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Burke by John Morley

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a court. They attended mass in the chapel, where the old king,
surrounded by bishops, sat in a pew just above that of Madame du
Barri. The royal mistress astonished foreigners by hair without
powder and cheeks without rouge, the simplest toilettes, and the most
unassuming manners. Vice itself, in Burke's famous words, seemed to
lose half its evil by losing all its grossness. And there, too, Burke
had that vision to which we owe one of the most gorgeous pages in our
literature--Marie Antoinette, the young dauphiness, "decorating and
cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in, glittering
like the morning star, full of life and splendour and joy." The shadow
was rapidly stealing on. The year after Burke's visit, the scene
underwent a strange transformation. The king died; the mistress was
banished in luxurious exile; and the dauphiness became the ill-starred
Queen of France. Burke never forgot the emotions of the scene; they
awoke in his imagination sixteen years after, when all was changed,
and the awful contrast shook him with a passion that his eloquence has
made immortal.

Madame du Deffand wrote to Horace Walpole that Burke had been so well
received, that he ought to leave France excellently pleased with the
country. But it was not so. His spirit was perturbed by what he had
listened to. He came away with small esteem for that busy fermentation
of intellect in which his French friends most exulted, and for which
they looked forward to the gratitude and admiration of posterity. From
the spot on which he stood there issued two mighty streams. It was
from the ideas of the Parisian Freethinkers, whom Burke so detested,
that Jefferson, Franklin, and Henry drew those theories of human
society which were so soon to find life in American Independence. It
was from the same ideas that later on that revolutionary tide surged
forth, in which Burke saw no elements of a blessed fertility, but
only a horrid torrent of red and desolating lava. In 1773 there was
a moment of strange repose in Western Europe, the little break of
stillness that precedes the hurricane. It was indeed the eve of a
momentous epoch. Before sixteen years were over, the American Republic
had risen, like a new constellation into the firmament, and the French
monarchy, of such antiquity and fame and high pre-eminence in European
history, had been shattered to the dust. We may not agree with Burke's
appreciation of the forces that were behind these vast convulsions.
But at least he saw, and saw with eyes of passionate alarm, that
strong speculative forces were at work, which must violently prove
the very bases of the great social superstructure, and might not
improbably break them up for ever.

Almost immediately after his return from France, he sounded a
shrill note of warning. Some Methodists from Chatham had petitioned
Parliament against a bill for the relief of Dissenters from
subscription to the Articles. Burke denounced the intolerance of the
petitioners. It is not the Dissenters, he cried, whom you have to
fear, but the men who, "not contented with endeavouring to turn
your eyes from the blaze and effulgence of light, by which life and
immortality is so gloriously demonstrated by the Gospel, would even
extinguish that faint glimmering of Nature, that only comfort supplied
to ignorant man before this great illumination.... These are the
people against whom you ought to aim the shaft of the law; these are
the men to whom, arrayed in all the terrors of government, I would
say, 'You shall not degrade us into brutes.' ... The most horrid and
cruel blow that can be offered to civil society is through atheism....
The infidels are outlaws of the constitution, not of this country, but
of the human race. They are never, never to be supported, never to be
tolerated. Under the systematic attacks of these people, I see some of
the props of good government already begin to fail; I see propagated
principles which will not leave to religion even a toleration. I
see myself sinking every day under the attacks of these wretched
people."[1] To this pitch he had been excited by the vehement band of
men, who had inscribed on their standard, _Ecraser l'Infame_.

[Footnote 1: "Speech on Relief of Protestant Dissenters, 1773."]

* * * * *

The second Parliament in which Burke had a seat was dissolved suddenly
and without warning (October 1774). The attitude of America was
threatening, and it was believed the Ministers were anxious to have
the elections over before the state of things became worse. The whole
kingdom was instantly in a ferment. Couriers, chaises, post-horses,
hurried in every direction over the island, and it was noted, as a
measure of the agitation, that no fewer than sixty messengers passed
through a single turnpike on one day. Sensible observers were glad to
think that, in consequence of the rapidity of the elections, less wine
and money would be wasted than at any election for sixty years past.
Burke had a houseful of company at Beaconsfield when the news arrived.
Johnson was among them, and as the party was hastily breaking up, the
old Tory took his Whig friend kindly by the hand: "Farewell, my dear
sir," he said, "and remember that I wish you all the success that
ought to be wished to you, and can possibly be wished to you, by an
honest man."

The words were of good omen. Burke was now rewarded by the discovery
that his labours had earned for him recognition and gratitude beyond
the narrow limits of a rather exclusive party. He had before this
attracted the attention of the mercantile public. The Company of
Merchants trading to Africa voted him their thanks for his share in
supporting their establishments. The Committee of Trade at Manchester
formally returned him their grateful acknowledgments for the active
part that he had taken in the business of the Jamaica free ports.
But then Manchester returned no representative to Parliament. In two
Parliaments Burke had been elected for Wendover free of expense. Lord
Verney's circumstances were now so embarrassed, that he was obliged
to part with the four seats at his disposal to men who could pay for
them. There had been some talk of proposing Burke for Westminster,
and Wilkes, who was then omnipotent, promised him the support of
the popular party. But the patriot's memory was treacherous, and he
speedily forgot, for reasons of his own, an idea that had originated
with himself. Burke's constancy of spirit was momentarily overclouded.
"Sometimes when I am alone," he wrote to Lord Rockingham (September
15, 1774), "in spite of all my efforts, I fall into a melancholy which
is inexpressible, and to which, if I give way, I should not continue
long under it, but must totally sink. Yet I do assure you that partly,
and indeed principally, by the force of natural good spirits, and
partly by a strong sense of what I ought to do, I bear up so well that
no one who did not know them, could easily discover the state of my
mind or my circumstances. I have those that are dear to me, for whom I
must live as long as God pleases, and in what way He pleases. Whether
I ought not totally to abandon this public station for which I am so
unfit, and have of course been so unfortunate, I know not." But he
was always saved from rash retirement from public business by two
reflections. He doubted whether a man has a right to retire after he
has once gone a certain length in these things. And he remembered that
there are often obscure vexations in the most private life, which as
effectually destroy a man's peace as anything that can occur in public

Lord Rockingham offered his influence on behalf of Burke at Malton,
one of the family boroughs in Yorkshire, and thither Burke in no high
spirits betook himself. On his way to the north he heard that he
had been nominated for Bristol, but the nomination had for certain
electioneering reasons not been approved by the party. As it happened,
Burke was no sooner chosen at Malton than, owing to an unexpected
turn of affairs at Bristol, the idea of proposing him for a candidate
revived. Messengers were sent express to his house in London, and,
not finding him there, they hastened down to Yorkshire. Burke quickly
resolved that the offer was too important to be rejected. Bristol was
the capital of the west, and it was still in wealth, population, and
mercantile activity the second city of the kingdom. To be invited to
stand for so great a constituency, without any request of his own and
free of personal expense, was a distinction which no politician could
hold lightly. Burke rose from the table where he was dining with some
of his supporters, stepped into a post-chaise at six on a Tuesday
evening, and travelled without a break until he reached Bristol on the
Thursday afternoon, having got over two hundred and seventy miles in
forty-four hours. Not only did he execute the journey without a break,
but, as he told the people of Bristol, with an exulting commemoration
of his own zeal that recalls Cicero, he did not sleep for an instant
in the interval. The poll was kept open for a month, and the contest
was the most tedious that had ever been known in the city. New freemen
were admitted down to the very last day of the election. At the end of
it, Burke was second on the poll, and was declared to be duly chosen
(November 3, 1774). There was a petition against his return, but the
election was confirmed, and he continued to sit for Bristol for six

The situation of a candidate is apt to find out a man's weaker places.
Burke stood the test. He showed none of the petulant rage of those
clamorous politicians whose flight, as he said, is winged in a lower
region of the air. As the traveller stands on the noble bridge
that now spans the valley of the Avon, he may recall Burke's local
comparison of these busy, angry familiars of an election, to the gulls
that skim the mud of the river when it is exhausted of its tide. He
gave his new friends a more important lesson, when the time came for
him to thank them for the honour which they had just conferred upon
him. His colleague had opened the subject of the relations between a
member of Parliament and his constituents; and had declared that,
for his own part, he should regard the instructions of the people of
Bristol as decisive and binding. Burke in a weighty passage upheld a
manlier doctrine.

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of
a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest
correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his
constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him;
their opinions high respect, their business unremitted attention.
It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasure, his
satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases,
to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion,
his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to
sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. Your
representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment;
and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to
your opinion.

My worthy colleague says, his will ought to be subservient to
yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a
matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be
superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and
judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that
in which the determination precedes the discussion, in which one
set of men deliberate and another decide, and where those who form
the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from
those who hear the arguments?... _Authoritative_ instructions,
_mandates_ issued, which the member is bound blindly and
implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to
the clearest convictions of his judgment and conscience--these are
things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise
from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our

[Footnote 1: "Speech at the conclusion of the Poll."]

For six years the Bristol electors were content to be represented by
a man of this independence. They never, however, really acquiesced
in the principle that a member of Parliament owes as much to his own
convictions as to the will of his constituents. In 1778 a bill was
brought into Parliament, relaxing some of the restrictions imposed
upon Ireland by the atrocious fiscal policy of Great Britain. The
great mercantile centres raised a furious outcry, and Bristol was as
blind and as boisterous as Manchester and Glasgow. Burke not only
spoke and voted in favour of the commercial propositions, but urged
that the proposed removal of restrictions on Irish trade did not go
nearly far enough. There was none of that too familiar casuistry,
by which public men argue themselves out of their consciences in a
strange syllogism, that they can best serve the country in Parliament;
that to keep their seats they must follow their electors; and that
therefore, in the long run, they serve the country best by acquiescing
in ignorance and prejudice. Anybody can denounce an abuse. It needs
valour and integrity to stand forth against a wrong to which our best
friends are most ardently committed. It warms our hearts to think
of the noble courage with which Burke faced the blind and vile
selfishness of his own supporters. He reminded them that England only
consented to leave to the Irish in two or three instances the use of
the natural faculties which God had given them. He asked them whether
Ireland was united to Great Britain for no other purpose than that we
should counteract the bounty of Providence in her favour; and whether,
in proportion as that bounty had been liberal, we were to regard it as
an evil to be met with every possible corrective? In our day there is
nobody of any school who doubts that Burke's view of our trade policy
towards Ireland was accurately, absolutely, and magnificently right.
I need not repeat the arguments. They made no mark on the Bristol
merchants. Burke boldly told them that he would rather run the risk of
displeasing than of injuring them. They implored him to become their
advocate. "I should only disgrace myself," he said; "I should lose the
only thing which can make such abilities as mine of any use to the
world now or hereafter. I mean that authority which is derived from
the opinion that a member speaks the language of truth and sincerity,
and that he is not ready to take up or lay down a great political
system for the convenience of the hour; that he is in Parliament to
support his opinion of the public good, and does not form his opinion
in order to get into Parliament or to continue in it."[1]

[Footnote 1: _Two Letters to Gentlemen in Bristol_, 1778.]

A small instalment of humanity to Ireland was not more distasteful to
the electors of Bristol than a small instalment of toleration to Roman
Catholics in England. A measure was passed (1778) repealing certain
iniquitous penalties created by an Act of William the Third. It is
needless to say that this rudimentary concession to justice and sense
was supported by Burke. His voters began to believe that those were
right who had said that he had been bred at Saint Omer's, was a Papist
at heart, and a Jesuit in disguise. When the time came, _summa dies et
ineluctabile fatum_, Burke bore with dignity and temper his dismissal
from the only independent constituency that he ever represented. Years
before he had warned a young man entering public life to regard and
wish well to the common people, whom his best instincts and his
highest duties lead him to love and to serve, but to put as little
trust in them as in princes. Burke somewhere describes an honest
public life as carrying on a poor unequal conflict against the
passions and prejudices of our day, perhaps with no better weapons
than passions and prejudices of our own.

