distempers
of Parliament."

Burke, in a speech which he delivered in his place in 1771, warned the
House of the evils of the course upon which they were entering, and
declared those to be their mortal enemies who would persuade them to
act as if they were a self-originated magistracy, independent of the
people, and unconnected with their opinions and feelings. But these
mortal enemies of its very constitution were at this time the majority
of the House. It was to no purpose that Burke argued with more than
legal closeness that incapacitation could not be a power according to
law, inasmuch as it had neither of the two properties of law: it was
not _known_, "you yourselves not knowing upon what grounds you will
vote the incapacity of any man;" and it was not _fixed_, because
it was varied according to the occasion, exercised according to
discretion, and no man could call for it as a right. A strain of
unanswerable reasoning of this kind counted for nothing, in spite of
its being unanswerable. Despotic or oligarchic pretensions are proof
against the most formidable battery that reason and experience can
construct against them. And Wilkes's exclusion endured until this
Parliament--the Unreported Parliament, as it was called, and in many
respects the very worst that ever assembled at Westminster--was
dissolved, and a new one elected (1774), when he was once again
returned for Middlesex, and took his seat.

The London multitude had grown zealous for Wilkes, and the town had
been harassed by disorder. Of the fierce brutality of the crowd of
that age, we may form a vivid idea from the unflinching pencil of
Hogarth. Barbarous laws were cruelly administered. The common people
were turbulent, because misrule made them miserable. Wilkes had
written filthy verses, but the crowd cared no more for this than their
betters cared about the vices of Lord Sandwich. They made common cause
with one who was accidentally a more conspicuous sufferer. Wilkes was
quite right when he vowed that he was no Wilkite. The masses were
better than their leader. "Whenever the people have a feeling," Burke
once said, "they commonly are in the right: they sometimes mistake the
physician." Franklin, who was then in London, was of opinion that if
George III. had had a bad character, and John Wilkes a good one,
the latter might have turned the former out of the kingdom; for the
turbulence that began in street riots, at one time threatened to end
in revolt. The king himself was attacked with savage invective in
papers, of which it was said that no one in the previous century would
have dared to print any like them until Charles was fast locked up in
Carisbrooke Castle.

As is usual when the minds of those in power have been infected with
an arbitrary temper, the employment of military force to crush civil
disturbances became a familiar and favourite idea. The military, said
Lord Weymouth, in an elaborate letter which he addressed to the Surrey
magistrates, can never be employed to a more constitutional purpose
than in the support of the authority and dignity of the magistracy.
If the magistrate should be menaced, he is cautioned not to delay a
moment in calling for the aid of the military, and making use of them
effectually. The consequence of this bloody scroll, as Wilkes rightly
called it, was that shortly afterwards an affray occurred between the
crowd and the troops, in which some twenty people were killed and
wounded (May 10, 1768). On the following day, the Secretary of War,
Lord Barrington, wrote to the commanding officer, informing him that
the king highly approved of the conduct both of officers and men, and
wished that his gracious approbation of them should be communicated to

Burke brought the matter before the House in a motion for a Committee
of Inquiry, supported by one of the most lucid and able of his minor
speeches. "If ever the time should come," he concluded, "when this
House shall be found prompt to execute and slow to inquire; ready
to punish the excesses of the people, and slow to listen to their
grievances; ready to grant supplies, and slow to examine the account;
ready to invest magistrates with large powers, and slow to inquire
into the exercise of them; ready to entertain notions of the military
power as incorporated with the constitution,--when you learn this in
the air of St. James's, then the business is done; then the House of
Commons will change that character which it receives from the people
only." It is hardly necessary to say that his motion for a Committee
was lost by the overwhelming majority of 245 against 30. The general
result of the proceedings of the Government from the accession of
George III. to the beginning of the troubles in the American colonies,
was in Burke's own words, that the Government was at once dreaded and
contemned; that the laws were despoiled of all their respected and
salutary terrors; that their inaction was a subject of ridicule, and
their exertion of abhorrence; that our dependencies had slackened
in their affections; that we knew neither how to yield, nor how to
enforce; and that disconnection and confusion, in offices, in parties,
in families, in Parliament, in the nation, prevailed beyond the
disorders of any former time.

It was in the pamphlet on the _Present Discontents_, published in
1770, that Burke dealt at large with the whole scheme of policy of
which all these irregularities were the distempered incidents. The
pamphlet was composed as a manifesto of the Rockingham section of the
Whig party, to show, as Burke wrote to his chief, how different it
was in spirit and composition from "the Bedfords, the Grenvilles, and
other knots, who are combined for no public purpose, but only as a
means of furthering with joint strength their private and individual
advantage." The pamphlet was submitted in manuscript or proof to the
heads of the party. Friendly critics excused some inelegancies which
they thought they found in occasional passages, by taking for granted,
as was true, that he had admitted insertions from other hands. Here
for the first time he exhibited, on a conspicuous scale, the strongest
qualities of his understanding. Contemporaries had an opportunity of
measuring this strength, by comparison with another performance of
similar scope. The letters of Junius had startled the world the year
before. Burke was universally suspected of being their author, and the
suspicion never wholly died out so long as he lived. There was no real
ground for it beyond the two unconnected facts, that the letters were
powerful letters, and that Burke had a powerful intellect. Dr. Johnson
admitted that he had never had a better reason for believing that
Burke was Junius, than that he knew nobody else who had the ability of
Junius. But Johnson discharged his mind of the thought, at the instant
that Burke voluntarily assured him that he neither wrote the letters
of Junius, nor knew who had written them. The subjects and aim of
those famous pieces were not very different from Burke's tract, but
any one who in our time turns from the letters to the tract, will
wonder how the author of the one could ever have been suspected of
writing the other. Junius is never more than a railer, and very
often he is third-rate even as a railer. The author of the _Present
Discontents_ speaks without bitterness even of Lord Bute and the Duke
of Grafton; he only refers to persons, when their conduct or their
situation illustrates a principle. Instead of reviling, he probes, he
reflects, he warns; and as the result of this serious method, pursued
by a man in whom close mastery of detail kept exact pace with wide
grasp of generalities, we have not the ephemeral diatribe of a
faction, but one of the monumental pieces of political literature.

The last great pamphlet in the history of English public affairs had
been Swift's tract _On the Conduct of the Allies_ (1711), in which the
writer did a more substantial service for the Tory party of his day
than Burke did for the Whig party of a later date. Swift's pamphlet is
close, strenuous, persuasive, and full of telling strokes; but nobody
need read it to-day except the historical student, or a member of the
Peace Society, in search of the most convincing exposure of the most
insane of English wars.[1] There is not a sentence in it which does
not belong exclusively to the matter in hand: not a line of that
general wisdom which is for all time. In the _Present Discontents_ the
method is just the opposite of this. The details are slurred, and they
are not literal. Burke describes with excess of elaboration how the
new system is a system of double cabinets; one put forward with
nominal powers in Parliament, the other concealed behind the throne,
and secretly dictating the policy. The reader feels that this is
worked out far too closely to be real. It is a structure of artificial
rhetoric. But we lightly pass this over, on our way to more solid
matter; to the exposition of the principles of a constitution, the
right methods of statesmanship, and the defence of party.

[Footnote 1: This was not Burke's judgment on the long war against
Louis XIV.--See _Regicide Peace_, i.]

It was Bolingbroke, and not Swift, of whom Burke was thinking, when he
sat down to the composition of his tract. The _Patriot King_ was
the fountain of the new doctrines, which Burke trained his party to
understand and to resist. If his foe was domestic, it was from a
foreign armoury that Burke derived the instruments of resistance. The
great fault of political writers is their too close adherence to the
forms of the system of state which they happen to be expounding or
examining. They stop short at the anatomy of institutions, and do not
penetrate to the secret of their functions. An illustrious author in
the middle of the eighteenth century introduced his contemporaries
to a better way. It is not too much to say that at that epoch the
strength of political speculation in this country, from Adam Smith
downwards, was drawn from France; and Burke had been led to some
of what was most characteristic in his philosophy of society by
Montesquieu's _Spirit of Laws_ (1748), the first great manual of the
historic school. We have no space here to work out the relations
between Montesquieu's principles and Burke's, but the student of the
_Esprit des Lois_ will recognise its influence in every one of Burke's

So far as immediate events were concerned, Burke was quick to discern
their true interpretation. As has been already said, he attributed to
the king and his party a deliberateness of system which probably had
no real existence in their minds. The king intended to reassert the
old right of choosing his own ministers. George II. had made strenuous
but futile endeavours to the same end. His son, the father of George
III., Frederick, Prince of Wales, as every reader of Dodington's Diary
will remember, was equally bent on throwing off the yoke of the great
Whig combinations, and making his own cabinets. George III. was only
continuing the purpose of his father and his grandfather; and there is
no reason to believe that he went more elaborately to work to obtain
his ends.

It is when he leaves the artifices of a cabal, and strikes down below
the surface to the working of deep social forces, that we feel the
breadth and power of Burke's method. "I am not one of those," he
began, "who think that the people are never wrong. They have been so,
frequently and outrageously, both in other countries and in this. But
I do say that _in all disputes between them and their rulers, the
presumption is at least upon a par in favour of the people_." Nay,
experience perhaps justifies him in going further. When popular
discontents are prevalent, something has generally been found amiss in
the constitution or the administration. "The people have no interest
in disorder. When they go wrong, it is their error, and not their
crime." And then he quotes the famous passage from the Memoirs of
Sully, which both practical politicians and political students
should bind about their necks, and write upon the tables of their
hearts:--"The revolutions that come to pass in great states are not
the result of chance, nor of popular caprice.... As for the populace,
it is never from a passion for attack that it rebels, but from
impatience of suffering."

What really gives its distinction to the _Present Discontents_ is not
its plea for indulgence to popular impatience, nor its plea for the
superiority of government by aristocracy, but rather the presence in
it of the thought of Montesquieu and his school, of the necessity
of studying political phenomena in relation, not merely to forms of
government and law, but in relation to whole groups of social facts
which give to law and government the spirit that makes them workable.
Connected with this, is a particularly wide interpretation and a
particularly impressive application of the maxims of expediency,
because a wide conception of the various interacting elements of
a society naturally extends the considerations which a balance of
expediencies will include. Hence, in time, there came a strong
and lofty ideal of the true statesman, his breadth of vision, his
flexibility of temper, his hardly measurable influence. These are the
principal thoughts in the _Discontents_ to which that tract owes its
permanent interest. "Whatever original energy," says Burke, in one
place, "may be supposed either in force or regulation, the operation
of both is in truth merely instrumental. Nations are governed by the
same methods, and on the same principles, by which an individual
without authority is often able to govern those who are his equals
or superiors; by a knowledge of their temper, and by a judicious
management of it.... The laws reach but a very little way. Constitute
Government how you please, infinitely the greater part of it must
depend upon the exercise of powers, which are left at large to the
prudence and uprightness of ministers of state. Even all the use and
potency of the laws depends upon them. Without them, your Commonwealth
is no better than _a scheme upon paper; and not a living, active,
effective constitution_." Thus early in his public career had Burke
seized that great antithesis which he so eloquently laboured in
the long and ever memorable episode of his war against the French
Revolution: the opposition between artificial arrangements in
politics, and a living, active, effective organisation, formed by what
he calls elsewhere in the present tract the natural strength of the
kingdom, and suitable to the temper and mental habits of the people.
When he spoke of the natural strength of the kingdom, he gave no
narrow or conventional account of it. He included in the elements
of that strength, besides the great peers and the leading landed
gentlemen, the opulent merchants and manufacturers, and the
substantial yeomanry. Contrasted with the trite versions of Government
as fixed in King, Lords, and Commons, this search for the real organs
of power was going to the root of the matter in a spirit at once
thoroughly scientific and thoroughly practical. Burke had, by the
speculative training to which he had submitted himself in dealing with
Bolingbroke, prepared his mind for a complete grasp of the idea of
the body politic as a complex growth, a manifold whole, with closely
interdependent relations among its several parts and divisions. It
was this conception from which his conservatism sprang. Revolutionary
politics have one of their sources in the idea that societies are
capable of infinite and immediate modifications, without reference to
the deep-rooted conditions that have worked themselves into every part
of the social structure. The same opposition of the positive to the
doctrinaire spirit is to be observed in the remarkable vindication of
Party, which fills the last dozen pages of the pamphlet, and which
is one of the most courageous of all Burke's deliverances. Party
combination is exactly one of those contrivances which, as it might
seem, a wise man would accept for working purposes, but about which
he would take care to say as little as possible. There appears to be
something revolting to the intellectual integrity and self-respect of
the individual in the systematic surrender of his personal action,
interest, and power, to a political connection in which his own
judgment may never once be allowed to count for anything. It is like
the surrender of the right of private judgment to the authority of the
Church, but with its nakedness not concealed by a mystic doctrine.
Nothing is more easy to demolish by the bare logical reason. But Burke
cared nothing about the bare logical reason, until it had been
clothed in convenience and custom, in the affections on one side, and
experience on the other. Not content with insisting that for some
special purpose of the hour, "when bad men combine, the good must
associate," he contended boldly for the merits of fidelity to party
combination in itself. Although Burke wrote these strong pages as a
reply to Bolingbroke, who had denounced party as an evil, they remain
as the best general apology that has ever been offered for that
principle of public action, against more philosophic attacks than
Bolingbroke's. Burke admitted that when he saw a man acting a
desultory and disconnected part in public life with detriment to his
fortune, he was ready to believe such a man to be in earnest, though
not ready to believe him to be right. In any case he lamented to
see rare and valuable qualities squandered away without any public
utility. He admitted, moreover, on the other hand, that people
frequently acquired in party confederacies a narrow, bigoted, and
proscriptive spirit. "But where duty renders a critical situation
a necessary one, it is our business to keep free from the evils
attendant upon it, and not to fly from the situation itself. It is
surely no very rational account of a man that he has always acted
right, but has taken special care to act in such a manner that his
endeavours could not possibly be productive of any consequence....
When men are not acquainted with each other's, principles, nor
experienced in each other's talents, nor at all practised in their
mutual habitudes and dispositions by joint efforts of business; no
personal confidence, no friendship, no common interest subsisting
among them; it is evidently impossible that they can act a public part
with uniformity, perseverance, or efficacy."

In terms of eloquent eulogy he praised the sacred reverence with which
the Romans used to regard the _necessitudo sortis_, or the relations
that grew up between men who had only held office together by the
casual fortune of the lot. He pointed out to emulation the Whig
junto who held so close together in the reign of Anne--Sunderland,
Godolphin, Somers, and Marlborough--who believed "that no men could
act with effect who did not act in concert; that no men could act in
concert who did not act with confidence; and that no men could act
with confidence who were not bound together by common opinions,
common affections, and common interests." In reading these energetic
passages, we have to remember two things: first, that the writer
assumes the direct object of party combination to be generous, great,
and liberal causes; and second, that when the time came, and when he
believed that his friends were espousing a wrong and pernicious cause,
Burke, like Samson bursting asunder the seven green withes, broke away
from the friendships of a life, and deliberately broke his party in

[Footnote 1: See on the same subject, _Correspondence_, ii. 276, 277.]

When Burke came to discuss the cure for the disorders of 1770, he
insisted on contenting himself with what he ought to have known to be
obviously inadequate prescriptions. And we cannot help feeling that he
never speaks of the constitution of the government of this country,
without gliding into a fallacy identical with that which he himself
described and denounced, as thinking better of the wisdom and power
of human legislation than in truth it deserved. He was uniformly
consistent in his view of the remedies which the various sections of
Opposition proposed against the existing debasement and servility of
the Lower House. The Duke of Richmond wanted universal suffrage,
equal electoral districts, and annual parliaments. Wilkes proposed
to disfranchise the rotten boroughs, to increase the county
constituencies, and to give members to rich, populous, trading
towns--a general policy which was accepted fifty-six years afterwards.
The Constitutional Society desired frequent parliaments, the
exclusion of placemen from the House, and the increase of the county
representation. Burke uniformly refused to give his countenance to any
proposals such as these, which involved a clearly organic change in
the constitution. He confessed that he had no sort of reliance
upon either a triennial parliament or a place-bill, and with that
reasonableness which as a rule was fully as remarkable in him as his
eloquence, he showed very good grounds for his want of faith in the
popular specifics. In truth, triennial or annual parliaments could
have done no good, unless the change had been accompanied by the more
important process of amputating, as Chatham called it, the rotten
boroughs. Of these the Crown could at that time reckon some seventy as
its own property. Besides those which belonged to the Crown, there was
also the immense number which belonged to the Peerage. If the king
sought to strengthen an administration, the thing needful was not to
enlist the services of able and distinguished men, but to conciliate a
duke, who brought with him the control of a given quantity of voting
power in the Lower House. All this patrician influence, which may be
found at the bottom of most of the intrigues of the period, would not
have been touched by curtailing the duration of parliaments.

What then was the remedy, or had Burke no remedy to offer for these
grave distempers of Parliament? Only the remedy of the interposition
of the body of the people itself. We must beware of interpreting this
phrase in the modern democratic sense. In 1766 he had deliberately
declared that he thought it would be more conformable to the spirit of
the constitution, "by lessening the number, to add to the weight and
independency of our voters." "Considering the immense and dangerous
charge of elections, the prostitute and daring venality, the
corruption of manners, the idleness and profligacy of the lower sort
of voters, no prudent man would propose to increase such an evil."[1]
In another place he denies that the people have either enough of
speculation in the closet, or of experience in business, to be
competent judges, not of the detail of particular measures only, but
of _general schemes of policy_.[2] On Burke's theory, the people, as a
rule, were no more concerned to interfere with Parliament, than a man
is concerned to interfere with somebody whom he has voluntarily and
deliberately made his trustee. But here, he confessed, was a shameful
and ruinous breach of trust. The ordinary rule of government was being
every day mischievously contemned and daringly set aside. Until the
confidence thus outraged should be once more restored, then the people
ought to be excited to a more strict and detailed attention to the
conduct of their representatives. The meetings of counties and
corporations ought to settle standards for judging more systematically
of the behaviour of those whom they had sent to Parliament. Frequent
and correct lists of the voters in all important questions ought to
be procured. The severest discouragement ought to be given to the
pernicious practice of affording a blind and undistinguishing support
to every administration. "Parliamentary support comes and goes with
office, totally regardless of the man or the merit." For instance,
Wilkes's annual motion to expunge the votes upon the Middlesex
election had been uniformly rejected, as often as it was made while
Lord North was in power. Lord North had no sooner given way to the
Rockingham Cabinet than the House of Commons changed its mind, and
the resolutions were expunged by a handsome majority of 115 to 47.
Administration was omnipotent in the House, because it could be a
man's most efficient friend at an election, and could most amply
reward his fidelity afterwards. Against this system Burke called on
the nation to set a stern face. Root it up, he kept crying; settle the
general course in which you desire members to go; insist that they
shall not suffer themselves to be diverted from this by the authority
of the government of the day; let lists of votes be published, so
that you may ascertain for yourselves whether your trustees have been
faithful or fraudulent; do all this, and there will be no need to
resort to those organic changes, those empirical innovations, which
may possibly cure, but are much more likely to destroy.

[Footnote 1: "Observations on State of the Nation," _Works_, i. 105,

[Footnote 2: "Speech on Duration of Parliaments."]

It is not surprising that so halting a policy should have given deep
displeasure to very many, perhaps to most, of those whose only common
bond was the loose and negative sentiment of antipathy to the court,
the ministry, and the too servile majority of the House of Commons.
The Constitutional Society was furious. Lord Chatham wrote to Lord
Rockingham that the work in which these doctrines first appeared,
must do much mischief to the common cause. But Burke's view of the
constitution was a part of his belief with which he never
paltered, and on which he surrendered his judgment to no man. "Our
constitution," in his opinion, "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."[1] This image was ever before his mind. It occurs
again in the last sentence of that great protest against all change
and movement, when he describes himself as one who, when the equipoise
of the vessel in which he sails may be endangered by overloading it
upon one side, is desirous of carrying the small weight of his reasons
to that which may preserve its equipoise.[2] When we think of the
odious mis-government in England which the constitution permitted,
between the time when Burke wrote and the passing of Lord Sidmouth's
Six Acts fifty years later, we may be inclined to class such a
constitution among the most inadequate and mischievous political
arrangements that any free country has ever had to endure. Yet it was
this which Burke declared that he looked upon with filial reverence.
"Never will I cut it in pieces, and put it into the kettle of any
magician, in order to boil it with the puddle of their compounds into
youth and vigour; on the contrary, I will drive away such pretenders;
I will nurse its venerable age, and with lenient arts extend a
parent's breath."

[Footnote 1: _Present Discontents_.]

[Footnote 2: _Reflections on the French Revolution_.]

He was filled with the spirit, and he borrowed the arguments, which
have always marked the champion of faith and authority against the
impious assault of reason or innovation. The constitution was sacred
to him as the voice of the Church and the oracles of her saints are
sacred to the faithful. Study it, he cried, until you know how to
admire it, and if you cannot know and admire, rather believe that you
are dull, than that the rest of the world has been imposed upon. We
ought to understand it according to our measure and to venerate where
we are not able presently to comprehend. Well has Burke been called
the Bossuet of politics.

Although, however, Burke's unflinching reverence for the constitution,
and his reluctance to lay a finger upon it, may now seem clearly
excessive, as it did to Chatham and his son, who were great men in the
right, or to Beckford and Sawbridge, who were very little men in the
right, we can only be just to him by comparing his ideas with those
which were dominant throughout an evil reign. While he opposed more
frequent parliaments, he still upheld the doctrine that "to govern
according to the sense, and agreeably to the interests, of the people
is a great and glorious object of government." While he declared
himself against the addition of a hundred knights of the shire, he
in the very same breath protested that, though the people might be
deceived in their choice of an object, he "could scarcely conceive any
choice they could make, to be so very mischievous as the existence of
any human force capable of resisting it."[1] To us this may seem very
mild and commonplace doctrine, but it was not commonplace in an age
when Anglican divines--men like Archbishop Markham, Dr. Nowell or
Dr. Porteus--had revived the base precepts of passive obedience and
non-resistance, and when such a man as Lord Mansfield encouraged them.
And these were the kind of foundations which Burke had been laying,
while Fox was yet a Tory, while Sheridan was writing farces, and while
Grey was a schoolboy.

[Footnote 1: "To the Chairman of the Buckinghamshire Meeting," 1780.]

It is, however, almost demonstrably certain that the vindication of
the supremacy of popular interests over all other considerations would
have been bootless toil, and that the great constitutional struggle
from 1760 to 1783 would have ended otherwise than it did, but for
the failure of the war against the insurgent colonies, and the final
establishment of American Independence. It was this portentous
transaction which finally routed the arbitrary and despotic
pretensions of the House of Commons over the people, and which put an
end to the hopes entertained by the sovereign of making his personal
will supreme in the Chambers. Fox might well talk of an early Loyalist
victory in the war, as the terrible news from Long Island. The
struggle which began unsuccessfully at Brentford in Middlesex, was
continued at Boston in Massachusetts. The scene had changed, but the
conflicting principles were the same. The war of Independence was
virtually a second English civil war. The ruin of the American cause
would have been also the ruin of the constitutional cause in England;
and a patriotic Englishman may revere the memory of Patrick Henry and
George Washington not less justly than the patriotic American. Burke's
attitude in this great contest is that part of his history about the
majestic and noble wisdom of which there can be least dispute.



The war with the American colonies was preceded by an interval of
stupor. The violent ferment which had been stirred in the nation by
the affairs of Wilkes and the Middlesex election, was followed, as
Burke said, by as remarkable a deadness and vapidity. In 1770 the
distracted ministry of the Duke of Grafton came to an end, and was
succeeded by that of Lord North. The king had at last triumphed. He
had secured an administration of which the fundamental principle was
that the sovereign was to be the virtual head of it, and the real
director of its counsels. Lord North's government lasted for twelve
years, and its career is for ever associated with one of the most
momentous chapters in the history of the English nation and of free

Through this long and eventful period, Burke's was as the voice of
one crying in the wilderness. He had become important enough for the
ministry to think it worth while to take pains to discredit him. They
busily encouraged the report that he was Junius, or a close ally of
Junius. This was one of the minor vexations of Burke's middle life.
Even his friends continued to torment him for incessant disclaimers.
Burke's lofty pride made him slow to deal positively with what he
scorned as a malicious and unworthy imputation. To such a friend as
Johnson he did not, as we have seen, disdain to volunteer a denial,
but Charles Townshend was forced to write more than one importunate
letter before he could extract from Burke the definite sentence
(November 24, 1771):--"I now give you my word and honour that I am not
the author of Junius, and that I know not the author of that paper,
and I do authorise you to say so." Nor was this the only kind of
annoyance to which he was subjected. His rising fame kindled the
candour of the friends of his youth. With proverbial good-nature, they
admonished him that he did not bear instruction; that he showed such
arrogance as in a man of his condition was intolerable; that he
snapped furiously at his parliamentary foes, like a wolf who had
broken into the fold; that his speeches were useless declamations; and
that he disgraced the House by the scurrilities of the bear-garden.
These sharp chastenings of friendship Burke endured with the perfect
self-command, not of the cold and indifferent egotist, but of one who
had trained himself not to expect too much from men. He possessed the
true solace for all private chagrins in the activity and the fervour
of his public interests.

In 1772 the affairs of the East India Company and its relations with
the Government had fallen into disorder. The Opposition, though
powerless in the Houses of Parliament, were often able to thwart the
views of the ministry in the imperial board-room in Leadenhall Street.
The Duke of Richmond was as zealous and as active in his opposition
to Lord North in the business of the East Indies, as he was in the
business of the country at Westminster. A proposal was made to Burke
to go out to India at the head of a commission of three supervisors,
with authority to examine the concerns of every department, and full
powers of control over the company's servants. Though this offer was
pressed by the directors, Burke, after anxious consideration, declined
it. What his reasons were there is no evidence; we can only guess that
he thought less of his personal interests than of those of the
country and of his party. Without him the Rockingham connection
would undoubtedly have fallen to ruin, and with it the most upright,
consistent, and disinterested body of men then in public life. "You
say," the Duke of Richmond wrote to him (November 15, 1772), "the
party is an object of too much importance to go to pieces. Indeed,
Burke, you have more merit than any man in keeping us together." It
was the character of the party, almost as much as their principles,
that secured Burke's zeal and attachment; their decorum, their
constancy, their aversion to all cabals for private objects, their
indifference to office, except as an instrument of power and a means
of carrying out the policy of their convictions. They might easily
have had office if they would have come in upon the king's terms. A
year after his fall from power Lord Rockingham was summoned to the
royal closet, and pressed to resume his post. But office at any price
was not in their thoughts. They knew the penalties of their system,
and they clung to it undeterred. Their patriotism was deliberate and
considered. Chalcedon was called the city of the blind, because its
founders wilfully neglected the more glorious site of Byzantium which
lay under their eyes. "We have built our Chalcedon," said Burke, "with
the chosen part of the universe full in our prospect." They had the
faults to which an aristocratic party in opposition is naturally
liable. Burke used to reproach them with being somewhat languid,
scrupulous, and unsystematic. He could not make the Duke of Richmond
put off a large party at Goodwood for the sake of an important
division in the House of Lords; and he did not always agree with Lord
John Cavendish as to what constitutes a decent and reasonable quantity
of fox-hunting for a political leader in a crisis. But it was part of
the steadfastness of his whole life to do his best with such materials
as he could find. He did not lose patience nor abate his effort,
because his friends would miss the opportunity of a great political
stroke rather than they would miss Newmarket Races. He wrote their
protests for the House of Lords, composed petitions for county
meetings, drafted resolutions, and plied them with information, ideas,
admonitions, and exhortations. Never before nor since has our country
seen so extraordinary a union of the clever and indefatigable
party-manager, with the reflective and philosophic habits of the
speculative publicist. It is much easier to make either absolutism or
democracy attractive than aristocracy; yet we see how consistent with
his deep moral conservatism was Burke's attachment to an aristocratic
party, when we read his exhortation to the Duke of Richmond to
remember that persons in his high station in life ought to have long
views. "You people," he writes to the Duke (November 17, 1772), "of
great families and hereditary trusts and fortunes are not like such as
I am, who, whatever we may be by the rapidity of our growth, and even
by the fruit we bear, and flatter ourselves that, while we creep on
the ground, we belly into melons that are exquisite for size and
flavour, yet still we are but annual plants that perish with our
season, and leave no sort of traces behind us. You, if you are what
you ought to be, are in my eye the great oaks that shade a country,
and perpetuate your benefits from generation to generation. The
immediate power of a Duke of Richmond, or a Marquis of Rockingham,
is not so much of moment; but if their conduct and example hand down
their principles to their successors, then their houses become the
public repositories and office of record for the constitution.... I do
not look upon your time or lives as lost, if in this sliding away from
the genuine spirit of the country, certain parties, if possible--if
not, the heads of certain families--should make it their business by
the whole course of their lives, principally by their example,
to mould into the very vital stamina of their descendants those
principles which ought to be transmitted pure and unmixed to

Perhaps such a passage as this ought to be described less as
reflection than as imagination--moral, historic, conservative
imagination--in which order, social continuity, and the endless
projection of past into present, and of present into future, are
clothed with the sanctity of an inner shrine. We may think that a
fox-hunting duke and a racing marquis were very poor centres
round which to group these high emotions. But Burke had no puny
sentimentalism, and none of the mere literary or romantic conservatism
of men like Chateaubriand. He lived in the real world, and not in a
false dream of some past world that had never been. He saw that the
sporting squires of his party were as much the representatives of
ancestral force and quality as in older days were long lines of
Claudii and Valerii. His conservative doctrine was a profound
instinct, in part political, but in greater part moral. The accidental
roughness of the symbol did not touch him, for the symbol was
glorified by the sincerity of his faith and the compass of his

With these ideas strong within him, in 1773 Burke made a journey to
France. It was almost as though the solemn hierophant of some mystic
Egyptian temple should have found himself amid the brilliant chatter
of a band of reckless, keen-tongued disputants of the garden or
the porch at Athens. His only son had just finished a successful
school-course at Westminster, and was now entered a student at Christ
Church. He was still too young for the university, and Burke thought
that a year could not be more profitably spent than in forming his
tongue to foreign languages. The boy was placed at Auxerre, in the
house of the business agent of the Bishop of Auxerre. From the Bishop
he received many kindnesses, to be amply repaid in after years when
the Bishop came in his old age, an exile and a beggar, to England.

While in Paris, Burke did all that he could to instruct himself as
to what was going on in French society. If he had not the dazzling
reception which had greeted Hume in 1764, at least he had ample
opportunities of acquainting himself with the prevailing ideas of the
time in more than one of the social camps into which Paris was then
divided. Madame du Deffand tells the Duchess of Choiseul that though
he speaks French extremely ill, everybody felt that he would be
infinitely agreeable if he could more easily make himself understood.
He followed French well enough as a listener, and went every day to
the courts to hear the barristers and watch the procedure. Madame du
Deffand showed him all possible attention, and her friends eagerly
seconded her. She invited him to supper parties, where he met
the Count de Broglie, the agent of the king's secret diplomacy;
Caraccioli, successor of nimble-witted Galiani, the secretary from
Naples; and other notabilities of the high world. He supped with the
Duchess of Luxembourg, and heard a reading of La Harpe's _Barmecides_.
It was high treason in this circle to frequent the rival _salon_ of
Mademoiselle Lespinasse, but either the law was relaxed in the case
of foreigners, or else Burke kept his own counsel. Here were for the
moment the headquarters of the party of innovation, and here he saw
some of the men who were busily forging the thunderbolts. His eye was
on the alert, now as always, for anything that might light up the
sovereign problems of human government. A book by a member of this
circle had appeared six months before, which was still the talk of the
town, and against which the Government had taken the usual impotent
measures of repression. This was the _Treatise on Tactics_, by a
certain M. de Guibert, a colonel of the Corsican legion. The important
part of the work was the introduction, in which the writer examined
with what was then thought extraordinary hardihood, the social and
political causes of the decline of the military art in France. Burke
read it with keen interest and energetic approval. He was present at
the reading of a tragedy by the same author, and gave some offence to
the rival coterie by preferring Guibert's tragedy to La Harpe's. To
us, however, of a later day, Guibert is known neither for his tragedy
nor his essay on tactics, nor for a memory so rapid that he could open
a book, throw one glance like a flash of lightning on to a page, and
then instantly repeat from it half a dozen lines word for word.
He lives in literature as the inspirer of that ardent passion of
Mademoiselle Lespinasse's letters, so unique in their consuming
intensity that, as has been said, they seem to burn the page on which
they are written. It was perhaps at Mademoiselle Lespinasse's that
Burke met Diderot. The eleven volumes of the illustrative plates
of the _Encyclopaeedia_ had been given to the public twelve months
before, and its editor was just released from the giant's toil of
twenty years. Voltaire was in imperial exile at Ferney. Rousseau was
copying music in a garret in the street which is now called after his
name, but he had long ago cut himself off from society; and Burke was
not likely to take much trouble to find out a man whom he had known in
England seven years before, and against whom he had conceived a
strong and lasting antipathy, as entertaining no principle either to
influence his heart or to guide his understanding save a deranged and
eccentric vanity.

It was the fashion for English visitors to go to Versailles. They saw
the dauphin and his brothers dine in public, before a crowd of princes
of the blood, nobles, abbés, and all the miscellaneous throng of
a court. They attended mass in the chapel, where the old king,
surrounded by bishops, sat in a pew just above that of Madame du
Barri. The royal mistress astonished foreigners by hair without
powder and cheeks without rouge, the simplest toilettes, and the most
unassuming manners. Vice itself, in Burke's famous words, seemed to
lose half its evil by losing all its grossness. And there, too, Burke
had that vision to which we owe one of the most gorgeous pages in our
literature--Marie Antoinette, the young dauphiness, "decorating and
cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in, glittering
like the morning star, full of life and splendour and joy." The shadow
was rapidly stealing on. The year after Burke's visit, the scene
underwent a strange transformation. The king died; the mistress was
banished in luxurious exile; and the dauphiness became the ill-starred
Queen of France. Burke never forgot the emotions of the scene; they
awoke in his imagination sixteen years after, when all was changed,
and the awful contrast shook him with a passion that his eloquence has
made immortal.

Madame du Deffand wrote to Horace Walpole that Burke had been so well
received, that he ought to leave France excellently pleased with the
country. But it was not so. His spirit was perturbed by what he had
listened to. He came away with small esteem for that busy fermentation
of intellect in which his French friends most exulted, and for which
they looked forward to the gratitude and admiration of posterity. From
the spot on which he stood there issued two mighty streams. It was
from the ideas of the Parisian Freethinkers, whom Burke so detested,
that Jefferson, Franklin, and Henry drew those theories of human
society which were so soon to find life in American Independence. It
was from the same ideas that later on that revolutionary tide surged
forth, in which Burke saw no elements of a blessed fertility, but
only a horrid torrent of red and desolating lava. In 1773 there was
a moment of strange repose in Western Europe, the little break of
stillness that precedes the hurricane. It was indeed the eve of a
momentous epoch. Before sixteen years were over, the American Republic
had risen, like a new constellation into the firmament, and the French
monarchy, of such antiquity and fame and high pre-eminence in European
history, had been shattered to the dust. We may not agree with Burke's
appreciation of the forces that were behind these vast convulsions.
But at least he saw, and saw with eyes of passionate alarm, that
strong speculative forces were at work, which must violently prove
the very bases of the great social superstructure, and might not
improbably break them up for ever.

Almost immediately after his return from France, he sounded a
shrill note of warning. Some Methodists from Chatham had petitioned
Parliament against a bill for the relief of Dissenters from
subscription to the Articles. Burke denounced the intolerance of the
petitioners. It is not the Dissenters, he cried, whom you have to
fear, but the men who, "not contented with endeavouring to turn
your eyes from the blaze and effulgence of light, by which life and
immortality is so gloriously demonstrated by the Gospel, would even
extinguish that faint glimmering of Nature, that only comfort supplied
to ignorant man before this great illumination.... These are the
people against whom you ought to aim the shaft of the law; these are
the men to whom, arrayed in all the terrors of government, I would
say, 'You shall not degrade us into brutes.' ... The most horrid and
cruel blow that can be offered to civil society is through atheism....
The infidels 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. Under the systematic attacks of these people, I see some of
the props of good government already begin to fail; I see propagated
principles which will not leave to religion even a toleration. I
see myself sinking every day under the attacks of these wretched
people."[1] To this pitch he had been excited by the vehement band of
men, who had inscribed on their standard, _Écraser l'Infâme_.

[Footnote 1: "Speech on Relief of Protestant Dissenters, 1773."]

       *       *       *       *       *

The second Parliament in which Burke had a seat was dissolved suddenly
and without warning (October 1774). The attitude of America was
threatening, and it was believed the Ministers were anxious to have
the elections over before the state of things became worse. The whole
kingdom was instantly in a ferment. Couriers, chaises, post-horses,
hurried in every direction over the island, and it was noted, as a
measure of the agitation, that no fewer than sixty messengers passed
through a single turnpike on one day. Sensible observers were glad to
think that, in consequence of the rapidity of the elections, less wine
and money would be wasted than at any election for sixty years past.
Burke had a houseful of company at Beaconsfield when the news arrived.
Johnson was among them, and as the party was hastily breaking up, the
old Tory took his Whig friend kindly by the hand: "Farewell, my dear
sir," he said, "and remember that I wish you all the success that
ought to be wished to you, and can possibly be wished to you, by an
honest man."

The words were of good omen. Burke was now rewarded by the discovery
that his labours had earned for him recognition and gratitude beyond
the narrow limits of a rather exclusive party. He had before this
attracted the attention of the mercantile public. The Company of
Merchants trading to Africa voted him their thanks for his share in
supporting their establishments. The Committee of Trade at Manchester
formally returned him their grateful acknowledgments for the active
part that he had taken in the business of the Jamaica free ports.
But then Manchester returned no representative to Parliament. In two
Parliaments Burke had been elected for Wendover free of expense. Lord
Verney's circumstances were now so embarrassed, that he was obliged
to part with the four seats at his disposal to men who could pay for
them. There had been some talk of proposing Burke for Westminster,
and Wilkes, who was then omnipotent, promised him the support of
the popular party. But the patriot's memory was treacherous, and he
speedily forgot, for reasons of his own, an idea that had originated
with himself. Burke's constancy of spirit was momentarily overclouded.
"Sometimes when I am alone," he wrote to Lord Rockingham (September
15, 1774), "in spite of all my efforts, I fall into a melancholy which
is inexpressible, and to which, if I give way, I should not continue
long under it, but must totally sink. Yet I do assure you that partly,
and indeed principally, by the force of natural good spirits, and
partly by a strong sense of what I ought to do, I bear up so well that
no one who did not know them, could easily discover the state of my
mind or my circumstances. I have those that are dear to me, for whom I
must live as long as God pleases, and in what way He pleases. Whether
I ought not totally to abandon this public station for which I am so
unfit, and have of course been so unfortunate, I know not." But he
was always saved from rash retirement from public business by two
reflections. He doubted whether a man has a right to retire after he
has once gone a certain length in these things. And he remembered that
there are often obscure vexations in the most private life, which as
effectually destroy a man's peace as anything that can occur in public

Lord Rockingham offered his influence on behalf of Burke at Malton,
one of the family boroughs in Yorkshire, and thither Burke in no high
spirits betook himself. On his way to the north he heard that he
had been nominated for Bristol, but the nomination had for certain
electioneering reasons not been approved by the party. As it happened,
Burke was no sooner chosen at Malton than, owing to an unexpected
turn of affairs at Bristol, the idea of proposing him for a candidate
revived. Messengers were sent express to his house in London, and,
not finding him there, they hastened down to Yorkshire. Burke quickly
resolved that the offer was too important to be rejected. Bristol was
the capital of the west, and it was still in wealth, population, and
mercantile activity the second city of the kingdom. To be invited to
stand for so great a constituency, without any request of his own and
free of personal expense, was a distinction which no politician could
hold lightly. Burke rose from the table where he was dining with some
of his supporters, stepped into a post-chaise at six on a Tuesday
evening, and travelled without a break until he reached Bristol on the
Thursday afternoon, having got over two hundred and seventy miles in
forty-four hours. Not only did he execute the journey without a break,
but, as he told the people of Bristol, with an exulting commemoration
of his own zeal that recalls Cicero, he did not sleep for an instant
in the interval. The poll was kept open for a month, and the contest
was the most tedious that had ever been known in the city. New freemen
were admitted down to the very last day of the election. At the end of
it, Burke was second on the poll, and was declared to be duly chosen
(November 3, 1774). There was a petition against his return, but the
election was confirmed, and he continued to sit for Bristol for six

The situation of a candidate is apt to find out a man's weaker places.
Burke stood the test. He showed none of the petulant rage of those
clamorous politicians whose flight, as he said, is winged in a lower
region of the air. As the traveller stands on the noble bridge
that now spans the valley of the Avon, he may recall Burke's local
comparison of these busy, angry familiars of an election, to the gulls
that skim the mud of the river when it is exhausted of its tide. He
gave his new friends a more important lesson, when the time came for
him to thank them for the honour which they had just conferred upon
him. His colleague had opened the subject of the relations between a
member of Parliament and his constituents; and had declared that,
for his own part, he should regard the instructions of the people of
Bristol as decisive and binding. Burke in a weighty passage upheld a
manlier doctrine.

    Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of
    a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest
    correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his
    constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him;
    their opinions high respect, their business unremitted attention.
    It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasure, his
    satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases,
    to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion,
    his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to
    sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. Your
    representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment;
    and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to
    your opinion.

    My worthy colleague says, his will ought to be subservient to
    yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a
    matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be
    superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and
    judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that
    in which the determination precedes the discussion, in which one
    set of men deliberate and another decide, and where those who form
    the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from
    those who hear the arguments?... _Authoritative_ instructions,
    _mandates_ issued, which the member is bound blindly and
    implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to
    the clearest convictions of his judgment and conscience--these are
    things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise
    from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our

[Footnote 1: "Speech at the conclusion of the Poll."]

For six years the Bristol electors were content to be represented by
a man of this independence. They never, however, really acquiesced
in the principle that a member of Parliament owes as much to his own
convictions as to the will of his constituents. In 1778 a bill was
brought into Parliament, relaxing some of the restrictions imposed
upon Ireland by the atrocious fiscal policy of Great Britain. The
great mercantile centres raised a furious outcry, and Bristol was as
blind and as boisterous as Manchester and Glasgow. Burke not only
spoke and voted in favour of the commercial propositions, but urged
that the proposed removal of restrictions on Irish trade did not go
nearly far enough. There was none of that too familiar casuistry,
by which public men argue themselves out of their consciences in a
strange syllogism, that they can best serve the country in Parliament;
that to keep their seats they must follow their electors; and that
therefore, in the long run, they serve the country best by acquiescing
in ignorance and prejudice. Anybody can denounce an abuse. It needs
valour and integrity to stand forth against a wrong to which our best
friends are most ardently committed. It warms our hearts to think
of the noble courage with which Burke faced the blind and vile
selfishness of his own supporters. He reminded them that England only
consented to leave to the Irish in two or three instances the use of
the natural faculties which God had given them. He asked them whether
Ireland was united to Great Britain for no other purpose than that we
should counteract the bounty of Providence in her favour; and whether,
in proportion as that bounty had been liberal, we were to regard it as
an evil to be met with every possible corrective? In our day there is
nobody of any school who doubts that Burke's view of our trade policy
towards Ireland was accurately, absolutely, and magnificently right.
I need not repeat the arguments. They made no mark on the Bristol
merchants. Burke boldly told them that he would rather run the risk of
displeasing than of injuring them. They implored him to become their
advocate. "I should only disgrace myself," he said; "I should lose the
only thing which can make such abilities as mine of any use to the
world now or hereafter. I mean that authority which is derived from
the opinion that a member speaks the language of truth and sincerity,
and that he is not ready to take up or lay down a great political
system for the convenience of the hour; that he is in Parliament to
support his opinion of the public good, and does not form his opinion
in order to get into Parliament or to continue in it."[1]

[Footnote 1: _Two Letters to Gentlemen in Bristol_, 1778.]

A small instalment of humanity to Ireland was not more distasteful to
the electors of Bristol than a small instalment of toleration to Roman
Catholics in England. A measure was passed (1778) repealing certain
iniquitous penalties created by an Act of William the Third. It is
needless to say that this rudimentary concession to justice and sense
was supported by Burke. His voters began to believe that those were
right who had said that he had been bred at Saint Omer's, was a Papist
at heart, and a Jesuit in disguise. When the time came, _summa dies et
ineluctabile fatum_, Burke bore with dignity and temper his dismissal
from the only independent constituency that he ever represented. Years
before he had warned a young man entering public life to regard and
wish well to the common people, whom his best instincts and his
highest duties lead him to love and to serve, but to put as little
trust in them as in princes. Burke somewhere describes an honest
public life as carrying on a poor unequal conflict against the
passions and prejudices of our day, perhaps with no better weapons
than passions and prejudices of our own.

The six years during which Burke sat in Parliament for Bristol, saw
this conflict carried on under the most desperate circumstances. They
were the years of the civil war between the English at home and the
English in the American colonies. George III. and Lord North have been
made scapegoats for sins which were not exclusively, their own. They
were only the organs and representatives of all the lurking ignorance
and arbitrary humours of the entire community. Burke discloses in many
places, that for once the king and Parliament did not act without the
sympathies of the mass. In his famous speech at Bristol, in 1780, he
was rebuking the intolerance of those who bitterly taunted him for the
support of the measure for the relaxation of the Penal Code. "It is
but too true," he said in a passage worth remembering, "that the love,
and even the very idea, of genuine liberty is extremely rare. It is
but too true that there are many whose whole scheme of freedom is made
up of pride, perverseness, and insolence. They feel themselves in
a state of thraldom, they imagine that their souls are cooped and
cabined in, unless they have some man, or some body of men, dependent
on their mercy. The desire of having some one below them, descends
to those who are the very lowest of all; and a Protestant cobbler,
debased by his poverty, but exalted by his share of the ruling Church,
feels a pride in knowing it is by his generosity alone that the peer,
whose footman's instep he measures, is able to keep his chaplain from
a gaol. This disposition is the true source of the passion which
many men, in very humble life, have taken to the American war. _Our_
subjects in America; _our_ colonies; _our_ dependents. This lust of
party power is the liberty they hunger and thirst for; and this Siren
song of ambition has charmed ears that we would have thought were
never organised to that sort of music."

This was the mental attitude of a majority of the nation, and it was
fortunate for them and for us that the yeomen and merchants on the
other side of the Atlantic had a more just and energetic appreciation
of the crisis. The insurgents, while achieving their own freedom, were
indirectly engaged in fighting the battle of the people of the mother
country as well. Burke had a vehement correspondent who wrote to
him (1777) that if the utter ruin of this country were to be the
consequence of her persisting in the claim to tax America, then he
would be the first to say, _Let her perish!_ If England prevails, said
Horace Walpole, English and American liberty is at an end; if one
fell, the other would fall with it. Burke, seeing this, "certainly
never could and never did wish," as he says of himself, "the colonists
to be subdued by arms. He was fully persuaded that if such should be
the event, they must be held in that subdued state by a great body of
standing forces, and perhaps of foreign forces. He was strongly of
opinion that such armies, first victorious over Englishmen, in a
conflict for English constitutional rights and privileges, and
afterwards habituated (though in America) to keep an English people
in a state of abject subjection, would prove fatal in the end to the
liberties of England itself."[1] The way for this remote peril was
being sedulously prepared by a widespread deterioration among popular
ideas, and a fatal relaxation of the hold which they had previously
gained in the public mind. In order to prove that the Americans had no
right to their liberties, we were every day endeavouring to subvert
the maxims which preserve the whole spirit of our own. To prove that
the Americans ought not to be free, we were obliged to depreciate the
value of freedom itself. The material strength of the Government, and
its moral strength alike, would have been reinforced by the defeat of
the colonists, to such an extent as to have seriously delayed or even
jeopardised English progress, and therefore that of Europe too. As
events actually fell out, the ferocious administration of the law
in the last five or six years of the eighteenth century was the
retribution for the lethargy or approval with which the mass of the
English community had watched the measures of the Government against
their fellow-Englishmen in America.

[Footnote 1: _Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs_.]

It is not necessary here to follow Burke minutely through the
successive stages of parliamentary action in the American war. He
always defended the settlement of 1766; the Stamp Act was repealed,
and the constitutional supremacy and sovereign authority of the mother
country was preserved in a Declaratory Act. When the project of taxing
the colonies was revived, and relations with them were becoming
strained and dangerous, Burke came forward with a plan for leaving the
General Assemblies of the colonies to grant supplies and aids, instead
of giving and granting supplies in Parliament, to be raised and paid
in the colonies. Needless to say that it was rejected, and perhaps it
was not feasible. Henceforth Burke could only watch in impotence the
blunders of Government, and the disasters that befell the national
arms. But his protests against the war will last as long as our

Of all Burke's writings none are so fit to secure unqualified
and unanimous admiration as the three pieces on this momentous
struggle:--the Speech on American Taxation (April 19, 1774); the
Speech on Conciliation with America (March 22, 1775); and the Letter
to the Sheriffs of Bristol (1777). Together they hardly exceed the
compass of the little volume which the reader now has in his hands. It
is no exaggeration to say that they compose the most perfect manual in
our literature, or in any literature, for one who approaches the study
of public affairs, whether for knowledge or for practice. They are an
example without fault of all the qualities which the critic, whether a
theorist or an actor, of great political situations should strive by
night and by day to possess. If the theme with which they deal were
less near than it is to our interests and affections as free citizens,
these three performances would still abound in the lessons of an
incomparable political method. If their subject were as remote as the
quarrel between the Corinthians and Corcyra, or the war between Rome
and the Allies, instead of a conflict to which the world owes the
opportunity of the most important of political experiments, we should
still have everything to learn from the author's treatment; the
vigorous grasp of masses of compressed detail, the wide illumination
from great principles of human experience, the strong and masculine
feeling for the two great political ends of Justice and Freedom, the
large and generous interpretation of expediency, the morality, the
vision, the noble temper. If ever, in the fulness of time, and surely
the fates of men and literature cannot have it otherwise, Burke
becomes one of the half-dozen names of established and universal
currency in education and in common books, rising above the
waywardness of literary caprice or intellectual fashions, as
Shakespeare and Milton and Bacon rise above it, it will be the
mastery, the elevation, the wisdom, of these far-shining discourses in
which the world will in an especial degree recognise the combination
of sovereign gifts with beneficent uses.

The pamphlet on the _Present Discontents_ is partially obscured or
muffled to the modern reader by the space which is given to the cabal
of the day. The _Reflections on the French Revolution_ over-abounds in
declamation, and--apart from its being passionately on one side, and
that perhaps the wrong one--the splendour of the eloquence is out
of proportion to the reason and the judgment. In the pieces on the
American war, on the contrary, Burke was conscious that he could trust
nothing to the sympathy or the prepossessions of his readers, and
this put him upon an unwonted persuasiveness. Here it is reason and
judgment, not declamation; lucidity, not passion; that produces
the effects of eloquence. No choler mars the page; no purple patch
distracts our minds from the penetrating force of argument; no
commonplace is dressed up into a vague sublimity. The cause of freedom
is made to wear its own proper robe of equity, self-control, and

Not one, but all those great idols of the political market-place whose
worship and service has cost the race so dear, are discovered and
shown to be the foolish uncouth stocks and stones that they are. Fox
once urged members of Parliament to peruse the speech on Conciliation
again and again, to study it, to imprint it on their minds, to impress
it on their hearts. But Fox only referred to the lesson which he
thought to be contained in it, that representation is the sovereign
remedy for every evil. This is by far the least important of its
lessons. It is great in many ways. It is greatest as a remonstrance
and an answer against the thriving sophisms of barbarous national
pride, the eternal fallacies of war and conquest; and here it is
great, as all the three pieces on the subject are so, because they
expose with unanswerable force the deep-lying faults of heart and
temper, as well as of understanding, which move nations to haughty and
violent courses.

The great argument with those of the war party who pretended to a
political defence of their position, was the doctrine that the English
Government was sovereign in the colonies as at home; and in the notion
of sovereignty they found inherent the notion of an indefeasible
right to impose and exact taxes. Having satisfied themselves of the
existence of this sovereignty, and of the right which they took to be
its natural property, they saw no step between the existence of an
abstract right and the propriety of enforcing it. We have seen an
instance of a similar mode of political thinking in our own lifetime.
During the great civil war between the northern and southern states of
the American Union, people in England convinced themselves--some
after careful examination of documents, others by cursory glances at
second-hand authorities--that the south had a right to secede. The
current of opinion was precisely similar in the struggle to which the
United States owed their separate existence. Now the idea of a right
as a mysterious and reverend abstraction, to be worshipped in a state
of naked divorce from expediency and convenience, was one that Burke's
political judgment found preposterous and unendurable. He hated
the arbitrary and despotic savour which clung about the English
assumptions over the colonies. And his repulsion was heightened when
he found that these assumptions were justified, not by some permanent
advantage which their victory would procure for the mother country
or for the colonies, or which would repay the cost of gaining such a
victory; not by the assertion and demonstration of some positive duty,
but by the futile and meaningless doctrine that we had a right to do
something or other, if we liked.

The alleged compromise of the national dignity implied in a withdrawal
of the just claim of the Government, instead of convincing, only
exasperated him. "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; and then I am content to allow it what dignity you please."[1]
The next year he took up the ground still more firmly, and explained
it still more impressively. As for the question of the right
of taxation, he exclaimed, "It is less than nothing in my
consideration.... My consideration is narrow, confined, and wholly
limited to the policy of the question. I do not examine whether the
giving away a man's money be a power excepted and reserved out of the
general trust of Government.... _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._ It is not what a lawyer tells
me I _may_ do, but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I
_ought_ to do. I am not determining a point of law; I am restoring
tranquillity, and the general character and situation of a people must
determine what sort of government is fitted for them." "I am not here
going into the distinctions of rights," he cries, "not attempting
to mark their boundaries. I do not enter into these metaphysical
distinctions. _I hate the very sound of them_. This is the true
touchstone of all theories which regard man and the affairs of man:
does it suit his nature in general?--does it suit his nature as
modified by his habits?" He could not bear to think of having
legislative or political arrangements shaped or vindicated by a
delusive geometrical accuracy of deduction, instead of being entrusted
to "the natural operation of things, which, left to themselves,
generally fall into their proper order."

[Footnote 1: "Speech on American Taxation."]

Apart from his incessant assertion of the principle that man acts from
adequate motives relative to his interests, and not on metaphysical
speculations, Burke sows, as he marches along in his stately argument,
many a germ of the modern philosophy of civilisation. He was told that
America was worth fighting for. "Certainly it is," he answered, "if
fighting a people be the best way of gaining them." Every step that
has been taken in the direction of progress, not merely in empire, but
in education, in punishment, in the treatment of the insane, has shown
the deep wisdom, so unfamiliar in that age of ferocious penalties and
brutal methods, of this truth--that "the natural effect of fidelity,
clemency, kindness in governors, is peace, good-will, order, and
esteem in the governed." Is there a single instance to the contrary?
Then there is that sure key to wise politics:--"_Nobody shall persuade
me when a whole people are concerned, that acts of lenity are not
means of conciliation_." And that still more famous sentence, "_I
do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole

Good and observant men will feel that no misty benevolence or vague
sympathy, but the positive reality of experience, inspired such
passages as that where he says,--"Never expecting to find perfection
in men, and not looking for divine attributes in created beings, in my
commerce with my contemporaries I have found much human virtue.
The age unquestionably produces daring profligates and insidious
hypocrites? What then? Am I not to avail myself of whatever good is
to be found in the world, because of the mixture of evil that is in
it?... Those who raise suspicions of the good, on account of
the behaviour of evil men, are of the party of the latter.... A
conscientious person would rather doubt his own judgment than condemn
his species. He that accuses all mankind of corruption ought to
remember that he is sure to convict only one. In truth, I should much
rather admit those whom at any time I have disrelished the most, to be
patterns of perfection, than seek a consolation to my own unworthiness
in a general communion of depravity with all about me." This is one of
those pieces of rational constancy and mental wholeness in Burke which
fill up our admiration for him--one of the manifold illustrations of
an invincible fidelity to the natural order and operation of things,
even when they seemed most hostile to all that was dear to his own



Towards 1780 it began to be clear that the Ministers had brought
the country into disaster and humiliation, from which their policy
contained no way of escape. In the closing months of the American war,
the Opposition pressed Ministers with a vigour that never abated. Lord
North bore their attacks with perfect good-humour. When Burke, in
the course of a great oration, parodied Burgoyne's invitation to the
Indians to repair to the king's standard, the wit and satire of
it almost suffocated the Prime Minister, not with shame but with
laughter. His heart had long ceased to be in the matter, and everybody
knew that he only retained his post in obedience to the urgent
importunities of the king, whilst such colleagues as Rigby only clung
to their place because the salaries were endeared by long familiarity.
The general gloom was accidentally deepened by that hideous outbreak
of fanaticism and violence, which is known as the Lord George Gordon
Riots (June 1780). The Whigs, as having favoured the relaxation of
the laws against popery, were especially obnoxious to the mob. The
Government sent a guard of soldiers to protect Burke's house in
Charles Street, St. James's; but after he had removed the more
important of his papers, he insisted on the guard being despatched for
the protection of more important places, and he took shelter under the
roof of General Burgoyne. His excellent wife, according to a letter of
his brother, had "the firmness and sweetness of an angel; but why do
I say of an angel?--of a woman." Burke himself courageously walked
to and fro amid the raging crowds with firm composure, though the
experiment was full of peril. He describes the mob as being made up,
as London mobs generally are, rather of the unruly and dissolute than
of fanatical malignants, and he vehemently opposed any concessions by
Parliament to the spirit of intolerance which had first kindled the
blaze. All the letters of the time show that the outrages and alarms
of those days and nights, in which the capital seemed to be at the
mercy of a furious rabble, made a deeper impression on the minds of
contemporaries than they ought to have done. Burke was not likely to
be less excited than others by the sight of such insensate disorder;
and it is no idle fancy that he had the mobs of 1780 still in his
memory, when ten years later he poured out the vials of his wrath on
the bloodier mob which carried the King and Queen of France in wild
triumph from Versailles to Paris.

