« AnteriorContinuar »
A Vindication of Natural Society: or, a View of the Miseries
IX. Why visual Objects of great Dimensions are sub-
XIII. The Effects of Succession in visual objects ex-
SECT I. Or the Passion caused by the Sublime
Iv. Of the Difference between Clearness and Obscu-
rity with regard to the Passions
(IV.) The same subject continued
1X. Succession and Uniformity
X. Magnitude in Building
XI. Infinity in pleasing Objects
xv. Light in Building
Xv1 Colour considered as productive of the Sublime
XVII. Sound and Loudness
XX. The Cries of Animals
Substance of the Speech on the Army Estimates, 1790
Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the Proceed-
ings of certain Societies in London relative to that Event 382
Letter to a Member of the National Assembly
Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs
Letter to a Peer of Ireland on the Penal Laws against
Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe, Bart. M. P. on the Sub-
ject of the Roman Catholicks of Ireland, and the Propriety
of admitting them to the Elective Franchise, consistently
with the Principles of the Constitution, as established at
the Revolution -
Hints for a Memorial to be delivered to Monsieur de M. M. 542
Thoughts on French Affairs
Heads for Consideration on the present State of Affairs - - 581
Remarks on the Policy of the Allies with respect to France - 588
Observations on the Conduct of the Minority, in a Letter
addressed to the Duke of Portland and Lord Fitzwilliam 611
Preface to the Address of M. Brissot to his Constituents - 620
A Short Account of a late Short Administration
Bristol, on the Bill depending in Parliament relative to
the better Security of the Independence of Parliament,
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL
INTRODUCTION TO THE WORKS
RIGHT HONOURABLE EDMUND BURKE.
It is the peculiar infelicity of great politicians, that they have to tarry a much longer time than other celebrated men for the full harvest of their fame. Not that posterity will ultimately pronounce less justly on their merits than on those of others; but in the very nature of things a fair adjudication cannot take place so soon. The merits of those who have achieved a reputation in any of the departments of physical science, have only to contend with the prejudices of the past, or, at most, of the present; with the prejudices of those who despise even truth, if truth come not in the guise of antiquity, or of those, who having long committed themselves to an hypothesis, are now ashamed to abandon it. The young, however, growing up with no theories to maintain, and no prejudices to conquer, will become the certain proselytes of an improved philosophy; and thus a single generation often wit. nesses the complete demolition of certain venerable errors, propagated and believed through a long succession of ages. Harvey observed, not less justly than wittily, that he never knew
man above forty, who could be got to believe in his theory of the circulation of the blood : he might have added, with equal truth, that there was scarcely any man under that age, who could not be got to believe in it. Far different is it with the merits of great politicians. They have to contend with the prejudices not only of the past and of the present, but of the future. Their principles, even when just, are founded on inductions necessarily far less conclusive than those of the natural philosopher. Neither can the erperiments (so to speak) on which they found their reasonings be repeated at their pleasure ; they recur (and then in connexion with a perplexing combination of new circumstances) at long intervals; they depend on the slow revolutions of ages.
Nor is this all; the limitations of the human understanding are not the only or the most formidable obstacles to the exercise of the judgment, when it attempts to form an estimate of the merits of a great politician. Our passions, as already intimated, still more effectually conspire against us. Political parties may be almost said never to die; or, at all
; events, the lapse of many ages is necessary to their complete extinction. The principles and tendencies of those parties still live, though the forms and modifications in which they are exhibited change with the spirit of the times. They suffer metempsychosis rather than utter dissolution.
Thus two opposite parties, however nearly they may approach one another, will be disposed to palliate the errors and to over-estimate the merits of their respective political ancestors, or, at all events, will view them with very different degrees of admiration or abhorrence; as different, indeed, as the existing tendencies of the parties.
To form a perfectly dispassionate opinion, therefore, of any celebrated statesman, we must stand at a very remote distance in point of time from the scene of his actions. This will be made at once apparent, by appealing to the feelings of which each is conscious in reading any particular period of history; say of English history. We can judge with almost perfect calmness of the actors in all the great events which preceded the Reforma, tion; not the faintest passion is stirred within us; the last spark has expired in the embers After that great epoch, the interest we feel, though still comparatively lànguid, begins to operate on our judgment. On particular questions we not only form different opinions, but express those opinions warmly, though still it may be without rancour or animosity. As we descend down the stream of ages, and arrive at the successive eras of the Civil Wars, the Commonwealth, the Restoration, the Revolution, the inveteracy of party spirit comes gradually into fill play, according to the varying complexion of our political sentiments, till we are almost incapacitated for a sober judgment. The past still exists in the present.
If events, comparatively so remote, can exercise such an influence over us, how can it be otherwise in contemplating those with which the name of Edmund Burke is identified, and in which he acted a part so conspicuous ? Their proximity to us in point of time—their magnitude--and their overwhelming influence on the present state of almost all civilized nations, alike tend to move us. Indeed the whole surface of Europe still bears the visible marks of those events. The wind has not yet quite subsided—the sea is still furrowedthough the fury of the storm has spent itself.
The difficulties hitherto stated would be felt, more or less, in attempting to form a correct estimate of the merits of any politician who lived in the same age with Burke. There are other difficulties, however, in estimating his merits, arising from the peculiarities of his own character. His was a mind too independent to adopt implicitlyʻthe views of any party, and, as the inevitable consequence, he provoked, at one period or other, the hostility of all; for even from those parties with which he most nearly symbolized, he often differed on most important questions. Many of his opinions were to be found in the creeds of all parties; most of them in some ; but all of them in none.
'The difficulty of correctly estimating his character, has been still further increased by the violence with which his merits have been maintained and disputed. The spirit of panegyric and the spirit of slander have both done their utmost upon him. He has excited all the extremes of feeling, from the most idolatrous enthusiasm to the most rancorous malice.
Still it must be confessed that men are now in a far better situation for doing him justice than his contemporaries could be, and that every day is further diminishing the difficulties of the task. What opinion a remote posterity may form of his political merits, many will think it presumptuous to predict; yet we feel convinced that when time shall have emancipated future generations from the already rusting bonds of prejudice, the character of Burke as a political philosopher (whatever deductions may be made on the score of human infirmity and passion) will rise still higher and higher. The richer, for delay, will be the long reversion of his fame.
The preceding observations will show that the present attempt to estimate the character of Burke is not undertaken in a blind ignorance of the difficulties of the task. The writer can only promise that he will endeavour to maintain an unbiassed judgment.
The following Essay will consist of three parts : I. A rapid sketch of Mr. Burke's life. II. An analysis of his character. III. Some brief observations on his principal writings.
EDMUND BURKE, one of the greatest men, not to say the greatest, in an age unusually fertile in genius, was born in Dublin in 1730. He was descended from a respectable family; a family which, considering it was not of patrician rank, might almost be termed ancient. Of such matters, however, the reader will excuse a more particular mention. Edmund