The six years during which Burke sat in Parliament for Bristol, saw
this conflict carried on under the most desperate circumstances. They
were the years of the civil war between the English at home and the
English in the American colonies. George III. and Lord North have been
made scapegoats for sins which were not exclusively, their own. They
were only the organs and representatives of all the lurking ignorance
and arbitrary humours of the entire community. Burke discloses in many
places, that for once the king and Parliament did not act without the
sympathies of the mass. In his famous speech at Bristol, in 1780, he
was rebuking the intolerance of those who bitterly taunted him for the
support of the measure for the relaxation of the Penal Code. "It is
but too true," he said in a passage worth remembering, "that the love,
and even the very idea, of genuine liberty is extremely rare. It is
but too true that there are many whose whole scheme of freedom is made
up of pride, perverseness, and insolence. They feel themselves in
a state of thraldom, they imagine that their souls are cooped and
cabined in, unless they have some man, or some body of men, dependent
on their mercy. The desire of having some one below them, descends
to those who are the very lowest of all; and a Protestant cobbler,
debased by his poverty, but exalted by his share of the ruling Church,
feels a pride in knowing it is by his generosity alone that the peer,
whose footman's instep he measures, is able to keep his chaplain from
a gaol. This disposition is the true source of the passion which
many men, in very humble life, have taken to the American war. _Our_
subjects in America; _our_ colonies; _our_ dependents. This lust of
party power is the liberty they hunger and thirst for; and this Siren
song of ambition has charmed ears that we would have thought were
never organised to that sort of music."

This was the mental attitude of a majority of the nation, and it was
fortunate for them and for us that the yeomen and merchants on the
other side of the Atlantic had a more just and energetic appreciation
of the crisis. The insurgents, while achieving their own freedom, were
indirectly engaged in fighting the battle of the people of the mother
country as well. Burke had a vehement correspondent who wrote to
him (1777) that if the utter ruin of this country were to be the
consequence of her persisting in the claim to tax America, then he
would be the first to say, _Let her perish!_ If England prevails, said
Horace Walpole, English and American liberty is at an end; if one
fell, the other would fall with it. Burke, seeing this, "certainly
never could and never did wish," as he says of himself, "the colonists
to be subdued by arms. He was fully persuaded that if such should be
the event, they must be held in that subdued state by a great body of
standing forces, and perhaps of foreign forces. He was strongly of
opinion that such armies, first victorious over Englishmen, in a
conflict for English constitutional rights and privileges, and
afterwards habituated (though in America) to keep an English people
in a state of abject subjection, would prove fatal in the end to the
liberties of England itself."[1] The way for this remote peril was
being sedulously prepared by a widespread deterioration among popular
ideas, and a fatal relaxation of the hold which they had previously
gained in the public mind. In order to prove that the Americans had no
right to their liberties, we were every day endeavouring to subvert
the maxims which preserve the whole spirit of our own. To prove that
the Americans ought not to be free, we were obliged to depreciate the
value of freedom itself. The material strength of the Government, and
its moral strength alike, would have been reinforced by the defeat of
the colonists, to such an extent as to have seriously delayed or even
jeopardised English progress, and therefore that of Europe too. As
events actually fell out, the ferocious administration of the law
in the last five or six years of the eighteenth century was the
retribution for the lethargy or approval with which the mass of the
English community had watched the measures of the Government against
their fellow-Englishmen in America.

[Footnote 1: _Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs_.]

It is not necessary here to follow Burke minutely through the
successive stages of parliamentary action in the American war. He
always defended the settlement of 1766; the Stamp Act was repealed,
and the constitutional supremacy and sovereign authority of the mother
country was preserved in a Declaratory Act. When the project of taxing
the colonies was revived, and relations with them were becoming
strained and dangerous, Burke came forward with a plan for leaving the
General Assemblies of the colonies to grant supplies and aids, instead
of giving and granting supplies in Parliament, to be raised and paid
in the colonies. Needless to say that it was rejected, and perhaps it
was not feasible. Henceforth Burke could only watch in impotence the
blunders of Government, and the disasters that befell the national
arms. But his protests against the war will last as long as our

Of all Burke's writings none are so fit to secure unqualified
and unanimous admiration as the three pieces on this momentous
struggle:--the Speech on American Taxation (April 19, 1774); the
Speech on Conciliation with America (March 22, 1775); and the Letter
to the Sheriffs of Bristol (1777). Together they hardly exceed the
compass of the little volume which the reader now has in his hands. It
is no exaggeration to say that they compose the most perfect manual in
our literature, or in any literature, for one who approaches the study
of public affairs, whether for knowledge or for practice. They are an
example without fault of all the qualities which the critic, whether a
theorist or an actor, of great political situations should strive by
night and by day to possess. If the theme with which they deal were
less near than it is to our interests and affections as free citizens,
these three performances would still abound in the lessons of an
incomparable political method. If their subject were as remote as the
quarrel between the Corinthians and Corcyra, or the war between Rome
and the Allies, instead of a conflict to which the world owes the
opportunity of the most important of political experiments, we should
still have everything to learn from the author's treatment; the
vigorous grasp of masses of compressed detail, the wide illumination
from great principles of human experience, the strong and masculine
feeling for the two great political ends of Justice and Freedom, the
large and generous interpretation of expediency, the morality, the
vision, the noble temper. If ever, in the fulness of time, and surely
the fates of men and literature cannot have it otherwise, Burke
becomes one of the half-dozen names of established and universal
currency in education and in common books, rising above the
waywardness of literary caprice or intellectual fashions, as
Shakespeare and Milton and Bacon rise above it, it will be the
mastery, the elevation, the wisdom, of these far-shining discourses in
which the world will in an especial degree recognise the combination
of sovereign gifts with beneficent uses.

The pamphlet on the _Present Discontents_ is partially obscured or
muffled to the modern reader by the space which is given to the cabal
of the day. The _Reflections on the French Revolution_ over-abounds in
declamation, and--apart from its being passionately on one side, and
that perhaps the wrong one--the splendour of the eloquence is out
of proportion to the reason and the judgment. In the pieces on the
American war, on the contrary, Burke was conscious that he could trust
nothing to the sympathy or the prepossessions of his readers, and
this put him upon an unwonted persuasiveness. Here it is reason and
judgment, not declamation; lucidity, not passion; that produces
the effects of eloquence. No choler mars the page; no purple patch
distracts our minds from the penetrating force of argument; no
commonplace is dressed up into a vague sublimity. The cause of freedom
is made to wear its own proper robe of equity, self-control, and

Not one, but all those great idols of the political market-place whose
worship and service has cost the race so dear, are discovered and
shown to be the foolish uncouth stocks and stones that they are. Fox
once urged members of Parliament to peruse the speech on Conciliation
again and again, to study it, to imprint it on their minds, to impress
it on their hearts. But Fox only referred to the lesson which he
thought to be contained in it, that representation is the sovereign
remedy for every evil. This is by far the least important of its
lessons. It is great in many ways. It is greatest as a remonstrance
and an answer against the thriving sophisms of barbarous national
pride, the eternal fallacies of war and conquest; and here it is
great, as all the three pieces on the subject are so, because they
expose with unanswerable force the deep-lying faults of heart and
temper, as well as of understanding, which move nations to haughty and
violent courses.

The great argument with those of the war party who pretended to a
political defence of their position, was the doctrine that the English
Government was sovereign in the colonies as at home; and in the notion
of sovereignty they found inherent the notion of an indefeasible
right to impose and exact taxes. Having satisfied themselves of the
existence of this sovereignty, and of the right which they took to be
its natural property, they saw no step between the existence of an
abstract right and the propriety of enforcing it. We have seen an
instance of a similar mode of political thinking in our own lifetime.
During the great civil war between the northern and southern states of
the American Union, people in England convinced themselves--some
after careful examination of documents, others by cursory glances at
second-hand authorities--that the south had a right to secede. The
current of opinion was precisely similar in the struggle to which the
United States owed their separate existence. Now the idea of a right
as a mysterious and reverend abstraction, to be worshipped in a state
of naked divorce from expediency and convenience, was one that Burke's
political judgment found preposterous and unendurable. He hated
the arbitrary and despotic savour which clung about the English
assumptions over the colonies. And his repulsion was heightened when
he found that these assumptions were justified, not by some permanent
advantage which their victory would procure for the mother country
or for the colonies, or which would repay the cost of gaining such a
victory; not by the assertion and demonstration of some positive duty,
but by the futile and meaningless doctrine that we had a right to do
something or other, if we liked.

The alleged compromise of the national dignity implied in a withdrawal
of the just claim of the Government, instead of convincing, only
exasperated him. "Show the thing you contend for to be reason; show it
to be common sense; show it to be the means of attaining some useful
end; and then I am content to allow it what dignity you please."[1]
The next year he took up the ground still more firmly, and explained
it still more impressively. As for the question of the right
of taxation, he exclaimed, "It is less than nothing in my
consideration.... My consideration is narrow, confined, and wholly
limited to the policy of the question. I do not examine whether the
giving away a man's money be a power excepted and reserved out of the
general trust of Government.... _The question with me is not whether
you have a right to render your people miserable, but whether it is
not your interest to make them happy._ It is not what a lawyer tells
me I _may_ do, but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I
_ought_ to do. I am not determining a point of law; I am restoring
tranquillity, and the general character and situation of a people must
determine what sort of government is fitted for them." "I am not here
going into the distinctions of rights," he cries, "not attempting
to mark their boundaries. I do not enter into these metaphysical
distinctions. _I hate the very sound of them_. This is the true
touchstone of all theories which regard man and the affairs of man:
does it suit his nature in general?--does it suit his nature as
modified by his habits?" He could not bear to think of having
legislative or political arrangements shaped or vindicated by a
delusive geometrical accuracy of deduction, instead of being entrusted
to "the natural operation of things, which, left to themselves,
generally fall into their proper order."

[Footnote 1: "Speech on American Taxation."]

Apart from his incessant assertion of the principle that man acts from
adequate motives relative to his interests, and not on metaphysical
speculations, Burke sows, as he marches along in his stately argument,
many a germ of the modern philosophy of civilisation. He was told that
America was worth fighting for. "Certainly it is," he answered, "if
fighting a people be the best way of gaining them." Every step that
has been taken in the direction of progress, not merely in empire, but
in education, in punishment, in the treatment of the insane, has shown
the deep wisdom, so unfamiliar in that age of ferocious penalties and
brutal methods, of this truth--that "the natural effect of fidelity,
clemency, kindness in governors, is peace, good-will, order, and
esteem in the governed." Is there a single instance to the contrary?
Then there is that sure key to wise politics:--"_Nobody shall persuade
me when a whole people are concerned, that acts of lenity are not
means of conciliation_." And that still more famous sentence, "_I
do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole

Good and observant men will feel that no misty benevolence or vague
sympathy, but the positive reality of experience, inspired such
passages as that where he says,--"Never expecting to find perfection
in men, and not looking for divine attributes in created beings, in my
commerce with my contemporaries I have found much human virtue.
The age unquestionably produces daring profligates and insidious
hypocrites? What then? Am I not to avail myself of whatever good is
to be found in the world, because of the mixture of evil that is in
it?... Those who raise suspicions of the good, on account of
the behaviour of evil men, are of the party of the latter.... A
conscientious person would rather doubt his own judgment than condemn
his species. He that accuses all mankind of corruption ought to
remember that he is sure to convict only one. In truth, I should much
rather admit those whom at any time I have disrelished the most, to be
patterns of perfection, than seek a consolation to my own unworthiness
in a general communion of depravity with all about me." This is one of
those pieces of rational constancy and mental wholeness in Burke which
fill up our admiration for him--one of the manifold illustrations of
an invincible fidelity to the natural order and operation of things,
even when they seemed most hostile to all that was dear to his own



Towards 1780 it began to be clear that the Ministers had brought
the country into disaster and humiliation, from which their policy
contained no way of escape. In the closing months of the American war,
the Opposition pressed Ministers with a vigour that never abated. Lord
North bore their attacks with perfect good-humour. When Burke, in
the course of a great oration, parodied Burgoyne's invitation to the
Indians to repair to the king's standard, the wit and satire of
it almost suffocated the Prime Minister, not with shame but with
laughter. His heart had long ceased to be in the matter, and everybody
knew that he only retained his post in obedience to the urgent
importunities of the king, whilst such colleagues as Rigby only clung
to their place because the salaries were endeared by long familiarity.
The general gloom was accidentally deepened by that hideous outbreak
of fanaticism and violence, which is known as the Lord George Gordon
Riots (June 1780). The Whigs, as having favoured the relaxation of
the laws against popery, were especially obnoxious to the mob. The
Government sent a guard of soldiers to protect Burke's house in
Charles Street, St. James's; but after he had removed the more
important of his papers, he insisted on the guard being despatched for
the protection of more important places, and he took shelter under the
roof of General Burgoyne. His excellent wife, according to a letter of
his brother, had "the firmness and sweetness of an angel; but why do
I say of an angel?--of a woman." Burke himself courageously walked
to and fro amid the raging crowds with firm composure, though the
experiment was full of peril. He describes the mob as being made up,
as London mobs generally are, rather of the unruly and dissolute than
of fanatical malignants, and he vehemently opposed any concessions by
Parliament to the spirit of intolerance which had first kindled the
blaze. All the letters of the time show that the outrages and alarms
of those days and nights, in which the capital seemed to be at the
mercy of a furious rabble, made a deeper impression on the minds of
contemporaries than they ought to have done. Burke was not likely to
be less excited than others by the sight of such insensate disorder;
and it is no idle fancy that he had the mobs of 1780 still in his
memory, when ten years later he poured out the vials of his wrath on
the bloodier mob which carried the King and Queen of France in wild
triumph from Versailles to Paris.

