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Edmund Burke

Rt. Hon. Edmund Burke
Full name Edmund Burke
Born 12 January 1729
Dublin, Ireland
Died 9 July 1797 (aged 68)
Beaconsfield, England
Era 18th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Old Whig,
Liberal conservatism
Main interests Social and political philosophy

Edmund Burke PC (12 January [NS] 1729[1] – 9 July 1797) was an Anglo-Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher who, after relocating to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party. He is mainly remembered for his opposition to the French Revolution. It led to his becoming the leading figure within the conservative faction of the Whig party, which he dubbed the "Old Whigs", in opposition to the pro-French-Revolution "New Whigs" led by Charles James Fox. Burke lived before the terms "conservative" and "liberal" were used to describe political ideologies.[2] Burke was praised by both conservatives and liberals in the nineteenth-century and since the twentieth-century he has generally been viewed as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.[3][4]


Early life

Burke was born in Dublin, Ireland to a prosperous solicitor father (Richard; d. 1761) of the Church of Ireland. It is unclear if this is the same Richard Burke who converted from Catholicism.[5][6] His mother Mary (c. 1702–1770), whose maiden name was Nagle, belonged to the Roman Catholic Church and came from an impoverished but genteel County Cork family. (The name de Búrca, anglicised as Burke, is the Irish language version of the Norman name Burgh or de Burgh, the name of a family that settled in Ireland following the Norman invasion of Ireland by Henry II of England in 1172.[7]) Burke was raised in his father's faith and remained throughout his life a practising Anglican, unlike his sister Juliana who was brought up as and remained a Roman Catholic. His political enemies were later repeatedly to accuse him of having been educated at the Jesuit seminary of St. Omer's and of harbouring secret Catholic sympathies at a time when membership of the Catholic Church would have disqualified him from public office (see Penal Laws in Ireland). As Burke told Mrs. Crewe:

Mr. Burke's Enemies often endeavoured to convince the World that he had been bred up in the Catholic Faith, & that his Family were of it, & that he himself had been educated at St. Omer—but this was false, as his father was a regular practitioner of the Law at Dublin, which he could not be unless of the Established Church: & it so happened that though Mr. B— was twice at Paris, he never happened to go through the Town of St. Omer.[8]

Once an MP, Burke was required to take the oath of allegiance and abjuration, the oath of supremacy, and declare against transubstantiation. No Catholic is known to have done so in the eighteenth century.[9] Although never denying his Irishness, Burke often described himself as "an Englishman". This was in an age "before 'Celtic nationalism' sought to make Irishness and Englishness incompatible".[10]

As a child he sometimes spent time away from the unhealthy air of Dublin with his mother's family in the Blackwater Valley. He received his early education at a Quaker school in Ballitore, some 30 miles (48 km) from Dublin, and remained in correspondence with his schoolmate Mary Leadbeater, the daughter of the school's owner, throughout his life.

In 1744 he proceeded to Trinity College, Dublin. In 1747, he set up a Debating Club, known as Edmund Burke's Club, which in 1770 merged with the Historical Club to form the College Historical Society, now the oldest undergraduate society in the world. The minutes of the meetings of Burke's club remain in the collection of the Historical Society. He graduated in 1748. Burke's father wished him to study for the law, and with this object he went to London in 1750 and entered the Middle Temple, but soon thereafter he gave up his legal studies in order to travel in Continental Europe. After giving up law, he attempted to earn his livelihood through writing.

"The writers against religion, whilst they oppose every system, are wisely careful never to set up any of their own." A Vindication of Natural Society

The late Lord Bolingbroke's Letters on the Study and Use of History was published in 1752 and his collected works appeared in 1754. This provoked Burke into writing his first published work, A Vindication of Natural Society: A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind, appearing in Spring 1756. Burke imitated Lord Bolingbroke's style and ideas in a reductio ad absurdum of his arguments for atheistic rationalism, demonstrating their absurdity.[11][12] Burke claimed that Bolingbroke's arguments against revealed religion could apply to all social and civil institutions. Lord Chesterfield and Bishop Warburton (and others) initially thought that the work was genuinely by Bolingbroke rather than a satire.[11][13] All the reviews of the work were positive, with critics especially appreciative of Burke's quality of writing. Some reviewers failed to notice the ironic nature of the book, which led to Burke writing in the preface to the second edition (1757) that it was a satire.[14] Richard Hurd believed that Burke's imitation was near-perfect and that this defeated his purpose: an ironist "should take care by a constant exaggeration to make the ridicule shine through the Imitation. Whereas this Vindication is everywhere enforc'd, not only in the language, and on the principles of L. Bol., but with so apparent, or rather so real an earnestness, that half his purpose is sacrificed to the other".[14]

In 1757 Burke published a treatise on aesthetics, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, which attracted the attention of prominent Continental thinkers such as Denis Diderot and Immanuel Kant. It was his only purely philosophical work, and when asked by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr. Laurence to expand it thirty years later, Burke replied that he was no longer fit for abstract speculation (Burke had written it before he was 19).[15]

On 25 February 1757 Burke signed a contract with Robert Dodsley to write a "history of England from the time of Julius Caesar to the end of the reign of Queen Anne", its length being eighty quarto sheets (640 pages), under 400,000 words. It was to be submitted for publication by Christmas 1758.[16] Burke actually completed to the year 1216, and never published the work. It was not published until 1812 in Burke's collected works under the title of An Essay Towards an Abridgement of the English History, after Burke's death. G. M. Young did not value Burke's history and claimed that it was "demonstrably a translation from the French".[17] Lord Acton, on commenting on the story that Burke stopped his history because David Hume published his, said "it is ever to be regretted that the reverse did not occur".[18]

The following year, with Dodsley, he created the influential Annual Register, a publication in which various authors evaluated the international political events of the previous year.[19] The extent to which Burke personally contributed to the Annual Register is contested.[20] Robert Murray in his biography of Burke quotes the Register as evidence of Burke's opinions, yet Philip Magnus in his biography does not directly cite it as a reference.[21] Burke remained its chief editor until at least 1789 and there is no evidence that any other writer contributed to it before 1766.[21]

In London, Burke knew many of the leading intellectuals and artists, including Samuel Johnson, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, and Joshua Reynolds. Edward Gibbon described him as, 'the most eloquent and rational madman that I ever knew.'[22]

On 12 March 1757 he married Jane Mary Nugent (1734–1812), daughter of a Catholic physician who had treated him at Bath. His son Richard was born on 9 February 1758. Another son, Christopher, died in infancy.

At about this same time, Burke was introduced to William Gerard Hamilton (known as "Single-speech Hamilton"). When Hamilton was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, Burke accompanied him to Dublin as his private secretary, a position he maintained for three years. In 1765 Burke became private secretary to liberal Whig statesman Charles Watson-Wentworth, the Marquess of Rockingham, at the time Prime Minister of Great Britain, who remained Burke's close friend and associate until his premature death in 1782.

Member of Parliament

Dr Samuel Johnson - author James Boswell - biographer Sir Joshua Reynolds - host David Garrick - actor Edmund Burke - statesman Pasqual Paoli - Corsican independent Charles Burney - music historian Thomas Warton - poet laureate Oliver Goldsmith - writer prob. ''The Infant Academy'' (1782) Puck by Joshua Reynolds unknown portrait servant - poss. Dr Johnson's heir Use button to enlarge or use hyperlinks
'A literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds's'.[23] Use a cursor to see who is who.

In December 1765 Burke entered the British Parliament as a member of the House of Commons for Wendover, a pocket borough in the control of Lord Fermanagh, later 2nd Earl Verney, a close political ally of Rockingham. After Burke's maiden speech, William Pitt the Elder said Burke had "spoken in such a manner as to stop the mouths of all Europe" and that the Commons should congratulate itself on acquiring such a member.[24]

In 1769 Burke published, in reply to Grenvillite pamphlet The Present State of the Nation, his pamphlet on Observations on a Late State of the Nation. Surveying the finances of France, Burke predicts "some extraordinary convulsion in that whole system".[25]

In the same year he purchased the small estate of Gregories near Beaconsfield. The 600-acre (2.4 km2) estate was purchased with mostly borrowed money, and though it contained an art collection that included works by Titian, Gregories nevertheless would prove to be a heavy financial burden on the MP in the following decades. Burke was never able to fully pay for the estate. His speeches and writings had now made him famous, and among other effects had brought about the suggestion that he was the author of the Letters of Junius.

Burke took a leading role in the debate over the constitutional limits to the executive authority of the King. He argued strongly against unrestrained royal power and for the role of political parties in maintaining a principled opposition capable of preventing abuses by the monarch or by specific factions within the government. His most important publication in this regard was his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents of 23 April 1770.[26] Burke identified the "discontents" as stemming from the "secret influence" of a neo-Tory group he calls the "king's friends", whose system "comprehending the exterior and interior Administrations, is commonly called, in the technical language of the Court, Double Cabinet".[27] Britain needed a party which had "an unshaken adherence to principle, and attachment to connexion, against every allurement of interest". Party divisions "whether operating for good or evil, are things inseparable from free government".[28]

During 1771 Burke wrote a Bill which would, if passed, have given juries the right to determine what was libel. Burke spoke in favour of the Bill but it was opposed by some, including Charles James Fox, and was not passed. Fox, when introducing his own Bill in 1791, repeated almost verbatim the text of Burke's Bill without acknowledgement.[29] Burke was also prominent in securing the right to publish debates held in Parliament.[30]

Speaking in a parliamentary debate on the prohibition on the export of grain on 16 November 1770, Burke argued in favour of a free market in corn: "There are no such things as a high, & a low price that is encouraging, & discouraging; there is nothing but a natural price, which grain brings at an universal market."[31] In 1772 Burke was instrumental in passing the Repeal of Certain Laws Act 1772, which repealed various old laws against dealers and forestallers in corn.[32]

In the Annual Register for 1772 (published in July 1773) Burke condemned the Partition of Poland. He saw it as "the first very great breach in the modern political system of Europe" and upsetting the balance of power in Europe.[33]

In 1774 he was elected member for Bristol, at the time "England's second city" and a large constituency with a genuine electoral contest. His Speech to the Electors at Bristol at the Conclusion of the Poll was noted for its defence of the principles of representative democracy against the notion that elected officials should be delegates:

... it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.[34]

In May 1778 Burke supported a motion in Parliament to revise the restrictions on Irish trade. However his constituents in Bristol, a great trading city, urged Burke to oppose free trade with Ireland. Burke resisted these demands and said: "If, from this conduct, I shall forfeit their suffrages at an ensuing election, it will stand on record an example to future representatives of the Commons of England, that one man at least had dared to resist the desires of his constituents when his judgment assured him they were wrong".[35] Burke published Two Letters to Gentlemen of Bristol on the Bills relative to the Trade of Ireland in which he espoused "some of the chief principles of commerce; such as the advantage of free intercourse between all parts of the same kingdom...the evils attending restriction and monopoly...and that the gain of others is not necessarily our loss, but on the contrary an advantage by causing a greater demand for such wares as we have for sale".[36]

Burke also supported Sir George Savile's attempts to repeal some of the penal laws against Catholics.[37]

This support for unpopular causes, notably free trade with Ireland and Catholic emancipation, led to Burke losing his seat in 1780. He also called capital punishment "the Butchery which we call justice" in 1776 and in 1780 Burke condemned the use of the pillory for two men convicted for attempting to practice sodomy.[6]

For the remainder of his parliamentary career, Burke sat for Malton, another pocket borough controlled by the Marquess of Rockingham.

American War of Independence

Burke expressed his support for the grievances of the American colonies under the government of King George III and his appointed representatives. On 19 April 1774 Burke made a speech (published in January 1775) on a motion to repeal the tea duty:

Again and again, revert to your old principles—seek peace and ensue it; leave America, if she has taxable matter in her, to tax herself. I am not here going into the distinctions of rights, nor attempting to mark their boundaries. I do not enter into these metaphysical distinctions; I hate the very sound of them. Leave the Americans as they anciently stood, and these distinctions, born of our unhappy contest, will die along with it.... Be content to bind America by laws of trade; you have always done it.... Do not burthen them with taxes.... But if intemperately, unwisely, fatally, you sophisticate and poison the very source of government by urging subtle deductions, and consequences odious to those you govern, from the unlimited and illimitable nature of supreme sovereignty, you will teach them by these means to call that sovereignty itself in question.... If that sovereignty and their freedom cannot be reconciled, which will they take? They will cast your sovereignty in your face. No body of men will be argued into slavery. Sir, let the gentlemen on the other side...tell me, what one character of liberty the Americans have, and what one brand of slavery they are free from, if they are bound in their property and industry by all the restraints you can imagine on commerce, and at the same time are made pack-horses of every tax you choose to impose, without the least share in granting them. When they bear the burthens of unlimited monopoly, will you bring them to bear the burthens of unlimited revenue too? The Englishman in America will feel that this is slavery; that it is legal slavery, will be no compensation either to his feelings or to his understandings.[38]

On 22 March 1775 Burke gave a speech (published in May 1775) on reconciliation with America:

...the people of the colonies are descendants of Englishmen.... They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas and on English principles. The people are Protestants... a persuasion not only favourable to liberty, but built upon it.... My hold of the colonies is in the close affection which grows from common names, from kindred blood, from similar privileges, and equal protection. These are ties which, though light as air, are as strong as links of iron. Let the colonies always keep the idea of their civil rights associated with your government,—they will cling and grapple to you, and no force under heaven will be of power to tear them from their allegiance. But let it be once understood that your government may be one thing and their privileges another, that these two things may exist without any mutual relation,—the cement is gone, the cohesion is loosened, and everything hastens to decay and dissolution. As long as you have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith, wherever the chosen race and sons of England worship freedom, they will turn their faces towards you. The more they multiply, the more friends you will have; the more ardently they love liberty, the more perfect will be their obedience. Slavery they can have anywhere. It is a weed that grows in every soil. They may have it from Spain, they may have it from Prussia. But, until you become lost to all feeling of your true interest and your natural dignity, freedom they can have from none but you.[39]

The administration of Lord North (1770-1782) tried to defeat the colonists' rebellion by military force. British and American forces clashed in 1775 and in 1776 came the American Declaration of Independence. Burke was appalled by celebrations in Britain of the defeat of the Americans at New York and Pennsylvania. He claimed the English national character was being changed by this authoritarianism.[6] In Burke's view the British government was fighting "the American English" ("our English Brethren in the Colonies"), with a German-descended King employing "the hireling sword of German boors and vassals" to destroy British colonists' English liberties.[6] On American independence, Burke wrote: "I do not know how to wish success to those whose Victory is to separate from us a large and noble part of our Empire. Still less do I wish success to injustice, oppression and absurdity".[40]

In 1780 during the Gordon Riots, Burke was a particular target for the rioters, and his home had to be placed under armed guard by the military.[41]

Paymaster of the Forces

In Cincinnatus in Retirement (1782), James Gillray caricatured Burke's support of rights for Catholics.

The fall of North led to Rockingham being recalled to power in March 1782. Burke became Paymaster of the Forces and a Privy Councillor, but without a seat in the Cabinet. Rockingham's unexpected death in July of 1782 and his replacement as Prime Minister by Shelburne put an end to his administration after only a few months. However Burke did manage to pass two Acts. The Paymaster General Act 1782 ended the post as a lucrative sinecure. Previously, Paymasters had been able to draw on money from the Treasury at their discretion. Now they were to put the money they had requested to withdraw from the Treasury into the Bank of England, from where it was to be withdrawn for specific purposes. The Treasury would receive monthly statements of the Paymaster's balance at the Bank. This Act was repealed by Shelburne's administration but the Act which replaced it repeated verbatim almost the whole text of Burke's Act.[42] The Civil List and Secret Service Money Act 1782 was a watered down version of Burke's original intentions as outlined in his famous Speech on Economical Reform of 11 February 1780. However he managed to abolish 134 offices in the royal household and civil administration.[43] The third Secretary of State and the Board of Trade were abolished and pensions were limited and regulated. The Act was projected to save £72,368 a year.[44] In February 1783 Burke resumed the post of Paymaster of the Forces when Shelburne's government fell and was replaced by a coalition headed by North and including Charles James Fox. The coalition fell in 1783, and was succeeded by the long Tory administration of William Pitt the Younger, which lasted until 1801. Burke was accordingly in opposition for the remainder of his political life.

India and the impeachment of Warren Hastings

Burke’s interaction with the British dominion of India began well before the Hastings Trial. Previous to the impeachment, Parliament dealt with the Indian issue for two decades, this trial was the pinnacle of years of unrest and deliberation.[45] In 1781 Burke was first able to delve into the issues surrounding the East India Company when he was appointed Chairman of the Commons’ Select Committee on East Indian Affair – from that point until the end of the trial; India was Burke’s primary concern.[46] This committee was charged “to investigate alleged injustices in Bengal, the war with Hyder Ali, and other Indian difficulties.”[47] While Burke and the committee focused their attention on these matters, a second ‘secret’ committee was formed to assess the same issues.[48] Both committee reports were written by Burke and lead to the reassurance to the Indian princes that Britain would not wage war on them and the demand for the EIC to recall Hastings.[49] This is Burke’s first call for real, significant change of the imperial practices. When addressing the whole House of Commons in regards to the committee’s report, Burke would describe the Indian issue as one that “began ‘in commerce’ but ‘ended in empire.’”[50]

On February 28, 1785 he made his great speech on The Nabob of Arcot's Debts, where he condemned the damage he believed the East India Company had done to India. In the province of the Carnatic the Indians had constructed a system of reservoirs to make the soil fertile in a naturally dry region, and centred their society on the husbandry of water:

These are the monuments of real kings, who were the fathers of their people; testators to a posterity which they embraced as their own. These are the grand sepulchres built by ambition; but by the ambition of an insatiable benevolence, which, not contented with reigning in the dispensation of happiness during the contracted term of human life, had strained, with all the reachings and graspings of a vivacious mind, to extend the dominion of their bounty beyond the limits of nature, and to perpetuate themselves through generations of generations, the guardians, the protectors, the nourishers of mankind.[51]

Burke held that the advent of British dominion, and in particular the conduct of the East India Company had destroyed much that was good in these traditions and that, as a consequence of this, and the lack of new customs to replace them, the Indians were suffering. He set about establishing a set of British expectations, whose moral foundation would, in his opinion, warrant the empire.[52]

On April 4, 1786 Burke presented the Commons with the Article of Charge of High Crimes and Misdemeanors against Warren Hastings, the former Governor General of Bengal. The trial, which did not begin until February 14, 1788, would be the “first major public discursive event of its kind in England,”[53] bringing the morality and duty of imperialism to the forefront of the public’s perception. Burke was already known for his eloquent rhetorical skills and his involvement in the trial only enhanced its popularity and significance.[54] For the members of London’s fashionable society, the trial was a spectacle , and was not centered around Hastings’ alleged misconduct and crimes as had been Burke’s intent.[55] Burke's indictment, fuelled by emotional indignation, called Hastings the 'captain-general of iniquity'; who never dined without 'creating a famine'; his heart was 'gangrened to the core' and he resembled both a 'spider of Hell' and a 'ravenous vulture devouring the carcases of the dead'.[56] The indictment was such a philippic that, whereas it had previously seemed that Hastings would be found guilty, it actually provoked public sympathy; however, although Hastings was acquitted, the trial served to establish the principle that the Empire was a moral undertaking rather than a wholesale looting by either the East India Company or its servants.[citation needed]

French Revolution: 1688 versus 1789

Smelling out a Rat;—or—The Atheistical-Revolutionist disturbed in his Midnight "Calculations" (1790) by Gillray, depicting a caricature of Burke with a long nose and spectacles, holding a crown and a cross. The seated man is Dr. Richard Price, who is writing "On the Benefits of Anarchy Regicide Atheism" beneath a picture of the execution of Charles I of England.

