Page images
PDF
EPUB

mitted himself, and repented in dust and ashes. But even so, I do find him blamed for reprehending, and with a considerable degree verbal asperity, those ill-natured neighbors of his, who visited his da hill to read moral, political and economical lectures on his misery. am alone. I have none to meet my enemies in the gate.' vol. ii.p. 201

But perhaps there is nothing in his history, which at the sa time is so decisive on this point, and so strikingly illustrative of regard for his opinions, as his rupture with Mr. Fox. Their tachment for each other had taken almost every form under wh mutual affection blesses man. Burke had been to Fox a fath and an instructor,—had imparted to him many of his politi principles, and had guided him in his political conduct. Th had, also, through the whole course of their political life, up to t moment of their separation, been fellow-combatants for the sar cause, and had continued bound in fast friendship to each othe But all this was forgotten and put aside from his view by M Burke, the instant in which his friend disowned and attacked tha principles, which he looked upon as connected with the perm: pence of the British constitution, and as being the only sure four dation of social order. Their personal friendship was at onc broken off, and never resumed. We are even told that on hi death-bed, Mr. Burke refused to see Mr. Fox. For sublimity an touching pathos, the story is unmatched even by the severe am stately tales of classic tragedy. All men, whatever they may think of the wisdom or reasonableness of such a decision, will a least acknowledge, that it could have been adopted and persiste in, by no other than a man of great seriousness and weight of character ;-a man who had the dignity, not of strong passion, but of an inflexible determination. Those who would see for themselves, whether Mr. Burke, on the immediate occasion of its adoption, was excited in an unbecoming manner, may read with advantage his “ Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs.”

His views of human nature, too, and of the destinies and interests of mankind, are those of a thoughtful and serious man. In the sober estimate which he forms of human happiness, there is the fullest acknowledgment of the sacredness of the social and domestic affections, and of their intimate connection with all that gladdens the heart of man. With these he never trifles, and of them he never speaks, except as one who is not ashamed of his humanity. We know him at once to be a person who glories in the delights of home, in the endearments of the domestic circle, and the solemnities of duty and of conscience. Most men who take part

in public deliberations, neglect any regard to these, and seem ashamed to speak of them before their fellow-men. While they sit in all the state of their public character, these things are in their view but trifles. Trifles, replies the solemn reprover, they are “ties which, though light as air, are as strong as links of iron.” Accordingly he not only recognizes them as having a real existence, but as fit subjects for legislative notice and enactment. In consulting for the interests of a people, his first inquiry was, What are their feelings,—their sympathies; and where are consecrated their attachnents as men and as patriots? Above all, what are their prejudices? since for prejudices, whether harmless or injurious, no man ever manifested a more sacred respect. He did not inquire, whether their origin was not unreasonable, and therefore if they ought not to be sacrificed; but, Do they exist, and how shall we adapt ourselves to them? Is a change in the government of a colony proposed, he does not ask, Will the additional clauses, or the new enactment give a greater influence to their votes, or endow them with a more ample possession of nominal freedom? or, will it put money in their purses ? but, How will it affect their hearts? Will it upite their feelings more closely to the parent state, and towards their own rulers at home? If such ties as these are to be severed, if these delicate tendrils are to be rudely torn from all to which they have attached themselves and fondly cling, his hand will not jon in the sacrilegious act. He would secure the hearts of the people; and with him the phrase had a meaning which it does not often bear in the mouths of political men.

He had, however, no tendency to dwell exclusively, or with a morbid sensibility, upon the dark shades of human life. He did not refuse to join, with a free response, in the song of nature and the glee of human voices; or to yield his feelings to any thing which should excite gladness in the heart of man. The dark coloring which this maze of human destiny wore in his sight, was not given to it by a jaundiced eye; but was seen by one that was clear and penetrating, and which never refused to look at things as they are. It is in the most faithful mirrors, that we expect to see the lines of deformity represented with the most exact fidelity, as well as to behold reflected back the freshness and living reality of all that is beautiful. Still it must be acknowledged, that his chosen walks were ever in the twilight of thought and feeling. He delighted to place himself among scenes, and to surround himself with associations, such as give pensiveness to the hour of meditation, and sobriety to the character. He could neither make a jest with ease, por retort one with graceful aptness. He had no power over the lively notes and the brisk changes of the violin, but delighted rather to pour forth the solemn peal and the measured harmonies of the noble organ. He loved antiquity with a religious reverence. He delighted to walk by himself down its long-drawn aisles, and to gaze on its pictures as they met his eye in succession, and sell upon his view in mellowed and softened colors. Speaking of certain acts of parliament, and of the language in which they were framed, he says:

It is the language of your own ancient acts of parliament. It is the genuine produce of the ancient, rustic, manly, home-bred sense of this country.--I did not dare to rub off a particle of the venerable rust that rather adorns and preserves, than destroys the metal. It would be a profanation to touch with a tool the stones which construct the sacred altar of peace. I would not violate with modern polish the ingenuous and noble roughness of their truly constitutional materials. I put my foot in the track of our forefathers, where I can neither wander noi stumble.' vol. i.

p.

241.

Now it is very easy to smile at this declaration, and to consider it, in our self-complacent wisdom, as an amiable weakness, and as harmless enthusiasm. But is it wise in us to do so; or do we feel so inclined in our best and happiest moments ? Are not these the feelings of human nature ? And have we not a personal interest, and a sort of familiar acquaintance, with him who thus lays open to us his feelings, and speaks from his heart? Is it not also the case, that where there is no reverence for antiquity, there is no gentleness, no kindly emotions, nothing but hard-heartedness?

