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express object of his abhorrence; ' a liberty unconnected with order, which could exist without honesty or virtue'? It was the principal boast of the party in which he had served and which he had commanded, to be the accurate and even the responsible representatives of the principles by which, in the English revolution of 1688, certain definite rights and securities were obtained for this country; could he, then, in the pursuit of vague and undefined freedom, consent to risk the loss of those defined and constitutional benefits? could he consider the doctrines and the practices, which he was, by every principle of his political creed, bound and sworn to condemn if they had been of English growth, as rendered pure and harmless by their importation from France ?
If a statesman can be proved to have been mercenary and treacherous, the remaining parts of his political character may be abandoned to their own merits; and these, therefore, are the favourite and laboured points of attack to the enemies of Burke.
The first charge resolves itself, upon a strict examination, into Mr. Burke's acceptance of a pension at the close of his public life; for, by all the preceding actions of that life, it is refuted in a manner as distinct and unanswerable as Mr. Thomas Moore himself could require. Some allowance, indeed, may be demanded for a scandalous story in certain unpublished papers of Lord Orford: but on the point of scandal purer authority may well be expected, and Mr. Moore has not suggested its existence. But let us come to facts. Nearly the first action of Burke in connection with his political life, when the condition of his private fortune gave the highest value to the sacrifice, was the voluntary abandonment of a pension obtained for him by Mr. Gerard Hamilton, who had made some proposal on the subject implying an expectation of political servitude, and therefore offensive to his feelings; and who will deny that the forbearance of Burke in never proclaiming this action, even as a defence of his supposed desertion of a friend and a patron, greatly enhances its merit? Again, in 1765, Lord Charlemont relates the offer made by Burke to resign his office of private secretary to Lord Rockingham, the moment he learned that prejudices were entertained against him by some of his lordship's colleagues in the government. Lord Charlemont is not a mean authority on any question of political integrity; and it should be observed, that, at the period of this offer, this office was to Burke the only opening to parliament and to political distinction. Again, on the formation of Lord Chathani's administration, though urged by Lord Rockingham himself to accept the office of a lord of trade, Burke refused to abandon the fortunes of his earliest patron. Once more, the seat in parliament for Bristol, so honourably conferred on him, and in
itself an honour of which neither the value nor the effects should be estimated by the feelings of the present times, was risked and lost for no other reason but his intrepid avowal of principles more liberal than those of his constituents. And lastly, in 1782, when paymaster of the army, he voluntarily retrenched from his own emoluments various profits depending on the management of Chelsea Hospital--and the whole interest of the balances of public money, which had been enjoyed by all his predecessors; and even a few years enjoyment of which (for the amount of the interest on these balances was actually upwards of £20,000 per annum) would have made himself infinitely a richer man than he ever was or hoped to be.
If to these unquestionable facts, not arguing corruption or laxity of principle, we add Burke's persevering refusal to accept any office after his junction with Mr. Pitt; if, moreover, we reflect that his pension,' the head and front of his offending;' never solicited by himself, was not accepted before 1795, after his retirement from the active pursuits of his political career; that it was neither a retainer for future service in parliament, nor a bribe to indolence or to incapacity, but the hardly-earned recompense of a laborious public life and of many substantial services to the state :- If we look to the case in all its bearings as it really stands, we shall impute the charge rather to political malice than to political justice. At the worst, we shall hesitate to admit the propriety of the verdict which, on the ground of a single offence, would obliterate the merits and defame the character of a whole existence; and even find some difficulty in admiring the policy or the candour of those who reject, on this sole plea, the honour and the advantage which the long and disinterested attachment of a splendid genius might shed on their own cause.
With regard to the charge of political treachery, we shall be contented with one observation, and that we borrow from Mr. Moore's Life of Sheridan, of which a very unreasonable portion is filled with the most vulgar common-places of rancorous abuse against Burke. It is, in fact, an unconscious refutation of
many of this sprightly partizan's own statements.
In general,' Mr. Moore remarks, 'political deserters lose their power and their value in the very act; and bring little more than their treason to the cause which they espouse; but Burke was mighty in either camp,' &c. &c.
What then was the true cause of this rare exception in the instance of Burke to the common fate of political deserters? Why did not his influence, his power and his character expire with his faith to his party? There is but one intelligible solution of this problem-that he deserved and received the credit, commonly denied to similar cases, of an honest conviction, of a conduct neither capricious nor interested; in other words, that even in the opinion of those from whom he separated himself, there was not only a plausible, but a natural and substantial reason in the events of the times for the apparent inconsistency of their former champion.
Whatever might be said, it was deeply and bitterly felt by those most concerned, that although he quitted the ranks, he could not justly be said to abandon the creed of a party, who had not only carried their own old dogmas to an extreme hitherto unknown, and in the opinion of a large and respectable division of their own army, dangerous to the country; but actually had adopted entirely new principles-principles in direct contradiction to the leading doctrines, and the previous conduct of Burke himself.