In the previous February (1780) Burke had achieved one of the greatest
of all his parliamentary and oratorical successes. Though the matter
of this particular enterprise is no longer alive, yet it illustrates
his many strong qualities in so remarkable a way that it is right to
give some account of it. We have already seen that Burke steadily set
his face against parliamentary reform; he habitually declared that
the machine was well enough to answer any good purpose, provided the
materials were sound. The statesman who resists all projects for the
reform of the constitution, and yet eagerly proclaims how deplorably
imperfect are the practical results of its working, binds himself to
vigorous exertions for the amendment of administration. Burke devoted
himself to this duty with a fervid assiduity that has not often been
exampled, and has never been surpassed. He went to work with the zeal
of a religious enthusiast, intent on purging his Church and his faith
of the corruptions which lowered it in the eyes of men. There was no
part or order of government so obscure, so remote, or so complex, as
to escape his acute and persevering observation.

Burke's object, in his schemes for Economical Reform, was less to
husband the public resources and relieve the tax-payer--though this
aim could not have been absent from his mind, overburdened as England
then was with the charges of the American war--than to cut off the
channels which supplied the corruption of the House of Commons. The
full title of the first project which he presented to the legislature
(February 1780), was, A Plan for the Better Security of the
Independence of Parliament, and the Economical Reformation of the
Civil and other Establishments. It was to the former that he
deemed the latter to be the most direct road. The strength of the
administration in the House was due to the gifts which the Minister
had in his hands to dispense. Men voted with the side which could
reward their fidelity. It was the number of sinecure places and
unpublished pensions, which along with the controllable influence of
peers and nabobs, furnished the Minister with an irresistible lever:
the avarice and the degraded public spirit of the recipients supplied
the required fulcrum. Burke knew that in sweeping away these
factitious places and secret pensions, he would be robbing the
Court of its chief implements of corruption, and protecting the
representative against his chief motive in selling his country. He
conceived that he would thus be promoting a far more infallible means
than any scheme of electoral reform could have provided, for reviving
the integrity and independence of the House of Commons. In his
eyes, the evil resided not in the constituencies, but in their
representatives; not in the small number of the one, but in the
smaller integrity of the other. The evil did not stop where it began.
It was not merely that the sinister motive, thus engendered in
the minds of too lax and facile men, induced them to betray their
legislative trust, and barter their own uprightness and the interests
of the State. The acquisition of one of these nefarious bribes meant
much more than a sinister vote. It called into existence a champion of
every inveterate abuse that weighed on the resources of the country.
There is a well-known passage in the speech on Economical Reform, in
which the speaker shows what an insurmountable obstacle Lord Talbot
had found in his attempt to carry out certain reforms in the royal
household, in the fact that the turnspit of the king's kitchen was a
member of Parliament. "On that rock his whole adventure split,--his
whole scheme of economy was dashed to pieces; his department
became more expensive than ever; the Civil List debt accumulated."
Interference with the expenses of the household meant interference
with the perquisites or fees of this legislative turnspit, and the
rights of sinecures were too sacred to be touched. In comparison with
them, it counted for nothing that the king's tradesmen went unpaid,
and became bankrupt; that the judges were unpaid; that the justice of
the kingdom bent and gave way; the foreign ministers remained inactive
and unprovided; the system of Europe was dissolved; the chain of our
alliances was broken; all the wheels of Government at home and abroad
were stopped. _The king's turnspit was a member of Parliament_.[1]
This office and numbers of others exactly like it, existed solely
because the House of Commons was crowded with venal men. The post of
royal scullion meant a vote that could be relied upon under every
circumstance and in all emergencies. And each incumbent of such an
office felt his honour and interests concerned in the defence of all
other offices of the same scandalous description. There was thus
maintained a strong standing army of expensive, lax, and corrupting

[Footnote 1: The Civil List at this time comprehended a great number
of charges, such as those of which Burke speaks, that had nothing
to do with the sovereign personally. They were slowly removed, the
judicial and diplomatic charges being transferred on the accession of
William IV.] The royal household was a gigantic nest of costly jobbery
and purposeless profusion. It retained all "the cumbrous charge of
a Gothic establishment," though all its usage and accommodation had
"shrunk into the polished littleness of modern elegance." The outlay
was enormous. The expenditure on the court tables only was a thing
unfathomable. Waste was the rule in every branch of it. There was an
office for the Great Wardrobe, another office of the Robes, a third
of the Groom of the Stole. For these three useless offices there
were three useless treasurers. They all laid a heavy burden on the
taxpayer, in order to supply a bribe to the member of Parliament.
The plain remedy was to annihilate the subordinate treasuries. "Take
away," was Burke's demand, "the whole establishment of detail in
the household: the Treasurer, the Comptroller, the Cofferer of the
Household, the Treasurer of the Chamber, the Master of the Household,
the whole Board of Green Cloth; a vast number of subordinate offices
in the department of the Steward of the Household; the whole
establishment of the Great Wardrobe; the Removing Wardrobe; the Jewel
Office; the Robes; the Board of Works." The abolition of this confused
and costly system would not only diminish expense and promote
efficiency; it would do still more excellent service in destroying the
roots of parliamentary corruption. "Under other governments a question
of expense is only a question of economy, and it is nothing more;
with us, in every question of expense, there is always a mixture of
constitutional considerations."

Places and pensions, though the worst, were not by any means the only
stumbling-block in the way of pure and well-ordered government. The
administration of the estates of the Crown,--the Principality, the
Duchy of Cornwall, the Duchy of Lancaster, the County Palatine
of Chester,--was an elaborate system of obscure and unprofitable
expenditure. Wales had to herself eight judges, while no more than
twelve sufficed to perform the whole business of justice in England, a
country ten times as large and a hundred times as opulent. Wales,
and each of the duchies, had its own exchequer. Every one of these
principalities, said Burke, has the apparatus of a kingdom, for the
jurisdiction over a few private estates; it has the formality and
charge of the Exchequer of Great Britain, for collecting the rents of
a country squire. They were the field, in his expressive phrase,
of mock jurisdictions and mimic revenues, of difficult trifles and
laborious fooleries. "It was but the other day that that pert factious
fellow, the Duke of Lancaster, presumed to fly in the face of his
liege lord, our gracious sovereign--presumed to go to law with the
king. The object is neither your business nor mine. Which of the
parties got the better I really forget. The material point is that the
suit cost about L15,000. But as the Duke of Lancaster is but agent of
Duke Humphrey, and not worth a groat, our sovereign was obliged to pay
the costs of both." The system which involved these costly absurdities
Burke proposed entirely to abolish. In the same spirit he wished to
dispose of the Crown lands and the forest lands, which it was for the
good of the community, not less than of the Crown itself, to throw
into the hands of private owners.

One of the most important of these projected reforms, and one which
its author did not flinch from carrying out two years later to his
own loss, related to the office of Paymaster. This functionary was
accustomed to hold large balances of the public money in his own hands
and for his own profit, for long periods, owing to a complex system of
accounts which was so rigorous as entirely to defeat its own object.
The paymaster could not, through the multiplicity of forms and the
exaction of impossible conditions, get a prompt acquittance. The
audit sometimes did not take place for years after the accounts were
virtually closed. Meanwhile the money accumulated in his hands, and
its profits were his legitimate perquisite. Lord Holland, or his
representatives, held the balances of his office from 1765, when he
retired, until 1778, when they were audited. During this time he
realised, as the interest on the use of these balances, nearly two
hundred and fifty thousand pounds. Burke diverted these enormous gains
into the coffers of the State. He fixed the paymaster's salary at four
thousand pounds a year, and was himself the first person who accepted
the curtailed income.

Not the most fervid or brilliant of Burke's pieces, yet the speech on
Economical Reform is certainly not the least instructive or impressive
of them. It gives a suggestive view of the relations existing at that
time between the House of Commons and the Court. It reveals the narrow
and unpatriotic spirit of the king and the ministers, who could resist
proposals so reasonable in themselves, and so remedial in their
effects, at a time when the nation was suffering the heavy and
distressing burdens of the most disastrous war that our country has
ever carried on. It is especially interesting as an illustration of
its author's political capacity. At a moment when committees and
petitions and great county meetings showed how thoroughly the national
anger was roused against the existing system, Burke came to the front
of affairs with a scheme, of which the most striking characteristic
proved to be that it was profoundly temperate. Bent on the extirpation
of the system, he had no ill-will towards the men who had happened
to flourish in it. "I never will suffer," he said, "any man or
description of men to suffer from errors that naturally have grown
out of the abusive constitution of those offices which I propose to
regulate. If I cannot reform with equity, I will not reform at all."
Exasperated as he was by the fruitlessness of his opposition to a
policy which he detested from the bottom of his soul, it would have
been little wonderful if he had resorted to every weapon of his
unrivalled rhetorical armoury, in order to discredit and overthrow the
whole scheme of government. Yet nothing could have been further from
his mind than any violent or extreme idea of this sort. Many years
afterwards, he took credit to himself less for what he did on this
occasion than for what he prevented from being done. People were ready
for a new modelling of the two Houses of Parliament, as well as for
grave modifications of the Prerogative. Burke resisted this temper
unflinchingly. "I had," he says, "a state to preserve, as well as a
state to reform. I had a people to gratify, but not to inflame or to
mislead." He then recounts without exaggeration the pains and caution
with which he sought reform, while steering clear of innovation. He
heaved the lead every inch of way he made. It is grievous to think
that a man who could assume such an attitude at such a time, who could
give this kind of proof of his skill in the great, the difficult art
of governing, only held a fifth-rate office for some time less than a

The year of the project of Economic Reform (1780) is usually taken as
the date when Burke's influence and repute were at their height. He
had not been tried in the fire of official responsibility, and his
impetuosity was still under a degree of control which not long
afterwards was fatally weakened by an over-mastering irritability of
constitution. High as his character was now in the ascendant, it was
in the same year that Burke suffered the sharp mortification of losing
his seat at Bristol. His speech before the election is one of the best
known of all his performances; and it well deserves to be so, for it
is surpassed by none in gravity, elevation, and moral dignity. We
can only wonder that a constituency which could suffer itself to
be addressed on this high level, should have allowed the small
selfishness of local interest to weigh against such wisdom and
nobility. But Burke soon found in the course of his canvas that he had
no chance, and he declined to go to the poll. On the previous day one
of his competitors had fallen down dead. "_What shadows we are_" said
Burke, "_and what shadows we pursue!_"

In 1782 Lord North's government came to an end, and the king "was
pleased," as Lord North quoted with jesting irony from the _Gazette_,
to send for Lord Rockingham, Charles Fox, and Lord Shelburne. Members
could hardly believe their own eyes, as they saw Lord North and the
members of a government which had been in place for twelve years, now
lounging on the opposition benches in their greatcoats, frocks, and
boots, while Fox and Burke shone in the full dress that was then
worn by ministers, and cut unwonted figures with swords, lace, and
hair-powder. Sheridan was made an under-secretary of state, and to the
younger Pitt was offered his choice of various minor posts, which he
haughtily refused. Burke, to whom on their own admission the party
owed everything, was appointed Paymaster of the Forces, with a salary
of four thousand pounds a year. His brother, Richard Burke, was
made Secretary of the Treasury. His son Richard was named to be his
father's deputy at the Pay-Office, with a salary of five hundred

