Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke

Author: Edmund Burke

Introductory Essay.


"Id dico, eum qui sit orator, virum bonum esse oportere. In omnibus quae dicit tanta auctoritas inest, ut dissentire pudeat; nec advocati studium, sed testis aut judicis afferat fidem."—Quintilianus.

"Democracy is the most monstrous of all governments, because it is impossible at once to act and control; and, consequently, the Sovereign Power is then left without any restraint whatever. That form of government is the best which places the efficient direction in the hands of the aristocracy, subjecting them in its exercise to the control of the people at large."—Sir James Mackintosh.


The intellectual homage of more than half a century has assigned to Edmund Burke a lofty pre-eminence in the aristocracy of mind, and we may justly assume succeeding ages will confirm the judgment which the Past has thus pronounced. His biographical history is so popularly known, that it is almost superfluous to record it in this brief introduction. It may, however, be summed up in a few sentences. He was born at Dublin in 1730. His father was an attorney in extensive practice, and his mother’s maiden name was Nogle, whose family was respectable, and resided near Castletown, Roche, where Burke himself received five years of boyish education under the guidance of a rustic schoolmaster. He was entered at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1746, but only remained there until 1749. In 1753 he became a member of the Middle Temple, and maintained himself chiefly by literary toil. Bristol did itself the honour to elect him for her representative in 1774, and after years of splendid usefulness and mental triumph, as an orator, statesman, and patriot, he retired to his favourite retreat, Beaconsfield, in Buckinghamshire, where he died on July 9th, 1797. He was buried here; and the pilgrim who visits the grave of this illustrious man, when he gazes on the simple tomb which marks the earthly resting?place of himself, brother, son, and widow, may feelingly recall his own pathetic wish uttered some forty years before, in London:—"I would rather sleep in the southern corner of a little country churchyard, than in the tomb of the Capulets. I should like, however, that my dust should mingle with kindred dust. The good old expression, ’family burying?ground,’ has something pleasing in it, at least to me." Alluding to his approaching dissolution, he thus speaks, in a letter addressed to a relative of his earliest schoolmaster:—"I have been at Bath these four months for no purpose, and am therefore to be removed to my own house at Beaconsfield to-morrow, to be nearer a habitation more permanent, humbly and fearfully hoping that my better part may find a better mansion." It is a source of deep thankfulness for those who reverence the genius and eloquence of this great man, to state, that Burke’s religion was that of the Cross, and to find him speaking of the "Intercession" of our Redeeming Lord, as "what he had long sought with unfeigned anxiety, and to which he looked with trembling hope." The commencing paragraph in his Will also authenticates the genuine character of his personal Christianity. "According to the ancient, good, and laudable custom, of which my heart and understanding recognise the propriety, I BEQUEATH MY SOUL TO GOD, HOPING FOR HIS MERCY ONLY THROUGH THE MERITS OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST. My body I desire to be buried in the church of Beaconsfield, near to the bodies of my dearest brother, and my dearest son, in all humility praying, that as we have lived in perfect unity together, we may together have part in the resurrection of the just." (In the "Epistolary Correspondence of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke and Dr. French Laurence" (Rivingtons, London, 1827), are several touching allusions to that master?grief which threw a mournful shadow over the closing period of Burke’s life. In one letter the anxious father says, "The fever continues much as it was. He sleeps in a very uneasy way from time to time?-but his strength decays visibly, and his voice is, in a manner, gone. But God is all?sufficient?-and surely His goodness and his mother’s prayers may do much" (page 30). Again, in another communication addressed to his revered correspondent, we find a beautiful allusion to his departed son, which involves his belief in that most soothing doctrine of the Church,—a recognition of souls in the kingdom of the Beatified. "Here I am in the last retreat of hunted infirmity; I am indeed ’aux abois.’ But, as through the whole of a various and long life I have been more indebted than thankful to Providence, so I am now singularly so, in being dismissed, as hitherto I appear to be, so gently from life, AND SENT TO FOLLOW THOSE WHO IN COURSE OUGHT TO HAVE FOLLOWED ME, WHOM, I TRUST, I SHALL YET, IN SOME INCONCEIVABLE MANNER, SEE AND KNOW; AND BY WHOM I SHALL BE SEEN AND KNOWN" (pages 53, 54).

