Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

such very good company. But surely you forget that I was throwing out reflections on a political event, and not reading a lecture upon the origin and principles of government. How I should treat such a subject is not for me to say; for I never had that intention. The event itself too was of a very mixed nature.

“On all this, however, I hope I shall have the pleasure of conversing with you more fully at Beaconsfield, on your return, if you should go to the continent as early as you intend; but I hope something may keep you in London 'till I can get to town. I shall be ambitious of improving the acquaintance with which you flatter me.

“I have the honour to be, with great respect and many thanks, Sir, your most obedient humble servant,

“ EDMUND BURKE. “ To William Smith, Esq.” &c. &c.

In December, Mr. Burke keeping his eye steadily fixed on the progress of the Revolution, as the great centre of interest to a statesman, drew up a paper, entitled, “ Thoughts on French Affairs,” which was submitted to the private consideration of Ministry, and is marked by the same spirit of fore-knowledge as his other writings on the subject. He arrives at three conclusions of which subsequent experience has taught us the truth--that no counter-revolution in France was to be expected from internal causes only; that the longer the system existed it would become stronger both within and without; and that while it did exist, it would be the interest of the rulers there to disturb and distract all other governments.

The communication made to him from the Empress of Russia, through Count de Woronzow and Mr. Fawkener the British Minister, and already alluded to, produced in return a dignified and complimentary letter, dated from Beaconsfield, November the 1st, insinuating forcibly the necessity for her Majesty adopting, by active exertion as well as by declaration, the cause of all Sovereigns, all churches, all nobility, and all society; that the debt due by her predecessors to Europe for civilizing a vast empire, should now be repaid by that empire to rescue Europe from the new barbarism. An air of doubt, however, pervades this letter, as if he had some suspicion of her zeal in the cause; and, if so, the result proved he did not mistake her character, as she did nothing, and probably never meant to do any thing, against the revolutionary faction. Catherine, who possessed many of the qualities of a great Monarch, was nevertheless the most selfish of politicians; to crime and selfishness, in fact, she owed her crown; and feeling that no danger to it existed among her own subjects where the first elements of freedom were unknown, she had not generosity enough to step forward and assist others in distress when there appeared no prospect of immediate profit from the exertion. The purpose of her communication to Mr. Burke was probably to extract from him a letter of admiration and praise, being always ambitious of the notice of the great literary names of Europe ; but in returning the courtesy due to a Sovereign and a female, it may be questioned whether he did not inflict some violence on his inclination. Of her private character there could be but one opinion. To the general politics of her court, as evinced toward Turkey and Poland, he was no greater friend, particularly in the business of the partitions of the latter, of which he avowed that honest detestation which every man, not a profligate politician, or a robber by profession, must ever entertain.

The grievances of the Irish Catholics exciting increased discussion and dissatisfaction in that country, he was solicited to state and support their claims to the English Ministry, for relaxation of the penal laws. His son also was appointed their agent, and early in January 1792, proceeded to Ireland to influence their proceedings by such moderate counsels as might give effect to his father's exertions here. He carried with him, from his fond parent, the following letter to Lord Charlemont:

“ MY DEAR LORD, « Beaconsfield, Dec. 29, 1791. “ I have seldom been more vexed that when I found that a visit of mere formality had deprived me of the substantial satisfaction which Mrs. Burke and my brother had in seeing you, as well as they had ever remembered you. Many things, at that time, had contributed to make that loss very great to me,

Your Lordship is very good in lamenting the difference which politics had made between Mr. Fox and me. Your condolence was truly kind; for my loss has been truly great in the cessation of the partiality of a man of his wonderful abilities and amiable dispositions. Your Lordship is a little angry at politics that can dissolve friendships. If it should please God to lend me a little longer life, they will not, I hope, cause me to lose the few friends I have left; for, I have left all politics I think, for ever. * Every thing that remains of my relation to the public, will be only in my good wishes, which are warm and sincere, that this constitution should be thoroughly understood, for then I am sure it will be sincerely loved; that its benefits may be widely extended, and lastingly continued ; and that no man may have an excuse to wish it to have another fortune than I pray it may long flourish in. I am sure that your country, in whose prosperity I include the most valuable interest of this, will have reason to look back on what you have done for it with gratitude, and will have reason to think the continuance of your health for her further service, amongst the greatest advantages she is likely to expect.

Here is my son, who will deliver this to you. He will be indemnified for what I have lost. I think I may speak for this my other and better self, that he loves you almost as much as I do.”

Shortly before this, Mr. Burke had commenced writing his celebrated “ Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe, Bart. M.P.” as auxiliary to his son's mission in favour of the Catholic claims. It bears date Ja. nuary 30, 1792, enforces the policy of removing the chief restrictions to which they were subject, particularly that which denied them the elective fran

• This idea was frequently expressed by Mr. Burke, and for the moment he might possibly intend it; but, in reality, his mind was too active and too intent on such topics, to lie dormant whenever an important question presented itself for exercising his capacious understanding, and great political knowledge.

chise, and appeals to the recollection of his friend whether his opinions upon the question were not as fully matured and as strongly expressed 32 years before (1760) as at that moment. So successful were his exertions, aided in part by those of other friends, that a bill was speedily introduced into the Irish Parliament by which the profession of the law, hitherto interdicted to Roman Catholics, became open to them; intermarriages with Protestants legalized; restraints upon their education, and the petty obstruction to arts and manufactures shown in limiting the number of apprentices to masters of that persuasion, removed ; and next year (1793) they gained the elective franchise.

It has been often the fate of the political leaders of Ireland, not to have their designs approved, or perhaps fully comprehended, by persons of the same class in England, either from some radical difference of opinion or conduct, or from the opposite views which the immediate seat of government, and a dependency of such government, may deem it their interest to entertain. On this occasion they were not more fortunate than on others. Young Burke, though from various causes of prepossession, inclined to take the most favourable view of their leading men at that time, found something in their conduct not to his taste. He had some reasons perhaps for being fastidious. To moderation, good sense, and sterling talents, he united a firmness and rectitude of character which led him to augur ill of a country where what he considered contrary qualities prevailed among some

of her chief people, as the following extract of a letter to Mr.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »