Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke

This etext was prepared by Sue Asscher from the book made available by Dr Mike Alder. SELECTIONS FROM THE SPEECHES AND WRITINGS OF EDMUND BURKE. INTRODUCTORY ESSAY. … “Id dico, eum qui sit orator, virum bonum esse oportere. In omnibus quae dicit tanta auctoritas inest, ut dissentire pudeat; nec advocati studium, sed testis aut
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This etext was prepared by Sue Asscher from the book made available by Dr Mike Alder.



“Id dico, eum qui sit orator, virum bonum esse oportere. In omnibus quae dicit tanta auctoritas inest, ut dissentire pudeat; nec advocati studium, sed testis aut judicis afferat fidem.”–Quintilianus.

“Democracy is the most monstrous of all governments, because it is impossible at once to act and control; and, consequently, the Sovereign Power is then left without any restraint whatever. That form of government is the best which places the efficient direction in the hands of the aristocracy, subjecting them in its exercise to the control of the people at large.”–Sir James Mackintosh.

The intellectual homage of more than half a century has assigned to Edmund Burke a lofty pre-eminence in the aristocracy of mind, and we may justly assume succeeding ages will confirm the judgment which the Past has thus pronounced. His biographical history is so popularly known, that it is almost superfluous to record it in this brief introduction. It may, however, be summed up in a few sentences. He was born at Dublin in 1730. His father was an attorney in extensive practice, and his mother’s maiden name was Nogle, whose family was respectable, and resided near Castletown, Roche, where Burke himself received five years of boyish education under the guidance of a rustic schoolmaster. He was entered at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1746, but only remained there until 1749. In 1753 he became a member of the Middle Temple, and maintained himself chiefly by literary toil. Bristol did itself the honour to elect him for her representative in 1774, and after years of splendid usefulness and mental triumph, as an orator, statesman, and patriot, he retired to his favourite retreat, Beaconsfield, in Buckinghamshire, where he died on July 9th, 1797. He was buried here; and the pilgrim who visits the grave of this illustrious man, when he gazes on the simple tomb which marks the earthly resting?place of himself, brother, son, and widow, may feelingly recall his own pathetic wish uttered some forty years before, in London:–“I would rather sleep in the southern corner of a little country churchyard, than in the tomb of the Capulets. I should like, however, that my dust should mingle with kindred dust. The good old expression, ‘family burying?ground,’ has something pleasing in it, at least to me.” Alluding to his approaching dissolution, he thus speaks, in a letter addressed to a relative of his earliest schoolmaster:–“I have been at Bath these four months for no purpose, and am therefore to be removed to my own house at Beaconsfield to-morrow, to be nearer a habitation more permanent, humbly and fearfully hoping that my better part may find a better mansion.” It is a source of deep thankfulness for those who reverence the genius and eloquence of this great man, to state, that Burke’s religion was that of the Cross, and to find him speaking of the “Intercession” of our Redeeming Lord, as “what he had long sought with unfeigned anxiety, and to which he looked with trembling hope.” The commencing paragraph in his Will also authenticates the genuine character of his personal Christianity. “According to the ancient, good, and laudable custom, of which my heart and understanding recognise the propriety, I BEQUEATH MY SOUL TO GOD, HOPING FOR HIS MERCY ONLY THROUGH THE MERITS OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST. My body I desire to be buried in the church of Beaconsfield, near to the bodies of my dearest brother, and my dearest son, in all humility praying, that as we have lived in perfect unity together, we may together have part in the resurrection of the just.” (In the “Epistolary Correspondence of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke and Dr. French Laurence” (Rivingtons, London, 1827), are several touching allusions to that master?grief which threw a mournful shadow over the closing period of Burke’s life. In one letter the anxious father says, “The fever continues much as it was. He sleeps in a very uneasy way from time to time?-but his strength decays visibly, and his voice is, in a manner, gone. But God is all?sufficient?-and surely His goodness and his mother’s prayers may do much” (page 30). Again, in another communication addressed to his revered correspondent, we find a beautiful allusion to his departed son, which involves his belief in that most soothing doctrine of the Church,–a recognition of souls in the kingdom of the Beatified. “Here I am in the last retreat of hunted infirmity; I am indeed ‘aux abois.’ But, as through the whole of a various and long life I have been more indebted than thankful to Providence, so I am now singularly so, in being dismissed, as hitherto I appear to be, so gently from life, AND SENT TO FOLLOW THOSE WHO IN COURSE OUGHT TO HAVE FOLLOWED ME, WHOM, I TRUST, I SHALL YET, IN SOME INCONCEIVABLE MANNER, SEE AND KNOW; AND BY WHOM I SHALL BE SEEN AND KNOWN” (pages 53, 54).

In reference to the intellectual grandeur, the eloquent genius, and prophetic wisdom of Burke, which have caused his writings to become oracles for future statesmen to consult, it is quite unnecessary for contemporary criticism to speak. By the concurring judgment, both of political friends and foes, as well as by the highest arbiters of taste throughout the civilized world, Burke has been pronounced, not only “primus inter pares,” but “facile omnium princeps.” At the termination of these introductory remarks, the reader will be presented with critical portraitures of Burke from the writings and speeches of men, who, while opposed to him in their principles of legislative policy, with all the chivalry and candour of genius paid a noble homage to the vastness and variety of his unrivalled powers. Meanwhile, it may not be presumptuous for a writer, on an occasion like the present, to contemplate this great man under certain aspects, which, perhaps, are not sufficiently regarded in their DISTINCTIVE bearings on the worth and wisdom of his character and writings. We say “distinctive,” because the eloquence of Burke, beyond that of all other orators and statesmen which Great Britain has produced, is featured with expressions, and characterised by qualities, as peculiar as they are immortal. So far as invention, imagination, moral fervour, and metaphorical richness of illustration, combined with that intense “pathos and ethos,” which the Roman critic describes (“Huc igitur incumbat orator: hoc opus ejus, hic labor est; sine quo caetera nuda, jejuna, infirma, ingrata sunt: adeo velut spiritus operis hujus atque animus est IN AFFECTIBUS. Horum autem, sicut antiquitus traditum accepimus, duae sunt species: alteram Graeci pathos vocant, quem nos vertentes recte ac proprie AFFECTUM dicimus; alteram ethos, cujus nomine (ut ego quidem sentio) caret sermo Romanus, mores appellantur.”–Quintilian, “Instit. Orat.” lib. vi. cap. 2.) as essential to the true orator, are concerned, the author of “Reflections on the French Revolution,” and “Letters on a Regicide Peace,” is justly admired and appreciated. Moreover, if what we understand by the “sublime” in eloquence has ever been embodied, the speeches and writings of Burke appear to have been drawn from those five sources (“pegai”) to which Longinus alludes. In the 8th chapter of his fragment “On the Sublime,” he observes, that if we assume an ability for speaking well, as a common basis, there are five copious fountains from whence sublimity in eloquence may be said to flow; viz.

1. Boldness and grandeur of thought.

2. The pathetic, or the power of exciting the passions into an enthusiastic reach and noble degree.

3. A skilful application of figures, both from sentiment and language.

4. A graceful, finished, and ornate style, embellished by tropes and metaphors.

5. Lastly, as that which completes all the rest,–the structure of periods, in dignity and grandeur.

These five sources of the sublime, the same philosophical critic distinguishes into two classes; the first two he asserts to be gifts of nature, and the remaining three are considered to depend, in a great measure, upon literature and art. Again, if we may linger for a moment in the attractive region of classical authorship, how justly applicable are the words of Cicero in his “De Oratore,” to the vastness and variety of Burke’s attainments! “Ac mea quidem sententia, nemo poterit esse omni laude cumulatus orator, nisi erit OMNIUM RERUM MAGNARUM ATQUE ARTIUM SCIENTIAM CONSECUTUS.”–Cic. “De Orat.” lib. i. cap. 6. Equally descriptive of Burke’s power in raising the dormant sensibilities of our moral nature by his intuitive perception of what that nature really and fundamentally is, are the following expressions of the same great authority:–“Quis enim nescit, maximam vim existere oratoris, in hominum mentibus vel ad iram aut ad odium, aut dolorem incitandis, vel, ab hisce, iisdem permonitionibus, ad lenitatem misericordiamque revocandis? Quare, NISI QUI NATURAS HOMINUM, VIMQUE OMNEM HUMANITATIS, CAUSASQUE EAS QUIBUS MENTES AUT EXCITANTUR, AUT REFLECTUNTUR, PENITUS PERSPEXERIT, DICENDO, QUOD VOLET, PERFICERE NON POTERIT.”–Cic. “De Orat.” lib. i. cap. 12.

But to return. If a critical analysis of Burke, as an exhibition of genius, be attempted, his characteristic endowments may, probably, be not incorrectly represented by the following succinct statement.

1. Endless variety in connection with exhaustless vigour of mind.

2. A lofty power of generalisation, both in speculative views and in his argumentative process.

3. Vivid intensity of conception, which caused abstractions to stand out with almost living force and visible feature, in his impassioned moments.

4. An imagination of oriental luxuriance, whose incessant play in tropes, metaphors, and analogies, frequently causes his speeches to gleam on the intellectual eye, as Aeschylus says the ocean does, when the Sun irradiates its bosom with the “anerithmon gelasma” of countless beams. 5. His positive acquirements in all the varied realms of art, science, and literature, endowed him with such vast funds of knowledge (In the wealth of his multitudinous acquirements, Burke seems to realise Cicero’s ideal of what a perfect orator should know:–“Equidem omnia, quae pertinent ad usum civium, morem hominum, quae versantur in consuetudine vitae, in ratione reipublicae, in hac societate civili, in sensu hominum communi, in natura, in moribus, co hendenda esse oratori puto.”–Cicero “De Orat.” lib. ii. cap. 16.), that Johnson declared of Burke–“Enter upon what subject you will, and Burke is ready to meet you.”

6. In addition to these high gifts, may be added, an ability to wield the weapons of sarcasm and irony, with a keenness of application and effect rarely equalled. But, in all candour, it may be added, that just as a profusion of figures and metaphors sometimes tempted this great orator into incongruous images and coarse analogies, so his passion for irony was occasionally too intense. Hence, there are occasions where his pungency is embittered into acrimony, strength degenerates into vulgarism, and the vehemence of satire is infuriated with the fierceness of invective.

7. With regard to language and style, it may be truly said, they were the absolute vassals of his Genius, and did homage to its command in every possible mode by which it chose to employ them. Thus, in his “Letters on a Regicide Peace,” and above all, in “French Revolutions,” the reader will find almost every conceivable manner of style and mode of expression the English language can develop; and what is more,–together with classical richness, there are also the pointed seriousness and persuasive simplicity of our own vernacular Saxon, which increase the attractions of Burke’s style to a wonderful extent. But, beyond controversy, among these great endowments, the imaginative faculty is that which appears to be the most transcendent in the mental constitution of Burke. And so truly is this the case, that both among his contemporaries, as well as among his successors, this predominance of imagination has caused his just claims as a philosophic thinker and statesman to be partially overlooked. The union of ideal theory and practical realisation, of imaginative creation with logical induction, is indeed so rare, we cannot be surprised at the injustice which the genius of Burke has had to endure in this respect. And yet, in the nature of our faculties themselves, there exists no necessity why a vivid power to conceive ideas, should NOT be combined with a dialectic skill in expressing them. Degerando, an admirable French writer, in one of his Treatises, has some profound observations on this subject; and does not hesitate to define poetry itself as a species of “logique cachee.”

But when we assert that these excellencies, which have thus been succinctly exhibited, characterise the mental constitution of Burke, we do not mean that others have not, in their degree, possessed similar endowments. Such an inference would be an absurd extravagance. But what we mean to affirm is–the qualifications enumerated have never been combined into co-operative harmony, and developed in proportionable effect, as they appear in the speeches and writings of this wonderful man. But after all, we have not reached what may be considered a peerless excellence, the peculiar gift,–the one great and glorious distinction, which separates Burke’s oratory from that of all others, and which has caused his speeches to be blended with political History, and to incorporate themselves with the moral destiny of Europe,–namely, HIS INTUITIVE PERCEPTION OF UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLES. The truth of this statement may be verified, by comparing the eloquence of Burke with specimens of departed orators; or by a reference to existing standards in the parliamentary debates. Compared, then, either with the speeches of Chatham, Holland, Pitt, Fox, etc. etc., we perceive at once the grand distinction to which we refer. These illustrious men were effective debaters, and, in various senses, orators of surpassing excellency. But how is it, that with all their allowed grandeur of intellect and political eminence, they have ceased to operate upon the hearts and minds of the present Age, either as teachers of political Truth, or oracles of legislative Wisdom? Simply, BECAUSE they were too popular in temporary effect, ever to become influential by permanent inspiration. In their highest moods, and amid their noblest hours of triumph, they were “of the earth earthy.” Party; personality; crushing rejoinders, or satirical attacks; a felicitous exposure of inconsistency, or a triumphant self-vindication; brilliant repartees, and logical gladiatorship,–such are among the prominent characteristics which caused parliamentary debates in Burke’s day to be so animating and interesting to those who heard, or perused them, amid the excitements of the hour. It is not to be denied that commanding eloquence, vast genius, political ardour, intellectual enthusiasm, together with indignant denunciation and argumentative subtlety, were thus summoned into exercise by the perils of the Nation, and the contentions of Party. Nevertheless, the local, the temporal, the conventional, and the individual, in all which relates to the science of politics or the tactics of partisanship,–are sufficient to excite and employ the energies and qualities which made the general parliamentary debates of Burke’s period so captivating. But when we revert to his own speeches and writings, we at once perceive WHY, as long as the mind can comprehend what is true, the heart appreciate what is pure, or the conscience authenticate the sanction of heaven and the distinctions between right and wrong,–Edmund Burke will continue to be admired, revered, and consulted, not only as the greatest of English orators, but as the profoundest teacher of political Science. It was not that he despised the arrangement of facts, or overlooked the minutiae of detail; on the contrary, as may be proved by his speeches on “economical reform,” and Warren Hastings; in these respects his research was boundless, and his industry inexhaustible. Moreover, he was quite alive to the claims of a crisis, and with the coolness and calm of a practical statesman, knew how to confront a sudden emergency, and to contend with a gigantic difficulty. Yet all these qualifications recede before Burke’s amazing power of expanding particulars into universals, and of associating the accidents of a transient discussion with the essential properties of some permanent Law in policy, or abstract Truth in morals. His genius looked through the local to the universal; in the temporal perceived the eternal; and while facing the features of the Individual, was enabled to contemplate the attributes of a Race. (Cicero, in many respects a counterpart of Burke, both in statesmanship and oratory, appears to recognise what is here expressed when he says:–“Plerique duo genera ad dicendum dederunt; UNUM DE CERTA DEFINITAQUE CAUSA, quales sunt quae in litibus, quae in deliberationibus versantur;–alterum, quod appellant omnes fere scriptores, explicat nemo, INFINITAM GENERIS SINE TEMPORE, ET SINE PERSONA quaestionem.”–“De Orat.” lib. ii. cap. 15.) Hence his speeches are virtual prophecies; and his writings a storehouse of pregnant axioms and predictive enunciations, as limitless in their range as they are undying in duration. In one word, no speeches delivered in the English Parliament, are so likely to be eternalized as Burke’s, because he has combined with his treatment of some especial case or contingency before him, the assertion of immutable Principles, which can be detached from what is local and national, and thus made to stand forth alone in all the naked grandeur of their truth and their tendency. Let us be permitted to investigate this topic a little further. If, then, what Quintilian asserted of the Roman orator may be applied to our own British Cicero,–“Ille se profecisse sciat, cui Cicero valde placebit;” and if, moreover, this pre-eminence be chiefly discovered in Burke’s instinctive grasp of that moral essence which is incorporated with all questions of political Science, and social Ethics–from WHENCE came this diviner energy of his Genius? No believer in Christian revelation will hesitate to appropriate, even to this subject, the apostolic axiom, “EVERY good gift, and EVERY perfect gift is from above.” But while we subscribe with reverential sincerity to this announcement, it is equally true, that the Infinite Inspirer of all good adjusts His secret energies by certain laws, and condescends to work by analogous means. Bearing this in mind, we venture to think Burke’s gift of almost prescient insight into the recesses of our common nature, and his consummate faculty of instructing the Future through the medium of the Present,–were partly derived from the elevation of his sentiments, and the purity of his private life. (The action and reaction maintained between our moral and intellectual elements is but remotely discussed by Quintilian in his “Institutes.” But still, in more than one passage, he most impressively declares, that mental proficiency is greatly retarded by perversity of heart and will. For instance, on one occasion we find him speaking thus:–“Nihil enim est tam occupatum, tam multiforme, tot ac tam variis affectibus concisum, atque laceratum, quam mala ac improba mens. Quis inter haec, literis, aut ulli bonae arti, locus? Non hercle magis quam frugibus, in terra sentibus ac rubis occupata.”–“Nothing is so flurried and agitated, so self?contradictory, or so violently rent and shattered by conflicting passions, as a bad heart. In the distractions which it produces, what room is there for the cultivation of letters, or the pursuits of any honourable art? Assuredly, no more than there is for the growth of corn in a field overrun with thorns and brambles.”) It would be unwise to draw invidious comparisons, but no student of the period in which Burke was in Parliament, can deny that, compared with SOME of his illustrious contemporaries, he was indeed a model of what reason and conscience alike approve in all the relative duties and personal conduct of a man, when beheld in his domestic career. It is, indeed, a source of deep thankfulness, the admirer of Burke’s genius in public, has no reason to blush for his character in private; and that when we have listened to his matchless oratory upon the arena of the House of Commons, we have not to mourn over dissipation, impurity, and depravity amid the circles of private history. Our theory, then, is, that beyond what his distinctive genius inspired, Burke’s wondrous power of enunciating everlasting principles and of associating the loftiest abstractions of wisdom with the commonest themes of the hour,–was sustained and strengthened by the purity of his heart, and the subjection of passion to the law of conscience. And if the worshippers of mere intellect, apart from, or as opposed to, moral elevation, are inclined to ridicule this view of Burke’s genius, we beg to remind them, that “One greater than the Temple” of mortal Wisdom, and all the idols enshrined therein, has asserted a positive connection to exist between mental insight and moral purity. We allude to the Redeemer’s words, when He declares,–“If any man WILLS to do His will, he shall KNOW of the doctrine.” HOW the passions act upon our perceptions, and by what process the motions of the Will elevate or depress the forces of the Intellect, is beyond our metaphysics to analyse. But that there exists a real, active, and influential connection between our moral and mental life, is undeniable: and since Burke’s power of seizing the essential Idea, or fundamental Principle of every complex detail which came before him, was pre-eminently his gift,–the intellectual insight such gift developed, was not only an expression of senatorial wisdom, but also a witness for the elevation of his moral character. We must now allude to the public conduct of Burke, as a Statesman and Politician, and only regret the limited range of a popular essay confines us to one view, namely, his alleged inconsistency. There WAS a period when charges of apostasy were brought against him with reckless audacity: but Time, the instructor of ignorance, and the subduer of prejudice, is now beginning to place the conduct of Burke in its true light. The facts of the case are briefly these. Up to the period of 1791, Fox and Burke fought in the same rank of opposition, and stood together upon a basis of complete identity in principle and sentiment. But even before the celebrated disruption of 1791, the progress of Republicanism in America, and the approaching separation of the colonies from their parent state, Burke’s views of political liberty had received extensive modifications; and the ardour of his confidence in the so?called friends of freedom had been greatly cooled. But in 1791, the disruption between Burke and Fox became open, absolute, and final, when the latter statesman uttered, in the hearing of his friend, this fearful eulogium on the French Revolution:–“The new constitution of France is the most stupendous and glorious edifice of liberty which had been erected on the foundation of human integrity in any age or country!” (That ancient Sage unto whose political wisdom frequent reference has been made in this essay, thus speaks on the reverence due unto an existing government, even when contemplated from its weakest side:–“Formidable as these arguments seem, they may be opposed by others of not less weight; arguments which prove that even the rust of government is to be respected, and that its fabric is never to be touched but with a fearful and trembling hand. When the evil of persevering in hereditary institutions is small, it ought always to be endured, because the evil of departing from them is certainly very great. Slight imperfections, therefore, whether in the laws themselves, or in those who administer and execute the laws, ought always to be overlooked, because they cannot be corrected without occasioning a much greater mischief, and tending to weaken that reverence which the safety of all governments requires that the citizens at large should entertain, cultivate, and cherish for the hereditary institutions of their country. The comparison drawn from the improvement of arts does not apply to the amendment of laws. To change or improve an art, and to alter or amend a law, are things as dissimilar in their operation as different in their tendency; for laws operate as practical principles of moral action; and, like all the rules of morality, derive their force and efficacy, as even the name imports, from the customary repetition of habitual acts, and the slow operation of time. Every alteration of the laws, therefore, tends to subvert that authority on which the persuasive agency of all laws is founded, and to abridge, weaken, and destroy the power of the law itself.”–Aristotle’s “Politics.”) The reply of Burke to this burst of Jacobinism, with all its consequences in the political history of Europe, is far too well known to be quoted here. But, since it was at this point in the career of Burke the charge of apostasy was commenced, and which has never quite died away, even in existing times, we may be permitted, first, to cite a noble passage from Burke’s self?vindication; and secondly, to adduce a still more impressive evidence of his political rectitude and wisdom, derived from the admission of those who were once his uncompromising opponents. In relation to the attacks of Fox upon his supposed inconsistency, Mr. Burke thus replies:–

“I pass to the next head of charge,–Mr. Burke’s inconsistency. It is certainly a great aggravation of his fault in embracing false opinions, that in doing so he is not supposed to fill up a void, but that he is guilty of a dereliction of opinions that are true and laudable. This is the great gist of the charge against him. It is not so much that he is wrong in his book (that however is alleged also), as that he has therein belied his whole life. I believe, if he could venture to value himself upon anything, it is on the virtue of consistency that he would value himself the most. Strip him of this, and you leave him naked indeed.

