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on your affairs; and who in so doing persuades from one who wishes to preserve consistency, but himself he has not departed from his usual office: who would preserve consistency by varying his they come from one who desires honours, dis- means to secure the unity of his end ; and, when tinctions, and emoluments, but little ; and who the equipoise of the vessel in which he sails may expects them not at all ; who has no contempt be endangered by overloading it upon one side, for fame, and no fear of obloquy; who shuns is desirous of carrying the small weight of his contention, though he will hazard an opinion : reasons to that which may preserve its equipoise.
LETTER FROM MR. BURKE,
A MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY;
TO SOME OBJECTIONS TO HIS BOOK ON FRENCH AFFAIRS.
any form it
SIR, I had the honour to receive your letter of the exceptionable as the old ; and which are no other17th of November last; in which, with some ex- wise worthy of observation than as they give a ceptions, you are pleased to consider favourably daily proof of the delusion of their promises, and the letter I have written on the affairs of France. the falsehood of their professions. Had I followed I shall ever accept any mark of approbation at all these changes, my letter would have been only tended with instruction with more pleasure than a gazette of their wanderings; a journal of their general and unqualified praises. The latter can march from errour to errour, through a dry dreary serve only to flatter our vanity ; the former, whilst desert, unguided by the lights of heaven, or by it encourages us to proceed, may help to improve the contrivance which wisdom has invented to us in our progress.
supply their place. Some of the errours you point out to me in I am unalterably persuaded, that the attempt to printed letter are really such. One only I find to oppress, degrade, impoverish, confiscate, and exbe material. It is corrected in the edition which tinguish the original gentlemen, and landed proI take the liberty of sending to you. As to the perty of a whole nation, cannot be justified under cavils which may be made on some part
may assume. I am satisfied beyond a marks, with regard to the gradations in your new doubt, that the project of turning a great empire
a constitution, you observe justly that they do not into a vestry, or into a collection of vestries, and affect the substance of my objections. Whether of governing it in the spirit of a parochial admithere be a round more or less in the ladder of re- nistration, is senseless and absurd, in any mode, presentation, by which your workmen ascend from or with any qualifications. I can never be contheir parochial tyranny to their federal anarchy, vinced, that the scheme of placing the highest when the whole scale is false, appears to me of powers of the state in churchwardens and constalittle or no importance.
bles, and other such officers, guided by the pruI published my thoughts on that constitution, dence of litigious attornies, and Jew brokers, and
, that my countrymen might be enabled to estimate set in action by shameless women of the lowest the wisdom of the plans which were held out to condition, by keepers of hotels, taverns, and brotheir imitation. I conceived that the true charac- thels, by pert apprentices, by clerks, shop-boys, ter of those plans would be best collected from the hair-dressers, fiddlers, and dancers on the stage, committee appointed to prepare them. I thought (who, in such a commonwealth as yours, will in that the scheme of their building would be better future overbear, as already they have overborne, comprehended in the design of the architects than the sober incapacity of dull, uninstructed men, of in the execution of the masons.
It was not worth useful but laborious occupations,) can never be put my reader's while to occupy himself with the al- into any shape, that must not be both disgraceful terations by which bungling practice corrects ab- and destructive. The whole of this project, even surd theory. Such an investigation would be if it were what it pretends to be, and was not, in endless : because every day's past experience of reality, the dominion, through that disgraceful impracticability has driven, and every day's future medium, of half a dozen, or perhaps fewer, inexperience will drive, those men to new devices as triguing politicians, is so mean, so low-minded, so
stupid a contrivance, in point of wisdom, as well effectually exposed, than by demonstrating that as so perfectly detestable for its wickedness, that I they lead to consequences directly inconsistent must always consider the correctives, which might with and subversive of the arrangements grounded make it in any degree practicable, to be so many upon them? If this kind of demonstration is not new objections to it.
permitted, the process of reasoning called deductio In that wretched state of things, some are afraid ad absurdum which even the severity of geometry that the authors of your miseries may be led to does not reject, could not be employed at all in precipitate their further designs, by the hints they legislative discussions. One of our strongest weamay receive from the very arguments used to pons against folly acting with authority would be expose the absurdity of their system, to mark the lost. incongruity of its parts, and its inconsistency with You know, Sir, that even the virtuous efforts of their own principles; and that your masters may your patriots to prevent the ruin of your country be led to render their schemes more consistent, by have had this very turn given to them. It has rendering them more mischievous. Excuse the been said here, and in France too, that the reignliberty which your indulgence authorizes me to ing usurpers would not have carried their tyranny take, when I observe to you, that such apprehen- to such destructive lengths, if they had not been sions as these would event all exertion of our stimulated and provoked to it by the acrimony of faculties in this great cause of mankind.
