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MR. BURKE'S REFLECTIONS
ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE, AND ON TIIL PROCEEDINGS IN CERTAIN SOCIETIES IN LONDON, RELATIVE TO THAT EVENT. IN A LETTER INTENDED TO HAVE BEEN SENT TO A GENTLEMAN IN PARIS. 1790.
It may not be unnecessary to inform the reason to imagine that I think my sentiments Reader, that the following Reflections had of such value as to wish myself to be solicited their origin in a correspondence between the about them. They are of too little conseAuthor and a very young gentleman at Paris, quence to be very anxiously either communiwho did him the honour of desiring his opi- cated or withheld. It was from attention to nion upon the important transactions, which you, and to you only, that I hesitated at the then, and ever since, have so much occupied time when you first desired to receive them. the attention of all men. An answer was In the first letter I had the honour to write to written some time in the month of October you, and which at length I send, I wrote nei1789; but it was kept back upon prudential ther for, nor from, any description of men; considerations. That letter is alluded to in nor shall I in this. My errours, if the beginning of the following sheets. It has my own. My reputation alone is to answer been since forwarded to the person to whom it for them. was addressed. The reasons for the delay in You see, Sir, by the long letter I have sending it were assigned in a short letter to transmitted to you, that, though I do most the same gentleman. This producul on his heartily wish that France may be animated part a new and pressing application for the by a spirit of rational liberty, and that I think Author's sentiments.
you bound, in all honest policy, to provide a The author began a second and more full permanent body, in which that spirit may rediscussion on the subject. This he had some side, and an effectual organ, by which it may thoughts of publishing early in the last spring; act, it is my misfortune to entertain great doubt but the matter gaining upon him, he found that concerning several material points in your late what he had undertaken not only far exceeded transactions. the measure of a letter, but that its importance You imagined, when you wrote last, that I required rather a more detailed consideration might possibly be reckoned among the apthan at that time he had any leisure to bestow provers of certain proceedings in France, from upon it. However, having thrown down his the solemn public seal of sanction they have first thoughts in the form of a letter, and in- received from two clubs of gentlemen in Londeed when he sat down to write, having don, called the Constitutional Society, and the intended it for a private letter, he found it Revolution Society. difficult to change the form of address, when I certainly have the honour to belong to moro his sentiments had grown into a greater ex- clubs than one, in which the constitution of lent, and had received another direction. A this kingdom, and the principles of the glodifferent plan, he is sensible, might be more rious revolution are held in high reverence favourable to a commodious division and dis- and I reckon myself among the most forward tribution of his matter.
in my zeal for maintaining that constitution and those principles in their utmost purity and vigour. It is because I do so, that I think it
necessary for me, that there should be no mis REFLECTIONS, &c.
take. Those who cultivate the memory of our
revolution, and those who are attached to the DEAR SIR,
constitution of this kingdom, will take good You are pleased to call again, and with care how they are involved with persons who, some earnestness, for my thoughts on the late under the pretext of zeal towards the revo proceedings in France. I will not give you lution and constitution, too frequently wander from their true principles; and are ready on given splendour to obscurity, and distinction every occasion to depart from the firm but to undiscerned merit. Until very lately I do cautious and deliberate spirit which produced not recollect to have heard of this club. I am the one, and which presides in the other. quite sure that it never occupied a moment Before I proceed to answer the more material of my thoughts ; nor, I believe, those of any particulars in your letter, I shall beg leave to person out of their own set. I find, upon ingive you such information as I have been able quiry, that on the anniversary of the revoluto obtain of the iwo clubs which have thought tion in 1688, a club of disseniers, but of what proper, as bodies, to interfere in the concerns denomination I know not, have long had the of France; first assuring you, that I am not, custom of hcaring a sermon in one of their and that I have never been, a member of either churches; and that afterwards they spent the of those societies.
day cheerfully, as other clubs do, at the tavern. The first, calling itself the Constitutional But I never heard that any public measure, or Society, or Society for Constitutional Insor- political system, much less that the merits of mation, or by some such title, is, I believe, of ihe constitution of any foreign nation, had been seven or eight years standing. The institu- the subject of a formal proceeding at their festion of this society appears to be of a charita.. tivals ; until, to my inexpressible surprise, I ble, and so far of a laudable, nature : it was found them in a sort of public capacity, by a intended for the circulation, at the expense of congratulatory address, giving an authoritative the members, of many books, which few others sanction to the proceedings of the national would be at the expense of buying; and which assembly in France. might be on the hands of the booksellers, to In the ancient principles and conduct of the the great loss of an useful body of men. Whe- club, so far at least as they were declared, I ther the books so charitably circulated, were see nothing to which I could take exception ever as charitably read, is more than I know. I think it very probable, that for some purpose, Possibly several of them have been exported new members may have entered among them; to France; and, like goods not in request here, and that some truiy Christian politicians, who may with you have found a market. I have love to dispense benefits, but are careful to heari much talk of the lights to be drawn from conceal the hand which distributes the dole, books that are sent from hence. What im- may have made them the instruments of their provements they have had in their passage (as pious designs. Whatever I may have reason it is said some liquors are meliorated by cros- to suspect concerning private management, I sing the sea) I cannot tell: but I never heard shall speak of nothing as of a certainty but a man of common judgment, or the least de what is public. gree of information, speak a word in praise of For one, I should be sorry to be thought, the greater part of the publications circulated directly or indirectly, concerned in their proby that society; nor have their proceedings ceedings. I certainly take my full share, along been accounted, except by some of themselves, with the rest of the world, in my individual as of any serious consequence.