“In the case of any man who had written something, and spoken a great deal, upon very multifarious matter, during upwards of twenty?five years’ public service, and in as great a variety of important events as perhaps have ever happened in the same number of years, it would appear a little hard, in order to charge such a man with inconsistency, to see collected by his friend, a sort of digest of his sayings, even to such as were merely sportive and jocular. This digest, however, has been made, with equal pains and partiality, and without bringing out those passages of his writings which might tend to show with what restrictions any expressions, quoted from him, ought to have been understood. From a great statesman he did not quite expect this mode of inquisition. If it only appeared in the works of common pamphleteers, Mr. Burke might safely trust to his reputation. When thus urged, he ought, perhaps, to do a little more. It shall be as little as possible, for I hope not much is wanting. To be totally silent on his charges would not be respectful to Mr. Fox. Accusations sometimes derive a weight from the persons who make them, to which they are not entitled for their matter. “A man who, among various objects of his equal regard, is secure of some, and full of anxiety for the fate of others, is apt to go to much greater lengths in his preference of the objects of his immediate solicitude than Mr. Burke has ever done. A man so circumstanced often seems to undervalue, to vilify, almost to reprobate and disown, those that are out of danger. This is the voice of nature and truth, and not of inconsistency and false pretence. The danger of anything very dear to us removes, for the moment, every other affection from the mind. When Priam had his whole thoughts employed on the body of his Hector, he repels with indignation, and drives from him with a thousand reproaches, his surviving sons, who with an officious piety crowded about him to offer their assistance. A good critic (there is no better than Mr. Fox) would say, that this is a master?stroke, and marks a deep understanding of nature in the father of poetry. He would despise a Zoilus, who would conclude from this passage that Homer meant to represent this man of affliction as hating, or being indifferent and cold in his affections to the poor relics of his house, or that he preferred a dead carcass to his living children.

“Mr. Burke does not stand in need of an allowance of this kind, which, if he did, by candid critics ought to be granted to him. If the principles of a mixed constitution be admitted, he wants no more to justify to consistency everything he has said and done during the course of a political life just touching to its close. I believe that gentleman has kept himself more clear of running into the fashion of wild, visionary theories, or of seeking popularity through every means, than any man perhaps ever did in the same situation.

“He was the first man who, on the hustings, at a popular election, rejected the authority of instructions from constituents; or who, in any place, has argued so fully against it. Perhaps the discredit into which that doctrine of compulsive instructions under our constitution is since fallen, may be due, in a great degree, to his opposing himself to it in that manner, and on that occasion.

“The reformers in representation, and the Bills for shortening the duration of Parliaments, he uniformly and steadily opposed for many years together, in contradiction to many of his best friends. These friends, however, in his better days, when they had more to hope from his service and more to fear from his loss than now they have, never chose to find any inconsistency between his acts and expressions in favour of liberty, and his votes on those questions. But there is a time for all things.” We need not, however, confine our vindication of Burke to his own eloquence, but invite the especial attention of his accusers and defamers unto two forgotten facts: 1st. A few weeks before Fox died, he dictated a despatch to Lord Yarmouth, which confirmed all the policy for which Pitt for fifteen years had contended: moreover, in a debate on Wyndham’s “Military System,” 1806, Fox thus delivered his own recantation:–“Indeed, by the circumstances of Europe, I AM READY TO CONFESS I HAVE BEEN WEANED FROM THE OPINIONS I FORMERLY HELD WITH RESPECT TO THE FORCE WHICH MIGHT SUFFICE IN TIME OF PEACE: nor do I consider this any inconsistency, because I see no rational prospect of any peace, which would exempt us from the necessity of watchful preparation and powerful establishment.” But the change of Fox’s opinions, and their similarity to those maintained by Pitt, with reference to our war with France, are by no means ALL which history can produce in justification of Burke’s political wisdom and consistency. The whole civilized world has read the “Reflections on the French Revolution,” whose sale, in one year, achieved the enormous number of 30,000 copies, in connection with medals or marks of honour from almost every Court in Europe. Now, of all the replies made to this masterpiece of reasoning and reflection, Mackintosh’s “Vindiciae Gallicae” was incontestably the ablest and profoundest. And yet, the greatest of all his intellectual opponents thus addresses Burke, as appears from “Memoirs” of Mackintosh, volume i. page 87:–“The enthusiasm with which I once embraced the instruction conveyed in your writings is now ripened into solid conviction by the experience and conviction of more mature age. For a time, SEDUCED BY THE LOVE OF WHAT I THOUGHT LIBERTY, I ventured to oppose, without ceasing to venerate, that writer who had nourished my understanding with the most wholesome principles of political wisdom…Since that time, A MELANCHOLY EXPERIENCE HAS UNDECEIVED ME ON MANY SUBJECTS, IN WHICH I WAS THE DUPE OF MY OWN ENTHUSIASM.” Let us part from this branch of our subject by quoting Burke’s own words, uttered, as it were, on the very brink of eternity. They attest, to the latest moment of his life, with what a sacred intensity and unflinching sincerity he clung to his original sentiments touching the French Revolution. Nor let the present writer shrink from adding, they constitute but one of the many specimens of that instinctive prescience, whereby this profoundest of philosophical statesmen was enabled to herald from afar the final triumphs of courage, patriotism, and truth. The passage occurs towards the conclusion of his “Letters on a Regicide Peace,” and is as follows:–“Never succumb. It is a struggle for your existence as a nation. If you must die, die with the sword in your hand. But I have no fear whatever for the result. There is a salient living principle of energy in the public mind of England, which only requires proper direction to enable her to withstand this, or any other ferocious foe. Persevere, therefore, till this tyranny be over-past.”

If from the glare of public history, we follow this great man into the shades of domestic seclusion, or watch the features of his social character unfolding themselves in the varied circle which he graced by his presence, or dignified by his worth,–he is alike the object of respectful esteem and love. Warmth of heart, chivalry of sentiment, and that true high?breeding which springs from the soul rather than a pedigree, eminently characterise the history of Burke in private life. Above all, a sympathising tendency for the children of Genius, and a catholic largeness of view in all which relates unto mental effort, combined with the utmost charity for human failings and infirmities,–cannot but endear him to our deepest affections, while his unrivalled endowments command our highest admiration. To illustrate what is here alluded to, let the reader recall Burke’s noble generosity towards that erratic victim of genius and grief,–the painter Barry; or his instantaneous sympathy in behalf of Crabbe the poet, when almost a foodless wanderer in our vast metropolis; and our estimate of Burke’s excellencies as a man, will not be deemed overdrawn.

It now remains for the selector of the following pages to offer a few remarks on their nature, and design. Accustomed, from the earliest period of his mental life to read and study the writings of Edmund Burke, he has long wished that such a selection as now appears, should be published. The works of Burke extend through a vast range of large volumes; and it is feared thousands have been deterred from holding communion with a master?spirit of British literature, by the magnitude of his labours. Hence, a concentrated specimen of his intellect may not only tempt the “reading public” (Coleridge’s horror, yet an author’s friend!) to study some of Burke’s noblest passages, but even ultimately to introduce them into a full acquaintance with his entire products. Let it be distinctly understood, the selection now published, is not a second-hand one, grafted on some pre-existing volume; but the result of a diligent, careful, and analytical perusal of Burke’s writings. In attempting such a work, there was one difficulty, which none but those who have intimately studied this great orator can appreciate,–we allude to the giving general titles, or descriptive headings, to passages selected for quotation. There is a mental fulness, a moral variety, and such a rapid transition of idea, in most of Burke’s speeches, that it almost baffles ability to abbreviate the spirit of his paragraphs, so as to exhibit under some general head the bearing of the whole. The selector, in this respect, can only say, he has done his best; and those who are most competent to appreciate difficulty, will be least inclined to criticise failure.

Finally, as to the leading design of this volume, its title, “First Principles,” is sufficiently descriptive to save much explanation. Burke represents an unrivalled combination of patriot, senator, and orator; and as such, the moral and intellectual nature of the Age will be purified and expanded, when brought into contact with the attributes of his character, and the productions of his mind. Nor can the meditative statesman, whose party is his country, and whose political creed is based upon a true philosophy of human nature, forget,–that while the French revolution, as involving FACTS, belongs to History, as enclosing PRINCIPLES, it appertains to Humanity: and hence, the abiding application of Burke’s profound views, not only to France and England, but to the world. Of course, those who reverence the majesty of eloquence, and are fascinated by a florid richness of style, boundless imagination, inexhaustible metaphor, and all the attending graces of consummate rhetoric, will also be charmed by the appropriate supply these pages afford. But, without seeking to be homiletical, let the writer be permitted to add, a far higher purpose than mere literary amusement, or the gratification of taste, is designed by the present volume. It is the selector’s most earnest hope, that the “First Principles” these pages so eloquently inculcate, may be transcribed in all their purity, loftiness, and truth, into the Reason and Conscience of his countrymen. And among these, for whose especial guidance he ventures to think the profound wisdom of these pages to be invaluable, are the rising statesmen and senators of the day, who are either being trained in our Public Schools, at the Universities, or about to enter upon the difficult but inspiring arena of the House of Commons. In reference to this sphere of legislative action, with all reverence to its claims and character, let it be said,–material ends (a boundless passion for physical good, whether indulged in by a nation, or professed by an individual, is rebuked with solemn wisdom in the following passage from Aristotle:–“The external advantages of power and fortune are acquired and maintained by virtue, but virtue is not acquired and maintained by them; and whether we consider the virtuous energies themselves, or the fruits which they unceasingly produce, THE SOVEREIGN GOOD OF LIFE MUST EVIDENTLY BE FOUND IN MORAL AND INTELLECTUAL EXCELLENCE, MODERATELY SUPPLIED WITH EXTERNAL ACCOMMODATIONS, RATHER THAN IN THE GREATEST ACCUMULATION OF EXTERNAL ADVANTAGES, UNIMPROVED AND UNADORNED BY VIRTUE. External prosperity is, indeed, instrumental in producing happiness, and, therefore, like every other instrument, must have its assigned limits, beyond which it is inconvenient or hurtful. But to mental excellence no limit can be assigned; the further it extends the more USEFUL it becomes, if the epithet of ‘USEFUL’ need ever be added to that of HONOURABLE. Besides this, the relative importance of qualities is best estimated by that of their respective subjects. But the mind, both in itself and in reference to man, is far better than the body, or than property. The excellencies of the mind, therefore, are in the same proportion to be preferred to the highest perfection of the body, and the best disposition of external circumstances. The two last are of a far inferior, and merely subservient nature; since no man of sense covets or pursues them, but for the sake of the mind, with a view to promote its genuine improvement and augment its native joys. Let this great truth then be acknowledged,–A TRUTH EVINCED BY THE DEITY HIMSELF, WHO IS HAPPY, NOT FROM ANY EXTERNAL CAUSE, BUT THROUGH THE INHERENT ATTRIBUTES OF HIS DIVINE NATURE.”–“Politics,” lib. iv.), commercial objects, and secular aggrandizement, are now receiving an idolatrous homage and passionate regard, which no Christian patriot can contemplate without anxiety. The ideal, the imaginative, and the religious element, is almost sneered out of the House of Commons at the existing moment; and any glowing exhibition of oratory, or splendid manifestation of intellect, is derided, as being “unpractical” and ill-adapted to the sobriety of the English Senate! Against this heartless materialism and unholy mammon-worship, Burke’s pages are a magnificent protest; and are admirably suited to protect the political youth and dawning statesmen of our country, from the blight and the blast of doctrines which decry Enthusiasm as folly, and condemn the Beautiful as worthless and untrue. Ships, colonies, and commerce; exports and imports; taxes and imposts; charters and civic arrangements,–none but a madman will depreciate what such themes involve, of duty, energy, and zeal, in political life. Still, let it be fearlessly maintained, neither wealth, nor commerce, IN THEMSELVES, can constitute the real greatness of an empire; it is only because they stand in relation to the higher destinies and holier responsibilities of an Empire, that a true statesman will regard them as vitally wound up with the vigour and prosperity of national development. Such, at least, is the philosophy of Politics, breathed from the undying pages of Edmund Burke. He who studies this great writer, will, more and more, sympathise with what Hooker taught, and Bishop Sanderson inculcates. In one word, he will learn to venerate with increasing reverence THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION, as

