"Hubert disregarded the youth's reproaches.
"'Rage avails not here,' he said calmly. 'Wisdom alone can save thee. Listen to me. Women are women ever, even such as we call supernatural—easy to anger, easy to persuade—before flattery the weakest of the weak. Praise the ugliest for her beauty, and she smiles graciously, yea, with the mirror before her eyes. Speak the plain truth, and you are a rough uncouth companion. They thrive best upon the sugary food of delusion—therefore, delude them. It is the rattle of these eternal glorious children!'
"'What wouldst thou have me do?'
"'Cast the ring into the Spring, and pray to Auriola for forgiveness.'
"'And if she prove obstinate?'
"'Have no fear; she will forgive you. Here is the ring; take it; it is once more united!'
"Bolko took the pledge from Hubert, and hastened to the moor. The high grass was already withered by storm and cold; it lay bent down upon the marshy earth-crust, which now breathed out its vapour more abundantly than ever, wrapping the Gold Spring in one enduring mist. If this spot looked barren and deserted in summer, the abandonment was increased a hundred-fold in autumn. Even the butterflies were gone. The damp and chilly fog only was visible; nothing could be heard but the monotonous current of the rippling water.
"The boggy ground yielded to the foot more readily than ever, and Bolko trod it with a faltering step. He approached the spring, and, suing for reconciliation, dropped the ring into the charmed element. As though he feared some extraordinary result from the act, he covered his eyes with his hands, and could with difficulty summon courage to remove them. When he did so, he perceived the fog receding by degrees from the confines of the moor, and the graceful form of Auriola standing before him at a little distance. As at their first meeting, her countenance was averted. She waved the earthen pitcher as was her wont, and bathed the ground on which she went with flashes of the brilliant water.
"'Auriola!' cried Bolko, in a voice that carried the tenderness of love, the sorrow of repentance, to the ear of the listener—'gentle Auriola!' She turned her face towards the imploring youth, placed the pitcher at her side, and beckoned him to approach.
"'My father was right!' said the Moor Maiden. 'No Gottmar but is fickle and inconstant. Well it is for thee, youth, that thou art here of thy own free-will, and didst not tarry for my summons. Thou hast kept thy promise badly, and thou wilt keep it so again, if I give thee no monitor to aid thee. Take this, and carry it, henceforward, in thy bosom; it will protect thee from harm, and keep thee faithful in spirit, albeit in heart thou art already estranged from me.'
"With these words, the enchantress placed upon the neck of Bolko a chain braided of her own golden hair, to which was attached a small box wrought of the shards of the Peacock's eye and Purple-bird. In the tiny case, trembling with its ever-changing light, was one pearly drop from the spring.
"'Lose or give away this jewel,' proceeded Auriola—'this jewel, which is a portion of my heart, and thy ruin and the destruction of thy house is certain. Love, or at least its symbol, can and must avert the curse of my father!'
"Bolko looked into the earnest and marvellously bright eyes of Auriola, as she pronounced his doom. His heart belonged once more to the Maiden of the Moor, and his gaze made known his passion. She touched his forehead with her transparent fingers, poured the last drops of water into the hollow of her hand, and in her usual manner blew the little curling waves into the misty air. A multitude of images arose, but in scarcely finished outline. The moist atmosphere seemed to hinder their accomplishment.
"'Now, farewell!' said Auriola. 'Thou hast beheld. Thy life is troubled, as are the feelings which sway thy heart. Love truly and wholly, as aforetime thou lovedst me, and the mirror of thought will again display its clear bright pictures.
"Auriola took the pitcher, and her bare feet, scarcely disturbing the faded blades of grass, glided towards the margin of the spring, where she melted into air.
* * * * *
"Emma and Bolko were united in holy matrimony. The halls of Castle T—— overflowed with joyous guests. Music delighted the noble visitors during the marriage-feast, and a happier scene could not be imagined. All hearts joined in wishing prosperity to the bridal pair, and the latter seemed to entertain no fears for their bright future. The banquet over, the guests, preceded by the newly-married couple, withdrew to the adjoining saloon. The old knights seated themselves in the niches of the windows, having still many goblets to empty over the dice-box, whilst the younger spirits disposed themselves for dancing. Bolko, with his high-born bride, commenced the ball. If they were happy before, they were now at the very porch of a terrestrial heaven. They made but short pauses in their pleasure, and these only that they might mingle again the more intensely in the delightful measure.
"It was during the jocund dance that Bolko's doublet suddenly opened, and the mysterious little box flew out. The bridegroom was made aware of the accident by the exclamations of his partner.
"'Oh! look, look, Bolko! See that magnificent butterfly! How singular at this season of the year!'
"Emma caught at the little beauty, and Bolko discovered his fault.
"'Hold, hold!' said he, in a whisper. 'That is no butterfly for thee, my love! Its colours play for me alone!'
"Emma looked enquiringly at her husband, then more closely at the little box, glowing in a fire of colours, and she beheld the golden hair chain to which it was attached.
"'A chain too! and what beautiful hair!' The maiden caught at the prize, and continued, 'Who gave thee this hair and the sweet case! Dearest Bolko, to whom does it belong? Why have you never mentioned this? What need was there of secresy?'
"Emma sobbed, and Bolko hardly knowing what excuse to offer, withdrew her to a neighbouring room.
"'Promise me, dearest Emma,' said he, 'to be calm and patient, and you shall know every thing.'
"The young wife looked at him distrustfully.
"'Make known to me the history and contents of the little box, and I will restrain my curiosity until——to-morrow.'
"'Content, my beloved, so let it be; as we return to Gottmar all shall be cleared up.'
"'Oh, I unhappy!' exclaimed the girl, bursting into tears.
"'Say rather happy, dearest. Since all our happiness flows from the history of this chain; from this alone. Sweetest, let us return to the dance.'
"Emma resigned her arm to her young lord with a sullen resignation. As the latter opened the folding-doors of the saloon, and gazed for a few seconds upon the dancing throng, he seemed to possess a distant remembrance of the scene. The Gothic arches, the window niches, the gaily-attired musicians, the groups of dancers—the whole scene had once before been present to his eyes. He taxed his memory until his thoughts carried him to the bleak and barren moor. Had not the dazzling vision flowed into the sunny evening air over the white transparent fingers of the ethereal Auriola? He acknowledged it, and shuddered.
"The dance was at an end. The guests had departed. In the eyes of the newly-married Emma a tear of troubled joy trembled, as she sank upon the bosom of her young and doating husband.
"Upon the following morning, Bolko already repented him of his hasty promise, and delayed his departure by every means in his power. The weather favoured him, for hail and storm were pouring down upon the earth. As the day declined, Bolko found it impossible to conceal his disquietude; and Emma, when she perceived his anxiety, attributed it at once to conscious guilt. This conviction on her part only made her urge their departure with greater perseverance. There remained at last no good ground for refusal, and Bolko silently acquiesced in her wish.
"For some time the young couple sat side by side, and were very sparing of their speech. Bolko, indeed, was dumb. The inquisitive Emma, however, had not so powerful an excuse for silence. In a few kind words she reminded her lord of his pledged word, and begged him to confide in her.
"'Emma,' said Bolko in reply, and in a serious tone, 'if I comply with thy request, I risk the eternal happiness of both. I have promised that which I cannot perform without a breach of faith. Thou canst gain nothing by my communication, and I pray thee, therefore, give me back my promise.'
"Bolko could not have preferred a more untimely suit. Emma, inquisitive, suspicious, and jealous, would rather have been put to death in torture than have given up her claim. She refused his petition at once; implored, threatened, implored again; and, finding all such efforts only darkened Bolko's humour, proceeded to flattery and coaxing. She promised the most perfect secresy, and used, in short, every artifice by which woman knows how to overcome the strongest resolutions of weak man. Bolko grew tender-hearted, and then related to his wife all that he had to tell;—the history of the malediction that rested on his family, and the singular manner in which he had effected the expiation.
"Emma listened to the narrative not without an inward pique and lively jealousy.
"'I thank thee, Bolko, for thy confidence,' said she. 'Fear not my prudence. But for the charm, thou wilt not surely wear it so near thy bosom.'
"'Next my heart, beloved—since there it shields us both from ruin.'
"Emma bit her lips with womanly vexation.
"'Thou canst not wish,' continued Bolko, 'that I should take it thence.'
"'I do, I do!' replied the jealous wife. 'I wish it. I insist upon it—now—this very instant.'
"The storm increased in fury. The fir-trees were beating together as if in battle.
"'It is impossible!' cried Bolko. 'Thou art mad to ask it.'
"'Then shall I mistrust thy love,' continued Emma, 'or canst thou hope for my affection whilst that ghostly gift divides us? Never! Inhuman man, thou wilt teach me to hate thee.'
"The carriage drove rapidly through the hurricane into the midst of the forest. The wind bellowed, the yellow lightning glared, and thunder crashed and resounded fearfully from the distant valleys.
"'It is the warning voice of heaven!' said Bolko. 'Its lightnings will reach us if I yield to thy entreaty.'
"'Heaven has nothing in common with enchanters and sorcerers,' replied Emma; 'nature is uttering a summons to thee, and—whilst a devoted wife embraces thee—protects and defends thee against demoniac powers, bids thee renounce all witchcraft, and put aside the unholy gift.'
