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passage as that which tells of the tortures at Rungpore or of the devastation of the Carnatic by Hyder Ali.? Two fragments from the latter are worth quoting here to show in what large measure Burke had the poet's power of realizing by the imagination a scene on which his eyes had never rested : “ All the horrors of war before known or heard of were mercy to that new havoc. A storm of universal fire blasted every field, consumed every house, destroyed every temple. The miserable inhabitants, flying from their flaming villages, in part were slaughtered ; others, without regard to sex, to age, to the respect of rank or sacredness of function, fathers torn from children, husbands from wives, enveloped in a whirlwind of cavalry, and amidst the goading spears of drivers and the trampling of pursuing horses, were swept into captivity in an unknown and hostile land. Those who were able to evade this tempest fled to the walled cities; but escaping from fire, sword and exile, they fell into the jaws of famine. . . . For eighteen months without intermission this destruction raged from the gates of Madras to the gates of Tanjore; and so completely did these masters in their art, Hyder Ali and his more ferocious son, absolve themselves of their impious vow, that, when the British armies traversed, as they did, the Carnatic for hundreds of miles in all directions, through the whole line of their march they did not see one man, not one woman, not one child, not one four-footed beast of any description whatever. One dead, uniform silence reigned over the whole region.” 3
In exposition Burke has done nothing better in small compass than his explanation of the causes of the American love of freedom in this Speech on Conciliation. As regards choice of words as well as arrangement of ideas the English language hardly furnishes a better model of expository method. Here, as in Burke's descriptions and narrations, definite words bite the meaning into the mind, and concrete examples vivify the general statements. The effect of such specific terms is well brought out by Payne, who compares a quotation from this passage with one from Lord Brougham which is made up of general, or abstract, words :
1 Speech in Opening the Impeachment of Warren Hastings, Third Day, Works, X, 83-90.
2 This bit is in Professor Perry's Selections from Burke, a book which, though it contains nothing from the Speech on Conciliation, is useful for the study of Burke's style in general. 3 Works, III, 63-65.
4 Pages 19-25
In large bodies the circulation of power must be less vigorous at the extremities. Nature has said it. The Turk cannot govern Egypt and Arabia and Kurdistan as he governs Thrace ; nor has he the same dominion in Crimea and Algiers which he has at Brusa and Smyrna. Despotism itself is obliged to truck and huckster. The Sultan gets such obedience as he can. — Pages 24, 25.
In all the despotisms of the East it has been observed that the further any part of the empire is removed from the capital the more do its inhabitants enjoy some sort of rights and privileges; the more inefficacious is the power of the monarch; and the more feeble and easily decayed is the organization of the government. - Inquiry into the Colonial Policy of the / uro, ean Powers.
These two bits show clearly enough Burke's superiority and one of the sources of it.. .
Another excellent example — this time argumentative — is the paragraph beginning “ Ireland before the English conquest.” 2 Here figurative touches are not infrequent, but the figures are simple, even colloquial : “ The roots of our primitive constitution were early transplanted into that soil, and grew and flourished there” ; 3 “ Your ancestors did not churlishly sit down alone to the feast of Magna Charta ” ;4 “ Your standard could never be advanced an inch before your privileges.” 5 The whole speech, in fact, is strewn with such turns, which perhaps do more than anything else to impart vitality to a style : “ The
3 42 26–28.
