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ART. VII.-Memoir of the Life and Character of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke; with Specimens of his Poetry and Let ters; and an Estimate of his Genius and Talents, compared with those of his great Contemporaries. By James Prior, Esq. Second Edition; enlarged to two volumes by a variety of Original Letters, Anecdotes, Papers, and other Ádditional Matter. London. 1826. 8vo.

THE life of Burke is in truth the history of the period in which he flourished; and that, whether we consider it in a literary or in a political point of view, is unquestionably one of the most memorable in the whole course of English annals. His limited fortune, and still more strongly his taste, impelled him to devote the earlier portion of his years to the labours of literature and in these he ere long attained a distinction so high and conspicuous, as to render in his case the adopted pursuit of political fame more than commonly adventurous. But his very first exertions established him here also in the public opinion, and he quickly rose to be the Parliamentary Leader of the principal division of the Opposition-an eminence which, able as were his competitors, he maintained without a rival for ten busy years. During that time, and indeed to the close of his public life, his fame is connected with every interest of his country, whether in domestic or in foreign policy. On the com parative eloquence of his great contemporaries, as on their comparative fitness to govern the country, there must prevail decided and lasting divisions of opinion; but to Burke, by the admission of all, and to Burke alone, it was given to plant on his age the stamp and the character of his own genius; it was his alone to divert the attention of men from the contemplation of events, in themselves of surpassing interest, to the discussion of his opinions, to the applause or the censure of his writings and his eloquence. It was also his lot not merely to bequeath to posterity the tradition or the record of eloquence; but, unas sisted by any continued possession of power, by rank, by wealth or by connexions, to leave on the free institutions of England, and on the frame of society itself, the deep and lasting impress of his labour and his wisdom. It is little to say that his life deserves to be treated as a theme of lofty and general interest; to preserve a fair and correct estimate of his principles and his services is a sacred debt of national justice, as well as of national policy. Every step which we are taking at the present day in the career of national improvement, while it confirms the sagacity of his forecast, should revive the sense of his merits, and add to the lustré of his just reputation. This mighty name may, by the malice of party,

party, or by the neglect of friends, be for a time obscured, but neither in the annals of English literature, nor of the English constitution, can it be permanently effaced or effectually degraded.

With regard to the period itself comprehended in the life of Mr. Burke-to describe it worthily as a whole, or even to survey in their splendid succession the events which crowd and dignify it, would require powers not inferior to those of Burke himself, when his opinions and his passions had been tempered by age and by some repose from the tumults of political conflict. This task may yet be reserved, in our own times, for one of the most accomplished of his antagonists; and to a contest with that great mind, the survivor may be in part indebted for the capacity of completing it with success and with honour. The progress of the national liberty, the conflicts between the several orders of the state, the then truly important and animated contests of partythese are but a small part of the topics in domestic history, of which the selection alone must be embarrassing to the pourtrayer of that period. Those of its external history are not inferior in rank or in interest. The loss of a magnificent empire in America, and the gradual acquisition of another yet more magnificent in Asia; the revolutions of Poland and of France, with the wars and negociations to which they gave birth-these are events which seem to raise the dignity of history itself, and which cannot sink into obscurity because they are not chronicled-carent quia vate sacro: Their results are still progressive; their influence is indelibly impressed on the condition of nations-on the general fortunes of mankind.

While topics like these give splendour and interest to the work of the writer, they confirm our sense of his numerous difficulties. If his essay be not degraded by an unfair or illiberal spirit, if it does not display any signal defects of knowledge or of taste, we feel a sincere disposition to accept it with gratitude; and to abstain from the censure of imperfections, of which the nature of such an enterprize is at once the cause and the apology. A period, so productive of all the materials of history, and in which the faculties of individuals were roused into such strong and continued action, could not fail to inspire men with qualities proportioned to the gigantic interests that surrounded them; to produce beings capable of reflecting back upon their timès some portion of the lustre which their times conferred on them. It would not, indeed, be an easy task to fix on any æra of English history, at which every branch of active or of contemplative life has been so abundantly filled with characters above the level of ordinary capacities, and fairly entitled to a prominent and permanent station in our political and literary records. And that writers, in


all respects qualified to record the lives of such men, so favoured by circumstances, should have rarely and gradually appeared, is rather a subject of regret than of surprize.

Until the publication of Mr. Prior, which, though not a faultless, is yet unquestionably a valuable addition to English biography, Mr. Burke, not more fortunate than his greatest contemporaries, had been in one instance consigned to the mean malignity of an adverse partisan, and in another to a scanty and imperfect memoir, totally unworthy of himself and of his country.

It must be admitted, that no branch of literature is more difficult than the biography of eminent statesmen; and the difficulties are unhappily in exact proportion to their eminence. It It presses so closely on history, that to draw the necessary line of distinction between the two walks is not the work of ordinary judgment and taste. Beside all the principal qualifications of the historian, this requires greater delicacy of tact, and a finer discrimination, as it is more strictly conversant with manners and with individual character. And then again the right selection of the details of private life is obviously more embarrassing in the case of statesmen, than in lives of men distinguished in the arts or in literature. To dismiss these matters entirely, as various authors have done, is to strip biography of its peculiar advantage, its essential attraction. On this point we are bound to commend the work of Mr. Prior, by whom these details are judiciously selected and related with excellent feeling; many of them had been hitherto unknown to the public, and they are neither too numerous nor too trivial to encumber the narrative of the political life, to which they give relief and interest. The book before us is also guiltless of a defect fatal to all writers who trespass too largely on the province of the published debates in parliament. It is not a dry register of the speeches of Burke; yet the quotations from them are not insufficient to the purpose of marking the peculiar character of his eloquence.

