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RIGHT HON. EDMUND BURKE.
EDMUND BURKE, one of the foremost, (perhaps the foremost) amongst the distinguished orators, statesmen and writers of a century remark able for intellectual greatness, was born on Arran Quay, in the City of Dublin, on the 1st January, 1730. His father was an attorney in the enjoyment of considerable practice. His mother was a member of the family of the Nagles of Castletown-Roche, in the county of Cork. Edmund was the second son, and it has therefore been often said that he inherited little from his father. Prior, however, states in his Life of Burke, that the orator received at different times from his family nearly £20,000. There is indeed no other mode of accounting for the purchase of Beaconsfield, which cost Burke £23,000. In early years Burke was delicate, and being unable to take active exercise, read much, while reclining on a sofa. It was the recollection of this circumstance which caused his brother Richard to remark one night in the House of Commons at the close of one of Edmund's great orations: “I have been wondering how Ned contrived to monopolise all the talent of the family; but I remember that when we were at play he was always at work.” Burke received the earliest rudiments of education from his mother, who is said to have possessed no ordinary intelleetual endowments. A village schoolmaster named O'Halloran, who lived to an advanced age, used often to boast that he had been
the first who put a Latin grammar into the hands of Edmund Burke. This was at Castletown-Roche, where Burke spent several years of his boyhood.
At the age of twelve Burke was placed at Ballytore School, in the county of Kildare, an academy kept by a Quaker named Abraham Shakleton, a native of Yorkshire, between whom and Burke there continued through life a constant correspondence and an undiminished friendship
Burke distinguished himself at school by a close attention to the study of the ancient and modern standard writers, and carried with him to Trinity College, which he entered" in 1744, a stock of learning unusually large for a boy of fourteen years of age. His university career was not, however, brilliant, for the bent of his mind tended more to that discursive reading which familiarizes the mind with a large number of authors than to the minute details from wbich college distinctions so often spring. Still his was not an unhonoured “course," for we find that he obtained a scholarship in 1746. In this year he wrote a translation in verse of the second Georgic of Virgil, and some other poetical pieces. While in college Burke frequently spoke at the debating society which was connected with the university, and which gained fame as the Historical Society in which so much of the genius of Ireland was for a long period fostered. As the tendency of Burke's mind led him much into historical research and political reasoning, he, as might have been expected, won distinction in this arena, the first in which the youthful ambition of those, who, during the last century, looked forward to a public career, usually sought for laurels.
In 1750 Burke proceeded to London to enter his name at the Temple as a student for the Bar; but he did not become a member of the profession.
Though his elder brother had died, yet as there were other children, Edmund's allowance was not at this time very large, and he, partly for this reason, and partly from taste, became a frequent contributor to the periodical publications of the time. He worked with
so much assiduity that his health suffered, though his habits are said to have been strictly temperate. His medical attendant, Dr. Nugent, advised rest and tranquillity, and invited him to pass some time at his house, where Burke received the kindest treatment. He thus became acquainted with Miss Nugent, the physician's daughter. An attachment sprang up between them, and they were soon afterwards married. He spent the remaining 37 years of his life with her in uninterrupted domestic happiness, and in latter years, when political adversaries vented slander on his head, he used to say that “in all the most anxious moments of his public life, every care vanished the moment he entered his own house." He was through life an assiduous worker, took wine sparingly, and is said not to have understood a single game at cards.
Having, it is said, (but Dugald Stewart contradicts the statement) unsuccessfully stood candidate for the Chair of Logic in Glasgow University, he settled down to literary exertion in London, and seems to have formed a dislike for legal studies. He entertained for some time an idea of trying his fortune in the North American Colonies, but did not carry it into execution, as his father, towards whom he felt a most affectionate regard, opposed the project.
Had he gone there is little doubt that in the contest of 1776 he would have manfuily asserted the principles, which have consecrated to undying fane the memory of that great national struggle. Providence, however, designed him for another part in the same great drama, and destined him to defend with wondrous eloquence, in another hemisphere, the sacred principles which George Washington guarded with his sword. At his father's desire he abandoned his intention. His letter on this occasion is a beautiful and affectionate production : “May God,” he writes to his father who was ill, “make your disorder lighter every moment, and continue to you mother many happy years, and every blessing I ought to wish you for your care, your tenderness, and your indulgence to me.” Such words from a man of 25 show how deeply rooted was filial affection in the heart of Edmund Burke.
The time had now come when Burke resolved on entering the field of literature with some production more likely, than coutributions to periodical publications, to gain him a name, and he accordingly published an ironical essay entitled “ A Vindication of Natural Society,” in which he attacked the philosophy of Lord Bolingbroke. The style is a close imitation of that of Lord Bolingbroke, and the mode of reasoning adopted is by adopting that writer's opinions to push them to absurd conclusions. The work proves Burke's extensive historical information, his extraordinary powers of imitation, and though it is evidently the production of a mind not yet fully matured), his clear judgment in tracing out many of the causes which produce evil in society.
Burke soon afterwards published his beautiful" Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful," a work which stamped him as a deep thinker, and which soon obtained a place amongst the standard classical productions of the language. In this work Burke proved himself a clearsighted observer of nature, and a philosophic investigator of her workings. Whether considered as a literary composition or as a vehicle of scientific thoughts, it must always command admiration. It displays learning without pedantry, and an inventive imagination withotu excessive exuberance of fancy. “Burke's Essay,” said Samuel Johnson, “is an example of true criticism." Burke's father was so pleased with the work that he sent a present of £100 as a token of his admi. ration, which sum, though in one sense not very large, was most welcome to the young philosopher, upon whom some urgent pecuniary demands pressed at the time. These he discharged by means of his father's present and the sale of the “Essay.” He now took his place as the acknowledged possessor of learning and talent. This period was the time from which his greatness dated. From this epoch in his life his fame went on increasing, and his friendship was sought for by the leading intellectual men of the age, Johnson, Goldsmith, and Sir Joshua Reynolds were amongst his most intimate associates. Of Burke Johnson spoke in terms of great admiration, though they differed widely on many of the leading public questions of the time,