« VorigeDoorgaan »
with America,' in 1775. The peroration of this latter oration is, perhaps, the noblest specimen of his most elevated style. It is there that his celebrated aphorism occurs: 'Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together.' In the former speech are found his famous portraits of his most eminent contemporaries-the great Earl of Chatham, that clarum et venerabile nomen; the brilliant but flashy Charles Townshend; the laborious but pedantic George Grenville. The passages containing these personal sketches are models of ironical and yet genuinely respectful eulogy.
The government of India had a special fascination for Burke's large and humane spirit. His chief utterances on the subject are his speeches on 'Mr. Fox's East India Bill,' 1783; on 'the Nabob of Arcot's Debts,' 1785 (regarded by Lord Brougham as his very greatest oration); and the numerous speeches connected with the impeachment of Warren Hastings. Burke's whole heart, as well as his imagination, was with the natives of India. He felt their wrongs as an outrage on England and on himself.
The French Revolution, 1789-1797, called forth all his energies during the closing years of his life. His celebrated Reflections, published in 1790, filled all Europe with admiration. Perhaps the chief permanent power of this great work lies in its eloquent testimony to the value of sentiment in politics as opposed to naked reason;—of settled institutions as opposed to experiments based on abstract principles;—of slow and cautious development as the sole practical guarantee of well ordered liberty. The beneficent side of the French Revolution was hid from Burke. He could see neither the necessity of its consequence upon the hopeless corruptions of the old system, nor yet the promise which it held out for the future. Indeed, the idea of human progress, with or without revolution, was not one which coloured his life. He had a profound sense of individual weakness. The checks and the compromises of the English Constitution he had come to venerate almost as fundamental principles of nature.
The Reflections were followed by numerous other pamphlets on
the same absorbing subject, including his Letters on a Regicide
Burke died, in death of his son.
1797, at Beaconsfield, broken-hearted by the The passage referring to this bereavement in his Letter to a Noble Lord, 1796, is perhaps the most pathetic utterance that ever fell from a statesman.
We have no space to speak of Burke as the friend of Johnson and Goldsmith, or as the generous patron of Crabbe. It is to his character as a writer and speaker on politics that the foregoing brief remarks are addressed. In this there is a oneness and a genuineness which make him by far the most interesting politician (if we except the elder Pitt) of the eighteenth century. In all that he has written or spoken we discern the same earnest spirit: often intemperate in expression, but always sound at the core; always elevated and magnanimous, detesting everything sordid, penetrating into the principles of things, of human society and civil institutions; carrying into public life that intense admiration of everything lofty and noble, which few public men have ardour to feel or courage to express; ever calling upon this great nation (to apply his own eloquent words) 'to auspicate all her public proceedings with the old warning of the Church, Sursum corda.
1. Peroration of the Speech on Conciliation with
FOR that service, for all service, whether of revenue, trade, or empire, my trust is in her interest in the British constitution. My hold of the colonies is in the close affection which grows from common names, from kindred blood, from similar privileges, and equal protection. These are ties, which, though light as air, are as strong as links of iron. Let the colonies always keep the idea of their civil rights associated with your government;—they will cling and grapple to you; and no force under heaven will be of power to tear them
from their allegiance. But let it be once understood, that your government may be one thing, and their privileges another: that these two things may exist without any mutual relation; the cement is gone; the cohesion is loosened; and everything hastens to decay and dissolution. As long as you have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith, wherever the chosen race and sons of England worship freedom, they will turn their faces towards you. The more they multiply, the more friends you will have; the more ardently they love liberty, the more perfect will be their obedience. Slavery they can have any where. It is a weed that grows in every soil. They may have it from Spain, they may have it from Prussia. But, until you become lost to all feeling of your true interest and your natural dignity, freedom they can have from none but you. This is the commodity of price, of which you have the monopoly. This is the true act of navigation, which binds to you the commerce of the colonies, and through them secures to you the wealth of the world. Deny them this participation of freedom, and you break that sole bond, which originally made, and must still preserve, the unity of the empire. Do not entertain so weak an imagination, as that your registers and your bonds, your affidavits and your sufferances, your cockets and your clearances, are what form the great securities of your commerce. Do not dream that your letters of office, and your instructions, and your suspending clauses, are the things that hold together the great contexture of this mysterious whole. These things do not make your government. Dead instruments, passive tools as they are, it is the spirit of the English communion that gives all their life and efficacy to them. It is the spirit of the English constitution, which, infused through the mighty
mass, pervades, feeds, unites, invigorates, vivifies every part of the empire, even down to the minutest member.
Is it not the same virtue which does everything for us here in England? Do you imagine, then, that it is the land tax act which raises your revenue? that it is the annual vote in the committee of supply, which gives you your army? or that it is the mutiny bill, which inspires it with bravery and discipline? No! surely no! It is the love of the people; it is their attachment to their government, from the sense of the deep stake they have in such a glorious institution, which gives you your army and your navy, and infuses into both that liberal obedience, without which your army would be a base rabble, and your navy nothing but rotten timber.
All this, I know well enough, will sound wild and chimerical to the profane herd of those vulgar and mechanical politicians, who have no place among us; a sort of people who think that nothing exists but what is gross and material; and who therefore, far from being qualified to be directors of the great movement of empire, are not fit to turn a wheel in the machine. But to men truly initiated and rightly taught, these ruling and master principles, which, in the opinion of such men as I have mentioned, have no substantial existence, are in truth everything, and all in all. Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together. If we are conscious of our situation, and glow with zeal to fill our places as becomes our station and ourselves, we ought to auspicate all our public proceedings on America with the old warning of the Church, Sursum corda! We ought to elevate our minds to the greatness of that trust to which the order of Providence has called us. By adverting to the dignity of this high calling, our ancestors have turned a savage wilderness into a glorious empire; and have made
the most extensive, and the only honourable conquests, not by destroying, but by promoting the wealth, the number, the happiness of the human race. Let us get an American revenue as we have got an American empire. English privileges have made it all that it is; English privileges alone will make it all it can be.
In full confidence of this unalterable truth, I now (quod felix faustumque sit)-lay the first stone of the temple of peace; and I move you,
That the colonies and plantations of Great Britain in North America, consisting of fourteen separate governments, and containing two millions and upwards of free inhabitants, have not had the liberty and privilege of electing and sending any knights and burgesses, or others, to represent them in the high court of Parliament.'-Speech on Conciliation with America, 1775.
2. The Decay of Chivalrous Sentiment.
It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in,-glittering like the morning star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Oh, what a revolution! and what an heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a