The true account of the existence of these habits of thought and feeling in Mr. Burke, is to be found in the fact, that he reserred every thing within himself to principles, such as a mind like his could not but be continually forming. These he suffered to preside over his intellect, and to rest on his heart, with a weighty and overawing power. Now it is impossible for a man to carry such a habit about with himself, and to be continually looking at every thing in wide and extended relations, without becoming a man of sobriety, and even of severity of character. A little incident occurs to a man of these habits,—such a one as happens daily, and is unheeded by the unreflecting ; it arrests his attention, and he reflects on it, as having at one time given an entire change to the character of an individual, or as having decided the fate of a nation ; and he pauses while there comes up before him the principle in himself and others, which gave it its power, and laid the foundation for its consequences. Hamlet is a man of this character, and morbidly so, insomuch that he is unfitted for action, and becomes the sport of his own reflections. He is drawn aside from all that interests him at the moment, and which calls him to a decisive effort ; because he must pursue out those universal truths which the occasion suggested.

* Now might I do it, —
And now I'll do't ;
But so he goes to heaven,
And so am I reveng'd?'

Thus was his arm ever palsied by his thoughts, when he would stiffen it to action.

The principles upon which such a man fixes, are almost of neressity of a high moral tone ; and we expect them to be so. We give the name moralizing to his more general and less determinate acts of mind, and we look for a greater degree of seriousness, when he formally states principles and rules of conduct. Accordingly, in almost every page of Mr. Burke's writings, we find the fullest recognition, and not only so, but the fearless and hearty acknowledgment, of the claims of man's moral nature, and of the sacredness of its demands. To the fact of its supreme and rightful sway, be ever yielded a cordial assent; and not merely with that passing notice which all men bestow upon it by common consent, but as if to something which is ever near us, and which should awaken in us a ready and willing obedience. There was no sublimer sight for him, than the man who struggles with his own faults, and exerts himself manfully to rule his own spirit ; nor was any thing more sacred in his eye, than that scrupulous regard to its minutest requirements, which passes with the world as proof of a narrow mind.

The conscientious man was with him the only man who is worthy of the pame; and he who possessed not such a character, he regarded as the one who is truly enslaved, degraded, and mean. His recognitions of man's moral obligation are neither those of the sentimental moralizer, who admits every thing in regard to it except what is practical; nor that of the mere ethical philosopher, who has discovered by bis analysis, that man is under its law. It has all that warmth and heartiness of feeling, which is denoted by the word faith. He had faith, that man is sacredly bound by its commands, as truly as he had faith that man is moved by domestic and social love; and for the same reason, because he felt both in his own breast. He appealed to both, as alike real, and called upon the consciousness of men for an assent to the fact of their existence. He drew his illustration from the one as freely as from the other; and it was with none of that awkwardness which characterizes some of the homilies on moral philosophy, which are attempted by our modern statesmen.

With the same ease, he passed from moral duty to that which gives it its sacredness, and spake with equal freedom and conscious sell-possession, of man's duties to God.' The conscience was with him a law, which is revealed by a law-giver. He did not strip it of all its sacredness, or elevate it into an idol of itself, by separating it from the Being who gave it, and who maintains its life in the breast of man ; without whom it has no meaning, and who is a living and personal God. Many, we doubt not, are so zealous for this monitor within, and so superstitious even, after their own fashion, in their regard for it, and so strenuous for its rights, that they are offended if we refer to Him who has written this law in

30

VOL. VI.

the heart, and are sorely scandalized at any specific recognition of him, as living to execute the sanctions which it threatens. But with Mr. Burke it was far otherwise. If it is true that he treated all else which concerns man with a serious and sacred regard, it is as true that he spake of his relations to God with a seriousness approaching solemnity. His allusions to the word of life, to the ministers of religion, to the church, which he considered a mair pillar in the temple of our common faith, were made with the great est freedom, and what is more to our purpose, with ease and appa rent unconstraint. Nor, while he acknowledged man to be under the law of conscience and of God, was he afraid to declare it as a fact, that the one is frequently violated, and that the being whư implanted it is openly and widely dishonored. He was not afraid to say, as some who call themselves theologians are, that wicked ness is abroad throughout the earth, and that for the proof o man's frailty and degradation, one's own bosom is the trues voucher. He was willing to allow that a contest is going on betweer the powers of darkness and those of light, and that the odds ir numbers is fearfully against the latter ;—that the good ought to bestir themselves with a spirit far different from that which they actually manifest, and that they ought to be as searless and as firm as the strength of their cause, and their hopes of final triumph demand them to be. This truth was not placed by him far off in the distance, but was treated as a living reality, to be seen at the door of every man.

We do not find, nor should we expect to find these statements directly made by him in theological language ; but we find the fact every where implied, and frequently and broadly recognized. As an instance we quote the following :

· Let it be but a serious religion, natural or revealed, take what you can get; cherish, blow up the slightest spark. One day it may be a pure and holy flame. By this proceeding you form an alliance, offensive and defensive, against those great ministers of darkness in the world, who are endeavoring to shake all the works of God, established in order and beauty. The honorable gentleman would have us fight this confederacy of the powers of darkness with the single arm of the church of England; would have us not only fight against infidelity, but fight at the same time with all the faith in the world except our own.Strong as we are, we are not equal to this. The cause of the church of England is included in that of religion, not that of religion in the church of England.' vol. ii. pp. 452, 453.

The intellect of Mr. Burke was eminently and in the highest sense philosophical. Its power, however, was not employed 10 any very great extent, in minute analysis of the mental phenomena : nor was it often exercised in a continued stretch of accurate and subtle logic. His early production “On the Sublime and Beauti

« PreviousContinue »