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MR. BURKE'S REFLECTIONS

ON

THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE,

AND

ON THE PROCEEDINGS IN CERTAIN SOCIETIES IN LONDON

RELATIVE TO THAT EVENT :

IN A LETTER

INTENDED TO HAVE BEEN SENT TO A GENTLEMAN IN PARIS.

1790.

An an

ir

may not be unnecessary to inform the The Author began a second and more full disReader, that the following Reflections had their cussion on the subject. This he had some thoughts origin in a correspondence between the Author and of publishing early in the last spring; but, the a very young gentleman at Paris, who did him the matter gaining upon him, he found that what he honour of desiring his opinion upon the important had undertaken not only far exceeded the measure transactions, which then, and have ever since, so of a letter, but that its importance required rather much occupied the attention of all men.

a more detailed consideration than at that time swer was written some time in the month of Octo- he had any leisure to bestow upon it. However, ber 1789; but it was kept back upon prudential having thrown down his first thoughts in the form considerations. That letter is alluded to in the of a letter, and, indeed, when he sat down to write, beginning of the following sheets. It has been having intended it for a private letter, he found it since forwarded to the person to whom it was ad- difficult to change the form of address, when his dressed. The reasons for the delay in sending it sentiments had grown into a greater extent, and were assigned in a short letter to the same gentle- had received another direction. A different plan, man. This produced on his part a new and press- he is sensible, might be more favourable to a coming application for the Author's sentiments. modious division and distribution of his matter.

Dear Sir, You are pleased to call again, and with some mitted to you, that though I do most heartily wish earnestness, for my thoughts on the late proceed that France may be animated by a spirit of rational ings in France. I will not give you reason to ima- liberty, and that I think you bound, in all honest gine that I think my sentiments of such value as policy, to provide a permanent body in which to wish myself to be solicited about them. They that spirit may reside, and an effectual organ by are of too little consequence to be very anxiously which it may act, it is my misfortune to entertain either communicated or withheld. It was from great doubts concerning several material points in attention to you, and to you only, that I hesitated your late transactions. at the time when you first desired to receive them. You imagined, when you wrote last, that I might In the first letter I had the honour to write to you, possibly be reckoned among the approvers of and which at length I send, I wrote neither for, certain proceedings in France, from the solemn nor from, any description of men; nor shall I in publick seal of sanction they have received from this. My errours, if any, are my own. My repu- iwo clubs of gentlemen in London, called the Contation alone is to answer for them.

stitutional Society, and the Revolution Society, You see, Sir, by the long letter I have trans- I certainly have the honour to belong, to more clubs than one, in which the constitution of this them as a kind of privileged persons; as no inkingdom, and the principles of the glorious Revo- considerable members in the diplomatick body. lution, are held in high reverence; and I reckon This is one among the revolutions which have myself among the most forward in my zeal for given splendour to obscurity, and distinction to maintaining that constitution and those principles undiscerned merit. Until very lately I do not rein their utmost purity and vigour. It is because I collect to have heard of this club. I am quite sure do so that I think it necessary for me that there that it never occupied a moment of my thoughts : should be no mistake. Those who cultivate the nor, I believe, those of any person out of their memory of our Revolution, and those who are at- own set. I find, upon enquiry, that on the annitached to the constitution of this kingdom, will versary of the Revolution in 1688, a club of distake good care how they are involved with per- senters, but of what denomination I know not, sons, who under the pretext of zeal towards the have long had the custom of hearing a sermon in Revolution and constitution too frequently wan- one of their churches ; and that afterwards they der from their true principles; and are ready on spent the day cheerfully, as other clubs do, at the every occasion to depart from the firm but cautious tavern. But I never heard that any publick meaand deliberate spirit which produced the one, and sure, or political system, much less that the merits which presides in the other. Before I proceed of the constitution of any foreign nation, had to answer the more material particulars in your been the subject of a formal proceeding at their letter, I shall beg leave to give you such informa- festivals; until

, to my inexpressible surprise, I tion as I have been able to obtain of the two clubs found them in a sort of publick capacity, by a which have thought proper, as bodies, to interfere congratulatory address, giving an authoritative in the concerns of France; first assuring you, that sanction to the proceedings of the National As. I am not, and that I have never been, a member sembly in France. of either of those societies.

