Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

The loss of the bill is not to be regretted; for in many respects the measure was unwise, and the reforms at which it aimed Burke finally secured in another way. Early in 1785 he renewed his attack in the Speech on the Nabob of Arcot's Debts. Dealing with many complicated financial accounts, with systems of taxation, and with a mass of minute technicalities, topics which are usually the dryest of the dry, — Burke nevertheless rose almost to the height attained in his Conciliation with America. His description of the ravages of Hyder Ali perhaps surpasses anything of the kind in English oratory, but the total effect of the speech is somewhat marred by vituperation. This speech was but preliminary to the famous proceedings against Warren Hastings. When the latter returned to England laden with the spoils of India, Burke felt that the time had come for a telling blow. Accordingly he drew up articles charging Hastings with high crimes and misdemeanors, and in 1786 had the case presented to the House. The story of the trial need not be repeated here, for it has been told by Macaulay in a passage familiar to every one. On this occasion Burke fairly outdid himself as an orator. As he described some of the scenes of havoc in India, every listener, even the prisoner, it is said, was breathless with horror. The trial dragged on till 1795; and, though the verdict at last was for acquittal, Burke had none the less succeeded in reforming the government of India, for he had trumpeted the wrongs of that

emptied and emboweled” 2 land until public sentiment would no longer tolerate them. He was justified in writing, near the close of his life: “If I were to call for a reward, ... it should 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 labor,

1 Essay on Warren Hastings.
Speech on the Nabob of Arcot's Debts, Works, III, 65.

2

most for the judgment, most for the constancy and perseverance in the pursuit.” 1

Before the trial of Hastings had closed, the French Revolution had broken out. Burke, who looked upon this, not as the emancipation of oppressed masses, but as an effort of atheists ? and political theorists 3 to uproot the settled order of society and all hereditary rights in church and state, was horrified. Since his views were hostile to those of the more radical of the Whigs, who on general principles were delighted with a popular uprising, he soon began to draw apart from the men with whom he had been allied against the encroachments of the crown in England and in America. In 1790 he widened the breach still further by an aggressive proclamation of his opinions in Reflections on the Revolution in France, his first publication on the subject. The book had, for that day, an enormous sale, and created a profound sensation throughout England, and indeed all Europe. It divided Great Britain into two parties : one composed of Burke and an uncongenial company of Tories and supporters of royal despotism; the other composed of Liberals, many of whom had been Burke's life-long associates. On both sides the feeling ran high ; and Burke, already irritated by the disapproval of men whom he held in esteem, was not in a frame of mind to endure assaults calmly. When he was jeered in the House by his former friends, lampooned in the newspapers, and branded as a renegade and traitor, he violently quarreled with Fox, with whom he had been intimate for years, replied to taunts with pamphlets of increasing acrimony, but never flinched from his course. Notwithstanding the censure heaped upon him, his attitude is not surprising to any one who carefully studies his writings and speeches in their chronological order, for he had been steadily growing more conservative. The seeming contradiction between his early adherence to the cause of the people and his later adherence to the cause of the sovereign was due in part to this natural change and in part to his desire to preserve the balance between king and subject : in England the crown had been the transgressor; in France, he thought, the people. Moreover, he had always insisted that liberty is “inseparable from order”; 2 and in the French Revolution he saw nothing but disorder. He had always insisted that no institution should be overturned unless corrupt beyond reform ; 4 and he believed that the institutions of France could be reformed.5

1 Letter to a Noble Lord, Works, V, 192. 2 Reflections on the Revolution in France, Works, III, 378. 3 Ibid., 399, 418.

In the Reflections, in spite of bitterness against the National Assembly and the Englishmen who commended it, Burke displayed much real wisdom. He saw from the beginning the advancing shadow of the Reign of Terror ; 6 he predicted the rise of a military dictator, and he pointed out the fatal defect of the several theoretical devices of the constitution of France, such as the geometrical division of representative districts.8 But the Reflections contains almost the last of his sober thinking on the matter; for, as the Revolution progressed, he became more and more wrought up, so that in each of his succeeding utterances, -Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, Thoughts on French Affairs, Remarks on the Policy of the Allies, Observations on the Conduct of the Minority and Letters on a Regicide Peace, — the reasoning grew feebler, the scolding shriller. At last he was nearly frantic with rage at the slaughters during the Reign of Terror, and frantic with fear of a revolution in England. So

