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stituted than he finds it ; but a good patriot, and a true politician, always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country." I
Burke's antipathy to mere theories also saved him from the fallacy of supposing that the machinery of government may be constructed as if men were uniform, passive units. This error, which was rife among his predecessors and contemporaries, 2 persists to this day in the minds of those who attempt to suppress evil or reorganize society on the assumption that the enactment of a law will make men wise, temperate, industrious, frugal or unselfish. Burke, however, seized every opportunity to sneer at such“ speculative projects” 3 and "paper government.” He invariably tried, as in the Speech on Conciliation, to take into account temper and environment. “I never,” he protested, “was wild enough to conceive that one method would serve for the whole, that the natives of Hindostan and those of Virginia could be ordered in the same manner.” 6
These several phases of Burke's bent for the practical rather than the theoretical point of view are, in the last analysis, a trust in experience, — a theme on which he was never tired of dwelling. Men might offer any number of a priori arguments : he simply replied that conjectures were interesting, but not convincing. “Fortunately I am not obliged to tax my own unproductive invention. . . . I only wish you to return to that mode which a uniform experience has marked out to you as best."7 :
A man who clings so tenaciously to experience is likely to be an uncompromising conservative ; and Burke was no exception
1 Reflections on the Revolution in France, Works, III, 440.
2 Stephen's History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, II, 211.
4 See 6 15. 3 See 6 15, note.
5 See pages 9–25. 6 Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, Works, II, 227. 7 See 49 15–27.
to the rule. Changes, he thought, should always be gradual, and should be made only when imperatively necessary. Indeed, so strong was his reverence for the wisdom of the ages that he was willing to tolerate abuses till they actually struck “at the root of order."1 Then he was moved to act, for few things were dearer to his heart than à quiet, well-regulated state. Whatever interfered with this, whether rebellion, riot, usurpation, radical reforms, agitation, or the questioning of traditional beliefs in religion or politics, he was prompt to withstand. Such a man, with his face set toward the past, is not well fitted to deal with new social and political conditions, which demand experiments ; and yet without the restraining influence of such men a whole nation might by a rash leap lose the fruit of much toil and pain. Each age, then, must have its conservatives as well as its progressives ; and Burke, with his passion for good government, whether in England, America, Ireland, India or France, was for his generation — as indeed he has been for all generations since — “the great pleader for conservatism."
BURKE AS AN ORATOR.2
Though it is customary to speak of Burke as a great orator, the fact is that he frequently produced no immediate effect. These failures were due to several causes, one of which was his unprepossessing appearance. However much Miss Burney 3 may have been charmed when she first met him, yet as he rose in Parliament he was not attractive with his heavy, Quaker-like figure, scratch wig, round spectacles and a cumbrous roll of paper loading his pocket.? To these disadvantages he added clumsy gestures, a voice somewhat harsh when he spoke in public, a strong Irish brogue, and at times a hurried articulation. Moreover in later years he now and then spoiled a speech by losing his temper. But above all, he was deficient in tact : often he either overestimated the capacity of his hearers or else he refused to condescend to it. They wanted a concise presentation of leading points : he insisted upon viewing the matter from every side and in every light. They were too slow-witted to comprehend anything except the obvious : he insisted upon applying profound principles. They were looking for personal or partisan advantage: he offered them maxims of statesmanship. He was, as Goldsmith drew him, a speaker
i Tract on the Popery Laws, Works, VI, 340.
2 Burke's oratory and his style are discussed at some length in Morley's Burke, in Goodrich's Select British Eloquence, and the introductions to Payne's edition of the Select Works and to Professor Bliss Perry's Selections from Burke, Henry Holt Company, New York, 1896.
3 Afterwards Madame D'Arblay.
Who, too deep for his hearers, still went on refining,
Indeed, by some of the younger wits he was called “the dinner-bell.” So widely did he miss the mark that the Speech on the Nabob of Arcot's Debts did not impress Pitt and Grenville as worth a reply, and the Speech on Conciliation emptied the benches.