In the previous February (1780) Burke had achieved one of the greatest
of all his parliamentary and oratorical successes. Though the matter
of this particular enterprise is no longer alive, yet it illustrates
his many strong qualities in so remarkable a way that it is right to
give some account of it. We have already seen that Burke steadily set
his face against parliamentary reform; he habitually declared that
the machine was well enough to answer any good purpose, provided the
materials were sound. The statesman who resists all projects for the
reform of the constitution, and yet eagerly proclaims how deplorably
imperfect are the practical results of its working, binds himself to
vigorous exertions for the amendment of administration. Burke devoted
himself to this duty with a fervid assiduity that has not often been
exampled, and has never been surpassed. He went to work with the zeal
of a religious enthusiast, intent on purging his Church and his faith
of the corruptions which lowered it in the eyes of men. There was no
part or order of government so obscure, so remote, or so complex, as
to escape his acute and persevering observation.

Burke's object, in his schemes for Economical Reform, was less to
husband the public resources and relieve the tax-payer--though this
aim could not have been absent from his mind, overburdened as England
then was with the charges of the American war--than to cut off the
channels which supplied the corruption of the House of Commons. The
full title of the first project which he presented to the legislature
(February 1780), was, A Plan for the Better Security of the
Independence of Parliament, and the Economical Reformation of the
Civil and other Establishments. It was to the former that he
deemed the latter to be the most direct road. The strength of the
administration in the House was due to the gifts which the Minister
had in his hands to dispense. Men voted with the side which could
reward their fidelity. It was the number of sinecure places and
unpublished pensions, which along with the controllable influence of
peers and nabobs, furnished the Minister with an irresistible lever:
the avarice and the degraded public spirit of the recipients supplied
the required fulcrum. Burke knew that in sweeping away these
factitious places and secret pensions, he would be robbing the
Court of its chief implements of corruption, and protecting the
representative against his chief motive in selling his country. He
conceived that he would thus be promoting a far more infallible means
than any scheme of electoral reform could have provided, for reviving
the integrity and independence of the House of Commons. In his
eyes, the evil resided not in the constituencies, but in their
representatives; not in the small number of the one, but in the
smaller integrity of the other. The evil did not stop where it began.
It was not merely that the sinister motive, thus engendered in
the minds of too lax and facile men, induced them to betray their
legislative trust, and barter their own uprightness and the interests
of the State. The acquisition of one of these nefarious bribes meant
much more than a sinister vote. It called into existence a champion of
every inveterate abuse that weighed on the resources of the country.
There is a well-known passage in the speech on Economical Reform, in
which the speaker shows what an insurmountable obstacle Lord Talbot
had found in his attempt to carry out certain reforms in the royal
household, in the fact that the turnspit of the king's kitchen was a
member of Parliament. "On that rock his whole adventure split,--his
whole scheme of economy was dashed to pieces; his department
became more expensive than ever; the Civil List debt accumulated."
Interference with the expenses of the household meant interference
with the perquisites or fees of this legislative turnspit, and the
rights of sinecures were too sacred to be touched. In comparison with
them, it counted for nothing that the king's tradesmen went unpaid,
and became bankrupt; that the judges were unpaid; that the justice of
the kingdom bent and gave way; the foreign ministers remained inactive
and unprovided; the system of Europe was dissolved; the chain of our
alliances was broken; all the wheels of Government at home and abroad
were stopped. _The king's turnspit was a member of Parliament_.[1]
This office and numbers of others exactly like it, existed solely
because the House of Commons was crowded with venal men. The post of
royal scullion meant a vote that could be relied upon under every
circumstance and in all emergencies. And each incumbent of such an
office felt his honour and interests concerned in the defence of all
other offices of the same scandalous description. There was thus
maintained a strong standing army of expensive, lax, and corrupting

[Footnote 1: The Civil List at this time comprehended a great number
of charges, such as those of which Burke speaks, that had nothing
to do with the sovereign personally. They were slowly removed, the
judicial and diplomatic charges being transferred on the accession of
William IV.] The royal household was a gigantic nest of costly jobbery
and purposeless profusion. It retained all "the cumbrous charge of
a Gothic establishment," though all its usage and accommodation had
"shrunk into the polished littleness of modern elegance." The outlay
was enormous. The expenditure on the court tables only was a thing
unfathomable. Waste was the rule in every branch of it. There was an
office for the Great Wardrobe, another office of the Robes, a third
of the Groom of the Stole. For these three useless offices there
were three useless treasurers. They all laid a heavy burden on the
taxpayer, in order to supply a bribe to the member of Parliament.
The plain remedy was to annihilate the subordinate treasuries. "Take
away," was Burke's demand, "the whole establishment of detail in
the household: the Treasurer, the Comptroller, the Cofferer of the
Household, the Treasurer of the Chamber, the Master of the Household,
the whole Board of Green Cloth; a vast number of subordinate offices
in the department of the Steward of the Household; the whole
establishment of the Great Wardrobe; the Removing Wardrobe; the Jewel
Office; the Robes; the Board of Works." The abolition of this confused
and costly system would not only diminish expense and promote
efficiency; it would do still more excellent service in destroying the
roots of parliamentary corruption. "Under other governments a question
of expense is only a question of economy, and it is nothing more;
with us, in every question of expense, there is always a mixture of
constitutional considerations."

Places and pensions, though the worst, were not by any means the only
stumbling-block in the way of pure and well-ordered government. The
administration of the estates of the Crown,--the Principality, the
Duchy of Cornwall, the Duchy of Lancaster, the County Palatine
of Chester,--was an elaborate system of obscure and unprofitable
expenditure. Wales had to herself eight judges, while no more than
twelve sufficed to perform the whole business of justice in England, a
country ten times as large and a hundred times as opulent. Wales,
and each of the duchies, had its own exchequer. Every one of these
principalities, said Burke, has the apparatus of a kingdom, for the
jurisdiction over a few private estates; it has the formality and
charge of the Exchequer of Great Britain, for collecting the rents of
a country squire. They were the field, in his expressive phrase,
of mock jurisdictions and mimic revenues, of difficult trifles and
laborious fooleries. "It was but the other day that that pert factious
fellow, the Duke of Lancaster, presumed to fly in the face of his
liege lord, our gracious sovereign--presumed to go to law with the
king. The object is neither your business nor mine. Which of the
parties got the better I really forget. The material point is that the
suit cost about £15,000. But as the Duke of Lancaster is but agent of
Duke Humphrey, and not worth a groat, our sovereign was obliged to pay
the costs of both." The system which involved these costly absurdities
Burke proposed entirely to abolish. In the same spirit he wished to
dispose of the Crown lands and the forest lands, which it was for the
good of the community, not less than of the Crown itself, to throw
into the hands of private owners.

One of the most important of these projected reforms, and one which
its author did not flinch from carrying out two years later to his
own loss, related to the office of Paymaster. This functionary was
accustomed to hold large balances of the public money in his own hands
and for his own profit, for long periods, owing to a complex system of
accounts which was so rigorous as entirely to defeat its own object.
The paymaster could not, through the multiplicity of forms and the
exaction of impossible conditions, get a prompt acquittance. The
audit sometimes did not take place for years after the accounts were
virtually closed. Meanwhile the money accumulated in his hands, and
its profits were his legitimate perquisite. Lord Holland, or his
representatives, held the balances of his office from 1765, when he
retired, until 1778, when they were audited. During this time he
realised, as the interest on the use of these balances, nearly two
hundred and fifty thousand pounds. Burke diverted these enormous gains
into the coffers of the State. He fixed the paymaster's salary at four
thousand pounds a year, and was himself the first person who accepted
the curtailed income.

Not the most fervid or brilliant of Burke's pieces, yet the speech on
Economical Reform is certainly not the least instructive or impressive
of them. It gives a suggestive view of the relations existing at that
time between the House of Commons and the Court. It reveals the narrow
and unpatriotic spirit of the king and the ministers, who could resist
proposals so reasonable in themselves, and so remedial in their
effects, at a time when the nation was suffering the heavy and
distressing burdens of the most disastrous war that our country has
ever carried on. It is especially interesting as an illustration of
its author's political capacity. At a moment when committees and
petitions and great county meetings showed how thoroughly the national
anger was roused against the existing system, Burke came to the front
of affairs with a scheme, of which the most striking characteristic
proved to be that it was profoundly temperate. Bent on the extirpation
of the system, he had no ill-will towards the men who had happened
to flourish in it. "I never will suffer," he said, "any man or
description of men to suffer from errors that naturally have grown
out of the abusive constitution of those offices which I propose to
regulate. If I cannot reform with equity, I will not reform at all."
Exasperated as he was by the fruitlessness of his opposition to a
policy which he detested from the bottom of his soul, it would have
been little wonderful if he had resorted to every weapon of his
unrivalled rhetorical armoury, in order to discredit and overthrow the
whole scheme of government. Yet nothing could have been further from
his mind than any violent or extreme idea of this sort. Many years
afterwards, he took credit to himself less for what he did on this
occasion than for what he prevented from being done. People were ready
for a new modelling of the two Houses of Parliament, as well as for
grave modifications of the Prerogative. Burke resisted this temper
unflinchingly. "I had," he says, "a state to preserve, as well as a
state to reform. I had a people to gratify, but not to inflame or to
mislead." He then recounts without exaggeration the pains and caution
with which he sought reform, while steering clear of innovation. He
heaved the lead every inch of way he made. It is grievous to think
that a man who could assume such an attitude at such a time, who could
give this kind of proof of his skill in the great, the difficult art
of governing, only held a fifth-rate office for some time less than a

The year of the project of Economic Reform (1780) is usually taken as
the date when Burke's influence and repute were at their height. He
had not been tried in the fire of official responsibility, and his
impetuosity was still under a degree of control which not long
afterwards was fatally weakened by an over-mastering irritability of
constitution. High as his character was now in the ascendant, it was
in the same year that Burke suffered the sharp mortification of losing
his seat at Bristol. His speech before the election is one of the best
known of all his performances; and it well deserves to be so, for it
is surpassed by none in gravity, elevation, and moral dignity. We
can only wonder that a constituency which could suffer itself to
be addressed on this high level, should have allowed the small
selfishness of local interest to weigh against such wisdom and
nobility. But Burke soon found in the course of his canvas that he had
no chance, and he declined to go to the poll. On the previous day one
of his competitors had fallen down dead. "_What shadows we are_" said
Burke, "_and what shadows we pursue!_"

In 1782 Lord North's government came to an end, and the king "was
pleased," as Lord North quoted with jesting irony from the _Gazette_,
to send for Lord Rockingham, Charles Fox, and Lord Shelburne. Members
could hardly believe their own eyes, as they saw Lord North and the
members of a government which had been in place for twelve years, now
lounging on the opposition benches in their greatcoats, frocks, and
boots, while Fox and Burke shone in the full dress that was then
worn by ministers, and cut unwonted figures with swords, lace, and
hair-powder. Sheridan was made an under-secretary of state, and to the
younger Pitt was offered his choice of various minor posts, which he
haughtily refused. Burke, to whom on their own admission the party
owed everything, was appointed Paymaster of the Forces, with a salary
of four thousand pounds a year. His brother, Richard Burke, was
made Secretary of the Treasury. His son Richard was named to be his
father's deputy at the Pay-Office, with a salary of five hundred

This singular exclusion from cabinet office of the most powerful
genius of the party has naturally given rise to abundant criticism
ever since. It will be convenient to say what there is to be said on
this subject, in connection with the events of 1788 (below, p. 200),
because there happens to exist some useful information about the
ministerial crisis of that year, which sheds a clearer light upon the
arrangements of six years before. Meanwhile it is enough to say that
Burke himself had most reasonably looked to some higher post. There
is the distinct note of the humility of mortified pride in a letter
written in reply to some one who had applied to him for a place. "You
have been misinformed," he says; "I make no part of the ministerial
arrangement. Something in the official line may possibly be thought
fit for my measure." Burke knew that his position in the country
entitled him to something above the official line. In a later year,
when he felt himself called upon to defend his pension, he described
what his position was in the momentous crisis from 1780 to 1782, and
Burke's habitual veraciousness forbids us to treat the description as
in any way exaggerated. "By what accident it matters not," he says,
"nor upon what desert, but just then, and in the midst of that hunt of
obloquy which has ever pursued me with a full cry through life, I
had obtained a very full degree of public confidence.... Nothing to
prevent disorder was omitted; when it appeared, nothing to subdue it
was left uncounselled nor unexecuted, as far as I could prevail. At
the time I speak of, and having a momentary lead, 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 that did not at that time acknowledge it--and
that time was thirteen years ago. It was but one view, that no man in
the kingdom better deserved an honourable provision should be made for

[Footnote 1: _Letter to a Noble Lord._]

We have seen that Burke had fixed the paymaster's salary at four
thousand pounds, and had destroyed the extravagant perquisites. The
other economical reforms which were actually effected fell short by
a long way of those which Burke had so industriously devised and so
forcibly recommended. In 1782, while Burke declined to spare his own
office, the chief of the cabinet conferred upon Barré a pension of
over three thousand a year; above ten times the amount, as has been
said, which, in Lord Rockingham's own judgment, as expressed in the
new Bill, ought henceforth to be granted to any one person whatever.
This shortcoming, however, does not detract from Burke's merit. He was
not responsible for it. The eloquence, ingenuity, diligence, above
all, the sagacity and the justice of this great effort of 1780, are
none the less worthy of our admiration and regard because, in 1782,
his chiefs, partly perhaps out of a new-born deference for the
feelings of their royal master, showed that the possession of office
had sensibly cooled the ardent aspirations proper to Opposition.

The events of the twenty months between the resignation of Lord North
(1782) and the accession of Pitt to the office of Prime Minister
(December 1783) mark an important crisis in political history, and
they mark an important crisis in Burke's career and hopes. Lord
Rockingham had just been three months in office, when he died (July
1782). This dissolved the bond that held the two sections of the
ministry together, and let loose a flood of rival ambitions and sharp
animosities. Lord Shelburne believed himself to have an irresistible
claim to the chief post in the administration; among other reasons,
because he might have had it before Lord Rockingham three months
earlier, if he had so chosen. The king supported him, not from any
partiality to his person, but because he dreaded and hated Charles
Fox. The character of Shelburne is one of the perplexities of the
time. His views on peace and free trade make him one of the precursors
of the Manchester School. No minister was so well informed as to the
threads of policy in foreign countries. He was the intimate or the
patron of men who now stand out as among the first lights of that
time--of Morellet, of Priestley, of Bentham. Yet a few months of power
seem to have disclosed faults of character, which left him without a
single political friend, and blighted him with irreparable discredit.
Fox, who was now the head of the Rockingham section of the Whigs, had,
before the death of the late premier, been on the point of refusing to
serve any longer with Lord Shelburne, and he now very promptly refused
to serve under him. When Parliament met after Rockingham's death,
gossips noticed that Fox and Burke continued, long after the Speaker
had taken the chair, to walk backwards and forwards in the Court of
Bequests, engaged in earnest conversation. According to one story,
Burke was very reluctant to abandon an office whose emoluments were
as convenient to him as to his spendthrift colleague. According
to another and more probable legend, it was Burke who hurried the
rupture, and stimulated Fox's jealousy of Shelburne. The Duke of
Richmond disapproved of the secession, and remained in the Government.
Sheridan also disapproved, but he sacrificed his personal conviction
to loyalty to Fox.

If Burke was responsible for the break-up of the Government, then
he was the instigator of a blunder that must be pronounced not only
disastrous but culpable. It lowered the legitimate spirit of party
to the nameless spirit of faction. The dangers from which the old
liberties of the realm had just emerged have been described by no one
so forcibly as by Burke himself. No one was so convinced as Burke that
the only way of withstanding the arbitrary and corrupting policy of
the Court was to form a strong Whig party. No one knew better than he
the sovereign importance and the immense difficulty of repairing the
ruin of the last twelve years by a good peace. The Rockingham or
Foxite section were obviously unable to form an effective party with
serious expectation of power, unless they had allies. They might, no
doubt, from personal dislike to Lord Shelburne, refuse to work
under him; but personal dislike could be no excuse for formally and
violently working against him, when his policy was their own, and when
its success was recognised by them no less than by him as of urgent
moment. Instead of either working with the other section of their
party, or of supporting from below the gangway that which was the
policy of both sections, they sought to return to power by coalescing
with the very man whose criminal subservience to the king's will had
brought about the catastrophe that Shelburne was repairing. Burke must
share the blame of this famous transaction. He was one of the most
furious assailants of the new ministry. He poured out a fresh
invective against Lord Shelburne every day Cynical contemporaries
laughed as they saw him in search of more and more humiliating
parallels, ransacking all literature from the Bible and the Roman
history down to Mother Goose's tales. His passion carried him so far
as to breed a reaction in those who listened to him. "I think,"
wrote Mason from Yorkshire, where Burke had been on a visit to Lord
Fitzwilliam in the autumn of 1782, "that Burke's mad obloquy against
Lord Shelburne, and these insolent pamphlets in which he must have
had a hand, will do more to fix him (Shelburne) in his office than
anything else."

This result would have actually followed, for the nation was ill
pleased at the immoral alliance between the Foxites and the man whom,
if they had been true to their opinions a thousand times repeated,
they ought at that moment to have been impeaching. The Dissenters, who
had hitherto been his enthusiastic admirers, but who are rigid above
other men in their demand of political consistency, lamented Burke's
fall in joining the Coalition, as Priestley told him many years after,
as the fall of a friend and a brother. But Shelburne threw away
the game. "His falsehoods," says Horace Walpole, "his flatteries,
duplicity, insincerity, arrogance, contradictions, neglect of his
friends, with all the kindred of all these faults, were the daily
topics of contempt and ridicule; and his folly shut his eyes, nor did
he perceive that so very rapid a fall must have been owing to his own
incapacity." This is the testimony of a hostile witness. It is borne
out, however, by a circumstance of striking significance. When the
king recovered the reins at the end of 1783, not only did he send
for Pitt instead of for Shelburne, but Pitt himself neither invited
Shelburne to join him, nor in any way ever consulted him then or
afterwards, though he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer in
Shelburne's own administration.

Whatever the causes may have been, the administration fell in the
spring of 1783. It was succeeded by the memorable ministry of the
Coalition, in which Fox and Lord North divided the real power under
the nominal lead of the Duke of Portland. Members saw Lord North
squeezed up on the Treasury bench between two men who had a year
before been daily menacing him with the axe and the block; and it was
not North whom they blamed, but Burke and Fox. Burke had returned to
the Pay-Office. His first act there was unfortunate. He restored to
their position two clerks who had been suspended for malversation, and
against whom proceedings were then pending. When attacked for this in
the House, he showed an irritation which would have carried him to
gross lengths, if Fox and Sheridan had not by main force pulled him
down into his seat by the tails of his coat. The restoration of the
clerks was an indefensible error of judgment, and its indiscretion was
heightened by the kind of defence which Burke tried to set up. When
we wonder at Burke's exclusion from great offices, this case of Powell
and Bembridge should not be forgotten.

The decisive event in the history of the Coalition Government was the
India Bill. The Reports of the various select committees upon Indian
affairs--the most important of them all, the ninth and eleventh,
having been drawn up by Burke himself--had shown conclusively that the
existing system of government was thoroughly corrupt and thoroughly
inadequate. It is ascertained pretty conclusively that the Bill for
replacing that system was conceived and drawn by Burke, and that to
him belongs whatever merit or demerit it might possess. It was Burke
who infected Fox with his own ardour, and then, as Moore justly says,
the self-kindling power of Fox's eloquence threw such fire into his
defence of the measure, that he forgot, and his hearers never found
out, that his views were not originally and spontaneously his own. The
novelty on which the great stress of discussion was laid was that
the Bill withdrew power from the Board of Directors, and vested the
Government for four years in a commission of seven persons named in
the Bill, and not removable by the House.

Burke was so convinced of the incurable iniquity of the Company, so
persuaded that it was not only full of abuses, but, as he said, one of
the most corrupt and destructive tyrannies that probably ever existed
in the world, as to be content with nothing short of the absolute
deprivation of its power. He avowed himself no lover of names, and
that he only contended for good government, from whatever quarter it
might come. But the idea of good government coming from the Company he
declared to be desperate and untenable. This intense animosity, which,
considering his long and close familiarity with the infamies of the
rule of the Company's servants, was not unnatural, must be allowed,
however, to have blinded him to the grave objections which really
existed to his scheme. In the first place, the Bill was indisputably
inconsistent with the spirit of his revered Constitution. For the
legislature to assume the power of naming the members of an executive
body was an extraordinary and mischievous innovation. Then, to put
patronage, which has been estimated by a sober authority at about
three hundred thousand pounds a year, into the hands of the House of
Commons, was still more mischievous and still less justifiable. Worst
of all, from the point of view of the projectors themselves, after a
certain time the nomination of the Commissioners would fall to the
Crown, and this might in certain contingencies increase to a most
dangerous extent the ascendancy of the royal authority. If Burke's
measure had been carried, moreover, the patronage would have been
transferred to a body much less competent than the Directors to
judge of the qualities required in the fulfilment of this or
that administrative charge. Indian promotion would have followed
parliamentary and party interest. In the hands of the Directors there
was at least a partial security, in their professional knowledge,
and their personal interest in the success of their government, that
places would not be given away on irrelevant considerations. Their
system, with all its faults, insured the acquisition of a certain
considerable competency in administration before a servant reached an
elevation at which he could do much harm.

Burke defended the Bill (December 1, 1783) in one of the speeches
which rank only below his greatest, and it contains two or three
passages of unsurpassed energy and impressiveness. Everybody knows the
fine page about Fox as the descendant of Henry IV. of France, and the
happy quotation from Silius Italicus. Every book of British eloquence
contains the magnificent description of the young magistrates who
undertake the government and the spoliation of India; how, "animated
with all the avarice of age, and all the impetuosity of youth, they
roll in one after another, wave after wave; and there is nothing
before the eyes of the natives but an endless, hopeless prospect
of new flights of birds of prey and of passage, with appetites
continually renewing for a food that is continually wasting." How they
return home laden with spoil: "their prey is lodged in England; and
the cries of India are given to seas and winds, to be blown about, in
every breaking up of the monsoon, over a remote and unhearing ocean."
How in India all the vices operate by which sudden fortune is
acquired; while in England are often displayed by the same person
the virtues which dispense hereditary wealth, so that "here the
manufacturer and the husbandman will bless the just and punctual hand
that in India has torn the cloth from the loom, or wrested the scanty
portion of rice and salt from the peasant of Bengal, or wrung from him
the very opium in which he forgot his oppression and his oppressors."

No degree of eloquence, however, could avail to repair faults alike
in structure and in tactics. The whole design was a masterpiece of
hardihood, miscalculation, and mismanagement. The combination of
interests against the Bill was instant, and it was indeed formidable.
The great army of returned nabobs, of directors, of proprietors of
East India stock, rose up in all its immense force. Every member of
every corporation that enjoyed privilege by charter, felt the attack
on the Company as if it had been a blow directed against himself.
The general public had no particular passion for purity or good
government, and the best portion of the public was disgusted with the
Coalition. The king saw his chance. With politic audacity he put so
strong a personal pressure on the peers, that they threw out the Bill
(December 1783). It was to no purpose that Fox compared the lords to
the Janissaries of a Turkish Sultan, and the king's letter to Temple,
to the rescript in which Tiberius ordered the upright Sejanus to be
destroyed. Ministers were dismissed, the young Pitt was installed in
their place, and the Whigs were ruined. As a party, they had a few
months of office after Pitt's death, but they were excluded from power
for half a century.



Though Burke had, at a critical period of his life, definitely
abandoned the career of letters, he never withdrew from close intimacy
with the groups who still live for us in the pages of Boswell, as no
other literary group in our history lives. Goldsmith's famous lines in
_Retaliation_ show how they all deplored that he should to party give
up what was meant for mankind. They often told one another that Edmund
Burke was the man whose genius pointed him out as the triumphant
champion of faith and sound philosophy against deism, atheism, and
David Hume. They loved to see him, as Goldsmith said, wind into his
subject like a serpent. Everybody felt at the Literary Club that he
had no superior in knowledge, and in colloquial dialectics only one
equal. Garrick was there, and of all the names of the time he is the
man whom one would perhaps most willingly have seen, because the gifts
which threw not only Englishmen, but Frenchmen like Diderot, and
Germans like Lichtenberg, into amazement and ecstasy, are exactly
those gifts which literary description can do least to reproduce.
Burke was one of his strongest admirers, and there was no more zealous
attendant at the closing series of performances in which the great
monarch of the stage abdicated his throne. In the last pages that
he wrote, Burke refers to his ever dear friend Garrick, dead nearly
twenty years before, as the first of actors because he was the acutest
observer of nature that he had ever known. Then among men who pass
for being more serious than players, Robertson was often in London
society, and he attracted Burke by his largeness and breadth. He sent
a copy of his _History of America_, and Burke thanked him with many
stately compliments for having employed philosophy to judge of
manners, and from manners having drawn new resources of philosophy.
Gibbon was there, but the bystanders felt what was too crudely
expressed by Mackintosh, that Gibbon might have been taken from a
corner of Burke's mind without ever being missed. Though Burke and
Gibbon constantly met, it is not likely that, until the Revolution,
there was much intimacy between them, in spite of the respect which
each of them might well have had for the vast knowledge of the other.
When the _Decline and Fall_ was published, Burke read it as everybody
else did; but he told Reynolds that he disliked the style, as very
affected, mere frippery and tinsel. Sir Joshua himself was neither
a man of letters nor a keen politician; but he was full of literary
ideas and interests, and he was among Burke's warmest and most
constant friends, following him with an admiration and reverence that
even Johnson sometimes thought excessive. The reader of Reynolds's
famous Discourses will probably share the wonder of his
contemporaries, that a man whose time was so absorbed in the practice
of his art, should have proved himself so excellent a master in the
expression of some of its principles. Burke was commonly credited with
a large share in their composition, but the evidence goes no further
than that Reynolds used to talk them over with him. The friendship
between the pair was full and unalloyed. What Burke admired in the
great artist was his sense and his morals, no less than his genius;
and to a man of his fervid and excitable temper there was the most
attractive of all charms in Sir Joshua's placidity, gentleness,
evenness, and the habit, as one of his friends described it, of being
the same all the year round. When Reynolds died in 1792, he appointed
Burke one of his executors, and left him a legacy of two thousand
pounds, besides cancelling a bond of the same amount.

Johnson, however, is the only member of that illustrious company who
can profitably be compared with Burke in strength and impressiveness
of personality, in a large sensibility at once serious and genial, in
brooding care for all the fulness of human life. This striking pair
were the two complements of a single noble and solid type, holding
tenaciously, in a century of dissolvent speculation, to the best ideas
of a society that was slowly passing. They were powerless to hinder
the inevitable transformation. One of them did not even dimly
foresee it. But both of them help us to understand how manliness and
reverence, strength and tenderness, love of truth and pity for man,
all flourished under old institutions and old ways of thinking, into
which the forces of the time were even then silently breathing a new
spirit. The friendship between Burke and Johnson lasted as long as
they lived; and if we remember that Johnson was a strong Tory, and
declared that the first Whig was the devil, and habitually talked
about cursed Whigs and bottomless Whigs, it is an extraordinary fact
that his relations with the greatest Whig writer and politician of his
day were marked by a cordiality, respect, and admiration that never
varied nor wavered. "Burke," he said in a well-known passage, "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. He is
never what we would call humdrum; never unwilling to begin to talk,
nor in haste to leave off." That Burke was as good a listener as he
was a talker, Johnson never would allow. "So desirous is he to talk,"
he said, "that if one is talking at this end of the table, he'll talk
to somebody at the other end." Johnson was far too good a critic, and
too honest a man, to assent to a remark of Robertson's, that Burke had
wit. "No, sir," said the sage, most truly, "he never succeeds there.
'Tis low, 'tis conceit." Wit apart, he described Burke as the only
man whose common conversation corresponded to his general fame in the
world; take up whatever topic you might please, he was ready to meet
you. When Burke found a seat in Parliament, Johnson said, "Now we who
know Burke, know that he will be one of the first men in the country."
He did not grudge that Burke should be the first man in the House of
Commons, for Burke, he said, was always the first man everywhere. Once
when he was ill, somebody mentioned Burke's name. Johnson cried out,
"That fellow calls forth all my powers; were I to see Burke now it
would kill me."

Burke heartily returned this high appreciation. When some flatterer
hinted that Johnson had taken more than his right share of the
evening's talk, Burke said, "Nay, it is enough for me to have rung
the bell for him." Some one else spoke of a successful imitation
of Johnson's style. Burke with vehemence denied the success: the
performance, he said, had the pomp, but not the force of the original;
the nodosities of the oak, but not its strength; the contortions of
the sibyl, but none of the inspiration. When Burke showed the old
sage of Bolt Court over his fine house and pleasant gardens at
Beaconsfield, _Non invideo equidem_, Johnson said, with placid
good-will, _miror magis_. They always parted in the deep and pregnant
phrase of a sage of our own day, _except in opinion not disagreeing_.
In truth, the explanation of the sympathy between them is not far
to seek. We may well believe that Johnson was tacitly alive to the
essentially conservative spirit of Burke even in his most Whiggish
days. And Burke penetrated the liberality of mind in a Tory, who
called out with loud indignation that the Irish were in a most
unnatural state, for there the minority prevailed over the majority,
and the severity of the persecution exercised by the Protestants
of Ireland against the Catholics exceeded that of the ten historic
persecutions of the Christian Church.