and private capacity, in speculating on what Your national assembly seems to entertain has been done, or is doing, on the public inuch the same opinion that I do of this poor stage; in any place ancient or modern ; in charitable club. As a nation, you reserved the the republic of Rome, or the republic of Paris, whole slock of your eloquent acknowledgments but having no general apostolical mission, be for the Revolution Society ; when their fellows ing a citizen of a particular state, and being in the Constitutional were, in equity, entitled bound up in a considerable degree, by its pubto some share. Since you have selected the lic will, I should think it at least improper and Revolution Society as the great object of your irregular for me to open a formal public cornational thanks and praises, you will think me respondence with the actual government of a excusable in making its late conduct the sub- foreign nation, without the express authority ject of my observations. The national assem- of the government under which I live. bly of France has given importance to these I should be still more unwilling to enter into gentlemen by adopting them; and they return that correspondence, under any thing like an the favour, by acting as a committee in Eng- equivocal description, which to many, unacland for extending the principles of the national quainted with our usages, might make the assembly. Henceforward we must consider address, in which I joined, appear as the act them as a kind of privileged persons; as no of persons in some sort of corporate capacity inconsiderable members in the diplomatic body. acknowledged by the laws of this kingdom, and This is one among the revolutions which have authorized to speak the sense of sume part of
it. On account of the ambiguity and uncer- mon sense, ten years ago, have felicitated ainty of unauthorized general descriptions, France on her enjoyment of a government (for und of the deceit which may be practised under she then had a government) without inquiry them, and not from mere formality, the house what the nature of that government was, or of coinmons would reject the most sneaking how it was administered? Can I now conpetition for the most trifling object, under that gratulate the same nation upon its freedom ? mode of signature to which you have thrown Is it because liberty in the abstract may be open the folding-doors of your presence cham- classed among the blessings of mankind, thal ber, and have ushered into your national assem- I am seriously to felicitate a mad-man, who has bly with as much ceremony and parade, and escaped from the protecting restraint and with as great a bustle of applause, as if you wholesome darkness of his cell, on his restora. had been visited by the whole representative tion to the enjoyment of light and liberty? majesty of the whole English nation. If what Am I to congratulate a highwayman and mur. this society has thought proper to send forth derer, who has broke prison, upon the recovery liad been a piece of argument, it would have of his natural rights? This would be to act signified little whose argument it was.
It over again the scene of the criminals con would he neither the more nor the less convin- demned to the gallies, and their heroic delicing on account of the party it came from. But verer, the metaphysic knight of the sorrowfus
. this is only a vote and resolution. It stands countenance. solely on authority; and in this case it is the When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I mere authority of individuals, few of whom see a strong principle at work ; and this, for a appear. Their signatures ought, in my opi- while, is all I can possibly know of it. The nion, to have been annexed to their instrument. wild gas, the fixed air is plainly broke loose: The world would then have the means of know- but we ought to suspend our judgment until ing how many they are; who they are; and the first effervescence is a little subsided, til of what value their opinions may be, from their the liquor is cleared, and until we see somepersonal abilities, from their knowledge, their thing deeper than the agitation of a troubled experience, or their lead and authority in this and frothy surface. I must be tolerably sure,
To me, who am but a plain man, the before I venturo publicly to congratulate men proceeding looks a little too refined, and too upon a blessing, that they have really received ingenious; it has too much the air of a politi- one. Flattery corrupts both the receiver and cal stratagem, adopted for the sake of giving, the giver; and adulation is not of more service under a high-sounding name, an importance to to the people than to kings. I should therefore the public declarations of this club, which, suspend my congratulations on the new liberty when the matter came to be closely inspected, of France, until I was informed how it had they did not altogether so well deserve. It is been combined with government; with public a policy that has very much the complexion of force ; with the discipline and obedience of a fraud.
