Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

enter. Such was his home, justifying his own strong and beautiful language, that

every care vanished the moment he entered beneath his own roof." He was fully sensible of his wife's worth ; as appears by the terms in which he always spoke of her, and the agony of affection with which he watched over her in moments of declining health.

In 1757 appeared, in two volumes octavo, “ An account of the European Settlements in America.” The authorship of this work has been long disputed; that Mr. Burke had something to do with it, however, is generally acknowledged. While many have attributed the whole of it to him, others contend that he only revised it, and that the whole or nearly the whole was the composition of his cousin William Bourke. The truth seems to be that it was a joint work, though it is now impossible to assign the exact proportions in which the labour was distributed. That Mr. Burke wrote a large portion of it, internal evidence will permit no reader of discernment to doubt; and that there was much he did not write, the same evidence proves quite as conclusively. His remarks on our North American colonies show how carefully he had, even at that early period, studied that portion of our dependencies. The attention he paid to this subject was not lost; it prepared him for the enlarged and accurate views he subsequently took of the policy adopted in reference to America; and which he so often and so eloquently expounded in parliament during the American war. The copy-right for this work is alleged to have brought only fifty guineas. His enemies have often urged, as though it were a stain on his character, that at this period of his life Burke wrote for subsistence. This charge, as it happens, is not true; but if it were, it could never be worth while to reply to it: the fools who can think there is any degradation in receiving honest remuneration for hard literary labour are not to be reasoned with.

In 1757 a new edition of the “ Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful” was called for, to which was prefixed the Introductory Chapter on Taste. A parent's displeasure can seldom stand out against a son's reputation. Accordingly, on Burke's presenting his father with a copy, he received a substantial proof of reconciliation, in the shape of £100.

About this time, as appears by a letter to his friend Shackleton, he contemplated emigration to America. Various motives have been conjectured, but none entirely satisfactory. It was, in all probability, that which has led some other celebrated men to meditate the same step-the prospect of a family with inadequate means of providing for them. It may also be added, that Burke, as is well known, was through his whole life passionately fond of agriculture.

Who can help speculating on the singular events which might have taken place had he emigrated ? He who took so warmly the side of the colonists at home,—what would he have done in the very thick of the conflict?

It was about this time that he commenced his “ Essay towards an Abridgment of the English History.” Eight sheets were printed by Dodsley, in 1757. The work, from some cause or other, was thrown aside; why, is not known; though it has been plausibly conjectured that he was induced to abandon it by hearing that Hume was engaged in a similar undertaking.

In the beginning of 1758 was born that child of many hopes and many sorrows, who was to be for so many years the object of almost idolatrous affection; the promise of whose genius and virtues filled the imagination of his father with visions never to be realized, and for whom, in the excess of parental love,—that only passion that can never be allied with envy,—he anticipated a fame that should eclipse his own.

The prospect of a family (though that prospect was never realized) roused the energies of his mind, which, indeed, at no time needed much stimulus, to still more strenuous exertion; and he now commenced the “ Annual Register.” This work, the design of which was excellent, was executed with corresponding ability for a long series of years, and will be

a

a

found the best record we have of the history, political and literary, of the times. Some of the early volumes passed through several editions. The earliest are, of course, those which are enriched with the most frequent contributions of Mr. Burke. He did not, however, wholly cease to write for it, even when engaged in all the arduous duties of his political life; he still often favoured it with occasional sketches, either actually written by himself or at his dictation.

There cannot be a doubt, that his connexion with the Annual Register was of signal service to him in relation to his subsequent history. It compelled him to study the political history of all Europe, and tended to familiarize him with all those questions which he was destined to discuss in the House of Commons, and on which he often displayed such minute and accurate knowledge. - Amongst the illustrious friends to whom Burke's talents had now procured him an introduction, may be mentioned Dr. Johnson, George Lord Littleton, Soame Jenyns, and Sir Joshua Reynolds. He was also introduced to Hume, with whom however, as might have been expected, he never became intimate; and to Adam Smith. About this period Mr. Burke resided occasionally at Plaistow, in Essex.

But the time was fast approaching when Edmund Burke was no longer to occupy a merely private station, or exhaust his wondrous talents in the laborious and inadequately remunerated drudgeries of periodical literature; and as though he anticipated his future destinies, his studies, at this time, were beginning to be wholly or chiefly of a political character.

