« ZurückWeiter »
star, full of life, and splendour, ani joy: Oh! what. a revolution ! and what an heart must I have to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream that, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom ; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the
age of chivalry is gone.'
The saine all-grasping genius exhibits most striking examples of the pathetic, the terrible, the sublime. The following few lines appear to be the dictates of a prophetic spirit, at least of that prophetic spirit which marks his reasoning in general on the French revolution, as it did on the American war; the prescience which arises from wisdom contemplating objects in all their circumstances and relations, and from cause inferring effect. Speaking of the French republic:—- In the present (form) it can hardly remain; but, before its final settlement, it may be obliged to pass, as one of our poets says, through great varieties of untried being, and in all its transmigrations, to be purified by fire and blood.' One who had not read Burke would think that such a description had proceeded from the actual survey of the violent and multiplied vicissitudes and revolutions of the French government, and its pernicious and bloody consequences to the civilized world, and not from anticipation.
Impartiality obliges me to acknowledge that in some subordinate parts of the ReFLEXIONS, Burke's imagination and feelings have carried him beyond the bounds of cool reflecting reason. His account of the virtues of the French noblesse appears exaggeratech at least as far as can be judged from the samples of them that we have had occasion
to see in this country. The same obser vation will, on the whole, apply also to their clergy, concerning whom the experience of this country can hardly justify an opinion, that they were very learned or able men as a body, although as such they are decent and inoffensive, and so far respectable. The exaggeration, however, of the imputed merit does not affest the justness of the argument. Men ought not to have been degraded merely because, as a class, they were neither distinguished for eminent wis dom or virtue, if, with a mediocrity of abilities and good dispositions, they could by certain regulations be made useful in their former rank, of which experience might shew the probability. There have been, and are, in free and well constituted governments, classes not distinguished by qualities of the head or heart, beyond classes somewhat lower, the aggregate of whose power, exertions, and influence, has a beneficial effect on the community at large. With regard to the clergy, their use as a body must be, and was great, even with
their ordinary attainments. Policy, therefore, required that they should be preserved in that situation of respect in which their use could have been the greatest ; and justice required that there should be no confiscation where there was no delinquency. It was not necessary to magnify the characters of the French noblesse and clergy as a warning to England. Educated in a free country, with every spur to the exercise of unprejudiced reason, our nobility were much superior, AS A BODY, to those of France, (however contemptible some individuals may be) as from various causes, national and professional, are the clergy of Britain, AS A BODY, to tlose under the old government of France.
But though there inay be too high colouring in soine portions of this extraordinary performance, where is there to be met a work which so completcly unfolded the principles of thought and action that guided and prompted the French revolutionists, which so accurately, minutely, and fully
predicted the consequences of such theory and practice, as - Burke's REFLEXIONS ON THE REVOLUTION OF FRANCE ?
When this production made its appearance, it was by all celebrated as the effort of uncommon genius, although very different notions were entertained concerning its resoning. By those who were enamoured of the French liberty, without considering its peculiar nature, adjuncts, and effects, the book was abused as a defence of arbitrary institutions. By those who are averse to untried theories, and resolve to adhere to establishments on the whole good, it was praised as the ablest vindication of the constitution, which experience, a surer guide than hypothesis, taught them to revere, and prompted them to love. The first public tribute of gratitude and praise bestowed upon it came from a very respectable and important part of our national establishment, -THE UNIVERSITY
OXFORD. Many members of that learned body considering Burke's performance as not only an