armies; with the collection of an effective and I fatter myself that I love a manly, moral, well-distributed revenue ; with morality and regulated liberty as well as any gentleman of religion; with solidity and property; with that society, be he who he will; and perhaps I peace and order; with civil and social manhave given as good proofs of my attachment to ners. All these (in their way) are good things that cause, in the whole course of my public too; and, without them, liberty is not a benefit conduct. I think I envy liberty as little as whilst it lasts, and it is not likely to continue they do, to any other nation. But I cannot long. The effect of liberty to individuals is, stand forward, and give praise or blame to that they may do what they please: we ought any thing wnich relates to human actions, and to see what it will please them to do, before human concerns, on a simple view of the we risk congratulations, which may be soon object, as it stands stripped of every relation, turned into complaints. Prudence would dicin all the nakedness and solitude of metaphy- late this in the case of separate insulated prisical abstraction. Circumstances (which with vate men; but liberty, when men act in bodies, some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in rea
Considerate people, before they lity to every political principle its distinguish- declare themselves, will observe the use which ing colour, and discriminating effect. The is made of power; and particularly of so try circumstances are what render every civil and ing a thing as new power in new persons, of political scheme beneficial or noxious to man- whose principles, tempers, and disposition kind. Abstractedly speaking, government, as they have little or no experience, and in situawell as liberty, is good. vet could I, in con- tions, where those who appear the most stir
ring in the scene may possibly not be the real things are brought about in many instances by muvers.
means the most absurd and ridiculous; in the All these considerations however were be- most ridiculous modes; and apparently, by the low the transcendental dignity of the revolution most contemptible instruments. Every thing society. Whilst I continued in the country, seems out of nature in this strange chaos of from whence I had the honour of writing to levity and ferocity, and of all sorts of crimes you, I had but an imperfect idea of their trans jumbled together with all sorts of follies. In actions. On my coming to town, I sent for an viewing this monstrous tragicomic scene, the account of their proceedings, which had been most opposite passions necessarily succeed, published by their authority, containing a ser- and sometimes mix with each other in the mon of Dr. Price, with the Duke de Roche- mind; alternate contempt and indignation ; faucault's and the Archbishop of Aix's letter, alternate laughter and tears; alternate scorn and several other documents annexed. The and horrour. whole of that publication, with the manifest de- It cannot however be denied, that to some sign of connecting the affairs of France with this strange scene appeared in quite another those of England, by drawing us into an imi- point of view. Into them it inspired 10 other tation of the conduci of the national assembly, sentiments than those of exultation and rapgave me a considerable degree of uneasiness. ture. They saw nothing in what has been The effect of that conduct upon the power, done in France, but a firm and temperate excredit, prosperity, and tranquillity of France, ertion of freedom ; so consistent, on the whole, became every day more evident. The form with morals and with piety, as to make it de. of constitution to be settled, for its future polity, serving not only of the secular applause of became more clear. We are now in a condi- dashing Machiavelian politicians, but to rention to discern, with tolerable exactness, the true der it a fit theme for all the devout effusions nature of the object held up to our imitation. of sacred eloquence. If the prudence of reserve and decorum dic- On the forenoon of the 4th of November tates silence in some circumstances, in others last, Doctor Richard Price, a non-conforming prudence of a higher order may justify us in minister of eminence, preached at the dissenspeaking our thoughts. Tie beginnings of ting meeting-house of the Old Jewry, to his confusion with us in England ere at present club or society, a very extraordinary miscelfeeble enough ; but with you, we have seen an laneous sermon, in which there are some good infancy still more feeble, growing by moments moral and religious sentiments, and not ill into a strength to heap mountains upon moun- expressed, mixed up with a sort of porridge of tains, and to wage war with heaven itself. various political opinions and reflections : but Whenever our neighbour's house is on fire, it the revolution in France is the grand ingrecannot be amiss for the engines to play a little dient in the cauldron. I consider the address on our own. Better to be despised for 100 transmitted by the revolution society to the anxious apprehensions, than ruined by too national assembly through Earl Stanhope, confident a security.