The amiable and accomplished Lord Charlemont, of whom Burke constantly spoke with enthusiastic love and gratitude, was the man by whom he was immediately introduced to the attention of those in power. This nobleman recommended him to the well known "single-speech Hamilton," who in 1761 had been appointed chief secretary to Lord Halifax, lord lieutenant of Ireland. This gentleman engaged Mr. Burke in a somewhat anomalous character,—of part friend, part secretary. What share Mr. Burke had in the councils of the government cannot now be ascertained; that his duties were arduous, however, is obvious, for he speaks of “ a long and laborious attendance.” While in Ireland he spent some time amidst the scenes of his childhood and youth; and, when public duty permitted, visited England on those literary undertakings which his active mind could not be tempted wholly to forego. In 1763 he received a pension, on the Irish establishment, of £300 per annum, for which he was principally indebted to Mr. Hamilton. He enjoyed it, however, only a year and a half;-it appears it was imparted with an expectation that it would be paid for by implicit political obedience. Mr. Burke, however, was not a man to do such fealty and homage to Mammon. His independent and lofty spirit could not stoop to such ignominy. Accordingly, unwilling to purchase his pension by such an enormous outlay of conscience, he offered to relinquish it. Mr. Hamilton, who managed the whole matter in the

, true spirit of a political buckster, had the meanness to accept this offer. The whole transaction is, in fact, highly honourable to Mr. Burke's character, though his enemies have generally represented it otherwise. The particulars have transpired within a few years only by the publication of a letter of Mr. Burke's to Mr. Flood, which we here publish.

a

“ MY DEAR FLOOD, " I thank you for your kind and most obliging letters; you are a person whose good offices are not snares, and to whom one may venture to be obliged without danger to his honour. As I depend upon your sincerity, so I shall most certainly call upon your friendship, if I should have any thing to do in Ireland; this, however, is not the case at present, at least in any way in which your interposition may be employed with a proper attention to yourself; a point which I shall always very tenderly consider in any application I make to my friends.

" It is very true that there is an eternal rupture between me and Hamilton, which was on my side neither sought nor provoked; for though his conduct in public affairs has been for a long time directly contrary to my opinions, very reproachful to himself, and extremely disgustful to me; and though in private he has not justly fulfilled one of his engagements to me, yet I was so uneasy and awkward at coming to a breach, where I had once a close and intimate friendship, that I continued with a kind of desperate fidelity to adhere to his cause and person; and when I found him greatly disposed to quarrel with me, I used such submissive measures as I never before could prevail upon myself to use to any man.

“ The occasion of our difference was not any act whatsoever on my part; it was entirely on his, by a voluntary but most insolent and intolerable demand, amounting to no less than a claim of servitude during the whole course of my life, without leaving me at any time a power either of getting forward with honour, or of retiring with tranquillity. This was really and truly the substance of his demand upon me, to which I need not tell you I refused, with some degree of indignation, to submit. On this we ceased to see each other, or to correspond, a good while before you left London. He then commenced, through the intervention of others, a negociation with me, in which he showed as much of meanness in his proposals as he had done of arrogance in his demands; but as all these proposals were vitiated by the taint of that servitude with which they were all mixed, his negociation came to nothing.

“ He grounded these monstrous claims (such as never were before heard of in this country) on that pension which he had procured for me through Colonel Cunninghame, the late primate, and Lord Halifax; for, through all that series of persons, this paltry business was contrived to pass. Now, though I was sensible that I owed this pension to the good will of the primate in a great degree, and though, if it had come from Hamilton's pocket, instead of being derived from the Irish treasury, I had earned it by a long and laborious attendance, and might, in any other than that unfortunate connexion, have got a much better thing; yet, to get rid of him completely, and not to carry a memorial of such a person about me, I offered to transmit it to his attorney in trust for him. This offer he thought proper to accept. I beg pardon, my dear Flood, for troubling you so long on a subject which ought not to employ a moment of your thoughts, and never shall again employ a moment of mine."

- Mr. Burke's silence on this subject was as honourable as the independent part he had acted in the transaction itself. Here the connexion between the parties totally ceased.

