« AnteriorContinuar »
FOR JANUARY, 1814.
Mr. Charles Leslie-Lives and Writings
Aylwin, ......... 54 well, and Charles II.-New Transla-
&c. . ........ ..88
The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Vol. V.
Quarto ; Miscellaneous.
« To deal in works and acts, which are matters rather of pro-
It rarely happens that minds possessing the faculty of philoso-
Vol. III. Nem Series.
or stunned with the clanour of the forum. And of still rarer felicity is that conspiracy of good luck which so shapes the course of an individual in whom the talents of the scholar, the philosopher, and the statesman, are united, as to afford them equal culture, and equal opportunity of display. .
With respect to the late Mr. Burke, every circumstance, within and without, lent its aid in building up his greatness. Equally constituted for reflection and for action, it was his happiness to be allowed full time for treasuring matter for contemplation, and for completing the costly apparatus of his intellect before study was swallowed up in business. Born to no expectancy but what depended upon himself, to deserve eminence seemed the only way to obtain it. The mediocrity of his beginning saved him from a premature trial of his strength. He cultivated philosophy, not as the decoration, but as the constituent of greatness—as the end and not the ineans: not merely to shine but to live by it: and the use for which he designed it would not suffer him to be superficial. His youth was a protracted season of preparation, neither immersed in business, nor lost in abstractions, devoutly inquisitive after truth, and full of the sober and serious purposes of utility. The world lay before him with all its glittering possibilities, but it presented to him no prospects of succession or of easy acquisition. He had no part in its allotments. His ability and industry were his only titles. Honour and dignity to him were matters not of claim but of achievement. Difficulty iras liis severe instructor; and, to use his own unrivalled phraseology, it was his glory to overcome the first difficulty, and to turn it into an instrument for making new conquests over new difficulties, for extending the empire of science, and for pushing forward beyond the reach of his original thoughts the landmarks of the human understanding it
Mr. Burke had no advantage from school connexions. He owed nothing to that wretched speculation which parents are not ashamed of avowing, as the motive to their preference of public education. He was his own early patron; the first and great founder of his own fortupes. His courage rested on the conscious testimonies of his own bosom, and that manly self-confidence which his first essays taught him to repose in the auguries of bis own portentous genius. He came into this country accredited only by his personal recommendations; like some stranger knight, he burst into the lists, and carried off the prizes of the tournament, before the device of his armour could be observed.
We have before remarked, that it was fortunate for Mr. Burke that patronage did not anticipate his struggles, and pioneer his way to preferment. It was equally a part of his good fortune that, when arrived at the full maturity of his pretensions, the powerful were not insensible to the glory of assisting him. To follow his
bright career, and blazon his achievements in the parliamentary and political wars in which it was his fate to be engaged ; to detail the long series of his services, the vicissitudes of his success, his occasional errors, his constant vigour, his indomitable energy, that yielded neither to age, nor grief, nor infirmity, does not, it may be thought, come fairly within the scope of the present opportunity. The posthumous volume which now lies before us, introduces us only to the shade of this great man. His image is restored to us faintly and pensively by these relics of his mind. Sensations like those which are apt to be felt in opening the letters of a lost friend, bring him back to our converse with a sort of freshness in the illusion that borders upon reality. As we are among those who love the memory of Mr. Burke, we cherish these illusions, and are glad to be helped in bringing him home to our thoughts by fresh transcripts of his great intellect. In commenting on the contents of this new volume, which, with an undiscriminating avidity that we scarcely know how to condemn, have been scraped together from every corner, we shall yield to the propensity which such a review naturally excites, to range over the monuments of his tutelary genius.
After perusing the present volume, our minds were occupied with various impressions. We could not quite approve of that anxious raking into papers, which seems to know no bounds, and to promise no end so long as there remains a syllable of Mr. Burke unpublished. And we cannot but regret that these additional papers could not be accompanied with a more explicit account of the times of their being composed, and the occasions of composing them. Such information was the more wanted, as they are necessarily out of their chronological order. We say necessarily, because, we presume, that those which from their rough and unfinished state in the MSS. required most time for preparation, have, on that account, been last produced to the world. We feel, how. ever, a strong conviction, that if the author had been consulted whether, in case of his not living to reduce to a correcter form some of the pieces which are presented in this volume, he would have chosen to have them printed after his death, he would have unhesitatingly declared his dissent. And this opinion we found upon his well known anxiety for correctness and precision, both in the matter and the manner, verging even upon fastidious refinement.
