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- Burke's Speech on Conciliation with America - 2/16 -


became a student at Trinity College, Dublin, and remained there five years. At college he was unsystematic and careless of routine. He seems to have done pretty much as he pleased, and, however methodical he became in after life, his study during these five years was rambling and spasmodic. The only definite knowledge we have of this period is given by Burke himself in letters to his former friend Richard Shackleton, son of his old schoolmaster. What he did was done with a zest that at times became a feverish impatience: "First I was greatly taken with natural philosophy, which, while I should have given my mind to logic, employed me incessantly. This I call my FUROR MATHEMATICUS." Following in succession come his FUROR LOGICUS, FUROR HISTORICUS, and FUROR PEOTICUS, each of which absorbed him for the time being. It would be wrong, however, to think of Burke as a trifler even in his youth. He read in the library three hours every day and we may be sure he read as intelligently as eagerly. It is more than probable that like a few other great minds he did not need a rigid system to guide him. If he chose his subjects of study at pleasure, there is every reason to believe he mastered them.

Of intimate friends at the University we hear nothing. Goldsmith came one year later, but there is no evidence that they knew each other. It is probable that Burke, always reserved, had little in common with his young associates. His own musings, with occasional attempts at writing poetry, long walks through the country, and frequent letters to and from Richard Shackleton, employed him when not at his books.

Two years after taking his degree, Burke went to London and established himself at the Middle Temple for the usual routine course in law. Another long period passes of which there is next to nothing known. His father, an irascible, hot- tempered man, had wished him to begin the practice of law, but Burke seems to have continued in a rather irregular way pretty much as when an undergraduate at Dublin. His inclinations were not toward the law, but literature. His father, angered at such a turn of affairs, promptly reduced his allowance and left him to follow his natural bent in perfect freedom. In 1756, six years after his arrival in London, and almost immediately following the rupture with his father, he married a Miss Nugent. At about the same time he published his first two books, [Footnote: A Vindication of Natural Society and Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful] and began in earnest the life of an author.

He attracted the attention of literary men. Dr. Johnson had just completed his famous dictionary, and was the centre of a group of writers who accepted him at his own valuation. Burke did not want for company, and wrote copiously.[Footnote: Hints for an Essay on the Drama. Abridgement of the History of England] He became associated with Dodsley, a bookseller, who began publishing the Annual Register in 1759, and was paid a hundred pounds a year for writing upon current events. He spent two years (1761-63) in Ireland in the employment of William Hamilton, but at the end of that time returned, chagrined and disgusted with his would-be patron, who utterly failed to recognize Burke's worth, and persisted in the most unreasonable demands upon his time and energy.

For once Burke's independence served him well. In 1765 Lord Rockingham became prime minister, and Burke, widely known as the chief writer for the Annual Register, was free to accept the position of private secretary, which Lord Rockingham was glad to offer him. His services here were invaluable. The new relations thus established did not end with the performance of the immediate duties of his office, but a warm friendship grew up between the two, which lasted till the death of Lord Rockingham. While yet private secretary, Burke was elected to Parliament from the borough of Wendover. It was through the influence of his friend, or perhaps relative, William Burke, that his election was secured.

Only a few days after taking his seat in the House of Commons, Burke made his first speech, January 27, 1766. He followed this in a very short time with another upon the same subject--the Taxation of the American Colonies. Notwithstanding the great honor and distinction which these first speeches brought Burke, his party was dismissed at the close of the session and the Chatham ministry formed. He remained with his friends, and employed himself in refuting [Footnote: Observations on the Present State of the Nation] the charges of the former minister, George Grenville, who wrote a pamphlet accusing his successors of gross neglect of public duties.

At this point in his life comes the much-discussed matter of Beaconsfield. How Burke became rich enough to purchase such expensive property is a question that has never been answered by his friends or enemies. There are mysterious hints of successful speculation in East India stock, of money borrowed, and Burke himself, in a letter to Shackleton, speaks of aid from his friends and "all [the money] he could collect of his own." However much we may regret the air of mystery surrounding the matter, and the opportunity given those ever ready to smirch a great man's character, it is not probable that any one ever really doubted Burke's integrity in this or any other transaction. Perhaps the true explanation of his seemingly reckless extravagance (if any explanation is needed) is that the conventional standards of his time forced it upon him; and it may be that Burke himself sympathized to some extent with these standards, and felt a certain satisfaction in maintaining a proper attitude before the public.

The celebrated case of Wilkes offered an opportunity for discussing the narrow and corrupt policy pursued by George III. and his followers. Wilkes, outlawed for libel and protected in the meantime through legal technicalities, was returned to Parliament by Middlesex. The House expelled him. He was repeatedly elected and as many times expelled, and finally the returns were altered, the House voting its approval by a large majority. In 1770 Burke published his pamphlet [Footnote: Present Discontents] in which he discussed the situation. For the first time he showed the full sweep and breadth of his understanding. His tract was in the interest of his party, but it was written in a spirit far removed from narrow partisanship. He pointed out with absolute clearness the cause of dissatisfaction and unrest among the people and charged George III. and his councillors with gross indifference to the welfare of the nation and corresponding devotion to selfish interests. He contended that Parliament was usurping privileges when it presumed to expel any one, that the people had a right to send whomsoever they pleased to Parliament, and finally that "in all disputes between them and their rulers, the presumption was at least upon a par in favor of the people." From this time until the American Revolution, Burke used every opportunity to denounce the policy which the king was pursuing at home and abroad. He doubtless knew beforehand that what he might say would pass unnoticed, but he never faltered in a steadfast adherence to his ideas of government, founded, as he believed, upon the soundest principles. Bristol elected him as its representative in Parliament. It was a great honor and Burke felt its significance, yet he did not flinch when the time came for him to take a stand. He voted for the removal of some of the restrictions upon Irish trade. His constituents, representing one of the most prosperous mercantile districts, angered and disappointed at what they held to be a betrayal of trust, refused to reelect him.