your opposition. There is a dilemma to which A rash recourse to force is not to be justified in every opposition to successful iniquity must, in the a state of real weakness. Such attempts bring on nature of things, be liable. If you lie still, you disgrace; and, in their failure, discountenance and are considered as an accomplice in the measures discourage more rational endeavours. But reason in which you silently acquiesce. If you resist,
you is to be hazarded, though it may be perverted by are accused of provoking irritable power to new craft and sophistry; for reason can suffer no loss
The conduct of a losing party never nor shame, nor can it impede any useful plan of appears right: at least it never can possess the future policy. In the unavoidable uncertainty, as only infallible criterion of wisdom to vulgar judgto the effect, which attends on every measure of ments—success. human prudence, nothing seems a surer antidote The indulgence of a sort of undefined hope, an to the poison of fraud than its detection. It is obscure confidence, that some lurking remains of true the fraud may be swallowed after this dis- virtue, some degree of shame, might exist in the covery; and perhaps even swallowed the more breasts of the oppressors of France, has been among greedily for being a detected fraud. Men some- the causes which have helped to bring on the comtimes make a point of honour not to be disabused; mon ruin of king and people. There is no safety and they had rather fall into an hundred errours for honest men, but by believing all possible evil than confess one. But after all,—when neither of evil men, and by acting with promptitude, deour principles nor our dispositions, nor, perhaps, cision, and steadiness on that belief. I well reour talents, enable us to encounter delusion with member at every epocha of this wonderful history, delusion, we must use our best reason to those that in every scene of this tragick business, that when ought to be reasonable creatures, and to take our your sophistick usurpers were laying down mischance for the event. We cannot act on these chievous principles, and even applying them in anomalies in the minds of men. I do not con- direct resolutions, it was the fashion to say, that ceive that the persons who have contrived these they never intended to execute those declarations things can be made much the better or the worse in their rigour. This made men careless in their for any thing which can be said to them. They opposition, and remiss in early precaution. By are reason proof. Here and there, some men, who holding out this fallacious hope, the impostors were at first carried away by wild, good intentions, deluded sometimes one description of men, and may be led, when their first fervours are abated, sometimes another, so that no means of resistance to join in a sober survey of the schemes into which were provided against them, when they came to they had been deluded. To those only (and I am execute in cruelty what they had planned in fraud. sorry to say they are not likely to make a large There are cases in which a man would be description) we apply with any hope. I may speak ashamed not to have been imposed on. There is it upon an assurance almost approaching to abso- a confidence necessary to human intercourse, and lute knowledge, that nothing has been done that has without which men are often more injured by not been contrived from the beginning, even before their own suspicions than they would be by the the states had assembled. Nulla nova mihi res perfidy of others. · But when men whom we know inopinave surgit. They are the same men and the to be wicked impose upon us, we are something same designs that they were from the first, though worse than dupes. When we know them, their varied in their appearance.
It was the very same fair pretences become new motives for distrust. animal that at first crawled about in the shape of There is one case indeed, in which it would be a caterpillar, that you now see rise into the air, madness not to give the fullest credit to the most and expand his wings to the sun.
