תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

this various accumulation, he stepped into public life, fully accomplished, completely armed, and without an equal in whatever constitutes, adorns, and consummates the statesman and the senator.

Great orators and great politicians came afterwards upon the stage, but they did not come to eclipse his glory, but rather to provoke and illustrate bis excellence, and to bear testimony to the Creative force of his example. We shall indulge ourselves in very few remarks upon the great parliamentary characters with whom Mr. Burke was destined to act, or to contend. Fully to comprehend his merit, it is necessary for us to view it in comparison with cotemporary and surrounding excellence. Having gone a little beyond our warrant in the retrospective view which we have taken of him, we cannot stop short of this ultimate justice to his character. Ready as we are to acknowledge the eloquence of the parliamentary leaders of his time, we claim for him one disUnguishing excellence, which raises his fame above comparison with modern orators: we mean the union of philosophy with eloquence. In listening to the efforts of other orators, we have felt all the sympathy and emotion of which the mind is capable--all which the rapid, the argumentative, and the persuasive, can produce on the hearer--all which solidity, pathos, or splendour, whether derived from original or assisted powers, can convey, of pleasure, wonder, or conviction, to the heart or understanding : but that profound delight which fills, invigorates, and refreshes the soul from the fountains of perennial truth, and deep-seated philosophy; that serious sober rapture which the consciousness of intellectual expansion, and the feeling of permanent acquisition in science, produce, are the witnesses in our bosoms to the substantial superiority of Burke.

For the decoration of these solid materials Mr. Burke had within himself, or within his reach, an exhaustless store of imagery and diction. The whole classic world was in obedience to him ; be had visited all its recesses, its groves, its fountains, and its dirinities. It is thus that his speeches and compositions, though, for the most part, temporary and local in their leading subjects, have inseparably connected themselves with the permanent literature of his country. While his mind acquired depth and breadth from his early acquaintance with metaphysics, his taste preserved him from its subtlety. The learning of antiquity was so wro:ght into the staple of his understanding, as to become his own both for use and ornament, without the pomp or impertinence of quotation.

It is on this account that he is distinguishable from all those : speakers and writers whose heads are full of other men's thoug!its, is well by his abstinence as by his abundance.

His style is unaffected, majestic, and copious; neither rendered į obscure by the dentsity of his matter, nor florid by the luxuriance

of his imagination. It has sometimes heen his fate, as it was the

fate of Cicero, to be charged with being diffuse, Asiatic, and tumid. But such a criticism could come only from those who have been unequal to estimate the value of his matter, and the dignity of his manner. The mean betwixt the magna and the nimia, the plena and the tumida, the sublimis and the abrupta, the severa and the tristis, the læta and the luxuriosa, ought to be felt and understood by him who would properly appreciate the merits of Mr. Burke's writings.

We have often heard it said that Bolingbroke was his model. He was certainly very conversant with his writings at an early age, since the first production of his pen appears to have been the vindication of natural society, in imitation, and in ridicule of the philosopher's levity, insolence, and dogmatism. That he may insensibly have acquired some habits from the profound attention he paid to the works of Bolingbroke, for the sake of exposing him, is not unlikely. But we are of opinion that an original thinker never studiously copies the manner of any other. His thoughts are too impatient and independent to be kept within any prescribed course: like the salient sources of a cataract, they find a channel wherever the soil yields them a passage, or hurry along the proclivities which nature has prepared for them.

In the qualifications, which we have principally touched upon, Mr. Burke was plainly superior to Mr. Fox, whose abilities were peculiarly, we had almost said exclusively, parliamentary. We cannot hesitate to admit, that the latter was in all points and requisites the most accomplished debater that the world has produced. So vast and varied were the powers of his oratory, so astonishing his force and celerity, that though the clearest, and most natural of all speakers, he became sometimes obscure from the difficulty alone of following him. Tantus enim cursus verborum fuit, et sic evolavit oratio, ut ejus vim et incitationem adspexeris, vestigia ingressumque vir videris.

