« ZurückWeiter »
while urging condign punishment on the principal offenders, showed his humanity by exerting himself to procure pardon for some of the subordinate agents.
About the same time he drew up the heads of the plan for the abolition of the slave-trade. It is to be found in his works, and is creditable to his wisdom and his humanity. impracticable, however, to bring it forward at that time. This great achievement was reserved for WILBERFORCE.
In the autumn parliament was dissolved; and on repairing to Bristol, he found his constituents in no very propitious mood. Their prejudices, duly inflamed by the industry of his calumniators, had poisoned their minds against him. Resolved, however, that he would neither abandon the contest, if a reasonable prospect of success remained, nor persist in it merely for the sake of opposition, he called a meeting at the Guildhall on the 6th of September, to enable him to form an opinion of the issue of an election. On this occasion, he defended himself at great length from the charges which had been brought against him. The principal seemed to be that he had not visited the city so frequently as he ought, in other words, that he had not practised with sufficient assiduity the base and common artifices for gaining popular favour. No—he had preferred serving his constituents to flattering them. The other objections were to his votes on the Insolvent Debtors' Bill, the Irish Trade Act, and the measures of Relief to the Roman Catholics. On all these questions, Mr. Burke's conduct was an honour to him.
The whole speech breathes the spirit of manly independence and a sustaining consciousness of integrity. It is full of the most magnanimous sentiments ; sentiments such as it should be the ambition of every representative of the people to imbibe and act upon. While he boldly defends his conduct, and will not acknowledge himself in the wrong when he does not feel himself to be so, he is singularly temperate in his expressions. The spirit which pervades it is just what it ought to be ; he neither cringes to public opinion nor insults it. The attitude he assumed was such as became a man; neither that of servility nor defiance.-As the prospect of success in his estimation, was not such as justified a contest, he declined the election, carrying away with him the most honourable testimonies to his arduous services and his invincible integrity. The concluding sentences are well worth citing. “ ' But if I profess all this impolitick stubbornness, I may chance never to be elected into parliament.' It is certainly not pleasing to be put out of the publick 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 curse. 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 you, let me take to myself some degree of honest pride on the nature of the charges that are against me. 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 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 Council-house, and to the Change, and, without a moment’s delay, begin my canvass.”
Thus dismissed from Bristol, he sought Malton once more; and for this place he sat during the remainder of his parliamentary career.
In the session of 1780-81, Mr. Burke was principally engaged on the rupture with Holland; the East India company's affairs ; Mr. Fox's motion for an inquiry into the conduct of the war : not to mention others. In February his Reform Bill was again brought forward, when he once more, to the wonder of the honse, adorned that (as was thought) exhausted subject with a profusion of new arguments and illustrations. In the debate on this subject Mr. Pitt, for the first time, addressed the house. In the same session he opposed Mr. Fox's motion for the repeal of the “Marriage Act."
In November 1781, he renewed his attacks on the ministry for their obstinate perseverance in the war.
One of his most brilliant efforts was in behalf of Mr. Lawrence, the American envoy to Holland, who having been captured on his voyage, had been sent to the Tower, He was exchanged for General Burgoyne. During the remainder of this session Burke was incessantly engaged with a vast multiplicity of business, more especially connected with the
It ended in March 1792 with the resignation of the ministry, and the Rockingham party once more entered office.
The province which fell to Burke was the paymastership of the forces, and a seat in the privy council. That he was not admitted into the cabinet has excited considerable surprise : yet why? Who does not know that politics afford innumerable illustrations of the truth, that the “race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” Party arrangements must often depend on far other things than talent and worth; rank and wealth will often outbid genius and knowledge.
The new ministry were received with suspicion and coldness by the king, and no wonder ; kings cannot, any more than their subjects, feel cordially towards those who have long thwarted their wishes. Even if their counsel should be wholesome, it will still be nauseous. The most salutary medicines cannot be made palatable.—Burke proved in office the same ever active man that he had been in opposition. His “ Reform Bill,” though curtailed of some of its fair proportions, (sacrifices which he was compelled to make to propitiate the enmity of the lords,) passed both houses, while his own office was subjected to a thorough reform, a reform, however, not more extensive than judicious. It demanded moreover such sacrifices on his own part as rendered it doubtful which was most to be admired, the genius which could devise, or the disinterestedness which could effect it. Certain perquisites of his office, amounting nearly to £1000 a year, he magnanimously threw into the public treasury.
The ministry had hardly time to arrange their plans when Lord Rockingham suddenly died. Lord Shelburne, a man who, whatever his talents, had unhappily obtained an ill reputation, succeeding, several of the ministry, amongst whom was Burke, resigned. He has generally been blamed as the cause of this secession. He appears, however, to have
had no greater share in the matter than Mr. Fox. The fact is, the mutual dislike of all the parties would have rendered a vigorous policy utterly impracticable; there could have been no confidence, and consequently no unity.