In reference to the intellectual grandeur, the eloquent genius, and prophetic wisdom of Burke, which have caused his writings to become oracles for future statesmen to consult, it is quite unnecessary for contemporary criticism to speak. By the concurring judgment, both of political friends and foes, as well as by the highest arbiters of taste throughout the civilized world, Burke has been pronounced, not only "primus inter pares," but "facile omnium princeps." At the termination of these introductory remarks, the reader will be presented with critical portraitures of Burke from the writings and speeches of men, who, while opposed to him in their principles of legislative policy, with all the chivalry and candour of genius paid a noble homage to the vastness and variety of his unrivalled powers. Meanwhile, it may not be presumptuous for a writer, on an occasion like the present, to contemplate this great man under certain aspects, which, perhaps, are not sufficiently regarded in their DISTINCTIVE bearings on the worth and wisdom of his character and writings. We say "distinctive," because the eloquence of Burke, beyond that of all other orators and statesmen which Great Britain has produced, is featured with expressions, and characterised by qualities, as peculiar as they are immortal. So far as invention, imagination, moral fervour, and metaphorical richness of illustration, combined with that intense "pathos and ethos," which the Roman critic describes ("Huc igitur incumbat orator: hoc opus ejus, hic labor est; sine quo caetera nuda, jejuna, infirma, ingrata sunt: adeo velut spiritus operis hujus atque animus est IN AFFECTIBUS. Horum autem, sicut antiquitus traditum accepimus, duae sunt species: alteram Graeci pathos vocant, quem nos vertentes recte ac proprie AFFECTUM dicimus; alteram ethos, cujus nomine (ut ego quidem sentio) caret sermo Romanus, mores appellantur."—Quintilian, "Instit. Orat." lib. vi. cap. 2.) as essential to the true orator, are concerned, the author of "Reflections on the French Revolution," and "Letters on a Regicide Peace," is justly admired and appreciated. Moreover, if what we understand by the "sublime" in eloquence has ever been embodied, the speeches and writings of Burke appear to have been drawn from those five sources ("pegai") to which Longinus alludes. In the 8th chapter of his fragment "On the Sublime," he observes, that if we assume an ability for speaking well, as a common basis, there are five copious fountains from whence sublimity in eloquence may be said to flow; viz.

1. Boldness and grandeur of thought.

2. The pathetic, or the power of exciting the passions into an enthusiastic reach and noble degree.

3. A skilful application of figures, both from sentiment and language.

4. A graceful, finished, and ornate style, embellished by tropes and metaphors.

5. Lastly, as that which completes all the rest,—the structure of periods, in dignity and grandeur.

These five sources of the sublime, the same philosophical critic distinguishes into two classes; the first two he asserts to be gifts of nature, and the remaining three are considered to depend, in a great measure, upon literature and art. Again, if we may linger for a moment in the attractive region of classical authorship, how justly applicable are the words of Cicero in his "De Oratore," to the vastness and variety of Burke’s attainments! "Ac mea quidem sententia, nemo poterit esse omni laude cumulatus orator, nisi erit OMNIUM RERUM MAGNARUM ATQUE ARTIUM SCIENTIAM CONSECUTUS."—Cic. "De Orat." lib. i. cap. 6. Equally descriptive of Burke’s power in raising the dormant sensibilities of our moral nature by his intuitive perception of what that nature really and fundamentally is, are the following expressions of the same great authority:—"Quis enim nescit, maximam vim existere oratoris, in hominum mentibus vel ad iram aut ad odium, aut dolorem incitandis, vel, ab hisce, iisdem permonitionibus, ad lenitatem misericordiamque revocandis? Quare, NISI QUI NATURAS HOMINUM, VIMQUE OMNEM HUMANITATIS, CAUSASQUE EAS QUIBUS MENTES AUT EXCITANTUR, AUT REFLECTUNTUR, PENITUS PERSPEXERIT, DICENDO, QUOD VOLET, PERFICERE NON POTERIT."—Cic. "De Orat." lib. i. cap. 12.

But to return. If a critical analysis of Burke, as an exhibition of genius, be attempted, his characteristic endowments may, probably, be not incorrectly represented by the following succinct statement.

1. Endless variety in connection with exhaustless vigour of mind.

2. A lofty power of generalisation, both in speculative views and in his argumentative process.

3. Vivid intensity of conception, which caused abstractions to stand out with almost living force and visible feature, in his impassioned moments.

4. An imagination of oriental luxuriance, whose incessant play in tropes, metaphors, and analogies, frequently causes his speeches to gleam on the intellectual eye, as Aeschylus says the ocean does, when the Sun irradiates its bosom with the "anerithmon gelasma" of countless beams. 5. His positive acquirements in all the varied realms of art, science, and literature, endowed him with such vast funds of knowledge (In the wealth of his multitudinous acquirements, Burke seems to realise Cicero’s ideal of what a perfect orator should know:—"Equidem omnia, quae pertinent ad usum civium, morem hominum, quae versantur in consuetudine vitae, in ratione reipublicae, in hac societate civili, in sensu hominum communi, in natura, in moribus, co hendenda esse oratori puto."—Cicero "De Orat." lib. ii. cap. 16.), that Johnson declared of Burke—"Enter upon what subject you will, and Burke is ready to meet you."

6. In addition to these high gifts, may be added, an ability to wield the weapons of sarcasm and irony, with a keenness of application and effect rarely equalled. But, in all candour, it may be added, that just as a profusion of figures and metaphors sometimes tempted this great orator into incongruous images and coarse analogies, so his passion for irony was occasionally too intense. Hence, there are occasions where his pungency is embittered into acrimony, strength degenerates into vulgarism, and the vehemence of satire is infuriated with the fierceness of invective.

