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As I thought thus, the east wind blew more cuttingly than ever. The god of the winds wound his trumpet of defiance, blast after blast. I buttoned up my blouze, strapped my cap more tightly down, and bidding farewell to the seaman, left the esplanade for the town, there to note another item in my catalogue of charges against the present state of society.
NOTES WRITTEN IN THE MARGIN OF LORD BROUGHAM'S CHARACTER OF BURKE
IN HIS “STATESMEN OF THE REIGN OF GEORGE 1I1.'
LORD BROUGHAM has brought out again before us many evanescent characters, just as Bekker and Angelo Mai recovered the palimpsests, with a strong infusion of gall. Let us hope that there may be this difference, that they never may be copied.
No history of England will exhibit to posterity so clear and impartial a view of the statesmen who conducted her affairs for a quarter of a century, as Collingwood's and Nelson's Correspondence and The Duke of Wellington's Orders and Despatches. These volumes display more evidences of incapacity, in an uninterrupted succession of Ministers, than are afforded by the aggregate of those who contributed to the decline and fall of the Roman and Byzantine empires. What a glory is it to our nation to have stood against such precipitancy, and to have united, as never were united before, such firmness and such enterprise !
Perhaps here I ought to beg pardon of the learned Lord ; for, although my contempt of our statesmen, on both sides, is quite equal to his own, I cannot but exult at all the triumphs of our countrymen. I will now turn over those pages of his book which contain his notice of Edmund Burke :
“How much soever men may differ as to the soundness of Mr. Burke's doctrines, or the purity of his public conduct, there can be no hesitation in according to him a station among the most extraordinary persons that have ever appeared : nor is there now any diversity of opinion as to the place which it is fit to assign him."
It is painful to find those words which we recollect in our favourite authors, our guides in youth and our companions in man
hood, thus shorn of their character and twisted into new significations. To accord, for grant or concede, is amongst the worst frippery our men-milliners of the press have recently smuggled over from France.
“ He could either bring his masses of information to bear directly upon the subjects to which they severally belonged-or he could avail himself of them generally to strengthen his faculties and enlarge his views—or he could turn any portion of them to account for the purpose of illustrating his theme, or enriching his diction.”
By the insertion of the words “ to account for,” he creates an ambiguity. We might doubt whether account is a verb or a substantive. The uncertainty would have been avoided by the omission of these words so unnecessary, and by writing “ He could turn any portion of them to the purpose,” &c. seem a trivial objection ; but no incorrectness of style should pass without remark.
“ All his works, indeed, even his controversial, are so informed with general reflection, so variegated with speculative discussion, that they wear the air of the Lyceum as well as the Academy."
To wear an air, sounds strangely : and he should have taken care to insert of before the Academy; else we might understand that he wore the air of the Lyceum as the Academy wore it.
“But in all other styles, passages without end occur of the highest order - epigram-pathos - metaphor in profusion, chequered with more didactic and sober diction."
Here epigram is introduced as the first of passages without end of the highest order: "epigram, pathos,” &c. Certainly there are in Burke passages without end. But epigram is somewhạt low in order, and Burke happily did not excel in it. Of “pathos” he had none.
His florid and childish description of Marie Antoinette is perhaps the most generally admired, but certainly the very worst, in all his multifarious writings. The remarks upon it by Paine are beyond what you would imagine to be within his scope. Scarcely will you find in the English language more beautiful or more just expressions. In many occasions he reasons with closer logic than his oratorical opponent, but here he far excels him in his own regions of imagination. It seems to me so beautiful, that I will quote the passage :-“Not one glance of compassion, not one commiserating reflection, that I can find throughout his book, has he bestowed on those who lingered out the most wretched of
lives, a life without hope, in the most miserable of prisons. It is painful to behold a man employing his talents to corrupt himself. Nature has been kinder to Mr. Burke than he is to her. He is not affected by the reality of distress touching his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it striking his imagination. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird. Accustomed to kiss the aristocratical hand that hath purloined him from himself, he degenerates into a composition of art, and the genuine soul of nature forsakes him. His hero or his heroine must be a tragedyvictim expiring in show, and not the real prisoner of misery, sliding into death in the silence of a dungeon."
Since the writing of these words, I come unexpectedly to the quotation from Burke, to which they refer :—" And surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in, glittering like the morning star, full of life, and
splendour, and joy.” The sentence is truly harmonious, and the images seem to be snatched hastily from the fragments of an enchanted palace. But let us come up
close. This orb means the real globe we live The horizon is not the horizon of this orb; and the elevated sphere has nothing to do with it. If the Queen of France touched the orb at all, she could not be just above the horizon; and in neither case would she begin move in the elevated “sphere.' move in a SPHERE is the peculiar privilege of gold and silver fish; and is, translatively, the most absurd of all those absurd expressions to which illiterate and unreflecting fashion has given currency.
