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he was in earnest; that he steadily aimed at the attainment of practical good. And here is in fact the distinction between pretension and utility, between the genuine and the spurious patriot.
The industrious and continued attention of Mr. Burke to the system of our Indian government, and the impeachment of Warren Hastings, greatly tend to confirm the same general impression as to the character of his views and principles of political action. Valuing himself more highly on these than on any of his political labours, he justly asserts that their intention, at least, cannot be mistaken. These toils, whatever else may be said of them, were not undergone in deference to arbitrary power; they cannot be accused of forming a precedent of impunity to great delinquents, or of encouragement to the future oppressors of our distant colonies and dependencies: they were strictly constitutional in their tendency; and their effect has been to cast the light of parliamentary inquiry on a system, which requires that corrective more than any part of the British government; to impress on the most powerful officers of the state the wholesome conviction of the controul of parliament, and of their absolute responsibility to it. This was not an injury to the crown; but unquestionably the service was of a popular nature and advanced the progress of freedom. Dazzled by the splendour of the impeachment, we do not always reflect that it was but the closing scene of Mr. Burke's labours on East Indian subjects, that it was the result and not the cause of his patient drudgery in that pursuit. We may regret the dilatory course of the trial, in itself a penal infliction that few crimes would justify; but that is now properly ascribed to circumstances above the controul of the accusers. From this reproach, the statements of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Dundas are amply sufficient to relieve the memory of Burke. If however there are still sceptics on the subject, we should refer them to the detailed Report on the delays of the trial, prepared by Burke himself; and unless that succeed in effecting their conviction, we must consider their prejudices irreclaimable. The closeness of the reasoning, the accuracy of legal and of historical research, are as remarkable in this composition, as the perspicuous precision and force of the style. As a record of constitutional law, the tract is in itself a national service.
To follow the stream of incidents-in the discussions on the rights of jurors in cases of libel, we may still trace this consistent enemy of freedom, this champion of power and of abuses, insisting on the widest construction of popular rights, and combating at every step the pretensions of the bench. The Bill of Mr. Fox in 1791, was nearly a literal copy of an act framed by Mr. Burke at much earlier period, and to be found in a volume of his pos
mous works. This, therefore, was another of the many instances, in which he anticipated the decisions of public opinion. What were the merits of this service to the constitution, what has been its effect on the national freedom, are not now the grounds of any dispute. But how many of the bitterest enemies, of the most malignant revilers of Mr. Burke could be named, who, in their own cases, are living witnesses of the effectual aid which Mr. Burke lent to the cause of free discussion! Here as elsewhere the essential distinction between his public exertions and those of statesmen in general, whatever may be their ability or their diligence, is not to be overlooked. His views were seldom if ever limited to a victory in debate, to the success of a party, still less to the theatric display of his own ingenuity or his own eloquence. The objects of his ambition are more exalted; and he is rarely satisfied with labours of which the description alone is startling to ordinary minds, until they have conducted him to some permanent improvement in the laws, the policy, or the constitution of his
country Our limits warn us not to expatiate, as we might do, on many other points of Mr. Burke's career illustrative of the same high and consistent liberality. His successful exertions on the question of Wilkes's election; his act to limit the claims of the crown on the property of the subject; his continued efforts to procure not only liberty of worship, but civil privileges for the dissenters ;-these are not inadequate proofs, though but a part of the existing proofs, of the proposition which we have undertaken to maintain. They distinctly negative the accusation, repeated by numberless writers usque ad nauseam, of any natural bias to arbitrary principles, of any aristocratic hatred of popular interests and genuine freedom. But we cannot pretend to deny, that Mr. Burke was guilty of one political crime; which, it would seem to be decreed by his enemies, is to mark him an outlaw for ever from all political honour, and to bar bis claim to any portion of national gratitude. From the very first dawning of the French revolution, he certainly presumed to doubt the wisdom of its principles, and the honesty of its agents-above all, its tendency to promote the cause of freedom. We are perfectly aware, that the proof of his objects and his disposition before the period of that revolution, cannot be presumed to embrace the whole case against his character. It is fair to require the further proof, that his conduct was in that conjuncture a consistent consequence of his own principles; or, rather, as we should be inclined to contend, that it constituted in effect an additional and a splendid service to the very cause, to which the whole of Mr. Burke's previous public life had been devoted.
If our space had enabled us to pursue at length the latter branch of this argument, we should still have hesitated to effect our purpose by any other means, than that of copious reference to his own works to the Letter to a Noble Lord to the Letters on a Regicide Peace-and, above all, to the masterly Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs. Their merits, as a personal defence, are not inferior to their literary excellence. But we are able to refer to an authority, perhaps more generally convincing—the series of events by which that revolution was followed. For these, whatever the more distant results may
have been, present the most perfect and complete justification of the conduct of Burke, in his refusal to confound the doctrines of anarchy with the principles of freedom.