7. With regard to language and style, it may be truly said, they were the absolute vassals of his Genius, and did homage to its command in every possible mode by which it chose to employ them. Thus, in his "Letters on a Regicide Peace," and above all, in "French Revolutions," the reader will find almost every conceivable manner of style and mode of expression the English language can develop; and what is more,—together with classical richness, there are also the pointed seriousness and persuasive simplicity of our own vernacular Saxon, which increase the attractions of Burke’s style to a wonderful extent. But, beyond controversy, among these great endowments, the imaginative faculty is that which appears to be the most transcendent in the mental constitution of Burke. And so truly is this the case, that both among his contemporaries, as well as among his successors, this predominance of imagination has caused his just claims as a philosophic thinker and statesman to be partially overlooked. The union of ideal theory and practical realisation, of imaginative creation with logical induction, is indeed so rare, we cannot be surprised at the injustice which the genius of Burke has had to endure in this respect. And yet, in the nature of our faculties themselves, there exists no necessity why a vivid power to conceive ideas, should NOT be combined with a dialectic skill in expressing them. Degerando, an admirable French writer, in one of his Treatises, has some profound observations on this subject; and does not hesitate to define poetry itself as a species of "logique cachee."

But when we assert that these excellencies, which have thus been succinctly exhibited, characterise the mental constitution of Burke, we do not mean that others have not, in their degree, possessed similar endowments. Such an inference would be an absurd extravagance. But what we mean to affirm is—the qualifications enumerated have never been combined into co-operative harmony, and developed in proportionable effect, as they appear in the speeches and writings of this wonderful man. But after all, we have not reached what may be considered a peerless excellence, the peculiar gift,—the one great and glorious distinction, which separates Burke’s oratory from that of all others, and which has caused his speeches to be blended with political History, and to incorporate themselves with the moral destiny of Europe,—namely, HIS INTUITIVE PERCEPTION OF UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLES. The truth of this statement may be verified, by comparing the eloquence of Burke with specimens of departed orators; or by a reference to existing standards in the parliamentary debates. Compared, then, either with the speeches of Chatham, Holland, Pitt, Fox, etc. etc., we perceive at once the grand distinction to which we refer. These illustrious men were effective debaters, and, in various senses, orators of surpassing excellency. But how is it, that with all their allowed grandeur of intellect and political eminence, they have ceased to operate upon the hearts and minds of the present Age, either as teachers of political Truth, or oracles of legislative Wisdom? Simply, BECAUSE they were too popular in temporary effect, ever to become influential by permanent inspiration. In their highest moods, and amid their noblest hours of triumph, they were "of the earth earthy." Party; personality; crushing rejoinders, or satirical attacks; a felicitous exposure of inconsistency, or a triumphant self-vindication; brilliant repartees, and logical gladiatorship,—such are among the prominent characteristics which caused parliamentary debates in Burke’s day to be so animating and interesting to those who heard, or perused them, amid the excitements of the hour. It is not to be denied that commanding eloquence, vast genius, political ardour, intellectual enthusiasm, together with indignant denunciation and argumentative subtlety, were thus summoned into exercise by the perils of the Nation, and the contentions of Party. Nevertheless, the local, the temporal, the conventional, and the individual, in all which relates to the science of politics or the tactics of partisanship,—are sufficient to excite and employ the energies and qualities which made the general parliamentary debates of Burke’s period so captivating. But when we revert to his own speeches and writings, we at once perceive WHY, as long as the mind can comprehend what is true, the heart appreciate what is pure, or the conscience authenticate the sanction of heaven and the distinctions between right and wrong,—Edmund Burke will continue to be admired, revered, and consulted, not only as the greatest of English orators, but as the profoundest teacher of political Science. It was not that he despised the arrangement of facts, or overlooked the minutiae of detail; on the contrary, as may be proved by his speeches on "economical reform," and Warren Hastings; in these respects his research was boundless, and his industry inexhaustible. Moreover, he was quite alive to the claims of a crisis, and with the coolness and calm of a practical statesman, knew how to confront a sudden emergency, and to contend with a gigantic difficulty. Yet all these qualifications recede before Burke’s amazing power of expanding particulars into universals, and of associating the accidents of a transient discussion with the essential properties of some permanent Law in policy, or abstract Truth in morals. His genius looked through the local to the universal; in the temporal perceived the eternal; and while facing the features of the Individual, was enabled to contemplate the attributes of a Race. (Cicero, in many respects a counterpart of Burke, both in statesmanship and oratory, appears to recognise what is here expressed when he says:—"Plerique duo genera ad dicendum dederunt; UNUM DE CERTA DEFINITAQUE CAUSA, quales sunt quae in litibus, quae in deliberationibus versantur;—alterum, quod appellant omnes fere scriptores, explicat nemo, INFINITAM GENERIS SINE TEMPORE, ET SINE PERSONA quaestionem."—"De Orat." lib. ii. cap. 15.) Hence his speeches are virtual prophecies; and his writings a storehouse of pregnant axioms and predictive enunciations, as limitless in their range as they are undying in duration. In one word, no speeches delivered in the English Parliament, are so likely to be eternalized as Burke’s, because he has combined with his treatment of some especial case or contingency before him, the assertion of immutable Principles, which can be detached from what is local and national, and thus made to stand forth alone in all the naked grandeur of their truth and their tendency. Let us be permitted to investigate this topic a little further. If, then, what Quintilian asserted of the Roman orator may be applied to our own British Cicero,—"Ille se profecisse sciat, cui Cicero valde placebit;" and if, moreover, this pre-eminence be chiefly discovered in Burke’s instinctive grasp of that moral essence which is incorporated with all questions of political Science, and social Ethics—from WHENCE came this diviner energy of his Genius? No believer in Christian revelation will hesitate to appropriate, even to this subject, the apostolic axiom, "EVERY good gift, and EVERY