The parties at Beaconsfield, and the evenings at the "Turk's Head" in
Gerard Street, were contemporary with the famous days at Holbach's
country house at Grandval. When we think of the reckless themes that
were so recklessly discussed by Holbach, Diderot, and the rest of that
indefatigable band, we feel that, as against the French philosophic
party, an English Tory like Johnson and an English Whig like Burke
would have found their own differences too minute to be worth
considering. If the group from the "Turk's Head" could have been
transported for an afternoon to Grandval, perhaps Johnson would have
been the less impatient and disgusted of the two. He had the capacity
of the more genial sort of casuist for playing with subjects, even
moral subjects, with the freedom, versatility, and ease that are
proper to literature. Burke, on the contrary, would not have failed
to see, as indeed we know that he did not fail to see, that a social
pandemonium was being prepared in this intellectual paradise of open
questions, where God and a future life, marriage and the family, every
dogma of religion, every prescription of morality, and all those
mysteries and pieties of human life which have been sanctified by the
reverence of ages, were being busily pulled to pieces as if they had
been toys in the hands of a company of sportive children. Even the
_Beggar's Opera_ Burke could not endure to hear praised for its wit
or its music, because his mind was filled by thought of its misplaced
levity, and he only saw the mischief which such a performance tended
to do to society. It would be hard to defend his judgment in this
particular case, but it serves to show how Burke was never content
with the literary point of view, and how ready and vigilant he was for
effects more profound than those of formal criticism. It is true that
Johnson was sometimes not less austere in condemning a great work of
art for its bad morality. The only time when he was really angry with
Hannah More was on his finding that she had read _Tom Jones_--that
vicious book, he called it; he hardly knew a more corrupt work.
Burke's tendency towards severity of moral judgment, however, never
impaired the geniality and tenderness of his relations with those whom
he loved. Bennet Langton gave Boswell an affecting account of Burke's
last interview with Johnson. A few days before the old man's death,
Burke and four or five other friends were sitting round his bedside.
"Mr. Burke said to him, 'I am afraid, sir, such a number of us may be
oppressive to you.' 'No, sir,' said Johnson, 'it is not so; and I must
be in a wretched state indeed when your company is not a delight
to me.' Mr. Burke, in a tremulous voice, expressive of being very
tenderly affected, replied, 'My dear sir, you have always been too
good to me.' Immediately afterwards he went away. This was the last
circumstance in the acquaintance of these two eminent men."

One of Burke's strongest political intimacies was only less
interesting and significant than his friendship with Johnson.
William Dowdeswell had been Chancellor of the Exchequer in the short
Rockingham administration of 1765. He had no brilliant gifts, but he
had what was then thought a profound knowledge both of the principles
and details of the administration of the national revenue. He was
industrious, steadfast, clearheaded, inexorably upright. "Immersed in
the greatest affairs," as Burke said in his epitaph, "he never
lost the ancient, native, genuine English character of a country
gentleman." And this was the character in which Burke now and always
saw not only the true political barrier against despotism on the one
hand and the rabble on the other, but the best moral type of civic
virtue. Those who admire Burke, but cannot share his admiration for
the country gentleman, will perhaps justify him by the assumption that
he clothed his favourite with ideal qualities which ought, even if
they did not, to have belonged to that position.

In his own modest imitation and on his own humble scale he was a
pattern of the activity in public duty, the hospitality towards
friends, the assiduous protection of neglected worth, which ought to
be among the chief virtues of high station. It would perhaps be doubly
unsafe to take for granted that many of our readers have both turned
over the pages of Crabbe's _Borough_, and carried away in their minds
from that moderately affecting poem, the description of Eusebius--

  That pious moralist, that reasoning saint!
  Can I of worth like thine, Eusebius, speak?
  The man is willing, but the muse is weak.

Eusebius is intended for Burke, and the portrait is a literary tribute
for more substantial services. When Crabbe came up from his native
Aldborough, with three pounds and a case of surgical instruments in
his trunk, he fondly believed that a great patron would be found to
watch over his transformation from an unsuccessful apothecary into a
popular poet. He wrote to Lord North and Lord Shelburne, but they did
not answer his letters; booksellers returned his copious manuscripts;
the three pounds gradually disappeared; the surgical instruments went
to the pawnbroker's; and the poet found himself an outcast on the
world, without a friend, without employment, and without bread. He
owed money for his lodging, and was on the very eve of being sent to
prison, when it occurred to him to write to Burke. It was the moment
(1781) when the final struggle with Lord North was at its fiercest,
and Burke might have been absolved if, in the stress of conflict,
he had neglected a begging-letter. As it was, the manliness and
simplicity of Crabbe's application touched him. He immediately made an
appointment with the young poet, and convinced himself of his worth.
He not only relieved Crabbe's immediate distress with a sum of money
that, as we know, came from no affluence of his own, but carried him
off to Beaconsfield, installed him there as a member of the family,
and took as much pains to find a printer for _The Library_ and _The
Village_, as if they had been poems of his own. In time he persuaded
the Bishop of Norwich to admit Crabbe, in spite of his want of a
regular qualification, to holy orders. He then commended him to
the notice of Lord Chancellor Thurlow. Crabbe found the Tiger less
formidable than his terrifying reputation, for Thurlow at their first
interview presented him with a hundred-pound note, and afterwards gave
him a living. The living was of no great value, it is true; and it was
Burke who, with untiring friendship, succeeded in procuring something
like a substantial position for him, by inducing the Duke of Rutland
to make the young parson his chaplain. Henceforth Crabbe's career was
assured, and he never forgot to revere and bless the man to whose
generous hand he owed his deliverance.

Another of Burke's clients, of whom we hardly know whether to say that
he is more or less known to our age than Crabbe, is Barry, a painter
of disputable eminence. The son of a seafarer at Cork, he had been
introduced to Burke in Dublin in 1762, was brought over to England by
him, introduced to some kind of employment, and finally sent, with
funds provided by the Burkes, to study art on the continent. It was
characteristic of Burke's willingness not only to supply money, but
what is a far rarer form of kindness, to take active trouble, that he
should have followed the raw student with long and careful letters of
advice upon the proper direction of his studies. For five years Barry
was maintained abroad by the Burkes. Most unhappily for himself he was
cursed with an irritable and perverse temper, and he lacked even the
elementary arts of conduct. Burke was generous to the end, with that
difficult and uncommon kind of generosity which moves independently of
gratitude or ingratitude in the receiver.

From his earliest days Burke had been the eager friend of people in
distress. While he was still a student at the Temple, or a writer for
the booksellers, he picked up a curious creature in the park, in such
unpromising circumstances that he could not forbear to take him under
his instant protection. This was Joseph Emin, the Armenian, who had
come to Europe from India with strange heroic ideas in his head as to
the deliverance of his countrymen. Burke instantly urged him to accept
the few shillings that he happened to have in his purse, and seems
to have found employment for him as a copyist, until fortune brought
other openings to the singular adventurer. For foreign visitors Burke
had always a singular considerateness. Two Brahmins came to England
as agents of Ragonaut Rao, and at first underwent intolerable things
rather from the ignorance than the unkindness of our countrymen. Burke
no sooner found out what was passing than he carried them down to
Beaconsfield, and as it was summer-time, he gave them for their
separate use a spacious garden-house, where they were free to prepare
their food and perform such rites as their religion prescribed.
Nothing was so certain to command his fervid sympathy as strict
adherence to the rules and ceremonies of an ancient and sacred

If he never failed to perform the offices to which we are bound by
the common sympathy of men, it is satisfactory to think that Burke in
return received a measure of these friendly services. Among those who
loved him best was Dr. Brocklesby, the tender physician who watched
and soothed the last hours of Johnson. When we remember how Burke's
soul was harassed by private cares, chagrined by the untoward course
of public events, and mortified by neglect from friends no less than
by virulent reproach from foes, it makes us feel very kindly towards
Brocklesby, to read what he wrote to Burke in 1788:--

    MY VERY DEAR FRIEND--My veneration of your public conduct for many
    years past, and my real affection for your private virtues and
    transcendent worth, made me yesterday take a liberty with you in a
    moment's conversation at my house, to make you an instant present
    of £1000, which for years past I had by will destined as a
    testimony of my regard on my decease. This you modestly desired me
    not to think of; but I told you what I now repeat, that unfavoured
    as I have lived for a long life, unnoticed professionally by any
    party of men, and though unknown at court, I am rich enough to
    spare to virtue (what others waste in vice) the above sum, and
    still reserve an annual income greater than I spend. I shall
    receive at the India House a bill I have discounted for £1000
    on the 4th of next month, and then shall be happy that you will
    accept this proof of my sincere love and esteem, and let me add,
    _Si res ampla domi similisque affectibus esset_, I should be happy
    to repeat the like every year.

The mere transcription of the friendly man's good letter has something
of the effect of an exercise of religion. And it was only one of a
series of kind acts on the part of the same generous giver.

It is always interesting in the case of a great man to know how he
affected the women of his acquaintance. Women do not usually judge
character either so kindly or so soundly as men do, for they lack that
knowledge of the ordeals of practical life, which gives both justice
and charity to such verdicts. But they are more susceptible than most
men are to devotion and nobility in character. The little group of the
blue-stockings of the day regarded the great master of knowledge
and eloquence with mixed feelings. They felt for Burke the adoring
reverence which women offer, with too indiscriminate a trust, to men
of commanding power. In his case it was the moral loftiness of his
character that inspired them, as much as the splendour of his ability.
Of Sheridan or of Fox they could not bear to hear; of Burke they could
not hear enough. Hannah More, and Mrs. Elizabeth Carter, the learned
translator of Epictetus, and Fanny Burney, the author of _Evelina_ and
_Cecilia_, were all proud of his notice, even while they glowed with
anger at his sympathy with American rebels, his unkind words about the
king, and his cruel persecution of poor Mr. Hastings. It was at Mrs.
Vesey's evening parties, given on the Tuesdays on which the Club dined
at the "Turk's Head," that he often had long chats with Hannah More.
She had to forget what she called his political malefactions, before
she could allow herself to admire his high spirits and good humour.
This was after the events of the Coalition, and her _Memoirs_, like
the change in the mind of the Dissenters towards Burke, show what a
fall that act of faction was believed to mark in his character. When
he was rejected for Bristol, she moralised on the catastrophe by the
quaint reflection, that Providence has wisely contrived to render all
its dispensations equal, by making those talents which set one man
so much above another, of no esteem in the opinion of those who are
without them.

Miss Burney has described her flutter of spirits when she first found
herself in company with Burke (1782). It was at Sir Joshua's house on
the top of Richmond Hill, and she tells, with her usual effusion, how
she was impressed by Burke's noble figure and commanding air, his
penetrating and sonorous voice, his eloquent and copious language, the
infinite variety and rapidity of his discourse. Burke had something to
say on every subject, from bits of personal gossip, up to the sweet
and melting landscape that lay in all its beauty before their windows
on the terrace. He was playful, serious, fantastic, wise. When they
next met, the great man completed his conquest by expressing his
admiration of _Evelina_. Gibbon assured her that he had read the whole
five volumes in a day; but Burke declared the feat was impossible, for
he had himself read it through without interruption, and it had cost
him three days. He showed his regard for the authoress in a more
substantial way than by compliments and criticism. His last act,
before going out of office, in 1783, was to procure for Dr. Burney the
appointment of organist at the chapel of Chelsea.

We have spoken of the dislike of these excellent women for Sheridan
and Fox. In Sheridan's case Burke did not much disagree with them.
Their characters were as unlike and as antipathetic as those of two
men could be; and to antipathy of temperament was probably added a
kind of rivalry, which may justly have affected one of them with an
irritated humiliation. Sheridan was twenty years younger than Burke,
and did not come into Parliament until Burke had fought the prolonged
battle of the American war, and had achieved the victory of Economic
Reform. Yet Sheridan was immediately taken up by the party, and became
the intimate and counsellor of Charles Fox, its leader, and of the
Prince of Wales, its patron. That Burke never failed to do full
justice to Sheridan's brilliant genius, or to bestow generous and
unaffected praise on his oratorical successes, there is ample
evidence. He was of far too high and veracious a nature to be capable
of the disparaging tricks of a poor jealousy. The humiliation lay in
the fact that circumstances had placed Sheridan in a position, which
made it natural for the world to measure them with one another. Burke
could no more like Sheridan than he could like the _Beggar's Opera_.
Sheridan had a levity, a want of depth, a laxity and dispersion of
feeling, to which no degree of intellectual brilliancy could reconcile
a man of such profound moral energy and social conviction as Burke.

The thought will perhaps occur to the reader that Fox was not less
lax than Sheridan, and yet for Fox Burke long had the sincerest
friendship. He was dissolute, indolent, irregular, and the most
insensate gambler that ever squandered fortune after fortune over the
faro-table. It was his vices as much as his politics that made George
III. hate Fox as an English Catiline. How came Burke to accept a man
of this character, first for his disciple, then for his friend, and
next for his leader? The answer is a simple one. In spite of the
disorders of his life, Fox, from the time when his acquaintance with
Burke began, down to the time when it came to such disastrous end,
and for long years afterwards, was to the bottom of his heart as
passionate for freedom, justice, and beneficence as Burke ever was.
These great ends were as real, as constant, as overmastering in Fox
as they were in Burke. No man was ever more deeply imbued with the
generous impulses of great statesmanship, with chivalrous courage,
with the magnificent spirit of devotion to high imposing causes. These
qualities we may be sure, and not his power as a debater and as a
declaimer, won for him in Burke's heart the admiration which found
such splendid expression in a passage that will remain as a stock
piece of declamation for long generations after it was first poured
out as a sincere tribute of reverence and affection. Precisians, like
Lafayette, might choose to see their patriotic hopes ruined rather
than have them saved by Mirabeau, because Mirabeau was a debauchee.
Burke's public morality was of stouter stuff, and he loved Fox because
he knew that under the stains and blemishes that had been left by a
deplorable education, was that sterling, inexhaustible ore in which
noble sympathies are subtly compounded with resplendent powers.

If he was warmly attached to his political friends, Burke, at least
before the Revolution, was usually on fair terms in private life with
his political opponents. There were few men whose policy he disliked
more than he disliked the policy of George Grenville. And we have seen
that he criticised Grenville in a pamphlet which did not spare him.
Yet Grenville and he did not refuse one another's hospitality, and
were on the best terms to the very end. Wilberforce, again, was one
of the staunchest friends of Pitt, and fought one of the greatest
electioneering battles on Pitt's side in the struggle of 1784; but it
made no difference in Burke's relations with him. In 1787 a coldness
arose between them. Burke had delivered a strong invective against
the French Treaty. Wilberforce said, "We can make allowance for the
honourable gentleman, because we remember him in better days." The
retort greatly nettled Burke, but the feeling soon passed away,
and they both found a special satisfaction in the dinner to which
Wilberforce invited Burke every session. "He was a great man," says
Wilberforce. "I could never understand how at one time he grew to be
so entirely neglected."

Outside of both political and literary circles, among Burke's
correspondents was that wise and honest traveller whose name is as
inseparably bound up with the preparation of the French Revolution, as
Burke's is bound up with its sanguinary climax and fulfilment. Arthur
Young, by his Farmer's Letters, and Farmer's Calendar, and his account
of his travels in the southern counties of England and elsewhere--the
story of the more famous travels in France was not published until
1792--had won a reputation as the best informed agriculturist of his
day. Within a year of his settlement at Beaconsfield, we find Burke
writing to consult Young on the mysteries of his new occupation. The
reader may smile as he recognises the ardour, the earnestness, the
fervid gravity of the political speeches, in letters which discuss
the merits of carrots in fattening porkers, and the precise degree to
which they should be boiled. Burke throws himself just as eagerly into
white peas and Indian corn, into cabbages that grow into head and
cabbages that shoot into leaves, into experiments with pumpkin seed
and wild parsnip, as if they had been details of the Stamp Act, or
justice to Ireland. When he complains that it is scarcely possible
for him, with his numerous avocations, to get his servants to enter
fully into his views as to the right treatment of his crops, we can
easily understand that his farming did not help him to make money. It
is impossible that he should have had time or attention to spare for
the effectual direction of even a small farm.

Yet if the farm brought scantier profit than it ought to have brought,
it was probably no weak solace in the background of a life of
harassing interests and perpetual disappointments. Burke was happier
at Beaconsfield than anywhere else, and he was happiest there when his
house was full of guests. Nothing pleased him better than to drive a
visitor over to Windsor, where he would expatiate with enthusiasm "on
the proud Keep, rising in the majesty of proportion, and girt with the
double belt of its kindred and coeval towers, overseeing and guarding
the subjected land." He delighted to point out the house at
Uxbridge where Charles I. had carried on the negotiations with the
Parliamentary Commissioners; the beautiful grounds of Bulstrode, where
Judge Jefferies had once lived; and the churchyard of Beaconsfield,
where lay the remains of Edmund Waller, the poet. He was fond of
talking of great statesmen--of Walpole, of Pulteney, and of Chatham.
Some one had said that Chatham knew nothing whatever except Spenser's
_Faery Queen_. "No matter how that was said," Burke replied to one of
his visitors, "whoever relishes and reads Spenser as he ought to be
read, will have a strong hold of the English language." The delight of
the host must have been at least equalled by the delight of the guest
in conversation which was thus ever taking new turns, branching into
topical surprises, and at all turns and on every topic was luminous,
high, edifying, full.

No guest was more welcome than the friend of his boyhood, and Richard
Shackleton has told how the friendship, cordiality, and openness with
which Burke embraced him was even more than might be expected from
long love. The simple Quaker was confused by the sight of what seemed
to him so sumptuous and worldly a life, and he went to rest uneasily,
doubting whether God's blessing could go with it. But when he awoke on
the morrow of his first visit, he told his wife, in the language
of his sect, how glad he was "to find no condemnation; but on the
contrary, ability to put up fervent petitions with much tenderness on
behalf of this great luminary." It is at his country home that we like
best to think of Burke. It is still a touching picture to the historic
imagination to follow him from the heat and violence of the House,
where tipsy squires derided the greatest genius of his time, down to
the calm shades of Beaconsfield, where he would with his own hands
give food to a starving beggar, or medicine to a peasant sick of the
ague; where he would talk of the weather, the turnips, and the hay
with the team-men and the farm-bailiff; and where, in the evening
stillness, he would pace the walk under the trees, and reflect on the
state of Europe and the distractions of his country.



The six years which followed the destruction of the Coalition were, in
some respects, the most mortifying portion of Burke's troubled career.
Pitt was more firmly seated in power than Lord North had ever been,
and he used his power to carry out a policy against which it was
impossible for the Whigs, on their own principles, to offer an
effective resistance. For this is the peculiarity of the king's first
victory over the enemies who had done obstinate battle with him for
nearly a quarter of a century. He had driven them out of the field,
but with the aid of an ally who was as strongly hostile to the royal
system as they had ever been. The king had vindicated his right
against the Whigs to choose his own ministers; but the new minister
was himself a Whig by descent, and a reformer by his education and
personal disposition.

Ireland was the subject of the first great battle between the ministry
and their opponents. Here, if anywhere, we might have expected from
Burke at least his usual wisdom and patience. We saw in a previous
chapter (p. 33) what the political condition of Ireland was when Burke
went there with Hamilton in 1763. The American war had brought about a
great change. The king had shrewdly predicted that if America became
free Ireland would soon follow the same plan and be a separate state.
In fact, along with the American war we had to encounter an Irish war
also; but the latter was, as an Irish politician called it at the
time, a smothered war. Like the Americans, the Anglo-Irish entered
into non-importation compacts, and they interdicted commerce. The
Irish volunteers, first forty, then sixty, and at last a hundred
thousand strong, were virtually an army enrolled to overawe the
English ministry and Parliament. Following the spirit, if not the
actual path, of the Americans, they raised a cry for commercial and
legislative independence. They were too strong to be resisted, and in
1782 the Irish Parliament acquired the privilege of initiating and
conducting its own business, without the sanction or control either of
the Privy Council or of the English Parliament. Dazzled by the chance
of acquiring legislative independence, they had been content with the
comparatively small commercial boons obtained by Lord Nugent and Burke
in 1778, and with the removal of further restrictions by the alarmed
minister in the following year. After the concession of their
independence in 1782, they found that to procure the abolition of the
remaining restrictions on their commerce--the right of trade, for
instance, with America and Africa--the consent of the English
legislature was as necessary as it had ever been. Pitt, fresh from the
teaching of Adam Smith and of Shelburne, brought forward in 1785 his
famous commercial propositions. The theory of his scheme was that
Irish trade should be free, and that Ireland should be admitted to a
permanent participation in commercial advantages. In return for this
gain, after her hereditary revenue passed a certain point, she was to
devote the surplus to purposes, such as the maintenance of the navy,
in which the two nations had a common interest. Pitt was to be
believed when he declared that of all the objects of his political
life this was, in his opinion, the most important that he had ever
engaged in, and he never expected to meet another that should rouse
every emotion in so strong a degree as this.

A furious battle took place in the Irish Parliament. There, while
nobody could deny that the eleven propositions would benefit the
mercantile interests of the country, it was passionately urged that
the last of the propositions, that which concerned the apportionment
of Irish revenue to imperial purposes, meant the enslavement of their
unhappy island. Their fetters, they went on, were clenched, if the
English Government was to be allowed thus to take the initiative
in Irish legislation. The factious course pursued by the English
Opposition was much less excusable than the line of the Anglo-Irish
leaders. Fox, who was ostentatiously ignorant of political economy,
led the charge. He insisted that Pitt's measures would annihilate
English trade, would destroy the Navigation Laws, and with them would
bring our maritime strength to the ground. Having thus won the favour
of the English manufacturers, he turned round to the Irish Opposition,
and conciliated them by declaring with equal vehemence that the
propositions were an insult to Ireland, and a nefarious attempt to
tamper with her new-born liberties. Burke followed his leader. We may
almost say that for once he allowed his political integrity to be
bewildered. In 1778 and 1779 he had firmly resisted the pressure which
his mercantile constituents in Bristol had endeavoured to put upon
him; he had warmly supported the Irish claims, and had lost his seat
in consequence. The precise ground which he took up in 1785 was this.
He appears to have discerned in Pitt's proposals the germ of an
attempt to extract revenue from Ireland, identical in purpose,
principle, and probable effect with the ever-memorable attempt to
extract revenue from the American colonies. Whatever stress may be
laid upon this, we find it hard to vindicate Burke from the charge
of factiousness. Nothing can have been more unworthy of him than
the sneer at Pitt in the great speech on the Nabob of Arcot's debts
(1785), for stopping to pick up chaff and straws from the Irish
revenue instead of checking profligate expenditure in India.

Pitt's alternative was irresistible. Situated as Ireland was, she must
either be the subservient instrument of English prosperity, or else
she must be allowed to enjoy the benefits of English trade, taking at
the same time a proportionate share of the common burdens. Adam Smith
had shown that there was nothing incompatible with justice in a
contribution by Ireland to the public debt of Great Britain. That
debt, he argued, had been contracted in support of the government
established by the Revolution; a government to which the Protestants
of Ireland owed not only the whole authority which they enjoyed in
their own country, but every security which they possessed for their
liberty, property, and religion. The neighbourhood of Ireland to the
shores of the mother country introduced an element into the problem,
which must have taught every unimpassioned observer that the American
solution would be inadequate for a dependency that lay at our very
door. Burke could not, in his calmer moments, have failed to recognise
all this. Yet he lent himself to the party cry that Pitt was taking
his first measures for the re-enslavement of Ireland. Had it not been
for what he himself called the delirium of the preceding session, and
which had still not subsided, he would have seen that Pitt was in
truth taking his first measures for the effective deliverance of
Ireland from an unjust and oppressive subordination. The same delirium
committed him to another equally deplorable perversity, when
he opposed, with as many excesses in temper as fallacies in
statesmanship, the wise treaty with France, in which Pitt partially
anticipated the commercial policy of an ampler treaty three-quarters
of a century afterwards.

A great episode in Burke's career now opened. It was in 1785 that
Warren Hastings returned from India, after a series of exploits as
momentous and far-reaching, for good or evil, as have ever been
achieved by any English ruler. For years Burke had been watching
India. With rising wonder, amazement, and indignation he had steadily
followed that long train of intrigue and crime which had ended in the
consolidation of a new empire. With the return of Hastings he felt
that the time had come for striking a severe blow, and making a signal
example. He gave notice (June 1785) that he would, at a future day,
make a motion respecting the conduct of a gentleman just returned from

Among minor considerations, we have to remember that Indian affairs
entered materially into the great battle of parties. It was upon
an Indian bill that the late ministry had made shipwreck. It was
notoriously by the aid of potent Indian interests that the new
ministry had acquired a portion of its majority. To expose the
misdeeds of our agents in India was at once to strike the minister who
had dexterously secured their support, and to attack one of the great
strongholds of parliamentary corruption. The proceedings against
Hastings were, in the first instance, regarded as a sequel to the
struggle over Fox's East India Bill. That these considerations were
present in Burke's thought there is no doubt, but they were purely
secondary. It was India itself that stood above all else in his
imagination. It had filled his mind and absorbed his time while Pitt
was still an undergraduate at Cambridge, and Burke was looking forward
to match his plan of economic reform with a greater plan of Indian
reform. In the Ninth Report, the Eleventh Report, and in his speech
on the India Bill of 1783, he had shown both how thoroughly he had
mastered the facts, and how profoundly they had stirred his sense of
wrong. The masterpiece known as the speech on the Nabob of Arcot's
debts, delivered in Parliament on a motion for papers (1785), handles
matters of account, of interest turned into principal, and principal
superadded to principal; it deals with a hundred minute technicalities
of teeps and tuncaws, of gomastahs and soucaring; all with such a
suffusion of interest and colour, with such nobility of idea and
expression, as could only have come from the addition to genius of a
deep morality of nature, and an overwhelming force of conviction. A
space less than one of these pages contains such a picture of the
devastation of the Carnatic by Hyder Ali, as may fill the young orator
or the young writer with the same emotions of enthusiasm, emulation,
and despair that torment the artist who first gazes on the Madonna
at Dresden, or the figures of Night and Dawn and the Penseroso at
Florence. The despair is only too well founded. No conscious study
could pierce the secret of that just and pathetic transition from the
havoc of Hyder Ali to the healing duties of a virtuous government, to
the consolatory celebration of the mysteries of justice and humanity,
to the warning to the unlawful creditors to silence their inauspicious
tongues in presence of the holy work of restoration, to the generous
proclamation against them that in every country the first creditor is
the plough. The emotions which make the hidden force of such pictures
come not by observation. They grow from the sedulous meditation of
long years, directed by a powerful intellect and inspired by an
interest in human well-being, which of its own virtue bore the orator
into the sustaining air of the upper gods. Concentrated passion
and exhaustive knowledge have never entered into a more formidable
combination. Yet when Burke made his speech on the Nabob of Arcot's
debts, Pitt and Grenville consulted together whether it was worth
answering, and came to the conclusion that they need not take the

Neither the scornful neglect of his opponents nor the dissensions of
some who sat on his own side, could check the ardour with which Burke
pressed on, as he said, to the relief of afflicted nations. The
fact is, that Burke was not at all a philanthropist as Clarkson and
Wilberforce were philanthropists. His sympathy was too strongly under
the control of true political reason. In 1780, for instance, the
slave-trade had attracted his attention, and he had even proceeded
to sketch out a code of regulations which provided for its immediate
mitigation and ultimate suppression. After mature consideration he
abandoned the attempt, from the conviction that the strength of the
West India interest would defeat the utmost efforts of his party. And
he was quite right in refusing to hope from any political action what
could only be effected after the moral preparation of the bulk of the
nation. And _direct_ moral or philanthropic apostleship was not his

Macaulay, in a famous passage of dazzling lustre and fine historic
colour, describes Burke's holy rage against the misdeeds of Hastings
as due to his sensibility. But sensibility to what? Not merely to
those common impressions of human suffering which kindle the flame of
ordinary philanthropy, always attractive, often so beneficent, but
often so capricious and so laden with secret detriment. This was no
part of Burke's type. For is it enough to say that Burke had what is
the distinctive mark of the true statesman, a passion for good, wise,
and orderly government. He had that in the strongest degree. All that
wore the look of confusion he held in abhorrence, and he detected the
seeds of confusion with a penetration that made other men marvel.
He was far too wise a man to have any sympathy with the energetic
exercise of power for power's sake. He knew well that triumphs
of violence are for the most part little better than temporary
makeshifts, which leave all the work of government to be encountered
afterwards by men of essentially greater capacity than the hero of
force without scruple. But he regarded those whom he called the great
bad men of the old stamp, Cromwell, Richelieu, the Guises, the Condés,
with a certain tolerance, because "though the virtues of such men were
not to be taken as a balance to their crimes, yet they had long views,
and sanctified their ambition by aiming at the orderly rule, and not
the destruction of their country." What he valued was the deep-seated
order of systems that worked by the accepted uses, opinions, beliefs,
prejudices of a community.