That it is absurd to wish for a better life of Burke, it would be ridiculous to assert. Mr. Prior is perspicuous, and sometimes forcible, but he cannot be deemed an elegant writer, nay, he is often an incorrect one. On the defects of composition, however, we hesitate to enlarge, when there is no gaudy profusion of ornament, no ambitious parade of rhetoric or of learning; and when we have the more grateful task, whatever may be the credit given to this critical assertion, of pointing out substantial merits in the matter. Our author has entered into the importance of his subject with a zeal so entire and so heart-felt, that on no occasion is it sacrificed to his own vanity; we have not to fear the danger, as in some contemporary instances, of being seduced to forget the


hero himself in the display of the learning or the opinions of his historian. The work certainly is a friendly and a defensive statement of Burke's political career; but when we reflect on the decided tone of his principles, on the marked character of his actions, we never desire to meet with any English writer, who can preserve an absolute neutrality in describing them. Moreover, it is undeniable, as Mr. Prior has observed, that the memory of this great man, as yet unprotected by any honest record of his actions, has been, down to this hour, persecuted with a hunt of obloquy' even fiercer and less relenting than that which he has himself described as pursuing him full cry through life.' We are happy, therefore, to receive some statement on the favourable side of the questionnot at the same time unconscious that the truth must be extracted from a cautious examination and candid estimate of the conflicting testimonies.

In treating of the earlier part of Mr. Burke's career, in times which have been thrown into comparative obscurity by the interest at once nearer and higher of more modern events, Mr. Prior has added to the ordinary stock of public information, and has for ever established the claim of Burke to many services affecting the freedom, the laws, and the constitution of England, which had been studiously cast into the shade by his numerous revilers, or slighted and overlooked by his injudicious advocates. Nor can we omit to bear our testimony to the value and interest of the Correspondence which these volumes include. The Letters to Barry, in whatever work they had appeared, must at once have been referred to the taste and the genius, which alone could have produced them. These, and many other original papers recently given to the public in various periodical works, while they present a new and unsuspected testimony to the kindness of Burke's heart, and the humanity of his disposition, illustrate at the same time the extent and the penetration of his intellect, which by a rare combination of qualities enabled him to master the minutest details, as completely as the general principles, of every subject; and in all to reach the point of excellence, to which nature and habit impelled him to aspire.

We cannot feel the necessity of any apologies to justify some remarks on the prominent actions and on the national services of Burke, since not only their value and their quantity, but their very nature and quality have been skilfully depreciated, and industriously misrepresented. The naked truth of the case would indeed justify language on this subject, far more pointed and more indignant than Mr. Prior has applied to it; to any animadversion on Burke as an orator, a writer, or an individual, we must never forget to apply the rule of ascertaining the political sentiments of the author, before we assent to any one of his conclusions: for this reputation

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reputation has long been considered as a sort of open unbarriered arena, on which every sciolist of politics, every raw pretender to patriotism had the right to exercise his studied common-places. The ordinary fate of illustrious statesmen has been reversed in this case; reviled and calumniated as these may have been in life, they commonly obtain in the tomb, not only justice but favour, from their bitterest enemies. But no reader of Mr. Moore or Mr. Belsham requires to be informed, that with the zealots of party and of reform there is, down to this hour, no truce in the warfare against the memory of Burke; that with them suspicion is uniformly to be admitted as guilt; that all his real defects are to be magnified, and his real merits to be extenuated; while the bare imputation of inconsistency is to cancel at one fell swoop' the services which cannot be disputed. Yet if all the claims of his active life were renounced, Burke has a posthumous right to some defence of his fame, which the most exalted republican might well hesitate to refuse; since from some part of his writings the first conception of many liberal doctrines, nay more, of many state measures of a liberal policy, the sole foundation of the merit of living statesmen with the revilers of Burke, have been distinctly if not confessedly derived. For what great question regarding the constitution of his country, the improvement of her policy, or the general advancement of nations in freedom and refinement, has he left untouched; or, we should rather say, unprobed? In law, as in commerce, in the theory as in the practice of constitutional freedom, he had outstripped the spirit and the knowledge of his age, and anticipated the conclusions of posterity..

Let us briefly advert to the motley composition of this host of enemies. That he should be branded as a deserter from their cause, by the representatives of the numerous and powerful party, whom he abandoned at the time of the French Revolution, is natural enough; but what can be sufficient to account for the peculiar and ferocious malignity, with which the name and memory of one man are assailed, excepting the number, the character, and the influence of the statesmen who followed and justified the example of his flight?

Far below this party in dignity and in influence, but far superior in number, there is another political party in England, by which the name of Burke is held in still deeper execration. These may be said to be the reverse of that class of mankind, to whom the reputation of this great man is the most valuable, and who are not so alert and stirring a portion of the community;—namely, those who, if they feel and reason, can never reflect on the secure possession of their property, or the peaceful enjoyment of their civil rights, or the exemption of England from the long succession of calamities which has afflicted every other nation of Europe, without some


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