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speech, which forms one of the most beautiful and astonishing productions of his great genius. The whole scheme was comprised in five bills, and embraced a compass and variety of objects which none but a mind of the most comprehensive order could have grappled with. No man but himself could have dealt with a subject so wide in its range, and so multifarious in its details, or wound his way through such a labyrinth and complication of perplexities. The real difficulty in all such cases is to do what Burke did—to combine a practical and efficient plan of reform with a due regard to all existing interests—to conciliate the past and the future--to pull down without reckless demolition, and to rebuild with a due adaptation of the new to the old. This it is which renders the work of a wise reform so arduous, which demands such consummate judgment in achieving it, and which must give to every measure that shall really effect it an intricate and anomalous appearance. This complication is the necessary result of the variety of designs which it is intended to subserve. There is, no doubt, a shorter, but not“ a more excellent way”—the summary method of entire demolition; this, it is true, is very simple ; it requires little intellect and no judgment. But the mischief is, that the same short-sightedness which has been unable to estimate the magnitude of such changes, has been equally unable to anticipate half the purposes which the new fabrics ought to serve. They are constructed for simplicity-and it is found that in spite of ingenious theories, human society will, after all, be a very complicated thing. Burke's plan of economical reform was nothing of this kind : with the skill of a consummate politician, he grappled with the great problem, to produce as much practical good as possible with the least possible change, and to effect a really beneficial reform with little incidental evil.
The chief points it embraced were an abolition of all the inferior royal jurisdictions ; of an immense number of useless offices in the royal household; some of the civil departments of the mint and the ordnance; of the patent offices of the exchequer; the regulation of the army, navy, and pension pay-offices; and a new adjustment of the civil list. Of the innumerable testimonies to the extraordinary merit of this speech, few are more remarkable than that of Gibbon. “ Mr. Burke's Reform Bill,” says the historian," was framed with skill, introduced with eloquence, and supported by numbers. Never can I forget the delight with which that diffusive and ingenious orator was heard by all sides of the house, and even by those whose existence he proscribed." That of Mr. Dunning is, to say the least, equally strong “ It must remain as a monument to be handed down to posterity of his uncommon zeal and unrivalled industry, astonishing abilities and invincible perseverance. He had undertaken a task big with labour and difficulty; a task that embraced a variety of the most important objects, extensive and complicated; yet such were the eminent and unequalled abilities, so extraordinary the talents and ingenuity, and such the fortunate frame of the honourable gentleman's mind, his vast capacity and happy conception, that in his hands, what must have proved a vast heap of ponderous matter, composed of heterogeneous ingredients, discordant in their nature and opposite in principle, was so skilfully arranged as to become quite simple as to each respective part, dependent on each other; and the whole at the same time so judiciously combined, as to present nothing to almost any mind tolerably intelligent, to divide, puzzle, or distract it.”
Applause, however, was almost all he obtained; his project sharing the usual fate of opposition measures. The principal clauses were debated through the months of March, April, and May. In these debates the motion for abolishing the office of third secretary of state was lost by a majority of seven, but that for extinguishing the board of trade carried by a majority of cight. Shortly after, many of the clauses were rejected by large majorities.Other measures, more especially connected with the renewal of the East India charter, and the resolution of Mr. Dunning respecting the diminishing of the influence of the Crown, occupied Burke during the rest of the session.
After the melancholy riots stirred up by the fanatical Lord George Gordon, Mr Burke,
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 bis 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 hare, 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 house, 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 war. 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
in his orks. 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 bis 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