This love of right and stable order was not all. That was itself
the growth from a deeper root, partly of conviction and partly of
sympathy; the conviction of the rare and difficult conjunctures of
circumstance which are needed for the formation of even the rudest
forms of social union among mankind; and then the sympathy that the
best men must always find it hard to withhold from any hoary fabric of
belief, and any venerated system of government that has cherished
a certain order and shed even a ray of the faintest dawn among the
violences and the darkness of the race. It was reverence rather
than sensibility, a noble and philosophic conservatism rather than
philanthropy, which raised the storm in Burke's breast against the
rapacity of English adventurers in India and the imperial crimes of
Hastings. Exactly the same tide of emotion which afterwards filled to
the brim the cup of prophetic anger against the desecrators of the
Church and the monarchy of France, now poured itself out against those
who in India had "tossed about, subverted, and tore to pieces, as if
it were in the gambols of boyish unluckiness and malice, the most
established rights and the most ancient and most revered institutions
of ages and nations." From beginning to end of the fourteen years in
which Burke pursued his campaign against Hastings, we see in every
page that the India which ever glowed before his vision was not the
home of picturesque usages and melodramatic costume, but rather, in
his own words, the land of princes once of great dignity, authority,
and opulence; of an ancient and venerable priesthood, the guides of
the people while living, and their consolation in death; of a nobility
of antiquity and renown; of millions of ingenious mechanics, and
millions of diligent tillers of the earth; and finally, the land
where might be found almost all the religions professed by men--the
Brahminical, the Mussulman, the Eastern and the Western Christian.
When he published his speech on the Nabob of Arcot, Burke prefixed
to it an admirable quotation from one of the letters of the Emperor
Julian. And Julian too, as we all know, had a strong feeling for the
past. But what in that remarkable figure was only the sentimentalism
of reaction, in Burke was a reasoned and philosophic veneration for
all old and settled order, whether in the free Parliament of Great
Britain, in the ancient absolutism of Versailles, or in the secular
pomp of Oude and the inviolable sanctity of Benares, the holy city and
the garden of God.

It would be out of place here to attempt to follow the details of the
impeachment. Every reader has heard that great tale in our history,
and everybody knows that it was Burke's tenacity and power which
caused that tale to be told. The House of Commons would not, it is
true, have directed that Hastings should be impeached, unless Pitt had
given his sanction and approval, and how it was that Pitt did give
his sanction and approval so suddenly and on grounds ostensibly so
slender, remains one of the secrets of history. In no case would the
impeachment have been pressed upon Parliament by the Opposition,
and assented to by ministers, if Burke had not been there with his
prodigious industry, his commanding comprehensive vision, his burning
zeal, and his power of kindling in men so different from him and from
one another as Fox, Sheridan, Windham, Grey, a zeal only less intense
than his own.

It was in the spring of 1786 that the articles of charge of Hastings's
high crimes and misdemeanours, as Burke had drawn them, were presented
to the House of Commons. It was in February 1788 that Burke opened the
vast cause in the old historic hall at Westminster, in an oration
in which at points he was wound up to such a pitch of eloquence and
passion that every listener, including the great criminal, held his
breath in an agony of horror; that women were carried out fainting;
that the speaker himself became incapable of saying another word, and
the spectators of the scene began to wonder whether he would not, like
the mighty Chatham, actually die in the exertion of his overwhelming
powers. Among the illustrious crowd who thronged Westminster Hall in
the opening days of the impeachment was Fanny Burney. She was then in
her odious bondage at Court, and was animated by that admiration and
pity for Hastings which at Court was the fashion. Windham used to
come up from the box of the managers of the impeachment to talk over
with her the incidents of the day, and she gave him her impressions
of Burke's speech, which were probably those of the majority of his
hearers, for the majority were favourable to Hastings. "I told him,"
says Miss Burney, "that Mr. Burke's opening had struck me with the
highest admiration of his powers, from the eloquence, the imagination,
the fire, the diversity of expression, and the ready flow of language
with which he seemed gifted, in a most superior manner, for any and
every purpose to which rhetoric could lead." "And when he came to his
two narratives," I continued, "when he related the particulars
of those dreadful murders, he interested, he engaged, he at last
overpowered me; I felt my cause lost. I could hardly keep on my seat.
My eyes dreaded a single glance towards a man so accused as Mr.
Hastings; I wanted to sink on the floor, that they might be saved so
painful a sight. I had no hope he could clear himself; not another
wish in his favour remained. But when from this narration Mr. Burke
proceeded to his own comments and declamation--when the charges of
rapacity, cruelty, tyranny, were general, and made with all the
violence of personal detestation, and continued and aggravated without
any further fact or illustration; then there appeared more of study
than of truth, more of invective than of justice; and, in short, so
little of proof to so much of passion, that in a very short time I
began to lift up my head, my seat was no longer uneasy, my eyes were
indifferent which way they looked, or what object caught them, and
before I was myself aware of the declension of Mr. Burke's powers over
my feelings, I found myself a mere spectator in a public place, and
looking all around it, with my opera-glass in my hand!"

In 1795, six years after Burke's opening, the Lords were ready with
their verdict. It had long been anticipated. Hastings was acquitted.
This was the close of the fourteen years of labour, from the date of
the Select Committee of 1781. "If I were to call for a reward," Burke
said, "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 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."

The side that is defeated on a particular issue, is often victorious
on the wide and general outcome. Looking back across the ninety years
that divide us from that memorable scene in Westminster Hall, we may
see that Burke had more success than at first appeared. If he did not
convict the man, he overthrew a system, and stamped its principles
with lasting censure and shame. Burke had perhaps a silent conviction
that it would have been better for us and for India if Clive had
succeeded in his attempt to blow out his own brains in the Madras
counting-house, or if the battle of Plassy had been a decisive defeat
instead of a decisive victory. "All these circumstances," he once
said, in reference to the results of the investigation of the Select
Committee, "are not, I confess, very favourable to the idea of our
attempting to govern India at all. But there we are: there we are
placed by the Sovereign Disposer, and we must do the best we can in
our situation. The situation of man is the preceptor of his duty." If
that situation is better understood now than it was a century ago, and
that duty more loftily conceived, the result is due, so far as such
results can ever be due to one man's action apart from the confluence
of the deep impersonal elements of time, to the seeds of justice and
humanity which were sown by Burke and his associates. Nobody now
believes that Clive was justified in tricking Omichund by forging
another man's name; that Impey was justified in hanging Nuncomar for
committing the very offence for which Clive was excused or applauded,
although forgery is no grave crime according to Hindoo usage, and it
is the gravest according to English usage; that Hastings did well
in selling English troops to assist in the extermination of a brave
people with whom he was at peace; that Benfield did well in conniving
with an Eastern prince in a project of extortion against his subjects.
The whole drift of opinion has changed, and it is since the trial of
Hastings that the change has taken place. The question in Burke's
time was whether oppression and corruption were to continue to be the
guiding maxims of English policy. The personal disinterestedness of
the ruler who had been the chief founder of this policy, and had most
openly set aside all pretence of righteous principle, was dust in the
balance. It was impossible to suppress the policy without striking a
deadly blow at its most eminent and powerful instrument. That Hastings
was acquitted, was immaterial. The lesson of his impeachment had been
taught with sufficiently impressive force--the great lesson that
Asiatics have rights, and that Europeans have obligations; that a
superior race is bound to observe the highest current morality of the
time in all its dealings with the subject race. Burke is entitled
to our lasting reverence as the first apostle and great upholder of
integrity, mercy, and honour in the relation between his countrymen
and their humble dependents.

He shared the common fate of those who dare to strike a blow for human
justice against the prejudices of national egotism. But he was no
longer able to bear obloquy and neglect, as he had borne it through
the war with the colonies. When he opened the impeachment of Hastings
at Westminster, Burke was very near to his sixtieth year. Hannah More
noted in 1786 that his vivacity had diminished, and that business and
politics had impaired his agreeableness. The simpletons in the House,
now that they had at last found in Pitt a political chief who could
beat the Whig leaders on their own ground of eloquence, knowledge,
and dexterity in debate, took heart as they had never done under Lord
North. They now made deliberate attempts to silence the veteran by
unmannerly and brutal interruptions, of which a mob of lower class
might have been ashamed. Then suddenly came a moment of such
excitement as has not often been seen in the annals of party. It
became known one day in the autumn of 1788 that the king had gone out
of his mind.

The news naturally caused the liveliest agitation among the Whigs.
When the severity of the attack forced the ministry to make
preparations for a Regency, the friends of the Prince of Wales assumed
that they would speedily return to power, and hastened to form their
plans accordingly. Fox was travelling in Italy with Mrs. Armstead, and
he had been two months away without hearing a word from England.
The Duke of Portland sent a messenger in search of him, and after a
journey of ten days the messenger found him at Bologna. Fox instantly
set off in all haste for London, which he reached in nine days. The
three months that followed were a time of unsurpassed activity and
bitterness, and Burke was at least as active and as bitter as the rest
of them. He was the writer of the Prince of Wales's letter to Pitt,
sometimes set down to Sheridan, and sometimes to Gilbert Elliot. It
makes us feel how naturally the style of ideal kingship, its dignity,
calm, and high self-consciousness all came to Burke. Although we read
of his thus drawing up manifestoes and protests, and deciding minor
questions for Fox, which Fox was too irresolute to decide for himself,
yet we have it on Burke's own authority that some time elapsed
after the return to England before he even saw Fox; that he was not
consulted as to the course to be pursued in the grave and difficult
questions connected with the Regency; and that he knew as little of
the inside of Carlton House, where the Prince of Wales lived, as of
Buckingham House, where the king lived. "I mean to continue here,"
he says to Charles Fox, "until you call upon me; and I find myself
perfectly easy, from the implicit confidence that I have in you and
the Duke, and the certainty that I am in that you two will do the best
for the general advantage of the cause. In that state of mind I feel
no desire whatsoever of interfering." Yet the letter itself, and
others which follow, testify to the vehemence of Burke's interest in
the matter, and to the persistency with which he would have had them
follow his judgment, if they would have listened. It is as clear that
they did not listen.

Apart from the fierce struggle against Pitt's Regency Bill, Burke's
friends were intently occupied with the reconstruction of the Portland
cabinet, which the king had so unexpectedly dismissed five years
before. This was a sphere in which Burke's gifts were neither required
nor sought. We are rather in distress, Sir Gilbert Elliot writes, for
a proper man for the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer. "Lord J.
Cavendish is very unwilling to engage again in public affairs. Fox is
to be Secretary of State. Burke, it is thought, would not be approved
of, Sheridan has not the public confidence, and so it comes down
therefore to Grey, Pelham, myself, and perhaps Windham." Elliot
was one of Burke's most faithful and attached friends, and he was
intimately concerned in all that was going on in the inner circle of
the party. It is worth while, therefore, to reproduce his account from
a confidential letter to Lady Elliot, of the way in which Burke's
claim to recognition was at this time regarded and dealt with.

    Although I can tell you nothing positive about my own situation,
    I was made very happy indeed yesterday by co-operating in the
    settlement of Burke's, in a manner which gives us great joy as
    well as comfort. The Duke of Portland has felt distressed how to
    arrange Burke and his family in a manner equal to Burke's merits,
    and to the Duke's own wishes, and at the same time so as to be
    exempt from the many difficulties which seem to be in the way. He
    sent for Pelham and me, as Burke's friends and his own, to advise
    with us about it; and we dined yesterday with him and the Duchess,
    that we might have time to talk the thing over at leisure and
    without interruption after dinner. We stayed accordingly, engaged
    in that subject till almost twelve at night, and our conference
    ended most happily and excessively to the satisfaction of us all.
    The Duke of Portland has the veneration for Burke that Windham,
    Pelham, myself and a few more have, and he thinks it impossible to
    do too much for him. He considers the reward to be given to Burke
    as a credit and honour to the nation, and he considers the neglect
    of him and his embarrassed situation as having been long a
    reproach to the country. The unjust prejudice and clamour which
    has prevailed against him and his family only determine the Duke
    the more to do him justice. The question was how? First, his
    brother Richard, who was Secretary to the Treasury before, will
    have the same office now; but the Duke intends to give him one of
    the first offices which falls vacant, of about £1000 a year for
    life in the customs, and he will then resign the Secretary to the
    Treasury, which, however, in the meanwhile is worth £3000 a year.
    Edmund Burke is to have the Pay-Office, £4000 a year; but as that
    is precarious and he can leave no provision for his son, it would,
    in fact, be doing little or nothing of any real or substantial
    value unless some _permanent_ provision is added to it. In this
    view the Duke is to grant him on the Irish establishment a pension
    of £2000 a year _clear_ for his own life, and the other half to
    Mrs. Burke for her life. This will make Burke completely happy, by
    leaving his wife and son safe from want after his death, if they
    should survive him. The Duke's affectionate anxiety to accomplish
    this object, and his determination to set all clamour at defiance
    on this point of justice, was truly affecting, and increases my
    attachment for the Duke.... The Duke said the only objection to
    this plan was that he thought it was due from this country, and
    that he grudged the honour of it to Ireland; but as nothing in
    England was ready, this plan was settled. You may think it strange
    that to this moment Burke does not know a word of all this, and
    his family are indeed, I believe, suffering a little under the
    apprehension that he may be neglected in the general scramble. I
    believe there never were three cabinet counsellors more in harmony
    on any subject than we were, nor three people happier in their
    day's work.[1]

[Footnote 1: _Life and Letters of Sir G. Elliot_, i. 261-263.]

This leaves the apparent puzzle where it was. Why should Burke not
be approved of for Chancellor of the Exchequer? What were the many
difficulties described as seeming to be in the way of arranging for
Burke in a manner equal to Burke's merits and the Duke of Portland's
wishes? His personal relations with the chiefs of his party were at
this time extremely cordial and intimate. He was constantly a guest at
the Duke of Portland's most private dinner-parties. Fox had gone down
to Beaconsfield to recruit himself from the fatigues of his rapid
journey from Bologna, and to spend some days in quiet with Windham and
the master of the house. Elliot and Windham, who were talked about
for a post for which one of them says that Burke would not have been
approved, vied with one another in adoring Burke. Finally, Elliot
and the Duke think themselves happy in a day's work, which ended in
consigning the man who not only was, but was admitted to be, the most
powerful genius of their party, to a third-rate post, and that most
equivocal distinction, a pension on the Irish establishment. The
common explanation that it illustrates Whig exclusiveness, cannot be
seriously received as adequate. It is probable, for one thing, that
the feelings of the Prince of Wales had more to do with it than the
feelings of men like the Duke of Portland or Fox. We can easily
imagine how little that most worthless of human creatures would
appreciate the great qualities of such a man as Burke. The painful
fact which we are unable to conceal from ourselves is, that the common
opinion of better men than the Prince of Wales leaned in the same
direction. His violence in the course of the Regency debates had
produced strong disapproval in the public, and downright consternation
in his own party. On one occasion he is described by a respectable
observer as having "been wilder than ever, and laid himself and his
party more open than ever speaker did. He is folly personified, but
shaking his cap and bells under the laurel of genius. He finished his
wild speech in a manner next to madness." Moore believes that Burke's
indiscretions in these trying and prolonged transactions sowed the
seeds of the alienation between him and Fox two years afterwards.
Burke's excited state of mind showed itself in small things as well as
great. Going with Windham to Carlton House, Burke attacked him in the
coach for a difference of opinion about the affairs of a friend, and
behaved with such unreasonable passion and such furious rudeness
of manner, that his magnanimous admirer had some difficulty in
obliterating the impression. The public were less tolerant. Windham
has told us that at this time Burke was 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.[1]
This is evidence beyond impeachment, for Windham loved and honoured
Burke with the affection and reverence of a son; and he puts the
popular sentiment on record with grief and amazement. There is other
testimony to the same effect. The late Lord Lansdowne, who must
have heard the subject abundantly discussed by those who were most
concerned in it, was once asked by a very eminent man of our own time,
why the Whigs kept Burke out of their cabinets. "Burke!" he cried; "he
was so violent, so overbearing, so arrogant, so intractable, that
to have got on with him in a cabinet would have been utterly and
absolutely impossible."

[Footnote 1: Windham's _Diary_, p. 213.]

On the whole, it seems to be tolerably clear that the difficulties
in the way of Burke's promotion to high office were his notoriously
straitened circumstances; his ungoverned excesses of party zeal and
political passion; finally, what Sir Gilbert Elliot calls the unjust
prejudice and clamour against him and his family, and what Burke
himself once called the hunt of obloquy that pursued him all his
life. The first two of these causes can scarcely have operated in
the arrangements that were made in the Rockingham and Coalition
ministries. But the third, we may be sure, was incessantly at work. It
would have needed social courage alike in 1782, 1783, and 1788 to
give cabinet rank to a man round whose name there floated so many
disparaging associations. Social courage is exactly the virtue in
which the constructors of a government will always think themselves
least able to indulge. Burke, we have to remember, did not stand
alone before the world. Elliot describes a dinner-party at Lord
Fitzwilliam's, at which four of these half-discredited Irishmen were
present. "Burke 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
offensive with animal spirits and with brogue; and his cousin, Will
Burke, who is just returned unexpectedly from India, as much ruined
as when he went many years ago, and who is a fresh charge on any
prospects of power that Burke may ever have." It was this train, and
the ideas of adventurership that clung to them, the inextinguishable
stories about papistry and Saint Omer's, the tenacious calumny about
the letters of Junius, the notorious circumstances of embarrassment
and neediness--it was all these things which combined with Burke's own
defects of temper and discretion, to give the Whig grandees as decent
a reason as they could have desired for keeping all the great posts of
state in their own hands.

It seems difficult to deny that the questions of the Regency had
caused the germs of a sort of dissatisfaction and strain in the
relations between Fox and Burke. Their feelings to one another have
been well compared to the mutual discontent between partners in
unsuccessful play, where each suspects that it is the mistakes of the
other that lost the game. Whether Burke felt conscious of the failures
in discretion and temper, which were the real or pretended excuse for
neglect, we cannot tell. There is one passage that reveals a chagrin
of this kind. A few days after the meeting between the Duke of
Portland and Elliot, for the purpose of settling his place in the new
ministry, Burke went down to Beaconsfield. In writing (January 24,
1789) to invite Windham and Pelham to come to stay a night, with
promise of a leg of mutton cooked by a dairymaid who was not a bad
hand at a pinch, he goes on to say that his health has received some
small benefit from his journey to the country. "But this view to
health, though far from unnecessary to me, was not the chief cause
of my present retreat. I began to find that I was grown rather
too anxious; and had begun to discover to myself and to others a
solicitude relative to the present state of affairs, which, though
their strange condition might well warrant it in others, is certainly
less suitable to my time of life, in which all emotions are less
allowed; and to which, most certainly, all human concerns ought in
reason to become more indifferent than to those who have work to do,
and a good deal of day and of inexhausted strength to do it in."[1]

[Footnote 1: _Correspondence_, iii. 89.]

The king's unexpected restoration to health two or three weeks
later brought to nought all the hope and ambition of the Whigs, and
confirmed Pitt in power for the rest of Burke's lifetime. But an event
now came to pass in the world's history, which transformed Burke in an
instant from a man decried, persecuted, proscribed, into an object of
exultant adoration all over Europe.



We have now come to the second of the two momentous changes in the
world's affairs, in which Burke played an imposing and historic
part. His attitude in the first of them, the struggle for American
independence, commands almost without alloy the admiration and
reverence of posterity. His attitude in the second of them, the great
revolution in France, has raised controversies which can only be
compared in heat and duration to the master controversies of theology.
If the history of society were written as learned men write the
history of the Christian faith and its churches, Burke would figure in
the same strong prominence, whether deplorable or glorious, as Arius
and Athanasius, Augustine and Sabellius, Luther and Ignatius. If we
ask how it is that now, nearly a century after the event, men are
still discussing Burke's pamphlet on the Revolution as they are still
discussing Bishop Butler's _Analogy_, the answer is that in one case
as in the other the questions at issue are still unsettled, and that
Burke offers in their highest and most comprehensive form all the
considerations that belong to one side of the dispute. He was not of
those, of whom Coleridge said that they proceeded with much solemnity
to solve the riddle of the French Revolution by anecdotes. He
suspended it in the same light of great social ideas and wide
principles, in which its authors and champions professed to represent
it. Unhappily he advanced from criticism to practical exhortation, in
our opinion the most mischievous and indefensible that has ever been
pressed by any statesman on any nation. But the force of the criticism
remains, its foresight remains, its commemoration of valuable elements
of life which men were forgetting, its discernment of the limitations
of things, its sense of the awful emergencies of the problem. When our
grandchildren have made up their minds, once for all, as to the merits
of the social transformation which dawned on Europe in 1789, then
Burke's _Reflections_ will become a mere literary antiquity, and not

From the very beginning Burke looked upon the proceedings in France
with distrust. He had not a moment of enthusiasm or sympathy of which
to repent. When the news reached England that the insurgents of Paris
had stormed the Bastille, Fox exclaimed with exultation, how much it
was the greatest event that had ever happened in the world, how much
the best. Is it an infirmity to wish for an instant that some such
phrase of generous hope had escaped from Burke; that he had for a day
or an hour undergone that fine illusion which was lighted up in the
spirits of men like Wordsworth and Coleridge? Those great poets,
who were destined one day to preach even a wiser and a loftier
conservatism than his own, have told us what they felt--

  When France in wrath her giant limbs upreared,
  And with that oath, which smote air, earth, and sea,
  Stamped her strong foot, and said she would be free.

Burke from the first espied the looming shadow of a catastrophe. In
August he wrote to Lord Charlemont that the events in France had
something paradoxical and mysterious about them; that the outbreak of
the old Parisian ferocity might be no more than a sudden explosion,
but if it should happen to be _character_ rather than accident, then
the people would need a strong hand like that of their former masters
to coerce them; that all depended upon the French having wise heads
among them, and upon these wise heads, if such there were, acquiring
an authority to match their wisdom. There is nothing here but a calm
and sagacious suspense of judgment. It soon appeared that the old
Parisian ferocity was still alive. In the events of October 1789, when
the mob of Paris marched out to Versailles and marched back again with
the king and queen in triumphal procession, Burke felt in his heart
that the beginning of the end had come, and that the catastrophe was
already at hand. In October he wrote a long letter to the French
gentleman to whom he afterwards addressed the _Reflections_. "You
hope, sir," he said, "that I think the French deserving of liberty. I
certainly do. I certainly think that all men who desire it deserve it.
We cannot forfeit our right to it, but by what forfeits our title to
the privileges of our kind. The liberty I mean is _social_ freedom.
It is that state of things in which liberty is secured by equality
of restraint. This kind of liberty is, indeed, but another name for
justice. _Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice,
neither is in my opinion safe_." The weightiest and most important of
all political truths, and worth half the fine things that poets
have sung about freedom--if it could only have been respected, how
different the course of the Revolution! But the engineer who attempts
to deal with the abysmal rush of the falls of Niagara, must put aside
the tools that constructed the Bridgewater Canal and the Chelsea
Waterworks. Nobody recognised so early as Burke that France had really
embarked among cataracts and boiling gulfs, and the pith of all his
first criticisms, including the _Reflections_, was the proposition
that to separate freedom from justice was nothing else than to steer
the ship of state direct into the Maelstrom. It is impossible to
deny that this was true. Unfortunately it was a truth which the wild
spirits that were then abroad in the storm made of no avail.

Destiny aimed an evil stroke when Burke, whose whole soul was bound up
in order, peace, and gently enlarged precedent, found himself face to
face with the portentous man-devouring Sphinx. He who could not endure
that a few clergymen should be allowed to subscribe to the Bible
instead of to the Articles, saw the ancient Church of Christendom
prostrated, its possessions confiscated, its priests proscribed, and
Christianity itself officially superseded. The economical reformer,
who when his zeal was hottest declined to discharge a tide-waiter or a
scullion in the royal kitchen who should have acquired the shadow of a
vested interest in his post, beheld two great orders stripped of
their privileges and deprived of much of their lands, though their
possession had been sanctified by the express voice of the laws and
the prescription of many centuries. He who was full of apprehension
and anger at the proposal to take away a member of Parliament from St.
Michael's or Old Sarum, had to look on while the most august monarchy
in Europe was overturned. The man who dreaded fanatics, hated
atheists, despised political theorisers, and was driven wild at the
notion of applying metaphysical rights and abstract doctrines to
public affairs, suddenly beheld a whole kingdom given finally up to
fanatics, atheists, and theorisers, who talked of nothing but the
rights of man, and deliberately set as wide a gulf as ruin and
bloodshed could make between themselves and every incident or
institution in the history of their land. The statesman who had once
declared, and habitually proved, his preference for peace over even
truth, who had all his life surrounded himself with a mental paradise
of order and equilibrium, in a moment found himself confronted by the
stupendous and awful spectre which a century of disorder had raised in
its supreme hour. It could not have been difficult for any one who had
studied Burke's character and career, to foretell all that now came to
pass with him.

It was from an English, and not from a French point of view, that
Burke was first drawn to write upon the Revolution. The 4th of
November was the anniversary of the landing of the Prince of Orange,
and the first act in the Revolution of 1688. The members of an
association which called itself the Revolution Society, chiefly
composed of Dissenters, but not without a mixture of Churchmen,
including a few peers and a good many members of the House of Commons,
met as usual to hear a sermon in commemoration of the glorious day.
Dr. Price was the preacher, and both in the morning sermon, and in
the speeches which followed in the festivities of the afternoon, the
French were held up to the loudest admiration, as having carried the
principles of our own Revolution to a loftier height, and having
opened boundless hopes to mankind. By these harmless proceedings
Burke's anger and scorn were aroused to a pitch which must seem to us,
as it seemed to not a few of his contemporaries, singularly out of all
proportion to its cause. Deeper things were doubtless in silent motion
within him. He set to work upon a denunciation of Price's doctrines,
with a velocity that reminds us of Aristotle's comparison of anger
to the over-hasty servant, who runs off with all speed before he
has listened to half the message. This was the origin of the
_Reflections_. The design grew as the writer went on. His imagination
took fire; his memory quickened a throng of impressive associations;
his excited vision revealed to him a band of vain, petulant upstarts
persecuting the ministers of a sacred religion, insulting a virtuous
and innocent sovereign, and covering with humiliation the august
daughter of the Caesars; his mind teemed with the sage maxims of the
philosophy of things established, and the precepts of the gospel of
order. Every courier that crossed the Channel supplied new material to
his contempt and his alarm. He condemned the whole method and course
of the French reforms. His judgment was in suspense no more. He no
longer distrusted; he hated, despised, and began to dread.

Men soon began to whisper abroad that Burke thought ill of what was
going on over the water. When it transpired that he was writing
a pamphlet, the world of letters was stirred with the liveliest
expectation. The name of the author, the importance of the subject,
and the singularity of his opinions, so Mackintosh informs us, all
inflamed the public curiosity. Soon after Parliament met for the
session (1790), the army estimates were brought up. Fox criticised the
increase of our forces, and incidentally hinted something in praise of
the French army, which had shown that a man could be a soldier without
ceasing to be a citizen. Some days afterwards the subject was revived,
and Pitt, as well as Fox, avowed himself hopeful of the good effect of
the Revolution upon the order and government of France. Burke followed
in a very different vein, openly proclaiming that dislike and fear of
the Revolution which was to be the one ceaseless refrain of all that
he spoke or wrote for the rest of his life. He deplored Fox's praise
of the army for breaking their lawful allegiance, and then he
proceeded with ominous words to the effect that, if any friend of his
should concur in any measures which should tend to introduce such a
democracy as that of France, he would abandon his best friends and
join with his worst enemies to oppose either the means or the end.
This has unanimously been pronounced one of the most brilliant and
effective speeches that Burke ever made. Fox rose with distress on
every feature, and made the often-quoted declaration of his debt to
Burke:--"If all the political information I have learned from books,
all which I have gained from science, and all which my knowledge of
the world and its affairs has taught me, were put into one scale, and
the improvement which I have derived from my right honourable friend's
instruction and conversation were placed in the other, I should be at
a loss to decide to which to give the preference. I have learnt more
from my right honourable friend than from all the men with whom I ever
conversed." All seemed likely to end in a spirit of conciliation until
Sheridan rose, and in the plainest terms that he could find, expressed
his dissent from everything that Burke had said. Burke immediately
renounced his friendship. For the first time in his life he found the
sympathy of the House vehemently on his side.

In the following month (March 1790) this unpromising incident was
succeeded by an aberration which no rational man will now undertake to
defend. Fox brought forward a motion for the repeal of the Test and
Corporation Acts. He did this in accordance with a recent suggestion
of Burke's own, that he should strengthen his political position
by winning the support of the Dissenters. Burke himself had always
denounced the Test Act as bad, and as an abuse of sacred things. To
the amazement of everybody, and to the infinite scandal of his party,
he now pronounced the Dissenters to be disaffected citizens, and
refused to relieve them. Well might Fox say that Burke's words had
filled him with grief and shame.