Burke did not initially condemn the French Revolution. In a letter of 9 August 1789, Burke wrote: "England gazing with astonishment at a French struggle for Liberty and not knowing whether to blame or to applaud! The thing indeed, though I thought I saw something like it in progress for several years, has still something in it paradoxical and Mysterious. The spirit it is impossible not to admire; but the old Parisian ferocity has broken out in a shocking manner".[57] The events of 5-6 October 1789, in which a mob of Parisian women marched on Versailles to compel King Louis XVI to return to Paris, turned Burke against it. In a letter to his son Richard on 10 October he said: "This day I heard from Laurence who has sent me papers confirming the portentous state of France—where the Elements which compose Human Society seem all to be dissolved, and a world of Monsters to be produced in the place of it—where Mirabeau presides as the Grand Anarch; and the late Grand Monarch makes a figure as ridiculous as pitiable".[58] On 4 November Charles-Jean-François Depont wrote to Burke, requesting that he endorse the Revolution. Burke replied that any critical language of it by him should be taken "as no more than the expression of doubt" but added: "You may have subverted Monarchy, but not recover'd freedom".[59] In the same month he described France as "a country undone". Burke's first public condemnation of the Revolution occurred on the debate in Parliament on the Army Estimates on 9 February 1790, provoked by praise of the Revolution by Pitt and Fox:

Reflections on the Revolution in France, And on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event. In a Letter Intended to Have Been Sent to a Gentleman in Paris. By the Right Honourable Edmund Burke.

Since the House had been prorogued in the summer much work was done in France. The French had shewn themselves the ablest architects of ruin that had hitherto existed in the world. In that very short space of time they had completely pulled down to the ground, their monarchy; their church; their nobility; their law; their revenue; their army; their navy; their commerce; their arts; and their manufactures...[there was a danger of] an imitation of the excesses of an irrational, unprincipled, proscribing, confiscating, plundering, ferocious, bloody and tyrannical democracy...[in religion] the danger of their example is no longer from intolerance, but from Atheism; a foul, unnatural vice, foe to all the dignity and consolation of mankind; which seems in France, for a long time, to have been embodied into a faction, accredited, and almost avowed.[60]

In January 1790 Burke read Dr. Richard Price's sermon of 4 November 1789 to the Revolution Society, called A Discourse On the Love of our Country.[61] The Revolution Society was founded to commemorate the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In this sermon Price espoused the philosophy of universal "rights of men". Price argued that love of our country "does not imply any conviction of the superior value of it to other countries, or any particular preference of its laws and constitution of government".[62] Instead, Englishmen should see themselves "more as citizens of the world than as members of any particular community". The debate between Price and Burke was "the classic moment at which two fundamentally different conceptions of national identity were presented to the English public".[63] Price claimed that the principles of the Glorious Revolution included "the right to choose our own governors, to cashier them for misconduct, and to frame a government for ourselves". Immediately after reading Price's sermon, Burke wrote a draft of what would eventually become the Reflections on the Revolution in France.[64] On 13 February 1790 there appeared a notice in the press that Burke would shortly publish a pamphlet on the Revolution and its British supporters, however he spent the year revising and expanding it. On 1 November he finally published the Reflections and it was an immediate best-seller.[65][66] Priced at five shillings, it was more expensive than most political pamphlets but by the end of 1790 it had gone through ten printings and sold approximately 17,500 copies. A French translation appeared on 29 November and on 30 November the translator, Pierre-Gaëton Dupont, wrote to Burke saying 2,500 copies had already been sold. The French translation ran to ten printings by June 1791.[67]

What the Glorious Revolution had meant was important to Burke and his contemporaries, as it had been for the last one hundred years in British politics.[68] In the Reflections, Burke argued against Price's interpretation of the Glorious Revolution and instead gave a classic Whig defence of it.[69] Burke argued against the idea of abstract, metaphysical rights of men and instead advocated national tradition:

The Revolution was made to preserve our antient indisputable laws and liberties, and that antient constitution of government which is our only security for law and liberty.... The very idea of the fabrication of a new government, is enough to fill us with disgust and horror. We wished at the period of the Revolution, and do now wish, to derive all we possess as an inheritance from our forefathers. Upon that body and stock of inheritance we have taken care not to inoculate any cyon alien to the nature of the original plant.... Our oldest reformation is that of Magna Charta. You will see that Sir Edward Coke, that great oracle of our law, and indeed all the great men who follow him, to Blackstone, are industrious to prove the pedigree of our liberties. They endeavour to prove that the ancient charter... were nothing more than a re-affirmance of the still more ancient standing law of the kingdom.... In the famous law... called the Petition of Right, the parliament says to the king, “Your subjects have inherited this freedom,” claiming their franchises not on abstract principles “as the rights of men,” but as the rights of Englishmen, and as a patrimony derived from their forefathers.[70]

Burke put forward that "We fear God, we look up with awe to kings; with affection to parliaments; with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect to nobility. Why? Because when such ideas are brought before our minds, it is natural to be so affected".[71] Burke defended prejudice on the grounds that it is "the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages" and superior to individual reason, which is small in comparison. "Prejudice", Burke claimed, "is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, skeptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man's virtue his habit".[72] Burke criticised social contract theory by claiming that society is indeed a contract, but "a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born".[73]

The most famous passage of the Reflections was his description of the events of 5-6 October 1789 and Marie Antoinette's part in them. Burke's account differs little from modern historians who have used primary sources.[74] His use of flowery language to describe it, however, provoked both praise and criticism. Philip Francis wrote to Burke saying that what he wrote of Marie Antoinette was "pure foppery".[75] Edward Gibbon however reacted differently: "I adore his chivalry".[76] Burke was informed by an Englishman who had talked with the Duchesse de Biron that when Marie Antoinette was reading the passage she burst into tears and took considerable time to finish reading it.[77] Price had rejoiced that the French king had been "led in triumph" during the October Days but to Burke this symbolised the opposing revolutionary sentiment of the Jacobins and the natural sentiments of those like himself who regarded the ungallant assault on Marie Antoinette with horror, as a cowardly attack on a defenceless woman.[78]

Louis XVI translated the Reflections "from end to end" into French.[79] Fellow Whig MPs Richard Sheridan and Charles James Fox disagreed with Burke and split with him. Fox thought the Reflections to be "in very bad taste" and "favouring Tory principles".[80] Other Whigs such as the Duke of Portland and Earl Fitzwilliam privately agreed with Burke but did not wish for a public breach with their Whig colleagues.[81] Burke wrote on 29 November 1790: "I have received from the Duke of Portland, Lord Fitzwilliam, the Duke of Devonshire, Lord John Cavendish Montagu and a long et cetera of the old Stamina of the Whiggs a most full approbation of the principles of that work and a kind indulgence to the execution".[82] The Duke of Portland said in 1791 that when anyone criticised the Reflections to him he informed them that he had recommended the book to his sons as containing the true Whig creed.[83] King George III at a levee on 3 February 1791 said to Burke: "I know that there is no Man who calls himself a Gentleman that must not think himself obliged to you, for you have supported the cause of the Gentlemen".[84]

Burke's Reflections sparked a pamphlet war. Thomas Paine penned The Rights of Man in 1791 as a response to Burke; Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Men and James Mackintosh wrote Vindiciae Gallicae. Mackintosh was the first to see the Reflections as "the manifesto of a Counter Revolution". Mackintosh would later come to agree with Burke's views, remarking in December 1796 after meeting him, that Burke was "minutely and accurately informed, to a wonderful exactness, with respect to every fact relating to the French Revolution".[85] Mackintosh later said: "Burke was one of the first thinkers as well as one of the greatest orators of his time. He is without parallel in any age, excepting perhaps Lord Bacon and Cicero; and his works contain an ampler store of political and moral wisdom than can be found in any other writer whatever".[86]

In November 1790 a member of the National Assembly of France, François-Louis-Thibault de Menonville, wrote to Burke, praising the Reflections and requesting more "very refreshing mental food" which he could publish.[87] This Burke did in April 1791 when he published A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly. Burke called for external forces to reverse the Revolution and included an attack on the late French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as a personality cult had developed in revolutionary France. Although Burke conceded that Rousseau sometimes shows "a considerable insight into human nature" he was mostly critical. Although he did not meet Rousseau on his visit to Britain in 1766-7 he was a friend of David Hume, with whom Rousseau had stayed with. Burke said Rousseau "entertained no principle either to influence of his heart, or to guide his understanding, but vanity", which he "was possessed to a degree little short of madness". He also cited Rousseau's Confessions as evidence that Rousseau had a life of "obscure and vulgar vices" that was not "chequered, or spotted here and there, with virtues, or even distinguished by a single good action". Burke contrasted Rousseau's theory of universal benevolence and his sending his children to a foundling hospital: "a lover of his kind, but a hater of his kindred".[88]

These events, and the disagreements which arose regarding them within the Whig party, led to its breakup and to the rupture of Burke's friendship with Fox. In debate in Parliament on Britain's relations with Russia, Fox praised the principles of the Revolution, though Burke was not able to reply at this time as he was "overpowered by continued cries of question from his own side of the House".[89] When Parliament was debating the Quebec Bill for a constitution for Canada, Fox praised the Revolution and criticised some of Burke's arguments, such as hereditary power. On 6 May 1791, during another debate in Parliament on the Quebec Bill, Burke used the opportunity to answer Fox and condemn the new French Constitution and "the horrible consequences flowing from the French idea of the rights of man".[90] Burke asserted that those ideas were the antithesis of both the British and the American constitutions.[91] Burke was interrupted, and Fox intervened to say that Burke should be allowed to carry on with his speech. However a vote of censure was moved against Burke for noticing the affairs of France, which was moved by Lord Sheffield and seconded by Fox.[92] Pitt made a speech praising Burke, and Fox made a speech both rebuking and complimenting Burke. He questioned the sincerity of Burke, who seemed to have forgotten the lessons he had taught him, quoting from Burke's speeches of fourteen and fifteen years before. Burke replied:

It certainly was indiscreet at any period, but especially at his time of life, to parade enemies, or give his friends occasion to desert him; yet if his firm and steady adherence to the British constitution placed him in such a dilemma, he would risk all, and, as public duty and public experience taught him, with his last words exclaim, "Fly from the French Constitution".[90]

At this point Fox whispered that there was "no loss of friendship". "I regret to say there is", Burke said, "I have indeed made a great sacrifice; I have done my duty though I have lost my friend. There is something in the detested French constitution that envenoms every thing it touches".[93] This provoked a reply from Fox, yet he was unable to give his speech for some time since he was overcome with tears and emotion, he appealed to Burke to remember their inalienable friendship but also repeated his criticisms of Burke and uttered "unusually bitter sarcasms".[93] This only aggravated the rupture between the two men. Burke demonstrated his separation from the party on 5 June 1791 by writing to Fitzwilliam, declining money from him.[94]

Burke was dismayed that some Whigs, instead of reaffirming the principles of the Whig party he laid out in the Reflections, had rejected them in favour of "French principles" and criticised Burke for abandoning Whig principles. Burke wanted to demonstrate his fidelity to Whig principles and feared that acquiescence to Fox and his followers would allow the Whig party to become a vehicle for Jacobinism. Burke knew that many members of the Whig party did not share Fox's views and wanted to provoke them into condemning the French Revolution. Burke wrote that he wanted to represent the whole Whig party "as tolerating, and by a toleration, countenancing those proceedings" so that he could "stimulate them to a public declaration of what every one of their acquaintance privately knows to be...their sentiments".[95] Therefore on 3 August 1791 Burke published his Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, in which he renewed his criticism of the radical revolutionary programmes inspired by the French Revolution and attacked the Whigs who supported them as holding principles contrary to those traditionally held by the Whig party. Burke owned two copies of what has been called "that practical compendium of Whig political theory", The Tryal of Dr. Henry Sacheverell (1710).[96] Burke wrote of the trial: "It rarely happens to a party to have the opportunity of a clear, authentic, recorded, declaration of their political tenets upon the subject of a great constitutional event like that of the [Glorious] Revolution".[96] Writing in the third person, Burke asserted in his Appeal:

...that the foundations laid down by the Commons, on the trial of Doctor Sacheverel, for justifying the revolution of 1688, are the very same laid down in Mr. Burke's Reflections; that is to say,—a breach of the original contract, implied and expressed in the constitution of this country, as a scheme of government fundamentally and inviolably fixed in King, Lords and Commons.—That the fundamental subversion of this antient constitution, by one of its parts, having been attempted, and in effect accomplished, justified the Revolution. That it was justified only upon the necessity of the case; as the only means left for the recovery of that antient constitution, formed by the original contract of the British state; as well as for the future preservation of the same government. These are the points to be proved.[96]

Burke then provided quotations from Paine's Rights of Man to demonstrate what the New Whigs believed. Burke's belief that Foxite principles corresponded to Paine's was genuine.[97] Finally, Burke denied that a majority of "the people" had, or ought to have, the final say in politics and alter society at their pleasure. People had rights but also duties, and these duties were not voluntary. Also, the people could not overthrow morality which is derived from God.[98]

Although Whig grandees like Portland and Fitzwilliam privately agreed with Burke's Appeal, they wished he had used more moderate language. Fitzwilliam saw the Appeal as containing "the doctrines I have sworn by, long and long since".[99] Francis Basset, a backbench Whig MP, wrote to Burke: "...though for reasons which I will not now detail I did not then deliver my sentiments, I most perfectly differ from Mr Fox & from the great Body of opposition on the French Revolution".[99] Burke sent a copy of the Appeal to the King and the King requested a friend to communicate to Burke that he had read it "with great Satisfaction".[99] Burke wrote of the its reception: "Not one word from one of our party. They are secretly galled. They agree with me to a title; but they dare not speak out for fear of hurting Fox. ... They leave me to myself; they see that I can do myself justice".[94] Charles Burney viewed it as "a most admirable book—the best & most useful on political subjects that I have ever seen" but believed the differences in the Whig party between Burke and Fox should not be publicly aired.[100]

Eventually most of the Whigs sided with Burke and voted their support for the conservative government of Pitt, which, in response to France's declaration of war against Britain, declared war on the revolutionary government of France in 1793.

