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and one of his remarks on the great statesman was, that “one could not take shelter with him from a shower of rain under a gateway without in a few minutes perceiving his vast superiority over common men.”
History was the study in which Burke most delighted, and he dived into its depths with increasing industry. In 1758 he proposed to Dodsley, the well-known London publisher, a work to be called “The Annual Register," containing an account of the principal events of the time. An arrangement was entered into, and the work was written for many years by Burke. The minute investigation of contemporary history which such a work demanded was, no doubt, one of the causes of Burke's intimate knowledge of the events, both domestic and foreign, of the age in which he lived.
Burke soon afterwards entered on that sphere of action which he was destined to adorn, and it was in his native country that his political life began. When Lord Halifax became Viceroy of Ireland, Burke was appointed private secretary to the Lord Lieutenant's secretary, “Single Speech” Hamilton ; so called from having delivere! one good speech in England, and (but this is untrue) the same amount of oratory in Ireland. Some said that it was to Edmund Burke the world was virtually indebted for Hamilton's speeches, but there is not sufficient authority for this supposition. Burke obtained a pension of £300 a-year, but as soon as he found that its acceptance involved a course of action inconsistent with personal independence, he Aung it away. He did not, however, publicly announce his doing so, and it is only from one of his letters to Flood that the fact has been ascertained. On his return to England, he resumed his contributions to the periodical press, and in 1765 he became acquainted with the Marquis of Rockingham, which circumstance proved to be an era in his life. When the Marquis was appointed prime minister, he named Burke as his private secretary. It soon became evident that the presence of a man of such talent would be serviceable to ministers; and, accordingly, through the influence of Lord Verney, Burke was returned to parliament in 1765, for the borough
of Wendover, in Buckinghamshire; and thus entered on a career destined to link his name with the history of the empire.
In his new position, Burke, instead of relaxing his efforts, applied himself with redoubled energy to his stndies. He employed his time in the close study of those authors who were most likely to perfect his style, and impart solid information. He even joined, it is said, a debating society in London, and prepared himself for its mimic contests with most pains-taking care. His first speech in the House of Commons was in 1765, on the usual motion for the address in reply to the royal speech. He dwelt with much force on the American question, the question of the hour ; and his speech was honoured with the praise of the elder Pitt, afterwards Earl of Chatham. Burke advised Lord Rockingham to repeal the stamp act, but to this advice | he added, it is said, that of passing an act declaratory of the right of Great Britain to tax the colonies. The stamp act was repealed, but the declaratory act asserting the right to tax, proved, in the event, by no means a useful measure. We must, however, recollect, that we are writing of 1765, not of 1776; and that, at the former period, America had not as yet assumed the tone, which, in a few short years, led to her independence as a nation. No statesman in England, not even the great Pitt, could clearly see his way to a solution of the American difficulty.
In 1768 great excitement prevailed in England from many causes. Tidings of American discontent came by each ship which crossed the Atlantic. A dearth of provisions in England led to several riots; and in the House of Commons the expulsion of Wilkes, and his re-election, roused the angry passions of conflicting parties. Burke, though. he could not, as a religious man, admire the personal character of Wilkes, was opposed to the measures which were adopted against 'um. He went with Lord Rockingham into opposition, when that nobleman's administration broke up, and the Duke of Grafton became minister under the supposed guidance of Chatham, who, however, for some time retired from public affairs in consequence of cabinet disputes. Burke was recognised as the ablest man in the oppo
sition benches, and distinguished himself by the display of vigorous powers, and a cultivated mind. It was the Grafton administration which he afterwards described with such sarcastic ridicule in his speech on American taxation, as the “ truckle-bed ministry,” in which so strangely heterogeneous a mixture was found together. It was about this period that Burke purchased the estate of Beaconsfield for £23,000; of which sum a portion was lent to him by the Marquis of Rockingham.
The first of Burke's great political pamphlets made its appearance at this period, under the title of “Thoughts on the Causes of the Present Discontents.” In this able production he inveighs with considerable force against the machinations of a certain clique which ruled the administration in a covert manner, and which was known as the “inner cabinet.” In the debates on subjects relating to the liberty of the press, Burke took a prominent part, and when a printer, named Almon, was prosecuted for republishing Junius' letter to the king, Burke supported those who endeavoured to narrow the powers of the crown.
