Page images

embarrassment, England owes a painter and a poet, Barry and Crabbe. Burke sent Barry to Italy at his own expense, and maintained him through many difficulties. To Crabbe he was of still greater service: the poet while in London, in straightened circumstances and without friends, conceived the happy thought of writing and sending a specimen of his talents to Beaconsfield. The reply and the relief were instantaneous; and under his great patron's fostering care, the author of "The Borough," and the "Tales of the Hall," rose from obscurity, and made the opportunity the means of fame and independence. Nor can it be forgotten, that at Beaconsfield, the priests and laymen who had escaped from the terrors of the French revolution were received with open arms; that Burke, with all his energy and eloquence, raised subscriptions for those unhappy sufferers; that he induced the government to form a school in his neighbourhood for the education of the children of refugees; and that, even in the last sorrowful hours of his life, he never relinquished his attention to the comfort and prosperity of that establishment. These deeds, more than his greatness, speak to his eternal honour; and make one easily accord with Abraham Shackleton, the son of his early friend, who, when Burke was near his death, wrote to him thus: "the memory of Edmund Burke's philanthropic virtues will outlive the period when his shining political talents will cease to act. New fashions of political sentiment will exist; but philanthropy-immortale manet.”

Abraham Shackleton's sister, the talented Mrs. Leadbeater, before-mentioned, wrote, when a girl, a poem descriptive of the mansion at Beaconsfield and

its owner: the following lines are from the introduction :


All hail, ye woods, in deepest gloom array'd!
Admit a stranger through your reverend shade,
With timid step to seek the fair retreat,
Where Virtue and where Genius fix their seat:
In vain retiring from the public gaze,

Not deepest shades can veil so bright a blaze.
Lo! there the mansion stands in princely pride;
The beauteous wings extend on either side;
Unsocial pomp flies from the cheerful gate,
Where hospitality delights to wait;

A brighter grace her candid smile bestows
Than the majestic pillars' comely rows.
Enter these ever-open doors, and find

All that can strike the eye, or charm the mind:
Painting and sculpture there their pride display,
And splendid chambers deck'd in rich array.
But these are not the honours of the dome
Where Burke resides, and strangers find a home;
To whose glad hearth the social virtues move,
Paternal fondness, and connubial love,
Benevolence unwearied, friendship true,
And wit unforced, and converse ever new,
And manners, where the polished court we trace,
Combined with artless nature's noble grace.


When the sad voice of indigence he hears,
And pain and sickness eloquent in tears—
Forsakes the festive board, with pitying eyes,
Mingles the healing draught,* and sickness flies;
Or, if the mind be torn with deep distress,
Seeks, with kind care, the grievance to redress—
This, this is Edmund Burke-and this his creed-
This is sublime and beautiful indeed.

* This is an allusion to Burke's possession of a slight knowledge of practical medicine, which enabled him to administer relief not only to his servants and family, but to his poorer neighbours in the country, when they were unable to pay for more regular advice, or too distant to procure it immediately.

The parliamentary session of 1768 opened in perplexities. America, agitated from one extremity to the other, assumed a tone of remonstrance fast strengthening into defiance. This topic, more especially the flagrant injustice of summoning Americans to England for trial, furnished Mr. Burke with matter of frequent and powerful invective. Unable any longer to carry on the government, Lord Chatham resigned. At this critical moment Wilkes again appeared on the stage, and against the influence of both court and legislature gained the election for Middlesex. His consequent prosecution gave rise to disgraceful riots. Burke, while he disapproved of Wilkes' conduct, exerted himself to the utmost to defeat the unconstitutional methods adopted to crush him.

Mr. Grenville at this period either wrote, or caused to be written, a pamphlet, "The Present State of the Nation;" an elaborate defence of the Earl of Bute's measures and his own. Mr. Burke replied, in his "Observations on a late Pamphlet, entitled, "The Present State of the Nation."" In 1770 he published the "Thoughts on the Present Discontents."

Although on the eve of the American war, the ministry, still obstinately devoted to their policy, adopted the most rash measures against the state of Massachusetts. Mr. Burke, almost alone, steadily opposed them. He took a leading part in the Grenville Election Bill, the Quebec Bill, and several others that affected America. But his most splendid effort was his harangue in favour of Mr. Fuller's motion for repealing the tea-duty. It equals in beauty any piece of oratory Mr. Burke ever composed; and in nerve and force, in all the essentials of

powerful eloquence, surpasses most of them. This is the speech on "American Taxation," the first he could be prevailed on to publish.

In the summer of 1772, Burke visited the continent, and there saw the beautiful but ill-fated Maria Antoinette, whose charms and accomplishments made a lasting impression on his mind.

On the dissolution of parliament, in 1774, a difference with Lord Verney excluding Burke from Wendover, he was elected for Malton, in Yorkshire. Malton, however, had not then the honour of being so represented; for just as the election had terminated, a deputation from Bristol arrived with the flattering invitation to become a candidate for that city. Burke immediately decided; threw himself into a post-chaise, and by travelling night and day with incredible speed, in about four-and-forty hours reached Bristol. Without resting a moment, he repaired to the Guildhall, and addressed a powerful speech to the electors. He had been nominated at a late period, and the canvass of his opponents had already far advanced; yet, nothing daunted, he ventured on the contest, which continued to the very last moment. It terminated in his favour. In returning thanks for his election, he took an opportunity of entering largely into the mutual duties of representatives and their constituents.

The "Boston Port" measures produced, as predicted, the most disastrous results. They exasperated the spirit of all America; they necessitated defence; and they led to the establishment of Congress; thus giving unity and concentration to the hitherto vague and wavering spirit of hostility. The ministry in this embarrassing position, gave powerful

testimony to Burke's far-sighted wisdom, though too late. Lord Chatham now consented to adopt the DECLARATORY ACT. Abundant evidence, given at the bar of the house, also proved that America would have rested tranquil, had the policy of the Rockingham administration been adhered to.

In the session of 1775, Mr. Burke introduced his famous propositions on the subject of "American Conciliation." This is the most elaborate of his speeches on the subject of America, and one of the most powerful he ever delivered. In it he went somewhat further than he had as yet done, though he still cautiously avoided the question of right, and contented himself with denying altogether the possible expediency of taxing America. The time had arrived, in his opinion, when something more was necessary for the tranquillisation of the colony, than the abandonment of a tax. The Americans would formerly have accepted that compromise; they would now be satisfied with it no longer. They demanded a pledge against the possible recurrence of the system. His defence of this advance on his old position was, that a great change of circumstances demanded a change of policy. The whole harangue teems with important principles, adorned and enforced with the prodigal illustrations of his fancy. Mr. Fox said of it, "Let gentlemen read this speech by day, and meditate upon it by night; let them peruse it again and again, study it, imprint it on their minds, impress it on their hearts-they would there learn that representation was the sovereign remedy for every evil."

Burke's eloquent warnings, however, poured forth in vain. The infatuated ministry had no ear for the

« PreviousContinue »