as originating in the principles of the sermon, Solicitous chiefly for the peace of my own and as a corollary from them. It was moved country, but by no means unconcerned for yours, by the preacher of that discourse. It was I wish to communicate more largely, what was passed by those who came reeking from the at first intended only for your private satis- effect of the sermon, without any censure or faction. I shall still keep your affairs in my qualification, expressed or implied. If, howeye, and continue to address myself to you. In- ever, any of the gentlemen concerned shall dulging myself in the freedom of epistolary in- wish to separate the sermon from the resolutercourse, I beg leave to throw out my thoughts, tion, they know how to acknowledge the one, and express my feelings, just as they arise and to disavow the other. They may do it: in my mind, with very little attention to formal I cannot. method. I set out with the proceedings of the For my part, I looked on that sermon as the revolution society; but I shall not confine my- public declaration of a man much connected self to them. Is it possible I should? st with literary caballers, and intriguing philosolooks to me as if I were in a great crisis, not phers; with political theologians, and theoloof the affairs of France alone, but all Europe, gical politicians, both at home and abroad. I perhaps of more than Europe. All circum- know they set him up as a sort of oracle ; bem stances taken together, the French revolution cause, with the best intentions in the world. is the most astonishing that has hitherto hap- he naturally philippizes, and chaunts his pro dened in the world. The most wonderful phetic song in exact unison with their designs
That sermon is in a strain which I believe upon his own particular principles.* Il is has not been heard in this kingdom, in any somewhat remarkable that this reverend divine of the pulpits which are tolerated or encouraged should be so earnest for setting up new churches, in it, since the year 1648, when a predecessor and so perfectly indifferent concerning the of Dr. Price, the Reverend Hugh Peters, made doctrine which may be taught in them. His the vault of the king's own chapel at St. James's zeal is of a curious character. It is noi for the ring with the honour and privilege of the saints, propagation of his own opinions, but of any who, with the “high praises of God in their opinions. It is not for the diffusion of truth mouths, and a two-edged sword in their hands, but for the spreading of contradiction. Let were to execute judgment on the heathen, and the noble teachers but dissent, it is no matter punishments upon the people; to bind their from whom or from what. This great point kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters once secured, it is taken for granted their reof iron.”* Few harangues from the pulpit, ligion will be rational and manly. I doubt except in the days of your league in France, whether religion would reap all the benefits or in the days of our solemn league and cove- which the calculating divine computes from nant in England, have ever breathed less of this great company of great preachers.” It the spirit of moderation than this lecture in the would certainly be a valuable addition of nonOld Jewry. Supposing, however, that sonne descripts to the ample collection of known thing like inoderation were visible in this po- classes, genera and species, which at present litical sermon ; yet politics and the pulpit are beautify the hortus siccus of dissent. A serterms that have little agreement. No sound mon from a noble duke, or a noble marquis, or ought to be heard in the church but the healing a noble earl, or baron bold, would certainly invoice of Christian charity. The cause of civil crease and diversify the amusements of this liberty and civil government gains as little as town, which begins to grow satiated with the that of religion by this confusion of duties. uniform round of its vapid dissipations. I Those who quit their proper character, to as- should only stipulate that these new Messsume what does not belong to them, are, for Johns in robes and coronets should keep some the greater part, ignorant both of the character sort of bounds in the democratic and levelling they leave, and of the character they assume. principles which are expected from their tited Wholly unacquainted with the world in which pulpils. The new evangelists will, I dare say, they are so fond of meddling, and inexpe- disappoint the hopes that are conceived of rieaced in all its affairs, on which they pro- them. They will not become, literally as well nounce with so much confidence, they have as figuratively, polemic divines, nor bc disnothing of politics but the passions they excite. posed so to drill their congregations, that they Surely the church is a place where one day's may, as in former blessed times, preach their truce ought to be allowed to the dissensions docuines to regiments of dragoons, and corps and animosities of mankind.
of infantry and artillery. Such arrangements, This pulpi: style, revived after so long a however favourable to the cause of compulsory discontinuance, had to me the air of novelty, freedom, civil and religious, may not be equally and of a novelty not wholly without danger. I conducive to the national tranquillity. These do not charge this danger equally to every part few restrictions I hope are no great stretches of the discourse. The hint given to a noble of intolerance, no very violent exertions of and reverend lay-divine, who is supposed high despotism. in office in one of our universities, and other But I may say of our preacher, " utinam lay-divines “ of rank and literature," may be nugis lota illa dedisset tempora sævitia."-All proper and seasonable, though somewhat new. things in this his fulminating bull are not of so If the noble Seekers should find nothing to innoxious a tendency. His doctrines affect satisfy their pious fancies in the old staple of our constitution in its vital parts. He tells tho the national church, or in all the rich variety revolution society, in this political sermon, that to be found in the well-assorted warehouses of the dissenting congregations, Dr. Price advises them to improve upon non-conformity; and to
* "Those who dislike that mode of worship sct up, each of them, a separate meeting-house if they can find no worship out of the church.
which is prescribed by public authority, ought, which they approve, 10 set up a separate bor.
ship for ihemselves; and by doing this, and Psalm cxlix.
giving an example of a racional and manly wor + Discourse on the Love of our Country, Nov ship, men of weight from their rank and litera 4, 1799, by Dr. Richard Price, 3d edition, p. 17 ture may do the greatest service to society and
the world.” P.IS, Dr. Price's Sermon.