While in Dublin, in 1763, his unfortunate friend Barry, (afterwards the well known painter, then an unfriended son of genius,) was recommended to him. He had come to exhibit a picture. Mr. Burke looked at it, approved it, and asked him what were his prospects. A curious occurrence, well worth relating, took place at this interview. Burke, as an experiment, thought proper to defend some questionable canon of taste by unsound but plausible argument. Barry contested it, and to justify himself in his position quoted from a certain anonymous essay, as he said, “ On the Sublime and Beautiful.” Burke with great gravity began to depreciate that performance as the production of some nameless scribbler, and as utterly unworthy of being cited as an authority. This provoked Barry, who was an ardent admirer of the essay, almost to fury. With the constitutional ardour of genius, which can never suffer self-interest to check its enthusiasm for its favourite pursuit, le quite forgot that Burke was his promised patron. Nor could Burke pacify him till he had told him that he was himself the author. The enthusiastic son of genius, starting from his seat, embraced Burke with ardour, and produced a very unexceptionable proof of his admiration for his unknown friend, in the shape of a MS. volume of the essay transcribed by himself! It was well, however, for Barry that the author and the critic happened to be the same person.

If ever indigent genius received munificent patronage, Barry received it from Burke; patronage, the more munificent indeed, that Burke could ill afford it. He did not do as so many others have done,-utter a few words of very frigid advice or of inefficacious sympathy, nor content himself with the cheap, because insincere, promises of more substantial support. Though possessed of little himself, he aided him with a liberality most generously disproportionate to his means. Having paid his passage from Dublin to London, he invited him to his house ; introduced him to all the most eminent artists, and procured him respectable employment. Nor did his friendship end here. Convinced of the artist's talents, Burke resolved that he should lack no fair opportunity of cultivating them. No sooner, therefore, were his means equal to such generosity, than, in concurrence with Sir J. Reynolds, he advised him to travel to Italy for improvement, offering to support him while abroad. Barry was absent five years, during the whole of which time he earned not a farthing, but was supported solely at the expense of Burke and his brother, who often persevered in their kindness with great inconvenience to themselves. Nor was it pecuniary aid alone that Burke contributed; he gave him, what was at least equally valuable, his advice as it regarded the course of his studies. This he communicated in a series of letters, in which he often shows himself deeply acquainted with the great principles of the art. These interesting documents are all printed in Barry's Memoirs. One or two we subjoin as a specimen.

а

[ocr errors]

a

a

MY DEAR BARRY, “ I am greatly in arrear to you on account of correspondence; but not, I assure you, on account of regard, esteem, and sincere good wishes. My mind followed you to Paris, through your Alpine journey, and to Rome ; you are an admirable painter with your pen as well as with your pencil ; every one to whom I showed your letters, felt an interest in your little adventures, as well as a satisfaction in your description ; because there is not only a taste, but a feeling in what you observe, something that shows you have an heart; and I would have you by all means keep it. I thank you for Alexander; Reynolds sets an high esteem on it, he thinks it admirably drawn, and with great spirit. He had it at his house for some time, and returned it in a very fine frame; and it at present makes a capital ornament of our little dining-room between the two doors. At Rome you are, I suppose, even still so much agitated by the profusion of fine things on every side of you, that you have hardly had time to sit down to methodical and regular study. When you do, you will certainly select the best parts of the best things, and attach yourself to them wholly. You, whose letter would be the best direction in the world to any other painter, want none yourself from me, who know little of the matter. But as you were always indulgent enough to bear my humour under the name of advice, you will permit me now, my dear Barry, once more to wish you, in the beginning at least, to contract the circle of your studies. The extent and rapidity of your mind carries you to too great a diversity of things, and to the completion of a whole before you are quite master of the parts in a degree equal to the dignity of your ideas.

This disposition arises from a generous impatience, which is a fault almost characteristic of great genius. But it is a fault nevertheless, and one which I am sure you will correct, when you consider that there is a great deal of mechanic in your profession, in which, however, the distinctive part of the art consists, and without which the first ideas can only make a good critic, not a painter.

