Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

ministration, procured the appointment for himself.-Messrs, Fox and Burke immediately resigned; each in an able speech detailing the reasons.of his resignation.

Lord Shelburne was known to be adverse to the independence of America, which Mr. Burke ard Mr. Fox considered as a necessary preliminary to peace. In the Rockingham administration, Mr. Pitt had been offered a high appointment; which he did not accept, his sentiments on the subject of American independence being opposite to those of that party. He abstained from much connection with Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke ; and, while they were in power, he brought forwards his cele. brated motion for a reform in parliament. When Lord Shel· burne was made First Lord of the Treasury, Mr. Pitt was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. He did not then repeat his motion for reform.

During the winter, a negotiation was opened for peace, which was concluded in January. 1783. Previously to the meetingof parliament in December 1782, the coalition of Mr. Fox and Lord North was arranged, and commenced their opposition to the new ministry by an attack on the principles on which it was. sormed; and some tiine afterward they severely arraigned the terins of peace. Though the coalition of two parties, which had so virulently opposed each other on principles, was odious to the nation, it was yet strong in the House; and a vote of censure was passed on the ministry, in consequence of which the ministers resigned. A new administration was again formed, consisting of the Duke of Portland, Lords Loughborough and North, Messrs. Fox, Burke, and their friends - Burke filling his former place of Paymaster-general, which, we are told, he accepted for the sake of resorm. Several popular and useful measures marked their first session. East. India affairs began to be a subject of discussion, but no bill on that subject was yet proposed.-However strong this administration appeared, from its numerous supporters and its great weight of aristocratic influence, there yet was, as Dr. Biftet tells us, a latent flaw in its constitution :- it was forced on the sovereign; and we may add that it had lost, by the coalition, the confidence of the people. Mr, T'ox's India bill put its strength to the trial. With the history of that measure ihe public are well acquainted:- the object of the bill was to reşt the management of the territorial and com. inercial affairs of the Company in the hands of commissioners appointed by the legislature, and approved by the crown, and who were to hold their offices by the same tenure as the judges of England. - Mr. Pitt and Mr. Dundas opposed the bill in the Commons, (wliere, however, it passed,) as an infringement of the Company's charier, and as dangerous to the crown and

constitution

constitution by the establishment of an influence independent of the legislature. Burke made, at the second reading of the bill, a speech equal to any that he had ever spoken, and alluded to those crimes of the Company's servants which afterward formed the ground of his impeachment of Mr. Hastings. In the House of Peers, without any new arguments against it, it was thrown out. It was understood in the House of Commons that many Peers had been told by authority, that those would not be considered as friends of the sovereign who should yote for the bill. Of this most unconstitutional influence, the Commons complained, but ineffectually : a change of administra. tion was theu resolved: the principal members were dismissed; and a general resignation of employments followed. Mr. Pitt was again made Chancellor of the Exchequer, and became the first instance of a new minister without a majority to support him. The House of Commons remonstrated, but Mr. Pito continued in office.-To ascertain the sense of the people, parliament was dissolved; and the experiment succeeded : for, in the new parliament, Mr. Pitt had a considerable majority:

The new parliament met in May !784, and Mr. Burke's first business was to oppose a scrutiny into Mr. Fox's election ; which, however, was carried. Soon afterward, he made a mon tion for a representation to the King ; vindicating opposition, and censuring the minister : this motion was negatived without a division. Mr. Pitt was now engaged in preparatory measures to smooth the way for his India-bill, which he afterward introduced. He differed from Mr. Fox's bill, in allowing the Company to retain the management of their commercial concerns, and placed the territorial possessions under the conduct of the executive government, instead of the independent board of Mr. Fox. This gentleman and Mr. Burke opposed it, as tending to increase the influence of the crown, while it was inefficient as to its great object. .

From this period, Mr. Burke's reputation seems to have begun its decline. Dr. Bisset complains that his talents and eloquence were treated by many in the House with a disrespect which they never before experienced ; and indeed he seems to grantthat the prolixity and inaptitude of the orator’s-luxuriantexpatiations' were sometimes an interruption to the public business. His passion and irritability, which often hurried him into the most violent expressions, tended to provoke the treatment which he experienced. While he spoke, several members made a point of coughing, beating the ground with their feet, and even hooting: which increased his irritation to such a degree, that be frequently fell into the most outrageous fits of passion.

mainted by a Moussertion of Burke, Shoot proofsPitto

In the beginning of July, he began his attack on Mr. Has. tings by proposing a string of resolutions, as a foundation for an inquiry into the conduct of that gentleman. Mr. Pitt opposed the resolutions, because there were not proofs of the facts which Burke had stated. Mr. Burke, however, persevering in a declamatory re-assertion of his charges, was at length over. powered by a loud and continual clamour. During the remainder of the session, he made no considerable exertion. ..

Dr. Johnson being now near his end, Burke frequently visited him. One day he went in company with Mr. Windham and several other gentlemen ;. and Burke expressing his fear lest so much company should be oppressive to the invalid; “ No, Sir, (said Johnson, it is not so ; and I must be in a wretched scate indeed when your company would not delight me.” He con. tinued in a tremulous voice, “ My dear sir, you have always been too good to me!” This was the last' meeting of the two friends.

In this year (1784) Mr. Burke was chosen Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow.Jan. 25, 1985, parliament met, and Burke exerted himself in a speech on the payment of the Nabob of Arcot's debts, which the Board of Controul had directed to be charged on the Carnatic revenues. On April 18, Mr. Pitt made a motion for a parliamentary reform. He was supported by Mr. Fox: but Mr. Burke declared himself inimical to any change in the representation, and strongly reprobated the disa semination of doctrines which tended to persuade the people that the inequality of franchises was a grievance. The bill was lost by a large majority.--The commercial propositions for an adjustment of trade with Ireland, the object of which was to allow the mutual importation of the manufactures of each country into the other on equal terms, were in this session discussed and supported by Mr. Burke. They passed the British parliament, but were not accepted by the parliament of Ireland.