In spite of these mistakes in casting pearls of philosophy and statesmanship before the House, Burke was at times unsurpassed. His first speeches, as has been said, “ filled the town with wonder”; and during his earlier career many of his contributions to the debates were so compact, pointed, and telling 3 that he was everywhere recognized as one of the ablest speakers in Parliament. Finally, at the trial of Hastings he swept his audience up to a pitch of uncontrollable emotion. These
1 Green's History of the English People, IV, 234. 2 Retaliation.
3 Few of these speeches have been printed in his collected Works, but some of them appear in brief reports in the Parliamentary History.
triumphs, which establish beyond peradventure his fame as an orator, were due in part to his natural ardor, which in his happiest moments kindled all who came within range of his voice. He owed yet more of his success to his amazing knowledge of his subjects. He had never visited India, for example : nevertheless he had read and studied huge masses of facts about that country, and had animated them by his imagination until, as Macaulay puts it, “ India and its inhabitants were not to him, as to most Englishmen, mere names and abstractions, but a real country and a real people. The burning sun, the strange vegetation of the palm and the cocoa-tree, the ricefield, the tank, the huge trees older than the Mogul Empire, under which the village crowds assemble, the thatched roof of the peasant's hut, the rich tracery of the mosque where the imaum prays with his face to Mecca, the drums and banners and gaudy idols, the devotee swinging in the air, the graceful maiden with the pitcher on her head, descending the steps to the river-side, the black faces, the long beards, the yellow streaks of sect, the turbans and the flowing robes, the spears and the silver maces, the elephants with their canopies of state, the gorgeous palanquin of the prince, and the close litter of the noble lady, — all these things were to him as the objects amidst which his own life had been passed, as the objects which lay on the road between Beaconsfield and St. James's Street.”] With all India thus present to his eye, Burke drew pictures of such startling reality, he showed such thorough and easy mastery of every detail, that his listeners could not but value his opinion as that of a man who knew everything to be known about the matter; they could not help feeling with him that “oppression in Bengal was the same thing as oppression in the streets of London.” 2
1 Essay on Warren Hastings. Goodrich has already quoted this passage to illustrate the same point.
2 Macaulay's Essay on Warren Hastings. The phrase was evidently suggested by a sentence from Burke's Speech in Opening the Impeachment Other important elements in Burke's oratory are the brilliancy of expression and the logical development of ideas, — elements which have helped to give lasting influence to some of the speeches which at the moment were failures. An instance in point is the Speech on the Nabob of Arcot's Debts, which Erskine is said to have slept through, but which he afterwards thumbed to pieces in the printed copy. These qualities, however, may be discussed more properly in relation to Burke's style.
BURKE AS A WRITER.
One of the first things to strike the reader of Burke is the vigor which he displays in nearly every kind of prose : in never-to-be-forgotten descriptions of the soft beauty of Marie Antoinette or of the horrors of war in India ; in blood-curdling tales of the cruelty of Debi Sing at Rungpore ; in clear-cut expositions of the effect of poetry upon the emotions, or the effect of Popery laws in Ireland ; in arguments for toleration or conciliation which carry one along with the rush of rapid narrative ; in the pathos of his laments for the death of his son; in the irony of the Vindication of Natural Society; in the terrific invective of the Letters on a Regicide Peace ; in the splendor of the appeal at the close of the Speech on Conciliation ; in the unadorned gravity of the Address to the King. Through all this range, from which humor alone is excluded, Burke moves with a sure and imperious stride.
Since there is no notable piece of description in the Speech on Conciliation, the student of Burke's style should read such a
of Warren Hastings, Second Day, Works, IX, 448 : “The laws of morality are the same everywhere, and ... there is no action which would pass for an act of extortion, of peculation, of bribery and of oppression in England, that is not an act of extortion, of peculation, of bribery and oppression in Europe, Asia, Africa and all the world over."