Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

upon any family than he could have derived from it. But as readers are generally curious to know something of the descent of a subject of biography, I think it my duty to state facts where they can be known; and, where they cannot, the most probable and generally received opinions. I am assured by Dr. Lawrence, that Burke's grandfather possessed an estate of three thousand a-year, near Limerick, which was confiscated. This event may have been the means of stimulating the talents of his son, and perhaps the genius of his grandson.

To periodical publications he contributed essays on various subjects of general literature and particular politics. These essays, though uniting information, reasoning, invention, and composition, much beyond contemporary writers, did not immediately enable their author to emerge from obscurity. Patror.age does not always follow literary merit: if it do, it comes rarely when most wanted-before fame has secured success. Those who are most willing to be the pa

trons of learning are not always the most capable of appreciating merit, and are often misled by dependents, whose own place in their esteem would suffer by a just appreciation. Besides, the love of obsequiousness and flattery is very frequently the motive to patronage. Adulation and servility inferior retainers to letters will readily pay; while to such arts conscious intellect will not stoop. Such, therefore, often fail of the protection of the great. A Cibber will be admitted by a patron who excludes a Johnson.

The profits of Burke's writings were at first small. The earliest offerings of literature must be to fame; from fame follows emolument.

He frequently passed his leisure hours in the company of Mrs. Woffington. This several of his detractors have endeavoured to make a subject of ridicule. But it is certain that this lady's conversation was no less anxiously courted by men of wit and genius, than by men of pleasure. It is equally cer

[ocr errors]

tain that he was, on the whole, a man of great temperance. Whether he was so completely chaste as to resist the attractions of that engaging woman, I cannot affirm. If, instead of standing candidate for being professor of Logic at Glasgow, he had applied for orders in the kirk, and Mrs. Woffington had been within its jurisdiction, an inquiry would probably have been instituted; but as that was not the case, I have no means of satisfying the curious in that branch of biography. Whatever may have been his occasional avocations, he in the Temple applied himself with the most vigorous industry to writing essays and increasing his knowledge. Applying to learning and science in general, the studies to which he gave himself up with the most peculiar zeal were those which unfolded human nature,-history, ethics, politics, pneumatology, poetry, and criticism. His health was gradually impaired by this intense application, and an alarming illness ensued. He resorted for medical advice to Dr. Nugent, a physician

of great talents and skill, and of no less benevolence. The Doctor, considering that the noise, and various disturbances incidental to chambers, must impede the recovery of his patient, kindly offered him apartments in . his own house. Attention and tender treatment, not from the Doctor only, but all the family, had soon a more powerful effect than any medicine in producing the restoration of his health. Among the most attentive to her father's patient and guest was Miss Nugent, whose general amiableness and particular tenderness to himself soon excited a . passion in the sensible heart of Burke. He offered her his hand, which she accepted ; and, during a long life of various vicissitudes and trying situations, had, in her soothing and affectionate conduct, every reason to rejoice at his lot.

Hitherto his mental powers and acquirements were but partially known. The exertion of his literary talents had been confined to detached essays. His first acknow

ledged production is his Vindication of Natural Society.

This performance is an important object to his biographers, as it marks the sound principles of religion, philosophy, and po. litics, which he had early formed. By an ironical vindication of natural society, in preference to artificial or political, he exposes the false philosophy of Bolingbroke, which, . he thinks, had a tendency to overturn virtue, and every established mode of religion and of government. The scepticism of that author had hitherto infected only men of rank or literature. It was reserved for Paine to simplify infidelity to the capacities of unlettered men. The disciples of Bolingbroke considered his notions as applying to theology only ; they did not foresee that the same engines that were employed for the destruction of religion, which they did not regard, might be used for the subversion of government, the annihilation of their privileges, and the forfeiture of their property, which they did regard. .

« AnteriorContinuar »