“That peerless growth of patriotic mind, The great eternal Wonder of mankind!”
Burke traced the ultimate origin of civil government to the Divine Will, both as declared in Revelation, and imaged forth by the moral Constitution of man. In this respect, it is well?known how fundamentally he differs from the theories of Hobbes, Mandeville, Shaftesbury, and Hutcheson. Not less also, is he opposed to Locke, who tells us,–“The original compact which begins and ACTUALLY CONSTITUTES ANY POLITICAL SOCIETY, IS NOTHING BUT THE CONSENT OF ANY NUMBER OF FREEMEN CAPABLE OF A MAJORITY, TO UNITE AND INCORPORATE INTO SUCH A SOCIETY. AND THIS IS THAT, AND THAT ONLY, WHICH COULD GIVE BEGINNING TO ANY LAWFUL GOVERNMENT IN THE WORLD.” In one word, Locke declares that civil government is not from God in the way of principle, but from man in the way of fact; and thus, being a mere contingency, or moral accident in the history of human development, self?government is the essential prerogative of our nature. In accordance with this irrational and unscriptural hypothesis, we find Price and Priestly expanding Locke’s views at the period of Burke; while in the writings of that apostle of political Antinomianism, Rousseau, and his English counterpart Tom Paine,–the principles of the ASSUMED “CONTRAT SOCIAL” display their utmost virulence. This is not the place to discuss the origin of Civil Government; but the classical reader, who has been taught to revere the political wisdom of those ancient Teachers, whose insight was almost prophetical in abstract science, will thank us for an extract from Aristotle’s “Politics,” which bears upon this subject. It presents a most striking coincidence of sentiment between two master?spirits on the philosophy of government; and will at once remind the reader of Burke’s memorable passage, beginning with, “Society is a partnership,” etc. etc. The passage to which we allude in Aristotle’s “Politics,” begins thus: “Ote men oun e polis phusei proteron e ekastos,” k.t.l. The whole passage may be thus freely translated. “A participation in rights and advantages forms the bond of political society; AN INSTITUTION PRIOR, IN THE INTENTION OF NATURE, TO THE FAMILIES AND INDIVIDUALS FROM WHOM IT IS CONSTITUTED. What members are to the body, that citizens are to a commonwealth. The hands or foot, when separated from the body, retains its name, but totally changes its nature, because it is completely divested of its uses and powers. In the same manner a citizen is a constituent part of a whole system, which invests him with powers and qualifies him for functions for which, in his individual capacity, he is totally unfit; and independently of such system, he might subsist indeed as a lonely savage, but could never attain that improved and happy state to which his progressive nature invariably tends. Perfected by the offices and duties of social life, man is the best; but, rude and undisciplined, he is the very worst, of animals. For nothing is more detestable than armed improbity; and man is armed with craft and courage, which, uncontrolled by justice, he will most wickedly pervert, and become at once the most impious and fiercest of monsters, the most abominable in gluttony, and shameless in personality. But justice is the fundamental virtue of political society, since the order of Society cannot be maintained without law, and laws are constituted to proclaim what is just.” Let us add to this noble passage, Aristotle remarks in his “Ethics” (lib. x. c. 8), that a higher destination than political virtue is the true end of man. In this respect, he concurs with Plato; who teaches us in his “Theaetetus,” the main object of human pursuit ought to be “omoiosis to theo kata to dunaton,” etc. etc.; i.e. “A similitude unto God as far as possible; which similitude consists in an imitation of His justice, holiness, and wisdom.” To conclude: the noblest end of all Policy on earth, is to educate Human Nature for that august “politeuma” (Phil. iii. v. 20), that Eternal Commonwealth which awaits perfected Spirits above, when, through infinite grace, they are finally admitted into a “CITY which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb. xi. 10.) (The dim approximations of Platonic philosophy to certain discoveries in Divine Revelation, have rightly challenged the attention of theological enquirers. The above quotation from St. Paul suggests a reference to one of these, which occurs towards the termination of Plato’s ninth book of “The Republic.” He is uttering a protest against our concluding, that because degeneracy appears to be the invariable law or destiny of all human commonwealths, THEREFORE, no Archetypal Model exists of any perfect state, or polity: and then, in opposition to this political scepticism, Plato adds these remarkable words:–“en ourano isos paradeigma anakeitai to boulomeno oran kai oronti eauton katoikizein,” etc. etc.–“The state we have here established, which exists only in our reasoning, but it seems to me, HAS NO EXISTENCE ON EARTH. BUT IN HEAVEN, PROBABLY, I REPLIED, THERE IS A MODEL OF IT FOR ANY ONE INCLINED TO CONTEMPLATE THE SAME, AND BY SO CONTEMPLATING IT, TO REGULATE HIMSELF ACCORDINGLY.”)


The following are the critical sketches of Burke’s character, alluded to in the commencement of this Essay. They are from the pens of his most distinguished contemporaries, WHO WERE OPPOSED TO HIM in their political views and public career.


“There can be no hesitation in according to him a station among the most extraordinary men that ever appeared; and we think there is now but little diversity of opinion as to the kind of place which it is fit to assign him. He was a writer of the first class, and excelled in almost every kind of composition. Possessed of most extensive knowledge, and of the most various description; acquainted alike with what different classes of men knew, each in his own province, and with much that hardly any one ever thought of learning; he could either bring his masses of information to bear directly upon the subjects to which they severally belonged,–or he could avail himself of them generally to strengthen his faculties, and enlarge his views,–or he could turn any of them to account for the purpose of illustrating his theme, or enriching his diction. Hence, when he is handling any one matter, we perceive that we are conversing with a reasoner or a teacher, to whom almost every other branch of knowledge is familiar: his views range over all the cognate objects; his reasonings are derived from principles applicable to other themes, as well as the one in hand; arguments pour in from all sides, as well as those which start up under our feet,–the natural growth of the path he is leading us over; while to throw light round our steps, and either explore its darkest places, or serve for our recreation; illustrations are fetched from a thousand quarters, and an imagination marvellously quick to descry unthought of resemblances, points to our use the stores, which a love yet more marvellously has gathered from all ages and nations, and arts and tongues. We are, in respect of the argument, reminded of Bacon’s multifarious knowledge, and the exuberance of his learned fancy; whilst the many?lettered diction recalls to mind the first of English poets, and his immortal verse, rich with the spoils of all sciences and all times.

“He produced but one philosophical treatise; but no man lays down abstract principles more soundly, or better traces their application. All his works, indeed, even his controversial, are so infused with general reflection, so variegated with speculative discussion, that they wear the air of the Lyceum, as well as the Academy.”


“I shall take care to put Burke’s work on the French Revolution into the hands of those whose principles are left to my protection. I shall take care that they have the advantage of doing, in the regular progression of youthful studies, what I have done even in the short intervals of laborious life; that they shall transcribe with their own hands from all the works of this most extraordinary person, and from this last, among the rest, the soundest truths of religion, the justest principles of morals, inculcated and rendered delightful by the most sublime eloquence; the highest reach of philosophy brought down to the level of common minds by the most captivating taste; the most enlightened observations on history, and the most copious collection of useful maxims for the experience of common life.”

(From KING, Bishop of Rochester.) “In the mind of Mr. Burke political principles were not objects of barren speculation. Wisdom in him was always practical. Whatever his understanding adopted as truth, made its way to his heart, and sank deep into it; and his ardent and generous feelings seized with promptitude every occasion of applying it to mankind. Where shall we find recorded exertions of active benevolence at once so numerous, so varied, and so important, made by one man? Among those, the redress of wrongs, and the protection of weakness from the oppression of power, were most conspicuous.

The assumption of arbitrary power, in whatever shape it appeared, whether under the veil of legitimacy, or skulking in the disguise of State necessity, or presenting the shameless front of usurpation–whether the prescriptive claim of ascendancy, or the career of official authority, or the newly?acquired dominion of a mob,–was the pure object of his detestation and hostility; and this is not a fanciful enumeration of possible cases,” etc.



Whatever alterations time and the necessary accommodation of business may have introduced, this character can never be sustained, unless the House of Commons shall be made to bear some stamp of the actual disposition of the people at large. It would (among public misfortunes) be an evil more natural and tolerable, that the House of Commons should be infected with every epidemical frenzy of the people, as this would indicate some consanguinity, some sympathy of nature with their constituents, than that they should in all cases be wholly untouched by the opinions and feelings of the people out of doors. By this want of sympathy they would cease to be a house of commons. For it is not the derivation of the power of that house from the people, which makes it in a distinct sense their representative. The king is the representative of the people; so are the lords, so are the judges. They all are trustees for the people, as well as the commons; because no power is given for the sole sake of the holder; and although government certainly is an institution of Divine authority, yet its forms, and the persons who administer it, all originate from the people.