deceitful of men, that is, when they make declaProceeding, therefore, as we are obliged to pro- rations of hostility against us. ceed, that is, upon an hypothesis that we address I find that some persons entertain other hopes, rational men, can false political principles be more which I confess appear more specious than those
by which at first so many were deluded and dis- councils and desperate measures. The people of armed. They flatter themselves that the extreme France, almost generally, have been taught to look misery brought upon the people by their folly will for other resources than those which can be deat last open the eyes of the multitude, if not of rived from order, frugality, and industry. They their leaders. Much the contrary, I fear. As to are generally armed; and they are made to expect the leaders in this system of imposture,—you much from the use of arms. Nihil non arrogant know, that cheats and deceivers never can repent. armis. Besides this, the retrograde order of soThe fraudulent have no resource but in fraud. ciety has something flattering to the dispositions They have no other goods in their magazine. of mankind. The life of adventurers, gamesters, They have no virtue or wisdom in their minds, to gipsies, beggars, and robbers is not unpleasant. which, in a disappointment concerning the profit- It requires restraint to keep men from falling into able effects of fraud and cunning, they can retreat. that habit. The shifting tides of fear and hope, The wearing out of an old serves only to put the flight and pursuit, the peril and escape, the them upon the invention of a new delusion. Un- alternate famine and feasts of the savage and the luckily too, the credulity of dupes is as inex- thief, after a time, render all course of slow, steady, haustible as the invention of knaves. They never progressive, unvaried occupation, and the prosgive people possession ; but they always keep them pect only of a limited mediocrity at the end of in hope. Your state doctors do not so much as long labour, to the last degree tame, languid, and pretend that any good whatsoever has hitherto insipid. Those who have been once intoxicated been derived from their operations, or that the with power, and have derived any kind of emolupublick has prospered in any one instance, under ment from it, even though but for one year, never their management. The nation is sick, very sick, can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed by their medicines. But the charlatan tells them in the midst of all their power ; but they will that what is passed cannot be helped ;—they have never look to any thing but power for their relief. taken the draught, and they must wait its opera- When did distress ever oblige a prince to abdicate tion with patience ;—that the first effects indeed his authority? And what effect will it have upon are unpleasant, but that the very sickness is a those who are made to believe themselves a people proof that the dose is of no sluggish operation ;- of princes ? that sickness is inevitable in all constitutional re- The more active and stirring part of the lower volutions ;—that the body must pass through pain orders having got government, and the distribution to ease ;-that the prescriber is not an empirick of plunder into their hands, they will use its rewho proceeds by vulgar experience, but one who sources in each municipality to form a body of grounds this practice * on the sure rules of art, adherents. These rulers, and their adherents, will which cannot possibly fail. You have read, Sir, be strong enough to overpower the discontents of the last manifesto, or mountebank's bill, of the those who have not been able to assert their share National Assembly. You see their presumption of the spoil. The unfortunate adventurers in the in their promises is not lessened by all their failures cheating lottery of plunder will probably be the in the performance. Compare this last address of least sagacious, or the most inactive and irresolute, the Assembly and the present state of your affairs of the gang. If, on disappointment, they should with the early engagements of that body; engage- dare to stir, they will soon be suppressed as rebels ments which, not content with declaring, they and mutineers by their brother rebels. Scantily solemnly deposed upon oath ; swearing lustily, fed for a while with the offal of plunder, they that if they were supported they would make their will drop off by degrees; they will be driven country glorious and happy; and then judge out of sight and out of thought ; and they will whether those who can write such things, or those be left to perish obscurely, like rats, in holes and who can bear to read them, are of themselves to be brought to any reasonable course of thought or From the forced repentance of invalid mutiaction.
neers and disbanded thieves, you can hope for no As to the people at large, when once these mi
Government itself, which ought to conserable sheep have broken the fold, and have got strain the more bold and dextrous of these robthemselves loose, not from the restraint, but from bers, is their accomplice. Its arms, its treasures, the protection, of all the principles of natural au- its all are in their hands. Judicature, which above thority and legitimate subordination, they become all things should awe them, is their creature and the natural prey of impostors. When they have their instrument. Nothing seems to me to render once tasted of the fattery of knaves, they can your internal situation more desperate than this no longer endure reason, which appears to them one circumstance of the state of your judicature. only in the form of censure and reproach. Great Many days are not passed since we have seen a distress has never hitherto taught, and whilst the set of men brought forth by your rulers for a most world lasts it never will teach, wise lessons to any critical function. Your rulers brought forth a set part of mankind. Men are as much blinded by of men, steaming from the sweat and drudgery, the extremes of misery as by the extremes of pros
and all black with the smoke and soot, of the forge perity. Desperate situations produce desperate of confiscation and robbery-ardentis massæ fuli
* It is said in the last quackish address of the National As- arrangements upon vulgar practice; but on a theory which cansembly to the people of France, that they have not formed their not fail; or something to that effect.
gine lippos, a set of men brought forth from the things in which your philosophick usurpers choose trade of hammering arms of proof, offensive and to follow Cromwell. defensive, in aid of the enterprises, and for the One would think, that after an honest and subsequent protection, of housebreakers, mur- necessary revolution (if they had a mind that derers, traitors, and malefactors; men, who had theirs should pass for such) your masters would their minds seasoned with theories perfectly con- have imitated the virtuous policy of those who formable to their practice, and who had always have been at the head of revolutions of that glolaughed at possession and prescription, and defied rious character. Burnet tells us, that nothing all the fundamental maxims of jurisprudence. To tended to reconcile the English nation to the gothe horrour and stupefaction of all the honest part vernment of King William so much as the care he of this nation, and indeed of all nations who are took to fill the vacant bishopricks with men who spectators, we have seen, on the credit of those had attracted the public esteem by their learning, very practices and principles, and to carry them eloquence, and piety, and, above all, by their further into effect, these very men placed on the known moderation in the state.