"Bolko answered not, but peered through the door carriage windows to learn his exact situation. The dark pinnacles of Gottmar lay immediately before him. Above his head the tempest lowered, hurling its lightnings on every side.
"'Art thou angry with me?' enquired Emma sorrowfully, leaning her ringleted head upon the bosom of her husband. Bolko pressed her forehead to his lips. Emma threw her arms about his neck. She wept, she kissed, she coaxed him; they were the fondest lovers, as in the earliest days of their attachment. The heart of Bolko was melted. In the intoxication of happiness he forgot his danger; and reposing on Emma's bosom, did not perceive that she untied his doublet, and heedfully but eagerly searched for the amulet. She was mistress of it before Bolko could suspect her intention.
"'It is mine, it is mine!' almost shrieked the young wife in her delight, snatching away both chain and box. The next moment the carriage window was drawn down and the precious objects thrown into the storm. Bolko caught at them, but too late. A gust of wind had already clutched them, and carried them away.
"A flash of lightning struck a beech-tree, that blazed, awfully illuminating the whole neighbourhood. The horses took fright, plunged aside, then tore with the carriage towards a treeless melancholy-looking plain. Bolko recognised the spot at the first brief glance.
"'The moor! the moor!' he screamed to the driver; but the latter had lost all power over the snorting steeds, who bore the fated carriage in a whizzing gallop towards the marsh. The blazing beech-tree rendered the surrounding objects fearfully distinct. Bolko could descry the figure of Auriola at the margin of the spring. Between her fingers glittered the ring, and words of lamentation issuing from her lips, dropped into the soul of Bolko and paralysed it."
"'Auriola, Auriola!' exclaimed the youth, supporting the pale and quivering Emma—'forgive me! forgive me!'
"The Moor Maiden dropped the ring into the well, and it vanished like an unearthly flame. Auriola herself, slowly and like a mist, descended after it. She held her hand above her head, and it seemed to point to the onward-dashing carriage.
"Horror upon horror! the carriage itself began to sink into the earth—quicker and quicker.
"'We are sinking! Heaven help us!' cried the driver. Bolko burst the carriage door open, but escape was impossible. The moor had given way around him. The horses were already swallowed up in the abyss. The pale earth-crust trembled and heaved like flakes of ice upon a loosening river. It separated, and huge pieces were precipitated and hurled against each other. In a few seconds horses and carriage, bride and bridegroom, had disappeared for ever. As the moor closed over them, the hand of Auriola vanished.
"The Curse of her father was accomplished.
"On the same night, Gottmar castle was struck by lightning. It burned to the ground, and there the aged Hubert found his grave."
"THAT'S WHAT WE ARE."
"Careful and troubled about many things," (Alas! that it should be so with us still As in the time of Martha,) I went forth Harass'd and heartsick, with hot aching brow, Thought fever'd, happy to escape myself.
Beauteous that bright May morning! All about Sweet influences of earth, and air, and sky, Harmoniously accordant. I alone, The troubled spirit that had driven me forth, In dissonance with that fair frame of things So blissfully serene. God had not yet Let fall the weight of chastening that makes dumb The murmuring lip, and stills the rebel heart, Ending all earthly interests, and I call'd (O Heaven!) that incomplete experience—Grief.
It would not do. The momentary sense Of soft refreshing coolness pass'd away; Back came the troublous thoughts, and, all in vain, I strove with the tormentors: All in vain, Applied me with forced interest to peruse Fair nature's outspread volume: All in vain, Look'd up admiring at the dappling clouds And depths cerulean: Even as I gazed, The film—the earthly film obscured my vision, And in the lower region, sore perplex'd, Again I wander'd; and again shook off With vex'd impatience the besetting cares, And set me straight to gather as I walk'd A field-flower nosegay. Plentiful the choice; And, in few moments, of all hues I held A glowing handful. In a few moments more Where are they? Dropping as I went along Unheeded on my path, and I was gone— Wandering again in muse of thought perplex'd.
Despairingly I sought the social scene— Sound—motion—action—intercourse of words— Scarcely of mind—rare privilege!—We talk'd— Oh! how we talk'd! Discuss'd and solved all questions: Religion—morals—manners—politics— Physics and metaphysics—books and authors— Fashion and dress—our neighbours and ourselves. But even as the senseless changes rang, And I help'd ring them, in my secret soul Grew weariness, disgust, and self-contempt; And more disturb'd in spirit, I retraced, More cynically sad, my homeward way.
It led me through the churchyard, and methought There entering, as I let the iron gate Swing to behind me, that the change was good— The unquiet living, for the quiet dead. And at that moment, from the old church tower A knell resounded—"Man to his long home" Drew near. "The mourners went about the streets;" And there, few paces onward to the right, Close by the pathway, was an open grave, Not of the humbler sort, shaped newly out, Narrow and deep in the dark mould; when closed, To be roofed over with the living sod, And left for all adornment (and so best) To Nature's reverential hand. The tomb, Made ready there for a fresh habitant, Was that of an old family. I knew it.— A very ancient altar-tomb, where Time With his rough fretwork mark'd the sculptor's art Feebly elaborate—heraldic shields And mortuary emblems, half effaced, Deep sunken at one end, of many names, Graven with suitable inscriptions, each Upon the shelving slab and sides; scarce now Might any but an antiquarian eye Make out a letter. Five-and-fifty years The door of that dark dwelling had shut in The last admitted sleeper. She, 'twas said, Died of a broken heart—a widow'd mother Following her only child, by violent death Cut off untimely, and—the whisper ran— By his own hand. The tomb was ancient then, When they two were interr'd; and they, the first For whom, within the memory of man, It had been open'd; and their names fill'd up (With sharp-cut newness mocking the old stone) The last remaining space. And so it seem'd The gathering was complete; the appointed number Laid in the sleeping chamber, and seal'd up Inviolate till the great gathering day. The few remaining of the name dispersed— The family fortunes dwindled—till at last They sank into decay, and out of sight, And out of memory; till an aged man Pass'd by some parish very far away To die in ours—his legal settlement— Claim'd kindred with the long-forgotten race, Its sole survivor, and in right thereof, Of that affinity, to moulder with them In the old family grave.
"A natural wish," Said the authorities; "and sure enough HE WAS of the old stock—the last descendant— And it would cost no more to bury him Under the old crack'd tombstone, with its scutcheons, Than in the common ground." So, graciously, The boon was granted, and he died content. And now the pauper's funeral had set forth, And the bell toll'd—not many strokes, nor long— Pauper's allowance. He was coming home. But while the train was yet a good way off— The workhouse burial train—I stopp'd to look Upon the scene before me; and methought Oh! that some gifted painter could behold And give duration to that living picture, So rich in moral and pictorial beauty, If seen arightly by the spiritual eye As with the bodily organ!
The old tomb, With its quaint tracery, gilded here and there With sunlight glancing through the o'er-arching lime, Far flinging its cool shadow, flickering light— Our greyhair'd sexton, with his hard grey face, (A living tombstone!) resting on his mattock By the low portal; and just over right, His back against the lime-tree, his thin hands Lock'd in each other—hanging down before him As with their own dead weight—a tall slim youth With hollow hectic cheek, and pale parch'd lip, And labouring breath, and eyes upon the ground Fast rooted, as if taking measurement Betime for his own grave. I stopp'd a moment, Contemplating those thinkers—youth and age— Mark'd for the sickle; as it seem'd—the unripe To be first gather'd. Stepping forward, then, Down to the house of death, in vague expectance, I sent a curious, not unshrinking, gaze. There lay the burning brain and broken heart, Long, long at rest: and many a Thing beside That had been life—warm, sentient, busy life— Had hunger'd, thirsted, laugh'd, wept, hoped, and fear'd— Hated and loved—enjoy'd and agonized. Where of all this, was all I look'd to see? The mass of crumbling coffins—some belike (The undermost) with their contents crush'd in, Flatten'd, and shapeless. Even in this damp vault, With more completeness could the old Destroyer Have done his darkling work? Yet lo! I look'd Into a small square chamber, swept and clean, Except that on one side, against the wall, Lay a few fragments of dark rotten wood, And a small heap of fine, rich, reddish earth Was piled up in a corner.
"How is this?" In stupid wonderment I ask'd myself, And dull of apprehension. Turning, then, To the old sexton—"Tell me, friend," I said, "Here should be many coffins—Where are they? And"—pointing to the earth-heap—"what is that?"
He raised his eyes to mine with a strange look And strangely meaning smile; and I repeated— (For not a word he spoke)—my witless question.
Then with a deep distinctness he made answer, Distinct and slow, looking from whence I pointed, Full in my face again, and what he said Thrill'd through my very soul—"That's what we are!"
So I was answer'd. Sermons upon death I had heard many. Lectures by the score Upon life's vanities. But never words Of mortal preacher to my heart struck home With such convicting sense and suddenness As that plain-spoken homily, so brief, Of the unletter'd man.
"That's what we are!"— Repeating after him, I murmur'd low In deep acknowledgment, and bow'd the head Profoundly reverential. A deep calm Came over me, and to the inward eye Vivid perception. Set against each other, I saw weigh'd out the things of time and sense, And of eternity;—and oh! how light Look'd in that truthful hour the earthly scale! And oh! what strength, when from the penal doom Nature recoil'd, in His remember'd words: "I am the Resurrection and the Life."
