« ПредишнаНапред »
copious, various and eloquent, his manners attractive, his conversation delightful. “Since we lost Garrick,” she wrote, “I have seen nobody so enchanting.”1 The range of Burke's conversation was an indication of the variety of his interests, - politics, economics, social problems, history, philosophy, poetry, drama, painting, sculpture, science, agriculture, manufactures. Whatever subject he took up, he pursued with the same furor that possessed him in studying at college and in mastering the details of finance and the affairs of America and India. When he turned from the cares of state to his farm at Beaconsfield, he was eager over carrots and pigs, just as he had been eager over the Stamp Act. 2
Furthermore, his zeal in behalf of the wretched and the oppressed was not a mere vague sentiment which expended itself in words : it was a ruling motive in his daily conduct. When the poet Crabbe was obscure and penniless, Burke took him into the family at Beaconsfield, found a printer for his verses, and finally obtained for him a living in the church. Burke sent the painter Barry abroad and for five years furnished him with money for study and travel. During the Revolution he kept open house for the French refugees, gave from his own slender purse to acquaintances whose estates had been confiscated,4 and established near Beaconsfield a school for French orphans and children of émigrés who had suffered losses. Such open-handed liberality could not but win him troops of staunch friends. Richard Shackleton was devoted to him from boyhood to old age ; Sir Joshua Reynolds appointed him an executor and left him a large legacy ; Dr. Johnson, the stout Tory who declared that “the first Whig was the devil,”l admired and loved him. Burke's faults were clearly those of an ardent temperament, — at times unreasoning zeal for persons, parties or causes, and an impatience of contradiction and delay which betrayed him into fiery outbursts of passion. His virtues were also those of an ardent temperament, — unquenchable energy, exhaustless generosity.
1 Diary and Letters, June, 1782. 2 Correspondence, I, 245–251, 257–265. 3 Ibid., 86-92, 116–129. 4 Ibid., IV, 246–251. 5 Ibid., 331-341.
In his family relations he was very happy. In the winter of 1756-1757 he had married Jane Nugent, the daughter of a physician. She was a woman of gentle manners, even temper, and a capacity for management which lifted many burdens from her husband's shoulders. Though Burke's only son, Richard, was not generally liked, he was idolized by his father, who with characteristic eagerness had indulged in the most extravagant hopes of a brilliant future for him. The death of Richard in 1794 was a blow from which Burke never recovered : it filled his last days with gloom, and hastened his end. “I am alone,” he wrote. “I have none to meet my enemies in the gate.” ?
BURKE AS A STATESMAN. 3
Burke's principles of statesmanship, when briefly set down, seem almost too bald and simple to be worth much attention. One should remember, however, that theories of government
1 Boswell's Life of Johnson, III, 326.
3 Able discussions of Burke's statesmanship are to be found in section 9 of chapter xii of Leslie Stephen's History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, New York, 1876; and in John Morley's Edmund Burke : a Historical Study, London, 1867. The latter book should not be confounded with Morley's life of Burke in the English Men of Letters, to which reference has already been made. Stephen dwells on a matter for which there is no space in this introduction, the sources from which Burke drew his ideas in statesmanship.
had not in Burke's day been discussed and developed as they have been since, so that what is trite now may have been novel then: moreover, statesmanship does not consist in a mere knowledge of maxims, – in which a modern schoolboy might equal Burke, - but in understanding when and how to apply them.
The basis of Burke's system is explained in a sentence from one of his letters : “The principles of true politics are those of morality enlarged ; and I neither now do, nor ever will, admit of any other.” But had he never written this sentence, his works are full of proofs that his aim was the triumph of the good : among the orators of his time he is notable for his frequent appeals to the love of right rather than to the love of might. It is better, he held, to try to make a government wise and honest than to try to make it strong. 2 His hatred of the French Revolutionists was due partly to his conviction that they were enemies to sound morals : they were overturning the church, a bulwark of morality; they were dishonestly repudiating debts; they were unjustly confiscating property. Of their action he wrote: “As no one of us men can dispense with public or private faith, or with any other tie of moral obligation, so neither can any number of us. The number engaged in crimes, instead of turning them into laudable acts, only augments the quantity and intensity of the guilt." 3
The first of the moral principles on which Burke rested great weight was justice. Where duller men would have been stolidly indifferent, his powerful imagination enabled him to feel keenly the burdens of the oppressed. Thus it was for justice to the clergy and the nobility of France, to the disfranchised Catholics, and to the swarming millions of India, that he made his most fervent pleas. Such pleas were not “splendid
1 Letter to the Bishop of Chester, 1771, Correspondence, I, 332.
commonplaces” at that time ; for the idea that a nation was bound by the same code of justice as an individual was far less generally accepted than now. Every European power regarded the acquisition of territory as ample excuse for unprovoked rapine and slaughter, — as is proved by the very crimes of Hastings which Burke labored to punish, by the general sympathy for the great criminal, by the defence that he had extended the bounds of the British Empire, and by his final acquittal. Such pleas as Burke's are not "splendid commonplaces” today ; for although the civilized world ought long since to have discovered the “ill-husbandry of injustice," I scarcely a year passes without some outrage committed against a weaker nation by a stronger.
A second principle to which Burke often appealed is, — as might be expected from his character, — generosity. When leading statesmen held the belief, still common among ignorant people, that the surest method of enlarging national commerce is to restrict and retaliate, Burke advocated liberality. His narrow-minded constituents remonstrated, but he replied with a truth which is not yet well understood: “ It is but too natural for us to see our own certain ruin in the possible prosperity of other people. It is hard to persuade us that everything which is got by another is not taken from ourselves. But it is fit that we should get the better of these suggestions, which come from what is not the best and soundest part of our nature.” 2 When Burke's colleagues maintained that they were dealing justly with America, he answered that they should not be content with mere grudging justice, but should follow the higher policy of generosity. This idea underlies all his utterances on America, and the special emphasis which he lays on it in the Speech on Conciliation is perhaps the one thing which makes that the noblest of his productions. “Magna
1 See 45 21.
nimity in politics,” he said in closing, “is not seldom the truest wisdom ; and a great empire and little minds go ill together. ... Our ancestors have made the most extensive, and the only honorable conquests, not by destroying but by promoting the wealth, the number, the happiness of the human race.” 1 This same ideal, which seems almost as far from realization to-day as it was in 1797, he presented again in almost his last piece of writing : “Not ... a sort of England detached from the rest of the world, and amusing herself with the puppetshow of a naval power, . .. but ... that sort of England who, sympathetic with the adversity or the happiness of mankind, felt that nothing in human affairs was foreign to her.”2
Many men have been as zealous as Burke for justice and generosity, but comparatively few have added to their zeal the saving knowledge that perfect justice can never be attained in this world ; that human institutions are at best “compromises, sometimes between good and evil and sometimes between evil and evil.”3 By this knowledge he was kept from being a stickler for abstract principles, a theorist. He never advocated, except in the case of the French Revolution, mere technical rights, which may be “the most odious of all wrongs and the most vexatious of all injustice." 4 The thing for which he looked was the utilitarian effect, “ the happiness of the whole,” 5 or, to use Bentham's phrase, “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” In theory the British Constitution, for example, might be as illogical as possible: if as a matter of fact it protected person and property, Burke was well content to let it stand unchanged. “A man of warm speculative benevolence,” he wrote, “may wish his society otherwise con
1 Pages 73, 74. 2 First Letter on a Regicide Peace, Works, V, 244, 245. 3 Reflections on the Revolution in France, Works, III, 313. 4 See 35 8-10; 7 14, note. 5 Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians, Works, VII, 45.