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all respects qualified to record the lives of such men, so favoured by circumstances, should have rarely and gradually appeared, is rather a subject of regret than of surprize.
Until the publication of Mr. Prior, which, though not a faultless, is yet unquestionably a valuable addition to English biography, Mr. Burke, not more fortunate than his greatest contemporaries, had been in one instance consigned to the mean malignity of an adverse partisan, and in another to a scanty and imperfect memoir, totally unworthy of himself and of his country.
It must be admitted, that no branch of literature is more difficult than the biography of eminent statesmen; and the difficulties are unhappily in exact proportion to their eminence. It presses so closely on history, that to draw the necessary line of distinction between the two walks is not the work of ordinary judgment and taste. Beside all the principal qualifications of the historian, this requires greater delicacy of tact, and a finer discrimination, as it is more strictly conversant with manners and with individual character. And then again the right selection of the details of private life is obviously more embarrassing in the case of statesmen, than in lives of men distinguished in the arts or in literature. To dismiss these matters entirely, as various authors have done, is to strip biography of its peculiar advantage, its essential attraction. On this point we are bound to commend the work of Mr. Prior, by whom these details are judiciously selected and related with excellent feeling; many of them had been hitherto unknown to the public, and they are neither too numerous nor too trivial to encumber the narrative of the political life, to which they give relief and interest. The book before us is also guiltless of a defect fatal to all writers who trespass too largely on the province of the published debates in parliament. It is not a dry register of the speeches of Burke; yet the quotations from them are not insufficient to the purpose of marking the peculiar character of his eloquence.
That it is absurd to wish for a better life of Burke, it would be ridiculous to assert. Mr. Prior is perspicuous, and sometimes forcible, but he cannot be deemed an elegant writer, nay, he is often an incorrect one. On the defects of composition, however, we hesitate to enlarge, when there is no gaudy profusion of ornament, no ambitious parade of rhetoric or of learning; and when we have the more grateful task, whatever may be the credit given to this critical assertion, of pointing out substantial merits in the matter. Our author has entered into the importance of his subject with a zeal so entire and so heart-felt, that on no occasion is it sacrificed to his own vanity; we have not to fear the danger, as in some contemporary instantes, of being seduced to forget the
hero himself in the display of the learning or the opinions of his historian. The work certainly is a friendly and a defensive statement of Burke's political career; but when we reflect on the decided tone of his principles, on the marked character of his actions, we never desire to meet with any English writer, who can preserve an absolute neutrality in describing them. Moreover, it is undeniable, as Mr. Prior has observed, that the memory of this great man, as yet unprotected by any honest record of his actions, has been, down to this hour, persecuted with a hunt of obloquy' even fiercer and less relenting than that which he has himself described as ' pursuing him full cry through life.' We are happy, therefore, to receive some statement on the favourable side of the questionnot at the same time unconscious that the truth must be extracted from a cautious examination and candid estimate of the conflicting testimonies.
In treating of the earlier part of Mr. Burke's career, in times | which have been thrown into comparative obscurity by the interest at once nearer and higher of more modern events, Mr. Prior has added to the ordinary stock of public information, and has for ever established the claim of Burke to many services affecting the freedom, the laws, and the constitution of England, which had been studiously cast into the shade by his numerous revilers, or slighted and overlooked by his injudicious advocates. Nor can we omit to bear our testimony to the value and interest of the Correspondence which these volumes include. The Letters to Barry, in whatever work they had appeared, must at once have been referred to the taste and the genius, which alone could have produced them. These, and many other original papers recently given to the public in various periodical works, while they present a new and unsuspected testimony to the kindness of Burke's heart, and the humanity of his disposition, illustrate at the same time the extent and the penetration of his intellect, which by a rare combination of qualities enabled him to master the minutest details, as completely as the general principles, of every subject; and in all to reach the point of excellence, to which nature and habit impelled him to aspire.
We cannot feel the necessity of any apologies to justify some remarks on the prominent actions and on the national services of Burke, since not only their value and their quantity, but their very nature and quality have been skilfully depreciated, and industriously misrepresented. The naked truth of the case would indeed justify language on this subject, far more pointed and more indignant than Mr. Prior has applied to it; to any animadversion on Burke as an orator, a writer, or an individual, we must never forget to apply the rule of ascertaining the political sentiments of the atithor, before we assent to any one of his conclusions: for this
reputation has long been considered as a sort of open unbarriered arena, on which every sciolist of politics, every raw pretender to patriotism had the right to exercise his studied common-places. The ordinary fate of illustrious statesmen has been reversed in this case; reviled and calumniated as these may have been in life, they commonly obtain in the tomb, not only justice but favour, from their bitterest enemies. But no reader of Mr. Moore or. Mr. Belshąm requires to be informed, that with the zealots of party and of reform there is, down to this hour, no truce in the warfare against the memory of Burke; that with them suspicion is uniformly to be admitted as guilt; that all his real defects are to be magnified, and his real merits to be extenuated; while the bare imputation of inconsistency is to cancel ' at one fell swoop' the services which cannot be disputed. Yet if all the claims of his active life were renounced, Burke has a posthumous right to some defence of his fame, which the most exalted republican might well hesitate to refuse; since from some part of his writings the first conception of many liberal doctrines, nay more, of many state measures of a liberal policy, the sole foundation of the merit of living statesmen with the revilers of Burke, have been distinctly if not confessedly derived. For what great question regarding the constitution of his country, the improvement of her policy, or the general advancement of nations in freedom and refinement, has he left untouched; or, we should rather say, unprobed? In law, as in commerce, in the theory as in the practice of constitutional freedom, he had outstripped the spirit and the knowledge of his age, and anticipated the conclusions of posterity.