And other words of that Divinest Speaker (Words to all mourners of all times address'd) Seem'd spoken to me as I went along In prayerful thought, slow musing on my way— "Believe in me"—"Let not your hearts be troubled"— And sure I could have promised in that hour, But that I knew myself how fallible, That never more should cross or care of this life Disquiet or distress me. So I came, Chasten'd in spirit, to my home again, Composed and comforted, and cross'd the threshold That day "a wiser, not a sadder, woman."
Burke died in 1797, and yet, after the lapse of almost half a century, the world is eager to treasure every recollection of his name. This is the true tribute to a great man, and the only tribute which is worth the wishes of a great man. The perishable nature of all the memorials of human hands has justly been the theme of every moralist, since tombs first bore an image or an inscription. Yet, such as they are, they ought to be given; but they are all that man can give. The nobler monument must be raised by the individual himself, and must be the work of his lifetime; its guardianship must be in the hands, not of sacristans and chapters, but in those of the world; his panegyric must be found, not in the extravagance or adulation of his marble, but in the universal voice which records his career, and cherishes his name as a new stimulant of public virtue.
We have no intention of retracing the steps by which this memorable man gradually rose to so high a rank in the estimation of his own times. No history of intellectual eminence during the latter half of the nineteenth century—the most troubled, important, and productive period of human annals since the birth of the European kingdoms—can be written, without giving some testimonial to his genius in every page. But his progress was not limited to his Age. He is still progressive. While his great contemporaries have passed away, honoured indeed, and leaving magnificent proofs of their powers, in the honour and security of their country, Burke has not merely retained his position before the national eye, but has continually assumed a loftier stature, and shone with a more radiant illumination. The great politician of his day, he has become the noblest philosopher of ours. Every man who desires to know the true theory of public morals, and the actual causes which influence the rise and fall of thrones, makes his volumes a study; every man who desires to learn how the most solemn and essential truths may not merely be adorned, but invigorated, by the richest colourings of imagination, must labour to discover the secret of his composition; and every man who, born in party, desires to emancipate his mind from the egotism, bitterness, and barrenness of party, or achieve the still nobler and more difficult task of turning its evils into good, and of making it an instrument of triumph for the general cause of mankind, must measure the merits and success of his enterprise by its similarity to the struggles, the motives, and the ultimate triumph of Edmund Burke.
The present volumes contain a considerable portion of the correspondence which Burke carried on with his personal and public friends during the most stirring period of his life. The papers had been put in trust of the late French Lawrence the civilian, and brother to the late Archbishop of Cashel, with whom was combined in the trust Dr King, afterwards Bishop of Rochester, both able men and particular friends of Burke. But Lawrence, while full of the intention of giving a life of his celebrated friend, died in 1809, and the papers were bequeathed by the widow of Burke, who died in 1812, to the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Hon. W. Elliot, and Earl Fitzwilliam, for the publication of such parts as had not already appeared. This duty chiefly devolved upon Dr King, who had been made Bishop of Rochester in 1808. Personal infirmity, and that most distressing of all infirmities, decay of sight, retarded the publishing of the works; but sixteen volumes were completed. The bishop's death in 1828, put an end to all the hopes which had been long entertained, of an authentic life from his pen.
On this melancholy event, the papers came into the possession of the late Earl Fitzwilliam, from whom they devolved to the present Earl, who, with Sir Richard Bourke, a distant relative of the family, and personally intimate with Burke during the last eight years of his life, has undertaken the present collection of his letters. Those letters which required explanation have been supplied with intelligent and necessary notes, and the whole forms a singularly important publication.
* * * * *
Many of Burke's earliest letters were written to a Richard Shackleton, the son of a Quaker at whose school Burke with his two brothers had been placed in 1741. In 1743, he was placed in the college of Dublin, and then commenced his correspondence with Shackleton. Even those letters exhibit, at the age of little more than fifteen, the sentiments which his mature life was spent in establishing and enlarging. He says of sectaries, and this was to a sectary himself, "I assure you, I don't think near so favourably of those sectaries you mentioned, (he had just spoken of the comparative safety of virtuous heathens, who, not having known the name of Christianity, were not to be judged by its law,) many of those sectaries breaking, as they themselves confessed, for matters of indifference, and no way concerned in the only affair that is necessary, viz. salvation; and what a great crime schism is, you can't be ignorant. This, and the reasons in my last, and if you consider what will occur to yourself, together with several texts, will bring you to my way of thinking on that point. Let us endeavour to live according to the rules of the Gospel; and he that prescribed them, I hope, will consider our endeavours to please him, and assist us in our designs.
"I don't like that part of your letter, wherein you say you had the testimony of well-doing in your breast. Whenever such notions rise again, endeavour to suppress them. We should always be in no other than the state of a penitent, because the most righteous of us is no better than a sinner. Read the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican who prayed in the temple."
We next have a letter exhibiting the effect of external things on the writer's mind, and expressed with almost the picturesque power of his higher days. He tells his friend, that he will endeavour to answer his letter in good-humour, "though every thing around," he says, "conspires to excite in him a contrary disposition—the melancholy gloom of the day, the whistling winds, and the hoarse rumbling of the swollen Liffey, with a flood which, even where I write, lays close siege to our own street, not permitting any to go in or out to supply us with the necessaries of life."
After some statements of the rise of the river, he says, "It gives me pleasure to see nature in those great though terrible scenes; it fills the mind with grand ideas, and turns the soul in upon herself. This, together with the sedentary life I lead, forced some reflections on me, which perhaps would otherwise not have occurred. I considered how little man is, yet, in his own mind, how great. He is lord and master of all things, yet scarce can command any thing. What well laid, and what better executed scheme of his is there, but what a small change of nature is entirely able to defeat and abolish. If but one element happens to encroach a little upon another, what confusion may it not create in his affairs, what havoc, what destruction: the servant destined to his use, confines, menaces, and frequently destroys this mighty, this feeble lord."
One of those letters mentions his feelings on the defeat of the luckless Charles Edward, whose hopes of the British crown were extinguished by the battle of Culloden, (April 16, 1746.) "The Pretender, who gave us so much disturbance for some time past, is at length, with all his adherents, utterly defeated, and himself (as some say) taken prisoner. 'Tis strange to see how the minds of the people are in a few days changed. The very men who, but a while ago, while they were alarmed by his progress, so heartily cursed and hated those unfortunate creatures, are now all pity, and wish it could be terminated without bloodshed. I am sure I share in the general compassion. It is, indeed, melancholy to consider the state of those unhappy gentlemen who engaged in this affair, (as for the rest, they lose but their lives,) who have thrown away their lives and fortunes, and destroyed their families for ever, in what, I believe, they thought a just cause." Those sentiments exhibit the early propensity of Burke's mind to a generous dealing with political opponents. He was a Protestant, a zealous admirer of the constitution of 1688, as all Irish Protestants were in his day, whether old or young; and yet he feels an unequivocal, as it was a just compassion for the brave men, who, under an impulse of misapplied loyalty, and in obedience to a mistaken sense of duty, went headlong to their ruin, for a prince who was a Papist, and thus would have been, like his father, a most hazardous sovereign to the liberties and religion of England.
In allusion to his collegiate career, he describes himself as having taken up every successive subject, with an ardour which, however, speedily declined.
"First, I was greatly taken with natural philosophy, which, while I should have given my mind to logic, employed me incessantly, (logic forming a principal part of the first year's studies.) This I call my furor mathematicus. But this worked off as soon as I began to read it in the college. This threw me back to logic and metaphysics. Here I remained a good while, and with much pleasure, and this was my furor logicus—a disease very common in the days of ignorance, and very uncommon in these enlightened times. Next succeeded the furor historicus, which also had its day, but is now no more, being absorbed in the furor poeticus, which (as skilful physicians assure me) is difficultly cured. But doctors differ, and I don't despair of a cure." Fortunately, he at last accomplished that cure, for his early poetry gives no indications of future excellence. His prose is much more poetic, even in those early letters, than his verse. A great poet unquestionably is a great man; but Burke's greatness was to be achieved in another sphere. It is only in the visions of prophecy that we see the Lion with wings. Burke entered his name at the Middle Temple in April 1747, and went to London to keep his terms in 1750. He was now twenty-two years old, and his constitution being delicate, and apparently consumptive, he adopted, during this period of his residence in England, a habit to which he probably owed his strength of constitution in after-life. During the vacations, he spent his time in travelling about England, generally in company with a friend and relative, Mr William Burke. Though his finances were by no means narrow—his father being a man of success in his profession—Burke probably travelled the greater part of those journeys on foot. When he found an agreeable country town or village, he fixed his quarters there, leading a regular life, rising early, taking frequent exercise, and employing himself according to the inclinations of the hour. There could be no wiser use of his leisure; exercise of the frame is health of the mind, open air is life to the student, change of scene is mental vigour to an enquiring, active, and eager spirit; and thus the feeble boy invigorated himself for the most strenuous labours of the man, and laid the foundation for a career of eminent usefulness and public honour for nearly half a century of the most stirring period of the modern world.
