Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

on the whole, the great mind of Burke might not have been exerted with as much or more advantage to mankind in the calm pursuits of literature and philosophy, may be questioned. It is certain that every man of extraordinary intellectual powers is not, in proportion to his talents, fitted for conducting political affairs. Hume, speaking of the literary efforts of one of the greatest men the world ever saw, Bacon, after his dismission from public business, says, that great philosopher at last acknowledged with regret, that he had too long neglected the true ambition of a fine genius; and, by plunging into business and affairs, which require much less capacity, but greater firmness of mind, than the pursuits of learning, had exposed himself to such grievous calamities.' Burke was evidently deficient in that command of temper which is indispensably necessary to the management of important business. We see that those of his efforts, which have had the greatest influence on mankind, have been literary more

than political. Many of the greatest admirers of his genius have lamented that it should be devoted to faction; that those talents, which could instruct, delight, and illuminate his own and every future age, should have been so often employed in pursuing objects which very inferior talents could pursue with equal effect; that a mind of compass and energy equal to any of the should be wasted in making or supportage ing motions about the attacking this or that Minister, screening this or that opponent of Ministry. On questions which required nothing more than plain common understanding and obvious inference from testimony, he would often soar to the highest sublimities, which would have made an eminent figure in poetry. With a genius for comprehending every subject of human knowledge, he was often the follower of mere party politics. His literary friends. regretted his devotion to politics. Goldsmith has hit off Burke's character, including the prolixity into which the exuberance of his genius and fulness of his

[ocr errors]

mind often transported him, in the following lines:

Here lies our good Edmund, whose genius was such, We scarcely can praise it or blame it too much; Who, born for the universe, narrow'd his mind, And to party gave up what was meant for mankind: Tho' fraught with all learning, kept straining his throat, To persuade Tommy Townshend to lend him a vote; Who, too deep for his hearers, still went on refining, And thought of convincing while they thought of dining: Tho' equal to all things, for all things unfit,

Too nice for a statesman, too proud for a wit;
For a patriot too cool, for a drudge disobedient,
And too fond of the right to pursue the expedient.
In fine, 'twas his fate, unemploy'd or in pay, Sir,
To eat mutton cold, and cut blocks with a razor !'

Had Dr. Johnnson, from his early youth, devoted himself to parliamentary efforts, it is by no means probable that he would have done as much good to society as by his Dictionary, Idler, Rambler, Preface to Shakspeare, and Lives of the Poets. Of the members of the literary club, Sir Joshua Reynolds had the greatest intercourse both with Burke and with Fox. Johnson frequently observed, that Sir Joshua adopted

the opinions of these great men too implicitly. Reynolds,' said he to Boswell,

[ocr errors]

is too much under the influence of the Foxstar and Irish constellation.' .There is,' replied Boswell, 'no Fox-star; but, Sir, there is a dog-star. Johnson here must have meant a play of words, as he had the very highest opinion of the abilities of Fox. Johnson, about this time, in order to ascertain whether his mental powers were impaired, determined to try to learn a new language, and fixed upon the Low Dutch. Finding he learned it with facility, he desisted, thinking the experiment had been sufficiently tried. Burke's ready discernment perceived, instantaneously, that it was not a fair trial, as the Low Dutch is a language so near our own; had it been one of the languages entirely different, he might, he said, be soon satisfied. Dining one day at Sir Joshua's, Johnson repeated his gradation of liquors-claret for boys, port for men, brandy for heroes. Then,' said Burke, • let me have claret: I love to be a boy, and to have the careless gaiety of

[ocr errors]

boyish days. Though Burke relished a cheerful glass, he did not exceed; and did not prefer strong wine. As the Ministry had been active in procuring a separate establishment for the Prince, the leading men of them were frequently with his Royal Highness. One day, after dinner, the Prince, about to propose a bumper toast, asked Burke, if a toast-master was not absolute? He instantly answered, yes, Sir, JURE DE VINO." That is the only way,' replied his Royal Highness, in which I should wish to be absolute."

[ocr errors]

Burke, in speaking of any person, could very happily assume his style. A gentleman in company observing, that the language of Young resembled that of Johnson, Burke replied, it may have the appearance, but has not the reality; it possesses the nodosities of the oak, without its strength.'

Burke for some time had been devoting his attention to the affairs of India, to the commerce, territorial possessions, and ge

« ZurückWeiter »