perfect gift is from above." But while we subscribe with reverential sincerity to this announcement, it is equally true, that the Infinite Inspirer of all good adjusts His secret energies by certain laws, and condescends to work by analogous means. Bearing this in mind, we venture to think Burke’s gift of almost prescient insight into the recesses of our common nature, and his consummate faculty of instructing the Future through the medium of the Present,—were partly derived from the elevation of his sentiments, and the purity of his private life. (The action and reaction maintained between our moral and intellectual elements is but remotely discussed by Quintilian in his "Institutes." But still, in more than one passage, he most impressively declares, that mental proficiency is greatly retarded by perversity of heart and will. For instance, on one occasion we find him speaking thus:—"Nihil enim est tam occupatum, tam multiforme, tot ac tam variis affectibus concisum, atque laceratum, quam mala ac improba mens. Quis inter haec, literis, aut ulli bonae arti, locus? Non hercle magis quam frugibus, in terra sentibus ac rubis occupata."—"Nothing is so flurried and agitated, so self?contradictory, or so violently rent and shattered by conflicting passions, as a bad heart. In the distractions which it produces, what room is there for the cultivation of letters, or the pursuits of any honourable art? Assuredly, no more than there is for the growth of corn in a field overrun with thorns and brambles.") It would be unwise to draw invidious comparisons, but no student of the period in which Burke was in Parliament, can deny that, compared with SOME of his illustrious contemporaries, he was indeed a model of what reason and conscience alike approve in all the relative duties and personal conduct of a man, when beheld in his domestic career. It is, indeed, a source of deep thankfulness, the admirer of Burke’s genius in public, has no reason to blush for his character in private; and that when we have listened to his matchless oratory upon the arena of the House of Commons, we have not to mourn over dissipation, impurity, and depravity amid the circles of private history. Our theory, then, is, that beyond what his distinctive genius inspired, Burke’s wondrous power of enunciating everlasting principles and of associating the loftiest abstractions of wisdom with the commonest themes of the hour,—was sustained and strengthened by the purity of his heart, and the subjection of passion to the law of conscience. And if the worshippers of mere intellect, apart from, or as opposed to, moral elevation, are inclined to ridicule this view of Burke’s genius, we beg to remind them, that "One greater than the Temple" of mortal Wisdom, and all the idols enshrined therein, has asserted a positive connection to exist between mental insight and moral purity. We allude to the Redeemer’s words, when He declares,—"If any man WILLS to do His will, he shall KNOW of the doctrine." HOW the passions act upon our perceptions, and by what process the motions of the Will elevate or depress the forces of the Intellect, is beyond our metaphysics to analyse. But that there exists a real, active, and influential connection between our moral and mental life, is undeniable: and since Burke’s power of seizing the essential Idea, or fundamental Principle of every complex detail which came before him, was pre-eminently his gift,—the intellectual insight such gift developed, was not only an expression of senatorial wisdom, but also a witness for the elevation of his moral character. We must now allude to the public conduct of Burke, as a Statesman and Politician, and only regret the limited range of a popular essay confines us to one view, namely, his alleged inconsistency. There WAS a period when charges of apostasy were brought against him with reckless audacity: but Time, the instructor of ignorance, and the subduer of prejudice, is now beginning to place the conduct of Burke in its true light. The facts of the case are briefly these. Up to the period of 1791, Fox and Burke fought in the same rank of opposition, and stood together upon a basis of complete identity in principle and sentiment. But even before the celebrated disruption of 1791, the progress of Republicanism in America, and the approaching separation of the colonies from their parent state, Burke’s views of political liberty had received extensive modifications; and the ardour of his confidence in the so?called friends of freedom had been greatly cooled. But in 1791, the disruption between Burke and Fox became open, absolute, and final, when the latter statesman uttered, in the hearing of his friend, this fearful eulogium on the French Revolution:—"The new constitution of France is the most stupendous and glorious edifice of liberty which had been erected on the foundation of human integrity in any age or country!" (That ancient Sage unto whose political wisdom frequent reference has been made in this essay, thus speaks on the reverence due unto an existing government, even when contemplated from its weakest side:—"Formidable as these arguments seem, they may be opposed by others of not less weight; arguments which prove that even the rust of government is to be respected, and that its fabric is never to be touched but with a fearful and trembling hand. When the evil of persevering in hereditary institutions is small, it ought always to be endured, because the evil of departing from them is certainly very great. Slight imperfections, therefore, whether in the laws themselves, or in those who administer and execute the laws, ought always to be overlooked, because they cannot be corrected without occasioning a much greater mischief, and tending to weaken that reverence which the safety of all governments requires that the citizens at large should entertain, cultivate, and cherish for the hereditary institutions of their country. The comparison drawn from the improvement of arts does not apply to the amendment of laws. To change or improve an art, and to alter or amend a law, are things as dissimilar in their operation as different in their tendency; for laws operate as practical principles of moral action; and, like all the rules of morality, derive their force and efficacy, as even the name imports, from the customary repetition of habitual acts, and the slow operation of time. Every alteration of the laws, therefore, tends to subvert that authority on which the persuasive agency of all laws is founded, and to abridge, weaken, and destroy the power of the law itself."—Aristotle’s "Politics.") The reply of Burke to this burst of Jacobinism, with all its consequences in the political history of Europe, is far too well known to be quoted here. But, since it was at this point in the career of Burke the charge of apostasy was commenced, and which has never quite died away, even in existing times, we may be permitted, first, to cite a noble passage from Burke’s self?vindication; and secondly, to adduce a still more impressive evidence of his political rectitude and wisdom, derived from the admission of those who were once his uncompromising opponents. In relation to the attacks of Fox upon his supposed inconsistency, Mr. Burke thus replies:—