Some of his letters touch, in his style of grave humour, on these pleasant wanderings.—"You have compared me, for my rambling disposition, to the sun. Sincerely, I can't help finding a likeness myself, for they say the sun sends down much the same influences whenever he comes into the same signs. Now I am influenced to shake off my laziness, and write to you at the same time of the year, and from the same west country I wrote my last in. Since I had your letter I have often shifted the scene. I spent part of the winter, that is the term time, in London, and part in Croydon in Surrey. About the beginning of the summer, finding myself attacked with my old complaints, I went once more to Bristol, and found the same benefit." Of his adventures at Monmouth, he says they would almost compose a novel, and of a more curious kind than is generally issued from the press. He and his relative formed the topic of the town, both while they were there and after they left it. "The most innocent scheme," said he, "they guessed, was that of fortune-hunting; and when they saw us quit the town without wives, the lower sort sagaciously judged us spies to the French king. What is much more odd is, that here my companion and I puzzled them as much as we did at Monmouth, [he was then at Turlaine in Wiltshire,] for this is a place of very great trade in making fine cloths, in which they employ a great number of hands. The first conjecture, for they could not fancy how any other sort of people could spend so much of their time at books; but finding that we receive from time to time a good many letters, they conclude us merchants. They at last began to apprehend that we were spies from Spain on their trade." Still they appeared mysterious; and the old woman in whose lodgings they lived, paid them the rather ambiguous compliment of saying, "I believe that you be gentlemen, but I ask no questions." "What makes the thing still better," says Burke, "about the same time we came hither, arrived a little parson equally a stranger; but he spent a good part of his time in shooting and other country amusements, got drunk at night, got drunk in the morning, and became intimate with every body in the village. But he surprised nobody, no questions were asked about him, because he lived like the rest of the world. But that two men should come into a strange country, and partake of none of the country diversions, seek no acquaintance, and live entirely recluse, is something so inexplicable as to puzzle the wisest heads, even that of the parish-clerk himself."
About the year 1756, Burke, still without a profession—for though he had kept his terms he was never called to the bar—began to feel the restlessness, perhaps the self-condemnation, natural to every man who feels life advancing on him without an object. He now determined to try his strength as an author, and published his Vindication of Natural Society—a pamphlet in which, adopting the showy style of Bolingbroke, but pushing his arguments to the extreme, he shows the fallacy of his principles. This work excited considerable attention at the time. The name of the author remained unknown, and the imitation was so complete, that for some time it was regarded as a posthumous work of the infidel lord. Burke, in one of his later publications, exclaims—Who now reads Bolingbroke? who ever read him through? We may be assured, at least, that one read him through; and that one was Edmund Burke. The dashing rhetoric, and headlong statements of Bolingbroke; his singular affluence of language, and his easy disregard of fact; the boundless lavishing and overflow of an excitable and glowing mind, on topics in which prejudice and passion equally hurried him onward, and which the bitter recollections of thwarted ambition made him regard as things to be trampled on, if his own fame was to survive, was incomparably transferred by Burke to his own pages. The performance produced a remarkable sensation amongst the leaders of public opinion and literature. Chesterfield pronounced it to be from the pen of Bolingbroke. Mallet, the literary lord's residuary legatee, was forced to disclaim it by public advertisement; but Mallet's credit was not of the firmest order, and his denial was scarcely believed until Burke's name, as the author, was known. But his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of the Sublime and Beautiful, brought him more unequivocal applause. His theory on this subject has been disputed, and is obviously disputable; but it was chiefly written at the age of nineteen; it has never been wholly superseded, and, for elegance of diction, has never been equaled. It brought him into immediate intercourse with all that may be called the fashion of literature—Lyttleton, Warburton, Soame Jenyns, Hume, Reynolds, Lord Bath, Johnson, the greatest though the least influential of them all, and Mrs Montague, the least but the most influential of them all. There must have been a good deal of what is called fortune in this successful introduction to the higher orders of London society; for many a work of superior intelligence and more important originality has been produced, without making its author known beyond the counter of the publisher. But what chance began his merits completed. The work was unquestionably fit for the hands of blue-stockingism; the topic was pleasing to literary romance; the very title had a charm for the species of philosophy which lounges on sofas, and talks metaphysics in the intervals of the concert or the card-table. It may surprise us, that in an age when so many manly and muscular understandings existed at the same time in London, things so infinitely trifling as conversaziones should have been endured; but conversaziones there were, and Burke's book was precisely made to their admiration. It is no dishonour to the matured abilities of this great man, that he produced a book which found its natural place on the toilet-tables, and its natural praise in the tongues of the Mrs Montagues of this world. It might have been worse; he never thought it worth his while to make it better; the theory is worth nothing, but the language is elegant; and the whole, regarded as the achievement of a youth of nineteen, does honour to the spirit of his study, and the polish of his pen.
A change was now to take place in Burke's whole career. He might have perished in poverty, notwithstanding his genius, except for the chance which introduced him to Fitzherbert, a graceful and accomplished man, who united to a high tone of fashionable life a gratification in the intercourse of intelligent society. Partly through this gentleman's interference, and partly through that of the late Earl of Charlemont, Burke was introduced to William Gerard Hamilton, who shortly after went to Ireland as secretary to the lord-lieutenant, Lord Halifax. However, this connexion, though it continued for six years, was evidently an uneasy one to Burke; and a letter written by him in the second year of his private secretaryship to Hamilton, shows how little they were fitted for cordial association. A pension of L.300 a-year was assigned to Burke as a remuneration for his services, which, however, he evidently seemed to regard in the light of a retaining fee. In consequence of this conception, and the fear of being fettered for life, Burke wrote a letter, stating that it would be necessary to give a portion of his time to publication on his own account.
"Whatever advantages," said he, "I have acquired, have been owing to some small degree of literary reputation. It would be hard to persuade me that any further services which your kindness may propose for me, or any in which my friends may co-operate with you, will not be greatly facilitated by doing something to cultivate and keep alive the same reputation. I am fully sensible that this reputation may be as much hazarded as forwarded by a new publication; but because a certain oblivion is the consequence to writers of my inferior class of an entire neglect of publication, I consider it such a risk as must sometimes be run. For this purpose some short time, at convenient intervals, and especially at the dead time of the year, it would be requisite to study and consult proper books. The matter may be very easily settled by a good understanding between ourselves, and by a discreet liberty, which I think you would not wish to restrain, or I to abuse."
However, it will be seen that Gerard Hamilton thought differently on the subject. We break off this part of the correspondence, for the purpose of introducing a fragment of that wisdom which formed so early and so promising a portion of the mind of Burke. In writing of his brother Richard to his Irish friend, he says—"Poor Dick sets off at the beginning of next week for the Granadas, [in which he had obtained a place under government.] He goes in good health and spirits, which are all but little enough to battle with a bad climate and a bad season. But it must be submitted to. Providence never intended, to much the greater part, an entire life of ease and quiet. A peaceable, honourable, and affluent decline of life must be purchased by a laborious or hazardous youth; and every day, I think more and more that it is well worth the purchase. Poverty and age suit very ill together, and a course of struggling is miserable indeed, when strength is decayed and hope gone. Turpe senex miles!"
Burke's quarrel with Hamilton ended in his resigning his pension. His feelings appear to have been deeply hurt by Hamilton's superciliousness, and his demand for the right to employ the whole time of his private secretary. In a long explanatory letter to Hutchinson, a leading member of the Irish parliament, and father of the late Lord Donoughmore, he says, indignantly enough—"I flatter myself to let you see that I deserved to be considered in another manner than as one of Mr Hamilton's cattle, or as a piece of his household stuff. Six of the best years of my life he took me from every pursuit of literary reputation, or of improvement of my fortune. In that time he made his own fortune, a very great one; and he has also taken to himself the very little one which I had made. In all this time you may easily conceive how much I felt at being left behind by almost all my contemporaries. There never was a season more favourable for any man who chose to enter into the career of public life; and I think I am not guilty of ostentation in supposing my own moral character and my industry, my friends and connexions, when Mr H. first sought my acquaintance, were not at all inferior to those of several whose fortune is at this day upon a very different footing from mine."
It is evident that Burke's mind was at this period turned to authorship, and that his chief quarrel arose from the petty and pragmatical demand of Hamilton, that he should abandon it altogether. Burke soon had ample revenge, if it was to be found in the obscurity into which Hamilton rapidly fell, and the burlesque which alone revived his name from its obscurity. The contrast between the two must have been a lesson to the vanity of the one, as pungent as was its triumph. If ever the fate of Tantalus was realized to man, it was in the perpetual thirst and perpetual disappointment of Hamilton for public name. The cup never reached his lips but it was instantly dry; while Burke was seen reveling in the full flow of public renown—buoyant on the stream into which so many others plunged only to sink, and steering his noble course with a full mastery of the current. "Single-speech Hamilton" became a title of ridicule, while Burke was pouring forth, night after night, speech after speech, rich in the most sparkling and most solid opulence of the mind. He must have been more or less than man, to have never cast a glance at the decrepitude of the formal coxcomb whom he once acknowledged as his leader, and compared his shrunk shape with the vigorous and athletic proportions of his own intellectual stature. Hamilton, too, must have had many a pang. The wretched nervousness of character which at once stimulated him to pine for distinction, and disqualified him from obtaining it, must have made his life miserable. If the magnificent conception of the poet's Prometheus could be lowered to any thing so trivial as a disappointed politician of the eighteenth century, its burlesque might be amply shown in a mind helplessly struggling against a sense of its own inferiority, gnawed by envy at the success of better men, and with only sufficient intellectual sensibility remaining to have that gnawing constantly renewed.
