« ElőzőTovább »
EDMUND BURKE, first of our political writers and among the greatest of our orators, was born in 1730, in a house on Arran Quay, Dublin. His father was an attorney, who enjoyed a large and thriving practice. Many of Edmund's early days were spent in the county of Cork, not far from the ruined walls of Kilcolinan, where his namesake Spenser had lived and written, and whence the poet had fled a broken-hearted man.
In his twelfth year young Burke was sent to school at Ballitore in Kildare; and there, under a skilful master, Abraham Shackelton the Quaker, he studied for about two years.
Trinity College, Dublin, where his picture holds an honourable place on the wall of the Examination Hall, received him as a student in 1743. To shine at the English bar was his young ambition; and so he was entered at the Middle Temple in 1747. But he never became a lawyer; his great genius soon found its fitting sphere in a statesman's life. In the meantime, however, he began to write his way to fame. An imitation of Lord Bolingbroke's style, The Vindication of Natural Society, was followed by his well-known Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful. Having married Miss Nugent of Bath, on the strength of an allowance of £200 a year from his father and what his pen could make, he formed additional literary engagements with the bookseller Dodsley. For a sketch of American History in two volumes he received fifty guineas; and was paid at the rate of £100 a volume for the Annual
ORATORY OF BURKE.
Register, which first appeared in 1759. So, writing for daily bread, and struggling manfully with many difficulties, cheered by the love of his wife and his little son, Burke toiled onward and upward, never letting go the hope of fame.
His entrance on political life may be dated from his appointment in 1761 as private secretary to "Single Speech” Hamilton, who then became Chief Secretary for Ireland. The atmosphere of Dublin Castle did not long agree with the clever young Whig, who threw up a lately conferred pension of £300 a year, broke with Hamilton, and returned to London, where a brilliant career awaited him.
Having been appointed private secretary to the Marquis of Rockingham, who became Prime Minister in 1765, Burke in the
following year entered Parliament as member for Wend1766 over in Buckinghamshire. At the age of thirty-six he
stood for the first time on the floor of St. Stephen's
Chapel, whose walls were to ring so often during the next eight-and-twenty years with the rolling periods of his grand eloquence, and the peals of acclamation bursting alike from friend and foe. Among the great men who then sat upon the benches of the ancient hall, Burke at once took a foremost place. The triumphs of his eloquent tongue we cannot follow here, for it is ours to mark only the achievements of his brilliant pen. In the stirring years of the American War he poured out the opulence of a richly-stored mind in many noble orations; but the crown of his glory as an orator was won in the great Hall of Westminster, where, in the presence of the noblest and the fairest, the wisest and most gifted of the land, he uttered the thunders of his eloquence
in the impeachment of Warren Hastings, Governor-Gene1788 ral of India. Opening the case in February 1788 in a
speech of four days, he continued his statement during
certain days of April, and wound up his charges with an address, which began on the 28th of May and lasted for the nine succeeding days. As he spoke, the scenery of the East-rice-field and jungle, gilded temple and broad-bosomed river, with a sky of heated copper glowing over all—unfolded itself in a brilliant
“THE FRENCH REVOLUTION."
picture before the kindled fancy of his audience; and when the sufferings of the tortured Hindoos and the desolation of their wasted fields were painted, as only Burke could paint in words, the effect of the sudden contrast upon those who heard him was like the shock of a Leyden jar. Ladies sobbed and screamed, handkerchiefs and smelling-bottles were in constant use, and “some were even carried out in fits."
Another great subject filled his thoughts during his last years. He foresaw the hurricane that was blackening over France, and, when it broke in fury, he wrote his greatest work, 1790 entitled Reflections on the Revolution in France; in which he lifts a powerful voice to warn England against cherishing at home the fatal seeds that were bearing so terrible a harvest across the waves of the Channel.
From the ceaseless toil of a statesman's life Burke sometimes stole away to his gardens at Gregories, near Beaconsfield, where, so far back as 1768, he had purchased an estate for £20,000. A heavy blow at last fell on his grey head, and bowed it with sorrow to the grave. His dear son Richard, who had been for thirty-six years the light of his eyes, sank under a rapid consumption. With some of Milton's glorious words upon his lips, this gifted man died in the arms of his great father. The world was then all darkness to Edmund Burke. But a little
it was June, and he had sat for the last time in the Commons, glory- 1794 ing in the thought that he had a gallant son to fill the A.D. place he was leaving empty. It was now an August day -a marble mask of that son lay before him in an unclosed coffin, but the spirit had left the clay.
In his retreat at Beaconsfield he still continued to write, producing during his last two years some of his best works. A pension having been conferred on the veteran statesman, two of the Peers thought fit to find fault with the richly-deserved honour. It would have been wise for the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Lauderdale to let the old lion die in peace. They thought that he was toothless, until he rose with gnashing fangs and tore the wretches limb from limb. The Letter to a Noble Lord, called forth
STECIMEN OF BURKE'S PROSE.
by this ungenerous attack, stands next to the “French Revolution” as a specimen of Burke's powerful style. Other works of his last years were Letters on a Regicide Peace and Observations on the Conduct of the Minority. At last he began to sink daily, for his heart
was still bleeding for his son. In vain for four months 1797
the waters of Bath were tried. He returned home to die,
and was laid in a vault under Beaconsfield Church, beside the dust of his darling Richard.
(FROM THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.”) It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in-glittering like the morning star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Oh, what a revolution! and what a heart must I have to contemplate without emotion that eleva. tion and that fall ! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of distant, enthusiastic, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded ; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, never more shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone! It is gone,-that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost balf its evil by losing all its grossness.