This singular exclusion from cabinet office of the most powerful
genius of the party has naturally given rise to abundant criticism
ever since. It will be convenient to say what there is to be said on
this subject, in connection with the events of 1788 (below, p. 200),
because there happens to exist some useful information about the
ministerial crisis of that year, which sheds a clearer light upon the
arrangements of six years before. Meanwhile it is enough to say that
Burke himself had most reasonably looked to some higher post. There
is the distinct note of the humility of mortified pride in a letter
written in reply to some one who had applied to him for a place. "You
have been misinformed," he says; "I make no part of the ministerial
arrangement. Something in the official line may possibly be thought
fit for my measure." Burke knew that his position in the country
entitled him to something above the official line. In a later year,
when he felt himself called upon to defend his pension, he described
what his position was in the momentous crisis from 1780 to 1782, and
Burke's habitual veraciousness forbids us to treat the description as
in any way exaggerated. "By what accident it matters not," he says,
"nor upon what desert, but just then, and in the midst of that hunt of
obloquy which has ever pursued me with a full cry through life, I
had obtained a very full degree of public confidence.... Nothing to
prevent disorder was omitted; when it appeared, nothing to subdue it
was left uncounselled nor unexecuted, as far as I could prevail. At
the time I speak of, and having a momentary lead, so aided and so
encouraged, and as a feeble instrument in a mighty hand--I do not say
I saved my country--I am sure I did my country important service.
There were few indeed that did not at that time acknowledge it--and
that time was thirteen years ago. It was but one view, that no man in
the kingdom better deserved an honourable provision should be made for

[Footnote 1: _Letter to a Noble Lord._]

We have seen that Burke had fixed the paymaster's salary at four
thousand pounds, and had destroyed the extravagant perquisites. The
other economical reforms which were actually effected fell short by
a long way of those which Burke had so industriously devised and so
forcibly recommended. In 1782, while Burke declined to spare his own
office, the chief of the cabinet conferred upon Barre a pension of
over three thousand a year; above ten times the amount, as has been
said, which, in Lord Rockingham's own judgment, as expressed in the
new Bill, ought henceforth to be granted to any one person whatever.
This shortcoming, however, does not detract from Burke's merit. He was
not responsible for it. The eloquence, ingenuity, diligence, above
all, the sagacity and the justice of this great effort of 1780, are
none the less worthy of our admiration and regard because, in 1782,
his chiefs, partly perhaps out of a new-born deference for the
feelings of their royal master, showed that the possession of office
had sensibly cooled the ardent aspirations proper to Opposition.

The events of the twenty months between the resignation of Lord North
(1782) and the accession of Pitt to the office of Prime Minister
(December 1783) mark an important crisis in political history, and
they mark an important crisis in Burke's career and hopes. Lord
Rockingham had just been three months in office, when he died (July
1782). This dissolved the bond that held the two sections of the
ministry together, and let loose a flood of rival ambitions and sharp
animosities. Lord Shelburne believed himself to have an irresistible
claim to the chief post in the administration; among other reasons,
because he might have had it before Lord Rockingham three months
earlier, if he had so chosen. The king supported him, not from any
partiality to his person, but because he dreaded and hated Charles
Fox. The character of Shelburne is one of the perplexities of the
time. His views on peace and free trade make him one of the precursors
of the Manchester School. No minister was so well informed as to the
threads of policy in foreign countries. He was the intimate or the
patron of men who now stand out as among the first lights of that
time--of Morellet, of Priestley, of Bentham. Yet a few months of power
seem to have disclosed faults of character, which left him without a
single political friend, and blighted him with irreparable discredit.
Fox, who was now the head of the Rockingham section of the Whigs, had,
before the death of the late premier, been on the point of refusing to
serve any longer with Lord Shelburne, and he now very promptly refused
to serve under him. When Parliament met after Rockingham's death,
gossips noticed that Fox and Burke continued, long after the Speaker
had taken the chair, to walk backwards and forwards in the Court of
Bequests, engaged in earnest conversation. According to one story,
Burke was very reluctant to abandon an office whose emoluments were
as convenient to him as to his spendthrift colleague. According
to another and more probable legend, it was Burke who hurried the
rupture, and stimulated Fox's jealousy of Shelburne. The Duke of
Richmond disapproved of the secession, and remained in the Government.
Sheridan also disapproved, but he sacrificed his personal conviction
to loyalty to Fox.

If Burke was responsible for the break-up of the Government, then
he was the instigator of a blunder that must be pronounced not only
disastrous but culpable. It lowered the legitimate spirit of party
to the nameless spirit of faction. The dangers from which the old
liberties of the realm had just emerged have been described by no one
so forcibly as by Burke himself. No one was so convinced as Burke that
the only way of withstanding the arbitrary and corrupting policy of
the Court was to form a strong Whig party. No one knew better than he
the sovereign importance and the immense difficulty of repairing the
ruin of the last twelve years by a good peace. The Rockingham or
Foxite section were obviously unable to form an effective party with
serious expectation of power, unless they had allies. They might, no
doubt, from personal dislike to Lord Shelburne, refuse to work
under him; but personal dislike could be no excuse for formally and
violently working against him, when his policy was their own, and when
its success was recognised by them no less than by him as of urgent
moment. Instead of either working with the other section of their
party, or of supporting from below the gangway that which was the
policy of both sections, they sought to return to power by coalescing
with the very man whose criminal subservience to the king's will had
brought about the catastrophe that Shelburne was repairing. Burke must
share the blame of this famous transaction. He was one of the most
furious assailants of the new ministry. He poured out a fresh
invective against Lord Shelburne every day Cynical contemporaries
laughed as they saw him in search of more and more humiliating
parallels, ransacking all literature from the Bible and the Roman
history down to Mother Goose's tales. His passion carried him so far
as to breed a reaction in those who listened to him. "I think,"
wrote Mason from Yorkshire, where Burke had been on a visit to Lord
Fitzwilliam in the autumn of 1782, "that Burke's mad obloquy against
Lord Shelburne, and these insolent pamphlets in which he must have
had a hand, will do more to fix him (Shelburne) in his office than
anything else."

This result would have actually followed, for the nation was ill
pleased at the immoral alliance between the Foxites and the man whom,
if they had been true to their opinions a thousand times repeated,
they ought at that moment to have been impeaching. The Dissenters, who
had hitherto been his enthusiastic admirers, but who are rigid above
other men in their demand of political consistency, lamented Burke's
fall in joining the Coalition, as Priestley told him many years after,
as the fall of a friend and a brother. But Shelburne threw away
the game. "His falsehoods," says Horace Walpole, "his flatteries,
duplicity, insincerity, arrogance, contradictions, neglect of his
friends, with all the kindred of all these faults, were the daily
topics of contempt and ridicule; and his folly shut his eyes, nor did
he perceive that so very rapid a fall must have been owing to his own
incapacity." This is the testimony of a hostile witness. It is borne
out, however, by a circumstance of striking significance. When the
king recovered the reins at the end of 1783, not only did he send
for Pitt instead of for Shelburne, but Pitt himself neither invited
Shelburne to join him, nor in any way ever consulted him then or
afterwards, though he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer in
Shelburne's own administration.

Whatever the causes may have been, the administration fell in the
spring of 1783. It was succeeded by the memorable ministry of the
Coalition, in which Fox and Lord North divided the real power under
the nominal lead of the Duke of Portland. Members saw Lord North
squeezed up on the Treasury bench between two men who had a year
before been daily menacing him with the axe and the block; and it was
not North whom they blamed, but Burke and Fox. Burke had returned to
the Pay-Office. His first act there was unfortunate. He restored to
their position two clerks who had been suspended for malversation, and
against whom proceedings were then pending. When attacked for this in
the House, he showed an irritation which would have carried him to
gross lengths, if Fox and Sheridan had not by main force pulled him
down into his seat by the tails of his coat. The restoration of the
clerks was an indefensible error of judgment, and its indiscretion was
heightened by the kind of defence which Burke tried to set up. When
we wonder at Burke's exclusion from great offices, this case of Powell
and Bembridge should not be forgotten.

The decisive event in the history of the Coalition Government was the
India Bill. The Reports of the various select committees upon Indian
affairs--the most important of them all, the ninth and eleventh,
having been drawn up by Burke himself--had shown conclusively that the
existing system of government was thoroughly corrupt and thoroughly
inadequate. It is ascertained pretty conclusively that the Bill for
replacing that system was conceived and drawn by Burke, and that to
him belongs whatever merit or demerit it might possess. It was Burke
who infected Fox with his own ardour, and then, as Moore justly says,
the self-kindling power of Fox's eloquence threw such fire into his
defence of the measure, that he forgot, and his hearers never found
out, that his views were not originally and spontaneously his own. The
novelty on which the great stress of discussion was laid was that
the Bill withdrew power from the Board of Directors, and vested the
Government for four years in a commission of seven persons named in
the Bill, and not removable by the House.

Burke was so convinced of the incurable iniquity of the Company, so
persuaded that it was not only full of abuses, but, as he said, one of
the most corrupt and destructive tyrannies that probably ever existed
in the world, as to be content with nothing short of the absolute
deprivation of its power. He avowed himself no lover of names, and
that he only contended for good government, from whatever quarter it
might come. But the idea of good government coming from the Company he
declared to be desperate and untenable. This intense animosity, which,
considering his long and close familiarity with the infamies of the
rule of the Company's servants, was not unnatural, must be allowed,
however, to have blinded him to the grave objections which really
existed to his scheme. In the first place, the Bill was indisputably
inconsistent with the spirit of his revered Constitution. For the
legislature to assume the power of naming the members of an executive
body was an extraordinary and mischievous innovation. Then, to put
patronage, which has been estimated by a sober authority at about
three hundred thousand pounds a year, into the hands of the House of
Commons, was still more mischievous and still less justifiable. Worst
of all, from the point of view of the projectors themselves, after a
certain time the nomination of the Commissioners would fall to the
Crown, and this might in certain contingencies increase to a most
dangerous extent the ascendancy of the royal authority. If Burke's
measure had been carried, moreover, the patronage would have been
transferred to a body much less competent than the Directors to
judge of the qualities required in the fulfilment of this or
that administrative charge. Indian promotion would have followed
parliamentary and party interest. In the hands of the Directors there
was at least a partial security, in their professional knowledge,
and their personal interest in the success of their government, that
places would not be given away on irrelevant considerations. Their
system, with all its faults, insured the acquisition of a certain
considerable competency in administration before a servant reached an
elevation at which he could do much harm.

Burke defended the Bill (December 1, 1783) in one of the speeches
which rank only below his greatest, and it contains two or three
passages of unsurpassed energy and impressiveness. Everybody knows the
fine page about Fox as the descendant of Henry IV. of France, and the
happy quotation from Silius Italicus. Every book of British eloquence
contains the magnificent description of the young magistrates who
undertake the government and the spoliation of India; how, "animated
with all the avarice of age, and all the impetuosity of youth, they
roll in one after another, wave after wave; and there is nothing
before the eyes of the natives but an endless, hopeless prospect
of new flights of birds of prey and of passage, with appetites
continually renewing for a food that is continually wasting." How they
return home laden with spoil: "their prey is lodged in England; and
the cries of India are given to seas and winds, to be blown about, in
every breaking up of the monsoon, over a remote and unhearing ocean."
How in India all the vices operate by which sudden fortune is
acquired; while in England are often displayed by the same person
the virtues which dispense hereditary wealth, so that "here the
manufacturer and the husbandman will bless the just and punctual hand
that in India has torn the cloth from the loom, or wrested the scanty
portion of rice and salt from the peasant of Bengal, or wrung from him
the very opium in which he forgot his oppression and his oppressors."

No degree of eloquence, however, could avail to repair faults alike
in structure and in tactics. The whole design was a masterpiece of
hardihood, miscalculation, and mismanagement. The combination of
interests against the Bill was instant, and it was indeed formidable.
The great army of returned nabobs, of directors, of proprietors of
East India stock, rose up in all its immense force. Every member of
every corporation that enjoyed privilege by charter, felt the attack
on the Company as if it had been a blow directed against himself.
The general public had no particular passion for purity or good
government, and the best portion of the public was disgusted with the
Coalition. The king saw his chance. With politic audacity he put so
strong a personal pressure on the peers, that they threw out the Bill
(December 1783). It was to no purpose that Fox compared the lords to
the Janissaries of a Turkish Sultan, and the king's letter to Temple,
to the rescript in which Tiberius ordered the upright Sejanus to be
destroyed. Ministers were dismissed, the young Pitt was installed in
their place, and the Whigs were ruined. As a party, they had a few
months of office after Pitt's death, but they were excluded from power
for half a century.