A popular origin cannot therefore be the characteristical distinction of a popular representative. This belongs equally to all parts of government, and in all forms. The virtue, spirit, and essence of a house of commons consists in its being the express image of the feelings of the nation. It was not instituted to be a control UPON the people, as of late it has been taught, by a doctrine of the most pernicious tendency. It was designed as a control FOR the people. Other institutions have been formed for the purpose of checking popular excesses; and they are, I apprehend, fully adequate to their object. If not, they ought to be made so. The House of Commons, as it was never intended for the support of peace and subordination, is miserably appointed for that service; having no stronger weapon than its mace, and no better officer than its serjeant-at-arms, which it can command of its own proper authority. A vigilant and jealous eye over executory and judicial magistracy; an anxious care of public money; an openness, approaching towards facility, to public complaint; these seem to be the true characteristics of a house of commons. But an addressing house of commons, and a petitioning nation; a house of commons full of confidence, when the nation is plunged in despair; in the utmost harmony with ministers, whom the people regard with the utmost abhorrence; who vote thanks, when the public opinion calls upon them for impeachments; who are eager to grant, when the general voice demands account; who, in all disputes between the people and administration, presume against the people; who punish their disorders, but refuse even to inquire into the provocations to them; this is an unnatural, a monstrous state of things in this constitution. Such an assembly may be a great, wise, awful senate; but it is not, to any popular purpose, a house of commons. This change from an immediate state of procuration and delegation to a course of acting as from original power, is the way in which all the popular magistracies in the world have been perverted from their purposes. It is indeed their greatest and sometimes their incurable corruption. For there is a material distinction between that corruption by which particular points are carried against reason (this is a thing which cannot be prevented by human wisdom, and is of less consequence), and the corruption of the principle itself. For then the evil is not accidental, but settled. The distemper becomes the natural habit.


You are but just entering into the world; I am going out of it. I have played long enough to be heartily tired of the drama. Whether I have acted my part in it well or ill, posterity will judge with more candour than I, or than the present age, with our present passions, can possibly pretend to. For my part, I quit it without a sigh, and submit to the sovereign order without murmuring. The nearer we approach to the goal of life, the better we begin to understand the true value of our existence, and the real weight of our opinions. We set out much in love with both: but we leave much behind us as we advance. We first throw away the tales along with the rattles of our nurses; those of the priest keep their hold a little longer; those of our governors the longest of all. But the passions which prop these opinions are withdrawn one after another; and the cool light of reason, at the setting of our life, shows us what a false splendour played upon these objects during our more sanguine seasons.


If any inquiry thus carefully conducted should fail at last of discovering the truth, it may answer an end perhaps as useful, in discovering to us the weakness of our own understanding. If it does not make us knowing, it may make us modest. If it does not preserve us from error, it may at least from the spirit of error; and may make us cautious of pronouncing with positiveness or with haste, when so much labour may end in so much uncertainty.


When Newton first discovered the property of attraction, and settled its laws, he found it served very well to explain several of the most remarkable phenomena in nature; but yet with reference to the general system of things, he could consider attraction but as an effect, whose cause at that time he did not attempt to trace. But when he afterwards began to account for it by a subtle elastic aether, this great man (if in so great a man it be not impious to discover anything like a blemish) seemed to have quitted his usual cautious manner of philosophising: since, perhaps, allowing all that has been advanced on this subject to be sufficiently proved, I think it leaves us with as many difficulties as it found us. That great chain of causes, which linking one to another even to the throne of God himself, can never be unravelled by any industry of ours. When we go but one step beyond the immediate sensible qualities of things, we go out of our depth. All we do after is but a faint struggle, that shows we are in an element which does not belong to us.


It is, I own, not uncommon to be wrong in theory, and right in practice; and we are happy that it is so. Men often act right from their feelings, who afterwards reason but ill on them from principle: but as it is impossible to avoid an attempt at such reasoning, and equally impossible to prevent its having some influence on our practice, surely it is worth taking some pains to have it just, and founded on the basis of sure experience.


We must not attempt to fly, when we can scarcely pretend to creep. In considering any complex matter, we ought to examine every distinct ingredient in the composition, one by one; and reduce everything to the utmost simplicity; since the condition of our nature binds us to a strict law and vary narrow limits. We ought afterwards to re-examine the principles by the effect of the composition, as well as the composition by that of the principles. We ought to compare our subject with things of a similar nature, and even with things of a contrary nature; for discoveries may be, and often are, made by the contrast, which would escape us on the single view. The greater number of the comparisons we make, the more general and the more certain our knowledge is likely to prove, as built upon a more extensive and perfect induction.


Whilst we consider the Godhead merely as he is an object of the understanding, which forms a complex idea of power, wisdom, justice, goodness, all stretched to a degree far exceeding the bounds of our comprehension, whilst we consider the Divinity in this refined and abstracted light, the imagination and passions are little or nothing affected. But because we are bound, by the condition of our nature, to ascend to these pure and intellectual ideas, through the medium of sensible images, to judge of these divine qualities by their evident acts and exertions, it becomes extremely hard to disentangle our idea of the cause from the effect by which we are led to know it. Thus, when we contemplate the Deity, his attributes and their operation, coming united on the mind, form a sort of sensible image, and as such are capable of affecting the imagination. Now, though in a just idea of the Deity, perhaps none of his attributes are predominant, yet, to our imagination, his power is by far the most striking. Some reflection, some comparing, is necessary to satisfy us of his wisdom, his justice, and his goodness. To be struck with his power, it is only necessary that we should open our eyes. But whilst we contemplate so vast an object, under the arm, as it were of almighty power, and invested upon every side with omnipresence, we shrink into the minuteness of our own nature, and are, in a manner, annihilated before him.


True religion has, and must have, a large mixture of salutary fear; and false religions have generally nothing else but fear to support them. Before the Christian religion had, as it were, humanized the idea of the Divinity, and brought it somewhat nearer to us, there was very little said of the love of God. The followers of Plato have something of it, and only something; the other writers of pagan antiquity, whether poets or philosophers, nothing at all. And they who consider with what infinite attention, by what a disregard of every perishable object, through what long habits of piety and contemplation it is that any man is able to attain an entire love and devotion to the Deity, will easily perceive that it is not the first, the most natural and the most striking, effect which proceeds from that idea.


Whenever we are formed by nature to any active purpose, the passion which animates us to it is attended with delight, or a pleasure of some kind, let the subject?matter be what it will; and as our Creator had designed that we should be united by the bond of sympathy, he has strengthened that bond by a proportionable delight; and there most where our sympathy is most wanted,–in the distresses of others.


Natural objects affect us, by the laws of that connexion which Providence has established between certain motions and configurations of bodies, and certain consequent feelings in our mind. Painting affects in the same manner, but with the superadded pleasure of imitation. Architecture affects by the laws of nature, and the law of reason; from which latter result the rules of proportion, which make a work to be praised or censured, in the whole or in some part, when the end for which it was designed is or is not properly answered. But as to words; they seem to me to affect us in a manner very different from that in which we are affected by natural objects, or by painting or architecture; yet words have as considerable a share in exciting ideas of beauty and of the sublime as many of those, and sometimes a much greater than any of them.


Whenever the wisdom of our Creator intended that we should be affected with anything, he did not confide the execution of his design to the languid and precarious operation of our reason; but he endued it with powers and properties that prevent the understanding, and even the will; which, seizing upon the senses and imagination, captivate the soul before the understanding is ready either to join with them, or to oppose them. It is by a long deduction, and much study, that we discover the adorable wisdom of God in his works: when we discover it, the effect is very different, not only in the manner of acquiring it, but in its own nature, from that which strikes us without any preparation from the sublime or the beautiful.


Whatever turns the soul inward on itself, tends to concentre its forces, and to fit it for greater and stronger flights of science. By looking into physical causes our minds are opened and enlarged; and in this pursuit, whether we take or whether we lose our game, the chase is certainly of service.


Poetry, with all its obscurity, has a more general, as well as a more powerful, dominion over the passions, than the other art. And I think there are reasons in nature, why the obscure idea, when properly conveyed, should be more affecting than the clear. It is our ignorance of things that causes all our admiration, and chiefly excites our passions. Knowledge and acquaintance make the most striking causes affect but little. It is thus with the vulgar; and all men are as the vulgar in what they do not understand. The ideas of eternity and infinity, are among the most affecting we have: and yet perhaps there is nothing of which we really understand so little, as of infinity and eternity.


The object therefore of this mixed passion, which we call love, is the BEAUTY of the SEX. Men are carried to the sex in general, as it is the sex, and by the common law of nature; but they are attached to particulars by personal BEAUTY. I call beauty a social quality; for where women and men, and not only they, but when other animals give us a sense of joy and pleasure in beholding them (and there are many that do so), they inspire us with sentiments of tenderness and affection towards their persons; we like to have them near us, and we enter willingly into a kind of relation with them, unless we should have strong reasons to the contrary.


Curiosity is the most superficial of all the affections; it changes its object perpetually, it has an appetite which is very sharp, but very easily satisfied; and it has always an appearance of giddiness, restlessness, and anxiety. Curiosity, from its nature, is a very active principle; it quickly runs over the greatest part of its objects, and soon exhausts the variety which is commonly to be met with in nature; the same things make frequent returns, and they return with less and less of any agreeable effect. In short, the occurrences of life, by the time we come to know it a little, would be incapable of affecting the mind with any other sensations than those of loathing and weariness, if many things were not adapted to affect the mind by means of other powers besides novelty in them, and of other passions besides curiosity in ourselves.


The mind of man has naturally a far greater alacrity and satisfaction in tracing resemblances than in searching for differences: because by making resemblances we produce NEW IMAGES; we unite, we create, we enlarge our stock; but in making distinctions we offer no food at all to the imagination; the task itself is more severe and irksome, and what pleasure we derive from it is something of a negative and indirect nature.


God has planted in man a sense of ambition, and a satisfaction arising from the contemplation of his excelling his fellows in something deemed valuable amongst them. It is this passion that drives men to all the ways we see in use of signalizing themselves, and that tends to make whatever excites in a man the idea of this distinction so very pleasant. It has been so strong as to make very miserable men take comfort, that they were supreme in misery; and certain it is, that, where we cannot distinguish ourselves by something excellent, we begin to take a complacency in some singular infirmities, follies, or defects of one kind or other. It is on this principle that flattery is so prevalent; for flattery is no more than what raises in a man’s mind an idea of a preference which he has not.


For sympathy must be considered as a sort of substitution, by which we are put into the place of another man, and affected in many respects as he is affected; so that this passion may either partake of the nature of those which regard self?preservation, and turning upon pain may be a source of the sublime; or it may turn upon ideas of pleasure; and then whatever has been said of the social affections, whether they regard society in general, or only some particular modes of it, may be applicable here. It is by this principle chiefly that poetry, painting, and other affecting arts, transfuse their passions from one breast to another, and are often capable of grafting a delight on wretchedness, misery, and death itself.


So far, then, as taste belongs to the imagination, its principle is the same in all men; there is no different in the manner of their being affected, nor in the causes of the affection; but in the DEGREE there is a difference, which arises from two causes principally; either from a greater degree of natural sensibility, or from a closer and longer attention to the object.


We do not sufficiently distinguish, in our observations upon language, between a clear expression and a strong expression. These are frequently confounded with each other, though they are in reality extremely different. The former regards the understanding; the latter belongs to the passions. The one describes a thing as it is; the latter describes it as it is felt. Now, as there is a moving tone of voice, an impassioned countenance, an agitated gesture, which affect independently of the things about which they are exerted, so there are words, and certain dispositions of words, which being peculiarly devoted to passionate subjects, and always used by those who are under the influence of any passion, touch and move us more than those which far more clearly and distinctly express the subject?matter. We yield to sympathy what we refuse to description. The truth is, all verbal description, merely as naked description, though never so exact, conveys so poor and insufficient an idea of the thing described, that it could scarcely have the smallest effect, if the speaker did not call in to his aid those modes of speech that mark a strong and lively feeling in himself. Then, by the contagion of our passions, we catch a fire already kindled in another, which probably might never have been struck out by the object described. Words, by strongly conveying the passions, by those means which we have already mentioned, fully compensate for their weakness in other respects.