It is not difficult to apprehend the distinction between the species of eloquence in which Mr. Burke and Mr. Fox respectively excelled, however arduous it may be to express it in words. When two persons have risen so near the summit of an art, they must possess many things in common. In all essential qualities each must necessarily abound. The manner and the proportions in which these qualities are mixed, afford, by their results, the practical ground of distinction. To be full of their subject, to see it in all its bearings, to feel all its strength and all its weakness, to illumine what was dark, to raise what was low, to amplify, to condense, to inflame, to mitigate, to control the sources of persuasion, and to command the avenues to conviction, was the prerogative of each of those distinguished persons. A certain vehemence, almost irresistible, belonged to both; though the one seemed to have become irresistible by his bulk, the other by his velocity.

The eloquence of either might be compared to a river; but the one was overpowering by the weight of its waters, the other by the impetus of its stream. On the one majestically rode the merchandise of the world, “opimo flumine Ganges;" the other from its crystal sources rushed precipitately down the mountain's sides, carrying fertility to the plains, giving strength and freshness to the colours of nature, and enriching our domestic soil. All that was great was collected in Mr. Burke ; all that was strong was generated in Mr. Fox. To the minds of both every thing was present that the occasion demanded: but that compass of thought and knowledge which surrounds and invests a subject; which comprehends its most distant results, and, raising it above party views, exhibits all its grand relations to human nature and society, was, in an eminent degree, the advantage and felicity of Burke. In this, perhaps, he has excelled all other orators, whether ancient or modern.

It cannot be pretended that Mr. Burke was not a party man. For the greater part of his life he acted, and strenuously and cordially acted, with a particular body of men. But it is plain, that while Mr. Fox and himself were associated in opposition to the persons carrying on the business of the state, their fundamental principles and final views were wide asunder. Upon great and radical questions of constitutional policy they entertained very different opinions and maxims. Concerning the national representation, the value of religious establishments, the theory of our constitution, as recognised and settled at the revolution, and in the extent of their reverence for the usages, forms, authorities, antiquities, and prescriptive rights and duties of the government, and those who live under it, their difference of sentiment was manifest during the whole period of their political friendship. In all these things Mr. Burke was provident, calculating, mindful of the intirmity of every human agent, and the fragility of his operations; and impressed with the danger of speculative innovations, and experiments grounded on visions of unattainable purity. Conscious that his liberty was not the liberty of low malecontents, he disdained to barter his consistency and sincerity for the acciamations of the crowd. And though sometimes an expression culpably deficient in respect for dignities and authorities may be found in his speeches, and even in his writings, yet it would be hard, and absurd in the extreme, to let these weigh against the tenor of his long political life.

The private lives of these distinguished men were at least as different as their politics. The youth of Mr. Burke was passed within the regular bounds of conjugal society, in literary iniercourse, in severe study, and honourable avocations. The youth of Mr. Fox exhibited the spectacle of a man living after the VOL. III. New Series.

2

fashion of Epicurus, and speaking in the tones of Demosthenes. And it is but due to the dignity of virtue to presume, that had the youth of Mr. Fox been passed in a manner more like that of Mr. Burke, his genius would have left tavern politics to demagogues and debauchees, and assumed that commanding eminence for which it seemed by nature designed.

Mr. Burke's acquaintance with the inspired writings, and the works of the great theologians, supplied him with many lofty themes, and opened as it were a vista in his imagination, which disclosed the prospect of eternity. This source of sublimity seems not to have been much visited by Mr. Fox, whose knowledge of christianity, as a peculiar system of doctrine, appears to have been very confined. The sketches of his character collected by Philopatris Varvicensis from the newspapers and magazines, and the tedious diatribes of the doctor himself, not to mention the most amusingly absurd production of Mr. Trotter, and the numerous other silly panegyrics which have

sprung up

like funguses about the tomb of the departed statesman, have all thought it requisite to add to the list of his perfections the title of sincere christian. It is not for us to deny this title; but we may say, without offence or injustice, if we have any knowledge of the characteristics of the sincere christian, that the biography of Mr. Fox furnishes no certain evidence of his living or dying in the faith of any christian coṁmunion.