Meanwhile the great rhetorical fabric gradually arose. Burke revised,
erased, moderated, strengthened, emphasised, wrote and re-wrote with
indefatigable industry. With the manuscript constantly under his
eyes, he lingered busily, pen in hand, over paragraphs and phrases,
antitheses and apophthegms. The _Reflections_ was no superb
improvisation. Its composition recalls Palma Giovine's account of the
mighty Titian's way of working; how the master made his preparations
with resolute strokes of a heavily-laden brush, and then turned his
picture to the wall, and by and by resumed again, and then again and
again, redressing, adjusting, modelling the light with a rub of his
finger, or dabbing a spot of dark colour into some corner with a
touch of his thumb, and finally working all his smirches, contrasts,
abruptnesses, into the glorious harmony that we know. Burke was so
unwearied in this insatiable correction and alteration that the
printer found it necessary, instead of making the changes marked upon
the proof-sheets, to set up the whole in type afresh. The work was
upon the easel for exactly a year. It was November (1790) before the
result came into the hands of the public. It was a small octavo of
three hundred and fifty-six pages, in contents rather less than twice
the present volume, bound in an unlettered wrapper of gray paper, and
sold for five shillings. In less than twelve months it reached its
eleventh edition, and it has been computed that not many short of
thirty thousand copies were sold within the next six years.

The first curiosity had languished in the course of the long delay,
but it was revived in its strongest force when the book itself
appeared. A remarkable effect instantly followed. Before the
_Reflections_ was published the predominant sentiment in England had
been one of mixed astonishment and sympathy. Pitt had expressed this
common mood both in the House of Commons and in private. It was
impossible for England not to be amazed at the uprising of a nation
whom they had been accustomed to think of as willing slaves, and
it was impossible for her, when the scene did not happen to be the
American colonies or Ireland, not to profess good wishes for the cause
of emancipation all over the world. Apart from the natural admiration
of a free people for a neighbour struggling to be free, England saw
no reason to lament a blow to a sovereign and a government who had
interfered on the side of her insurgent colonies. To this easy state
of mind Burke's book put an immediate end. At once, as contemporaries
assure us, it divided the nation into two parties. On both sides it
precipitated opinion. With a long-resounding blast on his golden
trumpet Burke had unfurled a new flag, and half the nation hurried to
rally to it--that half which had scouted his views on America, which
had bitterly disliked his plan of Economic Reform, which had mocked
his ideas on religious toleration, and which a moment before had hated
and reviled him beyond all men living for his fierce tenacity in the
impeachment of Warren Hastings. The king said to everybody who came
near him that the book was a good book, a very good book, and every
gentleman ought to read it. The universities began to think of
offering the scarlet gown of their most honourable degree to the
assailant of Price and the Dissenters. The great army of the indolent
good, the people who lead excellent lives and never use their reason,
took violent alarm. The timorous, the weak-minded, the bigoted, were
suddenly awakened to a sense of what they owed to themselves. Burke
gave them the key which enabled them to interpret the Revolution in
harmony with their usual ideas and their temperament.

Reaction quickly rose to a high pitch. One preacher in a parish church
in the neighbourhood of London celebrated the anniversary of the
restoration of King Charles II. by a sermon, in which the pains of
eternal damnation were confidently promised to political disaffection.
Romilly, mentioning to a friend that the _Reflections_ had got into a
fourteenth edition, wondered whether Burke was not rather ashamed of
his success. It is when we come to the rank and file of reaction, that
we find it hard to forgive the man of genius who made himself the
organ of their selfishness, their timidity, and their blindness. We
know, alas, that the parts of his writings on French affairs to which
they would fly, were not likely to be the parts which calm men now
read with sympathy, but the scoldings, the screamings, the unworthy
vituperation with which, especially in the latest of them, he attacked
everybody who took part in the Revolution, from Condorcet and
Lafayette down to Marat and Couthon. It was the feet of clay that they
adored in their image, and not the head of fine gold and the breasts
and the arms of silver.

On the continent of Europe the excitement was as great among the
ruling classes as it was at home. Mirabeau, who had made Burke's
acquaintance some years before in England, and even been his guest at
Beaconsfield, now made the _Reflections_ the text of more than one
tremendous philippic. Louis XVI. is said to have translated the book
into French with his own hand. Catherine of Russia, Voltaire's adored
Semiramis of the North, the benefactress of Diderot, the ready helper
of the philosophic party, pressed her congratulations on the great
pontiff of the old order, who now thundered anathema against the
philosophers and all their works.

It is important to remember the stage which the Revolution had
reached, when Burke was composing his attack upon it. The year 1790
was precisely the time when the hopes of the best men in France shone
most brightly, and seemed most reasonable. There had been disorders,
and Paris still had ferocity in her mien. But Robespierre was an
obscure figure on the back benches of the Assembly. Nobody had ever
heard of Danton. The name of Republic had never been so much as
whispered. The king still believed that constitutional monarchy would
leave him as much power as he desired. He had voluntarily gone to the
National Assembly, and in simple language had exhorted them all to
imitate his example by professing the single opinion, the single
interest, the single wish--attachment to the new constitution, and
ardent desire for the peace and happiness of France. The clergy, it is
true, were violently irritated by the spoliation of their goods, and
the nobles had crossed the Rhine, to brood impotently in the safety
of Coblenz over projects of a bloody revenge upon their country. But
France, meanwhile, paid little heed either to the anger of the clergy
or the menaces of the emigrant nobles, and at the very moment when
Burke was writing his most sombre pages, Paris and the provinces were
celebrating with transports of joy and enthusiasm the civic oath,
the federation, the restoration of concord to the land, the final
establishment of freedom and justice in a regenerated France. This was
the happy scene over which Burke suddenly stretched out the right arm
of an inspired prophet, pointing to the cloud of thunder and darkness
that was gathering on the hills, and proclaiming to them the doom that
had been written upon the wall by the fingers of an inexorable hand.
It is no wonder that when the cloud burst and the doom was fulfilled,
men turned to Burke, as they went of old to Ahithophel, whose counsel
was as if a man had inquired of the oracle of God.

It is not to our purpose to discuss all the propositions advanced in
the _Reflections_, much less to reply to them. The book is like
some temple, by whose structure and design we allow ourselves to be
impressed, without being careful to measure the precise truth or
fitness of the worship to which it was consecrated by its first
founders. Just as the student of the _Politics_ of Aristotle may well
accept all the wisdom of it, without caring to protest at every turn
against slavery as the basis of a society, so we may well cherish all
the wisdom of the _Reflections_, at this distance of time, without
marking as a rubric on every page that half of these impressive
formulae and inspiring declamations were irrelevant to the occasion
which called them forth, and exercised for the hour an influence that
was purely mischievous. Time permits to us this profitable lenity. In
reading this, the first of his invectives, it is important, for the
sake of clearness of judgment, to put from our minds the practical
policy which Burke afterwards so untiringly urged upon his countrymen.
As yet there is no exhortation to England to interfere. We still
listen to the voice of the statesman, and are not deafened by the
passionate cries of the preacher of a crusade. When Burke wrote the
_Reflections_ he was justified in criticising the Revolution as
an extraordinary movement, but still a movement professing to be
conducted on the principles of rational and practicable politics. They
were the principles to which competent onlookers like Jefferson and
Morris had expected the Assembly to conform, but to which the Assembly
never conformed for an instant. It was on the principles of rational
politics that Fox and Sheridan admired it. On these principles
Burke condemned it. He declared that the methods of the Constituent
Assembly, up to the summer of 1790, were unjust, precipitate,
destructive, and without stability. Men had chosen to build their
house on the sands, and the winds and the seas would speedily beat
against it and overthrow it.

His prophecy was fulfilled to the letter. What is still more important
for the credit of his foresight is, that not only did his prophecy
come true, but it came true for the reasons that he had fixed upon. It
was, for instance, the constitution of the Church, in which Burke
saw the worst of the many bad mistakes of the Assembly. History, now
slowly shaking herself free from the passions of a century, agrees
that the civil constitution of the clergy was the measure which, more
than any other, decisively put an end to whatever hopes there might
have been of a peaceful transition from the old order to the new.
A still more striking piece of foresight is the prediction of the
despotism of the Napoleonic Empire. Burke had compared the levelling
policy of the Assembly in their geometrical division of the
departments, and their isolation from one another of the bodies of
the state, to the treatment which a conquered country receives at the
hands of its conquerors. Like Romans in Greece or Macedon, the French
innovators had destroyed the bonds of union, under colour of providing
for the independence of each of their cities. "If the present project
of a Republic should fail," Burke said, with a prescience really
profound, "all securities to a moderate freedom fail with it. All the
indirect restraints which mitigate despotism are removed; insomuch
that, if monarchy should ever again obtain an entire ascendancy in
France under this or any other dynasty, it will probably be, if not
voluntarily tempered at setting out by the wise and virtuous counsels
of the prince, the most completely arbitrary power that ever appeared
on earth." Almost at the same moment Mirabeau was secretly writing to
the king that their plan of reducing all citizens to a single
class would have delighted Richelieu. This equal surface, he said,
facilitates the exercise of power, and many reigns in an absolute
government would not have done as much as this single year of
revolution, for the royal authority. Time showed that Burke and
Mirabeau were right.

History ratifies nearly all Burke's strictures on the levity and
precipitancy of the first set of actors in the revolutionary drama. No
part of the _Reflections_ is more energetic than the denunciation of
geometric and literary methods; and these are just what the modern
explorer hits upon, as one of the fatal secrets of the catastrophe.
De Tocqueville's chapter on the causes which made literary men the
principal persons in France, and the effect which this had upon the
Revolution (Bk. III. ch. i.), is only a little too cold to be able
to pass for Burke's own. Quinet's work on the Revolution is one
long sermon, full of eloquence and cogency, upon the incapacity and
blindness of the men who undertook the conduct of a tremendous crisis
upon mere literary methods, without the moral courage to obey the
logic of their beliefs, with the student's ignorance of the eager
passion and rapid imagination of multitudes of men, with the pedant's
misappreciation of a people, of whom it has been said by one of
themselves, that there never was a nation more led by its sensations
and less by its principles. Comte, again, points impressively to
the Revolution as the period which illustrates more decisively
than another the peril of confounding the two great functions of
speculation and political action: and he speaks with just reprobation
of the preposterous idea in the philosophic politicians of the
epoch, that society was at their disposal, independent of its past
development, devoid of inherent impulses, and easily capable of being
morally regenerated by the mere modification of legislative rules.

What then was it that, in the midst of so much perspicacity as to
detail, blinded Burke at the time when he wrote the _Reflections_ to
the true nature of the movement? Is it not this, that he judges the
Revolution as the solution of a merely political question? If the
Revolution had been merely political, his judgment would have been
adequate. The question was much deeper. It was a social question that
burned under the surface of what seemed no more than a modification of
external arrangements. That Burke was alive to the existence of social
problems, and that he was even tormented by them, we know from an
incidental passage in the _Reflections_. There he tells us how often
he had reflected, and never reflected without feeling, upon the
innumerable servile and degrading occupations to which by the social
economy so many wretches are inevitably doomed. He had pondered
whether there could be any means of rescuing these unhappy people from
their miserable industry without disturbing the natural course of
things, and impeding the great wheel of circulation which is turned by
their labour. This is the vein of that striking passage in his first
composition which I have already quoted (p. 22). Burke did not
yet see, and probably never saw, that one key to the events which
astonished and exasperated him was simply that the persons most
urgently concerned had taken the riddle which perplexed him into their
own hands, and had in fiery earnest set about their own deliverance.
The pith of the Revolution up to 1790 was less the political
constitution, of which Burke says so much, and so much that is true,
than the social and economic transformation, of which he says so
little. It was not a question of the power of the king, or the measure
of an electoral circumscription, that made the Revolution; it was
the iniquitous distribution of the taxes, the scourge of the militia
service, the scourge of the road service, the destructive tyranny
exercised in the vast preserves of wild game, the vexatious rights and
imposts of the lords of manors, and all the other odious burdens and
heavy impediments on the prosperity of the thrifty and industrious
part of the nation. If he had seen ever so clearly that one of the
most important sides of the Revolution in progress was the rescue of
the tiller of the soil, Burke would still doubtless have viewed events
with bitter suspicion. For the process could not be executed without
disturbing the natural course of things, and without violating his
principle that all changes should find us with our minds tenacious of
justice and tender of property. A closer examination than he chose to
give of the current administration alike of justice and of property
under the old system, would have explained to him that an hour had
come in which the spirit of property and of justice compelled a
supersession of the letter.

If Burke had insisted on rigidly keeping sensibility to the wrongs of
the French people out of the discussion, on the ground that the whole
subject was one for positive knowledge and logical inference, his
position would have been intelligible and defensible. He followed no
such course. His pleading turns constantly to arguments from feeling;
but it is always to feeling on one side, and to a sensibility that is
only alive to the consecrated force of historic associations. How much
pure and uncontrolled emotion had to do with what ought to have
been the reasoned judgments of his understanding we know on his own
evidence. He had sent the proof-sheets of a part of his book to Sir
Philip Francis. They contained the famous passage describing the
French queen as he had seen her seventeen years before at Versailles.
Francis bluntly wrote to him that, in his opinion, all Burke's
eloquence about Marie Antoinette was no better than pure foppery, and
he referred to the queen herself as no better than Messalina. Burke
was so excited by this that his son, in a rather officious letter,
begged Francis not to repeat such stimulating remonstrance. What is
interesting in the incident is Burke's own reply. He knew nothing,
he said, of the story of Messalina, and declined the obligation of
proving judicially the virtues of all those whom he saw suffering
wrong and contumely, before he endeavoured to interest others in their
sufferings, and before endeavouring to kindle horror against midnight
assassins at backstairs and their more wicked abettors in pulpits. And
then he went on, "I tell you again that the recollection of the manner
in which I saw the Queen of France in the year 1774 [1773], and the
contrast between that brilliancy, splendour, and beauty, with the
prostrate homage of a nation to her, and the abominable scene of 1789
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."

The answer was obvious. It was well to pity the unmerited agonies of
Marie Antoinette, though as yet, we must remember, she had suffered
nothing beyond the indignities of the days of October at Versailles.
But did not the protracted agonies of a nation deserve the tribute of
a tear? As Paine asked, were men to weep over the plumage, and forget
the dying bird? The bulk of the people must labour, Burke told them,
"to obtain what by labour can be obtained; and when they find, as they
commonly do, the success disproportioned to the endeavour, they must
be taught their consolation in the final proportions of eternal
justice." When we learn that a Lyons silk weaver, working as hard as
he could for over seventeen hours a day, could not earn money enough
to procure the most bare and urgent necessaries of subsistence, we may
know with what benignity of brow eternal justice must have presented
herself in the garret of that hapless wretch. It was no idle
abstraction, no metaphysical right of man for which the Trench cried,
but only the practical right of being permitted, by their own toil, to
save themselves and the little ones about their knees from hunger and
cruel death. The _mainmortable_ serfs of ecclesiastics are variously
said to have been a million and a million and a half at the time of
the Revolution. Burke's horror, as he thought of the priests and
prelates who left palaces and dignities to earn a scanty living by the
drudgery of teaching their language in strange lands, should have been
alleviated by the thought that a million or more of men were rescued
from ghastly material misery. Are we to be so overwhelmed with sorrow
over the pitiful destiny of the men of exalted rank and sacred
function, as to have no tears for the forty thousand serfs in the
gorges of the Jura, who were held in dead-hand by the Bishop of

The simple truth is that Burke did not know enough of the subject
about which he was writing. When he said, for instance, that the
French before 1789 possessed all the elements of a constitution that
might be made nearly as good as could be wished, he said what many of
his contemporaries knew, and what all subsequent investigation and
meditation have proved, to be recklessly ill-considered and untrue. As
to the social state of France, his information was still worse. He saw
the dangers and disorders of the new system, but he saw a very little
way indeed into the more cruel dangers and disorders of the old.
Mackintosh replied to the _Reflections_ with manliness and temperance
in the _Vindicicae Gallicae_. Thomas Paine replied to them with an
energy, courage, and eloquence worthy of his cause, in the _Rights of
Man_. But the substantial and decisive reply to Burke came from his
former correspondent, the farmer at Bradfield in Suffolk. Arthur Young
published his _Travels in France_ some eighteen months after the
_Reflections_ (1792), and the pages of the twenty-first chapter in
which he closes his performance, as a luminous criticism of the most
important side of the Revolution, are worth a hundred times more than
Burke, Mackintosh, and Paine all put together. Young afterwards became
panic-stricken, but his book remained. There the writer plainly
enumerates without trope or invective the intolerable burdens under
which the great mass of the French people had for long years been
groaning. It was the removal of these burdens that made the very
heart's core of the Revolution, and gave to France that new life which
so soon astonished and terrified Europe. Yet Burke seems profoundly
unconscious of the whole of them. He even boldly asserts that, when
the several orders met in their bailliages in 1789, to choose their
representatives and draw up their grievances and instructions, in no
one of these instructions did they charge, or even hint at, any
of those things which had drawn upon the usurping Assembly the
detestation of the rational part of mankind. He could not have made a
more enormous blunder. There was not a single great change made by the
Assembly, which had not been demanded in the lists of grievances that
had been sent up by the nation to Versailles. The division of the
kingdom into districts, and the proportioning of the representation
to taxes and population; the suppression of the intendants; the
suppression of all monks and the sale of their goods and estates; the
abolition of feudal rights, duties, and services; the alienation of
the king's domains; the demolition of the Bastille; these and all else
were in the prayers of half the petitions that the country had laid at
the feet of the king.

If this were merely an incidental blunder in a fact, it might be of no
importance. But it was a blunder which went to the very root of the
discussion. The fact that France was now at the back of the Assembly,
inspiring its counsels and ratifying its decrees, was the cardinal
element, and that is the fact which at this stage Burke systematically
ignored. That he should have so ignored it, left him in a curious
position, for it left him without any rational explanation of the
sources of the policy which kindled his indignation and contempt. A
publicist can never be sure of his position until he can explain to
himself even what he does not wish to justify to others. Burke thought
it enough to dwell upon the immense number of lawyers in the Assembly,
and to show that lawyers are naturally bad statesmen. He did not look
the state of things steadily in the face. It was no easy thing to do,
but Burke was a man who ought to have done it. He set all down to the
ignorance, folly, and wickedness of the French leaders. This was as
shallow as the way in which his enemies, the philosophers, used to set
down the superstition of eighteen centuries to the craft of priests,
and all defects in the government of Europe to the cruelty of tyrants.
How it came about that priests and tyrants acquired their irresistible
power over men's minds, they never inquired. And Burke never inquired
into the enthusiastic acquiescence of the nation, and, what was
most remarkable of all, the acquiescence of the army, in the strong
measures of the Assembly. Burke was in truth so appalled by the
magnitude of the enterprise on which France had embarked, that
he utterly forgot for once the necessity in political affairs of
seriously understanding the originating conditions of things. He was
strangely content with the explanations that came from the malignants
at Coblenz, and he actually told Francis that he charged the disorders
not on the mob, but on the Duke of Orleans and Mirabeau, on Barnave
and Bailly, on Lameth and Lafayette, who had spent immense sums of
money, and used innumerable arts, to stir up the populace throughout
France to the commission of the enormities that were shocking the
conscience of Europe. His imagination broke loose. His practical
reason was mastered by something that was deeper in him than reason.

This brings me to remark a really singular trait. In spite of the
predominance of practical sagacity, of the habits and spirit of public
business, of vigorous actuality in Burke's character, yet at the
bottom of all his thoughts about communities and governments there
lay a certain mysticism. It was no irony, no literary trope, when
he talked of our having taught the American husbandman "piously to
believe in the mysterious virtue of wax and parchment." He was using
no idle epithet, when he described the disposition of a stupendous
wisdom, "moulding together the great mysterious incorporation of the
human race." To him there actually was an element of mystery in the
cohesion of men in societies, in political obedience, in the sanctity
of contract; in all that fabric of law and charter and obligation,
whether written or unwritten, which is the sheltering bulwark between
civilisation and barbarism. When reason and history had contributed
all that they could to the explanation, it seemed to him as if the
vital force, the secret of organisation, the binding framework, must
still come from the impenetrable regions beyond reasoning and beyond
history. There was another great conservative writer of that age,
whose genius was aroused into a protest against the revolutionary
spirit as vehement as Burke's. This was Joseph de Maistre, one of the
most learned, witty, and acute of all reactionary philosophers.
De Maistre wrote a book on the Generative Principle of Political
Constitutions. He could only find this principle in the operation of
occult and supernatural forces, producing the half-divine legislators
who figure mysteriously in the early history of nations. Hence he
held, and with astonishing ingenuity enforced, the doctrine that
nothing else could deliver Europe from the Satanic forces of
revolution--he used the word Satanic in all literal seriousness--save
the divinely inspired supremacy of the Pope. No natural operations
seemed at all adequate either to produce or to maintain the marvel
of a coherent society. We are reminded of a professor who, in the
fantastic days of geology, explained the Pyramids of Egypt to be the
remains of a volcanic eruption, which had forced its way upwards by a
slow and stately motion; the hieroglyphs were crystalline formations;
and the shaft of the great Pyramid was the air-hole of a volcano. De
Maistre preferred a similar explanation of the monstrous structures
of modern society. The hand of man could never have reared, and could
never uphold them. If we cannot say that Burke laboured in constant
travail with the same perplexity, it is at least true that he was
keenly alive to it, and that one of the reasons why he dreaded to see
a finger laid upon a single stone of a single political edifice, was
his consciousness that he saw no answer to the perpetual enigma how
any of these edifices had ever been built, and how the passion,
violence, and waywardness of the natural man had ever been persuaded
to bow their necks to the strong yoke of a common social discipline.
Never was mysticism more unseasonable; never was an hour when men
needed more carefully to remember Burke's own wise practical precept,
when he was talking about the British rule in India, that we must
throw a sacred veil over the beginnings of government. Many woes might
perhaps have been saved to Europe, if Burke had applied this maxim to
the government of the new France.

Much has always been said about the inconsistency between Burke's
enmity to the Revolution and his enmity to Lord North in one set of
circumstances, and to Warren Hastings in another. The pamphleteers of
the day made selections from the speeches and tracts of his happier
time, and the seeming contrast had its effect. More candid opponents
admitted then, as all competent persons admit now, that the
inconsistency was merely verbal and superficial. Watson, the Bishop of
Llandaff, was only one of many who observed very early that this was
the unmistakable temper of Burke's mind. "I admired, as everybody
did," he said, "the talents, but not the principles of Mr. Burke; his
opposition to the Clerical Petition [for relaxation of subscription,
1772], first excited my suspicion of his being a High Churchman in
religion, and a Tory, perhaps an aristocratic Tory, in the state."
Burke had indeed never been anything else than a conservative. He was
like Falkland, who had bitterly assailed Strafford and Finch on the
same principles on which, after the outbreak of the civil war, he
consented to be secretary of state to King Charles. Coleridge is borne
out by a hundred passages, when he says that in Burke's writings at
the beginning of the American Revolution and in those at the beginning
of the French Revolution, the principles are the same and the
deductions are the same; the practical inferences are almost opposite
in the one case from those drawn in the other, yet in both equally
legitimate. It would be better to say that they would have been
equally legitimate, if Burke had been as right in his facts, and as
ample in his knowledge in the case of France, as he was in the case of
America. We feel, indeed, that partly from want of this knowledge, he
has gone too far from some of the wise maxims of an earlier time.
What has become of the doctrine that all great public collections of
men--he was then speaking of the House of Commons--"possess a marked
love of virtue and an abhorrence of vice."[1] Why was the French
Assembly not to have the benefit of this admirable generalisation?
What has become of all those sayings about the presumption, in all
disputes between nations and rulers, "being at least upon a par in
favour of the people;" and a populace never rebelling from passion for
attack, but from impatience of suffering? And where is now that strong
dictum, in the letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, that "general
rebellions and revolts of a whole people never were _encouraged_, now
or at any time; they are always _provoked_"?

[Footnote 1: _American Taxation_.]

When all these things have been noted, to hold a man to his formulae
without reference to their special application, is pure pedantry.
Burke was the last man to lay down any political proposition not
subject to the ever varying interpretation of circumstances, and
independently of the particular use which was to be made of it.
Nothing universal, he had always said, can be rationally affirmed on
any moral or political subject. The lines of morality, again, are
never ideal lines of mathematics, but are broad and deep as well as
long, admitting of exceptions, and demanding modifications. "These
exceptions and modifications are made, not by the process of logic,
but by the rules of prudence. Prudence is not only first in rank
of the virtues, political and moral, but she is the director, the
regulator, the standard of them all. As no moral questions are
ever abstract questions, this, before I judge upon any abstract
proposition, must be embodied in circumstances; for, since things
are right and wrong, morally speaking, only by their relation and
connection with other things, this very question of what it is
politically right to grant, depends upon its relation to its effects."
"Circumstances," he says, never weary of laying down his great notion
of political method, "give, in reality, to every political principle
its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances
are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or
obnoxious to mankind."

This is at once the weapon with which he would have defended his own
consistency, and attacked the absolute proceedings in France. He
changed his front, but he never changed his ground. He was not more
passionate against the proscription in France, than he had been
against the suspension of Habeas Corpus in the American war. "I
flatter myself," he said in the _Reflections_, "that I love a manly,
moral, regulated liberty." Ten years before he had said, "The liberty,
the only liberty I mean, is a liberty connected with order." The court
tried to regulate liberty too severely. It found in him an inflexible
opponent. Demagogues tried to remove the regulations of liberty.
They encountered in him the bitterest and most unceasing of all
remonstrants. The arbitrary majority in the House of Commons forgot
for whose benefit they held power, from whom they derived their
authority, and in what description of government it was that they had
a place. Burke was the most valiant and strenuous champion in the
ranks of the independent minority. He withstood to the face the king
and the king's friends. He withstood to the face Charles Fox and the
Friends of the People. He may have been wrong in both, or in either,
but it is unreasonable to tell us that he turned back in his course;
that he was a revolutionist in 1770, and a reactionist in 1790; that
he was in his sane mind when he opposed the supremacy of the Court,
but that his reason was tottering when he opposed the supremacy of the
Faubourg Saint Antoine.

There is no part of Burke's career at which we may not find evidence
of his instinctive and undying repugnance to the critical or
revolutionary spirit and all its works. From the early days when he
had parodied Bolingbroke, down to the later time when he denounced
Condorcet as a fanatical atheist, with "every disposition to the
lowest as well as the highest and most determined villainies," he
invariably suspected or denounced everybody, virtuous or vicious,
high-minded or ignoble, who inquired with too keen a scrutiny into the
foundations of morals, of religion, of social order. To examine with a
curious or unfavourable eye the bases of established opinions, was to
show a leaning to anarchy, to atheism, or to unbridled libertinism.
Already we have seen how, three years after the publication of his
_Thoughts on the Present Discontents_, and seventeen years before the
composition of the _Reflections_, he denounced the philosophers with
a fervour and a vehemence which he never afterwards surpassed. When
a few of the clergy petitioned to be relieved from some of the
severities of subscription, he had resisted them on the bold ground
that the truth of a proposition deserves less attention than the
effect of adherence to it upon the established order of things. "I
will not enter into the question," he told the House of Commons, "how
much truth is preferable to peace. Perhaps truth may be far better.
But as we have scarcely ever the same certainty in the one that we
have in the other, I would, unless the truth were evident indeed, hold
fast to peace." In that intellectual restlessness, to which the world
is so deeply indebted, Burke could recognise but scanty merit. Himself
the most industrious and active-minded of men, he was ever sober in
cutting the channels of his activity, and he would have had others
equally moderate. Perceiving that plain and righteous conduct is the
end of life in this world, he prayed men not to be over-curious in
searching for, and handling, and again handling, the theoretic base
on which the prerogatives of virtue repose. Provided that there was
peace, that is to say, so much of fair happiness and content as is
compatible with the conditions of the human lot, Burke felt that a
too great inquisitiveness as to its foundations was not only idle but

If the world continues to read the _Reflections_, and reads it with a
new admiration that is not diminished by the fact that on the special
issue its tendency is every day more clearly discerned to have been
misleading, we may be sure that it is not for the sake of such things
as the precise character of the Revolution of 1688, where, for that
matter, constitutional writers have shown abundantly that Burke was
nearly as much in the wrong as Dr. Sacheverell. Nor has the book lived
merely by its gorgeous rhetoric and high emotions, though these have
been contributing elements. It lives because it contains a sentiment,
a method, a set of informal principles, which, awakened into new life
after the Revolution, rapidly transformed the current ways of thinking
and feeling about all the most serious objects of our attention,
and have powerfully helped to give a richer substance to all modern
literature. In the _Reflections_ we have the first great sign that
the ideas on government and philosophy which Locke had been the chief
agent in setting into European circulation, and which had carried all
triumphantly before them throughout the century, did not comprehend
the whole truth nor the deepest truth about human character--the
relations of men and the union of men in society. It has often been
said that the armoury from which the French philosophers of the
eighteenth century borrowed their weapons was furnished from England,
and it may be added as truly that the reaction against that whole
scheme of thought came from England. In one sense we may call the
_Reflections_ a political pamphlet, but it is much more than this,
just as the movement against which it was levelled was much more than
a political movement. The Revolution rested on a philosophy, and
Burke confronted it with an antagonistic philosophy. Those are but
superficial readers who fail to see at how many points Burke, while
seeming only to deal with the French monarchy and the British
constitution, with Dr. Price and Marie Antoinette, was in fact, and
exactly because he dealt with them in the comprehensive spirit of true
philosophy, turning men's minds to an attitude from which not only the
political incidents of the hour, but the current ideas about religion,
psychology, the very nature of human knowledge, would all be seen in
a changed light and clothed in new colour. All really profound
speculation about society comes in time to touch the heart of every
other object of speculation, not by directly contributing new truths
or directly corroborating old ones, but by setting men to consider the
consequences to life of different opinions on these abstract subjects,
and their relations to the great paramount interests of society,
however those interests may happen at the time to be conceived.
Burke's book marks a turning-point in literary history, because it was
the signal for that reaction over the whole field of thought, into
which the Revolution drove many of the finest minds of the
next generation, by showing the supposed consequences of pure
individualistic rationalism.