In truth, not only did his influence and his character survive the change, as Mr. Moore has confessed, but they were greatly and naturally increased by it. The fortitude, which in deference to a clear public principle enabled him to encounter the storm of personal obloquy, was in itself a just subject of admiration and of gratitude : and the sentiments with which he was received by the party he had adopted, were directly the reverse of those, which are, and ought to be, the unfailing portion of political traitors. The national feeling on the subject was well expressed by Sir Joshua Reynolds, when he applied to Burke Milton's description of Abdiel: that the fervent angel did not abandon his friends, until his friends had proved faithless to his principles.
Tho' single. From amidst them forth he passed.' To trace minutely the influence of Burke as an orator or a writer on his own and on the succeeding age, would lead us beyond our prescribed space; yet in the most superficial view of his character, it would be unpardonable to omit the subject altogether. Admitting the correctness of the celebrated definition of eloquence in the Treatise · De Causis corruptæ Eloquentiæ,' we must consider the period of his life to have been as favourable as any part of English history to the cultivation and the exercise of the art; since in the abundance of the matter of parliamentary eloquence, in the frequent and continued excitement of political agitation, it has assuredly been surpassed by none. Not only is this true of
the season of war, when revolutions in the government and the social condition of great nations were the common topics, the daily resources of public debate: In his days, ' peace also had her victories,' not less remarkable, nor less animating. The questions of coustitutional law from the great case of Wilkes, to the Regency in 1788; the novelty and splendour of the East Indian inquiries; and the 'still more forcible stimulus of party, called forth all the vigour of men, endowed with every faculty for succeeding in political pursuits. And the daily and visibly increasing importance of parliament itself, while it extended the range of subjects in debate, imparted to all which that range included a more general and a more fervid interest.
Among the causes of this increase, there can be no hesitation in classing the influence and the exertions of Burke, as more efficient than those of all his contemporaries. Lord Chatham had probably opened the way to it by the peculiar force of his character, by the original and impressive nature of his eloquence; and still more by the example, so rare before his career, of elevation to the highest power and honours of the state, founded solely on personal merit and parliamentary success. But the secure enjoyment of the right of publishing the debates and the proceedings, to which Burke was mainly instrumental, has, in its skilful and industrious application, contributed far more than any other influence whatever, to transform the House of Commons from the scene of the limited warfare of partizans -not only without interest, but absolutely unknown to the vast majority of the English people-resembling the discussions of a parish vestry, as Burke himself said of them—into the arena of more splendid and more important contentions. No political question, no interest of any class in the nation, could thenceforth be excluded. The whole nation may be considered, without a figure, to be the spectators of the contest; and the prizes are not only political power and honour, but rapid and universal fame.
In forming our judgment on the oratorical merits of Burke and his competitors, we must avoid the too common injustice of applying to them the rules and the habits of other times. To consider the House of Commons as an audience, of which the feelings and the taste can be judged by any fixed and invariable standard, is to take an incorrect view of its character. In the notion of reformers its decisions may not represent with sufficient accuracy the opinions of the people; but its proceedings cannot fail at all times to reflect with the truest precision the tone of national feeling, and the leading points of national interest. The questions, therefore, by which at any given period its attention is engrossed, will vary with the condition, the wants, and even the passions of the people; and the nature of the eloquence, by which its decisions are to be influenced, will naturally obey those variations. This will and must adapt itself to the character and the description of the particular interests and the prevailing questions, which occupy the attention and divide the opinion of the country.
A philosophical view of these periodical changes in the eloquence of parliament would scarcely be inferior to any work in instruction or in interest, and would illustrate not only the political history, but the taste and the manners of England. In these later times, when the practical business of parliament is increased beyond any precedent or any calculation-when the constitution is more settled, and the gradual recovery of the country from the effects of a long and costly war, has of necessity narrowed the questions of public interest, in so far as their character is concerned, to almost a single point-we cannot be surprized to observe, that the eloquence of parliament has assumed a more decided character of business; that dramatic effect should be less studied; that less favour should be shown to the flights of imagination and to rhetorical ornament; in other words, that we should look in vain for many of the characteristic qualities not only of Burke, but, comparatively speaking, of all the orators of his day; that the formal and laboured arrangenient which then prevailed, the frequency of illustration, the indulgence in general topics, and in classical allusion, should have given way to the qualities by which the pressing details of public business are most easily advanced, and most rapidly coneluded. : But beside the changes in the times, there is another cause of this difference, wbich must not be excluded from any just estimate of Burke's oratorical character. It is true of excellence in the art of eloquence, as in all other arts, that it is contagious; and there was a competition in that day, which cannot be soon equalled, and perhaps was never surpassed in the history of parliament. The assembly, in which so many master-spirits laboured to gain the ascendancy, could not fail to witness the struggle with a disinterested pleasure, and to feel almost as keenly for the success of the several combatants as mere intellectual gladiators, as for the substantial results of the contest. Omitting numberless occasions of brilliant competition, we should say that the trial of Warren Hastings, by its duration, by the intense interest of the nation in its earlier proceedings, and calculated as it was, from the magnificent nature of the topics involved, to draw forth into public exbibition all the oratorical talent of the country, had greatly contributed to give to the parliamentary eloquence of that time the character by which it is distinguished from that of all preceding and subsequent periods. This