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and much attended to; and that thereby the late horrid scenes might have been prevented.
I confess, my notions are widely different ; and I never was less sorry for any action of my life. I like the bill the better, on account of the events of all kinds that followed it. It relieved the real sufferers; it strengthened the state ; and, by the disorders that ensued, we had clear evidence that there lurked a temper somewhere, which ought not to be fostered by the laws. No ill consequences whatever could be attributed to the act itself. We knew beforehand, or we were poorly instructed, that toleration is odions to the intolerant ; freedom to oppressors; property to robbers; and all kinds and degrees of prosperity to the envious. We knew, that all these kinds of men would gladly gratify their evil dispositions under the sanction of law and religion, if they could: if they could not, yet, to make way to their objects, they would do their utmost to subvert all religion and all law. This we certainly knew, But knowing this, is there any reason, because thieves break in and steal, and thus bring detriment to you, and draw ruin on themselves, that I am to be sorry that you are in possession of shops, and of warehouses, and of wholesome laws to protect them? Are you to build no houses, because desperate men may pull them down upon their own heads? Or, if a malignant wretch will cut his own throat because he sees you give alms to the necessitous and deserving ; shall his destruction be attributed to your charity, and not to his own deplorable madness? If we repent of our good actions, what, I pray you, is left for our faults and follies ? It is not the beneficence of the laws, it is the unnatural temper which beneficence can fret and sour, that is to be lamented. It is this temper which, by all rational means, ought to be sweetened and corrected. If froward men should refuse this cure, can they vitiate any thing but themselves ? Does evil so react upon good, as not only to retard its motion, but to change its nature? If it can so operate, then good men will always be in the power of the bad ; and virtue, by a dreadful reverse of order, must lie under perpetual subjection and bondage to vice.
As to the opinion of the people, which some think, in such cases, is to be implicitly obeyed; nearly two years' tranquillity, which followed the act, and its instant imitation in Ireland, proved abundantly, that the late horrible spirit was, in a great measure, the effect of insidious art, and perverse industry, and gross misrepresentation. But suppose that the dislike had been much more deliberate, and much more general than I am persuaded it was when we know, that the opinions of even the greatest multitudes are the standard of rectitude, I shall think myself obliged to make
those opinions the masters of my conscience. But if it may be doubted whether Omnipotence itself is competent to alter the essential constitution of right and wrong, sure I am, that such things, as they and I, are possessed of no such power. No man carries further than I do the policy of making government pleasing to the people. But the widest range of this politic complaisance is confined within the limits of justice. I would not only consult the interest of the people, but I would cheerfully gratify their humours. We are all a sort of children that must be soothed and managed. I think I am not austere or formal in
nature. I would bear, I would even myself play my part in, any innocent buffooneries, to divert them. But I never will act the tyrant for their amusement. If they will mix malice in their sports, I shall never consent to throw them any living, sentient creature whatsoever, no not so much as a kitling, to torment.
“ But if I profess all this impolitic stubbornness, I may chance never to be elected into parliament.” It is certainly not pleasing to be put out of the public service. But I wish to be a member of parliament, to have my share of doing good and resisting evil. It would therefore be absurd to renounce my objects, in order to obtain
my seat. I deceive myself indeed most grossly, if I had not much rather pass the remainder of my life hidden in the recesses of the deepest obscurity, feeding my mind even with the visions and imaginations of such things, than to be placed on the most splendid throne of the universe, tantalized with a denial of the practice of all which can make the greatest situation any other than the greatest
Gentlemen, I have had my day. I can never sufficiently express my gratitude to you for having set me in a place, wherein I could lend the slightest help to great and laudable designs. If I have had my share in any measure giving quiet to private property, and private conscience ; if by my vote I have aided in securing to families the best possession, peace; if I have joined in reconciling kings to their subjects, and subjects to their prince; if I have assisted to loosen the foreign holdings of the citizen, and taught him to look for his protection to the laws of his country, and for his comfort to the good-will of his countrymen ;-if I have thus taken my part with the best of men in the best of their actions, I can shut the book ;-I might wish to read a page or two more- - but this is enough for my measure.—I have not lived in vain.
And now, gentlemen, on this serious day, when I come, as it were, to make up my account with
let me take to myself some degree of honest pride on the nature of the charges that are against
I do not here stand before you accused of venality, or of neglect of duty. It is not said, that, in the long period of my service, I have, in a single instance, sacrificed the slightest of your interests
444 SPEECH AT BRISTOL, PREVIOUS TO THE ELECTION.
to my ambition, or to my fortune. It is not alleged, that to gratify any anger, or revenge of my own, or of my party, I have had a share in wronging or oppressing any description of men, or any one man in any description. No! the charges against me, are all of one kind, that I have pushed the principles of general justice and benevolence too far; further than a cautious policy would warrant; and further than the opinions of many would go along with me.—In every accident which may happen through life, in pain, in sorrow, in depression, and distress—I will call to mind this accusation; and be comforted.