We need not attempt to work out the details of this extension of a
political reaction into a universal reaction in philosophy and poetry.
Any one may easily think out for himself what consequences in act
and thought, as well as in government, would be likely to flow, for
example, from one of the most permanently admirable sides of Burke's
teaching--his respect for the collective reason of men, and his
sense of the impossibility in politics and morals of considering the
individual apart from the experience of the race. "We are afraid," he
says, "to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of
reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small,
and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the
general bank and capital of nations and of ages. _Many of our men of
speculation, instead of exploding general prejudices, employ their
sagacity to discover the latent wisdom which prevails in them_. If
they find what they seek, and they seldom fail, they think it more
wise to continue the prejudice with the reason involved, than to cast
away the coat of prejudice, and to leave nothing but the naked reason:
because prejudice with its reason has a motive to give action to that
reason, and an affection which will give it permanence. Prejudice is
of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind
in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the
man hesitating in the moment of decision, sceptical, puzzled, and
unresolved. Prejudice renders a man's virtue his habit, and not a
series of unconnected acts. Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a
part of his nature." Is not this to say, in other words, that in every
man the substantial foundations of action consist of the accumulated
layers which various generations of ancestors have placed for him;
that the greater part of our sentiments act most effectively when they
act most mechanically, and by the methods of an unquestioned system;
that although no rule of conduct or spring of action ought to endure,
which does not repose in sound reason, yet this naked reason is in
itself a less effective means of influencing action than when it
exists as one part of a fabric of ancient and endeared association?
Interpreted by a mobile genius, and expanded by a poetic imagination,
all this became the foundation from which the philosophy of Coleridge
started, and, as Mill has shown in a famous essay, Coleridge was the
great apostle of the conservative spirit in England in its best form.

Though Burke here, no doubt, found a true base for the philosophy of
order, yet perhaps Condorcet or Barnave might have justly asked him
whether, when we thus realise the strong and immovable foundations
which are laid in our character before we are born, there could be any
occasion, as a matter of fact, for that vehement alarm which moved
Burke lest a few lawyers, by a score of parchment decrees, should
overthrow the venerated sentiments of Europe about justice and about
property? Should he not have known better than most men the force of
the self-protecting elements of society?

This is not a convenient place for discussing the issues between the
school of order and the school of progress. It is enough to have
marked Burke's position in one of them. The _Reflections_ places him
among the great Conservatives of history. Perhaps the only Englishman
with whom in this respect he may be compared, is Sir Thomas
More,--that virtuous and eloquent reactionist of the sixteenth
century. More abounded in light, in intellectual interests, in
single-minded care for the common weal. He was as anxious as any man
of his time for the improved ordering of the Church, but he could not
endure that reformation should be bought at the price of breaking up
the ancient spiritual unity of Europe. He was willing to slay and be
slain rather than he would tolerate the destruction of the old faith,
or assent to the violence of the new statecraft. He viewed Thomas
Cromwell's policy of reformation, just as Burke viewed Mirabeau's
policy of revolution. Burke too, we may be very sure, would as
willingly have sent Mirabeau and Bailly to prison or the block as More
sent Phillips to the Tower and Bainham to the stake. For neither More
nor Burke was of the gentle contemplative spirit, which the first
disorder of a new society just bursting into life merely overshadows
with saddening regrets and poetic gloom. The old harmony was to them
so bound up with the purpose and meaning of life, that to wage active
battle for the gods of their reverence was the irresistible instinct
of self-preservation. More had an excuse which Burke had not, for
the principle of persecution was accepted by the best minds of the
sixteenth century, but by the best minds of the eighteenth it was
emphatically repudiated.

Another illustrious name of Burke's own era rises to our lips, as we
ponder mentally the too scanty list of those who have essayed the
great and hardy task of reconciling order with progress. Turgot is
even a more imposing figure than Burke himself. The impression made
upon us by the pair is indeed very different, for Turgot was austere,
reserved, distant, a man of many silences and much suspense; while
Burke, as we know, was imaginative, exuberant, unrestrained, and, like
some of the greatest actors on the stage of human affairs, he had
associated his own personality with the prevalence of right ideas and
good influences. In Turgot, on the other hand, we discern something of
the isolation, the sternness, the disdainful melancholy of Tacitus.
He even rises out of the eager, bustling, shrill-tongued crowd of the
Voltairean age with some of that austere moral indignation and haughty
astonishment with which Dante had watched the stubborn ways of men
centuries before. On one side Turgot shared the conservatism of
Burke, though, perhaps, he would hardly have given it that name. He
habitually corrected the headlong insistence of the revolutionary
philosophers, his friends, by reminding them that neither pity, nor
benevolence, nor hope can ever dispense with justice; and he could
never endure to hear of great changes being wrought at the cost of
this sovereign quality. Like Burke, he held fast to the doctrine that
everything must be done for the multitude, but nothing by them. Like
Burke, he realised how close are the links that bind the successive
generations of men, and make up the long chain of human history. Like
Burke, he never believed that the human mind has any spontaneous
inclination to welcome pure truth. Here, however, is visible between
them a hard line of division. It is not error, said Turgot, which
opposes the progress of truth; it is indolence, obstinacy, and the
spirit of routine. But then Turgot enjoined upon us to make it the aim
of life to do battle in ourselves and others with all this indolence,
obstinacy, and spirit of routine in the world; while Burke, on the
contrary, gave to these bad things gentler names, he surrounded them
with the picturesque associations of the past, and in the great
world-crisis of his time he threw all his passion and all his genius
on their side. Will any reader doubt which of these two types of the
school of order and justice, both of them noble, is the more valuable
for the race, and the worthier and more stimulating ideal for the

It is not certain that Burke was not sometimes for a moment startled
by the suspicion that he might unawares be fighting against the truth.
In the midst of flaming and bitter pages, we now and again feel a cool
breath from the distant region of a half-pensive tolerance. "I do not
think," he says at the close of the _Reflections_, to the person to
whom they were addressed, "that my sentiments are likely to alter
yours. I do not know that they ought. You are young; you cannot guide,
but must follow, the fortune of your country. But hereafter they may
be of some use to you, in some future form which your commonwealth
may take. In the present it can hardly remain; but before its final
settlement, it may be obliged to pass, as one of our poets says,
'through great varieties of untried being,' and in all its
transmigrations to be purified by fire and blood."

He felt in the midst of his hate that what he took for seething chaos,
might after all be the struggle upwards of the germs of order. Among
the later words that he wrote on the Revolution were these:--"If a
great change is to be made in human affairs, the minds of men will be
fitted to it; the general opinions and feelings will draw that way.
Every fear, every hope will forward it; and then they who persist in
opposing this mighty current in human affairs, will appear rather to
resist the decrees of Providence itself, than the mere designs of
men." We can only regret that these rays of the _mens divinior_ did
not shine with a more steadfast light; and that a spirit which, amid
the sharp press of manifold cares and distractions, had ever vibrated
with lofty sympathies, was not now more constant to its faith in the
beneficent powers and processes of the Unseen Time.



For some months after the publication of the _Reflections_, Burke kept
up the relations of an armed peace with his old political friends.
The impeachment went on, and in December (1790) there was a private
meeting on the business connected with it, between Pitt, Burke, Fox,
and Dundas, at the house of the Speaker. It was described by one who
knew, as most snug and amiable, and there seems to have been a general
impression in the world at this moment that Fox might by some means be
induced to join Pitt. What troubled the slumbers of good Whigs like
Gilbert Elliot, was the prospect of Fox committing himself too
strongly on French affairs. Burke himself was in the deepest dejection
at the prospect; for Fox did not cease to express the most unqualified
disapproval of the _Reflections_; he thought that, even in point of
composition, it was the worst thing that Burke had ever published. It
was already feared that his friendship for Sheridan was drawing him
farther away from Burke, with whom Sheridan had quarrelled, into a
course of politics that would both damage his own reputation and break
up the strong union of which the Duke of Portland was the nominal

New floods in France had not yet carried back the ship of state into
raging waters. Pitt was thinking so little of danger from that country
that he had plunged into a policy of intervention in the affairs of
Eastern Europe. When writers charge Burke with breaking violently in
upon Pitt's system of peace abroad and reform at home, they overlook
the fact that before Burke had begun to preach his crusade against
the Jacobins, Pitt had already prepared a war with Russia. The nation
refused to follow. They agreed with Fox that it was no concern of
theirs whether or not Russia took from Turkey the country between the
Boug and Dniester; they felt that British interests would be more
damaged by the expenses of a war than by the acquisition by Russia of
Ockzakow. Pitt was obliged to throw up the scheme, and to extricate
himself as well as he could from rash engagements with Prussia. It was
on account of his services to the cause of peace on this occasion that
Catherine ordered the Russian ambassador to send her a bust of Fox in
white marble, to be placed in her colonnade between Demosthenes and
Cicero. We may take it for granted that after the Revolution rose to
its full height the bust of Fox accompanied that of Voltaire down to
the cellar of the Hermitage.

While the affair of the Russian armament was still occupying the
minister, an event of signal importance happened in the ranks of his
political adversaries. The alliance which had lasted between Burke
and Fox for five and twenty years came to a sudden end, and this rift
gradually widened into a destructive breach throughout the party.
There is no parallel in our parliamentary history to the fatal scene.
In Ireland, indeed, only eight years before, Flood and Grattan, after
fighting side by side for many years, had all at once sprung upon one
another in the Parliament House with the fury of vultures: Flood had
screamed to Grattan that he was a mendicant patriot, and Grattan had
called Flood an ill-omened bird of night, with a sepulchral note, a
cadaverous aspect, and a broken beak. The Irish, like the French,
have the art of making things dramatic, and Burke was the greatest of
Irishmen. On the opening of the session of 1791, the Government had
introduced a bill for the better government of Canada. It introduced
questions about church establishments and hereditary legislators. In
discussing these Fox made some references to France. It was impossible
to refer to France without touching the _Reflections on the French
Revolution_. Burke was not present, but he heard what Fox had said,
and before long Fox again introduced French affairs in a debate on the
Russian armament. Burke rose in violent heat of mind to reply, but the
House would not hear him. He resolved to speak when the time came for
the Canada Bill to be recommitted. Meanwhile some of his friends did
all that they could to dissuade him from pressing the matter farther.
Even the Prince of Wales is said to have written him a letter. There
were many signs of the rupture that was so soon to come in the Whig
ranks. Men so equally devoted to the common cause as Windham
and Elliot nearly came to a quarrel at a dinner-party at Lord
Malmesbury's, on the subject of Burke's design to speak; and Windham,
who for the present sided with Fox, enters in his diary that he was
glad to escape from the room without speaking to the man whom, since
the death of Dr. Johnson, he revered before all other men besides.

On the day apointed for the Canada Bill, Fox called at Burke's house,
and after some talk on Burke's intention to speak, and on other
matters, they walked down to Westminster and entered the House
together, as they had so many a time done before, but were never to do
again. They found that the debate had been adjourned, and it was not
until May 6th that Burke had an opportunity of explaining himself on
the Revolution in France. He had no sooner risen than interruptions
broke out from his own side, and a scene of great disorder followed.
Burke was incensed beyond endurance by this treatment, for even Fox
and Windham had taken part in the tumult against him. With much
bitterness he commented on Fox's previous eulogies of the Revolution,
and finally there came the fatal words of severance. "It is
indiscreet," he said, "at any period, but especially at my time of
life, to provoke enemies, or give my friends occasion to desert me.
Yet if my firm and steady adherence to the British Constitution place
me in such a dilemma, I am ready to risk it, and with, my last words
to exclaim, 'Fly from the French Constitution.'" Fox at this point
eagerly called to him that there was no loss of friends. "Yes, yes,"
cried Burke, "there is a loss of friends. I know the price of my
conduct. I have done my duty at the price of my friend. Our friendship
is at an end."

The members who sat on the same side were aghast at proceedings which
went beyond their worst apprehensions. Even the ministerialists were
shocked. Pitt agreed much more with Fox than with Burke, but he would
have been more than human if he had not watched with complacency his
two most formidable adversaries turning their swords against one
another. Wilberforce, who was more disinterested, lamented the
spectacle as shameful. In the galleries there was hardly a dry eye.
Fox, as might have been expected from his warm and generous nature,
was deeply moved, and is described as weeping even to sobbing. He
repeated his former acknowledgment of his debt to Burke, and he
repeated his former expression of faith in the blessings which the
abolition of royal despotism would bring to France. With unabated
vehemence Burke again rose to denounce the French Constitution--"a
building composed of untempered mortar--the work of Goths and Vandals,
where everything was disjointed and inverted." After a short rejoinder
from Fox the scene came to a close, and the once friendly intercourse
between the two heroes was at an end. When they met in the Managers'
box in Westminster Hall on the business of Hastings's trial, they met
with the formalities of strangers. There is a story that when Burke
left the House on the night of the quarrel it was raining, and Mr.
Curwen, a member of the Opposition, took him home in his carriage.
Burke at once began to declaim against the French. Curwen dropped
some remark on the other side. "What!" Burke cried out, grasping the
check-string, "are you one of these people! Set me down!" It needed
all Curwen's force to keep him where he was; and when they reached his
house Burke stepped out without saying a single word.

We may agree that all this did not indicate the perfect sobriety and
self-control proper to a statesman, in what was a serious crisis both
to his party and to Europe. It was about this time that Burke said to
Addington, who was then Speaker of the House of Commons, that he was
not well. "I eat too much, Speaker," he said, "I drink too much, and I
sleep too little." It is even said that he felt the final breach with
Fox as a relief from unendurable suspense; and he quoted the lines
about Aeneas, after he had finally resolved to quit Dido and the
Carthaginian shore, at last being able to snatch slumber in his ship's
tall stern. There can be no doubt how severe had been the tension.
Yet the performance to which Burke now applied himself is one of
the gravest and most reasonable of all his compositions. He felt it
necessary to vindicate the fundamental consistency between his present
and his past. We have no difficulty in imagining the abuse to which
he was exposed from those whose abuse gave him pain. In a country
governed by party, a politician who quits the allies of a lifetime
must expect to pay the penalty. The Whig papers told him that he was
expected to surrender his seat in Parliament. They imputed to him
all sorts of sinister motives. His name was introduced into ironical
toasts. For a whole year there was scarcely a member of his former
party who did not stand aloof from him. Windham, when the feeling was
at its height, sent word to a host that he would rather not meet Burke
at dinner. Dr. Parr, though he thought Mr. Burke the greatest man upon
earth, declared himself most indignantly and most fixedly on the side
of Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Fox. The Duke of Portland, though always
described as strongly and fondly attached to him, and Gilbert Elliot,
who thought that Burke was right in his views on the Revolution,
and right in expressing them, still could not forgive the open
catastrophe, and for many months all the old habits of intimacy among
them were entirely broken off.

Burke did not bend to the storm. He went down to Margate, and there
finished the _Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs_. Meanwhile he
despatched his son to Coblenz to give advice to the royalist exiles,
who were then mainly in the hands of Calonne, one of the very worst
of the ministers whom Louis XVI. had tried between his dismissal of
Turgot in 1774, and the meeting of the States-General in 1789. This
measure was taken at the request of Calonne, who had visited Burke at
Margate. The English Government did not disapprove of it, though they
naturally declined to invest either young Burke or any one else with
authority from themselves. As little came of the mission as might have
been expected from the frivolous, unmanly, and enraged spirit of those
to whom it was addressed.

In August (1791), while Richard Burke was at Coblenz, the _Appeal_ was
published. This was the last piece that Burke wrote on the Revolution,
in which there is any pretence of measure, sobriety, and calm judgment
in face of a formidable and perplexing crisis. Henceforth it is not
political philosophy, but the minatory exhortation of a prophet.
We deal no longer with principles and ideas, but with a partisan
denunciation of particular acts, and a partisan incitement to a given
practical policy. We may appreciate the policy as we choose, but our
appreciation of Burke as a thinker and a contributor to political
wisdom is at an end. He is now only Demosthenes thundering against
Philip, or Cicero shrieking against Mark Antony.

The _Reflections_ had not been published many months before Burke
wrote the _Letter to a Member of the National Assembly_ (January
1791), in which strong disapproval had grown into furious hatred. In
contains the elaborate diatribe against Rousseau, the grave panegyric
on Cromwell for choosing Hale to be Chief Justice, and a sound
criticism on the laxity and want of foresight in the manner in which
the States-General had been convened. Here first Burke advanced to the
position that it might be the duty of other nations to interfere
to restore the king to his rightful authority, just as England and
Prussia had interfered to save Holland from confusion, as they had
interfered to preserve the hereditary constitution in the Austrian
Netherlands, and as Prussia had interfered to snatch even the
malignant and the turban'd Turk from the pounce of the Russian eagle.
Was not the King of France as much an object of policy and compassion
as the Grand Seignior? As this was the first piece in which Burke
hinted at a crusade, so it was the first in which he began to heap
upon the heads, not of Hébert, Fouquier-Tinville, Billaud, nor even of
Robespierre or Danton--for none of these had yet been heard of--but of
able and conscientious men in the Constituent Assembly, language of a
virulence which Fox once said seriously that Burke had picked, even to
the phrases of it, out of the writings of Salmasius against Milton,
but which is really only to be paralleled by the much worse language
of Milton against Salmasius. It was in truth exactly the kind of
incensed speech which, at a later date, the factions in Paris levelled
against one another, when Girondins screamed for the heads of
Jacobins, and Robespierre denounced Danton, and Tallien cried for the
blood of Robespierre.

Burke declined most wisely to suggest any plan for the National
Assembly. "Permit me to say,"--this is in the letter of January 1791,
to a member of the Assembly,--"that if I were as confident as I ought
to be diffident in my own loose general ideas, I never should venture
to broach them, if but at twenty leagues' distance from the centre of
your affairs. I must see with my own eyes; I must in a manner touch
with my own hands, not only the fixed, but momentary circumstances,
before I could venture to suggest any political project whatsoever.
I must know the power and disposition to accept, to execute, to
persevere. I must see all the aids and all the obstacles. I must see
the means of correcting the plan, where correctives would be wanted.
I must see the things: I must see the men. Without a concurrence and
adaptation of these to the design, the very best speculative projects
might become not only useless but mischievous. Plans must be made for
men. People at a distance must judge ill of men. They do not
always answer to their reputation when you approach them. Nay, the
perspective varies, and shows them quite other than you thought them.
At a distance, if we judge uncertainly of men, we must judge worse of
_opportunities_, which continually vary their shapes and colours,
and pass away like clouds." Our admiration at such words is quickly
stifled when we recall the confident, unsparing, immoderate criticism
which both preceded and followed this truly rational exposition of the
danger of advising, in cases where we know neither the men nor the
opportunities. Why was savage and unfaltering denunciation any less
unbecoming than, as he admits, crude prescriptions would have been

By the end of 1791, when he wrote the _Thoughts on French Affairs_,
he had penetrated still farther into the essential character of the
Revolution. Any notion of a reform to be effected after the decorous
pattern of 1688, so conspicuous in the first great manifesto, had
wholly disappeared. The changes in France he allowed to bear little
resemblance or analogy to any of those which had been previously
brought about in Europe. It is a revolution, he said, of doctrine and
theoretic dogma. The Reformation was the last revolution of this sort
which had happened in Europe; and he immediately goes on to remark
a point of striking resemblance between them. The effect of the
Reformation was "to introduce other interests into all countries than
those which arose from their locality and natural circumstances."
In like manner other sources of faction were now opened, combining
parties among the inhabitants of different countries into a single
connection. From these sources, effects were likely to arise fully
as important as those which had formerly arisen from the jarring
interests of the religious sects. It is a species of faction which
"breaks the locality of public affections."[1]

[Footnote 1: De Tocqueville has unconsciously imitated Burke's very
phrases. "Toutes les révolutions civiles et politiques ont eu une
patrie, et s'y sont enfermées. La Révolution. française ... on l'a vue
rapprocher ou diviser les hommes en dépit des lois, des traditions,
des caractères, de langue, rendant parfois ennemis des compatriotes,
et frères des étrangers; _ou plutôt elle a formé audessus de toutes
les nationalités particulières, une patrie intellectuelle commune dont
les hommes de toutes les nations ont pu devenir citoyens_."--Ancien
Régime, p. 15.]

He was thus launched on the full tide of his policy. The French
Revolution must be hemmed in by a cordon of fire. Those who
sympathised with it in England must be gagged, and if gagging did not
suffice, they must be taught respect for the constitution in dungeons
and on the gallows. His cry for war abroad and harsh coercion at home
waxed louder every day. As Fox said, it was lucky that Burke took the
royal side in the Revolution, for his violence would certainly have
got him hanged if he had happened to take the other side.

It was in the early summer of 1792 that Miss Burney again met Burke
at Mrs. Crewe's villa at Hampstead. He entered into an animated
conversation on Lord Macartney and the Chinese expedition, reviving
all the old enthusiasm of his companion by his allusions and
anecdotes, his brilliant fancies and wide information. When politics
were introduced, he spoke with an eagerness and a vehemence that
instantly banished the graces, though it redoubled the energies of his
discourse. "How I wish," Miss Burney writes, "that you could meet this
wonderful man when he is easy, happy, and with people he cordially
likes! But politics, even on his own side, must always be excluded;
his irritability is so terrible on that theme, that it gives
immediately to his face _the expression of a man who is going to
defend himself from murderers_."

Burke still remained without a following, but the ranks of his old
allies gradually began to show signs of wavering. His panic about the
Jacobins within the gates slowly spread. His old faith, about which he
had once talked so much, in the ancient rustic, manly, home-bred sense
of the English people, he dismissed as if it had been some idle dream
that had come to him through the ivory gate. His fine comparison of
the nation to a majestic herd, browsing in peace amid the importunate
chirrupings of a thousand crickets, became so little appropriate, that
he was now beside himself with apprehension that the crickets were
about to rend the oxen in pieces. Even then, the herd stood tranquilly
in their pastures, only occasionally turning a dull eye, now to
France, and now to Burke. In the autumn of 1791 Burke dined with
Pitt and Lord Grenville, and he found them resolute for an honest
neutrality in the affairs of France, and "quite out of all
apprehensions of any effect from the French Revolution in this
kingdom, either at present or any time to come." Francis and Sheridan,
it is true, spoke as if they almost wished for a domestic convulsion;
and cool observers who saw him daily, even accused Sheridan of wishing
to stir up the lower ranks of the people by the hope of plundering
their betters. But men who afterwards became alarmists, are found,
so late as the spring of 1792, declaring in their most confidential
correspondence that the party of confusion made no way with the
country, and produced no effect. Horne Tooke was its most conspicuous
chief, and nobody pretended to fear the subversion of the realm by
Horne Tooke. Yet Burke, in letters where he admits that the democratic
party is entirely discountenanced, and that the Jacobin faction in
England is under a heavy cloud, was so possessed by the spectre of
panic, as to declare that the Duke of Brunswick was as much fighting
the battle of the crown of England, as the Duke of Cumberland fought
that battle at Culloden.

Time and events, meanwhile, had been powerfully telling for Burke.
While he was writing his _Appeal_, the French king and queen had
destroyed whatever confidence sanguine dreamers might have had in
their loyalty to the new order of things, by attempting to escape over
the frontier. They were brought back, and a manful attempt was made
to get the new constitution to work, in the winter of 1791-92. It was
soon found out that Mirabeau had been right when he said that for a
monarchy it was too democratic, and for a republic there was a king
too much. This was Burke's _Reflections_ in a nutshell. But it was
foreign intervention that finally ruined the king, and destroyed
the hope of an orderly issue. Frederick the Great had set the first
example of what some call iniquity and violence in Europe, and others
in milder terms call a readjustment of the equilibrium of nations. He
had taken Silesia from the house of Austria, and he had shared in
the first partition of Poland. Catherine II. had followed him at the
expense of Poland, Sweden, and Turkey. However we may view these
transactions, and whether we describe them by the stern words of the
moralist, or the more deprecatory words of the diplomatist, they are
the first sources of that storm of lawless rapine which swept
over every part of Europe for five and twenty years to come. The
intervention of Austria and Prussia in the affairs of France was
originally less a deliberate design for the benefit of the old order,
than an interlude in the intrigues of Eastern Europe. But the first
effect of intervention on behalf of the French monarchy was to bring
it in a few weeks to the ground.

In the spring of 1792 France replied to the preparations of Austria
and Prussia for invasion by a declaration of war. It was inevitable
that the French people should associate the court with the foreign
enemy that was coming to its deliverance. Everybody knew as well then
as we know it now that the queen was as bitterly incensed against the
new order of things, and as resolutely unfaithful to it, as the most
furious emigrant on the Rhine. Even Burke himself, writing to his son
at Coblenz, was constrained to talk about Marie Antoinette as that
"most unfortunate woman, who was not to be cured of the spirit of
court intrigue even by a prison." The king may have been loyally
resigned to his position, but resignation will not defend a country
from the invader; and the nation distrusted a chief who only a few
months before had been arrested in full flight to join the national
enemy. Power naturally fell into the hands of the men of conviction,
energy, passion, and resource. Patriotism and republicanism became
synonymous, and the constitution against which Burke had prophesied
was henceforth a dead letter. The spirit of insurrection that had
slumbered since the fall of the Bastille and the march to Versailles
in 1789, now awoke in formidable violence, and after the preliminary
rehearsal of what is known in the revolutionary calendar as the
20th of June (1792), the people of Paris responded to the Duke of
Brunswick's insensate manifesto by the more memorable day of the 10th
of August. Brunswick, accepting the hateful language which the French
emigrants put into his mouth, had declared that every member of the
national guard taken with arms in his hands would be immediately put
to death; that every inhabitant who should dare to defend himself
would be put to death and his house burnt to the ground; and that if
the least insult was offered to the royal family, then their Austrian
and Prussian majesties would deliver Paris to military execution and
total destruction. This is the vindictive ferocity which only civil
war can kindle. To convince men that the manifesto was not an empty
threat, on the day of its publication a force of nearly 140,000
Austrians, Prussians, and Hessians entered France. The sections of
Paris replied by marching to the Tuileries, and after a furious
conflict with the Swiss guards, they stormed the chateau. The king and
his family had fled to the National Assembly. The same evening they
were thrown into prison, whence the king and queen only came out on
their way to the scaffold.

It was the king's execution in January 1793 that finally raised
feeling in England to the intense heat which Burke had for so long
been craving. The evening on which the courier brought the news
was never forgotten by those who were in London at the time. The
playhouses were instantly closed, and the audiences insisted on
retiring with half the amusement for which they had paid. People of
the lowest and the highest rank alike put on mourning. The French were
universally denounced as fiends upon earth. It was hardly safe for a
Frenchman to appear in the streets of London. Placards were posted on
every wall, calling for war, and the crowds who gathered round them
read them with loud hurrahs.

       *       *       *       *       *

It would be a great mistake to say that Pitt ever lost his head, but
he lost his feet. The momentary passion of the nation forced him out
of the pacific path in which he would have chosen to stay. Burke
had become the greatest power in the country, and was in closer
communication with the ministers than any one out of office. He went
once about this time with Windham and Elliot to inform Pitt as to the
uneasiness of the public about the slackness of our naval and military
preparation. "Burke," says one of the party, "gave Pitt a little
political instruction in a very respectful and cordial way, but with
the authority of an old and most informed statesman; and although
nobody ever takes the whole of Burke's advice, yet he often, or always
rather, furnishes very important and useful matter, some part of which
sticks and does good. Pitt took it all very patiently and cordially."

It was in the December of 1792 that Burke had enacted that famous bit
of melodrama out of place known as the Dagger Scene. The Government
had brought in an Alien Bill, imposing certain pains and restrictions
on foreigners coming to this country. Fox denounced it as a concession
to foolish alarms, and was followed by Burke, who began to storm as
usual against murderous atheists. Then without due preparation he
began to fumble in his bosom, suddenly drew out a dagger, and with an
extravagant gesture threw it on the floor of the House, crying that
this was what they had to expect from their alliance with France. The
stroke missed its mark, and there was a general inclination to titter,
until Burke, collecting himself for an effort, called upon them with a
vehemence to which his listeners could not choose but respond, to keep
French principles from their heads, and French daggers from their
hearts; to preserve all their blandishments in life, and all their
consolations in death; all the blessings of time, and all the hopes of
eternity. All this was not prepared long beforehand, for it seems that
the dagger had only been shown to Burke on his way to the House as one
that had been sent to Birmingham to be a pattern for a large order.
Whether prepared or unprepared, the scene was one from which we gladly
avert our eyes.