No sooner had the parliament assembled, than Mr. Burke again assumed his ancient place on the benches of opposition, and poured out a torrent of ridicule and invective on the king's speech. On one or two of these occasions, Mr. Pitt, who had been chancellor of the exchequer, was provoked into a somewhat ludicrous display of petulant indignation. In the autumn, Lord Shelburne found out his mistake. At length, conscious of his weakness, he despatched the chancellor of the exchequer to endeavour to negociate a coalition with Mr. Fox. This was the last interview these celebrated men ever had. As Mr. Fox would hear of nothing while Lord Shelburne still remained premier, it was totally unsuccessful. Acting on this resolution, he supported Lord North, who still mustered a considerable party around his banner, and the junction of the two effected the overthrow of the ministry. Mr. Fox immediately took their place, forming, with Lord North, that ill-fated thing called The Coalition. Thus Mr. Burke once more became pay-master. He has been often severely blamed for the part he took in this affair; especially as he had so long and so often denounced the policy of Lord North. This censure is not without reason, though it must be admitted that he was placed in a very difficult situation. He was probably induced to yield by the unanimous solicitations of his party, and perhaps hoped by this union to prevent a recurrence of that disastrous policy, which he had so often and so eloquently condemned.
In May he opposed Mr. Pitt's motion for parliamentary reform in a speech, some few passages of which appear in his works. It led to some severe debating between him and Pitt.
When parliament broke up, the ministry spent the recess principally in framing the famous “ India Bill,” on which Mr. Fox had resolved to suspend his fortunes. In the details of this measure Mr. Burke is well known to have taken a very active share. He knew incomparably more on the subject than any other member of the ministry. But though he must have given important assistance in the details, it may be doubted whether the general principles of the measure were at all to his taste; the whole bill bore none of the marks of his cautious and practical policy.
That some important measure had already long been demanded by the state of India was indisputable. The gross misgovernment of that great empire had again and again roused the indignation of parliament. Whether this measure was precisely the one that was needed was another question; that it was not prudently framed can hardly admit of a doubt. Its chief features were as follows: it consigned the government of India to certain commissioners; these commissioners were to be chosen by the legislature: it struck out, at one stroke, the charter of the company : it attempted no adjustment of the great interests which had already sprung up, and which it would so seriously affect: it offered no compromise—no compensation : in a word, its details presented little of that caution and practical wisdom, which, both for the sake of those who propose it and those who may be affected by it, should distinguish every measure, embracing such magnitude and complication of interests, and provoking such a weight of opposition. These were the real objections to which this bill was liable. Those, however, on which the inveteracy of hostile faction fixed, were of a very different nature, and indeed were so utterly absurd, that nothing but the violence of party could have invented or the credulity of party believed them. The bill was represented as a crafty design upon the king's prerogative! This objection to it, absurd as it was, answered its purpose at the time; for kings are generally ready enough to favour those who profess a vigilant jealousy for their power, and to discredit those who only appear to be indifferent to it.
It was on the first of December that Burke delivered that celebrated speech which, in his works, goes under the name of the “ Speech on Mr. Fox's India Bill." His chief argu
ment in defence of a measure of such immense magnitude and daring innovation, was the alleged necessity of the case.
The bill passed “the house of commons;" but the king, absurdly terrified about his prerogative, exerted all his secret influence to procure its defeat in the lords. It was accordingly rejected; ministers summarily dismissed from office; while the youthful but ambitious Pitt succeeded to the premiership. A strange and fearful struggle now ensued between the royal will, which had fixed on Mr. Pitt, and the house of commons who were as determined on thwarting it. It was one of those great emergencies, which show that even the happy balance which is generally maintained in the several parts of our constitution, is no infallible security against the infinite combinations of political events.
In these debates, Mr. Burke took a less active part than might have been expected. He always affirmed however that Mr. Pitt's ambition had out-travelled his integrity, and that he had not obtained his power by fair means.”
This hard-fought political struggle was maintained by the minister with a cool courage and perseverance almost incredible. Constantly disgraced and out-voted, he still kept his ground; till after numberless defeats his pertinacity was rewarded with success. The opposition majority, which had once been fifty-four, was at length broken down to one. At this critical moment Mr. Pitt advised the daring measure of dissolving parliament. The advice was adopted, and it is well known, with signal success; no less than 160 members of the old parliament being thrown out.
Mr. Burke was again returned for Malton, but the elements of his political power were in great measure gone. Both he and Mr. Fox met only strange faces, and received nothing more than the cold reception which strangers generally give. Mr. Fox, however, won back part of his lost influence much sooner than Burke. The former was master of all the persuasive arts of conciliation so necessary in the management of a popular audience; the latter took no pains to soften an obnoxious declaration, or conciliate an exasperated opponent. This, of course, increased still more the ill-will of the house, till the hostility of that honourable assembly manifested itself in a manner not very creditable. No sooner did Burke rise to speak than the house resounded with coughing and other equally agreeable noises. So systematic and so persevering were these attempts to put him down, that they often disconcerted, and once or twice absolutely silenced him. On one occasion he parenthetically remarked, “that he could train a pack of hounds to yelp with more melody and equal comprehension.” After making every allowance for the injudicious frequency and the enormous length of his speeches, such opposition to such a man was in the last degree disgraceful to the assembly which could indulge in it.
