« PreviousContinue »
that mock morality, which, assuming to be a fit substitute for religion itself, directly tended to overturn all morals, and every mode of faith. This was a disorder, perfectly distinct from the political evils of the French revolution, and of which no precautions of law or of arms could prevent the contagion. A very superficial observer may perceive some remains of it in our own times. Rejecting the plain and manly distinctions between right and wrong, it inverts the natural course of human feelings. All the objects of philanthropy become valuable in the proportion of their distance. The plainest interests of our country are to be risked for some presumed advantage to other nations, and if that advantage should happen to take the shape of a revolution, no enterprize cau be rash, no risks are unreasonable. But let it be admitted that the object of pursuit is in itself an indisputable good; this peculiar inorality rejects all discretion in the employment of means to attain it, and considers moderation and caution as treason to the cause. The very worst principles of the Jesuits are thus revived by those whose old stock of merit is founded on their resistance to Jesuitry:—though among these heirs sometimes, by a curious perversion, it is not that the end sanctifies the means—but that the means appear to increase in value, as they increase the hazard of missing the attainment of the end itself. No restraints of truth, no calculation of consequences, are to be admitted. Neither the unalterable nature of things, neither justice nor humanity are permitted to obstruct for an instant the favourite purpose. Such is the sickly but still mischievous offspring of the spurious virtue, which Burke encountered with all the force of his learning, his wit, and his philosophy; which in private as in public would exalt sentiment above reason; and delights to sacrifice all existing interests, all actual and palpable good to the success of a general principle.
It was a special merit of Burke's, in the cause which he had undertaken, to quit the defensive topics, the ordinary resource of that cause, and to attack with vigorous spirit and with equal dexterity the strongest bulwarks of his adversaries. In the moment of most critical suspense he, like some bold captain setting his life upon a cast, cheered his adherents by the proof, that the defence of society, property, religion did not of necessity exclude the alacrity and the confidence, which were then employed in assailing them. By enlisting all the powers of imagination and of ridicule in the cause of rational freedom and of social order, he achieved the same service for the political feelings of his countrymen, which Addison had achieved for the improvement of their manners. The topics of his eloquence and the very principles which he defended are displeasing to a
large class of mankind, as trite and dull in themselves, as leading to no distinction and capable of no novelty. To support established institutions and existing systems; to defend these on the ground not of their own perfection, but because, with all their admitted imperfections, they are preferable to the proposed reforms, is obviously not a task so easy or so captivating as the opposite course of attack: for on this side of the question, over and above the want of enterprize, the common effect of possession, there prevails widely, even among the most purehearted men, the fear of the clamorous imputation of self-interest, a corrupt attachment to abuses, at the best a stupid passion for antiquity. The defence therefore requires not only greater discretion, but often greater courage, than the attack; and that courage could not at any period of history be more necessary or more severely tried, than at the crisis, when fashion, and interest, and power, combined to recommend experiments in society and in government; when it seemed natural to confound, in one common censure, institutions evidently vicious and inadequate to the advance of nations in knowledge and civilization, with those which, though ancient, and not faultless, contain in themselves the principle of their own improvement. It was at such a moment that the various, yet correct information, the prophetic acumen, the fervid eloquence of Burke cast a new dignity and an unknown grace of brilliancy on his cause. He rendered it as attractive to the aristocracies of intellect and refinement, as in the nature of things it must ever be to those of blood and wealth; and, when we consider that the philosophers had then become the political rulers of France, and were labouring, not without abundant symptoms of success, to secure the same power over all the nations of Europe—it is not easy to calculate the value of such an advocate. Let us suppose, for a moment, that Burke had given the sanction of his great name to the doctrines of the French revolution at their first eruption; that, in alliance with Thomas Paine and Brissot, he had devoted the resources of his mighty genius to overturn the ranks of society, and to secure the admission and the success of the jacobinical principles in England. Perhaps it was the infirmity of his mind to carry all his opinions to their utmost extreme. With this disposition, with his commanding influence in his own party, and in the nation, can we venture to limit the effect of such an example? Can we be rash in the assertion, that the mind, so singularly powerful in defending and preserving the free institutions of England, would have been most formidably—if not equally-efficient in the work of ruin? We are by no means anxious to enlarge on the hypothetical case, and we desire to draw from it only this inference: that in adjusting our praise and our gratitude to the real merits, the
H H 3
recorded and permanent services of Burke, we should not entirely exclude from our reflections the probable result of a course of policy, the direct reverse of that which he enforced by his eloquence and his example;-that the lofty station, the power and the prosperity of England do not justify a complete oblivion of the evils, from which, above all orators, and writers, and statesmen, this one man contributed to save her.
In the case of ordinary men, who reach any moderate emi. nence in public life, the curiosity which examines their more retired pursuits and habits, is not only patural, but useful, and worthy of encouragement. It is observed to prevail the most forcibly in countries, where the standard of public principle and of private worth is the highest. But when applied to such an individual as Burke,
clarum et venerabile nomen Gentibus; et multùm nostræ quod profuit urbi; we feel that his private life is a species of public property, which may be approached and explored, without any danger of the imputation of a vulgar and prying spirit of inquiry. The malice of mankind delights in detecting and in exposing the failings of those, whose talents or whose fortune have given to them dominion over their fellows. In the inmost privacy of Burke no gratification is reserved for this charitable race. There is no marked or unpleasing distinction between the professions and the fame of the statesman, and the pursuits and the principles of the man. There is nothing to palliate, far less to conceal
. His mind was of that happy cast, which can unbend and recreate itself, without the common stimulus of pleasure; which, from the study of the arts, or of literature, could derive not only a relief, but a substitute for the more exciting pursuits of political distinction.