In the entire range of literary controversy, no question has ever elicited a greater variety of arguments than that of the authorship of the famous “ Letters of Junius. These matchless productions appeared at various intervals from 1769 till 1771. The boldness of their tone, the beauty of their language, and the felicity of the illustrations with which they abounded, joined to the fact that they were levelled at a most unpopular administration, (that of the Duke of Grafton) gave them an immediate and firm hold on public attention. All these characteristics conspired to create the general belief that Burke was Junius. Into this controversy we have not space to enter, but will simply say that, in addition to Burke's solemn denial of the truth of this opinion, there are in the Letters some passages which defend a policy to which it is well known that Burke was not friendly. The strongest evidence of authorship is in favour of Francis, another Irishman. The following remarks on Junius are to be found in some editions of Burke's speeches. They are said to have been delivered in 1770 in support of a bill to limit the power of the Attorney-general to file ex officio informations. We have not included this speech in our collection, as its authenticity is doubtful. The following passage is, however, very like Burke, and closely resembles the mode in which he would have taunted the Crown
“How comes this Junius to have broken through the cobwebs of the law, and to range uncontrolled, unpunished through the land ? The myrmidons of the court have been long, and are still pursuing him in vain. They will not spend their time on me, or you, or you! No; they disdain such vermin when the mighty boar of the forest, which has broken through all their toils, is before them. But what will all theirefforts avail? No sooner has he wounded one than he lays down another dead at his feet. For my part when I saw his attack upon the king, I own my blood ran cold. I thought he had ventured too far, and that there was an end of his troubles. Not that he had not asserted many truths. Yes, Sir, there are in that composition many bold truths, by which a wise prince might profit. It was the rancour and venom with which I was struck. In these respects the North Briton is as much inferior to him as in strength, wit, and judgment. But, while I expected from this daring flight his final ruin and fall, behold him rising still higher, and coming down souse on both houses of parliament. Yes, he did make you his quarry, and you still bleed from the wounds of his talons. You crouched, and still crouch beneath his rage. Nor has he dreaded the terrors of your brow, Sir; he has attacked even you--he has--and I believe you have no reason to triumph in the encounter. In short, after carrying our royal eagle in his pounces, and dashing him against a rock, he has laid you prostrate. King, Lords, and Commons are but the sport of his fury. Were he a member of this House, what might not be expected from his knowledge, his firmness, his integrity. He would be easily known by his contempt of all danger, by his penetration, by his vigour. Nothing could escape his vigilance and activity. Bad ministers could conceal nothing from his sagacity; nor could promises or threats induce him to conceal anything from the public.”
When parliament was dissolved in 1774, Burke, who had some disagreement with Lord Verney, the political owner of Wendover, proceeded to Malton, in Yorkshire, a borough in the interest of the Marquis of Rockingham, and was returned without opposition. Immediately after the close of the election, a deputation arrived at Malton, from Bristol, of mercantile men who had admired Burke's talents, and were anxious that he should represent their city in parliament. Burke felt, of course, highly honoured at the invitation which the deputation conveyed, and having mentioned the subject to his new constituents, he left it to them to decide whether he should accept or decline the proffered distinction of being the representative of the then second mercantile city of England. They consented to his starting for Bristol, which he accordingly did, and having travelled night and day, he reached that city on the sixth day of the poll, the voting having commenced before the deputation saw Burke at Malton. Losing not a moment, Burke, with his characteristic energy, made his way at once to the hustings, and though almost exhausted by a long journey of 350 miles, and by want of sleep, he addressed the electors in a speech which was received with enthusiastic approbation. He was elected together with Mr. Crùger, a merchant. At the close of the poll, Burke again addressed the electors in a speech of considerable ability, in which he discussed with much power that debateable question of how far a member of parliament is to obey the wishes of his constituents. He frankly declared that he would not be the mere vehicle of their instructions, but would depart from them whenever he found that such a course was demanded by the interests of truth and justice. On these principles Burke resolutely acted, and they cost him his seat for Bristol a few years afterwards. He voted on several occasions in a manner opposed to the views of his constituents. He took a course which displeased them on the question of the American war, on that of Irish free trade, on subjects relating to the Catholics, and on some questions connected with the law of debtor and creditor. His defence on the hustings at Bristol in 1780, of the policy which had dictated the course he had adopted on all