The omniscient author of the book called Philopatris Varvicensis tell us, " that it was not for such men as Mr. Fox and Mr. Pitt to spend their last breath in dying speeches and confessionsthey had weightier duties to perform.' And Mr. Trotter, the confidential secretary of Mr. Fox, by telling us what duties of the death bed were really performed, has supplied an explanation of what this doctor in divinity means by the weightier duties of a dying christian. Now, as we have already said in our review of Trotter's Memoirs of C. J. Fox, we presume to think, with great deference to so learned a divine, that listening to the story of Dido und Æneas, or Tom Jones, or the poetry of Swift, were not among the weightier duties of a dying christian. We protest also against this death bed coalition of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox. The author of the preface to Bellendenus had put such a distance between these statesmen during their lives in every estimable point of character, that one could not but feel surprise at seeing them afterwards, by the same writer, approximated in their deaths. And falsely approximated--for unquestionable authority has informed us, that the great man last mentioned did make a dying confession of his faith in him who is alone able to save, and that be found no consolation in death, but in the hope of that salvation which our religion emphatically teaches us has been purchased for

the penitent. That this also was the character of Mr. Burke's concluding scene is sufficiently attested;* and we have since had the melancholy opportunity of knowing that the death of Mr. Windham was the death of a professing christian, and, as we have every reason to presume, of a sincere believer.

Though we cannot approve of the lax criterion of christian orthodoxy, with which Philopatris Varvicensis appears to be contented concerning others, we will not suggest an uncharitable doubt of the firmness and orthodoxy of his own tenets. His creed in politics, however, seems to us to be somewhat too assertive of infallibility, and somewhat too full of damnatory clauses. The perfect contempt shown by the same writer on a former occasion for the great names (if not then great, then, at least, rising into high and honourable distinction) of Pitt, of Grenville, and of him whom he calls “a certain Mr. Wilberforce,” has since stretched itself to the late Mr. Perceval, over whose ashes virtue still continues to weep, and whose memory is embalmed in the gratitude of the nation.

We should willingly, if our allotted space would have permitted us, have attempted a comparison between the eloquence of Mr. Pitt and that of Mr. Burke. To have dwelt on the merits of that lamented minister would have been to us an agreeable task. We should have been pleased with recalling his sounds and expressions to our memory, and with retracing the recollection of what once held our attention so enraptured. Like the awe-struck pagan passing over the ruins of Delphi, fancy would have brought back to our ear the voice of the oracle, and the sound of the invisible lyre. It would have produced a vivid remembrance of that loftiness of declamation, that moral sublimity, those commanding tones, that mellow rotundity, that perspicuity of detail, that plenitude of information, that accuracy of fact, that full continuity of expression, lucidness of arrangement, propriety, chastity, expansion, ease and grace, which dispelled all impatience and fatigue, and made party, animosity forget itself into still admiration. We must have owned, too, if eloquence is to be estimated by its success, that the palm belonged to that form of it, which, coupled with firmness and foresight, was able to secure to its possessor an empire over the will independent of the passions, and to enable him, like Pericles, to fix his popularity on a basis of public confidence. We should have been compelled to admit that, in immediate effect and living force, Mr. Burke was not equal to the modern Pericles.. Mr. Burke's will, which is beautiful as a testamentary composition, begins after

“ First, according to the ancient good and laudable custom, of which my heart and understanding recognise the propriety, I bequeath my soul to God, hoping for his mercy through the only merits of one' Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

the old manner.

« הקודםהמשך »