public would not have patience to see us play the game out”;? “ They are not squeezed into this happy form by the constraints of watchful and suspicious government”;? “ They will cling and grapple to you”; 3 “ I put my foot in the tracks of our forefathers, where I can neither wander nor stumble." 4
But Burke's exuberant imagination would not allow him to stop at such simple tropes. His mind was teeming with suggestions of subtle likenesses and relations, — suggestions which, when translated into words, became similes or metaphors, many of which surpass in poetic force most of the verse of his century. Oddly enough, as Macaulay notes, his imagination grew more active, his style more florid, with his advancing years. In his youth, in the Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful, “ he wrote on the emotions produced by mountains and cascades, by the masterpieces of painting and sculpture, by the faces and necks of beautiful women, in the style of a parliamentary report. In his old age he discussed treaties and tariffs in the most fervid and brilliant language of romance." 5 It is interesting to notice the gradual change. The Inquiry contains only one or two bits which can be called flowery, such as “In the morning of our days, when the senses are unworn and tender.” 6 There is one bold metaphor, “ In this description the terrible and sublime blaze out together.” ? At the period of the Speech on Conciliation Burke was at his best, splendid and yet restrained. The pages containing the sentence, “ If ... that angel should have drawn up the curtain and unfolded the rising glories of his country,” and the impassioned peroration with the imagery of “the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith,” 9 — these passages, though in a manner to be attempted by a genius only, and even then too ornate for modern taste, were for the time and place proper and effective. But ten years later in the Speech on the Nabob of Arcot's Debts Burke passed the bounds set by an age when the florid was more admired than now, the repulsive more readily tolerated. Of all the “purple patches,” however, the most gorgeous is in the Reflections on the Revolution, the description of Marie Antoinette, which begins, “Surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in, — glittering like the morning star, full of life and splendor and joy." I
1 5 24, 25.
4 51 27, 28.
7 Ibid., 140.
Such opulence of style was in no sense an affectation. But though it was his natural mode of expression, he has left two noteworthy exceptions, the austerely phrased Report on the Lords' Journal, 1794, and the sober Address to the King, 1777. The latter contains a passage deemed by some the noblest Burke ever wrote. It begins, “What, gracious sovereign, is the empire of America to us, or the empire of the world, if we lose our own liberties ? ”2
This sentence, which is modeled upon the well-known verse from St. Matthew, “What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul ?”3 is one of many in which Burke, though an independent writer, has enriched his style either by direct quotation or by adaptation from the Bible. In this very Speech on Conciliation there are upwards of twenty of these passages, * such as, “ When the daystar of the English Constitution had arisen in their hearts.” 5 In like manner Burke drew upon the Roman and the English poets, especially Virgil, Horace and Juvenal, Shakspere, Milton
1 Works, III, 331. 2 Ibid., VI, 177. 3 xvi, 26.
4 The parallels are pointed out in the notes to the following lines : 4 16, 13 32, 14 31, 24 29, 30 4, 306, 31 16, 31 27, 37 1, 38 5, 46 6, 49 8, 50 33, 51 22, 51 30, 51 31, 63 16, 72 12, 72 20, 73 25, 73 34.
and Pope.' Indeed it is said that whenever he wrote, he kept a “ragged Delphin Virgil ” near his elbow. He was thoroughly acquainted, not only with the writers just mentioned, but with others of the best, including Plutarch, Plautus, Terence, Cicero, Lucretius, Bacon and Dryden. In spite of his knowledge of literature and in spite of the current fashion of quoting, particularly from the Greek and Latin classics, Burke seldom erred by quoting too frequently or by patching an incongruous element into the context. Having reached the right pitch of thought or expression, then, by the poetic force of a borrowed turn, by the familiarity and power of suggestion or by the aptness, he added the finishing touch.
Brilliant as Burke's phrasing is, he did not rely upon mere brilliancy : he was generally careful to arrange his thoughts so that each fell into its proper place and contributed its due share towards the total effect. His skill in planning need not be discussed here, for at a glance it is evident in the analysis of the Speech on Conciliation a few pages farther on.
Moreover, Burke took every precaution to make the logical relations of his ideas unmistakable. For this purpose he used many connective words or phrases. For example, the first line of each paragraph on pages 35 and 36 contains a phrase which serves as a connective with what precedes : “ There is, Sir, also a circumstance which convinces me that this mode of criminal proceeding";2 “ In this situation, let us seriously and coolly ponder”; 3 “If then the removal of the causes of this spirit of American liberty" ; 4 “ If we adopt this mode." 5 Another of Burke's methods was to construct the paragraph so as to throw as much emphasis as possible upon the main idea in it. By a word or phrase at the beginning he would indicate
1 See 14 10, 17 4, 18 6, 19 31, 22 31, 24 8, 24 25, 25 18, 26 2, 304, 31 9, 32 33, 37 19, 46 9, 49 2, 49 21, 51 16, 51 20, 63 2, 69 27, 70 29, 70 33, 71 34, 72 2, 73 1, 73 17. 235 19, 20.