Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

As in the general estimation, he is the author of effects the most momentous to mankind,-even had his influence never been felt in the former part of his life, had he been totally inactive during the American contest and at every other period previous to the French 'revolution, had he never before been distinguished as a genius, a scholar, an orator, a politician, a philosopher, -his history and character must be highly important and interesting to Britons and to mankind. But it is not as a literary and political man alone that a biographer is to regard Burke. By following him to the retirement of civil and domestic life,-by viewing him as a neighbour, a companion, a friend, a brother, an associate, a private member of the community, as a husband, a father, a master of a family,—we must reap the highest intellectual and moral instruction, and interest the best affections.

The course of general study had led the writer of this sketch to a close contemplation of the literary efforts and character of Burke.

Special objects combined with general study in producing a still closer attention to his political exertions, and leading me to consider, them both in detail and principle; to examine the parts both severally and as members of a whole system. ' Anxious to know the civil and domestic life of a personage, whose literary and political talents are so eminent, the writer had, for the first edition, spared no pains to procure authentic information concerning his private engagements, relations, habits, temper, manners, and conduct. Since the publication his diligence has been stimulated by the success of the work, and encouraged by spontaneous communications from gentlemen of eminence, to whom he was before a stranger. . .

The first quality of biography is authenticity. A biographer and an historian, like any other witness, is bound to speak, as far as he knows it, the truth, all the truth, and nothing but the truth; regarding fact only, not the consequences of the narration to the character of its subject. A necessary con

stituent of authenticity is impartiality. If a writer set out with a predisposition either to praise or to censure, he is apt to lose sight of truth ; to bend facts to a favourite hypothesis. *

It has been asserted, in a preface to some posthumous publications of Burke, that consistency marks every part of his conduct. The writer of this Life is neither the FRIEND nor the ENEMY of Burke: neither assumes that he was consistent nor inconsistent, but will impartially narrate every fact which he deems illustrative of his talents and character. He will endeavour to ascribe the due merit to his extraordinary excellencies; also to notice his defects—as from such he, in common with all men, was not exempt. He who should exhibit one side only is an advocate, not an historian ; and not a very judicious advocate, because so easily to be convicted of partiality. Neither a friend nor an enemy is the fittest for writing a true life. The friend is apt to become a panegyrist, the enemy a satirist: the former to overcharge the good, and sink the bad; the latter to overcharge the, bad, and sink the good. Truth is eitherlost in the blaze of admiration, or perverted by the misrepresentation of malignancy.

* I have been charged in two periodical performances, one of great eminence, the other by no means so distinguished, with endeavouring to warp truth, that I may establish the consistency of Burke. As not only the Monthly Magazine, but even the MONTHLY Review has adduced no arguments which prove his inconsistency, I cannot help still adhering to my conclusion; and withholding my assent to their affirmation until justified by proof.

To narrative* biography only (according to Lord Bacon's distinction) does the author pretend, and arrogates to himself no qualities beyond those which it requires ;—knowledge vol. 1.

c

* A reviewer,* whose criticisms I much respect, contends that I am far from adhering to mere narration, and that my statements are made for the sake of establishing the consis-, tency of Mr. Burke. Were this conjecture right, I should certainly have risen to inductive biography. I deny that my narration was presented for the purpose assigned ; although I think that any impartial and accurate account of the life must lead to the establishment of consistency as one part of his character.

* The Monthly for August, 1798, art. 1.

of important facts, veracity and impartiality in recording them. With his information on the subject, and his determined adherence: to authenticity, he hopes he may be able to exhibit, if not a finished, a true account of this illustrious personage; and may afford many useful materials to future biographers of greater talents and skill.

EDMUND BURKE was born in the city of Dublin,* January 1st, 1730. He derived his descent from a respectable family. His father was of the Protestant persuasion, and by profession an attorney, of considerable ability and extensive practice. Young Edmund received the first part of his classical education under Mr. Abraham Shackleton, a quaker, who kept an academy at Ballytore, near Carlow. Mr. Shackleton was a very skilful and successful teacher, and at his school were educated many who became considerable in their country.

* His father for some time resided at Limerick; from which it has been erroneously asserted that Edmund was born there,

« AnteriorContinuar »