In the ancient principles and conduct of the The first, calling itself the Constitutional Society, club, so far at least as they were declared, I see or Society for Constitutional Information, or by nothing to which I could take exception. I think some such title, is, I believe, of seven or eight years it very probable, that for some purpose, new memstanding. The institution of this society appears bers' may have entered among them; and that to be of a charitable, and so far of a laudable, na- some truly christian politicians, who love to disture : it was intended for the circulation, at the pense benefits, but are careful to conceal the hand expence of the members, of many books, which which distributes the dole, may have made them few others would be at the expence of buying; the instruments of their pious designs. Whatand which might lie on the hands of the booksell- I

may have reason to suspect concerning ers, to the great loss of an aseful body of men. private management, I shall speak of nothing as Whether the books, so charitably circulated, were of a certainty but what is publick. ever as charitably read, is more than I know. For one, I should be sorry to be thought, diPossibly several of them have been exported to rectly or indirectly, concerned in their proceedFrance; and, like goods not in request here, may ings. I certainly take my full share, along with with you have found a market. I have heard the rest of the world, in my individual and primuch talk of the lights to be drawn from books vate capacity, in speculating on what has been that are sent from hence. What improvements done, or is doing, on the publick stage, in any they have had in their passage (as it is said some place ancient or modern ; in the republick of liquors are meliorated by crossing the sea) I can-Rome, or the republick of Paris ; but having no not tell : but I never heard a man of common general apostolical mission, being a citizen of a judgment, or the least degree of information, speak particular state, and being bound up, in a cona word in praise of the greater part of the publica- siderable degree, by its publick will, I should think tions circulated by that society; nor have their it at least improper and irregular for me to open a proceedings been accounted, except by some of formal publick correspondence with the actual themselves, as of any serious consequence. government of a foreign nation, without the ex

Your national assembly seems to entertain much press authority of the government under which I the same opinion that I do of this poor charitable live. club. As a nation, you reserved the whole stock I should be still more unwilling to enter into of your eloquent acknowledgments for the Revo- that correspondence under any thing like an lution Society; when their fellows in the Consti- equivocal description, which to many, unacquainttutional were, in equity, entitled to some share. ed with our usages, might make the address, in Since you

have selected the Revolution Society as which I joined, appear as the act of persons in some the great object of your national thanks and sort of corporate capacity, acknowledged by the praises, you will think me excusable in making its laws of this kingdom, and authorized to speak the late conduct the subject of my observations. The sense of some part of it. On account of the amNational Assembly of France has given importance biguity and uncertainty of unauthorized general to these gentlemen by adopting them: and they descriptions, and of the deceit which may be pracreturn the favour, by acting as a committee in tised under them, and not from mere formality, England for extending the principles of the Na- the house of commons would reject the most tional Assembly. Henceforward we must consider sneaking petition for the most trifling object, un

ever

der that mode of signature to which you have and their heroick deliverer, the metaphysick thrown open the folding doors of your presence knight of the sorrowful countenance. chamber, and have ushered into your National When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see Assembly with as much ceremony and parade, and a strong principle at work; and this, for a while, with as great a bustle of applause, as if you had is all I can possibly know of it. The wild gas, the been visited by the whole representative majesty of fixed air, is plainly broke loose : but we ought to the whole English nation. If what this society suspend our judgment until the first effervescence has thought proper to send forth had been a piece is a little subsided, till the liquor is cleared, and of argument, it would have signified little whose until we see something deeper than the agitation argument it was. It would be neither the more of a troubled and frothy surface. I must be tolenor the less convincing on account of the party it rably sure, before I venture publickly to congracame from. But this is only a vote and resolu- tulate men upon a blessing, that they have really tion. It stands solely on authority; and in this received one. Flattery corrupts both the receiver case it is the mere authority of individuals, few of and the giver ; and adulation is not of more serwhom appear. Their signatures ought, in my vice to the people than to kings. I should thereopinion, to have been annexed to their instrument. fore suspend my congratulations on the new liThe world would then have the means of knowing berty of France, until I was informed how it had how many they are; who they are; and of what been combined with government; with publiek value their opinions may be, from their personal force ; with the discipline and obedience of arabilities, from their knowledge, their experience, mies; with the collection of an effective and wellor their lead and authority in this state. To me, distributed revenue; with morality and religion; who am but a plain man, the proceeding looks a with solidity and property; with peace and orlittle too refined, and too ingenious; it has too der ; with civil and social manners. All these (in much the air of a political stratagem, adopted for their way) are good things too ; and, without the sake of giving, under a high-sounding name, them, liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and is an importance to the publick declarations of this not likely to continue long. The effect of liberty club, which, when the matter came to be closely to individuals, is, that they may do what they inspected, they did not altogether so well deserve. please : we ought to see what it will please them It is a policy that has very much the complexion to do, before we risk congratulations, which may of a fraud.

