« PreviousContinue »
autumn of 1819, which being thrown by for above two years without further notice, came then under the examination of a friend, who recommended that it should be enlarged; for that many parts would be obscure to the general reader, many liable to mistake or misapplication, and many nearly unintelligible, if not grounded upon a memoir. This labour was undertaken certainly without regret. Some new materials were already in the writer's hands, and, by application to various friends in England and Ireland, a variety of others, chiefly unknown to the world and of undoubted authenticity, were procured; and, as illustrative of some of his opinions, and criticisms, and style of correspondence, both of the unceremonious and more formal descriptions, a few of his letters have been added, several of them little or not at all familiar to the public eye.
An extended biography, embracing all his public labours, was not deemed necessary. It may be said, indeed, that to write the life of a great statesman and orator, without giving the substance of his speeches in Parliament, is scarcely to do him justice; and, were they to be found no where else, the remark would be just. But these make part of the history of the country; a few of the principal are to be found in his Works, and the remainder, in a very imperfect form indeed as all such things must be, in the four volumes collected and published by a different editor. And
independent of this, the appalling form of a quarto or two, or even three quartos, to which such a design would inevitably extend, was sufficient of itself to deter the writer from such an attempt, bearing in mind the observation of his eminent principal, that “a great book is a great evil.” His aim therefore was not to make a great book, but a compact one; to condense within the compass of a single octavo all that was necessary to be known, and which many readers would decline to seek in the more ponderous forms alluded to. In doing this he thought it better simply to allude to his chief parliamentary exertions, rather than to aim at entering into their details.
Great as this eminent man's reputation is, it stands, as far as party feelings are concerned, in rather a singular predicament. It is well known he would not go all lengths with any body of men; that he had an utter abhorrence of any thing resembling arrogant domination from any quarter; and that, by endeavouring to preserve a certain balance of powers in the State, in different orders of the community, and in different interests, religious, political, and commercial of the kingdom by stepping in to the assistance of the weak against the strong, which is, after all, the duty of honest patriotism and sound wisdom, he incurred censure from the more violent of every class, He was assailed by the zealots of power for opposing the coercion of America, and for prosecuting Mr. Hastings; by the zealots of licentious freedom, for opposing the French Revolution; by zealots in religion, for advocating the cause of the Dissenters and Roman Catholics ; and by other zealots in affairs of less moment.
While therefore the two great divisions in politics, one more especially, think it a kind of duty to endeavour to write down his name for the purpose of exalting others; and a more violent, though small body, known under various harsh and odious appellations, have sworn a kind of eternal enmity to his name for the overthrow of their doctrines at his hands, during the revolutionary fever, no special party remains on whom devolves the business of upholding his fame. Depreciation and abuse from his opponents remain uncontradicted. If he has not written and spoken himself into repute, nobody else perhaps can do it for him: nobody else certainly has attempted it. He is left to the buoyancy of his own merits; to sink or swim by intrinsic pow
“For what I have been,” said he, “I put myself upon my country;" and among the educated and dispassionate part of it, he has no reason to complain of the decision. He has worked his way into general esteem, not by the applauding pens of intoxicated followers, but by more eloquent though less noisy advocates ; by the slow, but steady and sure, evolution of public opinion; by the living and speaking evidences to his deserts of a constitution preserved from demolition or in
road, an unshaken throne, an unpolluted altar, an unplundered nobility and gentry, and the preservation of those moral ties and habitudes, which bind together and form the safe-guard of the whole.
Misrepresentation, indeed, answers its end for a time. And it is sometimes amusing to observe the ignorance or prejudice, respecting Mr. Burke, on public matters, which prevails among many, who, at a venture, attribute to him any thing that happens to be unpopular at the moment-circumstances, in which he had no participation or interest, and principles, which he disclaimed. In this spirit, a Reverend President of a political society at Liverpool, not long ago, stigmatized him as a deserter from the cause of parliamentary reform ; more than one of the orators of the Common Council of London repeated the accusation, among others equally accurate; at some of the county meetings he was spoken of as a sinecure placeman, and an enemy to liberty; even at one of the largest book establishments in London, on inquiring for a volume in which it happened to be said there was something concerning him, “A satire, Sir, I suppose," was the reply, as if satire was the legitimate coin with which his public labours deserved to be repaid. In a private company of that rank in society where the writer least expected to hear such observations, his motives in the impeachment of Mr. Hastings were sharply arraigned by some members of what are called the Indian Interest, though none of them could assign any thing like an improper motive; in another company less select, he was admitted to be a most surprising man, but unhappily opposed to the reformation of all abuses in government; in a third, he was an ingenious and able writer, but too flowery in his style; in a fourth, his political conduct was said to be regulated by regard merely to his own interests; in a fifth, it was a matter of charge that he had no private property that he took the profits of his literary labours--and at length accepted of a pension: so that, by this ingenious logic, the original sin of want of fortune was not permitted to be remedied, either by the fair exertion of those talents with which Providence had endowed him, or by the public gratitude of his country. All these facts came lately under the eye and ear of the writer; they are samples of what is heard every day; and are only remarkable as coming from men who would have felt not a little indignant at being told they were talking untruths or non
Another order of persons of more influence and information, chiefly public writers, who have in view to exalt another great political name, think it necessary to their purpose to lower, though in. directly and circuitously, the reputation of Mr. Burke.
From these we hear of him frequently as a man of genius, of brilliant fancy, and amusing talents