"I pass to the next head of charge,—Mr. Burke’s inconsistency. It is certainly a great aggravation of his fault in embracing false opinions, that in doing so he is not supposed to fill up a void, but that he is guilty of a dereliction of opinions that are true and laudable. This is the great gist of the charge against him. It is not so much that he is wrong in his book (that however is alleged also), as that he has therein belied his whole life. I believe, if he could venture to value himself upon anything, it is on the virtue of consistency that he would value himself the most. Strip him of this, and you leave him naked indeed.

"In the case of any man who had written something, and spoken a great deal, upon very multifarious matter, during upwards of twenty?five years’ public service, and in as great a variety of important events as perhaps have ever happened in the same number of years, it would appear a little hard, in order to charge such a man with inconsistency, to see collected by his friend, a sort of digest of his sayings, even to such as were merely sportive and jocular. This digest, however, has been made, with equal pains and partiality, and without bringing out those passages of his writings which might tend to show with what restrictions any expressions, quoted from him, ought to have been understood. From a great statesman he did not quite expect this mode of inquisition. If it only appeared in the works of common pamphleteers, Mr. Burke might safely trust to his reputation. When thus urged, he ought, perhaps, to do a little more. It shall be as little as possible, for I hope not much is wanting. To be totally silent on his charges would not be respectful to Mr. Fox. Accusations sometimes derive a weight from the persons who make them, to which they are not entitled for their matter. "A man who, among various objects of his equal regard, is secure of some, and full of anxiety for the fate of others, is apt to go to much greater lengths in his preference of the objects of his immediate solicitude than Mr. Burke has ever done. A man so circumstanced often seems to undervalue, to vilify, almost to reprobate and disown, those that are out of danger. This is the voice of nature and truth, and not of inconsistency and false pretence. The danger of anything very dear to us removes, for the moment, every other affection from the mind. When Priam had his whole thoughts employed on the body of his Hector, he repels with indignation, and drives from him with a thousand reproaches, his surviving sons, who with an officious piety crowded about him to offer their assistance. A good critic (there is no better than Mr. Fox) would say, that this is a master?stroke, and marks a deep understanding of nature in the father of poetry. He would despise a Zoilus, who would conclude from this passage that Homer meant to represent this man of affliction as hating, or being indifferent and cold in his affections to the poor relics of his house, or that he preferred a dead carcass to his living children.

"Mr. Burke does not stand in need of an allowance of this kind, which, if he did, by candid critics ought to be granted to him. If the principles of a mixed constitution be admitted, he wants no more to justify to consistency everything he has said and done during the course of a political life just touching to its close. I believe that gentleman has kept himself more clear of running into the fashion of wild, visionary theories, or of seeking popularity through every means, than any man perhaps ever did in the same situation.

"He was the first man who, on the hustings, at a popular election, rejected the authority of instructions from constituents; or who, in any place, has argued so fully against it. Perhaps the discredit into which that doctrine of compulsive instructions under our constitution is since fallen, may be due, in a great degree, to his opposing himself to it in that manner, and on that occasion.

