Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke

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Author: Edmund Burke

William the Conqueror.

There is nothing more memorable in history than the actions, fortunes, and character of this great man; whether we consider the grandeur of the plans he formed, the courage and wisdom with which they were executed, or the splendour of that success, which, adorning his youth, continued without the smallest reserve to support his age even to the last moments of his life. He lived above seventy years, and reigned within ten years as long as he lived: sixty over his dukedom, above twenty over England; both of which he acquired or kept by his own magnanimity, with hardly any other title than he derived from his arms; so that he might be reputed, in all respects, as happy as the highest ambition, the most fully gratified, can make a man. The silent inward satisfactions of domestic happiness he neither had nor sought. He had a body suited to the character of his mind, erect, firm, large, and active; whilst to be active was a praise; a countenance stern, and which became command. Magnificent in his living, reserved in his conversation, grave in his common deportment, but relaxing with a wise facetiousness, he knew how to relieve his mind and preserve his dignity; for he never forfeited by a personal acquaintance that esteem he had acquired by his great actions. Unlearned in books, he formed his understanding by the rigid discipline of a large and complicated experience. He knew men much, and therefore generally trusted them but little; but when he knew any man to be good, he reposed in him an entire confidence, which prevented his prudence from degenerating into a vice. He had vices in his composition, and great ones; but they were the vices of a great mind: ambition, the malady of every extensive genius; and avarice, the madness of the wise: one chiefly actuated his youth; the other governed his age. The vices of young and light minds, the joys of wine, and the pleasures of love, never reached his aspiring nature. The general run of men he looked on with contempt, and treated with cruelty when they opposed him. Nor was the rigour of his mind to be softened but with the appearance of extraordinary fortitude in his enemies, which, by a sympathy congenial to his own virtues, always excited his admiration, and insured his mercy. So that there were often seen in this one man, at the same time, the extremes of a savage cruelty, and a generosity, that does honour to human nature. Religion, too, seemed to have a great influence on his mind from policy, or from better motives; but his religion was displayed in the regularity with which he performed his duties, not in the submission he showed to its ministers, which was never more than what good government required. Yet his choice of a counsellor and favourite was not, according to the mode of the time, out of that order, and a choice that does honour to his memory. This was Lanfranc, a man of great learning for the times, and extraordinary piety. He owed his elevation to William; but, though always inviolably faithful, he never was the tool or flatterer of the power which raised him; and the greater freedom he showed, the higher he rose in the confidence of his master. By mixing with the concerns of state he did not lose his religion and conscience, or make them the covers or instruments of ambition; but tempering the fierce policy of a new power by the mild lights of religion, he became a blessing to the country in which he was promoted. The English owed to the virtue of this stranger, and the influence he had on the king, the little remains of liberty they continued to enjoy; and at last such a degree of his confidence, as in some sort counterbalanced the severities of the former part of his reign.

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Chicago: Edmund Burke, "William the Conqueror.," Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke in Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke Original Sources, accessed December 1, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=RTM6W5RFXF2R6P4.

MLA: Burke, Edmund. "William the Conqueror." Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke, in Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke, Original Sources. 1 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=RTM6W5RFXF2R6P4.

Harvard: Burke, E, 'William the Conqueror.' in Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke. cited in , Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke. Original Sources, retrieved 1 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=RTM6W5RFXF2R6P4.