1 Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, Works, IV, 92-94.
2 Letter to a Noble Lord, Works, V, 183.
3 Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, Works, IV, 97.

4 Pages xxxii, xxxiv ; Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, Works, IV, 80; Reflections on the Revolution in France, Works, III, 562.

5 Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, Works, IV, 42-52. 6 Works, III, 339.

8 Ibid., 461-476. 7 Ibid., 524, 525.

ever.

irrational is public excitement, however, that, while his opinions were losing real value, his influence was strengthening. As the events which he had predicted came to pass one by one, the laughter of his enemies turned to alarm ; and finally, when Louis the Sixteenth was executed in 1793, England, though in no serious danger, was filled with consternation and looked to Burke as her most far-sighted statesman. Yet to his credit be it said that, even with the nation applauding his frenzy, he now and then fell back into his early habit of examining a question in all lights. In such a moment of clear vision, when he perceived that the movement in France might be one of actual progress, when he caught a glimpse of himself as posterity views him, he penned the solemn close of his Thoughts on French Affairs : "I have done with this subject, I believe, for

It has given me many anxious moments for the two last years. If a great change is to be made in human affairs, the minds of men will be fitted to it, the general opinions and feelings will draw that way. Every fear, every hope, will forward it; and then they who persist in opposing this mighty current in human affairs will appear rather to resist the decrees of Providence itself than the mere designs of men.

They will not be resolute and firm, but perverse and obstinate.” I

Burke's mistakes in regard to the French Revolution are by some critics ascribed in part to his imperfect acquaintance with the subject. However that may be, it is certain that during the same period, when he was dealing with a subject on which he was thoroughly informed, Ireland, he showed his old qualities of statesmanship. He had always been a champion of his down-trodden native land, just as he had been a champion of America and India. In his boyhood, as we have seen, he endeavored to master the history of his “poor country”; and later he tried to secure justice for it, though at the

1 Works, IV, 377.
2 Morley's Burke, 160.

" It passes

" 1

expense of offending his Bristol constituents. Then, when Ireland caught the contagion of the French Revolution, and when the war between England and France rendered the situation still more threatening, Burke urged for Ireland the same policy which he had urged for America seventeen years before, - conciliation. In letter and pamphlet he unceasingly advocated relieving the Catholics of their disabilities. my comprehension,” he wrote, “ in what manner it is that men can be reconciled to the practical merits of a constitution by being practically excluded from any of its advantages.' This is surely a return to the high level of the dictum, “ I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people."

The incidents connected with the close of the trial of Warren Hastings, with the excitement over the French Revolution, and with the agitation for toleration in Ireland mark the end of Burke's public career. In 1794, with his fame restored, he retired from Parliament. He was to have received a peerage with the title Lord Beaconsfield; but, since the death of his son left him without a direct heir to whom to transmit the honor, he accepted instead a pension granted in recognition of his services to the country. This pension was the occasion of a fresh attack upon him by his enemies. He replied in the Letter to a Noble Lord, which from a rhetorical point of view is one of his best pieces of work. He survived but three years, during which he wrote the Letters on a Regicide Peace. He died on the ninth of July, 1797.

The personality of Burke, which in his public life seems a little vague and distant, appears with more distinctness in his private life. As described by Madame D'Arblay he was tall, his figure noble, his air commanding, his address graceful, his voice clear, penetrating, sonorous and powerful, his language

1 Second Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe on the Catholic Question, Works, VI, 382.

« ПредишнаНапред »