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Letter to the Duke of Portland on the Conduct of the Minority.
Letter to Mr. Smith.-Character of Mr. Dundas.-Remarks on the Policy of the Allies.—Letters to General O'Hara, Mr. Murphy, and Mr. Dolphin.-Richard Burke the Elder.-Report upon the causes of the duration of Mr. Hastings's Trial.Death of Young Burke.--Dr. Laurence's Letters.
THE tendency of the politics of Mr. Fox becoming more generally questioned in the country, and to many a source of suspicion, if not of apprehension, he thought it necessary to explain and defend his conduct more at large, by a letter addressed to his constituents, the electors of Westminster. This piece Mr. Burke characterized generally as eloquent, but displaying more forbearance than his friend Fox thought it necessary to display towards his
Reflections,” he refrained from invidious criticism. Dr. Parr, however, though so staunch a friend of the “ Man of the People,” expressed himself slightingly of the taste and literary merits displayed in its execution, observing in conversation,
“ there were in it passages at which Addison would have smiled and Johnson growled.
A resolution of the Whig Club about this time, moved by Lord William Russell,—that their confidence in Mr. Fox was confirmed, strengthened, and increased by the calumnies against him—did not appear to operate much in setting him right in public opinion. But being evidently levelled at the exceptions taken to his parliamentary conduct by Mr.
Burke, Mr. Windham, Sir Gilbert Elliot, and others, they immediately withdrew their names from the Club to the number of forty-five noblemen and gentlemen, writing their reasons for seceding; and it being insinuated that the Duke of Portland had concurred in the obnoxious resolution, Mr. Burke in justification of his own, and his friends' censures, drew up for the consideration of his grace, as the head of the party, the famous “ Observations on the Conduct of the Minority.”
This paper details, under fifty-four heads, a strong case against Mr. Fox, which that gentleman's friends, with their usual zeal, characterized as an unjustifiable proceeding; but it is difficult to conceive for what reason, except it be deemed unfair and injudicious to detach those we respect and desire to serve, from attachments and from proceedings which we ourselves hold to be wrong, and which are held to be so by the great body of the nation. Thinking upon public affairs as Mr. Burke was known to do, it is not to be supposed that he would act otherwise than he did. The paper was transmitted to the Duke as a confidential communication sealed up, with an intimation that he did not even desire it to be read by him until a disconnexion of interests with Mr. Fox should take place, which the sagacious writer pronounced to be ultimately inevitable. It cannot therefore be justly characterized as being meant to produce a rupture between that nobleman and his leader in the House of Commons, but rather as a matter for consideration consequent upon such an event occurring from other causes.
His own words in the letter to the Duke which accompanied the paper are
“ I now make it my humble request to your Grace, that you will not give any sort of answer to the paper I send, or to this letter, except barely to let me know that you have received them. I even wish that at present you may not read the paper which I transmit; lock it up in the drawer of your library table, and when a day of compulsory reflection comes, then be pleased to turn to it. Then remember that your
Grace had a true friend, who had, comparatively with men of your description, a very small interest in opposing the modern system of morality and policy; but who under every discouragement was faithful to public duty and to private friendship. I shall then probably be dead. I am sure I do not wish to live to see such things; but, whilst I do live, I shall pursue the same course.”
Communicated thus in confidence, it might have remained for ever, or for along time at least, unknown to the world, but for the scandalous breach of confidence committed by the amanuensis of Mr. Burke, an ungrateful and unprincipled man named Swift whom he had rescued from abject poverty, who having kept a copy of what he was employed to transcribe, surreptitiously printed it in 1797, under the invidious title of “ Fifty-four Articles of Impeachment against the Right Hon. C. J. Fox.” Mr. Burke being then at Bath confined to his bed, his friends in town obtained an injunction from the Chancellor to stop the circulation, but too late to prevent the distribution of many copies through the country. He wrote directly to Dr. Lawrence, desiring him to disclaim the act and the intention of publication, but not one of the sentiments which the paper contained.
The aim of it was unquestionably to beat down the belief that either the late conduct or opinions of Mr. Fox were constitutional, and to show that his proceedings on many recent occasions evinced an ambitious, a meddling, almost a treasonable,* any thing indeed but a patriotic spirit. The heated exaggerations of his friends perhaps required to be cooled down to this freezing level. The care with which they reported his speeches and detailed his sentiments, so that not a single idea worthy of notice, or a merit of any kind belonging to him should be lost to the public, was pointedly mentioned in the late session by the subject of this memoir, and the fact will recur to the memory of most readers of political history. Mr. Burke, however, should not have mentioned what in great measure originated with himself, except indeed he imagined he possessed an exclusive privilege to pull down the idol he had chiefly contributed to raise. He it was who first gave Mr. Fox to the world as a great man. He wrote him and spoke him into public esteem. He enlisted him into his party. He pushed him forward to lead to a certain degree the Rockingham connexion even over his own head, regardless of personal interests, or of that still greater object, personal importance, which was sure to accrue to himself from keeping such an ally at a distance. He knew that Mr. Fox, as much by his connexions as by his talents and rising popularity, would be most useful to his party, and that from his friendships
* This alludes to sending his friend Mr. Adair with his cypker to St. Petersburg, to counteract the objects at which the Embassador of the Crown aimed-an unprecedented occurrence in the history of the Opposition.
with, and sway over, the most promising young men coming forward in Parliament, he was likely to possess a weight there which he himself, from many causes already specified, could not hope to acquire. There was the further motive of the regard of a master for a favourite pupil, for he tells us that Fox was brought to him when only a boy of fourteen; the triumph of one therefore was in some degree a merit of both.
All this partiality, therefore, was not without an object; but it was a party, not a private object; and therefore exhibited his personal disinterestedness. The fact shows us likewise the total absence on his part of any feeling akin to jealousy. It must not however be understood that he ever submitted to become a secondary person in this junction of interests, which was strictly in the nature of an alliance rather than a subjection of one to the other, for both continued to be principals ; Burke being perhaps on the majority of occasions the real actuating spirit, and Fox the nominal leader of the party. It is at least certain that whatever the one had determined to do, the other found it expedient to approve.
There will not be a question therefore among those who are best acquainted with the political history of their mutual career, that Mr. Fox would never have arrived at that pre-eminence in his party, or in the country, which he possessed, had it not been for the active aid and counsel of Burke.*
The following letter, written about this time to
* Of his fondness to applaud, or as somebody has termed it, to puff his pupil as much on private as on public occasions, the fol.