Page images
PDF
EPUB

Mr. Burke wrote the following letter in reply.

“ MY DEAR MISS SHACKLETON, “ I ought not to have suffered myself to remain so long at a disadvantage in your mind. My fault is considerable ; but not quite so great as it appears; for your letter went round by way of Carlisle, and it was a good while before it came to my hands. It ought, indeed, to have been my care to have made the earliest possible acknowledgment, where nothing more was required; and in a case where, indeed, there was little more in my power to do than to tell you, in a few plain and sincere words, how extremely sensible I was of the honour you have done me, by making this family and this place the subject of some of the most beautiful and most original verses that have for many years been made upon any place or any persons.

They make us all a little more fond of ourselves, and of our situation. For my own part I will not complain, that when you have drawn a beautiful landscape, you have put an old friend of your father's as a figure in the fore-ground; nor shall I pretend that I am not pleased even with the excess of partiality, which has made him an object worthy of appearing in such a scene.

The scene

the fair authoress. In illness, he used to administer medicine to his family and household ; and on one occasion having given Mrs. Burke a wrong one, he suffered great mental

agony

for a few hours, till assured that no ill-consequences were likely to arise from it.

itself, fine as it is, owes much to the imagination and skill of the painter ; but the figure owes all to it. You great artists never draw what is before you, but improve it up to the standard of perfection in your own minds. In this description, I know nothing of myself; but what is better, and may be of more use, I know what a good judge thinks I ought to be.

“ As to your picture of this part of the country, I cannot help observing, that there is not the least of common-place in it. One cannot apply it equally to every country, as most things of this kind may be turned. It is particular and appropriated; and that, without being minute or tedious in the detail. Indeed, it is a sweet poem ; and shows a mind full of observation, and retentive of images in the highest degree. Some of the lines are not quite so finished as to match the rest; and some time or other, I may take the liberty of pointing them out to you; and some of the rhymes hitch upon words, to which nothing (not even you) can give grace. But these are lesser blemishes; and easily effaced either by omission or a trivial change. You will excuse this freedom. But in so fine a poem, in which your kindness for an old friend of your father has given me so great an interest, you will naturally expect that I should wish for the perfection which I know you can give your work with a little more of your care.

“ Pray excuse this very late and very inperfect acknowledgment of the great favour you have done ine. I cannot plead business in favour of my delay.

I have had a great deal of leisure time. At the moment I write this, I never was more busy in my life; and, indeed, thus much is in favour of activity and occupation, that the more one has to do, the more one is capable of doing, even beyond our direct task. I am ever, with Mrs. Burke's, my brother's, and my son's most affectionate regards to you, and to all Ballitore, which we love with great sincerity, my dear Miss Shackleton, “ Your most faithful and most obliged “ And obedient humble servant,

" EDMUND BURKE. “ Beaconsfield, Dec. 13th, 1784."

CHAPTER IX.

Speech on the Nabob of Arcot's debts.-Impeachment of

Mr. Hastings. Visit to Ireland by Mr. Burke. - Mr. Hardy's account of him. -- Preface to Bellendenus.-Epitaph on the Marquis of Rockingham.

In the Session of 1785, commencing the 25th of January, Mr. Burke took some part in the Westminster scrutiny (in which affair the Minister was accused of showing as much unworthy resentment to Mr. Fox, as toward the Member for Malton in the preceding session), in the plan of a sinking fund, and in the Irish propositions. On the latter question, though siding chiefly with Opposition, he did not take so active a part as was expected, a feeling of delicacy preventing him, as he said, from balancing minutely and invidiously, conflicting claims between the country of his nativity, and that which had raised him from nothing tó stations of high public trust and honour, with the power to legislate, not for any one class of persóns, or for any one spot however dear that spot might be to him, but for the general interests of the kingdom at large.

Mr. Pitt's proposal for reform in the representation drew from Mr. Burke some pointed animadversions, demanding how he, of all men, could assume that the people were not sufficiently represented in that House, when he was daily in the habit of boasting that his own place and prepon

derance there, were solely owing to the voice of the people ? On the bill of the minister for regulating the public offices, which Mr. Sheridan termed a mere rat-catching measure, he was equally severe. Contrasting its biting and impracticable economy with the profusion countenanced in India, which would ultimately fall on the shoulders of England, he used the following series of extraordinary figures ; new and forcible indeed, conveying a striking impression to the mind, but objectionable from their number, and from following each other in such quick succession ; passages of this kind, however, are rare in his works :-

“ He (Mr. Pitt) was desirous to draw a resource out of the crumbs dropped from the trenchers of penury. He was rasping from the marrowless bones of skeleton establishments an empirical alimentary powder to diet into a similitude of health the languishing chimeras of fraudulent reformation. But while Parliament looked with anxiety at his desperate and laborious trifling, while they were apprehensive that he would break his back with stooping to pick up chaff and straws, he recovers himself at an elastic bound ; and with a broadcast swing of his arm, he squandered over his Indian field a sum far greater than the amount of all these establishments added together.”

This Indian field now chiefly occupied Mr. Burke's thoughts, as he himself expressed it, “ at all hours and seasons, in the retirements of summer, in the avocations of the winter, and even amid the snows (alluding to the ill-reception he had experi

« PreviousContinue »