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SELECT PASSAGES FROM BURKE'S LETTER
incide in opinion with his majesty's advisers, but is to be set a nought the moment it differs from them, the House of Common will sink into a mere appendage of administration; and will lose the independent character which, inseparably connecting the honour are reputation with the acts of this house, enables us to afford a real effective, and substantial support to his government. It is the de: ference shewn to our opinion, when we dissent from the servants di the crown, which alone can give authority to the proceedings of the house, when it concurs with their measures.
That authority once lost, the credit of his majesty's crown will be impaired in the eyes of all nations. Foreign powers, who may yet wish to revive a friendly intercourse with this nation, will look in vain for that hold which gave a connection with Great Britain the preference to an alliance with any other state. An House of Commons, of which ministers were known to stand in awe, where every thing was necessarily discussed, on principles fit to be openly and publicly avowed, and which could not be retracted or varied without danger, furnished a ground of confidence in the public faith, which the engagement of no state dependent on the fluctuation of personal favour, and private advice, can ever pretend to. If faith with the House of Commons, the grand security for the national faith itself, can be broken with impunity, a wound is given to the political importance of Great Britain, which will not easily be healed.
SELECT PASSAGES FROM BURKE'S LETTER
DEFENDING HIS PENSION.
In one thing I can excuse the Duke of Bedford for his attack upon me and my mortuary pension. He cannot readily comprehend the transaction he condemns. What I have obtained was the fruit of no bargain; the production of no intrigue; the result of no compromise ; the effect of no solicitation. The first suggestion of it never came from me, mediately or immediately, to his majesty or any of his ministers. It was long known that the instant my engagements would permit it, and before the heaviest of all calamities had for ever condemned me to obscurity and sorrow, I had resolved on a total retreat. I had executed that design. I was entirely ont of the way of serving or of hurting any statesman, or any party, when the ministers so generously and so uobly carried into effect the spontaneous bounty of the crown. Both descriptions have acted as
became them. When I could no longer serve them, the ministers have considered my situation. When I could no longer hurt them, the revolutionists have trampled on my infirmity. My gratitude, I trust, is equal to the manner in which the benefit was conferred. It came to me indeed, at a time of life, and in a state of mind and body, in which no circumstance of fortune could afford me any real pleasure. But this was no fault in the royal donor, or in his ministers, who were pleased, in acknowledging the merits of an invalid servant of the public, to assuage the sorrows of a desolate old man.
The French revolutionists complained of everything; they refused to reform anything; and they left nothing, no, nothing at all, unchanged. The consequences are before us, not in remote history; not in future prognostication; they are about us; they are upon us. They shake the public security ; they menace private enjoyment. They dwarf the growth of the young; they break the quiet of the old. If we travel, they stop our way. They infest us in town; they pursue us to the country. Our business is interrupted; our repose is troubled ; our pleasures are saddened ; our very studies are poisoned and perverted, and knowledge is rendered worse than ignorance, by the enormous evils of this dreadful innovation. The revolution harpies of France, sprung from night and hell, or from that chaotic anarchy which generates equivocally “ all monstrous, all prodigious things,” cuckoo-like, adulterously lay their eggs, and brood over, and hatch them in the nest of every neighbouring state. These obscene harpies who deck themselves in I know not what divine attributes, but who in reality are foul and ravenous birds of prey, (both mothers and daughters) flutter over our heads, and souse down upon our tables, and leave nothing unrent, unrifled, unravaged, or unpolluted with the slime of their filthy offal.*
I was not, like his grace of Bedford, swaddled, and rocked, and dandled into a legislator ; “ Nitor in adversum” is the motto for a man like me. I possessed not one of the qualities, nor cultivated one of the arts, that recommend men to the favour and protection of
* This is one of the most extraordinary passages perhaps in all Burke's works, and it is one which his own taste would have pronounced faulty, as being overcharged with metaphor. Still for a man verging on 70 it proves how fertile his imagination continued. Much of it closely resembles, and is evidently borrowed from Cicero's famous panegyric on literature in the Oratio pro Archia ; " Hæc studia adolescentiam, alunt, senectutem delectant,” &c.
the great. I was not made for a minion or a tool. As little did I follow the trade of winning the hearts, by imposing on the understandings, of the people. At every step of my progress in life (for in every step was I traversed and opposed) and at every turnpike I met, I was obliged to show my passport, and again and again to prove my sole title to the honour of being useful to my country, by a proof that I was not wholly unacquainted with its laws, and the whole system of its interests both abroad and at home. Otherwise no rank, no toleration even for me. I had no arts, but manly arts. On them I have stood, and, please God, in spite of the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Lauderdale, to the last gasp will I stand.