"The reformers in representation, and the Bills for shortening the duration of Parliaments, he uniformly and steadily opposed for many years together, in contradiction to many of his best friends. These friends, however, in his better days, when they had more to hope from his service and more to fear from his loss than now they have, never chose to find any inconsistency between his acts and expressions in favour of liberty, and his votes on those questions. But there is a time for all things." We need not, however, confine our vindication of Burke to his own eloquence, but invite the especial attention of his accusers and defamers unto two forgotten facts: 1st. A few weeks before Fox died, he dictated a despatch to Lord Yarmouth, which confirmed all the policy for which Pitt for fifteen years had contended: moreover, in a debate on Wyndham’s "Military System," 1806, Fox thus delivered his own recantation:—"Indeed, by the circumstances of Europe, I AM READY TO CONFESS I HAVE BEEN WEANED FROM THE OPINIONS I FORMERLY HELD WITH RESPECT TO THE FORCE WHICH MIGHT SUFFICE IN TIME OF PEACE: nor do I consider this any inconsistency, because I see no rational prospect of any peace, which would exempt us from the necessity of watchful preparation and powerful establishment." But the change of Fox’s opinions, and their similarity to those maintained by Pitt, with reference to our war with France, are by no means ALL which history can produce in justification of Burke’s political wisdom and consistency. The whole civilized world has read the "Reflections on the French Revolution," whose sale, in one year, achieved the enormous number of 30,000 copies, in connection with medals or marks of honour from almost every Court in Europe. Now, of all the replies made to this masterpiece of reasoning and reflection, Mackintosh’s "Vindiciae Gallicae" was incontestably the ablest and profoundest. And yet, the greatest of all his intellectual opponents thus addresses Burke, as appears from "Memoirs" of Mackintosh, volume i. page 87:—"The enthusiasm with which I once embraced the instruction conveyed in your writings is now ripened into solid conviction by the experience and conviction of more mature age. For a time, SEDUCED BY THE LOVE OF WHAT I THOUGHT LIBERTY, I ventured to oppose, without ceasing to venerate, that writer who had nourished my understanding with the most wholesome principles of political wisdom...Since that time, A MELANCHOLY EXPERIENCE HAS UNDECEIVED ME ON MANY SUBJECTS, IN WHICH I WAS THE DUPE OF MY OWN ENTHUSIASM." Let us part from this branch of our subject by quoting Burke’s own words, uttered, as it were, on the very brink of eternity. They attest, to the latest moment of his life, with what a sacred intensity and unflinching sincerity he clung to his original sentiments touching the French Revolution. Nor let the present writer shrink from adding, they constitute but one of the many specimens of that instinctive prescience, whereby this profoundest of philosophical statesmen was enabled to herald from afar the final triumphs of courage, patriotism, and truth. The passage occurs towards the conclusion of his "Letters on a Regicide Peace," and is as follows:—"Never succumb. It is a struggle for your existence as a nation. If you must die, die with the sword in your hand. But I have no fear whatever for the result. There is a salient living principle of energy in the public mind of England, which only requires proper direction to enable her to withstand this, or any other ferocious foe. Persevere, therefore, till this tyranny be over-past."

If from the glare of public history, we follow this great man into the shades of domestic seclusion, or watch the features of his social character unfolding themselves in the varied circle which he graced by his presence, or dignified by his worth,—he is alike the object of respectful esteem and love. Warmth of heart, chivalry of sentiment, and that true high?breeding which springs from the soul rather than a pedigree, eminently characterise the history of Burke in private life. Above all, a sympathising tendency for the children of Genius, and a catholic largeness of view in all which relates unto mental effort, combined with the utmost charity for human failings and infirmities,—cannot but endear him to our deepest affections, while his unrivalled endowments command our highest admiration. To illustrate what is here alluded to, let the reader recall Burke’s noble generosity towards that erratic victim of genius and grief,—the painter Barry; or his instantaneous sympathy in behalf of Crabbe the poet, when almost a foodless wanderer in our vast metropolis; and our estimate of Burke’s excellencies as a man, will not be deemed overdrawn.

It now remains for the selector of the following pages to offer a few remarks on their nature, and design. Accustomed, from the earliest period of his mental life to read and study the writings of Edmund Burke, he has long wished that such a selection as now appears, should be published. The works of Burke extend through a vast range of large volumes; and it is feared thousands have been deterred from holding communion with a master?spirit of British literature, by the magnitude of his labours. Hence, a concentrated specimen of his intellect may not only tempt the "reading public" (Coleridge’s horror, yet an author’s friend!) to study some of Burke’s noblest passages, but even ultimately to introduce them into a full acquaintance with his entire products. Let it be distinctly understood, the selection now published, is not a second-hand one, grafted on some pre-existing volume; but the result of a diligent, careful, and analytical perusal of Burke’s writings. In attempting such a work, there was one difficulty, which none but those who have intimately studied this great orator can appreciate,—we allude to the giving general titles, or descriptive headings, to passages selected for quotation. There is a mental fulness, a moral variety, and such a rapid transition of idea, in most of Burke’s speeches, that it almost baffles ability to abbreviate the spirit of his paragraphs, so as to exhibit under some general head the bearing of the whole. The selector, in this respect, can only say, he has done his best; and those who are most competent to appreciate difficulty, will be least inclined to criticise failure.

