Page images
PDF
EPUB

with which ambitious men labour for the aggrandizement of their own. Ten millions of men in a way of being freed gradually, and therefore safely to themselves and the State, not from civil or political chains, which, bad as they are, only fetter the mind, but from substantial personal bondage. Inhabitants of cities, before without privileges, placed in the consideration which belongs to that improved and connecting situation of social life. One of the most proud, numerous, and fierce bodies of nobility and gentry ever known in the world, arranged only in the foremost rank of free and generous citizens. Not one man incurred loss, or suffered degradation. All, from the King to the day-labourer, were improved in their condition. Every thing was kept in its place and order; but in that place and order every thing was bettered. To add to this happy wonder, (this unheard-of conjunction of wisdom and fortune,) not one drop of blood was spilt; no treachery; no outrage; no system of slander more cruel than the sword; no studied insults on religion, morals, or manners; no spoil; no confiscation; no citizen beggared; none imprisoned ; none exiled: the whole was effected with a policy, a discretion, an unanimity and secresy, such as have never been before known on any occasion. But such wonderful conduct was reserved for this glorious conspiracy in favour of the true and genuine rights and interests of men. Happy people, if they know how to proceed as they have begun Happy prince, worthy to begin with splendour, or to close with glory, a race of patriots and kings; and to leave

“A name, which every wind to Heaven would bear,
Which men to speak, and angels joy to hear.”

To finish all,—this great good, as in the instant it is, contains in it the seeds of all further improvement; and may be considered as in a regular progress, because founded on similar principles, towards the stable excellency of a British Constitution."

Here was a matter for congratulation and for festive remembrance through ages. Here moralists and divines might indeed relax in their temperance, to exhilarate their humanity. But mark the character of our faction. All their enthusiasm is kept for the French Revolution. They cannot pretend that France had stood so much in need of a change as Poland. They cannot pretend that Poland has not obtained a better system of liberty,

1 This splendid description seems too good to be true; true it is, however, and later history sustains it. Dut, alas ! the Constitution which promised so much was, partly because of that very promise, defeated by that great crime, for which the authors afterwards suffered such terrible retributions, “the partition of Poland.”

or of government, than it enjoyed before. They cannot assert that the Polish Revolution cost more dearly than that of France to the interests and feelings of multitudes of men. But the cold and subordinate light in which they look upon the one, and the pains they take to preach up the other, of these IRevolutions, leave us no choice in fixing on their motives. Both Revolutions profess liberty as their object; but in obtaining this object the one proceeds from anarchy to order; the other, from order to anarchy. The first secures its liberty by establishing its throne; the other builds its freedom on the subversion of its monarchy. In the one their means are unstained by crimes, and their settlement favours morality. In the other vice and confusion are in the very essence of their pursuit and of their enjoyment. The circumstances in which these two events differ must cause the difference we make in their comparative estimation. These turn the scale with the Societies in favour of France. Ferrum est quod amant.” The frauds, the violences, the sacrileges, the havoc and ruin of families, the dispersion and exile of the pride and flower of a great country, the disorder, the confusion, the anarchy, the violation of property, the cruel murders, the inhuman confiscations, and in the end the insolent domination of bloody, ferocious, and senseless clubs,these are the things which they love and admire. What men admire and love, they would surely act. Let us see what is done in France; and then let us undervalue any the slightest danger of falling into the hands of such a merciless and savage faction! 3

A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD.4

MY LORD: I could hardly flatter myself with the hope, that so very early in the season I should have to acknowledge obli

2 The sword is what they love; or, perhaps, the guillotine.

3 The Appeal did not command so large a circulation as the IReflections, but it thoroughly rounded off the whole question; and its popularity was so great withal, as to throw into the shade every other publication of the time. The King, it is said, was even more pleased with it than with the Reflections : on reading it, his inveterate prejudices against the author were fairly overcome; and when Burke, according to the rules of official etiquette, appeared at his levee, the King welcomed him with his most gracious smile, and conversed with him a long time, while many titled bystanders looked in vain for a royal recognition.