Though Burke had, at a critical period of his life, definitely
abandoned the career of letters, he never withdrew from close intimacy
with the groups who still live for us in the pages of Boswell, as no
other literary group in our history lives. Goldsmith's famous lines in
_Retaliation_ show how they all deplored that he should to party give
up what was meant for mankind. They often told one another that Edmund
Burke was the man whose genius pointed him out as the triumphant
champion of faith and sound philosophy against deism, atheism, and
David Hume. They loved to see him, as Goldsmith said, wind into his
subject like a serpent. Everybody felt at the Literary Club that he
had no superior in knowledge, and in colloquial dialectics only one
equal. Garrick was there, and of all the names of the time he is the
man whom one would perhaps most willingly have seen, because the gifts
which threw not only Englishmen, but Frenchmen like Diderot, and
Germans like Lichtenberg, into amazement and ecstasy, are exactly
those gifts which literary description can do least to reproduce.
Burke was one of his strongest admirers, and there was no more zealous
attendant at the closing series of performances in which the great
monarch of the stage abdicated his throne. In the last pages that
he wrote, Burke refers to his ever dear friend Garrick, dead nearly
twenty years before, as the first of actors because he was the acutest
observer of nature that he had ever known. Then among men who pass
for being more serious than players, Robertson was often in London
society, and he attracted Burke by his largeness and breadth. He sent
a copy of his _History of America_, and Burke thanked him with many
stately compliments for having employed philosophy to judge of
manners, and from manners having drawn new resources of philosophy.
Gibbon was there, but the bystanders felt what was too crudely
expressed by Mackintosh, that Gibbon might have been taken from a
corner of Burke's mind without ever being missed. Though Burke and
Gibbon constantly met, it is not likely that, until the Revolution,
there was much intimacy between them, in spite of the respect which
each of them might well have had for the vast knowledge of the other.
When the _Decline and Fall_ was published, Burke read it as everybody
else did; but he told Reynolds that he disliked the style, as very
affected, mere frippery and tinsel. Sir Joshua himself was neither
a man of letters nor a keen politician; but he was full of literary
ideas and interests, and he was among Burke's warmest and most
constant friends, following him with an admiration and reverence that
even Johnson sometimes thought excessive. The reader of Reynolds's
famous Discourses will probably share the wonder of his
contemporaries, that a man whose time was so absorbed in the practice
of his art, should have proved himself so excellent a master in the
expression of some of its principles. Burke was commonly credited with
a large share in their composition, but the evidence goes no further
than that Reynolds used to talk them over with him. The friendship
between the pair was full and unalloyed. What Burke admired in the
great artist was his sense and his morals, no less than his genius;
and to a man of his fervid and excitable temper there was the most
attractive of all charms in Sir Joshua's placidity, gentleness,
evenness, and the habit, as one of his friends described it, of being
the same all the year round. When Reynolds died in 1792, he appointed
Burke one of his executors, and left him a legacy of two thousand
pounds, besides cancelling a bond of the same amount.

Johnson, however, is the only member of that illustrious company who
can profitably be compared with Burke in strength and impressiveness
of personality, in a large sensibility at once serious and genial, in
brooding care for all the fulness of human life. This striking pair
were the two complements of a single noble and solid type, holding
tenaciously, in a century of dissolvent speculation, to the best ideas
of a society that was slowly passing. They were powerless to hinder
the inevitable transformation. One of them did not even dimly
foresee it. But both of them help us to understand how manliness and
reverence, strength and tenderness, love of truth and pity for man,
all flourished under old institutions and old ways of thinking, into
which the forces of the time were even then silently breathing a new
spirit. The friendship between Burke and Johnson lasted as long as
they lived; and if we remember that Johnson was a strong Tory, and
declared that the first Whig was the devil, and habitually talked
about cursed Whigs and bottomless Whigs, it is an extraordinary fact
that his relations with the greatest Whig writer and politician of his
day were marked by a cordiality, respect, and admiration that never
varied nor wavered. "Burke," he said in a well-known passage, "is such
a man that if you met him for the first time in the street, where you
were stopped by a drove of oxen, and you and he stepped aside to take
shelter but for five minutes, he'd talk to you in such a manner that,
when you parted, you would say, This is an extraordinary man. He is
never what we would call humdrum; never unwilling to begin to talk,
nor in haste to leave off." That Burke was as good a listener as he
was a talker, Johnson never would allow. "So desirous is he to talk,"
he said, "that if one is talking at this end of the table, he'll talk
to somebody at the other end." Johnson was far too good a critic, and
too honest a man, to assent to a remark of Robertson's, that Burke had
wit. "No, sir," said the sage, most truly, "he never succeeds there.
'Tis low, 'tis conceit." Wit apart, he described Burke as the only
man whose common conversation corresponded to his general fame in the
world; take up whatever topic you might please, he was ready to meet
you. When Burke found a seat in Parliament, Johnson said, "Now we who
know Burke, know that he will be one of the first men in the country."
He did not grudge that Burke should be the first man in the House of
Commons, for Burke, he said, was always the first man everywhere. Once
when he was ill, somebody mentioned Burke's name. Johnson cried out,
"That fellow calls forth all my powers; were I to see Burke now it
would kill me."

Burke heartily returned this high appreciation. When some flatterer
hinted that Johnson had taken more than his right share of the
evening's talk, Burke said, "Nay, it is enough for me to have rung
the bell for him." Some one else spoke of a successful imitation
of Johnson's style. Burke with vehemence denied the success: the
performance, he said, had the pomp, but not the force of the original;
the nodosities of the oak, but not its strength; the contortions of
the sibyl, but none of the inspiration. When Burke showed the old
sage of Bolt Court over his fine house and pleasant gardens at
Beaconsfield, _Non invideo equidem_, Johnson said, with placid
good-will, _miror magis_. They always parted in the deep and pregnant
phrase of a sage of our own day, _except in opinion not disagreeing_.
In truth, the explanation of the sympathy between them is not far
to seek. We may well believe that Johnson was tacitly alive to the
essentially conservative spirit of Burke even in his most Whiggish
days. And Burke penetrated the liberality of mind in a Tory, who
called out with loud indignation that the Irish were in a most
unnatural state, for there the minority prevailed over the majority,
and the severity of the persecution exercised by the Protestants
of Ireland against the Catholics exceeded that of the ten historic
persecutions of the Christian Church.

The parties at Beaconsfield, and the evenings at the "Turk's Head" in
Gerard Street, were contemporary with the famous days at Holbach's
country house at Grandval. When we think of the reckless themes that
were so recklessly discussed by Holbach, Diderot, and the rest of that
indefatigable band, we feel that, as against the French philosophic
party, an English Tory like Johnson and an English Whig like Burke
would have found their own differences too minute to be worth
considering. If the group from the "Turk's Head" could have been
transported for an afternoon to Grandval, perhaps Johnson would have
been the less impatient and disgusted of the two. He had the capacity
of the more genial sort of casuist for playing with subjects, even
moral subjects, with the freedom, versatility, and ease that are
proper to literature. Burke, on the contrary, would not have failed
to see, as indeed we know that he did not fail to see, that a social
pandemonium was being prepared in this intellectual paradise of open
questions, where God and a future life, marriage and the family, every
dogma of religion, every prescription of morality, and all those
mysteries and pieties of human life which have been sanctified by the
reverence of ages, were being busily pulled to pieces as if they had
been toys in the hands of a company of sportive children. Even the
_Beggar's Opera_ Burke could not endure to hear praised for its wit
or its music, because his mind was filled by thought of its misplaced
levity, and he only saw the mischief which such a performance tended
to do to society. It would be hard to defend his judgment in this
particular case, but it serves to show how Burke was never content
with the literary point of view, and how ready and vigilant he was for
effects more profound than those of formal criticism. It is true that
Johnson was sometimes not less austere in condemning a great work of
art for its bad morality. The only time when he was really angry with
Hannah More was on his finding that she had read _Tom Jones_--that
vicious book, he called it; he hardly knew a more corrupt work.
Burke's tendency towards severity of moral judgment, however, never
impaired the geniality and tenderness of his relations with those whom
he loved. Bennet Langton gave Boswell an affecting account of Burke's
last interview with Johnson. A few days before the old man's death,
Burke and four or five other friends were sitting round his bedside.
"Mr. Burke said to him, 'I am afraid, sir, such a number of us may be
oppressive to you.' 'No, sir,' said Johnson, 'it is not so; and I must
be in a wretched state indeed when your company is not a delight
to me.' Mr. Burke, in a tremulous voice, expressive of being very
tenderly affected, replied, 'My dear sir, you have always been too
good to me.' Immediately afterwards he went away. This was the last
circumstance in the acquaintance of these two eminent men."

One of Burke's strongest political intimacies was only less
interesting and significant than his friendship with Johnson.
William Dowdeswell had been Chancellor of the Exchequer in the short
Rockingham administration of 1765. He had no brilliant gifts, but he
had what was then thought a profound knowledge both of the principles
and details of the administration of the national revenue. He was
industrious, steadfast, clearheaded, inexorably upright. "Immersed in
the greatest affairs," as Burke said in his epitaph, "he never
lost the ancient, native, genuine English character of a country
gentleman." And this was the character in which Burke now and always
saw not only the true political barrier against despotism on the one
hand and the rabble on the other, but the best moral type of civic
virtue. Those who admire Burke, but cannot share his admiration for
the country gentleman, will perhaps justify him by the assumption that
he clothed his favourite with ideal qualities which ought, even if
they did not, to have belonged to that position.

In his own modest imitation and on his own humble scale he was a
pattern of the activity in public duty, the hospitality towards
friends, the assiduous protection of neglected worth, which ought to
be among the chief virtues of high station. It would perhaps be doubly
unsafe to take for granted that many of our readers have both turned
over the pages of Crabbe's _Borough_, and carried away in their minds
from that moderately affecting poem, the description of Eusebius--

That pious moralist, that reasoning saint!
Can I of worth like thine, Eusebius, speak?
The man is willing, but the muse is weak.

Eusebius is intended for Burke, and the portrait is a literary tribute
for more substantial services. When Crabbe came up from his native
Aldborough, with three pounds and a case of surgical instruments in
his trunk, he fondly believed that a great patron would be found to
watch over his transformation from an unsuccessful apothecary into a
popular poet. He wrote to Lord North and Lord Shelburne, but they did
not answer his letters; booksellers returned his copious manuscripts;
the three pounds gradually disappeared; the surgical instruments went
to the pawnbroker's; and the poet found himself an outcast on the
world, without a friend, without employment, and without bread. He
owed money for his lodging, and was on the very eve of being sent to
prison, when it occurred to him to write to Burke. It was the moment
(1781) when the final struggle with Lord North was at its fiercest,
and Burke might have been absolved if, in the stress of conflict,
he had neglected a begging-letter. As it was, the manliness and
simplicity of Crabbe's application touched him. He immediately made an
appointment with the young poet, and convinced himself of his worth.
He not only relieved Crabbe's immediate distress with a sum of money
that, as we know, came from no affluence of his own, but carried him
off to Beaconsfield, installed him there as a member of the family,
and took as much pains to find a printer for _The Library_ and _The
Village_, as if they had been poems of his own. In time he persuaded
the Bishop of Norwich to admit Crabbe, in spite of his want of a
regular qualification, to holy orders. He then commended him to
the notice of Lord Chancellor Thurlow. Crabbe found the Tiger less
formidable than his terrifying reputation, for Thurlow at their first
interview presented him with a hundred-pound note, and afterwards gave
him a living. The living was of no great value, it is true; and it was
Burke who, with untiring friendship, succeeded in procuring something
like a substantial position for him, by inducing the Duke of Rutland
to make the young parson his chaplain. Henceforth Crabbe's career was
assured, and he never forgot to revere and bless the man to whose
generous hand he owed his deliverance.