* I confess I am not much desirous of your composing many pieces, for some time at least. Composition (though by some people placed foremost in the list of the ingredients of an art) I do not value near so highly. I know none who attempts, that does not succeed tolerably in that part : but that exquisite masterly drawing, which is the glory of the great school where you are, has fallen to the lot of very few, perhaps to none of the present age, in its highest perfection. If I were to indulge a conjecture, I should attribute all that is called greatness of style and manner of drawing, to this exact knowledge of the parts of the human body, of anatomy and perspective. For by knowing exactly and habitually, without the labour of particular and occasional thinking, what was to be done in every figure they designed, they naturally attained a freedom and spirit of outline ; because they could be daring without being absurd; whereas ignorance, if it be cautious, is poor and timid; if bold, it is only blindly presumptuous. This minute and thorough knowledge of anatomy, and practical as well as theoretical perspective, by which I mean to include foreshortening, is all the effect of labour and use in particular studies, and not in general compositions. Notwithstanding your natural repugnance to handling of carcasses, you ought to make the knife go with the pencil, and study anatomy in real, and, if you can, in frequent dissections. You know that a man who despises, as you do, the minutiæ of the art, is bound to be quite perfect in the noblest part of all, or he is nothing. Mediocrity is tolerable in middling things, but not at all in the great. In the course of the studies I speak of, it would not be amiss to

paint portraits often and diligently. This I do not say as wishing you to turn your studies to portraitpainting, quite otherwise; but because many things in the human face will certainly escape you without some intermixture of that kind of study.

“ Well, I think I have said enough to try your humility on this subject. But I am thus troublesome from a sincere anxiety for your success. I think you a man of honour and of genius, and I would not have your talents lost to yourself, your friends, or your country, by any means.

You will then attri. bute my freedom to my solicitude about you, and my solicitude to my friendship. Be so good to continue your letters and observations as usual. They are exceedingly grateful to us all, and we keep them by us.

“Since I saw you I spent three months in Ireland. I had the pleasure of seeing Sleigh but for a day or two. We talked much about you, and he loves and esteems you extremely. I saw nothing in the way of your art there which promised much. Those who seemed most forward in Dublin when we were there, are not at all advanced, and seem to have little ambition. Here they are as you left them: Reynolds every now and then striking out some wonder. Barrett has fallen into the painting of views. It is the most called for, and the most lucrative part of his business. He is a wonderful observer of the accidents of nature, and produces every day something new from that source, and indeed is on the whole a delightful painter, and possessed of great resources. But I do not think he gets forward as much as his genius would entitle him to; as he is so far from studying, that he does not even look at the pictures of any of the great inasters, either Italians or Dutch. A man never can have any point of pride that is not pernicious to him. He loves you, and always inquires for you. He is now on a night-piece, which is indeed noble in the conception ; and in the execution of the very first merit. When I say he does not improve, I do not mean to say that he is not the first we have in that way, but that his capacity ought to have carried him to equal any that ever painted landscape.

“ I have given you some account of your friends among the painters here, now I will say a word of ourselves. The change of the Ministry you know was pleasing to none of our household.—Your friend Will. did not think proper to hold even the place he had. He has therefore, with the spirit you know to belong to him, resigned his employment. But I thank God, we want in our new situation neither friends, nor a reasonable share of credit. It will be a pleasure to you to hear, that if we are out of play, others of your friends are in. Macleane is under-secretary in Lord Shelburne's office; and there is no doubt but he will be, as he deserves, well patronized there.”

7 The language in which Barry ever after spoke of Burke is equally honourable to his own

gratitude and the unbounded benevolence of his patron. “I am your property," he writes on one occasion to Mr. Burke; “you ought surely to be free with a man of your own making, who has found in you, father, brother, friend, every thing.” “Mr. Burke,” he said on another occasion," has been, under God, all in all to me."

Burke was now observed to devote his whole energies to the acquisition of political knowledge. During the sitting of parliament, the gallery of the House of Commons found him an eager auditor on every important occasion. He himself afterwards admitted that his studies were indefatigably directed to obtaining a thorough knowledge of the history and the principles of the constitution, the state of all our principal affairs domestic and foreign, and especially of our colonial and commercial interests. Political economy he studied with the utmost diligence, and with not greater diligence than success; of this he afterwards afforded abundant proofs in his speeches and writings. He was, indeed, the first statesman who ever attained any very large and comprehensive views on the subject.

In 1764 Reynolds and Burke originated the LITERARY CLUB, of which themselves and Johnson were the most distinguished members, and the history of which is associated with almost every considerable name which adorned the literature of the period.—But Mr. Burke was now to make his appearance on a wider theatre. The administration was already tottering. Various circumstances had concurred to render it unpopular; none more so than the proceedings against Mr. Wilkes, and the fatal omission of the name of the Princess Dowager of Wales in the Regency Bill, framed on the first symptoms of alienation in the royal mind.

« AnteriorContinuar »