Since the imagination is only the representation of the senses, it can only be pleased or displeased with the images, from the same principle on which the sense is pleased or displeased with the realities; and consequently there must be just as close an agreement in the imaginations as in the senses of men. A little attention will convince us that this must of necessity be the case.


If words have all their possible extent of power, three effects arise in the mind of the hearer. The first is, the SOUND; the second, the PICTURE, or representation of the thing signified by the sound; the third is, the AFFECTION of the soul produced by one or by both of the foregoing. COMPOUNDED ABSTRACT words, of which we have been speaking (honour, justice, liberty, and the like), produce the first and the last of these effects, but not the second. SIMPLE ABSTRACTS, are used to signify some one simple idea without much adverting to others which may chance to attend it, as blue, green, hot, cold, and the like; these are capable of effecting all three of the purposes of words; as the AGGREGATE words, man, castle, horse, etc. are in a yet higher degree. But I am of opinion, that the most general effect, even of these words, does not arise from their forming pictures of the several things they would represent in the imagination; because, on a very diligent examination of my own mind, and getting others to consider theirs, I do not find that once in twenty times any such picture is formed, and, when it is, there is most commonly a particular effort of the imagination for that purpose. But the aggregate words operate, as I said of the compound?abstracts, not by presenting any image to the mind, but by having from use the same effect on being mentioned, that their original has when it is seen.


I am convinced that the method of teaching which approaches most nearly to the method of investigation is incomparably the best; since, not content with serving up a few barren and lifeless truths, it leads to the stock on which they grew; it tends to set the reader himself in the track of invention, and to direct him into those paths in which the author has made his own discoveries, if he should be so happy as to have made any that are valuable.


Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the SUBLIME; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.


Those despotic governments which are founded on the passions of men, and principally upon the passion of fear, keep their chief as much as may be from the public eye. The policy has been the same in many cases of religion. Almost all the heathen temples were dark. Even in the barbarous temples of the Americans at this day, they keep their idol in a dark part of the hut which is consecrated to his worship. For this purpose too the Druids performed all their ceremonies in the bosom of the darkest woods, and in the shade of the oldest and most spreading oaks. No person seems better to have understood the secret of heightening, or of setting terrible things, if I may use the expression, in their strongest light, by the force of a judicious obscurity, than Milton.


Whatever certainty is to be acquired in morality and the science of life; just the same degree of certainty have we in what relates to them in works of imitation. Indeed, it is for the most part in our skill in manners, and in the observances of time and place, and of decency in general, which is only to be learned in those schools to which Horace recommends us, that what is called taste, by way of distinction, consists; and which is in reality no other than a more refined judgment. On the whole it appears to me, that what is called taste, in its most general acceptation, is not a simple idea, but is partly made up of a perception of the primary pleasures of sense, of the secondary pleasures of the imagination, and of the conclusions of the reasoning faculty, concerning the various relations of these, and concerning the human passions, manners, and actions. All this is requisite to form taste, and the ground?work of all these is the same in the human mind; for as the senses are the great originals of all our ideas, and consequently of all our pleasures, if they are not uncertain and arbitrary, the whole ground-work of taste is common to all, and therefore there is a sufficient foundation for a conclusive reasoning on these matters.


Beauty is a thing much too affecting not to depend upon some positive qualities. And, since it is no creature of our reason, since it strikes us without any reference to use, and even where no use at all can be discerned, since the order and method of nature is generally very different from our measures and proportions, we must conclude that beauty is, for the greater part, some quality in bodies acting mechanically upon the human mind by the intervention of the senses.


Choose a day on which to represent the most sublime and affecting tragedy we have: appoint the most favourite actors; spare no cost upon the scenes and decorations; unite the greatest efforts of poetry, painting, and music; and when you have collected your audience, just at the moment when their minds are erect with expectation, let it be reported that a state criminal of high rank is on the point of being executed in the adjoining square; in a moment the emptiness of the theatre would demonstrate the comparative weakness of the imitative arts, and proclaim the triumph of the real sympathy. I believe that this notion of our having a simple pain in the reality, yet a delight in the representation, arises from hence, that we do not sufficiently distinguish what we would by no means choose to do, from what we should be eager enough to see if it was once done. We delight in seeing things, which so far from doing, our heartiest wishes would be to see redressed. This noble capital, the pride of England and of Europe, I believe no man is so strangely wicked as to desire to see destroyed by a conflagration or an earthquake, though he should be removed himself to the greatest distance from the danger. But suppose such a fatal accident to have happened, what numbers from all parts would crowd to behold the ruins, and amongst them many who would have been content never to have seen London in its glory!


A rectitude of judgment in the arts, which may be called a good taste, does in a great measure depend upon sensibility; because, if the mind has no bent to the pleasures of the imagination, it will never apply itself sufficiently to works of that species to acquire a competent knowledge in them. But, though a degree of sensibility is requisite to form a good judgment, yet a good judgment does not necessarily arise from a quick sensibility of pleasure.


This arises chiefly from these three causes. First. That we take an extraordinary part in the passions of others, and that we are easily affected and brought into sympathy by any tokens which are shown of them; and there are no tokens which can express all the circumstances of most passions so fully as words; so that if a person speaks upon any subject, he can not only convey the subject to you, but likewise the manner in which he is himself affected by it. Certain it is, that the influence of most things on our passions is not so much from the things themselves, as from our opinions concerning them; and these again depend very much on the opinions of other men, conveyable for the most part by words only. Secondly. There are many things of a very affecting nature, which can seldom occur in the reality, but the words that represent them often do; and thus they have an opportunity of making a deep impression and taking root in the mind, whilst the idea of the reality was transient; and to some perhaps never really occurred in any shape, to whom it is notwithstanding very affecting, as war, death, famine, etc. Besides, many ideas have never been at all presented to the senses of any men but by words, as God, angels, devils, heaven, and hell, all of which have, however, a great influence over the passions. Thirdly. By words we have it in our power to make such COMBINATIONS as we cannot possibly do otherwise. By this power of combining, we are able, by the addition of well?chosen circumstances, to give a new life and force to the simple object. In painting we may represent any fine figure we please; but we never can give it those enlivening touches which it may receive from words. To represent an angel in a picture, you can only draw a beautiful young man winged: but what painting can furnish out anything so grand as the addition of one word, “the angel of the LORD?”


I then thought, and am still of the same opinion, that error, and not truth of any kind, is dangerous; that ill conclusions can only flow from false propositions; and that, to know whether any proposition be true or false, it is a preposterous method to examine it by its apparent consequences.


For as sympathy makes us take a concern in whatever men feel, so this affection prompts us to copy whatever they do; and consequently we have a pleasure in imitating, and in whatever belongs to imitation merely as it is such, without any intervention of the reasoning faculty, but solely from our natural constitution, which Providence has framed in such a manner as to find either pleasure or delight, according to the nature of the object, in whatever regards the purposes of our being. It is by imitation far more than by precept, that we learn everything; and what we learn thus, we acquire not only more effectually, but more pleasantly. This forms our manners, our opinions, our lives. It is one of the strongest links of society; it is a species of mutual compliance, which all men yield to each other, without constraint to themselves, and which is extremely flattering to all.


It is probable that the standard both of reason and taste is the same in all human creatures. For if there were not some principles of judgment as well as of sentiment common to all mankind, no hold could possibly be taken either on their reason or their passions, sufficient to maintain the ordinary correspondence of life.


A theory founded on experiment, and not assumed, is always good for so much as it explains. Our inability to push it indefinitely is no argument at all against it. This inability may be owing to our ignorance of some necessary MEDIUMS; to a want of proper application; to many other causes besides a defect in the principles we employ.


In the mean time, that power, which all these changes aimed at securing, remains still as tottering and as uncertain as ever. They are delivered up into the hands of those who feel neither respect for their persons, nor gratitude for their favours; who are put about them in appearance to serve, in reality to govern them; and, when the signal is given, to abandon and destroy them, in order to set up some new dupe of ambition, who in his turn is to be abandoned and destroyed. Thus, living in a state of continual uneasiness and ferment, softened only by the miserable consolation of giving now and then preferments to those for whom they have no value; they are unhappy in their situation, yet find it impossible to resign. Until, at length, soured in temper, and disappointed by the very attainment of their ends, in some angry, in some haughty, or some negligent moment, they incur the displeasure of those upon whom they have rendered their very being dependent. Then perierunt tempora longi servitii; they are cast off with scorn; they are turned out, emptied of all natural character, of all intrinsic worth, of all essential dignity, and deprived of every consolation of friendship. Having rendered all retreat to old principles ridiculous, and to old regards impracticable, not being able to counterfeit pleasure, or to discharge discontent, nothing being sincere or right, or balanced in their minds, it is more than a chance, that, in the delirium of the last stage of their distempered power, they make an insane political testament, by which they throw all their remaining weight and consequence into the scale of their declared enemies, and the avowed authors of their destruction.


If these evil dispositions should spread much farther they must end in our destruction; for nothing can save a people destitute of public and private faith. However, the author, for the present state of things, has extended the charge by much too widely; as men are but too apt to take the measure of all mankind from their own particular acquaintance. Barren as this age may be in the growth of honour and virtue, the country does not want, at this moment, as strong, and those not a few, examples as were ever known, of an unshaken adherence to principle, and attachment to connexion, against every allurement of interest. Those examples are not furnished by the great alone; nor by those, whose activity in public affairs may render it suspected that they make such a character one of the rounds in their ladder of ambition; but by men more quiet, and more in the shade, on whom an unmixed sense of honour alone could operate.


No system of that kind can be formed, which will not leave room fully sufficient for healing coalitions: but no coalition which, under the specious name of independency, carries in its bosom the unreconciled principles of the original discord of parties, ever was, or will be, an healing coalition. Nor will the mind of our sovereign ever know repose, his kingdom settlement, or his business order, in efficiency or grace with his people, until things are established upon the basis of some set of men, who are trusted by the public, and who can trust one another.


Men of sense, when new projects come before them, always think a discourse proving the mere right or mere power of acting in the manner proposed, to be no more than a very unpleasant way of mispending time. They must see the object to be of proper magnitude to engage them; they must see the means of compassing it to be next to certain: the mischiefs not to counterbalance the profit; they will examine how a proposed imposition or regulation agrees with the opinion of those who are likely to be affected by it; they will not despise the consideration even of their habitudes and prejudices. They wish to know how it accords or disagrees with the true spirit of prior establishments, whether of government or of finance; because they well know, that in the complicated economy of great kingdoms, and immense revenues, which in a length of time, and by a variety of accidents, have coalesced into a sort of body, an attempt towards a compulsory equality in all circumstances, and an exact practical definition of the supreme rights in every case, is the most dangerous and chimerical of all enterprises. The old building stands well enough, though part Gothic, part Grecian, and part Chinese, until an attempt is made to square it into uniformity. Then it may come down upon our heads altogether, in much uniformity of ruin; and great will be the fall thereof.