Burke's letters to the chief Irishmen with whom his residence in Dublin had brought him into intercourse, long continued indignant. "Having presumed," said he, in one of those explanatory letters, "to put a test to me, which no man not born in Africa ever thought of taking, on my refusal he broke off all connexion with me in the most insolent manner. He, indeed, entered into two several negotiations afterwards, but both poisoned in their first principles by the same spirit of injustice with which he set out in his first dealings with me. I, therefore, could never give way to his proposals. The whole ended by his possessing himself of that small reward for my services which, I since find, he had a very small share in procuring for me. After, or, indeed, rather during his negotiations, he endeavoured to stain my character and injure my future fortune, by every calumny his malice could suggest. This is the case of my connexion with Mr Hamilton."
If all this be true—and whoever impeached the veracity of Burke in any thing?—the more effectually his enemy was trampled the better: malice can be punished sufficiently only by extirpation.
A powerful letter to Henry Flood, then one of the leading members of the Irish House of Commons, shows how deeply Burke felt the vexation of Hamilton's conduct, and not less explicitly administers the moral, of how much must be suffered by every man who enters into the conflicts of public life. Flood, too, had his share of those vexations; perhaps more of them than his correspondent. Henry Flood was one of the most remarkable men whom Ireland had produced. Commencing his career with a handsome fortune, he had plunged into the dissipation which was almost demanded of men of family in his day; but some accidental impression (we believe a fit of illness) suddenly changed his whole course. He turned his attention to public life, entered the House of Commons, and suddenly astonished every body by his total transformation from a mere man of fashion to a vigorous and brilliant public orator. He was the most logical of public speakers, without the formality of logic, and the most imaginative, without the flourish of fancy. For ten years, Flood was the leader of the House, on whichever side he stood. He was occasionally in opposition, and the champion of opposition politics in his earlier career; but at length, unfortunately alike for his feelings and his fame, he grew indolent, accepted an almost sinecure place, and indulged himself in ease and silence for full ten years. A loss like this was irreparable, in the short duration allotted to the living supremacy of statesmanship. No man in the records of the English parliament has been at his highest vigour for more than ten years; he may have been rising before, or inheriting a portion of his parliamentary distinction—enough to give dignity to his decline; but his true time has past, and thenceforth he must be satisfied with the reflection of his own renown. Flood had already passed his hour when he was startled by the newborn splendour of Grattan. The contest instantly commenced between those extraordinary men, and was carried on for a while with singular animation, and not less singular animosity. The ground of contest was the constitution of 1782. The exciting cause of contest was the wrath of Flood at seeing the laurels which he had relinquished seized by a younger champion, and the daring, yet justified confidence of Grattan in his own admirable powers to win and wear them. Flood, in the bitterest pungency of political epigram, charged Grattan with having sold himself to the people, and then sold the people to the minister for prompt payment. (A vote of L50,000 had been passed to purchase an estate for Grattan.) Grattan retorted, that "Flood, after having sold himself to the minister, was angry only because he was interrupted in the attempt to sell himself to the people." The country, fond of the game of partizanship, ranged itself under the banners of both, alternately hissed and applauded both, and at length abandoned both, and in its new fondness for change, adopted the bolder banners of revolution. Both were fighting for a shadow, and both must have known it; but the prize of rhetoric was not to be given up without a struggle. The "constitution" was rapidly forgotten, when Flood retired into England and obscurity; and Grattan, who had been left, if not victor, at least possessor of the field, grew tired of struggles without a purpose, and plaudits without a reward. The absurdity of affecting an independence which could not exist an hour but by the protection of England, and the burlesque of a parliament into which no man entered but in expectation of a job; the scandal of an Irish slave-market, and the costliness of purchasing representatives, only to be sold by them in turn, became so palpable to the national eye, that the nation contemptuously cashiered the legislature. The gamblers who had made their fortunes off the people, and had amused themselves with building a house of cards, saw their paper fabric fall at the first breath; and the nation looked on the fall with the negligent scorn excited in rational eyes by detected imposture. The attempt is once more prepared, but Ireland will have no house of cards, still less will she suffer the building of an hospital for decayed fashion and impotent intrigue—a receptacle for political incurables—and meritorious, in the sight even of its projectors, simply for affording them snug stewardships, showy governorships, and the whole sinecure system of emolument without responsibility.
Burke again repeats to Flood his wrath at Hamilton's provocation.—"The occasion of our difference was not any act whatsoever on my part, it was entirely on his—by a voluntary, but most insolent and intolerable demand, amounting to no less than a claim of servitude during the whole course of my life." He then alludes to the position of political parties, and gives a sketch of the great Earl of Chatham which shows the hand of a master. "Nothing but an intractable temper in your friend Pitt can prevent an admirable and most lasting system from being put together; and this crisis will show whether pride or patriotism be predominant in his character, for you may be assured that he has it now in his power to come into the service of his country upon any plan of politics he may choose to dictate; with great and honourable claims to himself and to every friend he has in the world, and with such a stretch of power as will be equal to every thing but absolute despotism over the king and kingdom. A few days will show whether he will take his part, or that of continuing on his bank at Hayes, (his country-seat,) talking fustian, excluded from all ministerial, and incapable of all parliamentary service; for his gout is worse than ever, but his pride may disable him more than his gout."
We then have an odd rambling letter from Dr Leland, the author of a History of Ireland, a heavy performance but an honest one, and by far the best and least unfortunate of the unfortunate attempts to rationalize the caprices and calamities of that unhappy country. Leland's letter is written in congratulation to the two brothers, Edmund and William Burke, the former having been appointed private secretary to the Marquis of Rockingham in July 1765, the latter one of the under secretaries of state. In speaking of Ireland, this writer says, sensibly enough, "Let who will come to govern us poor wretches, I care not, provided we are decently governed. I would not have his secretary a jolly, good-humoured abandoned profligate, (the most dangerous character in society,) or a sullen, vain, proud, selfish, cankered-hearted, envious reptile—though what matter who is either lieutenant or secretary?"
Burke was not at this time in Parliament, nor until the 26th of December in this year, when he was returned for the borough of Wendover, through the influence of Lord Verney. A letter from Dr Markham, afterwards archbishop of York, shows the degree of estimation in which his abilities were held, and the expectations which he excited among able men, at a period when his parliamentary faculties were still unknown. He says to William Burke,—"I was informed of Ned's cold by a letter from Skynner. I am very glad to hear it is so much better. I should be grieved to hear he was ill at any time, and particularly at so critical a time as this. I think much will depend on his outset. I wish him to appear at once in some important question. If he has but that confidence in his strength which I have always had, he cannot fail of appearing with lustre. I am very glad to hear from you that he feels his own consequence as well as the crisis of his situation. He is now on the ground on which I have been so many years wishing to see him. One splendid day will crush the malevolence of enemies, as well as the envy of some who often praise him. When his reputation is once established, the common voice will either silence malignity or destroy its effect."
This was written three days after Burke's entrance into Parliament. It is curious to see, in the letters of those early correspondents, most of them accomplished and practical men, how fully they were possessed with a sense of his promised superiority. "You are now, I am certain," says Leland, "a man of business, deeply immersed in public affairs, commercial and political. You will show yourself a man of business in the House of Commons, and you will not, I am certain, build your reputation and consequence there upon a single studied manufactured piece of eloquence, and then, like the brazen head, shut your mouth for ever. I trust I shall hear of your rising regularly, though rapidly; that I shall hear of ministers begging that you would be pleased to accept of being vice-treasurer of Ireland, and then of your soaring so high as to be quite out of view of such insects as I—and so good-night, my dear Ned. If ever chance should bring us together, we are quite ruined as companions. The saunterings, the readings, the laughings, and the dosings in Mount Gallagher (his country-seat) are all over. Your head is filled with questions, divisions, and majorities. My thoughts are employed on Louth and Warburton."
Burke began his parliamentary triumphs with but little delay. The colonies were the grand subject of the time, and Burke instantly devoted himself to that subject with the whole force of his capacious intellect. He was regarded by the House, on the first speech which he made on this voluminous topic, as exhibiting extraordinary knowledge, combined with a power of language unequalled save by Chatham himself. One of the letters of congratulations is from Dr Marriott, who was afterwards judge of the court of admiralty. "Permit me to tell you that you are the person the least sensible of the members of the House of Commons, how much glory you acquired last Monday night; and it would be an additional satisfaction to you that this testimony comes from a judge of public speaking, the most disinterested and capable of judging of it. Dr Hay assures me that your speech was far superior to that of any other speaker on the colonies that night. I could not refrain from acquainting you with an opinion, which must so greatly encourage you to proceed, and to place the palm of the orator with those which you have already acquired of the writer and the philosopher." Hay was afterwards judge of the admiralty. At his death he was succeeded by Marriott. He was of the Bedford party, which, as it was wholly opposed to the Rockingham, made the testimony more valuable.