The language of Burke, sometimes simple and often vigorous, is generally too ready to run into sterile luxuriance. We find him out of breath by labouring to put on his foot the tarnished shoe of a prostitute, the upper part covered with spangles and the lower with filth. He was not, as Lord Brougham represents him, versed in every department of literature and science, but he made the most of the little he had acquired, and was wiser than the majority of the authors he had read.
“ He unfolds his facts in a narrative so easy, and yet so correct, that you plainly perceive he wanted only the dismissal of other pursuits to have rivalled Livy or Hume.'
The stateliest and most majestic of historians, worthy to describe the rise and elevation of Rome, just as Gibbon its decline and fall, is here dragged from the Capitol to join the pedestrianism
of Hume. Many as are our historian's defects in style, they are fewer and less offensive than Burke's. He never is inflated or unequal: and strong as is the political bias, he gives us the result of his inquiries with a temperate and calm decision. His faults are principally in idiom, and never arise, as Burke's do, from a petulance of display, and a debility of self-command.
“One clever man's opinion is just as good as another's, if both are equally uninfluenced by passions and feelings of every kind."
The author here supposes what never existed ; that an opinion can be influenced by every kind of feeling. But, receiving it as unexceptionable, one clever man may be less clever than another. Even if two men could be equal in cleverness (and no two ever were), yet one of them may have examined a thing more attentively than the other, and must consequently be able to form a juster opinion on it.
“ The fate of society for many years hung upon Hasting's impeachment."
How so? what society? Human society at large is usually understood by the word society. But the fate not even of English society hung upon this question ; no, nor even the society at Brookes's. Cards would have been shuffled, jokes would have caused laughter, dinners would have been given, wine would have retained its flavour, whether the Governor of India had been found innocent or guilty.
« Without being followers of Mr. Bugke's political principles, or indiscriminate admirers of his course as a statesman,—the capacity in which he the least shone, especially during the few latter and broken years of his illustrious, checkered, and care-worn life, we may yet affirm that, with the exception of his writings upon the French Revolution-an exception itself to be qualified and restricted—it would be difficult to find any statesman of any age whose opinions were more habitually marked by moderation.”
Yet all his productions, excepting one, which is little better than a college exercise, on the Sublime and Beautiful, appertain to statesmanship. Men of moderate intellects, and unblest by genius, have often governed wisely. The greatest things are the most distinctly seen, and require less delicacy in the handling. Several men who ruled their people, in circumstances of great difficulty, were unable to manage their families. Augustus, not inferior to Cromwell himself in shrewdness and sagacity, was overmatched in domestic life by the crafty Livia ; and the hand which regulated and controlled the world was ineffectual in the guidance of Julia.
“Speaking of the effects produced by his strong opinions respecting French affairs, Sir James Mackintosh, as justly as profoundly observed to Mr. Horner-So great is the effect of a single inconsistency with the whole course of a long and wise political life, that the greatest philosopher in practice whom the world ever saw, passes with the superficial vulgar for a hot-brained enthusiast.'
This opinion of Burke, delivered by Mackintosh, is called "just and profound.” In fact, no hasty expression of Burke himself is half so extravagant as this. - Whom the world ever saw,” is the heedless flourish of young writers at the bottom of hot sentences, ill becoming the steadier writing of chancellors or judges.
“For nearly the whole period during which he survived the commencement of the Revolution,-for five of those seven years,-all his predictions, save one momentary expression, had been more than fulfilled : anarchy and bloodshed had borne sway in France ; conquest and convulsion had desolated Europe ; and even when he closed his eyes upon earthly prospects, he left this portentous meteor, 'with fear of change perplexing monarchs.' The providence of mortals is not often able to penetrate so far as this into futurity.”
Nevertheless, how many hundreds of publications, in England, France, Italy, and Germany, do we remember, all of them foretelling the devastations of the French Revolution ! the greater part by ignorant priests, or still more ignorant courtiers. These made just as good prophets as Mr. Burke. But it is not only swine and geese that feel by instinct the storm approaching. Not only did sermons and silly men proclaim it loudly ; it was announced to Parliament in the speech of Lord Mornington.
“We have been contemplating a great marvel certainly, not gazing on a supernatural sight; and we retire from it with the belief, that if acuteness, learning, imagination, so unmeasured, were never before combined, yet have there been occasionally witnessed in eminent men greater powers of close reasoning and fervid declamation, oftentimes a more correct taste, and on the question to which his mind was last and most earnestly applied, a safer judgment."
Certainly they are unmeasured by Lord Brougham. Would any man,
in quiet possession of his senses, venture to say that Bacon and Milton, for instance, did not combine a much greater quantity of all these qualities ? Burke was indeed a great and wonderful man, if you compare him with the people who sat about him in the House of Commons; but you render him diminutive, and lose him almost out of sight, if you force him back into past ages.