In December 1791 Burke sent government ministers his Thoughts on French Affairs where he put forward three main points: no counter-revolution in France would come about by purely domestic causes; the longer the revolutionary government exists the stronger it becomes; and the revolutionary government's interest and aim is to disturb all the other governments of Europe.[101] Burke, as a Whig, did not wish to see an absolute monarchy again in France after the extirpation of Jacobinism. Writing to an émigré in 1791, Burke expressed his views against a restoration of the ancien régime:

When such a complete convulsion has shaken the State, and hardly left any thing whatsoever, either in civil arrangements, or in the Characters and disposition of mens minds, exactly where it was, whatever shall be settled although in the former persons and upon old forms, will be in some measure a new thing and will labour under something of the weakness as well as other inconveniences of a Change. My poor opinion is that you mean to establish what you call ‘L'ancien Regime,’ If any one means that system of Court Intrigue miscalled a Government as it stood, at Versailles before the present confusions as the thing to be established, that I believe will be found absolutely impossible; and if you consider the Nature, as well of persons, as of affairs, I flatter myself you must be of my opinion. That was tho' not so violent a State of Anarchy as well as the present. If it were even possible to lay things down exactly as they stood, before the series of experimental politicks began, I am quite sure that they could not long continue in that situation. In one Sense of L'Ancien Regime I am clear that nothing else can reasonably be done.[102]

Burke delivered a speech on the debate of the Aliens Bill on 28 December 1792. He supported the Bill as it would exclude "murderous atheists, who would pull down church and state; religion and God; morality and happiness".[103] The peroration included a reference to a French order for 3,000 daggers. Burke revealed a dagger he had concealed in his coat and threw it to the floor: "This is what you are to gain by an alliance with France". Burke picked up the dagger and continued:

When they smile, I see blood trickling down their faces; I see their insidious purposes; I see that the object of all their cajoling is—blood! I now warn my countrymen to beware of these execrable philosophers, whose only object it is to destroy every thing that is good here, and to establish immorality and murder by precept and example—'Hic niger est hunc tu Romane caveto' ['Such a man is evil; beware of him, Roman'. Horace, Satires I. 4. 85.].[103]

Burke supported the war against revolutionary France, seeing Britain as fighting on the side of the royalists and émigres in a civil war, rather than fighting against the whole nation of France.[104] Burke also supported the royalist uprising in La Vendée, describing it on 4 November 1793 in a letter to William Windham, as "the sole affair I have much heart in".[104] Burke wrote to Henry Dundas on 7 October urging him to send reinforcements there as he viewed it as the only theatre in the war which might lead to a march on Paris. However Dundas did not follow Burke's advice. Burke believed the government was not taking the uprising seriously enough, a view reinforced by a letter he had received from the Comte d'Artois, dated 23 October, requesting that he intercede on behalf of the royalists to the government. Burke was forced to reply on 6 November: "I am not in His Majesty's Service; or at all consulted in his Affairs".[105] Burke published his Remarks on the Policy of the Allies with Respect to France, begun in October, where he said: "I am sure every thing has shewn us that in this war with France, one Frenchman is worth twenty foreigners. La Vendee is a proof of this".[106]

On 20 June 1794 Burke received a vote of thanks from the Commons for his services in the Hastings trial and immediately resigned his seat, being replaced by his son Richard. However a terrible blow fell upon Burke in the loss of Richard in August 1794, to whom he was tenderly attached, and in whom he saw signs of promise.[6] The King, whose favour he had gained by his attitude on the French Revolution, wished to make him Lord Beaconsfield, but the death of his son had deprived such an honour of all its attractions, and the only reward he would accept was a pension of £2,500. This pension was attacked by the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Lauderdale, to whom Burke replied in the Letter to a Noble Lord (1796).[107] Burke wrote: "It cannot at this time be too often repeated; line upon line; precept upon precept; until it comes into the currency of a proverb, To innovate is not to reform".[108] He argued that he was rewarded on merit but the Duke of Bedford received his rewards from inheritance alone, his ancestor being the original pensioner: "Mine was from a mild and benevolent sovereign; his from Henry the Eighth".[109] Burke also hinted at what would happen to such people if their revolutionary ideas were implemented, and included a description of the British constitution:

But as to our country and our race, as long as the well compacted structure of our church and state, the sanctuary, the holy of holies of that ancient law, defended by reverence, defended by power, a fortress at once and a temple, shall stand inviolate on the brow of the British Sion—as long as the British Monarchy, not more limited than fenced by the orders of the State, shall, like the proud Keep of Windsor, rising in the majesty of proportion, and girt with the double belt of its kindred and coeval towers, as long as this awful structure shall oversee and guard the subjected land—so long as the mounds and dykes of the low, fat, Bedford level will have nothing to fear from all the pickaxes of all the levellers of France.[110]

Burke's last publications were the Letters on a Regicide Peace (October 1796), called forth by the Pitt government's negotiations for peace with France. Burke regarded this as appeasement, injurious to national dignity and honour.[111] In the Second Letter, Burke wrote of the revolutionary French government: "Individuality is left out of their scheme of government. The state is all in all. Everything is referred to the production of force; afterwards, everything is trusted to the use of it. It is military in its principle, in its maxims, in its spirit, and in all its movements. The state has dominion and conquest for its sole objects—dominion over minds by proselytism, over bodies by arms".[112] This has been seen as the first time someone explained the modern totalitarian state.[113] Burke regarded the war with France as ideological, against an "armed doctrine". He wished that France would not be partitioned due to the effect this would have on the balance of power in Europe, and that the war was not against France but against the revolutionaries governing her.[114] Burke said: "It is not France extending a foreign empire over other nations: it is a sect aiming at universal empire, and beginning with the conquest of France".[6]

Later life

In November 1795 there was a debate in Parliament on the high price of corn and Burke wrote a memorandum to Pitt on the subject. In December Samuel Whitbread MP introduced a bill giving magistrates the power to fix minimum wages and Fox said he would vote for it. This debate probably led Burke to editing his memorandum as there appeared a notice that Burke would soon publish a letter on the subject to the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture (Arthur Young), but he failed to complete it. These fragments were inserted into the memorandum after his death and published posthumously in 1800 as Thoughts and Details on Scarcity.[115] In it, Burke expounded "some of the doctrines of political economists bearing upon agriculture as a trade".[116] Burke criticised policies such as maximum prices and state regulation of wages, and set out what the limits of government should be:

That the State ought to confine itself to what regards the State, or the creatures of the State, namely, the exterior establishment of its religion; its magistracy; its revenue; its military force by sea and land; the corporations that owe their existence to its fiat; in a word, to every thing that is truly and properly public, to the public peace, to the public safety, to the public order, to the public prosperity.[117]

The economist Adam Smith remarked that Burke was "the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do, without any previous communications having passed between us".[118]

Writing to a friend in May 1795, Burke surveyed the causes of discontent: "I think I can hardly overrate the malignity of the principles of Protestant ascendency, as they affect Ireland; or of Indianism, as they affect these countries, and as they affect Asia; or of Jacobinism, as they affect all Europe, and the state of human society itself. The last is the greatest evil".[119] However by March 1796 Burke had changed his mind: "Our Government and our Laws are beset by two different Enemies, which are sapping its foundations, Indianism, and Jacobinism. In some Cases they act separately, in some they act in conjunction: But of this I am sure; that the first is the worst by far, and the hardest to deal with; and for this amongst other reasons, that it weakens discredits, and ruins that force, which ought to be employed with the greatest Credit and Energy against the other; and that it furnishes Jacobinism with its strongest arms against all formal Government".[120]

For more than a year before his death Burke knew that his stomach was "irrecoverably ruind".[6] After hearing that Burke was nearing death, Fox wrote to Mrs. Burke enquiring after him. Fox received the reply the next day:

Mrs. Burke presents her compliments to Mr. Fox, and thanks him for his obliging inquiries. Mrs. Burke communicated his letter to Mr. Burke, and by his desire has to inform Mr. Fox that it has cost Mr. Burke the most heart-felt pain to obey the stern voice of his duty in rending asunder a long friendship, but that he deemed this sacrifice necessary; that his principles continue the same; and that in whatever of life may yet remain to him, he conceives that he must live for others and not for himself. Mr. Burke is convinced that the principles which he has endeavoured to maintain are necessary to the welfare and dignity of his country, and that these principles can be enforced only by the general persuasion of his sincerity.[121]

Burke died in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire on 9 July 1797. He was buried in Beaconsfield alongside his son and brother. His wife survived him by nearly fifteen years.


Statue of Edmund Burke in Washington, D.C.

Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France was controversial at the time of its publication. But after his death, it was to become his best-known and most influential work. It is understood to be the manifesto in Conservative thought. In the English-speaking world, Burke is regarded by most political experts as the father of modern anglo-conservatism. His 'liberal' conservatism, which opposed governing based on abstract ideas, and preferred 'organic' reform, can be contrasted with the autocratic conservatism of Continental figures such as Joseph de Maistre.

Burke's ideas placing property at the base of human development and the development of society were radical and new at the time. Burke believed that property was essential to human life. Because of his conviction that people desire to be ruled and controlled, the division of property formed the basis for social structure, helping develop control within a property-based hierarchy. He viewed the social changes brought on by property as the natural order of events that should be taking place as the human race progressed. With the division of property and the class system, he also believed that it kept the monarch in check to the needs of the classes beneath the monarch. Since property largely aligned or defined divisions of social class, class too was seen as natural - part of a social agreement that the setting of persons into different classes is the mutual benefit of all subjects.

His support for Irish Catholics and Indians often led him to be criticised by Tories.[122] His opposition to British imperialism in Ireland and India and his opposition to French imperialism and radicalism in Europe, made it difficult for Whig or Tory to wholly accept Burke as their own.[123] In the nineteenth century Burke was praised by both liberals and conservatives. Burke's friend Philip Francis wrote that Burke "was a man who truly & prophetically foresaw all the consequences which would rise from the adoption of the French principles" but because Burke wrote with so much passion people were doubtful of his arguments.[124] William Windham spoke from the same bench in the House of Commons as Burke had done when he had separated from Fox and an observer said Windham spoke "like the ghost of Burke" when he made a speech against peace with France in 1801.[125] William Hazlitt, a political opponent of Burke, regarded him as amongst his three favourite writers (the others being Junius and Rousseau), and made it "a test of the sense and candour of any one belonging to the opposite party, whether he allowed Burke to be a great man".[126] William Wordsworth was originally a supporter of the French Revolution and attacked Burke in 'A Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff' (1793) but by the early nineteenth century he had changed his mind and came to admire Burke. In his Two Addresses to the Freeholders of Westmorland Wordsworth called Burke "the most sagacious Politician of his age" whose predictions "time has verified".[127] He later revised his poem The Prelude to include praise of Burke ("Genius of Burke! forgive the pen seduced/By specious wonders") and portrayed him as an old oak.[127] Samuel Taylor Coleridge came to have a similar conversion: he had criticised Burke in The Watchman but in his Friend (1809-10) Coleridge defended Burke from charges of inconsistency.[128] Later, in his Biographia Literaria (1817) Coleridge hails Burke as a prophet and praises Burke for referring "habitually to principles. He was a scientific statesman; and therefore a seer".[129] Henry Brougham wrote of Burke: "... 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...the providence of mortals is not often able to penetrate so far as this into futurity".[130] George Canning believed that Burke's Reflections "has been justified by the course of subsequent events; and almost every prophecy has been strictly fulfilled".[130] In 1823 Canning wrote that he took Burke's "last works and words [as] the manual of my politics".[131] The Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli "was deeply penetrated with the spirit and sentiment of Burke's later writings".[132] The Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone considered Burke "a magazine of wisdom on Ireland and America" and in his diary recorded: "Made many extracts from Burke—sometimes almost divine".[133] The Radical MP and anti-Corn Law activist Richard Cobden often praised Burke's Thoughts and Details on Scarcity.[134] The Liberal historian Lord Acton considered Burke one of the three greatest liberals, along with William Gladstone and Thomas Babington Macaulay.[135] Macaulay recorded in his diary: "I have now finished reading again most of Burke's works. Admirable! The greatest man since Milton".[136] The Gladstonian Liberal MP John Morley published two books on Burke (including a biography) and was influenced by Burke, including his views on prejudice.[137] The Cobdenite Radical Francis Hirst thought Burke deserved "a place among English libertarians, even though of all lovers of liberty and of all reformers he was the most conservative, the least abstract, always anxious to preserve and renovate rather than to innovate. In politics he resembled the modern architect who would restore an old house instead of pulling it down to construct a new one on the site".[138]

Two contrasting assessments of Burke were offered long after his death by Karl Marx and Winston Churchill. In Das Kapital Marx wrote:

The sycophant—who in the pay of the English oligarchy played the romantic laudator temporis acti against the French Revolution just as, in the pay of the North American colonies at the beginning of the American troubles, he had played the liberal against the English oligarchy—was an out-and-out vulgar bourgeois. "The laws of commerce are the laws of Nature, and therefore the laws of God." (E. Burke, l.c., pp.31,32) No wonder that, true to the laws of God and Nature, he always sold himself in the best market.

and Winston Churchill in "Consistency in Politics" wrote:

On the one hand [Burke] is revealed as a foremost apostle of Liberty, on the other as the redoubtable champion of Authority. But a charge of political inconsistency applied to this life appears a mean and petty thing. History easily discerns the reasons and forces which actuated him, and the immense changes in the problems he was facing which evoked from the same profound mind and sincere spirit these entirely contrary manifestations. His soul revolted against tyranny, whether it appeared in the aspect of a domineering Monarch and a corrupt Court and Parliamentary system, or whether, mouthing the watch-words of a non-existent liberty, it towered up against him in the dictation of a brutal mob and wicked sect. No one can read the Burke of Liberty and the Burke of Authority without feeling that here was the same man pursuing the same ends, seeking the same ideals of society and Government, and defending them from assaults, now from one extreme, now from the other.

The historian Piers Brendon asserts that Burke laid the moral foundations for the British Empire, epitomised in the trial of Warren Hastings, that was ultimately to be its undoing: when Burke stated that "The British Empire must be governed on a plan of freedom, for it will be governed by no other",[139] this was "an ideological bacillus that would prove fatal. This was Edmund Burke's paternalistic doctrine that colonial government was a trust. It was to be so exercised for the benefit of subject people that they would eventually attain their birthright—freedom".[140] As a consequence of this opinion, Burke objected to the opium trade, which he called a "smuggling adventure" and condemned "the great Disgrace of the British character in India".[141]

The quotation "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing" although often attributed to Burke does not occur in his works or recorded speeches. It first appeared in the 14th edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (1968), which incorrectly sourced it to a letter that did not in fact contain the quote.[142]


See also


  1. ^ The exact year of his birth is the subject of a great deal of controversy; 1728, 1729 and 1730 have been proposed. His date of birth is also subject to question, a problem compounded by the Julian-Gregorian changeover in 1752, during his lifetime. For a fuller treatment of the question, see F. P. Lock, Edmund Burke. Volume I: 1730–1784 (Clarendon Press, 1999), pp. 16-17. Conor Cruise O'Brien (op. cit., p. 14) questions Burke's birthplace as having been in Dublin, arguing in favour of Shanballymore, Co. Cork (in the house of his uncle, James Nagle).
  2. ^ J. C. D. Clark, English Society, 1660–1832 (Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 5, p. 301.
  3. ^ Andrew Heywood, Political Ideologies: An Introduction. Third Edition (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 74.
  4. ^ F. P. Lock, Edmund Burke. Volume II: 1784–1797 (Clarendon Press, 2006), p. 585.
  5. ^ J. C. D. Clark (ed.), Reflections on the Revolution in France. A Critical Edition (Stanford University Press, 2001), p. 26, n. 13. Hereafter cited as "Clark".
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Paul Langford, ‘Burke, Edmund (1729/30–1797)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 18 Oct 2008.
  7. ^ James Prior, Life of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Fifth Edition (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), p. 1.
  8. ^ 'Extracts from Mr. Burke's Table-talk, at Crewe Hall. Written down by Mrs. Crewe, pp. 62.', Miscellanies of the Philobiblon Society. Volume VII (London: Whittingham and Wilkins, 1862-3), pp. 52-3.
  9. ^ Clark, p. 26.
  10. ^ Clark, p. 25.
  11. ^ a b Prior, p. 45.
  12. ^ Jim McCue, Edmund Burke and Our Present Discontents (The Claridge Press, 1997), p. 14.
  13. ^ McCue, p. 145.
  14. ^ a b Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 85.
  15. ^ Prior, p. 47.
  16. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 143.
  17. ^ G. M. Young, 'Burke', Proceedings of the British Academy, XXIX (London, 1943), p. 6.
  18. ^ Herbert Butterfield, Man on His Past (Cambridge, 1955), p. 69.
  19. ^ Prior, pp. 52-3.
  20. ^ Thomas Wellsted Copeland, 'Edmund Burke and the Book Reviews in Dodsley's Annual Register', Publications of the Modern Language Association, Vol. 57, No. 2. (Jun., 1942), pp. 446-468.
  21. ^ a b Copeland, p. 446.
  22. ^ Private Letters of Edward Gibbon, II (1896) Prothero, P. (ed.). p.251 cited in The Decline and Fall of the British Empire: 1781 - 1998 (2007) Brendon, Piers. Jonathan Cape, London. p.10 ISBN 978-0-224-06222-0
  23. ^ 'A literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, D. George Thompson, published by Owen Bailey, after James William Edmund Doyle, published 1 October 1851
  24. ^ McCue, p. 16.
  25. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 262.
  26. ^ "Burke: Select Works of Edmund Burke, Vol. 1, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents: Library of Economics and Liberty". Econlib.org. http://www.econlib.org/library/LFBooks/Burke/brkSWv1c1.html. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  27. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 277.
  28. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 283.
  29. ^ Prior, p. 127 + pp. 340-2.
  30. ^ Prior, p. 127.
  31. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. I, pp. 321-22.
  32. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 322.
  33. ^ Brendan Simms, Three Victories and a Defeat. The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714–1783 (Allen Lane, 2007), pp. 569-71.
  34. ^ The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Volume I (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), pp. 446-8.
  35. ^ Prior, p. 175.
  36. ^ Prior, pp. 175-6.
  37. ^ Prior, p. 176.
  38. ^ Prior, pp. 142-3.
  39. ^ Speech on Moving Resolutions for Conciliation with America, March 22, 1775
  40. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 399.
  41. ^ Hibbert p.48-73
  42. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 511 + n. 65.
  43. ^ McCue, p. 21.
  44. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. I, pp. 511-2.
  45. ^ Siraj Ahmed, “The Theater of the Civilized Self: Edmund Burke and the East India Trials.” Representations 78 (2002): 30.
  46. ^ Ibid., 30.
  47. ^ Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke: A Genius Reconsidered (Peru, IL: Sherwood, Sugden and Company, 1988), 2.
  48. ^ Kirk, Edmund Burke, 108.
  49. ^ Ibid., 108.
  50. ^ Elizabeth D. Samet, “A Prosecutor and a Gentleman: Edmund Burke’s Idiom of Impeachment,” ELH 68, no. 2 (2001): 402.
  51. ^ McCue, p. 155.
  52. ^ McCue, p. 156.
  53. ^ Mithi Mukherjee, “Justice, War, and the Imperium: India and Britain in Edmund Burke’s Prosecutorial Speeches,” Law and History Review 23, no. 3 (2005): 589.
  54. ^ Mukherjee, “Justice, War, and the Imperium,” 590.
  55. ^ Elizabeth D. Samet, “A Prosecutor and a Gentleman: Edmund Burke’s Idiom of Impeachment,” ELH 68, no. 2 (2001): 406-407.
  56. ^ Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire: 1781 - 1998 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2007), p. 35. ISBN 978-0-224-06222-0
  57. ^ Clark, p. 61.
  58. ^ Clark, pp. 61-2.
  59. ^ Clark, p. 62.
  60. ^ Clark, pp. 66-7.
  61. ^ A Discourse On the Love of our Country
  62. ^ Clark, p. 63.
  63. ^ Clark, English Society, p. 233.
  64. ^ Dreyer, Frederick (1978). "The Genesis of Burke's Reflections". The Journal of Modern History 50: 462. doi:10.1086/241734. 
  65. ^ Clark, p. 68.
  66. ^ Prior, p. 311.
  67. ^ F. P. Lock, Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1985), p. 132.
  68. ^ Clark, p. 39.
  69. ^ Clark, pp. 24-5, p. 34, p. 43.
  70. ^ Clark, pp. 181-3.
  71. ^ Clark, pp. 250-1.
  72. ^ Clark, pp. 251-2.
  73. ^ Clark, p. 261.
  74. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. II, pp. 289-90.
  75. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 297.
  76. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 300.
  77. ^ Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VI (Cambridge University Press, 1967), p. 204.
  78. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 296.
  79. ^ Prior, pp. 313-4.
  80. ^ L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (Penguin, 1997), p. 113.
  81. ^ Lock, Burke's Reflections, p. 134.
  82. ^ Cobban and Smith (eds.), Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VI, p. 178.
  83. ^ Cobban and Smith (eds.), Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VI, p. 161, n. 2.
  84. ^ Cobban and Smith (eds.), Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VI, p. 239.
  85. ^ Clark, p. 49.
  86. ^ Prior, p. 491.
  87. ^ Cobban and Smith (eds.), Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VI, pp. 162-69.
  88. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. II, pp. 356-67.
  89. ^ Prior, p. 327.
  90. ^ a b McCue, p. 23.
  91. ^ Frank O'Gorman, The Whig Party and the French Revolution (Macmillan, 1967), p. 65.
  92. ^ Prior, p. 328.
  93. ^ a b Prior, p. 329.
  94. ^ a b O'Gorman, p. 75.
  95. ^ O'Gorman, p. 74.
  96. ^ a b c Clark, p. 40.
  97. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 383.
  98. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 384.
  99. ^ a b c Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 386.
  100. ^ Lock, Burke. Vol. II, pp. 385-6.
  101. ^ Prior, pp. 357-8.
  102. ^ Cobban and Smith (eds.), Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VI, pp. 479-80.
  103. ^ a b Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 439.
  104. ^ a b Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 453.
  105. ^ O'Gorman, pp. 168-69.
  106. ^ Edmund Burke, The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Volume VII (F. C. and J. Rivington, 1815), p. 141.
  107. ^ Prior, pp. 425-6.
  108. ^ Edmund Burke, A Letter from The Right Honourable Edmund Burke to a Noble Lord, on the Attacks made upon him and his pension, in the House of Lords, by The Duke of Bedford and The Earl of Lauderdale, Early in the present Sessions of Parliament. (F. and C. Rivington, 1796), p. 20.
  109. ^ Burke, A Letter to a Noble Lord, p. 41.
  110. ^ Burke, A Letter to a Noble Lord, pp. 52-53.
  111. ^ Prior, pp. 439-40.
  112. ^ Steven Blakemore, 'Burke and the Revolution: Bicentennial Reflections', in Blakemore (ed.), Burke and the French Revolution. Bicentennial Essays (The University of Georgia Press, 1992), p. 158.
  113. ^ Blakemore, p. 158.
  114. ^ Prior, pp. 443-4.
  115. ^ Robert Eccleshall, English Conservatism since the Restoration (London: Unwin Hyman, 1990), p. 75.
  116. ^ Prior, p. 419.
  117. ^ Eccleshall, p. 77.
  118. ^ E. G. West, Adam Smith (New York: Arlington House, 1969), p. 201.
  119. ^ R. B. McDowell (ed.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VIII (Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 254.
  120. ^ McDowell (ed.), Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VIII, p. 432.
  121. ^ Prior, p. 456
  122. ^ J. J. Sack, From Jacobite to Conservative. Reaction and orthodoxy in Britain, c. 1760–1832 (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 90.
  123. ^ Sack, p. 95.
  124. ^ Gregory Claeys, 'The Reflections refracted: the critical reception of Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France during the early 1790s', in John Whale (ed.), Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. New interdisciplinary essays (Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 55, n. 23.
  125. ^ A. D. Harvey, Britain in the early nineteenth century (B T Batsford Ltd, 1978), p. 125.
  126. ^ Lock, Burke's Reflections, p. 175.
  127. ^ a b Lock, Burke's Reflections, p. 173.
  128. ^ Lock, Burke's Reflections, pp. 173-4.
  129. ^ Lock, Burke's Reflections, p. 174.
  130. ^ a b Claeys, p. 50.
  131. ^ E. J. Stapleton (ed.), Some Official Correspondence of George Canning. Volume I (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1887), p. 74.
  132. ^ William Flavelle Monypenny and George Earle Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli. Earl of Beaconsfield. Volume I. 1804–1859 (London: John Murray, 1929), p. 310.
  133. ^ John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone. Volume III (1880–1898) (London: Macmillan, 1903), p. 280.
  134. ^ John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1905), p. 167.
  135. ^ Herbert Paul (ed.), Letters of Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone (Macmillan, 1914), p. 44.
  136. ^ Sir George Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay. Volume II (London: Longmans, 1876), p. 377.
  137. ^ D. A. Hamer, John Morley. Liberal Intellectual in Politics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 65.
  138. ^ F. W. Hirst, Liberty and Tyranny (London: Duckworth, 1935), pp. 105-6.
  139. ^ K. Brittlebank, Tipu Sultan's Search for Legitimacy (Delhi, 1997), p. 27.
  140. ^ Brendon, p. xviii.
  141. ^ F. G. Whelan, Edmund Burke and India (Pittsburgh, 1996), p. 96.
  142. ^ Origins of the triumph-of-evil quote:


  • This article incorporates public domain text from : Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London, J. M. Dent & Sons; New York, E. P. Dutton.
  • Steven Blakemore (ed.), Burke and the French Revolution. Bicentennial Essays (The University of Georgia Press, 1992).
  • J. C. D. Clark (ed.), Reflections on the Revolution in France. A Critical Edition (Stanford University Press, 2001).
  • Thomas Wellsted Copeland, 'Edmund Burke and the Book Reviews in Dodsley's Annual Register', Publications of the Modern Language Association, Vol. 57, No. 2. (Jun., 1942), pp. 446–468.
  • Ian Crowe, 'The career and political thought of Edmund Burke', Journal of Liberal History, Issue 40, Autumn 2003.
  • Frederick Dreyer, 'The Genesis of Burke's Reflections', The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 50, No. 3. (Sep., 1978), pp. 462–479.
  • Robert Eccleshall, English Conservatism since the Restoration (London: Unwin Hyman, 1990).
  • Hibbert, Christopher (1990-05). King Mob: The Story of Lord George Gordon and the Riots of 1780. Dorset Press. ISBN 0880293993. 
  • Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot. Seventh Edition (1992).
  • F. P. Lock, Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1985).
  • F. P. Lock, Edmund Burke. Volume I: 1730–1784 (Clarendon Press, 1999).
  • F. P. Lock, Edmund Burke. Volume II: 1784–1797 (Clarendon Press, 2006).
  • Jim McCue, Edmund Burke and Our Present Discontents (The Claridge Press, 1997).
  • Conor Cruise O'Brien, The Great Melody. A Thematic Biography of Edmund Burke (1992). ISBN 0226616517.
  • James Prior, Life of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Fifth Edition (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854).
  • J. J. Sack, 'The Memory of Burke and the Memory of Pitt: English Conservatism Confronts Its Past, 1806-1829', The Historical Journal, Vol. 30, No. 3. (Sep., 1987), pp. 623–640.
  • J. J. Sack, From Jacobite to Conservative. Reaction and orthodoxy in Britain, c. 1760–1832 (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
  • John Whale (ed.), Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. New interdisciplinary essays (Manchester University Press, 2000).

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Richard Rigby
Paymaster of the Forces
Succeeded by
Isaac Barré
Preceded by
Isaac Barré
Paymaster of the Forces
1783 – 1784
Succeeded by
William Wyndham Grenville
Academic offices
Preceded by
Henry Dundas
Rector of the University of Glasgow
1783 – 1785
Succeeded by
Robert Cunninghame-Grahame of Gartmore


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither, in my opinion, is safe.
The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.

Edmund Burke (1729-01-121797-07-09) was an Irish political philosopher, Whig politician, and statesman; he is regarded by many as the "father" of modern conservatism.



Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites, — in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity, — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves.
  • There is a sort of enthusiasm in all projectors, absolutely necessary for their affairs, which makes them proof against the most fatiguing delays, the most mortifying disappointments, the most shocking insults; and, what is severer than all, the presumptuous judgement of the ignorant upon their designs.
    • An account of the European Settlements in America (1757), pp. 19-20, in The Works of Edmund Burke in Nine Volumes, Vol. IX. Boston: Little, Brown, 1839.
  • Laws, like houses, lean on one another.
    • From the Tracts Relative to the Laws Against Popery in Ireland (c. 1766), not published during Burke's lifetime.
  • There is, however, a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.
    • Observations on a Late Publication on the Present State of the Nation (1769)
  • It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the publick to be the most anxious for its welfare.
    • Observations on a Late Publication on the Present State of the Nation (1769)
  • The wisdom of our ancestors.
    • Burke is credited by some with the first use of this phrase, in Observations on a Late Publication on the Present State of the Nation (1769); also in Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770) and Discussion on the Traitorous Correspondence Bill (1793)
  • Toleration is good for all, or it is good for none.
    • Speech on the Bill for the Relief of Protestant Dissenters (1773-03-07)
  • I take toleration to be a part of religion. I do not know which I would sacrifice; I would keep them both: it is not necessary that I should sacrifice either.
    • Speech on the Bill for the Relief of Protestant Dissenters (1773-03-07)
  • Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
    • Speech to the Electors of Bristol (1774-11-03)
  • Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.
    • Speech to the Electors of Bristol (1774-11-03); as published in The Works of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke (1834)
  • People crushed by law, have no hopes but from power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws; and those who have much to hope and nothing to lose, will always be dangerous.
    • Letter to Charles James Fox (1777-10-08)
  • Applaud us when we run, console us when we fall, cheer us when we recover.
    • Speech at Bristol Previous to the Election (1780)
  • Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.
    • Speech at Bristol Previous to the Election (1780)
  • I decline the election. — It has ever been my rule through life, to observe a proportion between my efforts and my objects. I have never been remarkable for a bold, active, and sanguine pursuit of advantages that are personal to myself.
    • Speech at Bristol on declining the poll (1780-09-09)
  • Gentlemen, the melancholy event of yesterday reads to us an awful lesson against being too much troubled about any of the objects of ordinary ambition. The worthy gentleman, who has been snatched from us at the moment of the election, and in the middle of contest, whilst his desires were as warm, and his hopes as eager as ours, has feelingly told us, what shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue.
    • Speech at Bristol on declining the poll (1780-09-09)
    • Referring to a Mr. Coombe
  • He was not merely a chip of the old Block, but the old Block itself.
    • On Pitt's First Speech (1781-02-26), from Wraxall's Memoirs, First Series, vol. i. p. 342.
  • The individual is foolish; the multitude, for the moment is foolish, when they act without deliberation; but the species is wise, and, when time is given to it, as a species it always acts right.
    • Speech on Reform of Representation in the House of Commons (1782-05-07)
  • The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.
    • Speech at a County Meeting of Buckinghamshire (1784)
  • Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither, in my opinion, is safe.
    • Letter to M. de Menonville (October 1789)
  • They made and recorded a sort of institute and digest of anarchy, called the Rights of Man.
    • On the Army Estimates (1790)
  • You can never plan the future by the past.
    • Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
  • Tyrants seldom want pretexts.
    • Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
  • Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed in the midst of all their power; but they will never look to any thing but power for their relief.
    • Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
  • Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites, — in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity, — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
    • Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
  • Neither the few nor the many have a right to act merely by their will, in any matter connected with duty, trust, engagement, or obligation.
    • Appeal from the New Whigs to the Old (1791)
  • So far as it has gone, it probably is the most pure and defecated publick good which ever has been conferred on mankind.
    • Appeal from the New Whigs to the Old (1791)
    • On Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791
  • There is a boundary to men's passions when they act from feeling; none when they are under the influence of imagination.
    • Appeal from the New Whigs to the Old (1791)
  • We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature, and the means perhaps of its conservation.
    • Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe (1792)
  • Old religious factions are volcanoes burnt out.
    • Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians (1792-05-11)
  • Early and provident fear is the mother of safety.
    • Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians (1792-05-11)
  • It is the function of a judge not to make but to declare the law, according to the golden mete-wand of the law and not by the crooked cord of discretion.
    • Preface to Brissot's Address (1794)
  • The cold neutrality of an impartial judge.
    • Preface to Brissot's Address (1794)
  • Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.
    • Preface to Brissot's Address (1794)
  • Nothing is so fatal to religion as indifference.
    • Letter to William Smith (January 1795)
  • And having looked to Government for bread, on the very first scarcity they will turn and bite the hand that fed them.
    • Thoughts and Details on Scarcity (1795)
  • Under the pressure of the cares and sorrows of our mortal condition, men have at all times, and in all countries, called in some physical aid to their moral consolations — wine, beer, opium, brandy, or tobacco.
    • Thoughts and Details on Scarcity (1795)
  • I would rather sleep in the southern corner of a little country churchyard, than in the tombs of the Capulets.
    • Letter to Matthew Smith
  • The tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny.
    • Letter to Thomas Mercer
  • A very great part of the mischiefs that vex the world arises from words.
    • Letter to Richard Burke
  • When Croft's "Life of Dr. Young" was spoken of as a good imitation of Dr. Johnson's style, "No, no," said he, "it is not a good imitation of Johnson; it has all his pomp without his force; it has all the nodosities of the oak, without its strength; it has all the contortions of the sibyl, without the inspiration."
    • Comment quoted by Matthew Prior in his Life of Burke
  • The art of substantiating shadows, and of lending existence to nothing.
    • Burke's description of poetry, quoted from his conversation in Prior's Life of Burke.

A Vindication of Natural Society: A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind (1756)

  • "War," says Machiavel, "ought to be the only study of a prince;" and by a prince he means every sort of state, however constituted. "He ought," says this great political doctor, "to consider peace only as a breathing-time, which gives him leisure to contrive, and furnishes ability to execute military plans." A meditation on the conduct of political societies made old Hobbes imagine that war was the state of nature.
  • A good parson once said that where mystery begins religion ends. Cannot I say, as truly at least, of human laws, that where mystery begins, justice ends?
  • The writers against religion, whilst they oppose every system, are wisely careful never to set up any of their own.

A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757)

  • The first and the simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind is Curiosity.
  • The person who grieves, suffers his passion to grow upon him; he indulges it, he loves it; but this never happens in the case of actual pain, which no man ever willingly endured for any considerable time.
  • Custom reconciles us to every thing.
  • No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.
  • I am convinced that we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others.
  • A great profusion of things, which are splendid or valuable in themselves, is magnificent. The starry heaven, though it occurs so very frequently to our view, never fails to excite an idea of grandeur. This cannot be owing to the stars themselves, separately considered. The number is certainly the cause. The apparent disorder augments the grandeur, for the appearance of care is highly contrary to our idea of magnificence. Besides, the stars lie in such apparent confusion, as makes it impossible on ordinary occasions to reckon them. This gives them the advantage of a sort of infinity.
When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770)

  • It is an advantage to all narrow wisdom and narrow morals that their maxims have a plausible air; and, on a cursory view, appear equal to first principles. They are light and portable. They are as current as copper coin; and about as valuable. They serve equally the first capacities and the lowest; and they are, at least, as useful to the worst men as to the best. Of this stamp is the cant of not man, but measures; a sort of charm by which many people get loose from every honourable engagement.
  • The power of discretionary disqualification by one law of Parliament, and the necessity of paying every debt of the Civil List by another law of Parliament, if suffered to pass unnoticed, must establish such a fund of rewards and terrors as will make Parliament the best appendage and support of arbitrary power that ever was invented by the wit of man. This is felt. The quarrel is begun between the Representatives and the People. The Court Faction have at length committed them. In such a strait the wisest may well be perplexed, and the boldest staggered. The circumstances are in a great measure new. We have hardly any land-marks from the wisdom of our ancestors, to guide us. At best we can only follow the spirit of their proceeding in other cases.
  • When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
  • So to be patriots as not to forget we are gentlemen.
  • Public life is a situation of power and energy; he trespasses against his duty who sleeps upon his watch, as well as he that goes over to the enemy.

First Speech on the Conciliation with America (1774)

First Speech on the Conciliation with America, American Taxation (1774-04-19)
  • Reflect how you are to govern a people who think they ought to be free, and think they are not. Your scheme yields no revenue; it yields nothing but discontent, disorder, disobedience; and such is the state of America, that after wading up to your eyes in blood, you could only end just where you begun; that is, to tax where no revenue is to be found, to — my voice fails me; my inclination indeed carries me no farther — all is confusion beyond it.
  • Falsehood has a perennial spring.
  • To tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men.
  • He had no failings which were not owing to a noble cause; to an ardent, generous, perhaps an immoderate passion for fame; a passion which is the instinct of all great souls.
  • It is the nature of all greatness not to be exact.