Had his grace condescended to inquire concerning the person whom he has not thought it below him to reproach, he might have found, that in the whole course of my life, I have never on any pretence of economy, or on any other pretence, so much as in a single instance, stood between any man and his reward of service, or his encouragement in useful talent and pursuit, from the highest of those services and pursnits to the lowest. On the contrary, I have, on an hundred occasions, exerted myself with singular zeal to forward every man's even tolerable pretensions. I have more than once had goodnatured reprehension from my friends for carrying the matter to something bordering on abuse. This line of conduct, whatever its merits might be, was partly owing to natural disposition ; but I think full as much to reason and principle. I looked on the consideration of public service, or public ornament, to be real and very justice : and I ever held a scanty and penurions justice to partake of the nature of a wrong. I held it to be, in its consequences, the worst economy in the world. In saving money, I soon can count up all the good I do; but when by a cold penury, I blast the abilities of a nation, and stunt the growth of its active energies, the ill I may do is beyond all calculation,
It may be new to his grace, but I beg leave to tell him, that mere parsimony is not economy. It is separable in theory from it; and in fact it may, or it may not, be a part of economy, according to circumstances. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy. If parsimony were to be considered as one of the kinds of that virtue, there is, however, another and a higher economy. Economy is a distributive virtue, and consists not in saving, but in selection. Parsimony requires no providence, no sagacity, no powers of combination, no comparison, no judgment. Mere instinct, and that not an instinct of the noblest kind, may produce this false economy in perfection. The other economy has larger views. It demands a discriminating judgment, and a firm, sagacious mind. It shuts one door to impudent importunity, only to open another door, and a wider, to unpresuming merit. If none but meritorious service or real talent were to be rewarded, this nation has not wanted, and this nation will not want, the means of rewarding all the service it ever will receive, and encouraging all the merit it ever will produce. No state, since the foundation of society, has been impoverished by that species of profusion. Had the economy of selection and proportion been at all times observed, we should not now have had an overgrown Duke of Bedford, to oppress the industry of humble men, and to limit by the standard of his own conceptions, the justice, the bounty, or, if he pleases, the charity of the crown.
I know not how it has happened, but it really seems, that, whilst his grace was meditating his well-considered censure upon me, he fell into a sort of sleep. Homer nods : and the Duke of Bedford may dream; and as dreams (even his golden dreams) are apt to be illpierced and incongruously put together, his grace preserved his idea of reproach to me, but took the subject matter from the crown-grants to his own family. This is the stuff of which his dreams are made.” In that way of putting things together, his grace is perfectly in the right. The grants to the house of Russel were so enormous, as not only to outrage economy, but even to stagger credibility. The Duke of Bedford is the leviathan among all the creatures of the crown. He tumbles about his unwieldy bulk; he plays and frolics in the ocean of the royal bounty. Huge as he is, and whilst "he lies floating many a rood,” he is still a creature. His ribs, his fins, his whalebone, his blubber, the very spiracles through which he spouts a torrent of brine against his origin, and covers me all over with the spray,—everything of him and about him is from the throne. Is it for him to question the dispensation of the royal favour?.
The first peer of the name, the first purchaser of the grants, was a Mr. Russel, a person of an arcient gentleman's family, raised by being a minion of Henry the Eighth. As there generally is some resemblance of character to create these relations, the favourite was in all likelihood much such another as his master. The first of those immoderate grants was not taken from the ancient demesne of the crown, but from the recent confiscation of the ancient nobility of the land. The lion having sucked the blood of his prey, threw the offal carcase to the jackal in waiting. Having tasted once the food
of confiscation, the favourites became fierce and ravenous. This worthy favourite's first grant was from the lay nobility. The secona, infinitely improving on the enormity of the first, was from the plunder of the church. In truth his grace is somewhat excusable for his dislike to a grant like mine, not only in its quality, but in its kind so different from his own.
Mine was from a mild and benevolent sovereign ; his from Henry the Eighth.
Mine had not its fund in the murder of any innocent person of illustrious rank, or in the pillage of any body of unoffending men. His grants were from the aggregate and consolidated funds of judgments iniquitously legal, and from possessions voluntarily surrendered by the lawful proprietors with the gibbet at their door.
The merit of the grantee whom he derives from, was that of being a prompt and greedy instrument of a levelling tyrant, who oppressed all descriptions of his people, but who fell with particular fury on everything that was great and noble. Mine has been, in endeavouring to screen every man, in every class, from oppression, and particularly in defending the high and eminent, who in the bad times of confiscating princes, confiscating chief governors, or confiscating demagogues, are the most exposed to jealousy, avarice, and envy.
The merit of the original grantee of his grace's pensions, was in giving his hand to the work, and partaking the spoil with a prince, who plundered a part of the national church of his time and country. Mine was in defending the whole of the national church of my own time and my own country, and the whole of the national churches of all countries, from the principles and the examples which lead to ecclesiastical pillage, thence to a contempt of all prescriptive titles, thence to the pillage of all property, and thence to universal desolation.
Had it pleased God to continue to me the hopes of succession, I should have been, according to my mediocrity and the mediocrity of the age I live in, a sort of a founder of a family : I should have left a son, who, in all the points in which personal merit can be viewed, in science, in erudition, in genius, in taste, in honour, in generosity, in humanity, in every liberal sentiment, and every liberal accomplishment, would not have shown himself inferior to the Duke of Bedfora, or to any of those whom he traces in his line. His grace very soon would have wanted all plausibility in his attack upon that provision, which belonged more to mine than to me. He would soon have sup