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general literature, and finally, like him, became a politician. He was with him for a long time in politics. Here ihe parallel closes.
Mr Prior, after alluding to Sheridan's useful and splendid talents, and to his neglect of them, observes :
Even as it was, indolent and dissipated, neglecting study and averse to business, his uncommon natural powers always placed him in the first rank. A good poet, he would not cultivate poetry; the first comic dramatist of the age, and almost in our language, he deserted the drama; a shrewd politician, he wanted that solidity of sentiment and conduct, which, after all, form the surest passports of public men to public favour; a powerful orator, he would not always cultivate that degree of knowledge which could alone render it effective and convincing; he was ready, shrewd, and remarkably cool in temper in debate, but like some advocates at the bar, whose example few prudent men would desire to imitate, he seemed often to pick up his case from the statements of the opposite side. Power, fortune, and distinction, all the inducements which usually work on the minds of men, threw out their lures in vain to detach him from pleasure, to which alone he was a constant votary.
“ With all these deductions, his exertions in parliament were frequent and vigorous; his wit and ingenuity never failed to amuse and interest, if they did not persuade; with greater preparation for parliamentary discussion, few could be more effective. His speech on the Begum charge, of more than five hours' continuance, and considered one of the finest orations ever delivered in parliament, drew from Mr Burke, Mr Fox, and Mr Pitt, compliments of a high and unusual order; and from the house generally, and the galleries,-members, peers, strangers of all sorts by common consent, vebement shouts of applause and clapping of hands. With such powers, who but must regret their inadequate exercise, and unhonoured close ? For it is melancholy to remember that this admired man, the friend of the great, the pride of wits, the ad. miration of sevates, the delight of theatres, the persevering apologist of his party for so many years, should at length be permitted to ter. minate his career in distress; adding another to the many instances too familiar to us, of great talents destitute of the safeguard of ordinary prudence.
Burke belonged to this age. It is not our purpose to give an analysis of the volume, which contains his life, nor to attempt any thing like a full character of this great man. We have no room to do either. Such is the variety presented in his history and character--he was versed in so many things, and was profound in so many, that we should exceed our limits by fully dwelling on any one of them.
Burke holds his preeminence among his fellows, not so much for the extraordinary degree of intellectual power he possessed, as for its direction. He attained to distinction, not among lesser minds,—but among as great, and none greater,
than his own. It was political distinction too, and a very cursory glance at the circumstances, will serve to show that the obstacles he encountered were neither few nor small.
These are to be found in himself, and in his native country; in his condition, and in the nature of the institutions of England. He was without connexion or wealth, and was new to the country. He took, indeed, the popular side in politics, in which the want of external distinction may, at first view, be hardly regarded as a disability. But this view is a mistaken
The leaven of aristocracy was mixed in, and blended with, and acted upon, the whole English character ; and it is a well known fact, that in his own party of whigs, it was not a pleasant matter of reflection, that a man without other distinctions, should by his inherent quality, his natural nobility alone, sweep away all that time and opinion had cooperated to preserve for many of them, and drive them back upon their intellectual resources alone, before they were allowed to think or to act with him. This is so strikingly true, that we cannot help adverting to it. It is not seen in the counter-currents, which are to be found setting in all parties, and which have their spring in merely personal views or interests. It is seen in the less obvious, but not less unequivocal bearing of the party with which he acted, and which he virtually led.
Burke was a commoner of Ireland. This single line is a volume of proof of the inherent disabilities with which he came to England. Ballitore, the scene of his infancy and earliest education, becomes St Omer's in England, and his fine English learning is but a translation from the French. The turbulence and anarchy of his native country were compendiously made to explain his pure love of freedom, and were, forsooth, the sole fountain of his equally pure and overwhelming eloquence.
How opposite to all this were the cases of his great rivals, Fox and Pitt, one of them in his own party, the other opposed to him. These were, in one sense, noblemen of England. They were at home in the country, and were allied to its best. With all this, they had the inherent distinctions of Burke, for their minds also were better than their privileges. Fox, however, loved pleasure as well as occupation, or rather, pleasure was his occupation. Hence, he was not always ready, or more correctly, was not always willing. This occasioned indolence, or habitual dissipation, kept his influence safer, by preventing its over-exertion. Pitt had the prudence of pro
found wisdom. He could not be committed, nor would he ever commit himself. Hence what he gained he never lost. Burke had an exhaustless zeal. He had industry, which was untired. He was always equal to, and, perhaps unfortunately for himself, sometimes greater than the occasion. When it was wanting to other men, either from interest or fear, he created the occasion. It was then, that he appeared in the fulness of his own mind, and of the minds of all others. He takes the guardianship of his country for the time into his own hands, without the formality of inquest or bond; and king and people are safe beneath his function.
This readiness to labour, in the cases from which less honest and less bold men shrink, while it was among the means of his earlier success, was also, we believe, among the causes of his faded influence at a later period.
