Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

these topics, is one of the most convincing pieces of popular oratory on record. “I did not obey your instructions," he manfully exclaimed, “but I conformed to the instructions of truth and nature, and maintained your interest against your opinions with a constancy that became me.” He did not go to the poll in 1780, as he found the popular feeling too strong for him, and he returned to Malton; which borough he represented till the termination of his parliamentary career. It has been said that it was this warning which Burke's treatment at Bristol held out to statesmen, that caused Sir Robert Peel to remain contented for the last twenty years of his life with representing the borough of Tamworth. There was one period (1846-7) when his chance of being re-elected, if he had represented an agricultural population, would have been very small.

In dealing with the Bristol election, we have placed together all the circumstances relating to Burke's representation of that city, as they form a species of episode in his life, and taken as a whole, present an important political moral. We must, therefore, carry back the reader of the last few lines from 1780 to 1774, and ask him to accompany us to the House of Commons, on the 19th of April in that year. On that evening Burke delivered one of the greatest speeches to which any assembly had ever listened, an oration replete with philosophy, and adorned with the most gorgeous diction. Mr. Rose Fuller having moved for the repeal of the tea duty, which had exasperated America, Burke supported the motion, and though he did not rise till a late hour, he by the enchantment of his eloquence, captivated many who had thought the subject exhausted. At the close of one splendid burst, a member (Lord John Townsend) exclaimed, “What a man is this! How could he acquire such transcendent powers ?" An American gentleman in the gallery is said to have remarked to a friend, “ You have a most wonderful man here; he understands more of America than all the rest of

your

house put together.” This speech raised Burke at once from being an admittedly able speaker and writer, to be ranked as the first orator in the house. Perhaps we might take a wider range,

and
say,

that it

stamped him as the first orator of modern times. There runs through its beautiful periods a clear stream of philosophic reasoning; the arguments are unanswerable ; and the wisdom of the advice the orator gives to a minister (Lord North) rushing madly on the most reckless policy, seems almost like the voice of one inspired.” The imagery with which Burke illastrates his arguments are brought forward from his luxuriant fancy with a profusion which would have endangered the grandeur of the oration, if delivered by a less accomplished word artist than Burke ; but he interweaves them with such skill into the speech, that they lose all appearance of being unna. tural or forced. Perhaps no finer passage occurs in modern oratory, than that in which he draws Chatham in his “descending glory." We have placed this speech first in the following collection, as it was the first which Burke could be prevailed on to arrange for publication.

As we are now on the subject of America, it may be appropriate here to state that a “History of the European Settlements in America,” which appeared about the middle of the last century, was imputed to Burke. The probability is, that the work emanated from the pen of Burke's cousin, Richard. Certainly, Burke's knowledge of American history was most minute and exact; and he probably helped his relative in the task. Burke's acquaintance with American affairs led to his being appointed, in 1771, agent in England for the state of New York, for which he received a salary of £700 a-year. This was sometimes cast at him when he argued for American liberty; but the man who could say as Burke did, “I have always pushed back the gilded hand of corruption," could afford to despise taunts upon his honour.

On the 22nd March, 1775, Burke brought forward his celebrated thirteen resolutions for reconciliation, in introducing which he delivered one of his greatest speeches. In this oration he proceeded more on the question of expediency than of right; and, instead of going back to the consideration of abstract ideas of the natural privileges of man, he dealt with the circumstances of the hour, and urged forcibly the wisdom of concession. This speech affords evidence of the extra

ordinary industry with which Burke must have examined the details of the social progress of America ; for he ranges through the financial statistics of her commerce with an ease which nothing but a complete mastery of the subject could have conferred. The passage in which he carries the mind back through many long years, and then from an early point in the century glances forward, as if with prophetic eye, to the hour when he spoke, is full of fine imagery and noble sentiments. It has been often said, and it is true, that from this speech and his former great American oration, a reader may derive more acquaintance with the history and impolicy of the British contest with America than from any other sources. Burke's “ Resolutions" were, of course, not adopted, for the minister had resolved on war.

