Page images

persons little prone to political discussion for the wisdom of the lessons it taught; by many for its literary beauties ; by many in order to retrace the outline of fearful and extraordinary events there in great measure foretold; and it will ever be a source of deep interest to the practical statesman, and of attention to the man of taste and genius.

The testimonies of applause and admiration which flowed in upon the writer from every quarter, evinced his power over the question at issue ; for few authors, perhaps none, were ever before so complimented.

The Sovereigns subsequently assembled at Pilnitz, particularly the Emperor of Germany, transmitted their warm approbation by a message through more than one channel ; the French Princes, through Mons. Cazales; Catherine of Russia or. dered her Embassador, Count de Woronzow, for. mally to communicate the same; Stanislaus, the unfortunate King of Poland, sent him his likeness on a gold medal; his late Majesty, George III., not only gave it an attentive perusal, but had a number of copies elegantly bound, which he distributed among his friends, with the remark, that it was “ a book which every gentleman ought to read." Trinity College, Dublin, in full convocation, unanimously conferred upon him, January 1, 1791, the honorary degree of LL.D., and afterwards voted him an address in a gold box" as the powerful advocate of the constitution, the friend of public order, virtue, and the happiness of mankind; and, in testimony of the high respect entertained by the University for the various endowments of his capacious mind, and for his superior talents and abilities.” An address of thanks from the resident graduates of Oxford was communicated through Mr. Windham, in their own language,

as a tribute which we are desirous of paying to splendid talents employed in the advancement of public good;" and," as Members of a University, whose institutions embrace every useful and ornamental part of learning, we should esteem ourselves justified in making this address, if we had only to offer you our thanks for the valuable accession which the stock of our national literature has received by the publication of your important • Reflections."" A temporary cabal prevented the diploma of LL.D. being conferred on him, though his philosophical essay on the Sublime and Beautiful forms a book of reference in their establishment. The Archbishop of Aix, and others of the dignified clergy of France, wrote several letters, expressive of their obligations and acknowledge ments, “ that the first orator of England had become their defender." Nearly all of our own church, the great body of the nobility, the most eminent statesmen, philosophers, and several of the chief men of letters, pronounced him the saviour of our own and of all established governments.

Gibbon was particularly warm in his applause. “ I thirst,” said he, a short time before he saw the volume, “ for Mr. Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France." Afterwards he writes, in two letters, “ Burke's book is a most admirable

medicine against the French disease. I admire his eloquence; I approve his politics; I adore his chivalry; and I can almost forgive his reverence for church establishments.” “I conceive,” said Cumberland, seldom given to eulogiurn but who on this occasion was surprised into an express letter of congratulation, 6 there is not to be found in all the writings of my day, perhaps I may say not in the English language, so brilliant a cluster of fine and beautiful passages as we are presented with in Edmund Burke's inimitable tract on the French Revolution."

Many similar testimonies might be transcribed, but that delivered soon afterwards by a professed political opponent, the late Lord (then Mr.) Erskine, is too just and characteristic to be omit. ted. “ I shall take care to put Mr. Burke's work, on the French Revolution, into the hands of those whose principles are left to my formation. I shall take care that they have the advantage of doing, in the regular progression of youthful studies, what I have done even in the short intervals of laborious life; that they shall transcribe, with their own hands, from all the works of this most extraordinary person, and from the last among the rest, the soundest truths of religion ; the justest principles of morals, inculcated and rendered delightful by the most sublime eloquence; the highest reach of philosophy, brought down to the level of common minds, by the most captivating taste; the most enlightened observations on history, and the most copious collection of useful maxims from the experience of common life.

Dr. Beattie, who, as far as opinions went, had always been opposed to him in politics, but who knew the soundness of his principles when any real danger threatened the state, thus writes, April 25, 1790, six months before the publication." I wish Mr. Burke would publish what he intended on the present state of France. He is a man of principle, and a friend to religion, to law, and to monarchy, as well as to liberty."

On the other hand, this book was reprobated as assailing the very foundation of liberty, by a party bold, nutierous, and able, at the head of which, or at least countenancing it, stood Mr. Fox. His censures were unreserved and delivered as he himself avowed in all companies public and private, whenever it became a subject of discussion : some months afterwards he termed it in the House of Commons, with more of pique or less of judgment than could be expected from such a man,

a libel on all free governments," and, “ he disliked it as much as any of Mr. Paine's;" almost verifying a remark of Burke at a future period, that “ the French Revolution had not merely shaken all the thrones of Europe, but shaken his friend Fox's heart and understanding out of their right places.” The party besides embraced many other Members of Opposition, some philosophers, the great body of literary men, some clergymen, many lawyers, many dissenting ministers, and ninetenths of the profession of physic-all therefore belonging to the educated classes, but the great majority without claim to any practical acquaintance with politics; men deep in speculation, and

in books, but wholly ignorant of the workings of governments; who knew nothing of human nature in great and untried emergencies, such as the state of France then exhibited; who mistook warm feelings for sound principles; some who, with good intentions toward mankind, would have committed the grossest errors in reducing them to practice; and many whose views upon the constitution of the country were more than questionable.

By this body Mr. Burke and his Work * were assailed with a degree of animosity unprecedented in the political warfare even of England, and so perseveringly continued to the present day by the remnants of that order of politicians, that among the half-read classes of society who seldom like the labour of inquiring or thinking for themselves, there is a kind of common agreement to censure his conduct and doctrines without knowing what they really were. No pains were spared to produce this effect. Every epithet of abuse in the language was applied to him; every action, or

* A celebrated phrase, contained in this book, was bruited about in every form of speech and writing, in order to excite the popular indignation. In speaking of the destruction of the nobility and clergy, he said, that along with these its natural protectors learning would be “ trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.” The expression, though plainly figurative, was tortured to mean that he actually thought the people no better than swine, yet all other impassioned writers have dealt in the same license of language without reproach, or even remark; among which the reader will immediately recollect “ the common dung o' the soil,” and many others as strong, applied to the mass of mankind.

« PreviousContinue »