Second Speech on Conciliation with America (1775)

Second Speech on Conciliation with America, The Thirteen Resolutions (1775)
  • I have in general no very exalted opinion of the virtue of paper government.
  • The concessions of the weak are the concessions of fear.
  • Young man, there is America — which at this day serves for little more than to amuse you with stories of savage men and uncouth manners; yet shall, before you taste of death, show itself equal to the whole of that commerce which now attracts the envy of the world.
  • When we speak of the commerce with our [American] colonies, fiction lags after truth, invention is unfruitful, and imagination cold and barren.
  • A people who are still, as it were, but in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood.
  • Through a wise and salutary neglect [of the colonies], a generous nature has been suffered to take her own way to perfection; when I reflect upon these effects, when I see how profitable they have been to us, I feel all the pride of power sink and all presumption in the wisdom of human contrivances melt and die away within me. My vigour relents. I pardon something to the spirit of liberty.
  • The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again: and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered.
  • Nothing less will content me, than whole America.
  • Abstract liberty, like other mere abstractions, is not to be found.
  • All protestantism, even the most cold and passive, is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our northern colonies is a refinement on the principles of resistance: it is the dissidence of dissent, and the protestantism of the Protestant religion.
  • Permit me, Sir, to add another circumstance in our colonies, which contributes no mean part towards the growth and effect of this untractable spirit. I mean their education. In no country perhaps in the world is the law so general a study. The profession itself is numerous and powerful; and in most provinces it takes the lead. The greater number of the deputies sent to the congress were lawyers. But all who read, and most do read, endeavour to obtain some smattering in that science. I have been told by an eminent bookseller, that in no branch of his business, after tracts of popular devotion, were so many books as those on the law exported to the plantations. The colonists have now fallen into the way of printing them for their own use. I hear that they have sold nearly as many of Blackstone's Commentaries in America as in England. General Gage marks out this disposition very particularly in a letter on your table. He states, that all the people in his government are lawyers, or smatterers in law; and that in Boston they have been enabled, by successful chicane, wholly to evade many parts of one of your capital penal constitutions. The smartness of debate will say, that this knowledge ought to teach them more clearly the rights of legislature, their obligations to obedience, and the penalties of rebellion. All this is mighty well. But my honourable and learned friend on the floor, who condescends to mark what I say for animadversion, will disdain that ground. He has heard, as well as I, that when great honours and great emoluments do not win over this knowledge to the service of the state, it is a formidable adversary to government. If the spirit be not tamed and broken by these happy methods, it is stubborn and litigious. Abeunt studia in mores. This study renders men acute, inquisitive, dexterous, prompt in attack, ready in defence, full of resources. In other countries, the people, more simple, and of a less mercurial cast, judge of an ill principle in government only by an actual grievance; here they anticipate the evil, and judge of the pressure of the grievance by the badness of the principle. They augur misgovernment at a distance; and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.
  • It looks to me to be narrow and pedantic to apply the ordinary ideas of criminal justice to this great public contest. I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people.
  • It is not, what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice, tell me I ought to do.
  • The march of the human mind is slow.
  • Freedom and not servitude is the cure of anarchy; as religion, and not atheism, is the true remedy for superstition.
  • All government — indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act — is founded on compromise and barter.
  • Slavery they can have anywhere. It is a weed that grows in every soil.
  • Deny them [the colonies] this participation of freedom, and you break that sole bond, which originally made, and must still preserve the unity of the empire.
  • It is the love of the [British] people; it is their attachment to their government, from the sense of the deep stake they have in such a glorious institution, which gives you both your army and your navy, and infuses into both that liberal obedience, without which your army would be a base rabble, and your navy nothing but rotten timber.
  • Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together.
  • By adverting to the dignity of this high calling our ancestors have turned a savage wilderness into a glorious empire: and have made the most extensive, and the only honorable conquests, not by destroying, but by promoting the wealth, the number, the happiness of the human race.

Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol (1777)

Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol (1777-04-03)
  • All who have ever written on government are unanimous, that among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist.
  • The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts.
  • Liberty, too, must be limited in order to be possessed.
  • If any ask me what a free Government is, I answer, that, for any practical purpose, it is what the people think so, — and that they, and not I, are the natural, lawful, and competent judges of this matter.
  • In effect, to follow, not to force the public inclination; to give a direction, a form, a technical dress, and a specific sanction, to the general sense of the community, is the true end of legislature.

Speech on the Independence of Parliament (1780)

Speech on the Independence of Parliament and Economical Reformation (1780-02-11)
  • Frugality is founded on the principle that all riches have limits.
  • Corrupt influence, which is itself the perennial spring of all prodigality, and of all disorder; which loads us, more than millions of debt; which takes away vigor from our arms, wisdom from our councils, and every shadow of authority and credit from the most venerable parts of our constitution.
  • Taxing is an easy business. Any projector can contrive new impositions, any bungler can add to the old.
  • They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance.

On the Impeachment of Warren Hastings (1788-1794)

Articles of Charge of High Crimes and Misdemeanors, against Warren Hastings
  • There never was a bad man that had ability for good service.
    • 1788-02-15
  • Religious persecution may shield itself under the guise of a mistaken and over-zealous piety.
    • 1788-02-15
  • One that confounds good and evil is an enemy to the good.
    • 1788-02-15
  • An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak, and impossible to be silent.
    • 1789-05-05
  • Resolved to die in the last dike of prevarication.
    • 1789-05-07
  • There is but one law for all, namely, that law which governs all law, the law of our Creator, the law of humanity, justice, equity — the law of nature, and of nations.
    • 1794-05-28
  • There was an ancient Roman lawyer, of great fame in the history of Roman jurisprudence, whom they called Cui Bono, from his having first introduced into judicial proceedings the argument, "What end or object could the party have had in the act with which he is accused."
    • 1794-05-30

Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

  • People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.
  • Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour, and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.
  • Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom.
  • The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone!
  • That chastity of honour which felt a stain like a wound.
  • Vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness.
  • Kings will be tyrants from policy, when subjects are rebels from principle.
  • Learning will be cast into the mire and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.
  • Because half-a-dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that of course they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.
  • Superstition is the religion of feeble minds.
  • Difficulty is a severe instructor, set over us by the supreme ordinance of a parental Guardian and Legislator, who knows us better than we know ourselves, as he loves us better too. Pater ipse colendi haud facilem esse viam voluit. He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.
  • To execute laws is a royal office; to execute orders is not to be a king. However, a political executive magistracy, though merely such, is a great trust.
  • A man full of warm, speculative benevolence may wish his society otherwise constituted than he finds it, but a good patriot and a true politician always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country. A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman. Everything else is vulgar in the conception, perilous in the execution.
  • A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.
  • All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society.
  • But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.
  • In their nomination to office they will not appoint to the exercise of authority as to a pitiful job, but as to a holy function.
  • Better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions, than ruined by too confident a security.
  • Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver.
  • Good order is the foundation of all good things.
  • Hypocrisy, of course, delights in the most sublime speculations; for, never intending to go beyond speculation, it costs nothing to have it magnificent.
  • I have never yet seen any plan which has not been mended by the observation of those who were much inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business.
  • If the people are happy, united, wealthy, and powerful, we presume the rest. We conclude that to be good from whence good is derived.
  • In this choice of inheritance we have given to our frame of polity the image of a relation in blood, binding up the constitution of our country with our dearest domestic ties, adopting our fundamental laws into the bosom of our family affections, keeping inseparable and cherishing with the warmth of all their combined and mutually reflected charities our state, our hearths, our sepulchres, and our altars.
  • It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; 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 splendor, and joy. Oh! what a Revolution! And what a heart must I have to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever.
  • It shews the anxiety of the great men who influenced the conduct of affairs at that great event, to make the Revolution a parent of settlement, and not a nursery of future revolutions.
  • Justice is itself the great standing policy of civil society; and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all.
  • Men who undertake considerable things, even in a regular way, ought to give us ground to presume ability.
  • No man can mortgage his injustice as a pawn for his fidelity.
  • No sound ought to be heard in the church but the healing voice of Christian charity.
  • Our patience will achieve more than our force.
  • Politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement.
  • Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure — but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primaeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and the invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place. This law is not subject to the will of those, who by an obligation above them, and infinitely superior, are bound to submit their will to that law. The municipal corporations of that universal kingdom are not morally at liberty at their pleasure, and on their speculations of a contingent improvement, wholly to separate and tear asunder the bands of their subordinate community, and to dissolve it into an unsocial, uncivil, unconnected chaos of elementary principles. It is the first and supreme necessity only, a necessity that is not chosen, but chooses, a necessity paramount to deliberation, that admits no discussion, and demands no evidence, which alone can justify a resort to anarchy. This necessity is no exception to the rule; because this necessity itself is a part too of that moral and physical disposition of things, to which man must be obedient by consent or force: but if that which is only submission to necessity should be made the object of choice, the law is broken, nature is disobeyed, and the rebellious are outlawed, cast forth, and exiled, from this world of reason, and order, and peace, and virtue, and fruitful penitence, into the antagonist world of madness, discord, vice, confusion, and unavailing sorrow.
  • Some decent regulated pre-eminence, some preference (not exclusive appropriation) given to birth, is neither unnatural, nor unjust, nor impolite.
  • The body of all true religion consists, to be sure, in obedience to the will of the Sovereign of the world, in a confidence in His declarations, and in imitation of His perfections.
  • The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.
  • The men of England — the men, I mean of light and leading in England.
  • France has always more or less influenced manners in England; and when your fountain is choked up and polluted, the stream will not run long, or not run clear, with us, or perhaps with any nation. This gives all Europe, in my opinion, but too close and connected a concern in what is done in France. Excuse me, therefore, if I have dwelt too long on the atrocious spectacle of the 6th of October, 1789, or have given too much scope to the reflections which have arisen in my mind on occasion of the most important of all revolutions, which may be dated from that day, I mean a revolution in sentiments, manners, and moral opinions.
  • The objects of a financier are, then, to secure an ample revenue; to impose it with judgment and equality; to employ it economically; and, when necessity obliges him to make use of credit, to secure its foundations in that instance, and for ever, by the clearness and candour of his proceedings, the exactness of his calculations, and the solidity of his funds.
  • The power of perpetuating our property in our families is one of the most valuable and interesting circumstances belonging to it, and that which tends most to the perpetuation of society itself. It makes our weakness subservient to our virtue; it grafts benevolence even upon avarice. The possession of family wealth and of the distinction which attends hereditary possessions (as most concerned in it,) are the natural securities for this transmission.
  • The wise will determine from the gravity of the case; the irritable from sensibility to oppression; the high-minded from disdain and indignation at abusive power in unworthy hands.
  • There ought to be system of manners in every nation which a well-formed mind would be disposed to relish. To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.
  • Whenever our neighbour's house is on fire, it cannot be amiss for the engines to play a little on our own.
  • Where popular authority is absolute and unrestrained, the people have an infinitely greater, because a far better founded, confidence in their own power. They are themselves, in a great measure, their own instruments. They are nearer to their objects. Besides, they are less under responsibility to one of the greatest controlling powers on the earth, the sense of fame and estimation. The share of infamy that is likely to fall to the lot of each individual in public acts is small indeed; the operation of opinion being in the inverse ratio to the number of those who abuse power. Their own approbation of their own acts has to them the appearance of a public judgment in their favor. A perfect democracy is, therefore, the most shameless thing in the world. As it is the most shameless, it is also the most fearless. No man apprehends in his person that he can be made subject to punishment.
  • Whilst shame keeps its watch, virtue is not wholly extinguished in the heart; nor will moderation be utterly exiled from the minds of tyrants.
  • Writers, especially when they act in a body and with one direction, have great influence on the public mind.
  • You had that action and counteraction which, in the natural and in the political world, from the reciprocal struggle of discordant powers draws out the harmony of the universe.
  • Whatever is supreme in a state, ought to have, as much as possible, its judicial authority so constituted as not only not to depend upon it, but in some sort to balance it. It ought to give a security to its justice against its power. It ought to make its judicature, as it were, something exterior to the state.
  • When the leaders choose to make themselves bidders at an auction of popularity, their talents, in the construction of the state, will be of no service. They will become flatterers instead of legislators; the instruments, not the guides, of the people.

A Letter to a Noble Lord (1796)

  • It cannot at this time be too often repeated; line upon line; precept upon precept; until it comes into the currency of a proverb, To innovate is not to reform.
  • Mere parsimony is not economy. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy.
  • Economy is a distributive virtue, and consists not in saving but selection. Parsimony requires no providence, no sagacity, no powers of combination, no comparison, no judgment.

Letters On a Regicide Peace (1796)

  • All men that are ruined, are ruined on the side of their natural propensities.
    • No. 1
  • Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.
    • No. 1
  • If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.
    • No. 1
  • All those instances to be found in history, whether real or fabulous, of a doubtful public spirit, at which morality is perplexed, reason is staggered, and from which affrighted Nature recoils, are their chosen and almost sole examples for the instruction of their youth.
    • No. 1
  • Jacobinism is the revolt of the enterprising talents of a country against its property.
    • No. 1
  • We must not always judge of the generality of the opinion by the noise of the acclamation.
    • No. 1
  • Manners are of more importance than laws. The law can touch us here and there, now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation like that of the air we breathe in.
    • No. 1, p. 172 in The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke: A New Edition, v. VIII. London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1815.
  • Well is it known that ambition can creep as well as soar.
    • No. 3


  • Applause is the spur of noble minds, the end and aim of weak ones.
    • Not found in Burke's writings. It was almost certainly first published in Charles Caleb Colton's Lacon (1820), vol. 1, no. 324.
  • Beauty is the promise of happiness.
    • Actually by Stendhal: "La beauté n'est que la promesse du bonheur" (Beauty is no more than the promise of happiness), in De L'Amour (1822), chapter 17.
  • If you can be well without health, you may be happy without virtue.
    • First known in Thomas Fuller's Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732), but not found in the writings of Edmund Burke.
  • Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all.
  • Society can overlook murder, adultery or swindling — it never forgives the preaching of a new gospel.
    • Actually from Frederic Harrison's essay "Ruskin as Prophet", in his Tennyson, Ruskin, Mill, and Other Literary Estimates (1899).

Probable misattribution

  • All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
    • This is probably the most quoted statement attributed to Burke, and an extraordinary number of variants of it exist, but all without any definite original source. These very extensively used "quotations" may be based on a paraphrase of some of Burke's ideas, but he is not known to have ever declared them in such a manner in any of his writings. It may have been adapted from these lines of Burke's in his Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents (1770): "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

Burke's alleged quote bears a striking resemblance to the narrated theme of Sergei Bondarchuk's Soviet film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's book "War and Peace", in which the narrator declares "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing", although since the original is in Russian various translations to English are possible.

See some of the admirable research done on this matter at these two links: Burkequote & Burkequote2 — as the research at these links points out, there are many variants of this statement, probably because there is no clearly definitive original by Burke, some of them being:

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for a few good men to do nothing
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for a few good men to do nothing
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for some good men to do nothing
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for all good men to do nothing
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that enough good men do nothing
All that is essential for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing
All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
All that is needed for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing
All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
All that is needed for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing
All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for enough good men to do nothing
All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing
All that is required for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing
All that is required for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
All that is required for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing
The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
The only thing required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
The only thing needed for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing
The only thing needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
The only thing that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
The only thing that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing
All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
All that’s necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
All that’s needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing
All that’s needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing
For evil to prosper all it needs is for good people to do nothing
All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing
All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing
All that is required for evil to triumph is for good [wo]men to do nothing
The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for enough good men [and women] to do nothing
The only thing required for evil to triumph is for good men (and women!) to do nothing
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men (and women) do nothing
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (and women) do nothing
For evil to triumph it is necessary only that good men [and women] do nothing
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing
All that it takes for the triumph of evil is that good men and women do nothing
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing
All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing
All that needs to be done for evil to prevail is that good men do nothing
The only thing that has to happen in this world for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
All that is necessary for evil to triumph in the world is for enough good men and women to do nothing
Evil thrives when good men do nothing
For evil to triumph good men need do nothing
For evil to triumph good men have to do nothing
The best way for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
The surest way to assure the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
Evil will triumph so long as good men do nothing
It is necessary only for good men to say nothing for evil to triumph
It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph
For evil to triumph it is necessary for good men to do nothing
For evil to triumph it is sufficient for good men to do nothing
All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to stand by and do nothing
All that is necessary for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
All that is required for evil to triumph over good is for good men to do nothing
Evil can triumph only if good men do nothing
The only thing evil men need to triumph is for good men to do nothing
The only thing for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for enough good men to do nothing
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men stand by and do nothing
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil was for good men to do nothing
The only way for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
Evil prevails when good men do nothing

Quotes about Burke

  • It has always been with me a test of the sense and candour of any one belonging to the opposite party, whether he allowed Burke to be a great man. Of all the persons of this description that I have ever known, I never met with above one or two who would make this concession ; whether it was that party feelings ran too high to admit of any real candour, or whether it was owing to an essential vulgarity in their habits of thinking, they all seemed to be of opinion that he was a wild enthusiast, or a hollow sophist, who was to be answered by bits of facts, by smart logic, by shrewd questions, and idle songs. They looked upon him as a man of disordered intellects, because he reasoned in a style to which they had not been used, and which confounded their dim preceptions.
    • William Hazlitt, in The Eloquence of the British Senate : Being a Selection of the Best Speeches of the Most Distinguished English, Irish, and Scotch Parliamentary Speakers, from the Beginning of the Reign of Charles I to the Present Time (1810), p. 210
  • The sycophant — who in the pay of the English oligarchy played the romantic laudator temporis acti against the French Revolution just as, in the pay of the North American colonies at the beginning of the American troubles, he had played the liberal against the English oligarchy — was an out-and-out vulgar bourgeois.

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

EDMUND BURKE (1729 - 1 797), British statesman and political writer. His is one of the greatest names in the history of political literature. There have been many more important statesmen, for he was never tried in a position of supreme responsibility. There have been many more effective orators, for lack of imaginative suppleness prevented him from penetrating to the inner mind of his hearers; defects in delivery weakened the intrinsic persuasiveness of his reasoning; and he had not that commanding authority of character and personality which has so often been the secret of triumphant eloquence. There have been many subtler, more original and more systematic thinkers about the conditions of the social union. But no one that ever lived used the general ideas of the thinker more successfully to judge the particular problems of the statesman. No one has ever come so close to the details of practical politics, and at the same time remembered that these can only be understood and only dealt with by the aid of the broad conceptions of political philosophy. And what is more than all for perpetuity of fame, he was one of the great masters of the high and difficult art of elaborate composition.