4 The full title of this piece, as originally published, is, “A Letter from the Right-Hon. Edmund Burke, to a Noble Lord, on the Attacks made upon him and his Pension, in the House of Lords, by the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Laugations to the Duke of BEDForm and to the Earl of LAUDERDALE. These noble persons have lost no time in conferring upon me that sort of honour which it is alone within their competence, and which it is certainly most congenial to their nature and to their manners, to bestow. To be ill spoken of, in whatever language they speak, by the zealots of the new sect in philosophy and politics, of which these noble persons think so charitably, and of which others think so justly, to me is no matter of uneasiness or surprise. To have incurred the displeasure of the Duke of Orleans or the Duke of Bedford, to fall under the censure of citizen Brissot or of his friend the Earl of Lauderdale, I ought to consider as proofs, not the least satisfactory, that I have produced some part of the effect I proposed by my endeavours. I have laboured hard to earn what the noble lords are generous enough to pay. Personal offence I have given them none. The part they take against me is from zeal to the cause. It is well ! It is perfectly well ! I have to do homage to their justice. I have to thank the Bedfords and the Lauderdales for having so faithfully and so fully acquitted towards me whatever arrear of debt was left undischarged by the Priestleys and the Paines. Some, perhaps, may think them executors in their own wrong: I at least have nothing to complain of. They have gone beyond the demands of justice. They have been (a little perhaps beyond their intention) favourable to me. They have been the means of bringing out, by their invectives, the handsome things which Lord Grenville has had the goodness and condescension to say in my behalf. Retired as I am from the world, and from all its affairs and all its pleasures, I confess it does kindle, in my nearly extinguished feelings, a very vivid satisfaction to be so attacked and so commended. It is soothing to my wounded mind to be commended by an able, vigorous, and well-informed statesman, and at the very moment when he stands forth with a manliness and resolution, worthy of himself and of his cause, for the preservation of the person and government of our sovereign, and therein for the security of the laws, the liberties, the morals, and the lives of his people. To be in any fair way connected with such things is indeed a distinction. No philosophy can make me above it : no melancholy can depress me so low, as to make me wholly insensible to such an honour.

derdale, early in the present Session of Parliament. 1796.”—With a majority of IBurke's readers this is probably the favourite of his works, and the one which they read oftenest. The distinguished lawyer and orator, Rufus Choate, a man of exquisite taste, and who had his mind stored with the choicest learnings, ancient and modern, once said to me, “I have to read Burke's Letter to a Noble Lord once a-quarter; I get sick, if I don't.”

Why will they not let me remain in obscurity and inaction? Are they apprehensive that, if an atom of me remains, the sect has something to fear? Must I be annihilated, lest, like old John Zisca's," my skin might be made into a drum, to animate Europe to eternal battle against a tyranny that threatens to overwhelm all Europe, and all the human race?

My Lord, it is a subject of awful meditation. Before this of France, the annals of all time have not furnished an instance of a complete revolution. That Revolution seems to have extended even to the constitution of the mind of man. It has this of wonderful in it, that it resembles what Lord Verulam says of the operations of Nature. It was perfect, not only in its elements and principles, but in all its members and its organs from the very beginning. The moral scheme of France furnishes the only pattern ever known, which they who admire will instantly resemble. It is indeed an inexhaustible repertory of one kind of examples. In my wretched condition, though hardly to be classed with the living, I am not safe from them. They have tigers to fall upon animated strength. They have hyenas to prey upon carcasses. The national menagerie is collected by the first physiologists of the time; and it is defective in no description of savage nature. They pursue even such as me into the obscurest retreats, and haul them before their revolutionary tribunals. Neither sex, nor age, nor the sanctuary of the tomb, is sacred to them. They have so determined a hatred to all privileged orders, that they deny even to the departed the sad immunities of the grave. They are not wholly without an object. Their turpitude purveys to their malice ; and they unplumb the dead for bullets to assassinate the living. If all revolutionists were not proof against all caution, I should recommend it to their consideration, that no persons were ever known in history, either sacred or profane, to vex the sepulchre, and, by their sorceries, to call up the prophetic dead, with any other event than the prediction of their own disastrous fate,_“Leave me, O, leave me to repose !”

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

5 The reformers, known in Church history as the Hussites, were divided into two parties, called the Calirtines and the Taborites. The latter was the more vigorous, or the radical, party, and had John Zisca for its leader. He died in 1424, and his followers were so cast down at his death, that they called themselves Orphans. He was for waging a war of extermination against the Catholics; and this fanatical zeal caused him to wish that his skin might be made into a drum-head, to animate the battles of olthodoxy.

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 out of the way of serving or of hurting any statesman, or any party, when the Ministers so generously and so nobly 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.

It would ill become me to boast of any thing. It would as ill become me, thus called upon, to depreciate the value of a long life, spent with unexampled toil in the service of my country. Since the total body of my services, on account of the industry which was shown in them, and the fairness of my intentions, have obtained the acceptance of my sovereign, it would be abSurd in me to range myself on the side of the Duke of Bedford and the Corresponding Society, or, as far as in me lies, to permit a dispute on the rate at which the authority appointed by Our Constitution to estimate such things has been pleased to set them.

Loose libels ought to be passed by in silence and contempt. By me they have been so always. I knew that, as long as I remained in public, I should live down the calumnies of malice and the judgments of ignorance. If I happened to be now and then in the wrong, (as who is not?) like all other men, I must bear the consequence of my faults and my mistakes. The libels of the present day are just of the same stuff as the libels of the past. But they derive an importance from the rank of the persons they come from, and the gravity of the place where they were uttered. In some way or other I ought to take some notice of them. To assert myself thus traduced is not vanity or arrogance. It is a demand of justice; it is a demonstration of gratitude. If I am unworthy, the Ministers are worse than prodigal. On that hypothesis, I perfectly agree with the Duke of Bedford.

« PreviousContinue »