« ZurückWeiter »
purpose to make it a possession for life. Like Dickens he did everything was if Davy Jones were after him.” In a letter to his boyhood friend, Shackleton, the son of his early instructor, Burke tells of the various manias which in turn possessed him. “ All my studies have rather proceeded from sallies of passion than from the preference of sound reason; and like all other natural appetites, have been very violent for a season, and very soon cooled, and quite absorbed in the succeeding. I have often thought it a humorous consideration to observe and sum up all the madness of this kind I have fallen into this two years past. First, I was greatly taken with natural philosophy; which, while I should have given my mind to logic, employed me incessantly. This I call my furor mathematicus. But this worked off as soon as I began to read it in the college. Then I turned back to logic and metaphysics. Here I remained a good while, and with much pleasure, and this was my furor logicus, a disease very common in the days of ignorance, and very uncommon in these enlightened times. Next succeeded the furor historicus, which also had its day, but is now no more, being entirely absorbed in the furor poeticus." Goldsmith was an undergraduate in Burke's college days, but there is no evidence that he ever met the
sizar. He was graduated in 1748, and, being destined for the bar, he was sent by his father to London, where we find him established in the Middle Temple in 1750. Little is known of this period of his life; his law studies were completed without enthusiasm in spite of his respect for the profession. The following quotation from his letters gives his high estimate of the value of legal studies : “ The law is, in my opinion, one of the finest and noblest of human sciences; a science which does more to quicken and invigorate the understanding than all the other kinds of learning put together.” He was a member of the London debating clubs of Fleet Street and Covent Garden, thoughi never called to the bar.
If we could have taken a peep into the streets of London, soon after the accession of the king, we might have seen the courageous, stubborn, narrow-minded George the Third driving down the Mall, in the state carriage, bowed to obesquiously — a little over obsequiously perhaps — by George Selwyn and Lord Chesterfield; we might have seen the stately Mr. Pitt, looking his majesty full in the eye, let us be sure, with no lower bow than one gentleman should give another. Wise old Johnson may be easily imagined arm in arm with the dejected Goldsmith, advising courage in the quest for work “ in a country where being born an Irishman was sufficient to keep him unemployed.” It was a period of great events and of great men.
In 1775 his father, angered beyond endurance by the failure of his son to become a barrister, cut off his supplies. Burke was forced to begin a struggle for existence; naturally he turned to literature as a means of support. He was poor and unknown; no patron had been found to lessen his early difficulties; there is little doubt that for some time hi career was a struggle of the Grub Street sort. While he was at work on Dodsley's Annual Register at a hundred pounds a year, he married Jane Nugent, the daughter of an Irish doctor residing in Bath. This happy marriage drove Burke to redoubled vigor with his pen, as it was his only source of income. Much of his writing was hack work, yet it is worthy of note that he made a name as an author before entering public affairs. It was at this period that he published his satire in imitation of Bolingbroke, A Vindication of Natural Society, and A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful.
It was in the year of his marriage that Burke first entered the public service. In 1756 “ Single Speech ” Hamilton went to Ireland as secretary to Lord Halifax ; Burke accompanied him in some political capacity, and from this time till the end of his life he was closely connected with the government of his country. During the Rockingham ministry Burke had the good fortune to be chosen the premier's private secretary, and in December of the same year was elected to Parliament as member for Wendover. His powers as an orator, befriending the American colonies, gave him immediately a foremost place in the House of Com
His first speech on the Stamp Act, in January 1766, which was roundly complimented by the “Great Commoner," brought him fame at home and abroad, won the love of the colonists, and gave promise of his later glory. For the twenty-eight years following the overthrow of the Rockingham ministry, Burke was recognized by both friend and foe as the master mind of the Whig party. In all of his speeches, especially in those on colonial affairs in America, notably perhaps in this one on Conciliation, it is no politician, trimming for the hour, who speaks, but a seer thundering for the highest truths and the broadest liberties.
The epoch in which he lived could not fail to stimulate a
great soul to sympathetic assistance in the mighty struggles for freedom that involved so much of the civilized world in terrific conflict. Ireland was in eruption, India was being devastated to add to the glory of British conquest, France was torn by revolution ; while in England herself the constitutional cause was to rise or fall on the issue of the war for American Independence. It was an era for genius, a time for giants. Thackeray has wisely said that there is never an hour with a capital H but there is a man with a capital M. Burke's attitude towards the great contests in America and India was such as to give him a noble claim to statesmanship, and the right to be remembered as a wise champion in the never-ending struggle of mankind for broader and better political liberty. In the affairs of the colonies there was far more involved than the rights of Englishmen in America. “The war of Independence was virtually a second English Civil War,” says John Morley. “ The ruin of the American cause would have also been the ruin of the constitutional cause in England."
For years India had been tumbled about in the game of political parties without stirring any deep interest in her cause in the House of Commons. Burke had however been irresistibly drawn to the far-away country.
“ Hindostan, with its vast cities, its gorgeous pagodas, its infinite swarms of dusky population, its long descended dynasties, its stately etiquette, excited in a mind so capacious, so imaginative, and so susceptible, the most intense interest. The peculiarities of the costume, of the manners, and of the laws, the very mystery which hung over the language and origin of the people, seized his imagination. To plead under the
ancient arches of Westminster Hall, in the name of the English people, at the bar of the English nobles, for the great nations and kings separated from him by half of the world seemed to him the height of human glory.” No one surpassed him in knowledge of that country, its people, and the wrongs which had been perpetrated by the English since the conquest of Clive. His hot Irish blood tingled with sympathy for the outraged and downtrodden race, and, borne on by a flood of feeling, he moved the impeachment of Hastings shortly after his return from India. “ It was in the spring of 1786 that the articles of charge of Hastings' high crimes and misdemeanors, as Burke had drawn them, were presented to the House of Commons. It was in February 1788 that Burke opened the vast cause in the old historic hall at Westminster, in an oration in which, at points, he was wound up to such a pitch of eloquence and passion that every listener, including the great criminal, held his breath in an agony of horror; that women were carried out fainting; that the speaker himself became incapable of saying another word, and the spectators of the scene began to wonder whether he would, like the mighty Chatham, actually die in the exertion of his overwhelming powers.” Hastings was acquitted in 1795. For eight years Burke had waged a noble battle and won in the losing it. Burke himself regarded his efforts in this trial as deserving most of recognition and honor from mankind; Morley says that by it was taught, “ with suificiently impressive force, the great lesson that Asiatics have rights, and that Europeans have obligations, that a superior race is bound to observe the highest current morality of the