Burke's second speech was equally the subject of admiration. A second letter from Marriott, with whom he had had some conversation expressive of his own diffidence, at least as to his manner, in addressing the House, mentions once more the opinion of Dr Hay, for whose taste Marriott seems to have had great deference. "His opinion," he writes, "is, that nothing could be more remote from awkwardness or constraint than your manner; that your style, ideas, and expression, were peculiarly your own; natural and unaffected, and so different from the cant of the House, or from the jargon of the bar, that he could not imagine any thing more agreeable; that you did not dwell upon a point till you had tired it out, as is the way of most speakers, but kept on with fresh ideas crowding upon you, and rising one out of another, all leading to one point, which was constantly kept in view to the audience; and, although every thing seemed a kind of new political philosophy, yet it was all to the purpose and well-connected, so as to produce the effect; and that he admired your last speech the more as it was impromptu. I thought he was describing to me a Greek orator, whose select orations I had translated four times when I first went to the university, and therefore marked the traits of this character. It was impossible for me not to communicate to you a decision from so great a master himself, though differing from you in party, that you may go on in a way you have begun, with such glory to yourself, and to which you add so much by being so little sensible of it."
In 1766 the Rockingham ministry was suddenly dashed to the ground, and all its connexions, of course, went down along with it. The marquis was a man of great estate and excellent intentions, but his ministry realized the Indian fable of the globe being painted on a tortoise—the merit of the political tortoise being, in this instance, to stand still, while its ambition unfortunately was to move. The consequence naturally followed, that the world took its own course, and left the tortoise behind. But Burke had distinguished himself so much that offers of office were made to him from the succeeding administration. Those he declined, and commenced that neutral existence which, with the majority of politicians, is worse than none. There was a weakness in Burke's character which did him infinite mischief for the first ten years of his political life. We shall not call it an affectation in the instance of so great a man, but it paid all the penalties of folly—and this was his propensity to feel, or at least to express, a personal affection for the men whom he politically followed. Even of Hamilton, the most supercilious and least loveable of mankind, Burke speaks with a tenderness absolutely ridiculous amongst politicians. Of Lord Rockingham he seldom speaks but in a tone of romance, singularly inapplicable to that formal and frigid figure of aristocracy. Of Fox, in latter days, he spoke in a sentimental tone worthy only of a lover on the French stage; and, in all these instances, he was doubtless laughed at, notwithstanding all his sensibilities. With the highest admiration of his genius, we must believe, for the sake of his understanding, that he adopted this style merely for fashion's sake; for familiarity, which is akin to fondness, as we are told by the poets that pity is akin to love, was much the foolish fashion of the day. Men of the highest rank, and doubtless of the haughtiest arrogance, were called Tom, and Dick, and Harry; and this silliness was the language of high life, until the French Revolution and the democratic war at home taught them, that if they adopted the phraseology of their own footmen, their footmen would probably take possession of their title-deeds. The hollowness of public life is as soon discovered as the haughtiness of public men. A man of heart like Burke ought to have disdained even the language of courtiership, and while he observed the decorums of society, scorned to stoop even to the phraseology of humiliation. But one of the most curious features of this obsolete day is the manner in which the country was disposed of. No game of whist, in one of the lordly clubs of St James's Square, was ever more exclusively played. It was simply a question whether his Grace of Bedford would be content with a quarter or a half of the cabinet, or whether the Marquis of Rockingham would be satisfied with two-fifths, or the Earl of Shelburne should have all or should share power with the Duke of Portland. In all those barterings and borrowings we never hear the name of the nation. No whisper announces that there is such a thing in existence as the people. No allusion ever proceeds from the stately lips, or offends the "ears polite," of the embroidered conclave, referring to either the interests, the feelings, or the necessities of the nation. All was done as in an assemblage of a higher race of existence, calmly carving out the world for themselves—a tribe of Epicurean deities, with the cabinet for their Olympus, stooping to our inferior region only to enjoy their own atmosphere afterwards with the greater zest, or shift their quarters, like the poet's Jupiter, when tired of the dust and clamour of war, moving off on his clouds and with his attendant goddesses, to the tranquil realms of the Hippomolgi.
And this highbred condition of affairs was the more repulsive, from the fact that the greater number of those disposers of office and dividers of empire were among the emptiest of mankind. The succession of ministers, from the days of Walpole, (unquestionably a shrewd, though a coarse mind, and profligate personage,) with the exception of Chatham, was a list of silken imbeciles; very rich, or very highborn, or very handsomely supplied with boroughs, but, in all other senses, the last men who should have been entrusted with power.
We have to thank the satirists, the public misfortunes, and even the demagogues, for extinguishing this smooth and pacific system. Junius, with his sarcastic pen, the American war, and even the gross impudence of Wilkes, stirred the public mind to remember that it had a voice in the state. A manlier period succeeded; and we shall no more hear of the government being divided among the select party, like a twelfth cake, nor see the interests of a nation which represents the interests of the globe, compromised to suit the contending claims of full-dressed frivolity.
As a specimen of this courtly affair, we give a few fragments from a confidential letter of Burke to the Marquis of Rockingham. "Lord Shelburne still continues in administration, though as adverse and as much disliked as ever.—The Duke of Grafton continues, I hear, his old complaints of his situation, and his genuine desire of holding it as long as he can. At same time, Lord Shelburne gets loose too. I know that Lord Camden, who adhered to him in these late divisions, has given him up, and gone over to the Duke of Grafton. The Bedfords are horridly frightened at all this, for fear of seeing the table they had so well covered, and at which they sat down with so good an appetite, kicked down in the scuffle. They find things not ripe at present for bringing in Grenville, and that any capital move just now would only betray their weakness in the closet and the nation." Thus, those noble personages had it all to themselves. Again—
"If Grenville was peculiarly exceptionable, another middle person might have the Treasury. I fancy their middleman to be the same they had in their thoughts this time twelve-month—Lord Gower. They talked of the Duke of Northumberland as a proper person for the Treasury, in case of the Duke of Grafton's going out. The truth is, the Bedfords will never act any part, either fair or amiable, with your lordship or your friends, until they see you in a situation to give the law to them." No doubt all this was perfectly true; the whole was selfish, supercilious, and exclusive; one red riband matched against another, one garter balanced against a rival fragment of blue; the whole a court-ball, in which the nation had no more share than if it had been danced in the saloon of Windsor; a masquerade in which the political minuet was gravely danced by the peerage in character, and of which the nation heard scarcely even the fiddles. But those times have passed away, and, for the honour of common sense, they have passed never to return.
The long contested authorship of "Junius's Letters" makes the subject of a brief portion of his correspondence. A letter from Charles Townshend, brother of Lord Sidney, says—"I met Fitzherbert last night, and talked to him on the subject of our late conversation. I told him that I had heard that he had asserted that you were the author of 'Junius's Letters,' for which I was very sorry, because, if it reached your ears, it would give you a great deal of concern. He assured me, that he had only said that the ministry now looked upon you as the author, but that he had constantly contradicted the report whenever it was mentioned in his company, particularly yesterday and the day before, to persons who affirmed that you were now fixed on as the writer of those papers. He declared that he was convinced in his own mind that you were not concerned in the publication, and that he had said so." This letter was written in 1771. Burke replies to it, in two days after, in a letter of thanks, unequivocally denying that he had any share in those letters. "My friends I have satisfied; my enemies shall never have any direct satisfaction from me. The ministry, I am told, are convinced of my having written Junius, on the authority of a miserable bookseller's preface, in which there are not three lines of common truth or sense. I have never once condescended to take the least notice of their invectives, or publicly to deny the fact on which some of them were grounded. At the same time to you or to any of my friends, I have been as ready as I ought to be in disclaiming, in the most precise terms, writings that are as superior, perhaps, to my talents, as they are most certainly different in many essential points from my regards and my principles." Burke seems to have been constantly bored on this subject, for he writes an angry letter to Markham, then bishop of Chester. Charles Townshend writes to him again to say that the Public require a more distinct disclaimer. Burke answers, "I have, I daresay to nine-tenths of my acquaintances, denied my being the author of Junius, or having any knowledge of the author, whenever the thing was mentioned, whether in jest or earnest. I now give you my word and honour that I am not the author of Junius, and that I know not the author of that paper, and I do authorize you to say so."
We believe that this is the first time in which Burke's disclaimer has been made public; but our only surprise in the matter is, how he could at any time have been considered as the author of Junius. We should have rather said that he was the last man in the kingdom who ought to have been suspected. The styles of Burke and Junius are totally different: the one loose and flowing, the other terse and pungent; the one lofty and imaginative, the other level and stern; the one taking large views on every subject, and evidently delighting in the largeness of those views, the other fixing steadily and fiercely upon the immediate object of attack, and shooting every arrow point-blank. Of course, we have no intention of wandering into a topic so thoroughly beaten as that of the authorship of Junius; but we must acknowledge, if Sir Philip Francis was not the man, no other nominal candidate for the honour has been brought forward with equal claims. The only objection which we have ever heard to his title as author is, his not making it in person; for he was said to be a man of such inordinate admiration of his own powers, that he could not have kept the secret. It has been said, too, that no fear, after the lapse of twenty years, could have prevented its being divulged. But there are other motives than fear which might act upon a proud and powerful spirit. The author of a work like Junius was clearly contemptuous of mankind, and more contemptuous in proportion to the rank of his victims. To such a man even the excitement produced by the general enquiry into the authorship might be a triumph in itself. Though a solitary, it might be a high gratification to a morbid spirit of disdain, to see himself a problem to mankind, to hear perpetual arguments raised on his identity, and see the puzzled pens of the pamphleteering word all busy in sketching an ideal likeness which each fancied to be the original. If we could imagine the shade of Swift or Shaftesbury, of Scarron or Rabelais, to walk invisibly through the world playing its bitter and fantastic tricks in the ways of men, stinging some, astounding others, and startling all, we perhaps would approach nearest to the feelings which might, now and then, have indulged the habitual scorn and stimulated the conscious power of Junius.