Another of Burke's clients, of whom we hardly know whether to say that
he is more or less known to our age than Crabbe, is Barry, a painter
of disputable eminence. The son of a seafarer at Cork, he had been
introduced to Burke in Dublin in 1762, was brought over to England by
him, introduced to some kind of employment, and finally sent, with
funds provided by the Burkes, to study art on the continent. It was
characteristic of Burke's willingness not only to supply money, but
what is a far rarer form of kindness, to take active trouble, that he
should have followed the raw student with long and careful letters of
advice upon the proper direction of his studies. For five years Barry
was maintained abroad by the Burkes. Most unhappily for himself he was
cursed with an irritable and perverse temper, and he lacked even the
elementary arts of conduct. Burke was generous to the end, with that
difficult and uncommon kind of generosity which moves independently of
gratitude or ingratitude in the receiver.

From his earliest days Burke had been the eager friend of people in
distress. While he was still a student at the Temple, or a writer for
the booksellers, he picked up a curious creature in the park, in such
unpromising circumstances that he could not forbear to take him under
his instant protection. This was Joseph Emin, the Armenian, who had
come to Europe from India with strange heroic ideas in his head as to
the deliverance of his countrymen. Burke instantly urged him to accept
the few shillings that he happened to have in his purse, and seems
to have found employment for him as a copyist, until fortune brought
other openings to the singular adventurer. For foreign visitors Burke
had always a singular considerateness. Two Brahmins came to England
as agents of Ragonaut Rao, and at first underwent intolerable things
rather from the ignorance than the unkindness of our countrymen. Burke
no sooner found out what was passing than he carried them down to
Beaconsfield, and as it was summer-time, he gave them for their
separate use a spacious garden-house, where they were free to prepare
their food and perform such rites as their religion prescribed.
Nothing was so certain to command his fervid sympathy as strict
adherence to the rules and ceremonies of an ancient and sacred

If he never failed to perform the offices to which we are bound by
the common sympathy of men, it is satisfactory to think that Burke in
return received a measure of these friendly services. Among those who
loved him best was Dr. Brocklesby, the tender physician who watched
and soothed the last hours of Johnson. When we remember how Burke's
soul was harassed by private cares, chagrined by the untoward course
of public events, and mortified by neglect from friends no less than
by virulent reproach from foes, it makes us feel very kindly towards
Brocklesby, to read what he wrote to Burke in 1788:--

MY VERY DEAR FRIEND--My veneration of your public conduct for many
years past, and my real affection for your private virtues and
transcendent worth, made me yesterday take a liberty with you in a
moment's conversation at my house, to make you an instant present
of L1000, which for years past I had by will destined as a
testimony of my regard on my decease. This you modestly desired me
not to think of; but I told you what I now repeat, that unfavoured
as I have lived for a long life, unnoticed professionally by any
party of men, and though unknown at court, I am rich enough to
spare to virtue (what others waste in vice) the above sum, and
still reserve an annual income greater than I spend. I shall
receive at the India House a bill I have discounted for L1000
on the 4th of next month, and then shall be happy that you will
accept this proof of my sincere love and esteem, and let me add,
_Si res ampla domi similisque affectibus esset_, I should be happy
to repeat the like every year.

The mere transcription of the friendly man's good letter has something
of the effect of an exercise of religion. And it was only one of a
series of kind acts on the part of the same generous giver.

It is always interesting in the case of a great man to know how he
affected the women of his acquaintance. Women do not usually judge
character either so kindly or so soundly as men do, for they lack that
knowledge of the ordeals of practical life, which gives both justice
and charity to such verdicts. But they are more susceptible than most
men are to devotion and nobility in character. The little group of the
blue-stockings of the day regarded the great master of knowledge
and eloquence with mixed feelings. They felt for Burke the adoring
reverence which women offer, with too indiscriminate a trust, to men
of commanding power. In his case it was the moral loftiness of his
character that inspired them, as much as the splendour of his ability.
Of Sheridan or of Fox they could not bear to hear; of Burke they could
not hear enough. Hannah More, and Mrs. Elizabeth Carter, the learned
translator of Epictetus, and Fanny Burney, the author of _Evelina_ and
_Cecilia_, were all proud of his notice, even while they glowed with
anger at his sympathy with American rebels, his unkind words about the
king, and his cruel persecution of poor Mr. Hastings. It was at Mrs.
Vesey's evening parties, given on the Tuesdays on which the Club dined
at the "Turk's Head," that he often had long chats with Hannah More.
She had to forget what she called his political malefactions, before
she could allow herself to admire his high spirits and good humour.
This was after the events of the Coalition, and her _Memoirs_, like
the change in the mind of the Dissenters towards Burke, show what a
fall that act of faction was believed to mark in his character. When
he was rejected for Bristol, she moralised on the catastrophe by the
quaint reflection, that Providence has wisely contrived to render all
its dispensations equal, by making those talents which set one man
so much above another, of no esteem in the opinion of those who are
without them.

Miss Burney has described her flutter of spirits when she first found
herself in company with Burke (1782). It was at Sir Joshua's house on
the top of Richmond Hill, and she tells, with her usual effusion, how
she was impressed by Burke's noble figure and commanding air, his
penetrating and sonorous voice, his eloquent and copious language, the
infinite variety and rapidity of his discourse. Burke had something to
say on every subject, from bits of personal gossip, up to the sweet
and melting landscape that lay in all its beauty before their windows
on the terrace. He was playful, serious, fantastic, wise. When they
next met, the great man completed his conquest by expressing his
admiration of _Evelina_. Gibbon assured her that he had read the whole
five volumes in a day; but Burke declared the feat was impossible, for
he had himself read it through without interruption, and it had cost
him three days. He showed his regard for the authoress in a more
substantial way than by compliments and criticism. His last act,
before going out of office, in 1783, was to procure for Dr. Burney the
appointment of organist at the chapel of Chelsea.

We have spoken of the dislike of these excellent women for Sheridan
and Fox. In Sheridan's case Burke did not much disagree with them.
Their characters were as unlike and as antipathetic as those of two
men could be; and to antipathy of temperament was probably added a
kind of rivalry, which may justly have affected one of them with an
irritated humiliation. Sheridan was twenty years younger than Burke,
and did not come into Parliament until Burke had fought the prolonged
battle of the American war, and had achieved the victory of Economic
Reform. Yet Sheridan was immediately taken up by the party, and became
the intimate and counsellor of Charles Fox, its leader, and of the
Prince of Wales, its patron. That Burke never failed to do full
justice to Sheridan's brilliant genius, or to bestow generous and
unaffected praise on his oratorical successes, there is ample
evidence. He was of far too high and veracious a nature to be capable
of the disparaging tricks of a poor jealousy. The humiliation lay in
the fact that circumstances had placed Sheridan in a position, which
made it natural for the world to measure them with one another. Burke
could no more like Sheridan than he could like the _Beggar's Opera_.
Sheridan had a levity, a want of depth, a laxity and dispersion of
feeling, to which no degree of intellectual brilliancy could reconcile
a man of such profound moral energy and social conviction as Burke.

The thought will perhaps occur to the reader that Fox was not less
lax than Sheridan, and yet for Fox Burke long had the sincerest
friendship. He was dissolute, indolent, irregular, and the most
insensate gambler that ever squandered fortune after fortune over the
faro-table. It was his vices as much as his politics that made George
III. hate Fox as an English Catiline. How came Burke to accept a man
of this character, first for his disciple, then for his friend, and
next for his leader? The answer is a simple one. In spite of the
disorders of his life, Fox, from the time when his acquaintance with
Burke began, down to the time when it came to such disastrous end,
and for long years afterwards, was to the bottom of his heart as
passionate for freedom, justice, and beneficence as Burke ever was.
These great ends were as real, as constant, as overmastering in Fox
as they were in Burke. No man was ever more deeply imbued with the
generous impulses of great statesmanship, with chivalrous courage,
with the magnificent spirit of devotion to high imposing causes. These
qualities we may be sure, and not his power as a debater and as a
declaimer, won for him in Burke's heart the admiration which found
such splendid expression in a passage that will remain as a stock
piece of declamation for long generations after it was first poured
out as a sincere tribute of reverence and affection. Precisians, like
Lafayette, might choose to see their patriotic hopes ruined rather
than have them saved by Mirabeau, because Mirabeau was a debauchee.
Burke's public morality was of stouter stuff, and he loved Fox because
he knew that under the stains and blemishes that had been left by a
deplorable education, was that sterling, inexhaustible ore in which
noble sympathies are subtly compounded with resplendent powers.

If he was warmly attached to his political friends, Burke, at least
before the Revolution, was usually on fair terms in private life with
his political opponents. There were few men whose policy he disliked
more than he disliked the policy of George Grenville. And we have seen
that he criticised Grenville in a pamphlet which did not spare him.
Yet Grenville and he did not refuse one another's hospitality, and
were on the best terms to the very end. Wilberforce, again, was one
of the staunchest friends of Pitt, and fought one of the greatest
electioneering battles on Pitt's side in the struggle of 1784; but it
made no difference in Burke's relations with him. In 1787 a coldness
arose between them. Burke had delivered a strong invective against
the French Treaty. Wilberforce said, "We can make allowance for the
honourable gentleman, because we remember him in better days." The
retort greatly nettled Burke, but the feeling soon passed away,
and they both found a special satisfaction in the dinner to which
Wilberforce invited Burke every session. "He was a great man," says
Wilberforce. "I could never understand how at one time he grew to be
so entirely neglected."

Outside of both political and literary circles, among Burke's
correspondents was that wise and honest traveller whose name is as
inseparably bound up with the preparation of the French Revolution, as
Burke's is bound up with its sanguinary climax and fulfilment. Arthur
Young, by his Farmer's Letters, and Farmer's Calendar, and his account
of his travels in the southern counties of England and elsewhere--the
story of the more famous travels in France was not published until
1792--had won a reputation as the best informed agriculturist of his
day. Within a year of his settlement at Beaconsfield, we find Burke
writing to consult Young on the mysteries of his new occupation. The
reader may smile as he recognises the ardour, the earnestness, the
fervid gravity of the political speeches, in letters which discuss
the merits of carrots in fattening porkers, and the precise degree to
which they should be boiled. Burke throws himself just as eagerly into
white peas and Indian corn, into cabbages that grow into head and
cabbages that shoot into leaves, into experiments with pumpkin seed
and wild parsnip, as if they had been details of the Stamp Act, or
justice to Ireland. When he complains that it is scarcely possible
for him, with his numerous avocations, to get his servants to enter
fully into his views as to the right treatment of his crops, we can
easily understand that his farming did not help him to make money. It
is impossible that he should have had time or attention to spare for
the effectual direction of even a small farm.

Yet if the farm brought scantier profit than it ought to have brought,
it was probably no weak solace in the background of a life of
harassing interests and perpetual disappointments. Burke was happier
at Beaconsfield than anywhere else, and he was happiest there when his
house was full of guests. Nothing pleased him better than to drive a
visitor over to Windsor, where he would expatiate with enthusiasm "on
the proud Keep, rising in the majesty of proportion, and girt with the
double belt of its kindred and coeval towers, overseeing and guarding
the subjected land." He delighted to point out the house at
Uxbridge where Charles I. had carried on the negotiations with the
Parliamentary Commissioners; the beautiful grounds of Bulstrode, where
Judge Jefferies had once lived; and the churchyard of Beaconsfield,
where lay the remains of Edmund Waller, the poet. He was fond of
talking of great statesmen--of Walpole, of Pulteney, and of Chatham.
Some one had said that Chatham knew nothing whatever except Spenser's
_Faery Queen_. "No matter how that was said," Burke replied to one of
his visitors, "whoever relishes and reads Spenser as he ought to be
read, will have a strong hold of the English language." The delight of
the host must have been at least equalled by the delight of the guest
in conversation which was thus ever taking new turns, branching into
topical surprises, and at all turns and on every topic was luminous,
high, edifying, full.

No guest was more welcome than the friend of his boyhood, and Richard
Shackleton has told how the friendship, cordiality, and openness with
which Burke embraced him was even more than might be expected from
long love. The simple Quaker was confused by the sight of what seemed
to him so sumptuous and worldly a life, and he went to rest uneasily,
doubting whether God's blessing could go with it. But when he awoke on
the morrow of his first visit, he told his wife, in the language
of his sect, how glad he was "to find no condemnation; but on the
contrary, ability to put up fervent petitions with much tenderness on
behalf of this great luminary." It is at his country home that we like
best to think of Burke. It is still a touching picture to the historic
imagination to follow him from the heat and violence of the House,
where tipsy squires derided the greatest genius of his time, down to
the calm shades of Beaconsfield, where he would with his own hands
give food to a starving beggar, or medicine to a peasant sick of the
ague; where he would talk of the weather, the turnips, and the hay
with the team-men and the farm-bailiff; and where, in the evening
stillness, he would pace the walk under the trees, and reflect on the
state of Europe and the distractions of his country.