Finally, as to the leading design of this volume, its title, "First Principles," is sufficiently descriptive to save much explanation. Burke represents an unrivalled combination of patriot, senator, and orator; and as such, the moral and intellectual nature of the Age will be purified and expanded, when brought into contact with the attributes of his character, and the productions of his mind. Nor can the meditative statesman, whose party is his country, and whose political creed is based upon a true philosophy of human nature, forget,—that while the French revolution, as involving FACTS, belongs to History, as enclosing PRINCIPLES, it appertains to Humanity: and hence, the abiding application of Burke’s profound views, not only to France and England, but to the world. Of course, those who reverence the majesty of eloquence, and are fascinated by a florid richness of style, boundless imagination, inexhaustible metaphor, and all the attending graces of consummate rhetoric, will also be charmed by the appropriate supply these pages afford. But, without seeking to be homiletical, let the writer be permitted to add, a far higher purpose than mere literary amusement, or the gratification of taste, is designed by the present volume. It is the selector’s most earnest hope, that the "First Principles" these pages so eloquently inculcate, may be transcribed in all their purity, loftiness, and truth, into the Reason and Conscience of his countrymen. And among these, for whose especial guidance he ventures to think the profound wisdom of these pages to be invaluable, are the rising statesmen and senators of the day, who are either being trained in our Public Schools, at the Universities, or about to enter upon the difficult but inspiring arena of the House of Commons. In reference to this sphere of legislative action, with all reverence to its claims and character, let it be said,—material ends (a boundless passion for physical good, whether indulged in by a nation, or professed by an individual, is rebuked with solemn wisdom in the following passage from Aristotle:—"The external advantages of power and fortune are acquired and maintained by virtue, but virtue is not acquired and maintained by them; and whether we consider the virtuous energies themselves, or the fruits which they unceasingly produce, THE SOVEREIGN GOOD OF LIFE MUST EVIDENTLY BE FOUND IN MORAL AND INTELLECTUAL EXCELLENCE, MODERATELY SUPPLIED WITH EXTERNAL ACCOMMODATIONS, RATHER THAN IN THE GREATEST ACCUMULATION OF EXTERNAL ADVANTAGES, UNIMPROVED AND UNADORNED BY VIRTUE. External prosperity is, indeed, instrumental in producing happiness, and, therefore, like every other instrument, must have its assigned limits, beyond which it is inconvenient or hurtful. But to mental excellence no limit can be assigned; the further it extends the more USEFUL it becomes, if the epithet of ’USEFUL’ need ever be added to that of HONOURABLE. Besides this, the relative importance of qualities is best estimated by that of their respective subjects. But the mind, both in itself and in reference to man, is far better than the body, or than property. The excellencies of the mind, therefore, are in the same proportion to be preferred to the highest perfection of the body, and the best disposition of external circumstances. The two last are of a far inferior, and merely subservient nature; since no man of sense covets or pursues them, but for the sake of the mind, with a view to promote its genuine improvement and augment its native joys. Let this great truth then be acknowledged,—A TRUTH EVINCED BY THE DEITY HIMSELF, WHO IS HAPPY, NOT FROM ANY EXTERNAL CAUSE, BUT THROUGH THE INHERENT ATTRIBUTES OF HIS DIVINE NATURE."—"Politics," lib. iv.), commercial objects, and secular aggrandizement, are now receiving an idolatrous homage and passionate regard, which no Christian patriot can contemplate without anxiety. The ideal, the imaginative, and the religious element, is almost sneered out of the House of Commons at the existing moment; and any glowing exhibition of oratory, or splendid manifestation of intellect, is derided, as being "unpractical" and ill-adapted to the sobriety of the English Senate! Against this heartless materialism and unholy mammon-worship, Burke’s pages are a magnificent protest; and are admirably suited to protect the political youth and dawning statesmen of our country, from the blight and the blast of doctrines which decry Enthusiasm as folly, and condemn the Beautiful as worthless and untrue. Ships, colonies, and commerce; exports and imports; taxes and imposts; charters and civic arrangements,—none but a madman will depreciate what such themes involve, of duty, energy, and zeal, in political life. Still, let it be fearlessly maintained, neither wealth, nor commerce, IN THEMSELVES, can constitute the real greatness of an empire; it is only because they stand in relation to the higher destinies and holier responsibilities of an Empire, that a true statesman will regard them as vitally wound up with the vigour and prosperity of national development. Such, at least, is the philosophy of Politics, breathed from the undying pages of Edmund Burke. He who studies this great writer, will, more and more, sympathise with what Hooker taught, and Bishop Sanderson inculcates. In one word, he will learn to venerate with increasing reverence THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION, as

"That peerless growth of patriotic mind,
The great eternal Wonder of mankind!"