A certain doubtfulness hangs over the circumstances of Burke's life previous to the opening of his public career. The very date of his birth is variously stated. The most probable opinion is that he was born at Dublin on the 12th of January 1729, new style. Of his family we know little more than his father was a Protestant attorney, practising in Dublin, and that his mother was a Catholic, a member of the family of Nagle. He had at least one sister, from whom descended the only existing representatives of Burke's family; and he had at least two brothers, Garret Burke and Richard Burke, the one older and the other younger than Edmund. The sister, afterwards Mrs French, was brought up and remained throughout life in the religious faith of her mother; Edmund and his brothers followed that of their father. In 1741 the three brothers were sent to school at Ballitore in the county of Kildare, kept by Abraham Shackleton, an Englishman, and a member of the Society of Friends. He appears to have been an excellent teacher and a good and pious man. Burke always looked back on his own connexion with the school at Ballitore as among the most fortunate circumstances of his life. Between himself and a son of his instructor there sprang up a close and affectionate friendship, and, unlike so many of the exquisite attachments of youth, this was not choked by the dust of life, nor parted by divergence of pursuit. Richard Shackleton was endowed with a grave, pure and tranquil nature, constant and austere, yet not without those gentle elements that often redeem the drier qualities of his religious persuasion. When Burke had become one of the most famous men in Europe, no visitor to his house was more welcome than the friend with whom long years before he had tried poetic flights, and exchanged all the sanguine confidences of boyhood. And we are touched to think of the simple-minded guest secretly praying, in the solitude of his room in the fine house at Beaconsfield, that the way of his anxious and overburdened host might be guided by a divine hand.

In 1743 Burke became a student at Trinity College, Dublin, where Oliver Goldsmith was also a student at the same time. But the serious pupil of Abraham Shackleton would not be likely to see much of the wild and squalid sizar. Henry Flood, who was two years younger than Burke, had gone to complete his education at Oxford. Burke, like Goldsmith, achieved no academic distinction. His character was never at any time of the academic cast. The minor accuracies, the limitation of range, the treading and re-treading of the same small patch of ground, the concentration of interest in success before a board of examiners, were all uncongenial to a nature of exuberant intellectual curiosity and of strenuous and self-reliant originality. His knowledge of Greek and Latin was never thorough, nor had he any turn for critical niceties. He could quote Homer and Pindar, and he had read Aristotle. Like others who have gone through the conventional course of instruction, he kept a place in his memory for the various charms of Virgil and Horace, of Tacitus and Ovid; but the master whose page by night and by day he turned with devout hand, was the copious, energetic, flexible, diversified and brilliant genius of the declamations for Archias the poet and for Milo, against Catiline and against Antony, the author of the disputations at Tusculum and the orations against Verres. Cicero was ever to him the mightiest of the ancient names. In English literature Milton seems to have been more familiar to him than Shakespeare, and Spenser was perhaps more of a favourite with him than either.

It is too often the case to be a mere accident that men who become eminent for wide compass of understanding and penetrating comprehension, are in their adolescence unsettled and desultory. Of this Burke is a signal illustration. He left Trinity in 1748, with no great stock of well-ordered knowledge. He neither derived the benefits nor suffered the drawbacks of systematic intellectual discipline.

After taking his degree at Dublin he went in the year 1750 to London to keep terms at the Temple. The ten years that followed were passed in obscure industry. Burke was always extremely reserved about his private affairs. All that we know of Burke exhibits him as inspired by a resolute pride, a certain stateliness and imperious elevation of mind. Such a character, while free from any weak shame about the shabby necessities of early struggles, yet is naturally unwilling to make them prominent in after life. There is nothing dishonourable in such an inclination. "I was not swaddled and rocked and dandled into a legislator," wrote Burke when very near the end of his days: "Nitor in adversum is the motto for a man like me. At every step of my progress in life (for in every step I was traversed and opposed), and at every turnpike I met, I was obliged to show my passport. Otherwise no rank, no toleration even, for me." All sorts of whispers have been circulated by idle or malicious gossip about Burke's first manhood. He is said to have been one of the numerous lovers of his fascinating countrywoman, Margaret Woffington. It is hinted that he made a mysterious visit to the American colonies. He was for years accused of having gone over to the Church of Rome, and afterwards recanting. There is not a tittle of positive evidence for these or any of the other statements to Burke's discredit. The common story that he was a candidate for Adam Smith's chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow, when Hume was rejected in favour of an obscure nobody (1751), can be shown to be wholly false. Like a great many other youths with an eminent destiny before them, Burke conceived a strong distaste for the profession of the law. His father, who was an attorney of substance, had a distaste still stronger for so vagrant a profession as letters were in that day. He withdrew the annual allowance, and Burke set to work to win for himself by indefatigable industry and capability in the public interest that position of power or pre-eminence which his detractors acquired either by accident of birth and connexions or else by the. vile arts of political intrigue. He began at the bottom of the ladder, mixing with the Bohemian society that haunted the Temple, practising oratory in the free and easy debating societies of Covent Garden and the Strand, and writing for the booksellers.

In 1756 he made his first mark by a satire upon Bolingbroke entitled A Vindication of Natural Society. It purported to be a posthumous work from the pen of Bolingbroke, and to present a view of the miseries and evils arising to mankind from every species of artificial society. The imitation of the fine style of that magnificent writer but bad patriot is admirable. As a satire the piece is a failure, for the simple reason that the substance of it might well pass for a perfectly true, no less than a very eloquent statement of social blunders and calamities. Such acute critics as Chesterfield and Warburton thought the performance serious. Rousseau, whose famous discourse on the evils of civilization had appeared six years before, would have read Burke's ironical vindication of natural society without a suspicion of its irony. There have indeed been found persons who insist that the Vindication was a really serious expression of the writer's own opinions. This is absolutely incredible, for various reasons. Burke felt now, as he did thirty years later, that civil institutions cannot wisely or safely be measured by the tests of pure reason. His sagacity discerned that the rationalism by which Bolingbroke and the deistic school believed themselves to have overthrown revealed religion, was equally calculated to undermine the structure of political government. This was precisely the actual course on which speculation was entering in France at that moment. His Vindication is meant to be a reduction to an absurdity. The rising revolutionary school in France, if they had read it, would have taken it for a demonstration of the theorem to be proved. The only interest of the piece for us lies in the proof which it furnishes, that at the opening of his life Burke had the same scornful antipathy to political rationalism which flamed out in such overwhelming passion at its close.

In the same year (1756) appeared the Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful, a crude and narrow performance in many respects, yet marked by an independent use of the writer's mind, and not without fertile suggestion. It attracted the attention of the rising aesthetic school in Germany. Lessing set about the translation and annotation of it, and Moses Mendelssohn borrowed from Burke's speculation at least one of the most fruitful and important ideas of his own influential theories on the sentiments. In England the Inquiry had considerable vogue, but it has left no permanent trace in the development of aesthetic thought.

Burke's literary industry in town was relieved by frequent excursions to the western parts of England, in company with William Burke. There was a lasting intimacy between the two namesakes, and they seem to have been involved together in some important passages of their lives; but we have Edmund Burke's authority for believing that they were probably not kinsmen. The seclusion of these rural sojourns, originally dictated by delicate health, was as wholesome to the mind as to the body. Few men, if any, have ever acquired a settled mental habit of surveying human affairs broadly, of watching the play of passion, interest, circumstance, in all its comprehensiveness, and of applying the instruments of general conceptions and wide principles to its interpretation with respectable constancy, unless they have at some early period of their manhood resolved the greater problems of society in independence and isolation. By 1756 the cast of Burke's opinions was decisively fixed, and they underwent no radical change.

He began a series of Hints on the Drama. He wrote a portion of an Abridgment of the History of England, and brought it down as far as the reign of John. It included, as was natural enough in a warm admirer of Montesquieu, a fragment on law, of which he justly said that it ought to be the leading science in every well-ordered commonwealth. Burke's early interest in America was shown by an Account of the European Settlements on that continent. Such works were evidently a sign that his mind was turning away from abstract speculation to the great political and economic fields, and to the more visible conditions of social stability and the growth of nations. This interest in the concrete phenomena of society inspired him with the idea of the Annual Register (1759), which he designed to present a broad grouping of the chief movements of each year. The execution was as excellent as the conception, and if we reflect that it was begun in the midst of that momentous war which raised England to her climax of territorial greatness in East and West, we may easily realize how the task of describing these portentous and far-reaching events would be likely to strengthen Burke's habits of wide and laborious observation, as well as to give him firmness and confidence in the exercise of his own judgment. Dodsley gave him £ioo for each annual volume, and the sum was welcome enough, for towards the end of 1756 Burke had married. His wife was the daughter of a Dr Nugent, a physician at Bath. She is always spoken of by his friends as a mild, reasonable and obliging person, whose amiability and gentle sense did much to soothe the too nervous and excitable temperament of her husband. She had been brought up, there is good reason to believe, as a Catholic, and she was probably a member of that communion at the time of her marriage. Dr Nugent eventually took up his residence with his son-in-law in London, and became a popular member of that famous group of men of letters and artists whom Boswell has made so familiar and so dear to all later generations. Burke, however, had no intention of being dependent. His consciousness of his own powers animated him with a most justifiable ambition, if ever there was one, to play a part in the conduct of national affairs. Friends shared this ambition on his behalf; one of these was Lord Charlemont. He introduced Burke to William Gerard Hamilton (1759), now only remembered by the nickname "single-speech," derived from the circumstance of his having made a single brilliant speech in the House of Commons, which was followed by years of almost unbroken silence. Hamilton was by no means devoid of sense and acuteness, but in character he was one of the most despicable men then alive. There is not a word too many nor too strong in the description of him by one of Burke's friends, as "a sullen, vain, proud, selfish, cankered-hearted, envious reptile." The reptile's connexion, however, was for a time of considerable use to Burke. When he was made Irish secretary, Burke accompanied him to Dublin, and there learnt Oxenstiern's eternal lesson, that awaits all who penetrate behind the scenes of government, quam parva sapientia mundus regitur. The penal laws against the Catholics, the iniquitous restrictions on Irish trade and industry, the selfish factiousness 'of the parliament, the jobbery and corruption of administration, the absenteeism of the landlords, and all the other too familiar elements of that mischievous and fatal system, were then in full force. As was shown afterwards, they made an impression upon Burke that was never effaced. So much iniquity and so much disorder may well have struck deep on one whose two chief political sentiments were a passion for order and a passion for justice. He may have anticipated with something of remorse the reflection of a modern historian, that the absenteeism of her landlords has been less of a curse to Ireland 'than the absenteeism of her men of genius. At least he was never an absentee in heart. He always took the interest of an ardent patriot in his unfortunate country; and, as we shall see, made more than one weighty sacrifice on behalf of the principles which he deemed to be bound up with her welfare.

When Hamilton retired from his post, Burke accompanied him back to London, with a pension of £300 a year on the Irish Establishment. This modest allowance he hardly enjoyed for more than a single year. His patron having discovered the value of so laborious and powerful a subaltern, wished to bind Burke permanently to his service. Burke declined to sell himself into final bondage of this kind. When Hamilton continued to press his odious pretensions they quarrelled (1765), and Burke threw up his pension. He soon received a more important piece of preferment than any which he could ever have procured through Hamilton.

The accession of George III. to the throne in 1760 had been followed by the disgrace of Pitt, the dismissal of Newcastle, and the rise of Bute. These events marked the resolution of the court to change the political system which had been created by the Revolution of 1688. That system placed the government of the country in the hands of a territorial oligarchy, composed of a few families of large possessions, fairly enlightened principles, and shrewd political sense. It had been preserved by the existence of a Pretender. The two first kings of the house of Hanover could only keep the crown on their own heads by conciliating the Revolution families and accepting Revolution principles. By 1760 all peril to the dynasty was at an end. George III., or those about him, insisted on substituting for the aristocratic division of political power a substantial concentration of it in the hands of the sovereign. The ministers were no longer to be the members of a great party, acting together in pursuance of a common policy accepted by them all as a united body; they were to become nominees of the court, each holding himself answerable not to his colleagues but to the king, separately, individually and by department. George III. had before his eyes the government of his cousin the great Frederick; but not every one can bend the bow of Ulysses, and, apart from difference of personal capacity and historic tradition, he forgot that a territorial and commercial aristocracy cannot be dealt with in the spirit of the barrack and the drill-ground. But he made the attempt, and resistance to that attempt supplies the keynote to the first twenty-five years of Burke's political life.

Along with the change in system went high-handed and absolutist tendencies in policy. The first stage of the new experiment was very short. Bute, in a panic at the storm of unpopularity that menaced him, resigned in 1763. George Grenville and the less enlightened section of the Whigs took his place. They proceeded to tax the American colonists, to interpose vexatiously against their trade, to threaten the liberty of the subject at home by general warrants, and to stifle the liberty of public discussion by prosecutions of the press. Their arbitrary methods disgusted the nation, and the personal arrogance of the ministers at last disgusted the king. The system received a temporary check. Grenville fell, and the king was forced to deliver himself into the hands of the orthodox section of the Whigs. The marquess of Rockingham (July 10, 1765) became prime minister, and he was induced to make Burke his private secretary. Before Burke had begun his duties, an incident occurred which illustrates the character of the two men. The old duke of Newcastle, probably desiring a post for some nominee of his own, conveyed to the ear of the new minister various absurd rumours prejudicial to Burke, - that he was an Irish papist, that his real name was O'Bourke, that he had been a Jesuit, that he was an emissary from St Omer's. Lord Rockingham repeated these tales to Burke, who of course denied them with indignation. His chief declared himself satisfied, but Burke, from a feeling that the indispensable confidence between them was impaired, at once expressed a strong desire to resign his post. Lord Rockingham prevailed upon him to reconsider his resolve, and from that day until Lord Rockingham's death in 1782, their relations were those of the closest friendship and confidence.

The first Rockingham administration only lasted a year and a few days, ending in July 1766. The uprightness and good sense of its leaders did not compensate for the weakness of their political connexions. They were unable to stand against the coldness of the king, against the hostility of the powerful and selfish faction of Bedford Whigs, and, above all, against the towering predominance of William Pitt. That Pitt did not join them is one of the many fatal miscarriages of history, as it is one of the many serious reproaches to be made against that extraordinary man's chequered and uneven course. An alliance between Pitt and the Rockingham party was the surest guarantee of a wise and liberal policy towards the colonies. He went further than they did, in holding, like Lord Camden, the doctrine that taxation went with representation, and that therefore parliament had no right to tax the unrepresented colonists. The ministry asserted, what no competent jurist would now think of denying, that parliament is sovereign; but they went heartily with Pitt in pronouncing the exercise of the right of taxation in the case of the American colonists to be thoroughly impolitic and inexpedient. No practical difference, therefore, existed upon the important question of the hour. But Pitt's prodigious egoism, stimulated by the mischievous counsels of men of the stamp of Lord Shelburne, prevented the fusion of the only two sections of the Whig party that were at once able, enlightened and disinterested enough to carry on the government efficiently, to check the arbitrary temper of the king, and to command the confidence of the nation. Such an opportunity did not return.

The ministerial policy towards the colonies was defended by Burke with splendid and unanswerable eloquence. He had been returned to the House of Commons for the pocket borough of Wendover, and his first speech (January 27, 1766) was felt to be the rising of a new light. For the space of a quarter of a century, from this time down to 1790, Burke was one of the chief guides and inspirers of a revived Whig party. The "age of small factions" was now succeeded by an age of great principles, and selfish ties of mere families and persons were transformed into a union resting on common conviction and patriotic aims. It was Burke who did more than any one else to give to the Opposition, under the first half of the reign of George III., this stamp of elevation and grandeur. Before leaving office the Rockingham government repealed the Stamp Act; confirmed the personal liberty of the subject by forcing on the House of Commons one resolution against general warrants, and another against the seizure of papers; and relieved private houses from the intrusion of officers of excise, by repealing the cider tax. Nothing so good was done in an English parliament for nearly twenty years to come. George Grenville, whom the Rockinghams had displaced, and who was bitterly incensed at their formal reversal of his policy, printed a pamphlet to demonstrate his own wisdom and statesmanship. Burke replied in his Observations on a late Publication on the Present State of the Nation (1769), in which he showed for the first time that he had not only as much knowledge of commerce and finance, and as firm a hand, in dealing with figures as Grenville himself, but also a broad, general and luminous way of conceiving and treating politics, in which neither then nor since has he had any rival among English publicists.

It is one of the perplexing points in Burke's private history to know how he lived during these long years of parliamentary opposition. It is certainly not altogether mere impertinence to ask of a public man how he gets what he lives upon, for independence of spirit, which is so hard to the man who lays his head on the debtor's pillow, is the prime virtue in such men. Probity in money is assuredly one of the keys to character, though we must be very careful in ascertaining and proportioning all the circumstances. Now, in 1769, Burke bought an estate at Beaconsfield, in the county of Buckingham. It was about 600 acres in extent, was worth some £500 a year, and cost £22,000. People have been asking ever since how the penniless man of letters was able to raise so large a sum in the first instance, and how he was able to keep up a respectable establishment afterwards. The suspicions of those who are never sorry to disparage the great have been of various kinds. Burke was a gambler, they hint, in Indian stock, like his kinsmen Richard and William, and like Lord Verney, his political patron at Wendover. Perhaps again, his activity on behalf of Indian princes, like the raja of Tanjore, was not disinterested and did not go unrewarded. The answer to all these calumnious innuendoes is to be found in documents and title-deeds of decisive authority, and is simple enough. It is, in short, this. Burke inherited a small property from his elder brother, which he realized. Lord Rockingham advanced him a certain sum (£6000). The remainder, amounting to no less than two-thirds of the purchase-money, was raised on mortgage, and was never paid off during Burke's life. The rest of the story is equally simple, but more painful. Burke made some sort of income out of his 600 acres; he was for a short time agent for New York, with a salary of £700; he continued to work at the Annual Register down to 1788. But, when all is told, he never made as much as he spent; and in spite of considerable assistance from Lord Rockingham, amounting it is sometimes said to as much as £30,000, Burke, like the younger Pitt, got every year deeper into debt. Pitt's debts were the result of a wasteful indifference to his private affairs. Burke, on the contrary, was assiduous and orderly, and had none of the vices of profusion. But he had that quality which Aristotle places high among the virtues - the noble mean of Magnificence, standing midway between the two extremes of vulgar ostentation and narrow pettiness. He was indifferent to luxury, and sought to make life, not commodious nor soft, but high and dignified in a refined way. He loved art, filled his house with statues and pictures, and extended a generous patronage to the painters. He was a collector of books, and, as Crabbe and less conspicuous men discovered, a helpful friend to their writers. Guests were ever welcome at his board; the opulence of his mind and the fervid copiousness of his talk naturally made the guests of such a man very numerous. Non invideo equidem, miror magis, was Johnson's good-natured remark, when he was taken over his friend's fine house and pleasant gardens. Johnson was of a very different type. There was something in this external dignity which went with Burke's imperious spirit, his spacious imagination, his turn for all things stately and imposing. We may say, if we please, that Johnson had the far truer and loftier dignity of the two; but we have to take such men as Burke with the defects that belong to their qualities. And there was po corruption in Burke's outlay. When the Pitt administration was formed in 1766, he might have had office, and Lord Rockingham wished him to accept it, but he honourably took his fate with the party. He may have spent £3000 a year, where he would have been more prudent to spend only £2000. But nobody was wronged; his creditors were all paid in time, and his hands were at least clean of traffic in reversions, clerkships, tellerships and all the rest of the rich sinecures which it was thought no shame in those days for the aristocracy of the land and the robe to wrangle for, and gorge themselves upon, with the fierce voracity of famishing wolves. The most we can say is that Burke, like Pitt, was too deeply absorbed in beneficent service in the affairs of his country, to have for his own affairs the solicitude that would have been prudent.