The six years which followed the destruction of the Coalition were, in
some respects, the most mortifying portion of Burke's troubled career.
Pitt was more firmly seated in power than Lord North had ever been,
and he used his power to carry out a policy against which it was
impossible for the Whigs, on their own principles, to offer an
effective resistance. For this is the peculiarity of the king's first
victory over the enemies who had done obstinate battle with him for
nearly a quarter of a century. He had driven them out of the field,
but with the aid of an ally who was as strongly hostile to the royal
system as they had ever been. The king had vindicated his right
against the Whigs to choose his own ministers; but the new minister
was himself a Whig by descent, and a reformer by his education and
personal disposition.

Ireland was the subject of the first great battle between the ministry
and their opponents. Here, if anywhere, we might have expected from
Burke at least his usual wisdom and patience. We saw in a previous
chapter (p. 33) what the political condition of Ireland was when Burke
went there with Hamilton in 1763. The American war had brought about a
great change. The king had shrewdly predicted that if America became
free Ireland would soon follow the same plan and be a separate state.
In fact, along with the American war we had to encounter an Irish war
also; but the latter was, as an Irish politician called it at the
time, a smothered war. Like the Americans, the Anglo-Irish entered
into non-importation compacts, and they interdicted commerce. The
Irish volunteers, first forty, then sixty, and at last a hundred
thousand strong, were virtually an army enrolled to overawe the
English ministry and Parliament. Following the spirit, if not the
actual path, of the Americans, they raised a cry for commercial and
legislative independence. They were too strong to be resisted, and in
1782 the Irish Parliament acquired the privilege of initiating and
conducting its own business, without the sanction or control either of
the Privy Council or of the English Parliament. Dazzled by the chance
of acquiring legislative independence, they had been content with the
comparatively small commercial boons obtained by Lord Nugent and Burke
in 1778, and with the removal of further restrictions by the alarmed
minister in the following year. After the concession of their
independence in 1782, they found that to procure the abolition of the
remaining restrictions on their commerce--the right of trade, for
instance, with America and Africa--the consent of the English
legislature was as necessary as it had ever been. Pitt, fresh from the
teaching of Adam Smith and of Shelburne, brought forward in 1785 his
famous commercial propositions. The theory of his scheme was that
Irish trade should be free, and that Ireland should be admitted to a
permanent participation in commercial advantages. In return for this
gain, after her hereditary revenue passed a certain point, she was to
devote the surplus to purposes, such as the maintenance of the navy,
in which the two nations had a common interest. Pitt was to be
believed when he declared that of all the objects of his political
life this was, in his opinion, the most important that he had ever
engaged in, and he never expected to meet another that should rouse
every emotion in so strong a degree as this.

A furious battle took place in the Irish Parliament. There, while
nobody could deny that the eleven propositions would benefit the
mercantile interests of the country, it was passionately urged that
the last of the propositions, that which concerned the apportionment
of Irish revenue to imperial purposes, meant the enslavement of their
unhappy island. Their fetters, they went on, were clenched, if the
English Government was to be allowed thus to take the initiative
in Irish legislation. The factious course pursued by the English
Opposition was much less excusable than the line of the Anglo-Irish
leaders. Fox, who was ostentatiously ignorant of political economy,
led the charge. He insisted that Pitt's measures would annihilate
English trade, would destroy the Navigation Laws, and with them would
bring our maritime strength to the ground. Having thus won the favour
of the English manufacturers, he turned round to the Irish Opposition,
and conciliated them by declaring with equal vehemence that the
propositions were an insult to Ireland, and a nefarious attempt to
tamper with her new-born liberties. Burke followed his leader. We may
almost say that for once he allowed his political integrity to be
bewildered. In 1778 and 1779 he had firmly resisted the pressure which
his mercantile constituents in Bristol had endeavoured to put upon
him; he had warmly supported the Irish claims, and had lost his seat
in consequence. The precise ground which he took up in 1785 was this.
He appears to have discerned in Pitt's proposals the germ of an
attempt to extract revenue from Ireland, identical in purpose,
principle, and probable effect with the ever-memorable attempt to
extract revenue from the American colonies. Whatever stress may be
laid upon this, we find it hard to vindicate Burke from the charge
of factiousness. Nothing can have been more unworthy of him than
the sneer at Pitt in the great speech on the Nabob of Arcot's debts
(1785), for stopping to pick up chaff and straws from the Irish
revenue instead of checking profligate expenditure in India.

Pitt's alternative was irresistible. Situated as Ireland was, she must
either be the subservient instrument of English prosperity, or else
she must be allowed to enjoy the benefits of English trade, taking at
the same time a proportionate share of the common burdens. Adam Smith
had shown that there was nothing incompatible with justice in a
contribution by Ireland to the public debt of Great Britain. That
debt, he argued, had been contracted in support of the government
established by the Revolution; a government to which the Protestants
of Ireland owed not only the whole authority which they enjoyed in
their own country, but every security which they possessed for their
liberty, property, and religion. The neighbourhood of Ireland to the
shores of the mother country introduced an element into the problem,
which must have taught every unimpassioned observer that the American
solution would be inadequate for a dependency that lay at our very
door. Burke could not, in his calmer moments, have failed to recognise
all this. Yet he lent himself to the party cry that Pitt was taking
his first measures for the re-enslavement of Ireland. Had it not been
for what he himself called the delirium of the preceding session, and
which had still not subsided, he would have seen that Pitt was in
truth taking his first measures for the effective deliverance of
Ireland from an unjust and oppressive subordination. The same delirium
committed him to another equally deplorable perversity, when
he opposed, with as many excesses in temper as fallacies in
statesmanship, the wise treaty with France, in which Pitt partially
anticipated the commercial policy of an ampler treaty three-quarters
of a century afterwards.

A great episode in Burke's career now opened. It was in 1785 that
Warren Hastings returned from India, after a series of exploits as
momentous and far-reaching, for good or evil, as have ever been
achieved by any English ruler. For years Burke had been watching
India. With rising wonder, amazement, and indignation he had steadily
followed that long train of intrigue and crime which had ended in the
consolidation of a new empire. With the return of Hastings he felt
that the time had come for striking a severe blow, and making a signal
example. He gave notice (June 1785) that he would, at a future day,
make a motion respecting the conduct of a gentleman just returned from

Among minor considerations, we have to remember that Indian affairs
entered materially into the great battle of parties. It was upon
an Indian bill that the late ministry had made shipwreck. It was
notoriously by the aid of potent Indian interests that the new
ministry had acquired a portion of its majority. To expose the
misdeeds of our agents in India was at once to strike the minister who
had dexterously secured their support, and to attack one of the great
strongholds of parliamentary corruption. The proceedings against
Hastings were, in the first instance, regarded as a sequel to the
struggle over Fox's East India Bill. That these considerations were
present in Burke's thought there is no doubt, but they were purely
secondary. It was India itself that stood above all else in his
imagination. It had filled his mind and absorbed his time while Pitt
was still an undergraduate at Cambridge, and Burke was looking forward
to match his plan of economic reform with a greater plan of Indian
reform. In the Ninth Report, the Eleventh Report, and in his speech
on the India Bill of 1783, he had shown both how thoroughly he had
mastered the facts, and how profoundly they had stirred his sense of
wrong. The masterpiece known as the speech on the Nabob of Arcot's
debts, delivered in Parliament on a motion for papers (1785), handles
matters of account, of interest turned into principal, and principal
superadded to principal; it deals with a hundred minute technicalities
of teeps and tuncaws, of gomastahs and soucaring; all with such a
suffusion of interest and colour, with such nobility of idea and
expression, as could only have come from the addition to genius of a
deep morality of nature, and an overwhelming force of conviction. A
space less than one of these pages contains such a picture of the
devastation of the Carnatic by Hyder Ali, as may fill the young orator
or the young writer with the same emotions of enthusiasm, emulation,
and despair that torment the artist who first gazes on the Madonna
at Dresden, or the figures of Night and Dawn and the Penseroso at
Florence. The despair is only too well founded. No conscious study
could pierce the secret of that just and pathetic transition from the
havoc of Hyder Ali to the healing duties of a virtuous government, to
the consolatory celebration of the mysteries of justice and humanity,
to the warning to the unlawful creditors to silence their inauspicious
tongues in presence of the holy work of restoration, to the generous
proclamation against them that in every country the first creditor is
the plough. The emotions which make the hidden force of such pictures
come not by observation. They grow from the sedulous meditation of
long years, directed by a powerful intellect and inspired by an
interest in human well-being, which of its own virtue bore the orator
into the sustaining air of the upper gods. Concentrated passion
and exhaustive knowledge have never entered into a more formidable
combination. Yet when Burke made his speech on the Nabob of Arcot's
debts, Pitt and Grenville consulted together whether it was worth
answering, and came to the conclusion that they need not take the

Neither the scornful neglect of his opponents nor the dissensions of
some who sat on his own side, could check the ardour with which Burke
pressed on, as he said, to the relief of afflicted nations. The
fact is, that Burke was not at all a philanthropist as Clarkson and
Wilberforce were philanthropists. His sympathy was too strongly under
the control of true political reason. In 1780, for instance, the
slave-trade had attracted his attention, and he had even proceeded
to sketch out a code of regulations which provided for its immediate
mitigation and ultimate suppression. After mature consideration he
abandoned the attempt, from the conviction that the strength of the
West India interest would defeat the utmost efforts of his party. And
he was quite right in refusing to hope from any political action what
could only be effected after the moral preparation of the bulk of the
nation. And _direct_ moral or philanthropic apostleship was not his

Macaulay, in a famous passage of dazzling lustre and fine historic
colour, describes Burke's holy rage against the misdeeds of Hastings
as due to his sensibility. But sensibility to what? Not merely to
those common impressions of human suffering which kindle the flame of
ordinary philanthropy, always attractive, often so beneficent, but
often so capricious and so laden with secret detriment. This was no
part of Burke's type. For is it enough to say that Burke had what is
the distinctive mark of the true statesman, a passion for good, wise,
and orderly government. He had that in the strongest degree. All that
wore the look of confusion he held in abhorrence, and he detected the
seeds of confusion with a penetration that made other men marvel.
He was far too wise a man to have any sympathy with the energetic
exercise of power for power's sake. He knew well that triumphs
of violence are for the most part little better than temporary
makeshifts, which leave all the work of government to be encountered
afterwards by men of essentially greater capacity than the hero of
force without scruple. But he regarded those whom he called the great
bad men of the old stamp, Cromwell, Richelieu, the Guises, the Condes,
with a certain tolerance, because "though the virtues of such men were
not to be taken as a balance to their crimes, yet they had long views,
and sanctified their ambition by aiming at the orderly rule, and not
the destruction of their country." What he valued was the deep-seated
order of systems that worked by the accepted uses, opinions, beliefs,
prejudices of a community.

This love of right and stable order was not all. That was itself
the growth from a deeper root, partly of conviction and partly of
sympathy; the conviction of the rare and difficult conjunctures of
circumstance which are needed for the formation of even the rudest
forms of social union among mankind; and then the sympathy that the
best men must always find it hard to withhold from any hoary fabric of
belief, and any venerated system of government that has cherished
a certain order and shed even a ray of the faintest dawn among the
violences and the darkness of the race. It was reverence rather
than sensibility, a noble and philosophic conservatism rather than
philanthropy, which raised the storm in Burke's breast against the
rapacity of English adventurers in India and the imperial crimes of
Hastings. Exactly the same tide of emotion which afterwards filled to
the brim the cup of prophetic anger against the desecrators of the
Church and the monarchy of France, now poured itself out against those
who in India had "tossed about, subverted, and tore to pieces, as if
it were in the gambols of boyish unluckiness and malice, the most
established rights and the most ancient and most revered institutions
of ages and nations." From beginning to end of the fourteen years in
which Burke pursued his campaign against Hastings, we see in every
page that the India which ever glowed before his vision was not the
home of picturesque usages and melodramatic costume, but rather, in
his own words, the land of princes once of great dignity, authority,
and opulence; of an ancient and venerable priesthood, the guides of
the people while living, and their consolation in death; of a nobility
of antiquity and renown; of millions of ingenious mechanics, and
millions of diligent tillers of the earth; and finally, the land
where might be found almost all the religions professed by men--the
Brahminical, the Mussulman, the Eastern and the Western Christian.
When he published his speech on the Nabob of Arcot, Burke prefixed
to it an admirable quotation from one of the letters of the Emperor
Julian. And Julian too, as we all know, had a strong feeling for the
past. But what in that remarkable figure was only the sentimentalism
of reaction, in Burke was a reasoned and philosophic veneration for
all old and settled order, whether in the free Parliament of Great
Britain, in the ancient absolutism of Versailles, or in the secular
pomp of Oude and the inviolable sanctity of Benares, the holy city and
the garden of God.