Gentlemen, I submit the whole to your judgment. Mr. Mayor, I thank you for the trouble you have taken on this occasion: In your state of health, it is particularly obliging. If this company should think it advisable for me to withdraw, I shall respectfully retire; if you think otherwise, I shall go directly to the Councilhouse and to the 'Change, and, without a moment's delay, begin my
Bristol, September 6, 1780. At a great and respectable meeting of the friends of EDMUND BURKE, Esq., held at the Guildhall this day ;
The Right Worshipful the Mayor in the Chair : Resolved, That Mr. Burke, as a representative for this city, has done all possible honour to himself as a senator and a man, and that we do heartily and honestly approve of his conduct, as the result of an enlightened loyalty to his sovereign ; a warm and zealous love to his country, through its widely-extended empire ; a jealous and watchful care of the liberties of his fellow-subjects; an enlarged and liberal understanding of our commercial interest ; a humane attention to the circumstances of even the lowest ranks of the community ; and a truly wise, politic, and tolerant spirit, in supporting the national Church, with a reasonable indulgence to all who dissent from it ; and we wish to express the most marked abhorrence of the base arts which have been employed, without regard to truth and reason, to misrepresent his eminent services to his country.
Resolved, That this resolution be copied out, and signed by the chairman, and be by him presented to Mr. Burke, as the fullest expression of the respectful and grateful sense we entertain of his merits and services, public and private, to the citizens of Bristol, as a man and a representative.
Resolved, That the thanks of this meeting be given to the right worshipful the Mayor, who so ably and worthily presided in this meeting.
Resolved, That it is the earnest request of this meeting to Mr. Burke, that he should again offer himself a candidate to represent this city in parliament; assuring him of that full and strenuous support which is due to the merits of so excellent a representative.
This business being over, Mr. Burke went to the Exchange, and offered himself as a candidate in the usual manner. He was accompanied to the Council-house, and from thence to the Exchange, by a large body of most respectable gentlemen, amongst whom were the following members of the corporation, viz. Mr. Mayor, Mr. Alderman Smith, Mr. Alderman Deane, Mr. Alderman Gordon, William Weare, Samuel Munckley, John Merlott, John Crofts, Levy Ames, John Fisher Weare, Benjamin Loscombe, Philip Protheroe, Samuel Span, Joseph Smith, Richard Bright, and John Noble, Esquires.
Bristol, Saturday, Sept. 9, 1780. This morning the sheriff and candidates assembled as usual at the Council-house, and
from thence proceeded to Guildhall. Proclamation being made for the electors to appear and give their votes, Mr. BURKE stood forward on the hustings, surrounded by a great number of the corporation and other principal citizens, and addressed himself to the whole assembly as follows :
GENTLEMEN, I decline the election. It has ever been my rule through life, to observe a proportion between my efforts and my objects. I have never been remarkable for a bold, active, and sanguine pursuit of advantages that are personal to myself.
I have not canvassed the whole of this city in form. But I have taken such a view of it as satisfies my own mind, that your choice will not ultimately fall upon me. Your city, gentlemen, is in a state of miserable distraction; and I am resolved to withdraw whatever share my pretensions may have had in its unhappy divisions. I have not been in haste; I have tried all prudent means; I have waited for the effect of all contingencies. If I were fond of a contest, by the partiality of my numerous friends (whom you know to be among the most weighty and respectable people of the city), I have the means of a sharp one in my hands. But I thought it far better with my strength unspent, and my reputation unimpaired, to do, early and from foresight, that which I might be obliged to do from necessity at last.
I am not in the least surprised, nor in the least angry at this view of things. I have read the book of life for a long time, and I have read other books a little. Nothing has happened to me, but what has happened to men much better than me, and in times and in nations full as good as the age and country that we live in. To
say that I am no way concerned, would be neither decent nor true. The representation of Bristol was an object on many accounts dear to me; and I certainly should very far prefer it to any other in the kingdom. My habits are made to it; and it is in general more unpleasant to be rejected after long trial, than not to be chosen at all.
But, gentlemen, I will see nothing except your former kindness, and I will give way to no other sentiments than those of gratitude. From the bottom of my heart I thank you for what you have done for me. You have given me a long term, which is now expired. I have performed the conditions, and enjoyed all the profits to the full; and I now surrender your estate into your hands, without being in a single tile or a single stone impaired or wasted by my use. I have served the public for fifteen years.
I have served you in particular for six. What is passed is well stored. It is safe, and out of the power of fortune. What is to come, is in wiser hands than ours : and He, in whose hands it is, best knows whether it is best for you and me that I should be in parliament, or even in the world.
Gentlemen, the melancholy event of yesterday reads to us an awful lesson against being too much troubled about any of the objects of ordinary ambition. The worthy gentleman', who has been snatched from us at the moment of the election, and in the middle of the contest, whilst his desires were as warm, and his hopes as eager as ours, has feelingly told us, what shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue.
It has been usual for a candidate who declines, to take his leave by a letter to the sheriffs ; but I received your trust in the face of day: and in the face of day I accept your dismission. I am not,I am not at all ashamed to look upon you; nor can my presence discompose the order of business here. I humbly and respectfully take my leave of the sheriffs, the candidates, and the electors, wishing heartily that the choice may be for the best, at a time which calls, if ever time did call, for service that is not nominal. It is no plaything you are about. I tremble when I consider the trust I have presumed to ask. I confided perhaps too much in my intentions. They were really fair and upright; and I am bold to say that I ask no ill thing for you, when on parting from this place I pray that whomever you choose to succeed me, he may resemble me exactly in all things, except in my abilities to serve, and my fortune to please you.
1 Mr. Coombe.