Burke traced the ultimate origin of civil government to the Divine Will, both as declared in Revelation, and imaged forth by the moral Constitution of man. In this respect, it is well?known how fundamentally he differs from the theories of Hobbes, Mandeville, Shaftesbury, and Hutcheson. Not less also, is he opposed to Locke, who tells us,—"The original compact which begins and ACTUALLY CONSTITUTES ANY POLITICAL SOCIETY, IS NOTHING BUT THE CONSENT OF ANY NUMBER OF FREEMEN CAPABLE OF A MAJORITY, TO UNITE AND INCORPORATE INTO SUCH A SOCIETY. AND THIS IS THAT, AND THAT ONLY, WHICH COULD GIVE BEGINNING TO ANY LAWFUL GOVERNMENT IN THE WORLD." In one word, Locke declares that civil government is not from God in the way of principle, but from man in the way of fact; and thus, being a mere contingency, or moral accident in the history of human development, self?government is the essential prerogative of our nature. In accordance with this irrational and unscriptural hypothesis, we find Price and Priestly expanding Locke’s views at the period of Burke; while in the writings of that apostle of political Antinomianism, Rousseau, and his English counterpart Tom Paine,—the principles of the ASSUMED "CONTRAT SOCIAL" display their utmost virulence. This is not the place to discuss the origin of Civil Government; but the classical reader, who has been taught to revere the political wisdom of those ancient Teachers, whose insight was almost prophetical in abstract science, will thank us for an extract from Aristotle’s "Politics," which bears upon this subject. It presents a most striking coincidence of sentiment between two master?spirits on the philosophy of government; and will at once remind the reader of Burke’s memorable passage, beginning with, "Society is a partnership," etc. etc. The passage to which we allude in Aristotle’s "Politics," begins thus: "Ote men oun e polis phusei proteron e ekastos," k.t.l. The whole passage may be thus freely translated. "A participation in rights and advantages forms the bond of political society; AN INSTITUTION PRIOR, IN THE INTENTION OF NATURE, TO THE FAMILIES AND INDIVIDUALS FROM WHOM IT IS CONSTITUTED. What members are to the body, that citizens are to a commonwealth. The hands or foot, when separated from the body, retains its name, but totally changes its nature, because it is completely divested of its uses and powers. In the same manner a citizen is a constituent part of a whole system, which invests him with powers and qualifies him for functions for which, in his individual capacity, he is totally unfit; and independently of such system, he might subsist indeed as a lonely savage, but could never attain that improved and happy state to which his progressive nature invariably tends. Perfected by the offices and duties of social life, man is the best; but, rude and undisciplined, he is the very worst, of animals. For nothing is more detestable than armed improbity; and man is armed with craft and courage, which, uncontrolled by justice, he will most wickedly pervert, and become at once the most impious and fiercest of monsters, the most abominable in gluttony, and shameless in personality. But justice is the fundamental virtue of political society, since the order of Society cannot be maintained without law, and laws are constituted to proclaim what is just." Let us add to this noble passage, Aristotle remarks in his "Ethics" (lib. x. c. 8), that a higher destination than political virtue is the true end of man. In this respect, he concurs with Plato; who teaches us in his "Theaetetus," the main object of human pursuit ought to be "omoiosis to theo kata to dunaton," etc. etc.; i.e. "A similitude unto God as far as possible; which similitude consists in an imitation of His justice, holiness, and wisdom." To conclude: the noblest end of all Policy on earth, is to educate Human Nature for that august "politeuma" (Phil. iii. v. 20), that Eternal Commonwealth which awaits perfected Spirits above, when, through infinite grace, they are finally admitted into a "CITY which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." (Heb. xi. 10.) (The dim approximations of Platonic philosophy to certain discoveries in Divine Revelation, have rightly challenged the attention of theological enquirers. The above quotation from St. Paul suggests a reference to one of these, which occurs towards the termination of Plato’s ninth book of "The Republic." He is uttering a protest against our concluding, that because degeneracy appears to be the invariable law or destiny of all human commonwealths, THEREFORE, no Archetypal Model exists of any perfect state, or polity: and then, in opposition to this political scepticism, Plato adds these remarkable words:—"en ourano isos paradeigma anakeitai to boulomeno oran kai oronti eauton katoikizein," etc. etc.—"The state we have here established, which exists only in our reasoning, but it seems to me, HAS NO EXISTENCE ON EARTH. BUT IN HEAVEN, PROBABLY, I REPLIED, THERE IS A MODEL OF IT FOR ANY ONE INCLINED TO CONTEMPLATE THE SAME, AND BY SO CONTEMPLATING IT, TO REGULATE HIMSELF ACCORDINGLY.")


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Chicago: Edmund Burke, "Introductory Essay.," Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke in Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke Original Sources, accessed July 5, 2022,

MLA: Burke, Edmund. "Introductory Essay." Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke, in Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke, Original Sources. 5 Jul. 2022.

Harvard: Burke, E, 'Introductory Essay.' in Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke. cited in , Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke. Original Sources, retrieved 5 July 2022, from