An amusing anecdote, illustrative both of the character of the opposition that was manifested, and the want of temper and coolness on his part to meet it, may be related here. He had just risen, on one occasion, with a formidable roll of papers in his hand, when a country gentleman had the impudence to get up and express a modest hope that the honourable member did not mean to read“ that large bundle of papers, and bore them with a long speech into the bargain."--Burke was silent; but it was the silence not of contempt, but indignation. He rushed out of the house unable to utter a syllable. “Never before," said
“, Sir George Selwyn in relating the story, “never before did I see the fable realized, -A lion put to flight by the braying of an ass."
His first effort in the new parliament was in moving an address to the king on the late dissolution. But the minister was now secured by his new conscripts, and only deigned to reply by his majorities. Nay, the latter parts of Burke's speech were even received with laughter; yet it contained, in the opinion of Mr. Fox, “ enough to make the fame of many men.” On this occasion he pointed out many of the deficiencies of Mr. Pitt's India Bill. According to Sir John Malcolm, events abundantly justified Mr. Burke's representations.
In the month of April the University of Glasgow elected him Lord Rector; and repeated
the honour in the following November. He was installed amidst a splendid assemblage of all the principal literati of the North. About this period he paid his last visit to Dr. Johnson, then on his death-bed. On this occasion, the Doctor paid a most touching tribute to the conversational powers of his friend.--" I fear,” said Burke, “ the presence of strangers is oppressive to you.” “ No, sir,” was the reply, “it is not so: and I must be in a wretched condition indeed, when your company would not be a delight to me.”
The session of 1785 found Mr. Burke still foremost in the forlorn hope of opposition. He resisted with spirit the ministerial proposals for a sinking fund, as well as those respecting Ireland. When Mr. Pitt ventured, during this session, to drop some hints on the necessity of reform in the representation, Mr. Burke very fairly asked him, how he, of all men, could imagine that the people were unfairly represented ;-he, who owed his whole influence to the existing system? When speaking on the minister's bill for regulating public offices, stigmatized by Sheridan as a “rat-catching measure,” Burke contrasted, in a most extraordinary manner, the scrupulous and ostentatious economy which was affected at home, with the spendthrift prodigality which characterized his Indian policy. “ The minister,” said
, was desirous to draw a resource out of the crumbs dropped from the trenchers of penury. He was rasping from the marrowless bones of skeleton establishments an empirical alimentary powder, to diet into a similitude of health the languishing chimeras of fraudulent reformation. But while parliament looked with anxiety at his desperate and laborious trifling, while they were apprehensive that he would break his back with stooping to pick up chaff and straws, he recovers himself at an elastic bound; and with a broadcast swing of his arm, he squandered over his Indian field a sum far greater than the amount of all these establishments added together."
India was now, indeed, the scene which was to occupy, for many years, Burke's untiring eloquence. As though he anticipated this, he was incessantly engaged in making himself more intimately acquainted with its whole condition.
On the twenty-eighth of February, he delivered his celebrated speech on the Nabob of Arcot's debts. These debts it was proposed by the ministry to carry to the account of the people of England; debts which Burke contended were absolutely fictitious, the result of a most complicated series of intrigues on the part of the company's agents, entered into purely for their own aggrandizement. The merits of this speech will be estimated hereafter; we may here remark, that it displayed in every part the most wonderful familiarity with our Indian affairs, and opened to the light of day all its darkest recesses of intrigue. All this, however, was but a prelude and preparation for those more gigantic efforts, which he afterwards made to expose to the people of England the whole system of our Eastern tyranny, and to obtain, if possible, a severe but salutary exercise of retributive justice. In pursuance of this design he moved, in 1786, for the prosecution of Governor-General Hastings.
The mere embarking on such an enterprise was itself an indication of invincible energy of mind, and wonderful confidence in his own powers. An ordinary man would as soon have adventured on the labours of Hercules. The difficulties of the task are obvious. The scene of the alleged crimes was thousands of miles distant, rendering it, of course, proportionably difficult either to excite, in behalf of the oppressed, popular sympathy at home, or to procure evidence against the guilty from abroad. In addition to this, India, however ill-governed, had been the source of enormous riches to this country,—and men never like to pry too curiously into profitable abuses. Further, the object of the impeachment was a man of vast and splendid fortune; was favoured with the oblique, but scarcely on that account less powerful, support of royalty, and was intrenched in an almost impregnable fortress of patronage and influence. If guilty, he had been at least successful ; and successful crime, we all know, will often excite more sympathy than baffled virtue. The dazzled multitude are, in such cases, incapacitated for judging impartially; all the loathsome deformities of guilt disappear under the cosmetics which fortune can apply. Yet in spite of