Enough of this visionary union; in which much extravagance appears without any fancy, and the judgment is shocked without anything to refresh the imagination. It looks as if the author had dropped down from the moon, without any knowledge of the general nature of this globe, of the general nature of its inhabitants, without the least acquaintance with the affairs of this country.


Party divisions, whether on the whole operating for good or evil, are things inseparable from free government. This is a truth which, I believe, admits little dispute, having been established by the uniform experience of all ages. The part a good citizen ought to take in these divisions has been a matter of much deeper controversy. But God forbid that any controversy relating to our essential morals should admit of no decision. It appears to me, that this question, like most of the others which regard our duties in life, is to be determined by our station in it. Private men may be wholly neutral, and entirely innocent; but they who are legally invested with public trust, or stand on the high ground of rank and dignity, which is trust implied, can hardly in any case remain indifferent, without the certainty of sinking into insignificance; and thereby in effect deserting that post in which, with the fullest authority, and for the wisest purposes, the laws and institutions of their country have fixed them. However, if it be the office of those who are thus circumstanced, to take a decided part, it is no less their duty that it should be a sober one.


It ought to be circumscribed by the same laws of decorum, and balanced by the same temper, which bound and regulate all the virtues. In a word, we ought to act in party with all the moderation which does not absolutely enervate that vigour, and quench that fervency of spirit, without which the best wishes for the public good must evaporate in empty speculation.


Our circumstances are indeed critical; but then they are the critical circumstances of a strong and mighty nation. If corruption and meanness are greatly spread, they are not spread universally. Many public men are hitherto examples of public spirit and integrity. Whole parties, as far as large bodies can be uniform, have preserved character. However they may be deceived in some particulars, I know of no set of men amongst us which does not contain persons on whom the nation, in a difficult exigence, may well value itself. Private life, which is the nursery of the commonwealth, is yet in general pure, and on the whole disposed to virtue; and the people at large want neither generosity nor spirit. No small part of that very luxury, which is so much the subject of the author’s declamation, but which, in most parts of life, by being well balanced and diffused, is only decency and convenience, has perhaps as many or more good than evil consequences attending it. It certainly excites industry, nourishes emulation, and inspires some sense of personal value into all ranks of people. What we want is to establish more fully an opinion of uniformity, and consistency of character, in the leading men of the state; such as will restore some confidence to profession and appearance, such as will fix subordination upon esteem. Without this all schemes are begun at the wrong end.


People not very well grounded in the principles of public morality find a set of maxims in office ready made for them, which they assume as naturally and inevitably, as any of the insignia or instruments of the situation. A certain tone of the solid and practical is immediately acquired. Every former profession of public spirit is to be considered as a debauch of youth, or, at best, as a visionary scheme of unattainable perfection. The very idea of consistency is exploded. The convenience of the business of the day is to furnish the principle for doing it. Then the whole ministerial cant is quickly got by heart. The prevalence of faction is to be lamented. All opposition is to be regarded as the effect of envy and disappointed ambition. All administrations are declared to be alike. The same necessity justifies all their measures. It is no longer a matter of discussion, who or what administration is; but that administration is to be supported, is a general maxim. Flattering themselves that their power is become necessary to the support of all order and government, everything which tends to the support of that power is sanctified, and becomes a part of the public interest.


I believe the instances are exceedingly rare of men immediately passing over a clear, marked line of virtue into declared vice and corruption. There are a sort of middle tints and shades between the two extremes; there is something uncertain on the confines of the two empires which they first pass through, and which renders the change easy and imperceptible. There are even a sort of splendid impositions so well contrived, that, at the very time the path of rectitude is quitted for ever, men seem to be advancing into some higher and nobler road of public conduct. Not that such impositions are strong enough in themselves; but a powerful interest, often concealed from those whom it affects, works at the bottom, and secures the operation. Men are thus debauched away from those legitimate connexions, which they had formed on a judgment, early perhaps but sufficiently mature, and wholly unbiassed.


It is the nature of despotism to abhor power held by any means but its own momentary pleasure; and to annihilate all intermediate situations between boundless strength on its own part, and total debility on the part of the people.


Nothing can render this a point of indifference to the nation, but what must either render us totally desperate, or sooth us into the security of idiots. We must soften into a credulity below the milkiness of infancy, to think all men virtuous. We must be tainted with a malignity truly diabolical, to believe all the world to be equally wicked and corrupt. Men are in public as in private, some good, some evil. The elevation of the one, and the depression of the other, are the first objects of all true policy. But that form of government, which, neither in its direct institutions, nor in their immediate tendency, has contrived to throw its affairs into the most trustworthy hands, but has left its whole executory system to be disposed of agreeably to the uncontrolled pleasures of any one man, however excellent or virtuous, is a plan of polity defective not only in that member, but consequentially erroneous in every part of it.


To complain of the age we live in, to murmur at the present possessors of power, to lament the past, to conceive extravagant hopes of the future, are the common dispositions of the greatest part of mankind; indeed, the necessary effects of the ignorance and levity of the vulgar. Such complaints and humours have existed in all times; yet as all times have NOT been alike, true political sagacity manifests itself in distinguishing that complaint which only characterises the general infirmity of human nature, from those which are symptoms of the particular distemperature of our own air and season.


I am not one of those who think that the people are never in the wrong. They have been so, frequently and outrageously, both in other countries and in this. But I do say, that in all disputes between them and their rulers, the presumption is at least upon a par in favour of the people. Experience may perhaps justify me in going farther. When popular discontents have been very prevalent, it may well be affirmed and supported, that there has been generally something found amiss in the constitution, or in the conduct of government. The people have no interest in disorder. When they do wrong, it is their error, and not their crime.


It is this unnatural infusion of a government which in a great part of its constitution is popular, that has raised the present ferment in the nation. The people, without entering deeply into its principles, could plainly perceive its effects, in much violence, in a great spirit of innovation, and a general disorder in all the functions of government. I keep my eye solely on this system; if I speak of those measures which have arisen from it, it will be so far only as they illustrate the general scheme. This is the fountain of all those bitter waters, of which, through an hundred different conduits, we have drunk until we are ready to burst. The discretionary power of the Crown in the formation of ministry, abused by bad or weak men, has given rise to a system which, without directly violating the letter of any law, operates against the spirit of the whole constitution.

A plan of favouritism for our executory government is essentially at variance with the plan of our legislature. One great end undoubtedly of a mixed government like ours, composed of monarchy, and of controls, on the part of the higher people and the lower, is that the prince shall not be able to violate the laws. This is useful indeed and fundamental. But this, even at first view, in no more than a negative advantage; an armour merely defensive. It is therefore next in order, and equal in importance, THAT THE DISCRETIONARY POWERS WHICH ARE NECESSARILY VESTED IN THE MONARCH, WHETHER FOR THE EXECUTION OF THE LAWS, OR FOR THE NOMINATION TO MAGISTRACY AND OFFICE, OR FOR CONDUCTING THE AFFAIRS OF PEACE AND WAR, OR FOR ORDERING THE REVENUE, SHOULD ALL BE EXERCISED UPON PUBLIC PRINCIPLES AND NATIONAL GROUNDS, AND NOT ON THE LIKINGS OR PREJUDICES, THE INTRIGUES OR POLICIES, OF A COURT.


In arbitrary governments, the constitution of the ministry follows the constitution of the legislature. Both the law and the magistrate are the creatures of will. It must be so. Nothing, indeed, will appear more certain, on any tolerable consideration of this matter, than that EVERY SORT OF GOVERNMENT OUGHT TO HAVE ITS ADMINISTRATION CORRESPONDENT TO ITS LEGISLATURE. If it should be otherwise, things must fall into a hideous disorder. The people of a free commonwealth, who have taken such care that their laws should be the result of general consent, cannot be so senseless as to suffer their executory system to be composed of persons on whom they have no dependence, and whom no proofs of the public love and confidence have recommended to those powers, upon the use of which the very being of the state depends.


The power of the Crown, almost dead and rotten as Prerogative, has grown up anew, with much more strength, and far less odium, under the name of Influence. An influence, which operated without noise and without violence; an influence which converted the very antagonist into the instrument of power; which contained in itself a perpetual principle of growth and renovation; and which the distresses and the prosperity of the country equally tend to augment, was an admirable substitute for a prerogative, that, being only the offspring of antiquated prejudices, had moulded into its original stamina irresistible principles of decay and dissolution. The ignorance of the people is a bottom but for a temporary system; the interest of active men in the state is a foundation perpetual and infallible.


Government is deeply interested in everything which, even through the medium of some temporary uneasiness, may tend finally to compose the minds of the subjects, and to conciliate their affections. I have nothing to do here with the abstract value of the voice of the people. But as long as reputation, the most precious possession of every individual, and as long as opinion, the great support of the state, depend entirely upon that voice, it can never be considered as a thing of little consequence either to individuals or to governments. Nations are not primarily ruled by laws; less by violence. Whatever original energy may be supposed either in force or regulation, the operation of both is, in truth, merely instrumental. Nations are governed by the same methods, and on the same principles, by which an individual without authority is often able to govern those who are his equals or his superiors–by a knowledge of their temper, and by a judicious management of it; I mean, when public affairs are steadily and quietly conducted; and when government is nothing but a continued scuffle between the magistrate and the multitude; in which sometimes the one and sometimes the other is uppermost; in which they alternately yield and prevail, in a series of contemptible victories, and scandalous submissions. The temper of the people amongst whom he presides ought therefore to be the first study of a statesman. And the knowledge of this temper it is by no means impossible for him to attain, if he has not an interest in being ignorant of what it is his duty to learn.


It is a fallacy in constant use with those who would level all things, and confound right with wrong, to insist upon the inconveniences which are attached to every choice, without taking into consideration the different weight and consequence of those inconveniences. The question is not concerning ABSOLUTE discontent or PERFECT satisfaction in government; neither of which can be pure and unmixed at any time, or upon any system. The controversy is about that degree of good humour in the people, which may possibly be attained, and ought certainly to be looked for. While some politicians may be waiting to know whether the sense of every individual be against them, accurately distinguishing the vulgar from the better sort, drawing lines between the enterprises of a faction and the efforts of a people, they may chance to see the government, which they are so nicely weighing, and dividing, and distinguishing, tumble to the ground in the midst of their wise deliberation. Prudent men, when so great an object as the security of government, or even its peace, is at stake, will not run the risk of a decision which may be fatal to it. They who can read the political sky will see a hurricane in a cloud no bigger than a hand at the very edge of the horizon, and will run into the first harbour. No lines can be laid down for civil or political wisdom. They are a matter incapable of exact definition. But, though no man can draw a stroke between the confines of day and night, yet light and darkness are, upon the whole, tolerably distinguishable. Nor will it be impossible for a prince to find out such a mode of government, and such persons to administer it, as will give a great degree of content to his people; without any curious and anxious research for that abstract, universal, perfect harmony, which, while he is seeking, he abandons those means of ordinary tranquillity which are in his power without any research at all.