In the midst of intense political preoccupations, Burke always found time to keep up his intimacy with the brilliant group of his earlier friends. He was one of the commanding figures at the club at the Turk's Head, with Reynolds and Garrick, Goldsmith and Johnson. The old sage who held that the first Whig was the Devil, was yet compelled to forgive Burke's politics for the sake of his magnificent gifts. "I would not talk to him of the Rockingham party," he used to say, "but I love his knowledge, his genius, his diffusion and affluence of conversation." And everybody knows Johnson's vivid account of him: "Burke, Sir, is such a man that if you met him for the first time in the street, where you were stopped by a drove of oxen, and you and he stepped aside to take shelter but for five minutes, he'd talk to you in such a manner that when you parted you would say, ` This is an extraordinary man.'" They all grieved that public business should draw to party what was meant for mankind. They deplored that the nice and difficult test of answering Berkeley had not been undertaken, as was once intended, by Burke, and sighed to think what an admirable display of subtlety and brilliance such a contention would have afforded them, had not politics "turned him from active philosophy aside." There was no jealousy in this. They did not grudge Burke being the first man in the House of Commons, for they admitted that he would have been the first man anywhere.

With all his hatred for the book-man in politics, Burke owed much of his own distinction to that generous richness and breadth of judgment which had been ripened in him by literature and his practice in it. He showed that books are a better preparation for statesmanship than early training in the subordinate posts and among the permanent officials of a public department. There is no copiousness of literary reference in his work, such as over-abounded in the civil and ecclesiastical publicists of the i 7th century. Nor can we truly say that there is much, though there is certainly some, of that tact which literature is alleged to confer on those who approach it in a just spirit and with the true gift. The influence of literature on Burke lay partly in the direction of emancipation from the mechanical formulae of practical politics; partly in the association which it engendered, in a powerful understanding like his, between politics and the moral forces of the world, and between political maxims and the old and great sentences of morals; partly in drawing him, even when resting his case on prudence and expediency, to appeal to the widest and highest sympathies; partly, and more than all, in opening his thoughts to the many conditions, possibilities and "varieties of untried being," in human character and situation, and so giving an incomparable flexibility to his methods of political approach.

This flexibility is not to be found in his manner of composition. That derives its immense power from other sources; from passion, intensity, imagination, size, truth, cogency of logical reason. Those who insist on charm, on willingness in style, on subtle harmonies and fine exquisiteness of suggestion, are disappointed in Burke: they even find him stiff and over-coloured. And there are blemishes of this kind. His banter is nearly always ungainly, his wit blunt, as Johnson said, and often unseasonable. As is usual with a man who has not true humour, Burke is also without true pathos. The thought of wrong or misery moved him less to pity for the victim than to anger against the cause. Again, there are some gratuitous and unredeemed vulgarities; some images that make us shudder. But only a literary fop can be detained by specks like these.

The varieties of Burke's literary or rhetorical method are very striking. It is almost incredible that the superb imaginative amplification of the description of Hyder Ali's descent upon the Carnatic should be from the same pen as the grave, simple, unadorned Address to the King (1777), where each sentence falls on the ear with the accent of some golden-tongued oracle of the wise gods. His stride is the stride of a giant, from the sentimental beauty of the picture of Marie Antoinette at Versailles, or the red horror of the tale of Debi Sing in Rungpore, to the learning, positiveness and cool judicial mastery of the Report on the Lords' Journals (1794), which Philip Francis, no mean judge, declared on the whole to be the "most eminent and extraordinary" of all his productions. But even in the coolest and driest of his pieces there is the mark of greatness, of grasp, of comprehension. In all its varieties Burke's style is noble, earnest, deep-flowing, because his sentiment was lofty and fervid, and went with sincerity and ardent disciplined travail of judgment. He had the style of his subjects; the amplitude, the weightiness, the laboriousness, the sense, the high flight, the grandeur, proper to a man dealing with imperial themes, with the fortunes of great societies, with the sacredness of law, the freedom of nations, the justice of rulers. Burke will always be read with delight and edification, because in the midst of discussions on the local and the accidental, he scatters apophthegms that take us into the regions of lasting wisdom. In the midst of the torrent of his most strenuous and passionate deliverances, he suddenly rises aloof from his immediate subject, and in all tranquillity reminds us of some permanent relation of things, some enduring truth of human life or human society. We do not hear the organ tones of Milton, for faith and freedom had other notes in the 18th century. There is none of the complacent and wise-browed sagacity of Bacon, for Burke's were days of personal strife and fire and civil division. We are not exhilarated by the cheerfulness, the polish, the fine manners of Bolingbroke, for Burke had an anxious conscience, and was earnest and intent that the good should triumph. And yet Burke is among the greatest of those who have wrought marvels in the prose of our English tongue.

Not all the transactions in which Burke was a combatant could furnish an imperial theme. We need not tell over again the story of Wilkes and the Middlesex election. The Rockingham ministry had been succeeded by a composite government, of which it was intended that Pitt, now made Lord Chatham and privy seal, should be the real chief. Chatham's health and mind fell into disorder almost immediately after the ministry had been formed. The duke of Grafton was its nominal head, but party ties had been broken, the political connexions of the ministers were dissolved, and, in truth, the king was now at last a king indeed, who not only reigned but governed. The revival of high doctrines of prerogative in the crown was accompanied by a revival of high doctrines of privilege in the House of Commons, and the ministry was so smitten with weakness and confusion as to be unable to resist the current of arbitrary policy, and not many of them were even willing to resist it. The unconstitutional prosecution of Wilkes was followed by the fatal recourse to new plans for raising taxes in the American colonies. These two points made the rallying ground of the new Whig opposition. Burke helped to smooth matters for a practical union between the Rockingham party and the powerful triumvirate, composed of Chatham, whose understanding had recovered from its late disorder, and of his brothers-in-law, Lord Temple and George Grenville. He was active in urging petitions from the freeholders of the counties, protesting against the unconstitutional invasion of the right of election. And he added a durable masterpiece to political literature in a pamphlet which he called Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770). The immediate object of this excellent piece was to hold up the court scheme of weak, divided and dependent administrations in the light of its real purpose and design; to describe the distempers which had been engendered in parliament by the growth of royal influence and the faction of the king's friends; to show that the newly formed Whig party had combined for truly public ends, and was no mere family knot like the Grenvilles and the Bedfords; and, finally, to press for the hearty concurrence both of public men and of the nation at large in combining against "a faction ruling by the private instructions of a court against the general sense of the people." The pamphlet was disliked by Chatham on the one hand, on no reasonable grounds that we can discover; it was denounced by the extreme popular party of the Bill of Rights, on the other hand, for its moderation and conservatism. In truth, there is as strong a vein of conservative feeling in the pamphlet of 1770 as in the more. resplendent pamphlet of 1790. "Our constitution," he said, "stands on a nice equipoise, with steep precipices and deep. waters upon all sides of it. In removing it from a dangerous leaning towards one side, there may be a risk of oversetting it on the other. Every project of a material change in a government so complicated as ours is a matter full of difficulties; in which a considerate man will not be too ready to decide, a prudent man too ready to undertake, or an honest man too ready to promise." Neither now nor ever had Burke any other real conception of a polity for England than government by the territorial aristocracy in the interests of the nation at large, and especially in the interests of commerce, to the vital importance of which in our economy he was always keenly and wisely alive. The policy of George III., and the support which it found among men who were weary of Whig factions, disturbed this scheme, and therefore Burke denounced both the court policy and the court party with all his heart and all his strength.

Eloquence and good sense, however, were impotent in the face of such forces as were at this time arrayed against a government at once strong and liberal. The court was confident that a union between Chatham and the Rockinghams was impossible. The union was in fact hindered by the waywardness and the absurd pretences of Chatham, and the want of force in Lord Rockingham. In the nation at large, the late violent ferment had been followed by as remarkable a deadness and vapidity, and Burke himself had to admit a year or two later that any remarkable robbery at Hounslow Heath would make more conversation than all the disturbances of America. The duke of Grafton went out, and Lord North became the head of a government, which lasted twelve years (1770-1782), and brought about more than all the disasters that Burke had foretold as the inevitable issue of the royal policy. For the first six years of this lamentable period Burke was actively employed in stimulating, informing and guiding the patrician chiefs of his party. "Indeed, Burke," said the duke of Richmond, "you have more merit than any man in keeping us together." They were well-meaning and patriotic men,but it was not always easy to get them to prefer politics to fox-hunting. When he r: ached his lodgings at night after a day in the city or a skirmish in the House of Commons, Burke used to find a note from the d ke of Richmond or the marquess of Rockingham, praying him t draw a protest to be entered on the Journals of the Lords, and n fact he drew all the principal protests of his party between 17 7 and 1782. The accession of Charles James Fox to the Whig arty, which took place at this time, and was so important an event in its history, was mainly due to the teaching and influe ce of Burke. In the House of Commons his industry was lmost excessive. He was taxed with speaking too often, any with being too forward. And he was mortified by a more erious charge than murmurs about superfluity of zeal. Men sa d and said again that he was Junius. His very proper unwilli gness to stoop to deny an accusation, that would have been .o disgraceful if it had been true, made ill-natured and silly. eople the more convinced that it was not wholly false. But wh tever the London world may have thought of him, Burke's ener :y and devotion of character impressed the better minds in the co ntry. In 1774 he received the great distinction of being chosen s one of its representatives by Bristol, then the second town n the kingdom.

In the events which ended in the emancipation of the A erican colonies from the monarchy, Burke's political genius shonwith an effulgence that was worthy of the great affairs over w ich it shed so magnificent an illumination. His speeches are lmost the one monument of the struggle on which a lover of english greatness can look back with pride and a sense of wort ness, such as a churchman feels when he reads Bossuet, or an A glican when he turns over the pages of Taylor or of Hooker.: urke's attitude in these high transactions is really more imp essive than Chatham's, because he was far less theatrical than Ch tham; and while he was no less nobly passionate for freedom and j stice, in his passion was fused the most strenuous political argu entation and sterling reason of state. On the other hand e was wholly free from that quality which he ascribed to Lord eorge Sackville, a man "apt to take a sort of undecided, equ vocal, narrow ground, that evades the substantial merits of the qu stion, and puts the whole upon some temporary, local, accide tal or personal consideration." He rose to the full height of tha great argument. Burke here and everywhere else displayed t e rare art of filling his subject with generalities, and yet never int uding commonplaces. No publicist who deals as largely in: eneral propositions has ever been as free from truisms; no one h ever treated great themes with so much elevation, and yet -en so wholly secured against the pitfalls of emptiness and the ague. And it is instructive to compare the foundation of all hi. pleas for the colonists with that on which they erected their ow theoretic declaration of independence. The American leaders were impregnated with the metaphysical ideas of rights which had come to them from the rising revolutionary school in France. Burke no more adopted the doctrines of Jefferson in 1776 than he adopted the doctrines of Robespierre in 1793. He says nothing about men being born free and equal, and on the other hand he never denies the position of the court and the country at large, that the home legislature, being sovereign, had the right to tax the colonies. What he does say is that the exercise of such a right was not practicable; that if it were practicable, it was inexpedient; and that, even if this had not been inexpedient, yet, after the colonies had taken to arms, to crush their resistance by military force would not be more disastrous to them than it would be unfortunate for the ancient liberties of Great Britain. Into abstract discussion he would not enter. "Show the thing you contend for to be reason; show it to be common sense; show it to be the means of attaining some useful end." "The question with me is not whether you have a right to render your people miserable, but whether it is not your interest to make them happy." There is no difference in social spirit and doctrine between his protests against the maxims of the English common people as to the colonists, and his protests against the maxims of the French common people as to the court and the nobles; and it is impossible to find a single principle either asserted or implied in the speeches on the American revolution which was afterwards repudiated in the writings on the revolution in France.

It is one of the signs of Burke's singular and varied eminence that hardly any two people agree precisely which of his works to mark as the masterpiece. Every speech or tract that he composed on a great subject becomes, as we read it, the rival of every other. But the Speech on Conciliation (1775) has, perhaps, been more universally admired than any of his other productions, partly because its maxims are of a simpler and less disputable kind than those which adorn the pieces on France, and partly because it is most strongly characterized by that deep ethical quality which is the prime secret of Burke's great style and literary mastery. In this speech, moreover, and in the only less powerful one of the preceding year upon American taxation, as well as in the Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol in 1777, we see the all-important truth conspicuously illustrated that half of his eloquence always comes of the thoroughness with which he gets up his case. No eminent man has ever done more than Burke to justify the definition of genius as the consummation of the faculty of taking pains. Labour incessant and intense, if it was not the source, was at least an inseparable condition of his power. And magnificent rhetorician though he was, his labour was given less to his diction than to the facts; his heart was less in the form than the matter. It is true that his manuscripts were blotted and smeared, and that he made so many alterations in the proofs that the printer found it worth while to have the whole set up in type afresh. But there is no polish in his style, as in that of Junius for example, though there is something a thousand times better than polish. "Why will you not allow yourself to be persuaded," said Francis after reading the Reflections, " that polish is material to preservation ?" Burke always accepted the rebuke, and flung himself into vindication of the sense, substance and veracity of what he had written. His writing is magnificent, because he knew so much, thought so comprehensively, and felt so strongly.

The succession of failures in America, culminating in Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown in October 1781, wearied the nation, and at length the persistent and powerful attacks of the opposition began to tell. "At this time," wrote Burke, in words of manly self-assertion, thirteen years afterwards, "having a momentary lead (1780-1782), so aided and so encouraged,. and as a feeble instrument in a mighty hand - I do not say I saved my country - I am sure I did my country important service. There were few indeed at that time that did not acknowledge it. It was but one voice, that no man in the kingdom better deserved an honourable provision should be made for him." In the spring of 1782 Lord North resigned. It seemed as if the court system which Burke had been denouncing for a dozen years was now finally broken, and as if the party which he had been the chief instrument in instructing, directing and keeping together must now inevitably possess power for many years to come. Yet in a few months the whole fabric had fallen, and the Whigs were thrown into opposition for the rest of the century. The story cannot be omitted in the most summary account of Burke's life. Lord Rockingham came into office on the fall of North. Burke was rewarded for services beyond price by being made paymaster of the forces, with the rank of a privy councillor. He had lost his seat for Bristol two years before, in consequence of his courageous advocacy of a measure of tolerance for the Catholics, and his still more courageous exposure of the enormities of the commercial policy of England towards Ireland. He sat during the rest of his parliamentary life (to 1 794) for Malton, a pocket borough first of Lord Rockingham's, then of Lord Fitzwilliam's. Burke's first tenure of office was very brief. He had brought forward in 1780 a comprehensive scheme of economical reform, with the design of limiting the resources of jobbery and corruption which the crown was able to use to strengthen its own sinister influence in parliament. Administrative reform was, next to peace with the colonies, the part of the scheme of the new ministry to which the king most warmly objected. It was carried out with greater moderation than had been foreshadowed in opposition. But at any rate Burke's own office was not spared. While Charles Fox's father was at the pay-office (1765-1778) he realized as the interest of the cash balances which he was allowed to retain in his hands, nearly a quarter of a million of money. When Burke came to this post the salary was settled at 4000 a year. He did not enjoy the income long. In July 1782 Lord Rockingham died; Lord Shelburne took his place; Fox, who inherited from his father a belief in Lord Shelburne's duplicity, which his own experience of him as a colleague during the last three months ltd made stronger, declined to serve under him. Burke, though he had not encouraged Fox to take this step, still with his usual loyalty followed him out of office. This may have been a proper thing to do if their distrust of Shelburne was incurable, but the next step, coalition with Lord North against him, was not only a political blunder, but a shock to party morality, which brought speedy retribution. Either they had been wrong, and violently wrong, for a dozen years, or else Lord North was the guiltiest political instrument since Strafford. Burke attempted to defend the alliance on the ground of the substantial agreement between Fox and North in public aims. The defence is wholly untenable. The Rockingham Whigs were as substantially in agreement on public affairs with the Shelburne Whigs as they were with Lord North. The movement was one of the worst in the history of English party. It served its immediate purpose, however, for Lord Shelburne found himself (February 24, 1783) too weak to carry on the government, and was succeeded by the members of the coalition, with the duke of Portland for prime minister (April 2, 1783). Burke went back to his old post at the pay-office and was soon engaged in framing and drawing the famous India Bill. This was long supposed to be the work of Fox, who was politically responsible for it. We may be sure that neither he nor Burke would have devised any government for India which they did not honestly believe to be for the advantage both of that country and of England. But it cannot be disguised that Burke had thoroughly persuaded himself that it was indispensable in the interests of English freedom to strengthen the party hostile to the court. As we have already said, dread of the peril to the constitution from the new aims of George III. was the main inspiration of Burke's political action in home affairs for the best part of his political life. The India Bill strengthened the anticourt party by transferring the government of India to seven persons named in the bill, and neither appointed nor removable by the crown. In other words, the bill gave the government to a board chosen directly by the House of Commons; and it had the incidental advantage of conferring on the ministerial party patronage valued at 00,000 a year, which would remain for a fixed term of years out of reach of the king. In a word, judging the India Bill from a party point of view, we see that Burke was now completing the aim of his project of economic reform. That measure had weakened the influence of the crown by limiting its patronage. The measure for India weakened the influence of the crown by giving a mass of patronage to the party which the king hated. But this was not to be. The India Bill was thrown out by means of a royal intrigue in the Lords, and the ministers were instantly dismissed (December 18, 1783). Young William Pitt, then only in his twenty-fifth year, had been chancellor of the exchequer in Lord Shelburne's short ministry, and had refused to enter the coalition government from an honourable repugnance to join Lord North. He was now made prime minister. The country in the election of the next year ratified the king's judgment against the Portland combination; and the hopes which Burke had cherished for a political lifetime were irretrievably ruined.