Let us briefly advert to the motley composition of this host of enemies. That he should be branded as a deserter from their cause, by the representatives of the numerous and powerful party, whom he abandoned at the time of the French Revolution, is natural enough; but what can be sufficient to account for the peculiar and ferocious malignity, with which the name and memory of one man are assailed, excepting the number, the character, and the influence of the statesmen who followed and justified the example of his flight?
Far below this party in dignity and in influence, but far superior in number, there is another political party in England, by which the name of Burke is held in still deeper execration. These may be said to be the reverse of that class of mankind, to whom the reputation of this great man is the most valuable, and who are not so alert and stirring a portion of the community;-namely, those who, if they feel and reason,can never reflecton the secure possession of their property, or the peaceful enjoyment of their civil rights, or the exemption of England from the long succession of calamities which has afflicted every other nation of Europe, without some
conscious feeling of gratitude to the genius of Burke. The doğma of the school is very simple, being in fact comprised in a single proposition- Whatever is
, is wrong. Resting on this truth, of which the depth is proved by its simplicity, they fairly infer that every change, and à fortiori every revolution, is a national benefit. All power is corruption, and every institution having the misfortune to be old, is therefore, as were the aged in some Scythian nations, to be discarded without the benefit of clergy. Το talk of the wisdom of any generation, saving the present, is worse than drivelling folly; it is the disguise of crafty and self-interested politicians, whose Gospel is their maw. These opinions, not of the genuine English growth, are well represented abroad by a coalition, formed of materials apparently discordant, but in practice most harmonious—by the disappointed worshippers of military despotism in France-by the remnant of the primitive and genuine jacobins—by the ultra-liberal of the new school in all countries. All these, combining in their hatred and their abuse of Burke, labour in full chorus to hunt down his credit as an author, an orator, a statesman. - To confute and to ridicule his reasoning, to degrade his personal motives, and to reduce the value of his authority—these are the favourite labours of their common vocation.
We cannot but admire their policy in the selection of their victim. Of all statesmen he, without doubt, is justly the most odious to the domestic and to the foreign disciples of this faith, who was disqualified by his deep and varied instruction, still more than by the native penetration of his genius, for the preference of novelty to knowledge, of metaphysical maxims to experience; who was attached by the noblest reason as by the warmest affection to the ancient institutions of his country--and the proofs of whose transcendent ability to defend these can only perish with their existence. Yet even such natural haters might hate on without overstepping the limits of fair hostility or rather of truth, which they unquestionably do when they represent Burke as a prejudiced aristocrat, and hold him up to the aversion of mankind as the natural enemy of all political freedom, and all political improvement. There is no rashness in asserting that very few liberals of the present day have more fairly earned the title, honourable as it is in the rational sense of the term, than Burke has done by the unbroken tenour of his speeches, his writings, his life. Nay, we advance a step farther, and we should not hesitate to maintain, that the records of parliament present the name of no statesman since the Revolution of 1688, to whom Englishmen are more distinctly indebted for the practical extension of their freedom, and for the lasting improvement of their constitution; or for whom, in a wider sense, all men who value the principle of genuine
freedom, are bound to cherish and to express a more cordial gratitude.
We are induced to attempt some proof of this assertion, not merely by the desire of aiding, in our vocation, to vindicate the memory of a great man from injustice and from calumny:-we feel the more powerful motive of pointing out one of the most striking evidences in English history, that an aversion to consider revolution in the abstract as an infallible guide to liberty, and an honest preference of the existing order of society, are not incompatible with the love and the pursuit of genuine freedom; that they may not only co-exist with, but be in themselves the best proof of, the most active and the most liberal feelings in favour of the advancement of nations in knowledge and in liberty itself. We shall be enabled, in pursuing our purpose, to survey, without any pretension of writing another Memoir of Mr. Burke, some of the prominent transactions of his life—alife, of which it is, in our humble opinion, the most remarkable characteristic, that every stage is marked by some signal triumph, some lasting advantage obtained by him for the very principles of which he is eternally reviled as the most deliberate, systematic, and fatal enemy. Nor can we better introduce our own observations than by quoting those of. Mr. Prior on Mr. Burke's own admirable defence of his Life contained in the Letter to a Noble Lord.'
• The striking passages are nearly as numerous as the sentences. A collection of flashes of indignant genius, roused by a sense of injury and aggression to throw out its consuming fires with no common force on the beads of the aggressors. I perceive in it, says the Author of the Pursuits of Literature, sights more than youthful poets when they dreamed,—the philosophy of Plato and the wit of Lucian.
• The pathetic lamentation for the loss of his son, the glowing tribute to the memory of his old friend, in whose heart he had a place to the last beat, Lord Keppel, uncle to the duke of Bedford, show a different but not less striking style of powers. The notice of his own services to the country is less a formal recapitulation, which the occasion in some degree called for, than a manly and modest allusion. It is forcible and comprehensive, and what perhaps (the assertion is not made without deliberation) no other English statesman of the period can say. My merits were in having had an active, though not always an ostentutious, share in every one act, without exception, of constitutional utility in my time.'
At the very outset of his parliamentary career, Burke may be traced, through the imperfect records of that day, as the ardent and the successful opponent of the doctrine on general warrants; which, at the risk of the public peace, was supported by the ministers of the time. He justly states the final defeat of that doctrine to be one of the brightest merits of the short administration in 1765; and it would now be idle to labour in proving