be soon turned into complaints. Prudence would I flatter myself that I love a manly, moral, re- dictate this in the case of separate, insulated, prigulated liberty as well as any gentleman of that vate men; but liberty, when men act in bodies, society, be he who he will : and perhaps I have is power. Considerate people, before they declare given as good proofs of my attachment to that themselves, will observe the use which is made of cause, in the whole course of my publick conduct. power ; and particularly of so trying a thing as I think I envy liberty as little as they do, to any

in new persons, of whose principles, other nation. But I cannot stand forward, and tempers, and dispositions, they have little or no give praise or blame to any thing which relates to experience, and in situations, where those who human actions, and human concerns, on a simple appear the most stirring in the scene may possibly view of the object, as it stands stripped of every not be the real movers. relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of All these considerations however were below the metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which transcendental dignity of the Revolution Society. with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in Whilst I continued in the country, from whence reality to every political principle its distinguishing I had the honour of writing to you, I had but an colour and discriminating effect. The circum- imperfect idea of their transactions. On my comstances are what render every civil and political ing to town, I sent for an account of their proschemc beneficial or noxious to mankind. Ab- ceedings, which had been published by their austractedly speaking, government, as well as liberty, thority, containing a sermon of Dr. Price, with is good ; yet could I, in common sense, ten years the Duke de Rochefaucault's and the Archbishop ago, have felicitated France on her enjoyment of of Aix's letter, and several other documents ana government (for she then had a government) nexed. The whole of that publication, with the without enquiry what the nature of that govern- manifest design of connecting the affairs of France ment was, or how it was administered? Can I with those of England, by drawing us into an now congratulate the same nation upon its free- imitation of the conduct of the National Assembly, dom? Is it because liberty in the abstract may gave me a considerable degree of uneasiness. The be classed amongst the blessings of mankind, that effect of that conduct upon the power, credit, prosI am seriously to felicitate a mad-man, who has perity, and tranquillity of France, became every escaped from the protecting restraint and whole- day more evident. The form of constitution to be some darkness of his cell, on his restoration to the settled, for its future polity, became more clear. enjoyment of light and liberty ? Am I to con- We are now in a condition to discern, with tolergratulate a highwayman and murderer, who has able exactness, the true nature of the object beld broke prison, upon the recovery of his natural up to our imitation. If the prudence of reserve and rights? This would be to act over again the decorum dictates silence in some circumstances, scene of the criminals condemned to the gallies, in others prudence of a higher order may justify

new power

the "

us in speaking our thoughts. The beginnings of the National Assembly, through Earl Stanhope, as confusion with us in England are at present feeble originating in the principles of the sermon, and enough; but, with you, we have seen an infancy, as a corollary from them. It was moved by the still more feeble, growing by moments into a preacher of that discourse. It was passed by strength to heap mountains upon mountains, and those who came reeking from the effect of the serto wage war with heaven itself. Whenever our mon, without any censure or qualification, exneighbour's house is on fire, it cannot be amiss for pressed or implied. If, however, any of the genthe engines to play a little on our own. Better to ilemen concerned shall wish to separate the sermon be despised for too anxious apprehensions, than from the resolution, they know how to acknowruined by too confident a security.