It would be out of place here to attempt to follow the details of the
impeachment. Every reader has heard that great tale in our history,
and everybody knows that it was Burke's tenacity and power which
caused that tale to be told. The House of Commons would not, it is
true, have directed that Hastings should be impeached, unless Pitt had
given his sanction and approval, and how it was that Pitt did give
his sanction and approval so suddenly and on grounds ostensibly so
slender, remains one of the secrets of history. In no case would the
impeachment have been pressed upon Parliament by the Opposition,
and assented to by ministers, if Burke had not been there with his
prodigious industry, his commanding comprehensive vision, his burning
zeal, and his power of kindling in men so different from him and from
one another as Fox, Sheridan, Windham, Grey, a zeal only less intense
than his own.

It was in the spring of 1786 that the articles of charge of Hastings's
high crimes and misdemeanours, as Burke had drawn them, were presented
to the House of Commons. It was in February 1788 that Burke opened the
vast cause in the old historic hall at Westminster, in an oration
in which at points he was wound up to such a pitch of eloquence and
passion that every listener, including the great criminal, held his
breath in an agony of horror; that women were carried out fainting;
that the speaker himself became incapable of saying another word, and
the spectators of the scene began to wonder whether he would not, like
the mighty Chatham, actually die in the exertion of his overwhelming
powers. Among the illustrious crowd who thronged Westminster Hall in
the opening days of the impeachment was Fanny Burney. She was then in
her odious bondage at Court, and was animated by that admiration and
pity for Hastings which at Court was the fashion. Windham used to
come up from the box of the managers of the impeachment to talk over
with her the incidents of the day, and she gave him her impressions
of Burke's speech, which were probably those of the majority of his
hearers, for the majority were favourable to Hastings. "I told him,"
says Miss Burney, "that Mr. Burke's opening had struck me with the
highest admiration of his powers, from the eloquence, the imagination,
the fire, the diversity of expression, and the ready flow of language
with which he seemed gifted, in a most superior manner, for any and
every purpose to which rhetoric could lead." "And when he came to his
two narratives," I continued, "when he related the particulars
of those dreadful murders, he interested, he engaged, he at last
overpowered me; I felt my cause lost. I could hardly keep on my seat.
My eyes dreaded a single glance towards a man so accused as Mr.
Hastings; I wanted to sink on the floor, that they might be saved so
painful a sight. I had no hope he could clear himself; not another
wish in his favour remained. But when from this narration Mr. Burke
proceeded to his own comments and declamation--when the charges of
rapacity, cruelty, tyranny, were general, and made with all the
violence of personal detestation, and continued and aggravated without
any further fact or illustration; then there appeared more of study
than of truth, more of invective than of justice; and, in short, so
little of proof to so much of passion, that in a very short time I
began to lift up my head, my seat was no longer uneasy, my eyes were
indifferent which way they looked, or what object caught them, and
before I was myself aware of the declension of Mr. Burke's powers over
my feelings, I found myself a mere spectator in a public place, and
looking all around it, with my opera-glass in my hand!"

In 1795, six years after Burke's opening, the Lords were ready with
their verdict. It had long been anticipated. Hastings was acquitted.
This was the close of the fourteen years of labour, from the date of
the Select Committee of 1781. "If I were to call for a reward," Burke
said, "it would be for the services in which for fourteen years,
without intermission, I showed the most industry and had the least
success. I mean the affairs of India; they are those on which I value
myself the most; most for the importance; most for the labour; most
for the judgment; most for constancy and perseverance in the pursuit."

The side that is defeated on a particular issue, is often victorious
on the wide and general outcome. Looking back across the ninety years
that divide us from that memorable scene in Westminster Hall, we may
see that Burke had more success than at first appeared. If he did not
convict the man, he overthrew a system, and stamped its principles
with lasting censure and shame. Burke had perhaps a silent conviction
that it would have been better for us and for India if Clive had
succeeded in his attempt to blow out his own brains in the Madras
counting-house, or if the battle of Plassy had been a decisive defeat
instead of a decisive victory. "All these circumstances," he once
said, in reference to the results of the investigation of the Select
Committee, "are not, I confess, very favourable to the idea of our
attempting to govern India at all. But there we are: there we are
placed by the Sovereign Disposer, and we must do the best we can in
our situation. The situation of man is the preceptor of his duty." If
that situation is better understood now than it was a century ago, and
that duty more loftily conceived, the result is due, so far as such
results can ever be due to one man's action apart from the confluence
of the deep impersonal elements of time, to the seeds of justice and
humanity which were sown by Burke and his associates. Nobody now
believes that Clive was justified in tricking Omichund by forging
another man's name; that Impey was justified in hanging Nuncomar for
committing the very offence for which Clive was excused or applauded,
although forgery is no grave crime according to Hindoo usage, and it
is the gravest according to English usage; that Hastings did well
in selling English troops to assist in the extermination of a brave
people with whom he was at peace; that Benfield did well in conniving
with an Eastern prince in a project of extortion against his subjects.
The whole drift of opinion has changed, and it is since the trial of
Hastings that the change has taken place. The question in Burke's
time was whether oppression and corruption were to continue to be the
guiding maxims of English policy. The personal disinterestedness of
the ruler who had been the chief founder of this policy, and had most
openly set aside all pretence of righteous principle, was dust in the
balance. It was impossible to suppress the policy without striking a
deadly blow at its most eminent and powerful instrument. That Hastings
was acquitted, was immaterial. The lesson of his impeachment had been
taught with sufficiently impressive force--the great lesson that
Asiatics have rights, and that Europeans have obligations; that a
superior race is bound to observe the highest current morality of the
time in all its dealings with the subject race. Burke is entitled
to our lasting reverence as the first apostle and great upholder of
integrity, mercy, and honour in the relation between his countrymen
and their humble dependents.

He shared the common fate of those who dare to strike a blow for human
justice against the prejudices of national egotism. But he was no
longer able to bear obloquy and neglect, as he had borne it through
the war with the colonies. When he opened the impeachment of Hastings
at Westminster, Burke was very near to his sixtieth year. Hannah More
noted in 1786 that his vivacity had diminished, and that business and
politics had impaired his agreeableness. The simpletons in the House,
now that they had at last found in Pitt a political chief who could
beat the Whig leaders on their own ground of eloquence, knowledge,
and dexterity in debate, took heart as they had never done under Lord
North. They now made deliberate attempts to silence the veteran by
unmannerly and brutal interruptions, of which a mob of lower class
might have been ashamed. Then suddenly came a moment of such
excitement as has not often been seen in the annals of party. It
became known one day in the autumn of 1788 that the king had gone out
of his mind.

The news naturally caused the liveliest agitation among the Whigs.
When the severity of the attack forced the ministry to make
preparations for a Regency, the friends of the Prince of Wales assumed
that they would speedily return to power, and hastened to form their
plans accordingly. Fox was travelling in Italy with Mrs. Armstead, and
he had been two months away without hearing a word from England.
The Duke of Portland sent a messenger in search of him, and after a
journey of ten days the messenger found him at Bologna. Fox instantly
set off in all haste for London, which he reached in nine days. The
three months that followed were a time of unsurpassed activity and
bitterness, and Burke was at least as active and as bitter as the rest
of them. He was the writer of the Prince of Wales's letter to Pitt,
sometimes set down to Sheridan, and sometimes to Gilbert Elliot. It
makes us feel how naturally the style of ideal kingship, its dignity,
calm, and high self-consciousness all came to Burke. Although we read
of his thus drawing up manifestoes and protests, and deciding minor
questions for Fox, which Fox was too irresolute to decide for himself,
yet we have it on Burke's own authority that some time elapsed
after the return to England before he even saw Fox; that he was not
consulted as to the course to be pursued in the grave and difficult
questions connected with the Regency; and that he knew as little of
the inside of Carlton House, where the Prince of Wales lived, as of
Buckingham House, where the king lived. "I mean to continue here,"
he says to Charles Fox, "until you call upon me; and I find myself
perfectly easy, from the implicit confidence that I have in you and
the Duke, and the certainty that I am in that you two will do the best
for the general advantage of the cause. In that state of mind I feel
no desire whatsoever of interfering." Yet the letter itself, and
others which follow, testify to the vehemence of Burke's interest in
the matter, and to the persistency with which he would have had them
follow his judgment, if they would have listened. It is as clear that
they did not listen.

Apart from the fierce struggle against Pitt's Regency Bill, Burke's
friends were intently occupied with the reconstruction of the Portland
cabinet, which the king had so unexpectedly dismissed five years
before. This was a sphere in which Burke's gifts were neither required
nor sought. We are rather in distress, Sir Gilbert Elliot writes, for
a proper man for the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer. "Lord J.
Cavendish is very unwilling to engage again in public affairs. Fox is
to be Secretary of State. Burke, it is thought, would not be approved
of, Sheridan has not the public confidence, and so it comes down
therefore to Grey, Pelham, myself, and perhaps Windham." Elliot
was one of Burke's most faithful and attached friends, and he was
intimately concerned in all that was going on in the inner circle of
the party. It is worth while, therefore, to reproduce his account from
a confidential letter to Lady Elliot, of the way in which Burke's
claim to recognition was at this time regarded and dealt with.

Although I can tell you nothing positive about my own situation,
I was made very happy indeed yesterday by co-operating in the
settlement of Burke's, in a manner which gives us great joy as
well as comfort. The Duke of Portland has felt distressed how to
arrange Burke and his family in a manner equal to Burke's merits,
and to the Duke's own wishes, and at the same time so as to be
exempt from the many difficulties which seem to be in the way. He
sent for Pelham and me, as Burke's friends and his own, to advise
with us about it; and we dined yesterday with him and the Duchess,
that we might have time to talk the thing over at leisure and
without interruption after dinner. We stayed accordingly, engaged
in that subject till almost twelve at night, and our conference
ended most happily and excessively to the satisfaction of us all.
The Duke of Portland has the veneration for Burke that Windham,
Pelham, myself and a few more have, and he thinks it impossible to
do too much for him. He considers the reward to be given to Burke
as a credit and honour to the nation, and he considers the neglect
of him and his embarrassed situation as having been long a
reproach to the country. The unjust prejudice and clamour which
has prevailed against him and his family only determine the Duke
the more to do him justice. The question was how? First, his
brother Richard, who was Secretary to the Treasury before, will
have the same office now; but the Duke intends to give him one of
the first offices which falls vacant, of about L1000 a year for
life in the customs, and he will then resign the Secretary to the
Treasury, which, however, in the meanwhile is worth L3000 a year.
Edmund Burke is to have the Pay-Office, L4000 a year; but as that
is precarious and he can leave no provision for his son, it would,
in fact, be doing little or nothing of any real or substantial
value unless some _permanent_ provision is added to it. In this
view the Duke is to grant him on the Irish establishment a pension
of L2000 a year _clear_ for his own life, and the other half to
Mrs. Burke for her life. This will make Burke completely happy, by
leaving his wife and son safe from want after his death, if they
should survive him. The Duke's affectionate anxiety to accomplish
this object, and his determination to set all clamour at defiance
on this point of justice, was truly affecting, and increases my
attachment for the Duke.... The Duke said the only objection to
this plan was that he thought it was due from this country, and
that he grudged the honour of it to Ireland; but as nothing in
England was ready, this plan was settled. You may think it strange
that to this moment Burke does not know a word of all this, and
his family are indeed, I believe, suffering a little under the
apprehension that he may be neglected in the general scramble. I
believe there never were three cabinet counsellors more in harmony
on any subject than we were, nor three people happier in their
day's work.[1]

[Footnote 1: _Life and Letters of Sir G. Elliot_, i. 261-263.]

This leaves the apparent puzzle where it was. Why should Burke not

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