« AnteriorContinuar »
the administration of government, as attention, experience, 'prudence, and vigour. These qualities, with sound judgment, may fit the possessor for the highest offices ; whereas, without them, the greatest genius is insufficient. The goodness and wisdom of Providence, intending human happiness, puts the means, in a great measure, within our reach: the efficacy of conduct of every sort does not depend so much on force of understanding, which is not in our power, as on the conformation of will, which is in our power. In eloquence, Lord North had few superiors in the house ; but his political notions were wavering and unsettled. His counsels were fluctuating, being generally the result of particular occasion, and not the efforts of a great, consistent, and well concerted plan. His conduct was unsteady, now feeble, now rash, now conceding, now coercing: with considerable talents, and many virtues, he was the cause of great disasters. His most formidable opponent in the House of Commons, and by far the greatest orator it contained, was Burke. On subjects of deliberative wisdom, on subjects addressing themselves not to his prejudices and passions as a party man, but to his knowledge and understanding as a senator, Burke's views were grand and comprehensive. He considered the question with all its relations, profoundly investigated cause, and deduced consequences. The speeches of this illustrious orator were eminent for exactness, extent, and multiplicity of information; for copiousness and brilliancy of imagery; for readiness, acuteness, versatility, and strength of argument; for wideness of range, and profound reflection; for command of language and facility of communication. Johnson observes, that genius does not consist in the preponderancy of any one of the intellectual faculties, but in the excellence of all. On viewing the whole mental exertions of Burke, one would not have the hardihood to decide whether memory, imagination, or reason, was the most conspicuous; but most men, on attending to the operations of any one of the powers, would esteem it superior to
the others. From the most minute and technical details, to the most enlarged philosophy, physical and moral, and its application to practice, he was always completely master of the subject. In speaking on the changes of a turnpike road, or on the revolutions of nations ; in explaining the process of a manufacture, or the progress of the human mind, he never failed to shew that the whole and every part, the ends and means, the relation of means to means, and of means to ends, were all within his grasp. When exhibition of man was requisite, either of the individual or species, either as modified by particular professions, arts, circumstances, or situation, or in a general society, Jie drew a just, discriminate, strong, and striking picture. Often, indeed, the fulness of his mind and the elasticity of his fancy would lead him farther than was necessary, for information or argument, on the mere subject of discussion. But if some of his thoughts, images, or sentiments, might be irrelative to the individual object proposed, they did not fail to produce some purpose
of general pleasure or utility. If he did digress, you might be instructed, and must be delighted; and you were sure soon to return to the matter in discussion : as at his own Beaconsfield, you might deviate to survey woods and lawns, and luxuriant meadows and rich corn-fields, but you could soon regain the straight road ; a road leading to the reservoir of learning and sound philosophy. The rapidity of Burke's associating principle often brought together subjects slightly related. The fulness and flow of his capacious mind rendered his speeches very long, and to some very tiresome. To follow his details, relish his imagery, and grasp his reasoning, often required an extent of knowledge, a vigour of fancy, and a compass of intellect not granted to ordinary men. Besides, there are seasons, when even the wisest men may be weary of wisdom. He frequently, after the night was far advanced, began a speech which he carried on for three hours :
"Too deep for his hearers, he went on refining, And though of convincing, while they thought of dining."
In conversation, Burke excelled as much as in public speaking. He could accommodate his discoure 'to the capacities, and habits, and knowledge of the person addressed. He could convey information either to the simple or the refined; and instruction either to the clown or the sage. Dr. Johnson, while he declares his opinion, that if Burke were to go into a barn, the threshers would think him the wisest man they ever saw, testifies that he himself never was in Burke's company without departing the wiser. That sage, who considered conversation as a competition of intellectual powers, declared he was never stimulated to such exertion as when contending with Burke. Once, when he was ill, and unable to exert himself as much as usual, without fatigue, Burke being mentioned, he said, “ Edmund calls forth all my powers; were I to see him now it would kill me. It is to be observed, that the effects of Burke's conversation arose entirely from its intrinsic excellence. There was no extrinsic aid, no pomposity of manner, to add apparent to real force. There was