The circumstances of his age afforded him perpetual opportunities to appear in public, as writer or speaker. The state of his party, too, furnished nutriment to his unfatigued spirit. It was divided. He ranked under the leader, whose principles accorded with his own. Hence he was forever working double tides. He was opposing the minister, a common cause with him and his party ; but he was, at the same time, supporting a subdivision of the whigs, under a nominal leader. This goes far to explain his frequent, and sometimes almost fatiguing appearance in public. It helps to explain, along with his want of rank, the jealousies of friends as well as of foes, against which he had always to contend. plains, too, his diminished influence, and the progress and political elevation of those, who had rank and connexion ;rivals who were with bim, and rivals who were against him. One other cause only needs at present be named. He was for a time, at least, if not always, the greatest man of his age, and it is claiming more persistency for public opinior, however elevated, and however deserved, than belongs to it, to suppose he would always continue the most popular.
It is natural to pass, at once, from the men, to the events of Burke's time. It is necessary to do so, if we would find an explanation of his intellectual power, and especially of its uses, among the circumstances of his age. Two events stand obviously in the foreground,—the revolution in America, and the revolution in France. But there was something in the state of England itself, at that time peculiarly interesting. It may be, that the revolutions, as matters of history, have lost
something of their novelty, from the frequent reference to them in all the contemporary and succeeding history.
The state of England was a continuous event, if we may so express ourselves, full of matter for surprise and admiration. 'England was almost alone, in the unquestioned supremacy of government, when political and moral aflinities were elsewhere dissolving. It had a vast amount of evil within itself to contend with ; but it had also a constitution, which success. fully resisted deep-rooted diseases in its own administration. It at length shook them off. It gave its own inspiration to Burke; and if there was ever a pure and spotless priest at the political altar of a nation, it was he. He has the deepest interest to us, in his vast labours for his country. He passed between the constitution and all that would hurt it, as a father in the defence of an only child. He made sacrifices to this cause, and to his principles, neither common in amount nor degree. He rejected the prospect of advancement at one time, when he opposed the minister, because the path to promotion for him, in that direction, was dishonour; and, in his estimation, public crime. He afterwards gave up bis friends, long known and long loved; not to get new ones under a worthy ministry ; but because the principles he had avowed and defended for a long life, required him to do it.
It is almost a misnomer to call Burke an oppositionist” in the course he took in regard to the American revolution. He was an Englishman desending the rights of Englisbmen. He had learned these rights from a source, which to him was unerring, the constitution. “ The principles and workings” of the constitution had been his earliest and favourite study; and the interest it first excited was never diminished. He knew its whole and real value; and he could not endure the thought of trifling with its privileges or abusing its authority, He was prepared to defend it for India, and he would not shrink from defending it for America. We all know what he did. We all know his failure. We all know his success. His failure was in not saving to his country its colonies. His success is the fulfilment in ourselves of his prophecies and hopes. If we would learn much, and that truly, of the history of our revolution, we should study the writings of Mr Burke. Our present business with him is as a statesman. Rockingham, his leader, is lost in Burke's own individual influence; and the minister is beaten at home, while his armies are slaughtered abroad.
Another event in this age was the French revolution. In its relations to Burke, this event has far more to interest us than has our own revolution. He might be said to have defended our rights for his party's sake; because in that way he might most successfully war upon the minister. In the other case, the part he took admits of no such explanation. It was an open, unequivocal, honest expression of his most deliberate judgment upon the whole moral and political state of France. It had its defence and explanation in the best established principles, and was confirmed, we might say dreadfully confirmed, by the immediately succeeding events. He saw that the earliest movements in France towards revolution, were not for correcting abuses of what for France was otherwise good, but the destruction of all good. It was not their object to check the waste and profligacy of a court, or the licentiousness of a people; to bring within its proper bounds legitimate prerogative, whether royal or noble, and to make a people happier, by bestowing upon it a safe freedom. He saw, that their direct tendency and purpose was the indiscriminate ruin of distinction, and the distinguished; and that in their progress, public and private virtue were to be the surest prey.
Burke understood fully the whole character of this revolution in its earliest movements; and he lost no time, when it became necessary, in declaring his whole views. He made a public and solemn protest against all its principles in his " Reflections” on the revolution; and warned his country in unequalled eloquence, not to fall into the snare, nor to be partaker in the sin. This conduct excited his whole party. The defender of freedom for America, they said, is its enemy for France. The cases, however, were without shadow of parallel, and the perfect consistency of Burke, in this most trying moment of his life, is no longer a matter of sober question. His party broke with him, and Sheridan and Fox went with it. We pass over the rupture with Sheridan, to give some account of that with Fox. It places these two men in strong contrast, and brings out some of their peculiarities.
A bill for providing a constitution for Canada, was brought forward, when Burke was not in the house. When it came up again, Burke, in reply to Fox, alluded to the French constitution, by name; and to the scenes, to which it had given rise. Violent calls to order were immediately made from all quarters, and at length an express vote of censure for noticing these affairs, was moved against him by Lord Sheffield, and