It has also been said that Sir Philip Francis was not equal to the composition of those masterly letters; and it must be acknowledged that, though he made some very powerful and pointed speeches in the House of Commons, they wanted the penetration and the polish of Junius. But there are several letters by Sir Philip Francis in these volumes, which, though evidently written in the haste and desultoriness of private correspondence, exhibit conceptions strongly resembling the sarcastic strength and high-wrought point of Junius.
The Hastings' trial brought Francis full before the public; and we have a letter from Burke describing one of his speeches on this subject, which, with his usual good nature, he sent to the orator's wife. It is dated April 20, 1787.—"My dear madam, I cannot, with all honest appetite, or clear conscience, sit down to my breakfast, unless I first give you an account, which will make your family breakfast as pleasant to you, as I wish all your family meetings to be. I have the satisfaction of telling you, that, not in my judgment only, but in that of all who heard him, no man ever acquitted himself, on a day of great expectation, so well as Mr Francis did yesterday. He was clear, precise, forcible, and eloquent, in a high degree. No intricate business was ever better unravelled, and no iniquity ever placed so effectually to produce its natural horror and disgust. * * * * All who heard him were delighted, except those whose mortification ought to give pleasure to every good mind. He was two hours and a half on his legs, and he never lost attention for a moment."
We give a curious specimen of the daring criticism which this applauded personage now and then ventured, even on the authorship of Burke. In 1790, Burke had prepared his celebrated work on the French Revolution for the press early in the year, and appears to have sent fragments of it to several of his friends. Casual circumstances delayed the work until October. Francis's letter was written in February. It begins—"I am sorry you should have the trouble of sending for the printed paper you lent me yesterday, though I own I cannot much regret even a fault of my own, that helps to delay the publication of that paper. [This was probably a proof sheet of the Reflections.] It is the proper province, and ought to be the privilege, of an inferior to criticise and advise. The best possible critic of the Iliad, would be, ipso facto, and by virtue of that very character, incapable of being the author of it. Standing as I do in this relation to you, you would renounce your superiority, if you refused to be advised by me. Remember that this is one of the most singular, that it may be the most distinguished, and ought to be one of the most deliberate acts of your life. Your writings have hitherto been the delight and instruction of your own country. You now undertake to correct and instruct another nation; and your appeal in effect is to all Europe." After then objecting to Burke's exposure of Price and his fellow pamphleteers, as beneath the writer and his subject, he attacks him for his panegyric on the Queen of France. He then sneeringly asks, "Pray, sir, how long have you felt yourself so desperately disposed to admire the ladies of Germany?" This was an allusion to Queen Charlotte, whom Burke's particular friends had long regarded as one of their impediments to power. He proceeds—"The mischief you are going to do yourself, is to my apprehension, palpable. It is visible. It will be audible. I snuff it in the wind. I taste it already. I feel it in every sense; and so will you hereafter." This letter certainly wants the polish of Junius, but it has the power of bitter thought, and it sneers with practised piquancy. Of course, a broad line is to be drawn between a work of study and the work of the moment—between the elaborate vigour which prunes and purifies every straggling shoot away, and exhibits its production for a prize-show, and the careless luxuriance which suffers the tree to throw out its shoots under no direction, but that of the prolific power of nature. Yet the plant is the same, and though we by no means say, that even this letter gives demonstration, yet the arrogant ease of the style is such, as we should have expected to find in the familiar correspondence of Junius. His letter obviously excited in Burke a mixture of pain and indignation.
He answered it the next day in a long and eloquent vindication which was oddly enough inclosed in a letter from his son, scarcely less than menacing. It begins—"My dear sir, You must conceive that your letter, combating many old ideas of my father's, and proposing many new ones, could not fail to set his mind at work, and to make him address the effect of those operations to you. I must, therefore, entreat you not to draw him aside from the many and great labours he has in hand, by any further written communications of this kind, which would, indeed, be very useful, because they are valuable, if they were conveyed at a time when there was leisure to settle opinions." Those are hard hits at the critic, but harder were still to come. "There is one thing of which I must inform you. It is, that my father's opinions are never hastily adopted, and that even those ideas which have often appeared to me only the effect of momentary heat, or casual impression, I have afterwards found, beyond a possibility of doubt, to be the result of systematic meditation, perhaps of years. * * * * The thing, I say, is a paradox, but when we talk of things superior to ourselves, what is not paradox?"
He strikes harder still. "When we say, that one man is wiser than another, we allow that the wiser man forms his opinions upon grounds and principles which, though to him justly conclusive, cannot be comprehended and received by him who is less wise. To be wise, is only to see deeper, and further, and differently from others."
Yet this strong rebuke, which was followed by a long letter from Burke himself, half indignant, half argumentative, does not seem to have disturbed the temper of Francis, proverbially petulant as he was, if it did not rather raise his respect for both parties. He tells Burke, in a subsequent letter, that he has looked for his work, his Reflections on the Revolution, with great impatience, and read it with studious delight. He proceeds—"My dear Mr Burke, when I took what is vulgarly called the liberty of opposing my thoughts and wishes to the publication of yours, on the late transactions in France, I do assure you that I was not moved so much by a difference of opinion on the subject, as by an apprehension of the personal uneasiness which, one way or other, I thought you would suffer by it. I know that virtue would be useless, if it were not active, and that it can rarely be active without exciting the most malignant of all enmity, that in which envy predominates, and which, having no injury to complain of, has no ostensible motive either to resent or to forgive." (How like Junius is all this! The likeness is still stronger as it proceeds.) "I have not yet had it in my power to read more than one third of your book. I must taste it deliberately. The flavour is too high—the wine is too rich; I cannot take a draught of it." In another passage he gives a powerful sketch of popery. In speaking of the French monarchy, and its presumed mildness in the last century, he attributes the cessation of its severities to the European change of manners. "We do not pillage and massacre quite so furiously as our ancestors used to do. Why? Because these nations are more enlightened—because the Christian religion is, de facto, not in force in the world! Suspect me not of meaning the Christian religion of the gospel. I mean that which was enforced, rather than taught, by priests, by bishops, and by cardinals; which laid waste a province, and then formed a monastery; which, after destroying a great portion of the human species, provided, as far as it could, for the utter extinction of future population, by instituting numberless retreats for celibacy; which set up an ideal being called the Church, capable of possessing property of all sorts for the pious use of its ministers, incapable of alienating, and whose property its usufructuaries very wisely said it should be sacrilege to invade; that religion, in short, which was practised, or professed, and with great zeal too, by tyrants and villains of every denomination."
These volumes show, in a strong light, the energy with which Burke watched over his party in the House of Commons, and the importance of his guardianship. He seems to have been called on for his advice in all great transactions, and to have watched over its interests during the period of Fox's absence. In 1788 the mental illness of George III. became decided, and the prospect of a regency with the Prince of Wales at its head, awoke all the long excluded ambition of the Whigs. Fox was at that period in Italy, and he was sent for by express to lead the party in the assault on office. He immediately turned his face to England, and arrived on the 24th of November, four days after the meeting of Parliament, which had, however, immediately adjourned to the fourth of the following month, for the purpose of ascertaining the health of his majesty. On this occasion Burke addressed to Fox a long and powerful letter, marking out the line which the parties should take, giving his opinion with singular distinctness, and expressing himself in the tone of one who felt his authority. He begins—"My dear Fox, If I have not been to see you before this time, it was not owing to my not having missed you in your absence, or my not having much rejoiced in your return. But I know that you are indifferent to every thing in friendship but the substance, and all proceedings of ceremony have, for many years, been out of the question between you and me." In allusion to the probable formation of a new ministry, he observes—"I do not think that a great deal of time is allowed you. Perhaps it is not for your interest that this state of things should continue long, even supposing that the exigencies of government should suffer it to remain on its present footing; but I speak without book. I remember a story of Fitzpatrick in his American campaign, that he used to say to the officers who were in the same tent, before they were up, that the only meals they had to consider how they were to procure for that day, were breakfast, dinner, and supper. I am worse off; for there are five meals necessary, and I do not know at present how to feel secure of one of them. The king, the prince, the Lords, the Commons, and the People." He then urges a bold line of policy—the public examination of the physicians, the acting independently of the ministers, and a movement on the part of the prince worthy of his station; but which, unhappily for the Whigs, was neither adopted by Fox, nor was consistent with the courtly indolence of the future king. "Might it not be better," says Burke boldly, "for the prince at once to assure himself, to communicate the king's melancholy state by a message to the Houses, and to desire their counsel and support in such an exigency? It would put him forward with advantage in the eyes of the people; it would teach them to look upon him with respect, as a person possessed of the spirit of command; and it would, I am persuaded, stifle a hundred cabals, both in parliament and elsewhere, which, if they were cherished by his apparent remissness and indecision, would produce to him a vexatious and disgraceful regency and reign."