ledge the one, and to disavow the other. They Solicitous chiefly for the peace of my own may do it : I cannot. · country, but by no means unconcerned for yours, For my part, I looked on that sermon as the I wish to communicate more largely what was at publick declaration of a man much connected first intended only for your private satisfaction. with literary caballers, and intriguing philosophers; I shall still keep your affairs in my eye, and con- with political theologians, and theological polititinue to address myself to you. Indulging myself cians, both at home and abroad. I know they in the freedom of epistolary intercourse, I beg set him up as a sort of oracle ; because, with the leave to throw out my thoughts, and express my best intentions in the world, he naturally philipfeelings, just as they arise in my mind, with very pizes, and chants his prophetick song in exact little attention to formal method. I set out with unison with their designs. the proceedings of the Revolution Society; but That sermon is in a strain which I believe has I shall not confine myself to them. Is it possible not been heard in this kingdom, in any of the I should ? It appears to me as if I were in a great pulpits which are tolerated or encouraged in it, crisis, not of the affairs of France alone, but of all since the year 1648 ; when a predecessor of Dr. Europe, perhaps of more than Europe. All cir- Price, the Rev. Hugh Peters, made the vault of cumstances taken together, the French Revolution the king's own chapel at St. James's ring with the is the most astonishing that has hitherto happened honour and privilege of the saints, who, with in the world. The most wonderful things are high praises' of God in their mouths, and brought about in many instances by means the a two-edged sword in their hands, were to most absurd and ridiculous; in the most ridi- “ execute judgment on the heathen, and punishculous modes; and, apparently, by the most con- “ ments upon the people ; to bind their kings with temptible instruments. Every thing seems out of “ chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron.” nature in this strange chaos of levity and ferocity, Few harangues from the pulpit, except in the days and of all sorts of crimes jumbled together with of your league in France, or in the days of our all sorts of follies. In viewing this monstrous solemn league and covenant in England, have tragi-comick scene, the most opposite passions ever breathed less of the spirit of moderation than necessarily succeed, and sometimes mix with each this lecture in the Old Jewry. Supposing, howother in the mind; alternate contempt and indig- ever, that something like moderation were visible in nation ; alternate laughter and tears ; alternate this political sermon; yet politicks and the pulpit scorn and horrour.

are terms that have little agreement. No sound It cannot however be denied, that to some this ought to be heard in the church but the healing strange scene appeared in quite another point of voice of christian charity. The cause of civil liview. Into them it inspired no other sentiments berty and civil government gains as little as that than those of exultation and rapture. They saw of religion by this confusion of duties. Those nothing in what has been done in France, but who quit their proper character, to assume what a firm and temperate exertion of freedom; so con- does not belong to them, are, for the greater part, sistent, on the whole, with morals and with piety, ignorant both of the character they leave, and of as to make it deserving not only of the secular the character they assume. Wholly unacquainted applause of dashing Machiavelian politicians, but with the world in which they are so fond of to render it a fit theme for all the devout effusions meddling, and inexperienced in all its affairs, on of sacred eloquence.