Because the French Revolution has, in the ultimate issue of events, proved beneficial to France; and, because other nations of the old and of the new world have, in the sequel, if not in consequence of it, advanced in freedom and the general improvement of their institutions-it has therefore been assumed that Burke, in opposing its first eruption, was guilty of an error in judgment, or a defect of honesty—and therefore he is denounced as the apologist of despotism, the arch-enemy to all political liberality, and to national freedom. Now that the French revolution has not proved an unmixed evil; that, in strict analogy to all the leading events in the history of nations, it has eventually been productive of advantages even to those whom in its earlier progress it oppressed with the severest calamities; this is a truth, which might be fairly advanced, as an evidence of a Supreme Providence, capable of working good out of evil,—and not in this case relaxing its beneficial controul over human affairs. But if employed to inculpate the resistance of any statesman to systems, and to principles, of which he perceives and feels the present mischiefs while he apprehends, as in the question before us, the more remote and contingent evils; it becomes a very whimsical and somewhat absurd argument. For it leads directly to the conclusion, that it is the first of his political duties to remain a passive spectator in all great convulsions in his own, or in foreign countries : that in the perfect assurance of some beneficial result, however distant, he is criminal in opposing their immediate effects, injurious or
ruinous as these may be to his own generation. The rapid changes in the government of France, all of which were but modifications of despotism; the tyranny of the mob in the earlier, and the tyranny of Buonaparte, in the later years of the revolution, distinctly foretold as all these had been by the prophetic genius of Burke, explain and justify his resistance to the system itself, as not conducive, in any human probability, to
the good of mankind, or even the freedom of France. For if the restless and unlimited ambition of Buonaparte had not united all the leading nations of Europe against his power, and so, in the end, caused his ruin, it is still, at the very least, questionable, whether France would have gained any thing of liberty or of more liberal institutions by her revolution. The truth, however, is that the argument, if it deserves to be called one, might be applied with equal justice to private as to public conduct. Because God's providence works good out of all evil, therefore let us stand idly by, and witness a robbery, or a murder!
But never let the adversaries of Burke forget, that the fate of France was an inferior point in his consideration,—that this was all along the weakest motive of his fears and his exertions. The successful incursion of the principles of anarchy into England, and the consequent injury or ruin of her free institutions, was to his mind the main cause of apprehension. To pronounce this alarm chimerical, is not to settle the question. It neither confirms nor refutes the imputation of folly or of knavery: for the whole question in dispute was to England one of degree; and, in this view, the possible and remote advantages which in the course of years might or might not spring out of present confusion and present oppression, could have no defensible influence on Mr. Burke's conduct as a statesman or a patriot. It could not be questioned that England actually possessed a considerable share of freedom; nor could the most sanguine republican deny that even that portion, in the desperate and lasting contest which must have followed any violent attempt at innovation, might have been totally lost to England. To the country of Burke, then, the acquisition of any improvement was at best uncertain and contingent, while the risk to be incurred was no less than the absolute loss of all the objects in dispute. The case of France, we fully admit, was very different. Her government was in its nature despotic—there was no popular representation, and scarcely even a partial enjoyment of virtual freedom. In her case separately considered, therefore, it might be fair to infer, that without passing through the ordeal of a severe contest and of great though temporary suffering, France could not hope to escape from a pressing and admitted evil. But the circumstances of the time rendered it impossible to look to France alone. That despotism is the worstof national evils, and freedom the greatest of national blessings, was not less the argument of Burke than of his adversaries : but he preferred the imperfect enjoyment of the latter, admitting it to have been imperfect in England, to all the hazards of a contest, which in too many instances has ended in the permanent success and establishment of the former. We have endeavoured to prove that, by constitutional courses, he
could labour long and well to enlarge and to confirm the liberties of his country. He had limited the power of the crown-he had extended the rights of juries—he had exposed and greatly remedied the abuses of authority. We must contend that it is a most difficult task to trace with precision the chain of cause and of effect in the course of national events; but estimating at their highest value the advantages to France and to the world resulting from the French revolution, we are persuaded that, without gross injustice, these cannot be quoted as affecting the honesty or the wisdom of Burke; and it is manifest that they cannot, in the slightest degree, disprove the justice of his fears regarding the success of the revolutionary doctrines in England.
We cannot enter into the latter question, which it is no longer the fashion to treat as an absurd and extravagant theory; but we might safely rest this part of our case on the answer which any honest opponent of Burke in 1792 would at the present time give to the question—whether the experience of the subsequent twenty years had not altered his notions as to the probable consequences upon English freedom, of the adoption in 1792 of the principles which Mr. Burke at that period resisted.
But let us not be misled by words in a case, in which, above all others, words may be strictly said to have been things. We are justly entitled to take a higher ground of defence. Burke had never admitted revolution to be synonimous with freedom, nor reform with improvement. He had not sworn allegiance to all reforms and all revolutions, whether foreign or domestic, whether seasonable or untimely. From his first entrance into public life, reformer as he was in many senses of the word, he had constantly opposed, without exception, all the various projects of reform in parliament. This principle, not assumed by him to meet a particular case, or as a specious disguise of a real inconsistency, may be traced in his speeches and his conduct long before there could be a suspicion, even to his extended forecast, of any event resembling the French revolution. As a consistent statesman, he was not only justified but bound by all his previous opinions, and by the previous actions of his life, to resist the violent and unqualified innovations, the metaphysical tenets of French jacobins and French philosophers. Of the various shades of whiggism, Burke had chosen the Rockingham school; which, whether a good or a bad school in point of doctrine, was not without numbers nor without respect in England. Is it then more fair to judge any statesman by a criterion suggested by his enemies, than by the principles professed and acted upon by himself? Was it rational to expect that, with the pliancy of younger statesmen, Burke could admire that which had, through all his lifetime, been the