Negotiations had been going on for some months, and they continued in
various stages for some months longer, for a coalition between the two
great parties of the State. Burke was persistently anxious that Fox
should join Pitt's Government. Pitt always admitted the importance
of Fox's abilities in the difficult affairs which lay before the
ministry, and declared that he had no sort of personal animosity to
Fox, but rather a personal good-will and good-liking. Fox himself said
of a coalition, "It is so damned right, to be sure, that I cannot help
thinking it must be." But the difficulties were insuperable. The
more rapidly the Government drifted in Burke's direction, the more
impossible was it for a man of Fox's political sympathies and
convictions to have any dealings with a cabinet committed to a policy
of irrational panic, to be carried out by a costly war abroad and
cruel repression at home. "_What a very wretched man!_" was Burke's
angry exclamation one day, when it became certain that Fox meant to
stand by the old flag of freedom and generous common sense.

When the coalition at length took place (1794), the only man who
carried Burke's principles to their fullest extent into Pitt's cabinet
was Windham. It is impossible not to feel the attraction of Windham's
character, his amiability, his reverence for great and virtuous men,
his passion for knowledge, the versatility of his interests. He is a
striking example of the fact that literature was a common pursuit
and occupation to the chief statesmen of that time (always excepting
Pitt), to an extent that has been gradually tending to become rarer.
Windham, in the midst of his devotion to public affairs, to the
business of his country, and, let us add, a zealous attendance on
every prize fight within reach, was never happy unless he was working
up points in literature and mathematics. There was a literary and
classical spirit abroad, and in spite of the furious preoccupations of
faction, a certain ready disengagement of mind prevailed. If Windham
and Fox began to talk of horses, they seemed to fall naturally into
what had been said about horses by the old writers. Fox held that long
ears were a merit, and Windham met him by the authority of Xenophon
and Oppian in favour of short ones, and finally they went off into
what it was that Virgil meant when he called a horse's head _argutum
caput_. Burke and Windham travelled in Scotland together in 1785, and
their conversation fell as often on old books as on Hastings or on
Pitt. They discussed Virgil's similes; Johnson and L'Estrange, as the
extremes of English style; what Stephens and A. Gellius had to say
about Cicero's use of the word _gratiosus_. If they came to libraries,
Windham ran into them with eagerness, and very strongly enjoyed
all "the _feel_ that a library usually excites." He is constantly
reproaching himself with a remissness, which was purely imaginary, in
keeping up his mathematics, his Greek tragedies, his Latin historians.
There is no more curious example of the remorse of a book-man impeded
by affairs. "What progress might men make in the several parts of
knowledge," he says very truly, in one of these moods, "if they could
only pursue them with the same eagerness and assiduity as are exerted
by lawyers in the conduct of a suit." But this distraction between the
tastes of the book-man and the pursuits of public business, united
with a certain quality of his constitution to produce one great defect
in his character, and it was the worst defect that a statesman can
have. He became the most irresolute and vacillating of men. He wastes
the first half of a day in deciding which of two courses to take, and
the second half in blaming himself for not having taken the other. He
is constantly late at entertainments, because he cannot make up his
mind in proper time whether to go or to stay at home; hesitation
whether he shall read in the red room or in the library, loses him
three of the best hours of a morning; the difficulty of early rising
he finds to consist less in rising early than in satisfying himself
that the practice is wholesome; his mind is torn for a whole forenoon
in an absurd contest with himself, whether he ought to indulge a
strong wish to exercise his horse before dinner. Every page of his
diary is a register of the symptoms of this unhappy disease. When the
Revolution came, he was absolutely forced, by the iron necessity of
the case, after certain perturbations, to go either with Fox or with
Burke. Under this compulsion he took one headlong plunge into the
policy of alarm. Everybody knows how desperately an habitually
irresolute man is capable of clinging to a policy or a conviction, to
which he has once been driven by dire stress of circumstance. Windham
having at last made up his mind to be frightened by the Revolution,
was more violently and inconsolably frightened than anybody else.

Pitt, after he had been forced into war, at least intended it to be
a war on the good old-fashioned principles of seizing the enemy's
colonies and keeping them. He was taunted by the alarmists with caring
only for sugar islands, and making himself master of all the islands
in the world except Great Britain and Ireland. To Burke all this was
an abomination, and Windham followed Burke to the letter. He even
declared the holy rage of the _Third Letter on a Regicide Peace_,
published after Burke's death, to contain the purest wisdom and the
most unanswerable policy. It was through Windham's eloquence and
perseverance that the monstrous idea of a crusade, and all Burke's
other violent and excited precepts, gained an effective place and
hearing in the cabinet, in the royal closet, and in the House of
Commons, long after Burke himself had left the scene.

We have already seen how important an element Irish affairs became in
the war with America. The same spirit which had been stirred by
the American war was inevitably kindled in Ireland by the French
Revolution. The association of United Irishmen now came into
existence, with aims avowedly revolutionary. They joined the party
which was striving for the relief of the Catholics from certain
disabilities, and for their admission to the franchise. Burke had
watched all movements in his native country, from the Whiteboy
insurrection of 1761 downwards, with steady vigilance, and he watched
the new movement of 1792 with the keenest eyes. It made him profoundly
uneasy. He could not endure the thought of ever so momentary and
indirect an association with a revolutionary party, either in Ireland
or any other quarter of the globe, yet he was eager for a policy which
should reconcile the Irish. He was so for two reasons. One of them was
his political sense of the inexpediency of proscribing men by whole
nations, and excluding from the franchise on the ground of religion a
people as numerous as the subjects of the King of Denmark or the King
of Sardinia, equal to the population of the United Netherlands, and
larger than were to be found in all the states of Switzerland. His
second reason was his sense of the urgency of facing trouble abroad
with a nation united and contented at home; of abolishing in the heart
of the country that "bank of discontent, every hour accumulating, upon
which every description of seditious men may draw at pleasure."

In the beginning of 1792 Burke's son went to Dublin as the agent and
adviser of the Catholic Committee, who at first listened to him with
the respect due to one in whom they expected to meet the qualities of
his father. They soon found out that he was utterly without either
tact or judgment; that he was arrogant, impertinent, vain, and
empty. Wolfe Tone declared him to be by far the most impudent and
opinionative fellow that he had ever known in his life. Nothing could
exceed the absurdity of his conduct, and on one occasion he had a very
narrow escape of being taken into custody by the Serjeant-at-arms, for
rushing down from the gallery into the Irish House of Commons, and
attempting to make a speech in defence of a petition which he had
drawn up, and which was being attacked by a member in his place.
Richard Burke went home, it is said, with two thousand guineas in
his pocket, which the Catholics had cheerfully paid as the price of
getting rid of him. He returned shortly after, but only helped to
plunge the business into further confusion, and finally left the scene
covered with odium and discredit. His father's _Letter to Sir Hercules
Langrishe_ (1792) remains an admirable monument of wise statesmanship,
a singular interlude of calm and solid reasoning in the midst of a
fiery whirlwind of intense passion. Burke perhaps felt that the state
of Ireland was passing away from the sphere of calm and solid reason,
when he knew that Dumouriez's victory over the allies at Valmy, which
filled Beaconsfield with such gloom and dismay, was celebrated at
Dublin by an illumination.

Burke, who was now in his sixty-fourth year, had for some time
announced his intention of leaving the House of Commons as soon as he
had brought to an end the prosecution of Hastings. In 1794 the trial
came to a close; the thanks of the House were formally voted to the
managers of the impeachment; and when the scene was over Burke applied
for the Chiltern Hundreds. Lord Fitzwilliam nominated Richard Burke
for the seat which his father had thus vacated at Malton. Pitt was
then making arrangements for the accession of the Portland Whigs
to his Government, and it was natural, in connection with these
arrangements, to confer some favour on the man who had done more than
anybody else to promote the new alliance. It was proposed to make
Burke a peer under the style of Lord Beaconsfield,--a title in a later
age whimsically borrowed for himself by a man of genius with a delight
in irony. To the title it was proposed to attach a yearly income
for two or more lives. But the bolt of destiny was at this instant
launched. Richard Burke, the adored centre of all his father's hopes
and affections, was seized with illness and died (August 1794). We
cannot look without tragic emotion on the pathos of the scene, which
left the remnant of the old man's days desolate and void. A Roman poet
has described in touching words the woe of the aged Nestor, as he
beheld the funeral pile of his son, too untimely slain--

                               Oro parumper
  Attendas quantum de legibus ipse queratur
  Fatorum et nimio de stamine, quum videt acris
  Antilochi barbam ardentem: quum quaerit ab omni
  Quisquis adest socius, cur haec in tempora duret,
  Quod facinus dignum tam longo admiserit aevo.

Burke's grief finds a nobler expression. "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."

Burke only lived three years after this desolating blow. The
arrangements for a peerage, as a matter of course, came to an end. But
Pitt was well aware of the serious embarrassments by which Burke was
so pressed that he saw actual beggary very close at hand. The king,
too,--who had once, by the way, granted a pension to Burke's detested
Rousseau, though Rousseau was too proud to draw it--seems to have
been honourably interested in making a provision for Burke. What Pitt
offered was an immediate grant of £1200 a year from the Civil List for
Mrs. Burke's life, to be followed by a proposition to Parliament in a
message from the king, to confer an annuity of greater value upon a
statesman who had served the country to his own loss for thirty years.
As a matter of fact, the grant, £2500 a year in amount, much to
Burke's chagrin, was never brought before Parliament, but was
conferred directly by the Crown, as a charge on the four and a half
per cent fund for two or more lives. It seems as if Pitt were afraid
of challenging the opinion of Parliament; and the storm which the
pension raised out of doors, was a measure of the trouble which the
defence of it would have inflicted on the Government inside the House
of Commons. According to the rumour of the time, Burke sold two of his
pensions upon lives for £27,000, and there was left the third pension
of £1200. By and by, when the resentment of the Opposition was roused
to the highest pitch by the infamous Treason and Sedition Bills of
1795, the Duke of Bedford and Lord Lauderdale, seeking to accumulate
every possible complaint against the Government, assailed the grant
to Burke, as made without the consent of Parliament, and as a violent
contradiction to the whole policy of the plan for economic reform. The
attack, if not unjustifiable in itself, came from an unlucky quarter.
A chief of the house of Bedford was the most unfit person in the
world to protest against grants by favour of the Crown, Burke was too
practised a rhetorician not to see the opening, and his _Letter to a
Noble Lord_ is the most splendid repartee in the English language.

It is not surprising that Burke's defence should have provoked
rejoinder. A cloud of pamphlets followed the _Letter to a Noble
Lord_--some in doggerel verse, others in a magniloquent prose imitated
from his own, others mere poisonous scurrility. The nearest approach
to a just stroke that I can find, after turning over a pile of this
trash, is an expression of wonder that he, who was inconsolable for
the loss of a beloved son, should not have reflected how many tender
parents had been made childless in the profusion of blood, of which
he himself had been the most relentless champion. Our disgust at the
pages of insult which were here levelled at a great man, is perhaps
moderated by the thought that Burke himself, who of all people ought
to have known better, had held up to public scorn and obloquy men of
such virtue, attainments, and real service to mankind as Richard Price
and Joseph Priestley.

It was during these months that he composed the _Letters on a Regicide
Peace_, though the third and fourth of them were not published until
after his death. There have been those to whom these compositions
appeared to be Burke's masterpieces. In fact they are deplorable.
They contain passages of fine philosophy and of skilful and plausible
reasoning, but such passages only make us wonder how they come to be
where they are. The reader is in no humour for them. In splendour
of rhetoric, in fine images, in sustention, in irony, they surpass
anything that Burke ever wrote, but of the qualities and principles
that, far more than his rhetoric, have made Burke so admirable and so
great--of justice, of firm grasp of fact, of a reasonable sense of the
probabilities of things--there are only traces enough to light up the
gulfs of empty words, reckless phrases, and senseless vituperations,
that surge and boil around them.

It is with the same emotion of "grief and shame" with which Fox heard
Burke argue against relief to Dissenters, that we hear him abusing the
courts of law because they did not convict Hardy and Horne Tooke. The
pages against divorce and civil marriage, even granting that they
point to the right judgment in these matters, express it with a
vehemence that is irrational, and in the dialect, not of a statesman,
but of an enraged Capucin. The highly wrought passage in which Burke
describes external aggrandisement as the original thought and the
ultimate aim of the earlier statesmen of the Revolution, is no better
than ingenious nonsense. The whole performance rests on a gross
and inexcusable anachronism. There is a contemptuous refusal to
discriminate between groups of men who were as different from one
another as Oliver Cromwell was different from James Nayler, and
between periods which were as unlike in all their conditions as the
Athens of the Thirty Tyrants was unlike Athens after Thrasybulus had
driven the Tyrants out. He assumes that the men, the policy, the
maxims of the French Government are the men, the policy, and the
maxims of the handful of obscure miscreants who had hacked priests and
nobles to pieces at the doors of the prisons four years before. Carnot
is to him merely "that sanguinary tyrant," and the heroic Hoche
becomes "that old practised assassin," while the Prince of Wales, by
the way, and the Duke of York are the hope and pride of nations.
To heap up that incessant iteration about thieves, murderers,
housebreakers, assassins, bandits, bravoes with their hands dripping
with blood and their maw gorged with property, desperate paramours,
bombastical players, the refuse and rejected offal of strolling
theatres, bloody buffoons, bloody felons--all this was as unjust to
hundreds of disinterested, honest, and patriotic men who were then
earnestly striving to restore a true order and solid citizenship in
France, as the foul-mouthed scurrility of an Irish Orangeman is unjust
to millions of devout Catholics.

Burke was the man who might have been expected before all others to
know that in every system of government, whatever may have been the
crimes of its origin, there is sure, by the bare necessity of things,
to rise up a party or an individual, whom their political instinct
will force into resistance to the fatalities of anarchy. Man is too
strongly a political animal for it to be otherwise. It was so at each
period and division in the Revolution. There was always a party of
order, and by 1795, when Burke penned these reckless philippics, order
was only too easy in France. The Revolution had worn out the passion
and moral enthusiasm of its first years, and all the best men of the
revolutionary time had been consumed in a flame of fire. When Burke
talked about this war being wholly unlike any war that ever was waged
in Europe before, about its being a war for justice on the one side,
and a fanatical bloody propagandism on the other, he shut his eyes to
the plain fact that the Directory had after all really sunk to the
moral level of Frederick and Catherine, or for that matter, of Louis
the Fourteenth himself. This war was only too like the other great
wars of European history. The French Government had become political,
exactly in the same sense in which Thugut and Metternich and Herzberg
were political. The French Republic in 1797 was neither more nor
less aggressive, immoral, piratical, than the monarchies which had
partitioned Poland, and had intended to redistribute the continent of
Europe to suit their own ambitions. The Coalition began the game, but
France proved too strong for them, and they had the worst of their
game. Jacobinism may have inspired the original fire which made her
armies irresistible, but Jacobinism of that stamp had now gone out of
fashion, and to denounce a peace with the Directory because the origin
of their government was regicidal, was as childish as it would have
been in Mazarin to decline a treaty of regicide peace with the Lord

What makes the _Regicide Peace_ so repulsive is not that it recommends
energetic prosecution of the war, and not that it abounds in glaring
fallacies in detail, but that it is in direct contradiction with that
strong, positive, rational, and sane method which had before uniformly
marked Burke's political philosophy. Here lay his inconsistency, not
in abandoning democratic principles, for he had never held them, but
in forgetting his own rules that nations act from adequate motives
relative to their interests, and not from metaphysical speculation;
that we cannot draw an indictment against a whole people; that there
is a species of hostile justice which no asperity of war wholly
extinguishes in the minds of a civilised people. "Steady independent
minds," he had once said, "when they have an object of so serious a
concern to mankind as _government_ under their contemplation, will
disdain to assume the part of satirists and declaimers." Show the
thing that you ask for, he cried during the American war, to be
reason, show it to be common sense. We have a measure of the reason
and common sense of Burke's attitude in the _Regicide Peace_, in
the language which it inspired in Windham and others, who denounced
Wilberforce for canting when he spoke of peace; who stigmatised Pitt
as weak and a pander to national avarice for thinking of the cost
of the war; and who actually charged the liverymen of London who
petitioned for peace with open sedition.

It is a striking illustration of the versatility of Burke's moods
that immediately before sitting down to write the _Fourth Letter on a
Regicide Peace_ he had composed one of the most lucid and accurately
meditated of all of his tracts, which, short as it is, contains ideas
on free trade which were only too far in advance of the opinion of his
time. In 1772 a Corn Bill had been introduced--it was passed in the
following year--of which Adam Smith said that it was like the laws of
Solon, not the best in itself, but the best which the situation and
tendency of the times would admit. In speaking upon this measure,
Burke had laid down those sensible principles on the trade in corn,
which he now in 1795 worked out in the _Thoughts and Details on
Scarcity_. Those who do not concern themselves with economics will
perhaps be interested in the singular passage, vigorously objected
to by Dugald Stewart, in which Burke sets up a genial defence of the
consumption of ardent spirits. It is interesting as an argument, and
it is most characteristic of the author.

The curtain was now falling. All who saw him felt that Burke's life
was quickly drawing to a close. His son's death had struck the final
blow. We could only wish that the years had brought to him what it
ought to be the fervent prayer of us all to find at the close of the
long struggle with ourselves and with circumstance,--a disposition to
happiness, a composed spirit to which time has made things clear, an
unrebellious temper, and hopes undimmed for mankind. If this was not
so, Burke at least busied himself to the end in great interests. His
charity to the unfortunate emigrants from France was diligent and
unwearied. Among other solid services he established a school near
Beaconsfield for sixty French boys, principally the orphans of
Quiberon, and the children of other emigrants who had suffered in the
cause. Almost the last glimpse that we have of Burke is in a record
of a visit to Beaconsfield by the author of the _Vindiciae Gallicae_.
Mackintosh had written to Burke to express his admiration for his
character and genius, and recanting his old defence of the Revolution.
"Since that time," he said, "a melancholy experience has undeceived me
on many subjects, in which I was then the dupe of my enthusiasm."
When Mackintosh went to Beaconsfield (Christmas, 1796) he was as much
amazed as every one else with the exuberance of his host's mind in
conversation. Even then Burke entered with cordial glee into the
sports of children, rolling about with them on the carpet, and pouring
out in his gambols the sublimest images, mixed with the most wretched
puns. He said of Fox, with a deep sigh, "He is made to be loved."
There was the irresistible outbreak against "that putrid carcase, that
mother of all evil--the French Revolution." It reminded him of the
accursed things that crawled in and out of the mouth of the vile hag
in Spenser's Cave of Error; and he repeated the nauseous stanza.
Mackintosh was to be the faithful knight of the romance, the
brightness of whose sword was to flash destruction on the filthy

It was on the 9th of July 1797 that, in the sixty-eighth year of his
age, preserving his faculties to the last moment, he expired. With
magnanimous tenderness Fox proposed that he should be buried among the
great dead in Westminster Abbey; but Burke had left strict injunctions
that his funeral should be private, and he was laid in the little
church at Beaconsfield. It was a terrible moment in the history of
England and of Europe. An open mutiny had just been quelled in the
fleet. There had been signs of disaffection in the army. In Ireland
the spirit of revolt was smouldering, and in a few months broke out
in the fierce flames of a great rebellion. And it was the year of the
political crime of Campo Formio, that sinister pacification in which
violence and fraud once more asserted their unveiled ascendancy in
Europe. These sombre shadows were falling over the western world when
a life went out which, notwithstanding some grave aberrations, had
made great spaces in human destiny very luminous.



A story is told that in the time when Burke was still at peace with
the Dissenters, he visited Priestley, and after seeing his library
and his laboratory, and hearing how his host's hours were given to
experiment and meditation, he exclaimed that such a life must make
him the happiest and most to be envied of men. It must sometimes have
occurred to Burke to wonder whether he had made the right choice when
he locked away the fragments of his History, and plunged into the
torment of party and Parliament. But his interests and aptitudes were
too strong and overmastering for him to have been right in doing
otherwise. Contact with affairs was an indispensable condition for
the full use of his great faculties, in spite of their being less
faculties of affairs than of speculation. Public life was the actual
field in which to test, and work out, and use with good effect the
moral ideas which were Burke's most sincere and genuine interests. And
he was able to bring these moral ideas into such effective use because
he was so entirely unfettered by the narrowing spirit of formula. No
man, for instance, who thought in formulae would have written the
curious passage that I have already referred to, in which he eulogises
gin, because "under the pressure of the cares and sorrows of our
mortal condition, men have at all times and in all countries called
in some physical aid to their moral consolation." He valued words at
their proper rate, that is to say, he knew that some of the greatest
facts in the life and character of man, and in the institutions of
society, can find no description and no measurement in words. Public
life, as we can easily perceive, with its shibboleths, its exclusive
parties, its measurement by conventional standards, its attention to
small expediencies before the larger ones, is not a field where such
characteristics are likely to make an instant effect.

Though it is not wrong to say of Burke that as an orator he was
transcendent, yet in that immediate influence upon his hearers which
is commonly supposed to be the mark of oratorical success, all the
evidence is that Burke generally failed. We have seen how his speech
against Hastings affected Miss Burney, and how the speech on the Nabob
of Arcot's debts was judged by Pitt not to be worth answering. Perhaps
the greatest that he ever made was that on conciliation with America;
the wisest in its temper, the most closely logical in its reasoning,
the amplest in appropriate topics, the most generous and conciliatory
in the substance of its appeals. Yet Erskine, who was in the House
when this was delivered, said that it drove everybody away, including
people who, when they came to read it, read it over and over again,
and could hardly think of anything else. As Moore says rather too
floridly, but with truth,--"In vain did Burke's genius put forth
its superb plumage, glittering all over with the hundred eyes of
fancy--the gait of the bird was heavy and awkward, and its voice
seemed rather to scare than attract." Burke's gestures were clumsy; he
had sonorous but harsh tones; he never lost a strong Irish accent;
and his utterance was often hurried and eager. Apart from these
disadvantages of accident which have been overcome by men infinitely
inferior to Burke, it is easy to perceive, from the matter and texture
of the speeches that have become English classics, that the very
qualities which are excellences in literature were drawbacks to the
spoken discourses. A listener in Westminster Hall or the House of
Commons, unlike the reader by his fireside in the next century, is
always thinking of arguments and facts that bear directly on the
special issue before him. What he wishes to hear is some particularity
of event or inference which will either help him to make up his mind,
or will justify him if his mind is already made up. Burke never
neglected these particularities, and he never went so wide as to
fall for an instant into vagueness, but he went wide enough into the
generalities that lent force and light to his view, to weary men who
cared for nothing, and could not be expected to care for anything, but
the business actually in hand and the most expeditious way through it.
The contentiousness is not close enough and rapid enough to hold the
interest of a practical assembly, which, though it was a hundred times
less busy than the House of Commons to-day, seems to have been eager
in the inverse proportion of what it had to do, to get that little
quickly done.

Then we may doubt whether there is any instance of an orator throwing
his spell over a large audience, without frequent resort to the higher
forms of commonplace. Two of the greatest speeches of Burke's time are
supposed to have been Grattan's on Tithes and Fox's on the Westminster
Scrutiny, and these were evidently full of the splendid commonplaces
of the firstrate rhetorician. Burke's mind was not readily set to
these tunes. The emotion to which he commonly appealed was that
too rare one, the love of wisdom; and he combined his thoughts and
knowledge in propositions of wisdom so weighty and strong, that the
minds of ordinary hearers were not on the instant prepared for them.

It is true that Burke's speeches were not without effect of an
indirect kind, for there is good evidence that at the time when Lord
North's ministry was tottering, Burke had risen to a position of the
first eminence in Parliament. When Boswell said to him that people
would wonder how he could bring himself to take so much pains with his
speeches, knowing with certainty that not one vote would be gained by
them, Burke answered that it is very well worth while to take pains
to speak well in Parliament; for if a man speaks well, he gradually
establishes a certain reputation and consequence in the general
opinion; and though an Act that has been ably opposed becomes law, yet
in its progress it is softened and modified to meet objections whose
force has never been acknowledged directly. "Aye, sir," Johnson broke
in, "and there is a gratification of pride. Though we cannot outvote
them, we will out-argue them."

Out-arguing is not perhaps the right word for most of Burke's
performances. He is at heart thinking more of the subject itself than
of those on whom it was his apparent business to impress a particular
view of it. He surrenders himself wholly to the matter, and follows
up, though with a strong and close tread, all the excursions to which
it may give rise in an elastic intelligence--"motion," as De Quincey
says, "propagating motion, and life throwing off life." But then this
exuberant way of thinking, this willingness to let the subject lead,
is less apt in public discourse than it is in literature, and from
this comes the literary quality of Burke's speeches.

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.
Like some other men in our history, 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 works, such
as over-abounded in civil and ecclesiastical publicists of the
seventeenth 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 and composition.
That derives its immense power from other sources; from passion,
intensity, imagination, size, truth, cogency of logical reason. If any
one has imbued himself with that exacting love of delicacy, measure,
and taste in expression, which was until our own day a sacred
tradition of the French, then he will not like Burke. Those who insist
on charm, on winningness in style, on subtle harmonies and exquisite
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 of it, and
very often unseasonable. We feel that Johnson must have been right in
declaring that though Burke was always in search of pleasantries, he
never made a good joke in his life. 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. Then, there are some gratuitous and unredeemed vulgarities;
some images whose barbarity makes us shudder, of creeping ascarides
and inexpugnable tapeworms. But it is the mere foppery of literature
to suffer ourselves to be long 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. Even in the coolest
and dryest 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. Fox told
Francis Horner that Dryden's prose was Burke's great favourite, and
that Burke imitated him more than any one else. We may well believe
that he was attracted by Dryden's ease, his copiousness, his gaiety,
his manliness of style, but there can hardly have been any conscious
attempt at imitation. Their topics were too different. Burke 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, the freedom of nations, the justice
of rulers, the fortunes of great societies, the sacredness of law.
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 society. We do not hear the
organ tones of Milton, for faith and freedom had other notes in the
seventeenth century. There is none of the complacent and wise-browed
sagacity of Bacon, for Burke's were days of eager personal strife
and party 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.

The influence of Burke on the publicists of the generation after the
Revolution was much less considerable than might have been expected.
In Germany, where there has been so much excellent writing about
_Staatswissenschaft_, with such poverty and darkness in the wisdom of
practical politics, there is a long list of writers who have drawn
their inspiration from Burke. In France, publicists of the sentimental
school, like Chateaubriand, and the politico-ecclesiastical school,
like De Maistre, fashioned a track of their own. In England Burke made
a deep mark on contemporary opinion during the last years of his life,
and then his influence underwent a certain eclipse. The official Whigs
considered him a renegade and a heresiarch, who had committed the
deadly sin of breaking up the party; and they never mentioned his
name without bitterness. To men like Godwin, the author of _Political
Justice_, Burke was as antichrist. Bentham and James Mill thought of
him as a declaimer who lived upon applause, and who, as one of them
says, was for protecting everything old, not because it was good
but because it existed. In one quarter only did he exert a profound
influence. His maxim that men might employ their sagacity in
discovering the latent wisdom which underlies general prejudices and
old institutions, instead of exploding them, inspired Coleridge, as
I have already said; and the Coleridgian school are Burke's direct
descendants, whenever they deal with the significance and the
relations of Church and State. But they connected these views so
closely with their views in metaphysics and theology, that the
association with Burke was effectually disguised.

The only English writer of that age whom we can name along with
Burke in the literature of enduring power, is Wordsworth, that great
representative in another and a higher field, and with many rare
elements added that were all his own of those harmonising and
conciliatory forces and ideas that make man's destiny easier to him,
through piety in its oldest and best sense; through reverence for
the past, for duty, for institutions. He was born in the year of the
_Present Discontents_ (1770), and when Burke wrote the _Reflections_,
Wordsworth was standing, with France "on the top of golden hours,"
listening with delight among the ruins of the Bastille, or on the
banks of the Loire, to "the homeless sound of joy that was in the
sky." When France lost faith and freedom, and Napoleon had built his
throne on their grave, he began to see those strong elements which for
Burke had all his life been the true and fast foundation of the
social world. Wide as is the difference between an oratorical and a
declamatory mind like Burke's, and the least oratorical of all poets,
yet under this difference of form and temper there is a striking
likeness in spirit. There was the same energetic feeling about moral
ideas, the same frame of counsel and prudence, the same love for the
slowness of time, the same slight account held of mere intellectual
knowledge, and even the same ruling sympathy with that side of the
character of Englishmen which Burke exulted in, as "_their awe
of kings and reverence for priests," "their sullen resistance
of innovation" "their unalterable perseverance in the wisdom of

The conservative movement in England ran on for many years in the
ecclesiastical channel rather than among questions where Burke's
writings might have been brought to bear. On the political side
the most active minds, both in practice and theory, worked out the
principles of liberalism, and they did so on a plan and by methods
from which Burke's utilitarian liberalism and his historic
conservatism were equally remote. There are many signs around us that
this epoch is for the moment at an end. The historic method, fitting
in with certain dominant conceptions in the region of natural science,
is bringing men round to a way of looking at society for which Burke's
maxims are exactly suited; and it seems probable that he will be more
frequently and more seriously referred to within the next twenty years
than he has been within the whole of the last eighty.


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, _Edinburgh_.

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