How far this probable feeling of an author is to be taken as a criterion for determining the propriety of a posthumous publication of his manuscripts, it may be difficult to decide ; but it should Seem, at least, that some weight should be given to this consideration, before we do violence to the defenceless dead, before we disinter their private thoughts, and expose them to the dissection of criticism, or the gratification of irreverent curiosity. To justify the posthumous publication of that which was not completed by the writer himself for publication, two things at least ought to be well ascertained; first, that the honour of the deceased is secure, and secondly, that the wrong, if any, to his reputation, bears but a small proportion to the value of the communication.
We make due allowance for the prejudice of habitual admiration. But we cannot help thinking that the rough draught of the sketch of the negro code, and the hints for the essay on the drama, which are evidently only first thoughts, mere scouts sent out to reconnoitre the ground for encampment, might have been spared from appearing in the train of the conqueror.
Having said thus much on that part of the present publication which, we cannot but think, stands on a doubtful policy, and a doubtful warrant, we hasten to express our gratitude to the respectable editor for putting us in possession of so many new sources of instruction and delight. Within these few years the country has lost so much ability—so many of the tallest cedars of the grove have perished under the inexorable stroke, that we naturally cling to whatever yet remains of the vestiges of departed excellence. To the political writings, in particular, of the late Mr. Burke, we turn with increasing fondness. Besides their superlative merit, age, that usually destroys the value of works which the passing events have produced, has shed lustre upon his permanent reflections, and crowned them with the wreath of victorious truth. His prophecies are daily receiving their fulfilment, and time is doing homage to the wisdom of his calculations.
So great, indeed, is our admiration of the man, that we cannot fix our minds upon his production which now lies before us, without allowing a few moments to a general view of his course of political action, and the influence of his intellectual operations.
Whatever fate may yet attend us, no period of our history, past or to come, has exceeded, or can well exceed, in interest, that portion of it over which the political life of Mr. Burke extended. His powers, great as they were, found enough in the circumstances of the country, and enough in the rivalry of living talent, to provoke them to their fullest exertion. An era of eloquence new to the nation was opening just at the moment in which he made his appearance. Great constitutional questions concerning the privileges of the lower house, the breach with America, the dubious policy of our Indian management, the problem of the regency, and lastly the disorganization of the civilized world, consequent upon the French revolution, were themes which successively employed the faculties of Mr. Burke, and stretched the line of his reasoning and research. Great events may not create, but they will always excite, ability. To a certain degree they may be said to create, by calling dormant powers into operative existence. Bat the intellects of those rare persons who stand so
eminent above the rest of their species, and are so thinly scattered over centuries, cannot be the creatures of circumstance and contingency; nor, indeed, of any thing less than that disposing power which determines, as it brings us into being, the measure of our competency, be it small or great. That sometimes these great men appear in clusters, is a fact not very easy to be accounted for by any philosophical analogies. The attraction of example has undoubtedly a great effect. By the conspicuous success of one original genius congenial abilities are prompted to action. The greatness of Garrick, in his department, was the nurse of the capacity of others, which, but for his example, might never have reached its maturity. He formed, therefore, an era of the stage. And thus the orators and philosophers of antiquity were, for the most part, trained to certain original models, which forced their audacious way into unknown regions of excellence. Perhaps it is not too much to say of Mr. Burke, that he became the parent of excellence in others—the master of a school of eloquence. One of the greatest of the orators of his day confessed, that from him he derived his most valuable knowledge, and all the great materials of his art : and when the overflowing abundance of his mind is considered, it will appear probable, that the great cotemporary speakers drew part of their wealth, and some the larger part, frons his example and ready stores;
From whose mouth issued forth
That the example of one man may be thus instrumental in raismg and sustaining the eloquence of his time, there is surely some reason to believe. At least the phenomenon of the rise and fall of this great art may in general be better explained by a proper attention to a plain circumstance so well agreeing with ordinary observation, than by resorting to any fanciful theory of youth and age, in the growth and decay of states, analogous to the physical constitution of individual man.
That our country has passed the brightest point of its elevation ; that the golden crisis of its destiny is over; that it is drawing towards second childhood and political dotage, we are very unwilling to admit; but we cannot help lamenting that amidst the puny battles of factious malevolence at home, involving the highest objects of political reverence in vulgar obloquy and disgrace, the great scene of Europe's regeneration, which is in some measure a consequence of the principles of which Mr. Burke was the champion, has hardly attracted observation. It may not be untrue, that the stimulating effects of public agitation produce sometimes a glow. ing vivacity of national character very favourable to the efforts of