Previously to the session which began Jan. 1786, Mr. Hastings had returned to Europe; and on the 19th of February Mr. Burke again called the attention of the House to that gentleman's conduct in India, and his labours on that subject terminated in the parliamentary impeachment of Mr. Hastings. His motives in the commencement and prosecution of that measure have not escaped censure ;- by some he is charged with malice,-by others with the hope of gain. Dr. Bisset vindicates him from entertaining any dishonourable view in that business, and shews that the prosecution of Mr. Hastings became necessary from what was disclosed before the Select Committee of the House of Commons, to whom was referred the consideration of cer. tain petitions on the usurpation of the judicial power in India,

Whether

Whether Mr. Hastings were guilty or innocent of the charges brought against him, there certainly appears to be no good ground for imputing malice or avarice to Mr. Burke in regard. to his share of the prosecution.— During the succeeding session, parliament was occupied by the French treaty. Dr. Bisset gives a warm panegyric of its merits : but he tells us that Burke as well as Mr. Fox, in the true spirit of party-men, opposed it. On Mr. Pite's measure of consolidating the customs, Mr. Burke bestowed high praise. On the 28th of March 1987, a motion was made for repealing the test-act; and though Mr. Burke had formerly given a warm support to this measure, he Dow opposed it. Dr. Bisset tells us that Burke is charged with inconsistency for thus opposing the same measure which he had before supported : but, says the Doctor, nothing could be more consistent ;-for the Dissenters in 1787 were not the same as they had been in 1772. In the year 1772, he says, there were among the Dissenters no known principles inimical to our establishment. In 1787, principles unfavourable to the constitution of our state had been published by their leading men, and had been reprobated by Mr. Burke. Thus it appears that, if any man of note in a dissenting body shall presume to utter any political opinion not quadrating exactly with those of such men as Mr. Burke, these latter may be justified in holding their fellow-subjects in a state of relaxed slavery ;' a kind of liberty unfit for the meridian of England !'

The attention of the public was diverted from the impeachment, to the contest excited by the question of Regency. On its being ascertained that a temporary incapacity existed for exercising the functions of government, Mr. Fox's idea was that, during the incapacity, there was a temporary demise of the crown; and that, therefore, the next heir should assume for the time the powers of government. Mr. Pitt's opinion was, that in such a case it rested with parliament to supply the deficiency. Burke supported the opinion of Mr. Fox, in language the most intemperate and by conduct the most violent. So intemperate indeed and so violent was he, that even his associates and coadjutors expressed their disapprobation. He drew up the questions addressed to Mr. Gill, the Lord Mayor, which contained very bitter invectives against administration; he also wrote an answer to Mr. Pitt's Letter to the Prince ; and in both of these compositions he seems to be in possession of his former powers.

During this period, appeared Simkin's “ Letters to his brother Simon in Wales," a severe poetical attack on Burke ; on which Dr. Bisset takes occasion to pay his hero the ambiguous compliment (borrowed from Sir John Falstaffe) that he was not only

the

the wittyest of men himself, but was also the occasion of wit in others. During this summer, Mr. Burke visited Ireland. Some years before, he had made a tour with his friend Mr. Windham to Scotland ; of which the only memorable circumstance related is, that the two gentlemen were highly pleased with two pretty girls at a country inn, and to whom they sent, from the next town, a copy of Cecilia!

It appears that, whether in or out of office, Mr. Burke had a strong propensity to provide for his friends and connections. Dr. Bisset quarrels with another Biographer of Mr. Burke for saying that he made a job of Mr. Hastings's impeachment: but he admits the facts from which that inference is drawn. He allows also that Mr. B. obtained for his brother Richard three several appointments, - besides introducing him as Counsel in the impeachment. Of his private affairs, we are told, he was not careful. Although free from the extravagance of profligacy, he was habitually liable to the waste of inattention ; and, consequently, he was generally embarrasserl. Several reports of anjustifiable means used by him to recruit his finances had been circulated by his enemies, but of such assertions, says Dr. Bisset, there is no evidence. Burke, he tells us, had a beneficent mind. In a desire to be extensively useful, he studied physic: but, in a mistake of practice, he was near poisoning his wife. Mrs. Burke being ill, her husband undertook to make up a draught which had been ordered for her: but unfortunately mistaking one phial for another, he gave her laudanum. The immediate application of antidotes saved her life, Ir.Burke now lost his lastsurviving friend, Sir Joshua Reynolds: among whose papers was found a cancelled bond from Burke for 200cl.; and Sir Joshua bequeathed to him 2000l. more. Concerna ing Sir Joshua's elegant discourses to the Royal Academy, the public liave been divideil, respecting the identity of the author, Mr. M'Cormick asserts that they were the composition of Burke, and the authority which he adduces is the amanuensis by whom they were copied. Dr. Bisset denies that Mr. Burke was the author: but, allowing the argument drawn from the internal evidence of the composition themselves to be in favor of Mr. M.Cormick, he adduces on the other side only the authority of Mr. Malone; who, he says, as the Knight's constant friend, had the best means of knowing the truth. His being the friend of Sir Joshua certainly does not make him the best authority, on a question in which the literary fame of that artist is cons cerned.

Burke wrote a character of Reynolds, which deserves praise for its composicion, and bespeaks the warmth of the writer's friendship.

A short

« AnteriorContinuar »