Lord Thurlow seems, in some way or other, to have given offence to every remarkable man of his day. At once crafty and insolent, he toiled for power with an indefatigable labour, as he indulged his sense of authority by an intolerable arrogance. Among the multitude of distinguished men whom this legal savage irritated, was Sir William Jones, the Orientalist. He thus writes to Burke, "I heard last night, with surprise and affliction, that the *Therion* (the wild-beast—Thurlow) was to continue in office. Now, I can assure you, from my own positive knowledge, and I know him well, that though he hates our species in general, yet his particular hatred is directed against none more virulently, than against Lord North, and the friends of the late excellent marquis. He will, indeed, make fair promises, and enter into engagements, because he is the most interested of mortals; but his ferocity in opposing the Contractors' Bill, may convince you how little he thinks himself bound by his compacts. He will take a delight in obstructing all your plans, and will never say, 'Aha, I am satisfied,' until he has overthrown you. In fact, you will not be ministers, but tenants by copy of court-roll at the will of the lord. If you remove him, and put the seal in commission, his natural indolence is such, that he will give you little trouble, because he will give himself none; but, if he continue among you, his great joy will be, and you may rely upon my intelligence, to attack the reports of your select committee, to support all those whom you condemn, and to condemn all the measures which you may support. In a word, if Caliban remain in power, there will be no Prospero in this fascinated island."
At this period, Jones was panting for an Indian judgeship, which he obtained shortly after, and proceeded to Calcutta. It may be doubted, whether his career would not have been happier and loftier had he remained at home. His indefatigable diligence must have soon conquered the difficulties of legal knowledge, and his early intercourse with the leading men of his time, would, in the common course of things, have raised him to distinction. He died at forty-seven, too early to accomplish any work of solid utility, but not too early to spread his reputation through Europe, for an extraordinary proficiency in the languages of India. Later scholars speak lightly of this multifarious knowledge, and nothing can be more probable, than that attainment of many languages, with any approach to their fluent use, is beyond the power of man. But his diligence was exemplary, his memory retentive, and his understanding accomplished by classical knowledge; with those qualities, much might be done in any pursuit; and though modern orientalists protest against the superficiality of his acquirements, their variety has been admitted, and still remain unrivaled.
Jones had his fits of despondency, like less fortunate men, and concludes his letter, by intimating a speculation, not unlike that of Burke himself in his earlier time:—"As for me, I should either settle as a lawyer at Philadelphia, whither I have been invited, or retire on my small independence to Oxford; if I had not in England a very strong attachment, and many dear friends."
One of Burke's most anxious efforts was to make his son Richard a statesman. The efforts were unsuccessful. Richard was a good son, and willing to second the desires of his father; but nature had decided otherwise, and he remained honest and amiable, but without advancing a step. Burke first sent him on a kind of semi-embassy to the headquarters of the emigrant princes at Coblentz, and he there carried on a semi-negotiation. But success was not to be the fate of any thing connected with these unfortunate men, and failure was scarcely a demerit, from its universality. The next experiment was sending him as a species of private envoy to the Irish Roman Catholics; but there his failure was even more conspicuous, though perhaps it was equally inevitable. Burke's imagination was at once his unrivaled gift and his perpetual impediment. Like a lover, his eye was no sooner caught, than he invested its charmer with all conceivable attractions. This susceptibility made him irresistible in a cause worthy of his powers, but plunged him into difficulties where the object was inferior to his capacity, and unworthy of his heart. His early admiration of Fox, of Whiggism, and Reform, was the rapture of an innamorato. He could discover no defects; he disdained all doubts as a dishonourable scepticism, and challenged all obstacles, as evidences of his energy, and trophies of his success. His prosecution of Hastings, a bold piece of patriot honesty, rapidly fermented into a splendid blunder. The culprit, who ought to have been tried at the Old Bailey, was elevated into a national criminal; and the assembled majesty of the legislature was summoned to settle a case in the lapse of years, which would have been decided in a day by "twelve good men and true," in a box in the city. It was in this ardour of spirit that he adopted the Romish cause. No man knew more thoroughly the measureless value of an established church, the endless, causeless, and acrid bitterness of sectarianism, and the mixture of unlearned doctrine and factious politics which constitute their creeds. Against Popery in power, Italian, German, or French, in the days of Louis Quatorze, he would have pledged himself on the ancestral altar to perpetual hostility. But the romance of popery in Ireland struck his fancy; he saw nothing but a figure drooping with long travel in pursuit of privilege; a pious pilgrim, or exhausted giant. Sitting in his closet at Beconsfield, he pictured the downcast eyes and dishevelled hair; the limbs loaded with fetters, and the hands help up in remediless supplication. He grew enamoured of his portraiture, and without waiting a moment to enquire whether it in the slightest degree resembled the reality, he volunteered the championship of Irish popery. His son was commissioned to represent him in this disastrous connexion. But Richard, once on the spot, was instantly and completely undeceived. Instead of his "fair penitent," he found a brawny, bustling Thalestris, wild as the winds, and fierce with the intoxication of impunity. The mild temperament of the plodding missionary was baffled, burlesqued, and thrown into fever: he laboured with humble diligence, but laboured in vain; he talked of conciliation, while popery talked of conquest; he proposed concession, while faction shouted triumph; and, when he suggested the suppression of the old and sharp acerbities of the sects, he was answered by universal laughter.
Burke, awakened at last to the truth of things, recalled him, in a long despatch, concluding in these words—"If you find the Roman Catholics irreconcilable with each other, and that government is resolved to side with them, or rather, to direct those who would betray the rest, then, my clear opinion is, that you ought not to wait the playing the last card of a losing hand. It would be disreputable to you. But when you have given your instruction to the very few in whom you can place confidence for their future temperate and persevering proceeding, that you will then, with a cool and steady dignity, take your leave." So ended the attempt of this man of genius and sensibility to guide an Irish faction in the paths of public tranquillity. He had forgotten that clamour was their livelihood, and grievance their stock in trade. In the simplicity of a noble spirit, he had eloquently implored quacks to take their degrees and follow practice, and solemnly advised travelling showmen not to disturb the public ear by the braying of their cracked trumpets, and he succeeded accordingly. Great as he unquestionably was, he could not make bricks without straw; and after wondering at the perversity of fortune, and lavishing his indignant soul on a hundred splendid perplexities touching the nature of politicians in general, and of Irish politicians in particular, he gave up Ireland as a problem too profound for his analysis, and to be postponed till the discovery of the philosopher's stone.
Richard remained in Ireland for a few months, until he saw the Romish petition thrown out in the House of Commons by an immense majority. He then returned to London, and with the rather forward air of an accredited minister, applied for an interview with the ministry. He was answered by a prompt note from Dundas, sarcastically informing him that there was a viceroy in Ireland, whom his Majesty's government had sent there for the purpose of transacting public business; that they considered him a very proper person for the purpose, and that, in consequence, they saw no positive necessity for managing Irish affairs through any other. "If," says this quiet rebuff, "any of his Majesty's Catholic subjects have any request or representation which they wish to lay before his Majesty, they cannot be at a loss for the means of doing so, in a manner much more proper and AUTHENTIC, than through the channel of private conversation. Having stated this to you, I shall forbear making any observations on the contents of your letter."
On the 2d of August, 1794, his favourite son died, and Burke received the blow with the feelings of one, who regarded the hand of destiny as uplifted against him. His excessive sensibility was agonized by an event melancholy in its nature to all, but which a wise man will regard as the will of the Great Disposer, and a religious man will believe to be a chastisement in mercy.
Burke was both wise and religious, but his feelings habitually bewildered him. All the images of desolation rushed across his creative mind. He was "an uprooted tree," a stream whose course was swallowed up by an earthquake, a wanderer in the wilderness of the world, a man struck down by a thunderbolt! From those fearful fantasies, however, the emergency of public affairs soon summoned him to the exercise of his noble powers; and he gave his country and the world, perhaps the most powerful, certainly the most superb and imaginative, of all his works, the fiery pamphlets on the "regicide peace."
On this unhappy occasion for the condolence of friendship, he received many tributes; but we cannot help quoting one from the celebrated Grattan, which, though characterized by the peculiarities of his style, seems to us a model of tenderness and beauty.
"August 26, 1794.
"My Dear Sir,
"May I be permitted to sympathize where I cannot presume to console.
"The misfortunes of your family are a public care. The late one is to me a personal loss. I have a double right to affliction, and to join my grief, and to express my deep and cordial concern at that hideous stroke which has deprived me of a friend, you of a son, and your country of a promise that would communicate to posterity the living blessings of your genius and your virtue. Your friends may now condole with you, that you should have now no other prospect of immortality than that which is common to Cicero and to Bacon; such as never can be interrupted while there exists the beauty of order, or the love of virtue, and can fear no death except what barbarity may impose on the globe.