The session of 1777 opened with a speech from the throne, declaratory of the necessity of putting down American discontent with the sword. Burke moved an amendment on the address, and was seconded by Fox, who had by this time risen to a high rank in opposition. Fox had entered public life on the other side of the House, but having been dismissed from office by Lord North on account of his being too frequently in the company of members of the opposition, he crossed over, and became one of the most vigorous assailants of the policy of ministers. But all that Burke and Fox could do was unavailing. England flung away the scabbard, and America flung away England. Burke retired from the parliamentary debates for a time on all occasions when America was the subject of debate ; but in 1777 he resumed his position as the advocate of American rights. We do not, however, propose to lead the reader through the various incidents of the eventful struggle, which terminated in American independence ; for our limits warns us that we should now transfer our attention to another quarter of the world, and glance at Burke's share in the great Indian drama of the eighteenth century.

The impeachment of Warren Hastings was, as every reader of English history knows, the work mainly of Edmund Burke, and the zeal with which he took the lead in that memorable transaction has been by some imputed to unworthy motives. No man has studied

the career of Hastings with more care than the eloquent Macaulay, and he proves that those who on this point assailed Burke have altogether failed. Burke was zealous against Hastings, zealous even to severity; but his was the zeal of one who hated oppression, and felt as if he had a special mission to denounce injustice. “ The plain truth,” says the distinguished author whom we have named, “is this : Hastings had committed some great crimes, and the thought of these crimes made the blood of Burke boil in his veins, for Burke was a man in whom compassion for suffering and hatred of injustice and tyranny were as strong as in Las Casas or Clarkson. And although in him, as in Las Casas and in Clarkson, these noble feelings were alloyed with the infirmity which belongs to human nature, he is, like them, entitled to this great praise, that he devoted years of intense labour to the service of the people of India, with whom he had neither blood nor language, neither religion nor manners in common, and from whom no requital, no thanks, no applause could be expected.”

Burke had, in the speeches on Fox's India Bill and on the Nabob of Arcot's debts, given evidence of possessing the most intimate acquaintance with the affairs of India. The India Bill of 1783 was, as the reader is no doubt aware, the cause of the fall of the Coalition ministry, of which Fox, North, and Burke were members. Burke watched Hastings carefully, and incessantly condemned his policy. When Hastings came to England, in 1784, Burke commenced to take those steps which were necessary for the impeachment. In the House of Commons he laid the foundation for the trial in several speeches of great power, and his orations during the proceedings in Westminster Hall soar to the very highest flights of oratory. No man had studied India with such pains-taking care. He had traced her social progress through many centuries, and had made himself completely master of (to use one of his own phrases) her “political map.” If Sheridan brought to the intellectual arena a gaudier fancy and a more highlycoloured imagination, he wanted that depth of knowledge in Indian affairs which gave to Burke's oriental speeches such impressive weight. The trial lasted for seven years ; India had closely occupied Burke's

.

[ocr errors]

his

attention for nearly twenty. Hastings was, as all the world knows, acquitted; but no man who, without prejudice, scans the entire proceedings, can fail to acknowledge that Burke acted throughout with the most consummate ability, and the most unimpeachable integrity.

When in 1789 that great moral earthquake, the French Revolution, which ultimately shook the nations of the world, first began to convulse society, Burke adopted a line of policy, which, though strictly in accordance with his known views on many subjects, exposed him at the hands of some to the charge of inconsistency. Burke took up position against the French Revolution, principally because he dreaded the irrelegious tendency of the conduct of many of its promoters. It is indeed admitted, even by the most enthusiastic admirers of our great orator, that his horror of the French Revolution became so intense, that it rather resembled a species of monomania, than the calm reasonings of sober and collected judgment. He did not, it must be con fessed, discriminate sufficiently between the policy of those who sought to remove admitted evils from the social organization of France, and the mad and reckless impiety of those, who not content with reform, :sought to destroy, and who could see no path to the carrying out of their plans, but through the gloomy creed of atheism, and the dreariness of social ruin. But when Burk; is charged with inconsistency because he defended American liberty and attacked the French Revoplution, it must be remembered that in the demands of America he recognized justice, not interference with social order; while in the latter he could see nothing but the spirit of anarchy and confusion.

In 1790, Burke published his famous "Reflections on the French Revolution," a pamphlet which made a greater sensation than perhaps was ever caused by any similar production. It is said that 30,000 copies of this work were sold in a few months, and that it was in a short time translated into several Continental languages. The richness of diction, and the felicity of illustration which marked this masterly production, gave it an attractiveness which caused many to read it, who would not have studied a treatise based on cold reasoning

« ПредишнаНапред »