which they pronounce with so much confidence, On the forenoon of the 4th of November last, they have nothing of politicks but the passions they Doctor Richard Price, a non-conforming minister excite. Surely the church is a place where one of eminence, preached at the dissenting meeting-day's truce ought to be allowed to the dissensions house of the Old Jewry, to his club or society, and animosities of mankind. a very extraordinary miscellaneous sermon, in This pulpit style, revived after so long a disconwhich there are some good moral and religious tinuance, had to me the air of novelty, and of sentiments, and not ill expressed, mixed up with a novelty not wholly without danger. I do not a sort of porridge of various political opinions and charge this danger equally to every part of the reflections: but the Revolution in France is the discourse. The hint given to a noble and revegrand ingredient in the cauldron. I consider the rend lay-divine, who is supposed high in office in address transmitted by the Revolution Society to one of our universities, † and other lay-divines “ of rank and literature,” may be proper and one sweeping clause of ban and anathema, and seasonable, though somewhat new. If the noble proclaims usurpers by circles of longitude and Seekers should find nothing to satisfy their pious latitude, over the whole globe, it behoves them to fancies in the old staple of the national church, consider how they admit into their territories or in all the rich variety to be found in the well- these apostolick missionaries, who are to tell their assorted warehouses of the dissenting congrega- subjects they are not lawful kings. That is their tions, Dr. Price advises them to improve upon concern. It is ours, as a domestick interest of some non-conformity; and to set up, each of them, moment, seriously to consider the solidity of the a separate meeting-house upon his own particular only principle upon which these gentlemen acprinciples.* It is somewhat remarkable that this knowledge a king of Great Britain to be entitled reverend divine should be so earnest for setting to their allegiance. up new churches, and so perfectly indifferent con- This doctrine, as applied to the prince now on cerning the doctrine which may be taught in the British throne, either is nonsense, and therethem. His zeal is of a curious character. It is fore neither true nor false, or it affirms a most not for the propagation of his own opinions, but unfounded, dangerous, illegal, and unconstituof any opinions. It is not for the diffusion of tional, position. According to this spiritual doctor truth, but for the spreading of contradiction. Let of politicks, if his majesty does not owe his crown the noble teachers but dissent, it is no matter from to the choice of his people, he is no lawful king. whom or from what. This great point once se- Now nothing can be more untrue than that the cured, it is taken for granted their religion will crown of this kingdom is so held by his majesty. be rational and manly. I doubt whether religion Therefore if you follow their rule, the king of would reap all the benefits which the calculating Great Britain, who most certainly does not owe divine computes from this “great company of his high office to any form of popular election, is “ great preachers.” It would certainly be a valu- in no respect better than the rest of the gang of able addition of non-descripts to the ample collec- usurpers, who reign, or rather rob, all over the tion of known classes, genera and species, which face of this our miserable world, without any sort at present beautify the hortus siccus of dissent. A of right or title to the allegiance of their people. sermon from a noble duke, or a noble marquis, or The policy of this general doctrine, so qualified, anoble earl, or baron bold, would certainly encrease is evident enough. The propagators of this poliand diversify the amusements of this town, which tical gospel are in hopes that their abstract prinbegins to grow satiated with the uniform round ciple (their principle that a popular choice is of its vapid dissipations. I should only stipulate necessary to the legal existence of the sovereign that these new Mess-Johns in robes and coronets magistracy) would be overlooked, whilst the king should keep some sort of bounds in the democra- of Great Britain was not affected by it. In the tick and levelling principles which are expected mean time the ears of their congregations would from their titled pulpits. The new evangelists be gradually habituated to it, as if it were a first will, I dare say, disappoint the hopes that are principle admitted without dispute. For the preconceived of them. They will not become, literally sent it would only operate as a theory, pickled in as well as figuratively, polemick divines, nor be the preserving juices of pulpit eloquence, and laid disposed so to drill their congregations, that they by for future use. Condo et compono quæ mor may, as in former blessed times, preach their doc- depromere possim. By this policy, whilst our gotrines to regiments of dragoons and corps of in- vernment is soothed with a reservation in its favour, fantry and artillery. Such arrangements, however to which it has no claim, the security, which it has favourable to the cause of compulsory freedom, in common with all governments, so far as opicivil and religious, may not be equally conducive nion is security, is taken away. to the national tranquillity. These few restrictions Thus these politicians proceed, whilst little I hope are no great stretches of intolerance, no notice is taken of their doctrines; but when they very violent exertions of despotism.

+ Discourse on the Love of our Country, Nov. 4th, 1789, by

Dr. Richard Price, 3rd edition, p. 17 and 18. 2c

* Psalm cxlix.

VOL. I.

come to be examined upon the plain meaning of But I may say of our preacher, “ utinam nuyis their words, and the direct tendency of their doctota illa dedisset tempora sævitie."-All things trines, then equivocations and slippery construcin this his fulminating bull are not of so innoxious tion come into play. When they say the king a tendency. His doctrines affect our constitution owes his crown to the choice of his people, and in its vital parts. He tells the Revolution Society, is therefore the only lawful sovereign in the world, in this political sermon, that his majesty " is al- they will perhaps tell us they mean to say no more “most the only lawful king in the world, because than that some of the king's predecessors have the only one who owes his crown to the choice been called to the throne by some sort of choice;

of his people.As to the kings of the world, all and therefore he owes his crown to the choice of of whom (except one) this arch pontiff of the rights his people. Thus, by a miserable subterfuge, they of men, with all the plenitude, and with more than hope to render their proposition safe, by rendering the boldness, of the papal deposing power in its it nugatory. They are welcome to the asylum meridian fervour of the twelfth century, puts into they seek for their offence, since they take refuge

"Those who dislike that mode of worship which is prescribed “ rational and manly worship, men of reight from their rank and " by publick authority, ought, if they can find no worship out of " literature may do the greatest service to society and the world." "the church which they approve, to set up a separate irorship -P. 18, Dr. Price's Sermon. for themselves; and by doing this, and giving an example of a

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