Before men are put forward into the great trusts of the state, they ought, by their conduct, to have obtained such a degree of estimation in their country, as may be some sort of pledge and security to the public, that they will not abuse those trusts. It is no mean security for a proper use of power, that a man has shown by the general tenor of his actions, that the affection, the good opinion, the confidence of his fellow citizens, have been among the principal objects of his life; and that he has owed none of the degradations of his power or fortune to a settled contempt, or occasional forfeiture of their esteem.

That man who before he comes into power has no friends, or who coming into power is obliged to desert his friends, or who losing it has no friends to sympathise with him; he who has no sway among any part of the landed or commercial interest, but whose whole importance has begun with his office, and is sure to end with it; is a person who ought never to be suffered by a controlling parliament to continue in any of those situations which confer the lead and direction of all our public affairs; because such a man HAS NO CONNECTION WITH THE INTEREST OF THE PEOPLE. Those knots or cabals of men who have got together avowedly without any public principle, in order to sell their conjunct iniquity at the higher rate, and are therefore universally odious, ought never to be suffered to domineer in the state; because they have NO CONNECTION WITH THE SENTIMENTS AND OPINIONS OF THE PEOPLE.


Every good political institution must have a preventive operation as well as a remedial. It ought to have a natural tendency to exclude bad men from government, and not to trust for the safety of the state to subsequent punishment alone: punishment, which has ever been tardy and uncertain, and which, when power is suffered in bad hands, may chance to fall rather on the injured than the criminal.


They may be assured, that however they amuse themselves with a variety of projects for substituting something else in the place of that great and only foundation of government, the confidence of the people, every attempt will but make their condition worse. When men imagine that their food is only a cover for poison, and when they neither love nor trust the hand that serves it, it is not the name of the roast beef of Old England, that will persuade them to sit down to the table that is spread for them. When the people conceive that laws, and tribunals, and even popular assemblies, are perverted from the ends of their institution, they find in those names of degenerated establishments only new motives to discontent. Those bodies which, when full of life and beauty, lay in their arms, and were their joy and comfort, when dead and putrid, become but the more loathsome from remembrance of former endearments. A sullen gloom and furious disorder prevail by fits: the nation loses its relish for peace and prosperity; as it did in that season of fulness which opened our troubles in the time of Charles the First. A species of men to whom a state of order would become a sentence of obscurity, are nourished into a dangerous magnitude by the heat of intestine disturbances; and it is no wonder that, by a sort of sinister piety, they cherish, in their turn, the disorders which are the parents of all their consequence.


It is an advantage to all narrow wisdom and narrow morals, that their maxims have a plausible air; and, on a cursory view, appear equal to first principles. They are light and portable. They are as current as copper coin; and about as valuable. They serve equally the first capacities and the lowest; and they are, at least, as useful to the worst men as to the best. Of this stamp is the cant of NOT MEN, BUT MEASURES; a sort of charm by which many people get loose from every honourable engagement. When I see a man acting this desultory and disconnected part, with as much detriment to his own fortune as prejudice to the cause of any party, I am not persuaded that he is right; but I am ready to believe he is in earnest. I respect virtue in all its situations; even when it is found in the unsuitable company of weakness. I lament to see qualities rare and valuable, squandered away without any public utility. But when a gentleman with great visible emoluments abandons the party in which he has long acted, and tells you, it is because he proceeds upon his own judgment; that he acts on the merits of the several measures as they arise; and that he is obliged to follow his own conscience, and not that of others; he gives reasons which it is impossible to controvert, and discovers a character which it is impossible to mistake. What shall we think of him who never differed from a certain set of men until the moment they lost their power, and who never agreed with them in a single instance afterwards? Would not such a coincidence of interest and opinion be rather fortunate? Would it not be an extraordinary cast upon the dice, that a man’s connexions should degenerate into faction, precisely at the critical moment when they lose their power, or he accepts a place? When people desert their connexions, the desertion is a manifest FACT, upon which a direct simple issue lies, triable by plain men. Whether a MEASURE of government be right or wrong, IS NO MATTER OF FACT, but a mere affair of opinion, on which men may, as they do, dispute and wrangle without end. But whether the individual THINKS the measure right or wrong, is a point at still a greater distance from the reach of all human decision. It is therefore very convenient to politicians, not to put the judgment of their conduct on overt acts, cognizable in any ordinary court, but upon such matter as can be triable only in that secret tribunal, where they are sure of being heard with favour, or where at worst the sentence will be only private whipping.


Another scene was opened, and other actors appeared on the stage. The State, in the condition I have described it, was delivered into the hands of Lord Chatham–a great and celebrated name; a name that keeps the name of this country respectable in every other on the globe. It may be truly called–

Clarum et venerabile nomen
Gentibus, et multum nostrae quod proderat urbi.

Sir, the venerable age of this great man, his merited rank, his superior eloquence, his splendid qualities, his eminent services, the vast space he fills in the eye of mankind; and, more than all the rest, his fall from power, which, like death, canonizes and sanctifies a great character, will not suffer me to censure any part of his conduct. I am afraid to flatter him; I am sure I am not disposed to blame him. Let those, who have betrayed him by their adulation, insult him with their malevolence. But what I do not presume to censure, I may have leave to lament. For a wise man, he seemed to me at that time to be governed too much by general maxims. I speak with the freedom of history, and I hope without offence. One or two of these maxims, flowing from an opinion not the most indulgent to our unhappy species, and surely a little too general, led him into measures that were greatly mischievous to himself; and for that reason, among others, perhaps fatal to his country; measures, the effects of which, I am afraid, are for ever incurable. He made an administration, so checkered and speckled; he put together a piece of joinery, so crossly indented and whimsically dove-tailed; a cabinet so variously inlaid; such a piece of diversified mosaic; such a tesselated pavement without cement; here a bit of black stone, and there a bit of white; patriots and courtiers, king’s friends and republicans; Whigs and Tories; treacherous friends and open enemies; that it was indeed a very curious show; but utterly unsafe to touch, and unsure to stand on. The colleagues whom he had assorted at the same boards, stared at each other, and were obliged to ask, “Sir, your name?–Sir, you have the advantage of me–Mr. Such-a-one–I beg a thousand pardons–” I venture to say, it did so happen, that persons had a single office divided between them, who had never spoken to each other in their lives, until they found themselves, they knew not how, pigging together, heads and points, in the same truckle-bed.

Sir, in consequence of this arrangement, having put so much the larger part of his enemies and opposers into power, the confusion was such, that his own principles could not possibly have any effect or influence in the conduct of affairs. If ever he fell into a fit of the gout, or if any other cause withdrew him from public cares, principles directly the contrary were sure to predominate. When he had executed his plan, he had not an inch of ground to stand upon. When he had accomplished his scheme of administration, he was no longer a minister. When his face was hid but for a moment, his whole system was on a wide sea, without chart or compass. The gentlemen, his particular friends, who, with the names of various departments of ministry, were admitted to seem as if they acted a part under him, with a modesty that becomes all men, and with a confidence in him, which was justified even in its extravagance by his superior abilities, had never, in any instance, presumed upon any opinion of their own. Deprived of his guiding influence, they were whirled about, the sport of every gust, and easily driven into any port; and as those who joined with them in manning the vessel were the most directly opposite to his opinions, measures, and character, and far the most artful and most powerful of the set, they easily prevailed, so as to seize upon the vacant, unoccupied, and derelict minds of his friends; and instantly they turned the vessel wholly out of the course of his policy. As if it were to insult as well as to betray him, even long before the close of the first session of his administration, when everything was publicly transacted, and with great parade, in his name, they made an act, declaring it highly just and expedient to raise a revenue in America. For even then, Sir, even before this splendid orb was entirely set, and while the western horizon was in a blaze with his descending glory, on the opposite quarter of the heavens arose another luminary, and, for his hour, became lord of the ascendant.


Mr. Grenville was a first-rate figure in this country. With a masculine understanding, and a stout and resolute heart, he had an application undissipated and unwearied. He took public business not as a duty which he was to fulfil, but as a pleasure he was to enjoy; and he seemed to have no delight out of this house, except in such things as some way related to the business that was to be done within it. If he was ambitious, I will say this for him, his ambition was of a noble and generous strain. It was to raise himself, not by the low, pimping politics of a court, but to win his way to power, through the laborious gradations of public service; and to secure himself a well-earned rank in Parliament, by a thorough knowledge of its constitution, and a perfect practice in all its business.

Sir, if such a man fell into errors, it must be from defects not intrinsical; they must be rather sought in the particular habits of his life; which though they do not alter the ground-work of character, yet tinge it with their own hue. He was bred in a profession. He was bred to the law, which is, in my opinion, one of the first and noblest of human sciences; a science which does more to quicken and invigorate the understanding, than all the other kinds of learning put together; but it is not apt, except in persons very happily born, to open and to liberalize the mind exactly in the same proportion. Passing from that study he did not go very largely into the world; but plunged into business; I mean into the business of office; and the limited and fixed methods and forms established there. Much knowledge is to be had undoubtedly in that line; and there is no knowledge which is not valuable. But it may be truly said, that men too much conversant in office are rarely minds of remarkable enlargement. Their habits of office are apt to give them a turn to think the substance of business not to be much more important than the forms in which it is conducted. These forms are adapted to ordinary occasions; and therefore persons who are nurtured in office do admirably well as long as things go on in their common order; but when the high roads are broken up, and the waters out, when a new and troubled scene is opened, and the file affords no precedent, then it is that a greater knowledge of mankind, and a far more extensive comprehension of things, is requisite, than ever office gave, or than office can ever give.


This light too is passed and set for ever. You understand, to be sure, that I speak of Charles Townshend, officially the reproducer of this fatal scheme; whom I cannot even now remember without some degree of sensibility. In truth, Sir, he was the delight and ornament of this house, and the charm of every private society which he honoured with his presence. Perhaps there never arose in this country, nor in any country, a man of a more pointed and finished wit; and (where his passions were not concerned) of a more refined, exquisite, and penetrating judgment. If he had not so great a stock, as some have had who flourished formerly, of knowledge long treasured up, he knew better by far, than any man I ever was acquainted with, how to bring together within a short time, all that was necessary to establish, to illustrate, and to decorate that side of the question he supported. He stated his matter skilfully and powerfully. He particularly excelled in a most luminous explanation and display of his subject. His style of argument was neither trite and vulgar, nor subtle and abstruse. He hit the house just between wind and water. And not being troubled with too anxious a zeal for any matter in question, he was never more tedious, or more earnest, than the pre-conceived opinions and present temper of his hearers required; to whom he was always in perfect unison. He conformed exactly to the temper of the house; and he seemed to guide, because he was always sure to follow it.


Party is a body of men united, for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed. For my part, I find it impossible to conceive that any one believes in his own politics, or thinks them to be of any weight, who refuses to adopt the means of having them reduced into practice. It is the business of the speculative philosopher to mark the proper ends of government. It is the business of the politician, who is the philosopher