With you, in sacred seat of justice in the capital city of your your purifying revolution, whom have you cholate kingdom. We see that in future you are to sen to regulate the church? Mr. Mirabeau is a be destroyed with more form and regularity. This fine speaker—and a fine writer,—and a fine-a is not peace; it is only the introduction of a sort very fine man;—but really nothing gave more of discipline in their hostility. Their tyranny is surprise to every body here, than to find him the complete in their justice; and their lanterne is supreme head of your ecclesiastical affairs. The not half so dreadful as their court.
rest is of course. Your Assembly addresses a One would think that out of common decency manifesto to France, in which they tell the people, they would have given you men who had not been with an insulting irony, that they have brought in the habit of trampling upon law and justice in the church to its primitive condition.
In one rethe Assembly, neutral men, or men apparently spect their declaration is undoubtedly true; for neutral, for judges, who are to dispose of your they have brought it to a state of poverty and lives and fortunes.
persecution. What can be hoped for after this ? Cromwell, when he attempted to legalize his Have not men, (if they deserve the name,) under power, and to settle his conquered country in a this new hope and head of the church, been made state of order, did not look for dispensers of jus- bishops for no other merit than having acted as tice in the instruments of his usurpation. Quite instruments of atheists; for no other merit than the contrary. He sought out, with great solicitude having thrown the children's bread to dogs; and and selection, and even from the party most op- in order to gorge the whole gang of usurers, pedposite to his designs, men of weight and decorum lars, and itinerant Jew-discounters at the corners of character; men unstained with the violence of of streets, starved the poor of their Christian the times, and with hands not fouled with confis- flocks, and their own brother pastors? Have not cation and sacrilege: for he chose an Hale for his such men been made bishops to administer in chief justice, though he absolutely refused to take temples, in which (if the patriotick donations have his civick oaths, or to make any acknowledgment not already stripped them of their vessels) the whatsoever of the legality of his government. churchwardens ought to take security for the alCromwell told this great lawyer, that since he did tar plate, and not so much as to trust the chalice not approve his title, all he required of him was, in their sacrilegious hands, so long as Jews have to administer, in a manner agreeable to his pure assignats on ecclesiastick plunder, to exchange for sentiments and unspotted character, that justice the silver stolen from churches ? without which human society cannot subsist : that I am told, that the very sons of such Jew-jobbers it was not his particular government, but civil have been made bishops ; persons not to be susorder itself, which, as a judge, he wished him to pected of any sort of Christian superstition, fit colsupport. Cromwell knew how to separate the insti- leagues to the holy prelate of Autun, and bred tutions expedient to his usurpation from the ad at the feet of that Gamaliel. We know who it ministration of the publick justice of his country. was that drove the money-changers out of the For Cromwell was a man in whom ambition had temple. We see too who it is that brings them not wholly suppressed, but only suspended, the in again. We have in London very respectable sentiments of religion, and the love (as far as it persons of the Jewish nation, whom we will keep; could consist with his designs) of fair and honour- but we have of the same tribe others of a very able reputation. Accordingly, we are indebted different description,--housebreakers, and receivto this act of his for the preservation of our laws, ers of stolen goods, and forgers of paper currency, which some senseless assertors of the rights of men more than we can conveniently hang. These we were then on the point of entirely erasing, as can spare to France, to fill the new episcopal relicks of feudality and barbarism. Besides, he thrones; men well versed in swearing; and who gave in the appointment of that man, to that age, will scruple no oath which the fertile genius of and to all posterity, the most brilliant example of any of your reformers can devise. sincere and fervent piety, exact justice, and pro- In matters so ridiculous, it is hard to be grave. found jurisprudence.* But these are not the On a view of their consequences, it is almost
• See Burnet's Life of Hale.