Many specimens of his.private correspondence have been recently opened to the world; not worked up ambitiously for the eye of rival wits; most of them written long before the period, when all hope of privacy in any, the most trivial of their actions, has been lost to statesmen. The malignant calumpies invented by his political enemies could not have received a more complete or a more noble refutation: the letters of Burke abound in the proofs of his humane and liberal attention to distress; of the warmth and constancy of his friendships. They, regarded in the series, present a character not only free from the grossness of vice, but unspoiled alike by the indulgences of literary vanity, and the splendours of political renown. Alarming as may be the character of a candid friend, we are bound to confess that, in relation to the public life of Burke, there was in his temperament, in his opinions, and often
in the expression of them, a violence and asperity but ill adapted to conciliate enmity, or to preserve persenal attachment. In the course of the trial of Warren Hastings, for example; in the affair of the regency; and even in the quarrel with Mr. Fox, while all men must admire the courage and the firmness of a mind which knew not how to compromise and scarcely to conceal an opinion, his warmest admirers may regret the absence of the more amiable feelings, which in every part of Mr. Burke's private life were not only apparent but prominent. That his character was impregnable in all the severer principles of honour, of justice, or of morality, is an admitted truth. But all the correspondence to which we have alluded, and all the private anecdotes which Mr. Prior and others have recently related, concurin proving, that for the milder affections of the heart, for all the qualities that cheer and exalt ordinary life, and make society delightful or valuable, Burke was as remarkable as for his genius or his eloquence. To his taste and judgment in the finer arts, Sir Joshua Reynolds not only deferred, but was accustomed to confess a debt of gratitude. To the powers of his conversation Johnson himself submitted-or all but submitted. He may be cited as one of the rare examples of great men, whom in the common intercourse of life, neither indolence, nor pride, nor reserve, reduced below the estimate of their public fame. That all these attractive qualities were not obscured by the slightest shade of affectation or of moroseness, it is not useless to record. The all-pervading characteristic was simplicity—a quality which appears to be an inseparable attendant of genius of the highest order. It was equally remarkable in the private habits of Pitt and of Fox, who, alone of Burke's contemporaries, can sustain a comparison with himself, in the splendid distinctions of political life.
We cannot assent to the extreme opinion of those, who, with a spirit somewhat puritanical, will not admit the possibility of public honour being found in statesmen not scrupulous in all the observances of private morality. But in very flagrant cases, it is true that the want of private worth forbids the advance of the most consummate talents to their natural level in the state; and in all cases, according to the degree of this deficiency, we cannot resist a painful sense of imperfection in the character.” With what unmixed satisfaction then may the instance of Burke be contemplated :-in which the whole course and tenour of the private life is in perfect harmony with the brilliancy and the success of public service; in wbich, while all mankind must at once concede the claim to greatness, the most austere cannot refuse the honours of virtue.
ART.VIII.-Sandoval; or the Freemason. By the Author of Don
Esteban. 3 vols. London. 1826. AMONG other tricks of puffing, the authors of Don Esteban
have thought fit to indite a very angry pamphlet, disdainfully rejecting our theory, that their, so called, Spanish novel was not entirely the work of a single, and that a Spanish, hand; and with splendid audacity accusing us of having betrayed entire ignorance of the manners and even the language of Spain, in our mode of criticising their unfortunate duodecimos. We do not feel any very strong temptations to take up seriously the gauntlet so gallantly thrown down by the champion of this Joint Stock Company. The remarks, the authority of which they would so triumphantly crush under the imposing affiche of ' A Spaniard,' were not laid before the public until they had passed under the eyes of at least one real Spaniard ; and our readers may rest assured that we shall take the same precaution upon the present occasion.
No Spanish scholar, we repeat, can read Don Esteban, and as certainly none such can read Sandoval, without being perfectly convinced, that in the composition of the pages thus set forth as composed solely and entirely by ' a Spaniard,' the hand of an English writer-an experienced perman, though by no means a man of considerable talents—has been largely employed. If it were worth while, we could weary ourselves and our readers with proofs of what we assert; but no person, gifted with any degree of discernment, and possessed of even an ordinary knowledge of Spanish customs and manners, can read thirty pages of either performance without coming to the same conclusion : and with this state of matters we, for our part, remain perfectly satisfied. It would not be an easy thing for a Spaniard to have the principal hand in getting up at Madrid, in the Spanish language, description of England by an Englishman, without betraying himself. He might, not improbably, especially if he had ever been in England and happened to be a conceited person, trust now and then to himself, and neglect to consult his English partner :-He might so perhaps come to represent Sunday as the great play-going and ball-giving day in London; confound English clergymen with English parish clerks, &c.; and such blunders might appear in themselves of little importance:—but each of them, nevertheless, would constitute sufficiently the shibboleth of his detection. Exactly so has it fared with the Don before us. The junctura has not always been callida.
For example, how would a native of this island have been staggered, had he encountered, in the pages of such a work as we have been fancying, a note of the following importCruikshanks, Bootmaker; literally, Bandylegs, the Freebooter '?-