Lord North's ministry came to an end in 1782, immediately after the battle of Yorktown, and Lord Rockingham was chosen prime minister. Burke's past services warranted him in expecting an important place in the cabinet, but he was ignored. Various things have been suggested as reasons for this: he was poor; some of his relations and intimate associates were objectionable; there were dark hints of speculations; he was an Irishman. It is possible that any one of these facts, or all of them, furnished a good excuse for not giving him an important position in the new government. But it seems more probable that Burke's abilities were not appreciated so justly as they have been since. The men with whom he associated saw some of his greatness but not all of it. He was assigned the office of Paymaster of Forces, a place of secondary importance.

Lord Rockingham died in three months and the party went to pieces. Burke refused to work under Shelburne, and, with Fox, joined Lord North in forming the coalition which overthrew the Whig party. Burke has been severely censured for the part he took in this. Perhaps there is little excuse for his desertion, and it is certainly true that his course raises the question of his sincere devotion to principles. His personal dislike of Shelburne was so intense that he may have yielded to his feelings. He felt hurt, too, we may be sure, at the disposition made of him by his friends. In replying to a letter asking him for a place in the new government, he writes that his correspondent has been misinformed. "I make no part of the ministerial arrangement," he writes, and adds, "Something in the official line may be thought fit for my measure."

As a supporter of the coalition, Burke was one of the framers of the India Bill. This was directed against the wholesale robbery and corruption which the East India Company had been guilty of in its government of the country. Both Fox and Burke defended the measure with all the force and power which a thorough mastery of facts, a keen sense of the injustice done an unhappy people, and a splendid rhetoric can give. But it was doomed from the first. The people at large were indifferent, many had profitable business relations with the company, and the king used his personal influence against it. The bill failed to pass, the coalition was dismissed, and the party, which had in Burke its greatest representative, was utterly ruined.

The failure of the India Bill marked a victory for the king, and it also prepared the way for one of the most famous transactions of Burke's life. Macaulay has told how impressive and magnificent was the scene at the trial of Warren Hastings. There were political reasons for the impeachment, but the chief motive that stirred Burke was far removed from this. He saw and understood the real state of affairs in India. The mismanagement, the brutal methods, and the crimes committed there in the name of the English government, moved him profoundly, and when he rose before the magnificent audience at Westminster, for opening the cause, he forced his hearers, by his own mighty passion, to see with his own eyes, and to feel his own righteous anger. "When he came to his two narratives," says Miss Burney, "when he related the particulars of those dreadful murders, he interested, he engaged, he at last overpowered me; I felt my cause lost. I could hardly keep my seat. My eyes dreaded a single glance toward a man so accused as Mr. Hastings; I wanted to sink on the floor, that they might be saved so painful a sight. I had no hope he could clear himself; not another wish in his favor remained." The trial lasted for six years and ended with the acquittal of Hastings. The result was not a surprise, and least of all to Burke. The fate of the India Bill had taught him how completely indifferent the popular mind was to issues touching deep moral questions. Though a seeming failure, he regarded the impeachment as the greatest work of his life. It did much to arouse and stimulate the national sense of justice. It made clear the cruel methods sometimes pursued under the guise of civilization and progress. The moral victory is claimed for Burke, and without a doubt the claim is valid.

The second of the great social and political problems, which employed English statesmen in the last half of the eighteenth century, was settled in the impeachment of Warren Hastings. The affairs of America and India were now overshadowed by the French Revolution, and Burke, with the far-sighted vision of a veteran statesman, watched the progress of events and their influence upon the established order. In 1773 he had visited France, and had returned displeased. It is remarkable with what accuracy he pointed out the ultimate tendency of much that he saw. A close observer of current phases of society, and on the alert to explain them in the light of broad and fundamental principles of human progress, he had every opportunity for studying social life at the French capital. Unlike the younger men of his times, he was doubtful, and held his judgment in suspense. The enthusiasm of even Fox seemed premature, and he held himself aloof from the popular demonstrations of admiration and approval that were everywhere going on. The fact is, Burke was growing old, and with his years he was becoming more conservative. He dreaded change, and was suspicious of the wisdom of those who set about such widespread innovations, and made such brilliant promises for the future. But the time rapidly approached for him to declare himself, and in 1790 his Reflections on the Revolution in France was issued. His friends had long waited its appearance, and were not wholly surprised at the position taken. What did surprise them was the eagerness with which the people seized upon the book, and its effect upon them. The Tories, with the king, applauded long and loud; the Whigs were disappointed, for Burke condemned the Revolution unreservedly, and with a bitterness out of all proportion to the cause of his anxiety and fear. As the Revolution progressed, he grew fiercer in his denunciation. He broke with his lifelong associates, and declared that no one who sympathized with the work of the Assembly could be his friend. His other writings on the Revolution [Footnote: Letter to a Member of the National


Burke's Speech on Conciliation with America - 2/16

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