The six years that followed the great rout of the orthodox Whigs were years of repose for the country, but it was now that Burke engaged in the most laborious and formidable enterprise of his life, the impeachment of Warren Hastings for high crimes and misdemeanours in his government of India. His interest in that country was of old date. It arose partly from the fact of William Burke's residence there, partly from his friendship with Philip Francis, but most of all, we suspect, from the effect which he observed Indian influence to have in demoralizing the House of Commons. "Take my advice for once in your life," Francis wrote to Shee; "lay aside 40,000 rupees for a seat in parliament: in this country that alone makes all the difference between somebody and nobody." The relations, moreover, between the East India Company and the government were of the most important kind, and occupied Burke's closest attention from the beginning of the American war down to his own India Bill and that of Pitt and Dundas. In February 1785 he delivered one of the most famous of all his speeches, that on the nabob of Arcot's debts. The real point of this superb declamation was Burke's conviction that ministers supported the claims of the fraudulent creditors in order to secure the corrupt advantages of a sinister parliamentary interest. His proceedings against Hastings had a deeper spring. The story of Hastings's crimes, as Macaulay says, made the blood of Burke boil in his veins. He had a native abhorrence of cruelty, of injustice, of disorder, of oppression, of tyranny, and all these things in all their degrees marked Hastings's course in India. They were, moreover, concentrated in individual cases, which exercised Burke's passionate imagination to its profoundest depths, and raised it to such a glow of fiery intensity as has never been rivalled in our history. For it endured for fourteen years, and was just as burning and as terrible when Hastings was acquitted in 1795, as in the select committee of 1781 when Hastings's enormities were first revealed. "If I were to call for a reward," wrote Burke, "it would be for the services in which for fourteen years, without intermission, I showed the most industry and had the least success, I mean in the affairs of India; they are those on which I value myself the most; most for the importance; most for the labour; most for the judgment; most for constancy and perseverance in the pursuit." Sheridan's speech in the House of Commons upon the charge relative to the begums of Oude probably excelled anything that Burke achieved, as a dazzling performance abounding in the most surprising literary and rhetorical effects. But neither Sheridan nor Fox was capable of that sustained and overflowing indignation at outraged justice and oppressed humanity, that consuming moral fire, which burst forth again and again from the chief manager of the impeachment, with such scorching might as drove even the cool and intrepid Hastings beyond all self-control, and made him cry out with protests and exclamations like a criminal writhing under the scourge. Burke, no doubt, in the course of that unparalleled trial showed some prejudice; made some minor overstatements of his case; used many intemperances; and suffered himself to be provoked into expressions of heat and impatience by the cabals of the defendant and his party, and the intolerable incompetence of the tribunal. It is one of the inscrutable perplexities of human affairs, that in the logic of practical life, in order to reach conclusions that cover enough for truth, we are constantly driven to premises that cover too much, and that in order to secure their right weight to justice and reason good men are forced to fling the two-edged sword of passion into the same scale. But these excuses were mere trifles, and well deserve to be forgiven, when we think that though the offender was in form acquitted, yet Burke succeeded in these fourteen years of laborious effort in laying the foundations once for all of a moral, just, philanthropic and responsible public opinion in England with reference to India, and in doing so performed perhaps the most magnificent service that any statesman has ever had it in his power to render to humanity.

Burke's first decisive step against Hastings was a motion for papers in the spring of 1786; the thanks of the House of Commons to the managers of the impeachment were voted in the summer of 1794. But in those eight years some of the most astonishing events in history had changed the political face of Europe. Burke was more than sixty years old when the states-general met at Versailles in the spring of 1789. He had taken a prominent part on the side of freedom in the revolution which stripped England of her empire in the West. He had taken a prominent part on the side of justice, humanity and order in dealing with the revolution which had brought to England new empire in the East. The same vehement passion for freedom, justice, humanity and order was roused in him at a very early stage of the third great revolution in his history - the revolution which overthrew the old monarchy in France. From the first Burke looked on the events of 1789 with doubt and misgiving. He had been in France in 1773, where he had not only the famous vision of Marie Antoinette at Versailles, "glittering like the morning star, full of life, and splendour and joy," but had also supped and discussed with some of the destroyers, the encyclopaedists, "the sophisters, economists and calculators." His first speech on his return to England was a warning (March 17, 1773) that the props of good government were beginning to fail under the systematic attacks of unbelievers, and that principles were being propagated that would not leave to civil society any stability. The apprehension never died out in his mind; and when he knew that the principles and abstractions, the un-English dialect and destructive dialectic, of his former acquaintances were predominant in the National Assembly, his suspicion that the movement would end in disastrous miscarriage waxed into certainty.

The scene grew still more sinister in his eyes after the march of the mob from Paris to Versailles in October, and the violent transport of the king and queen from Versailles to Paris. The same hatred of lawlessness and violence which fired him with a divine rage against the Indian malefactors was aroused by the violence and lawlessness of the Parisian insurgents. The same disgust for abstractions and naked doctrines of right that had stirred him against the pretensions of the British parliament in 1774 and 1776, was revived in as lively a degree by political conceptions which he judged to be identical in the French assembly of 1789. And this anger and disgust were exasperated by the dread with which certain proceedings in England had inspired him, that the aims, principles, methods and language which he so misdoubted or abhorred in France were likely to infect the people of Great Britain.

In November 1790 the town, which had long been eagerly expecting a manifesto from Burke's pen, was electrified by the Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the proceedings in certain societies in London relative to that event. The generous Windham made an entry in his diary of his reception of the new book. "What shall be said," he added, "of the state of things, when it is remembered that the writer is a man decried, persecuted and proscribed; not being much valued even by his own party, and by half the nation considered as little better than an ingenious madman?" But the writer now ceased to be decried, persecuted and proscribed, and his book was seized as the expression of that new current of opinion in Europe which the more recent events of the Revolution had slowly set flowing. Its vogue was instant and enormous. Eleven editions were exhausted in little more than a year, and there is probably not much exaggeration in the estimate that 30,000 copies were sold before Burke's death seven years afterwards. George III. was extravagantly delighted; Stanislaus of Poland sent Burke words of thanks and high glorification and a gold medal. Catherine of Russia, the friend of Voltaire and the benefactress of Diderot, sent her congratulations to the man who denounced French philosophers as miscreants and wretches. "One wonders," Romilly said, by and by, "that Burke is not ashamed at such success." Mackintosh replied to him temperately in the Vindiciae Gallicae, and Thomas Paine replied to him less temperately but far more trenchantly and more shrewdly in the Rights of Man. Arthur Young, with whom he had corresponded years before on the mysteries of deep ploughing and fattening hogs, added a cogent polemical chapter to that ever admirable work, in which he showed that he knew as much more than Burke about the old system of France as he knew more than Burke about soils and roots. Philip Francis, to whom he had shown the proof-sheets, had tried to dissuade Burke from publishing his performance. The passage about Marie Antoinette, which has since become a stock piece in books of recitation, seemed to Francis a mere piece of foppery; for was she not a Messalina and a jade? "I know nothing of your story of Messalina," answered Burke; "am I obliged to prove judicially the virtues of all those I shall see suffering every kind of wrong and contumely and risk of life, before I endeavour to interest others in their sufferings?. .. Are not high rank, great splendour of descent, great personal elegance and outward accomplishments ingredients of moment in forming the interest we take in the misfortunes of men?. .. I tell you again that the recollection of the manner in which I saw the queen of France in 1774, and the contrast between that brilliancy, splendour and beauty, with the prostrate homage of a nation to her, and the abominable scene of 1789 which I was describing, did draw tears from me and wetted my paper. These tears came again into my eyes almost as often as I looked at the description, - they may again. You do not believe this fact, nor that these are my real feelings; but that the whole is affected, or as you express it, downright foppery. My friend, I tell you it is truth; and that it is true and will be truth when you and I are no more; and will exist as long as men with their natural feelings shall exist" (Corr. iii. 139).

Burke's conservatism was, as such a passage as this may illustrate, the result partly of strong imaginative associations clustering round the more imposing symbols of social continuity, partly of a sort of corresponding conviction in his reason that there are certain permanent elements of human nature out of which the European order had risen and which that order satisfied, and of whose immense merits, as of its mighty strength, the revolutionary party in France were most fatally ignorant. When Romilly saw Diderot in 1783, the great encyclopaedic chief assured him that submission to kings and belief in God would be at an end all over the world in a very few years. When Condorcet described the Tenth Epoch in the long development of human progress, he was sure not only that fulness of light and perfection of happiness would come to the sons of men, but that they were coming with all speed. Only those who know the incredible rashness of the revolutionary doctrine in the mouths of its most powerful professors at that time; only those who know their absorption in ends and their inconsiderateness about means, can feel how profoundly right Burke was in all this part of his contention. Napoleon, who had begun life as a disciple of Rousseau, confirmed the wisdom of the philosophy of Burke when he came to make the Concordat. That measure was in one sense the outcome of a mere sinister expediency, but that such a measure was expedient at all sufficed to prove that Burke's view of the present possibilities of social change was right, and the view of the Rousseauites and too sanguine Perfectibilitarians wrong. As we have seen, Burke's very first piece, the satire on Bolingbroke, sprang from his conviction that merely rationalistic or destructive criticism, applied to the vast complexities of man in the social union, is either mischievous or futile, and mischievous exactly in proportion as it is not futile.

To discuss Burke's writings on the Revolution would be to write first a volume upon the abstract theory of society, and then a second volume on the history of France. But we may make one or two further remarks. One of the most common charges against Burke was that he allowed his imagination and pity to be touched only by the sorrows of kings and queens, and forgot the thousands of oppressed and famine-stricken toilers of the land. "No tears are shed for nations," cried Francis, whose sympathy for the Revolution was as passionate as Burke's execration of it. "When the provinces are scourged to the bone by a mercenary and merciless military power, and every drop of its blood. and substance extorted from it by the edicts of a royal council, the case seems very tolerable to those who are not involved in it. When thousands after thousands are dragooned out of their country for the sake of their religion, or sent to row in the galleys for selling salt against law, - when the liberty of every individual is at the mercy of every prostitute, pimp or parasite that has access to power or any of its basest substitutes, - my mind, I own, is not at once prepared to be satisfied with gentle palliatives for such disorders" (Francis to Burke, November 3, 1790). This is a very terse way of putting a crucial objection to Burke's whole view of French affairs in 1789. His answer was tolerably simple. The Revolution, though it had made an end of the Bastille, did not bring the only real practical liberty, that is to say, the liberty which comes with settled courts of justice, administering settled laws, undisturbed by popular fury, independent of everything but law, and with a clear law for their direction. The people, he contended, were no worse off under the old monarchy than they will be in the long run under assemblies that are bound by the necessity of feeding one part of the community at the grievous charge of other parts, as necessitous as those who are so fed; that are obliged to flatter those who have their lives at their disposal by tolerating acts of doubtful influence on commerce and agriculture, and for the sake of precarious relief to sow the seeds of lasting want; that will be driven to be the instruments of the violence of others from a sense of their own weakness, and, by want of authority to assess equal and proportioned charges upon all, will be compelled to lay a strong hand upon the possessions of a part. As against the moderate section of the Constituent Assembly this was just.

One secret of Burke's views of the Revolution was the contempt which he had conceived for the popular leaders in the earlier stages of the movement. In spite of much excellence of intention, much heroism, much energy, it is hardly to be denied that the leaders whom that movement brought to the surface were almost without exception men of the poorest political capacity. Danton, no doubt, was abler than most of the others, yet the timidity or temerity with which he allowed himself to be vanquished by Robespierre showed that even he was not a man of commanding quality. The spectacle of men so rash, and so incapable of controlling the forces which they seemed to have presumptuously summoned, excited in Burke both indignation and contempt. And the leaders of the Constituent who came first on the stage, and hoped to make a revolution with rose-water, and hardly realized any more than Burke did how rotten was the structure which they had undertaken to build up, almost deserved his contempt, even if, as is certainly true, they did not deserve his indignation. It was only by revolutionary methods, which are in their essence and for a time as arbitrary as despotic methods, that the knot could be cut. Burke's vital error was his inability to see that a root and branch revolution was, under the conditions, inevitable. His cardinal position, from which he deduced so many important conclusions, namely, that the parts and organs of the old constitution of France were sound, and only needed moderate invigoration, is absolutely mistaken and untenable. There was not a single chamber in the old fabric that was not crumbling and tottering. The court was frivolous, vacillating, stone deaf and stone blind; the gentry were amiable, but distinctly bent to the very last on holding to their privileges, and they were wholly devoid both of the political experience that only comes of practical responsibility for public affairs, and of the political sagacity that only comes of political experience. The parliaments or tribunals were nests of faction and of the deepest social incompetence. The very sword of the state broke short in the king's hand. If the king or queen could either have had the political genius of Frederick the Great, or could have had the good fortune to find a minister with that genius, and the good sense and good faith to trust and stand by him against mobs of aristocrats and mobs of democrats; if the army had been sound and the states-general had been convoked at Bourges or Tours instead of at Paris, then the type of French monarchy and French society might have been modernized without convulsion. But none of these conditions existed.

When he dealt with the affairs of India Burke passed over the circumstances of our acquisition of power in that continent. "There is a sacred veil to be drawn over the beginnings of all government," he said. "The first step to empire is revolution, by which power is conferred; the next is good laws, good order, good institutions, to give that power stability." Exactly on this broad principle of political force, revolution was the first step to the assumption by the people of France of their own government. Granted that the Revolution was inevitable and indispensable, how was the nation to make the best of it ? And how were surrounding nations to make the best of it ? This was the true point of view. But Burke never placed himself at such a point. He never conceded the postulate, because, though he knew France better than anybody in England except Arthur Young, he did not know her condition well enough. "Alas!" he said, "they little know how many a weary step is to be taken before they can form themselves into a mass which has a true political personality." Burke's view of French affairs, however consistent with all his former political conceptions, put an end to more than one of his old political friendships. He had never been popular in the House of Commons, and the vehemence, sometimes amounting to fury, which he had shown in the debates on the India Bill, on the regency, on the impeachment of Hastings, had made him unpopular even among men on his own side. In May 1789 - that memorable month of May in which the states-general marched in impressive array to hear a sermon at the church of Notre Dame at Versailles - a vote of censure had actually been passed on him in the House of Commons for a too severe expression used against Hastings. Fox, who led the party, and Sheridan, who led Fox, were the intimates of the prince of Wales; and Burke would have been as much out of place in that circle of gamblers and profligates as Milton would have been out of place in the court of the Restoration. The prince, as somebody said, was like his father in having closets within cabinets and cupboards within closets. When the debates on the regency were at their height we have Burke's word that he was not admitted to the private counsels of the party. Though Fox and he were on friendly terms in society, yet Burke admits that for a considerable period before 1790 there had been between them "distance, coolness and want of confidence, if not total alienation on his part." The younger Whigs had begun to press for shorter parliaments, for the ballot, for redistribution of political power. Burke had never looked with any favour on these projects. His experience of the sentiment of the populace in the two greatest concerns of his life, - American affairs and Indian affairs, - had not been likely to prepossess him in favour of the popular voice as the voice of superior political wisdom. He did not absolutely object to some remedy in the state of representation (Corr. ii. 387), still he vigorously resisted such proposals as the duke of Richmond's in 1780 for manhood suffrage. The general ground was this: - "The machine itself is well enough to answer any good purpose, provided the materials were sound. But what signifies the arrangement of rottenness ?" Bad as the parliaments of George III. were, they contained their full share of eminent and capable men; and, what is more, their very defects were the exact counterparts of what we now look back upon as the prevailing stupidity in the country.

What Burke valued was good government. His Report on the Causes of the Duration of Mr Hastings's Trial shows how wide and sound were his views of law reform. His Thoughts on Scarcity attest his enlightenment on the central necessities of trade and manufacture, and even furnished arguments to Cobden fifty years afterwards. Pitt's parliaments were competent to discuss, and willing to pass, all measures for which the average political intelligence of the country was ripe. Burke did not believe that altered machinery was at that time needed to improve the quality of legislation. If wiser legislation followed the great reform of 1832, Burke would have said this was because the political intelligence of the country had improved.

Though averse at all times to taking up parliamentary reform, he thought all such projects downright crimes in the agitation of 1791-1792. This was the view taken by Burke, but it was not the view of Fox, nor of Sheridan, nor of Francis, nor of many others of his party, and difference of opinion here was naturally followed by difference of opinion upon affairs in France. Fox, Grey, Windham, Sheridan, Francis, Lord Fitzwilliam, and most of the other Whig leaders, welcomed the Revolution in France. And so did Pitt, too, for some time. "How much the greatest event it is that ever happened in the world," cried Fox, with the exaggeration of a man ready to dance the carmagnole, "and how much the best!" The dissension between a man who felt so passionately as Burke, and a man who spoke so impulsively as Charles Fox, lay in the very nature of things. Between Sheridan and Burke there was an open breach in the House of Commons upon the Revolution so early as February 1790, and Sheridan's influence with Fox was strong. This divergence of opinion destroyed all the elation that Burke might well have felt at his compliments from kings, his gold medals, his twelve editions. But he was too fiercely in earnest in his horror of Jacobinism to allow mere party associations to guide him. In May 1791 the thundercloud burst, and a public rupture between Burke and Fox took place in the House of Commons.

The scene is famous in English parliamentary annals. The minister had introduced a measure for the division of the province of Canada and for the establishment of a local legislature in each division. Fox in the course of debate went out of his way to laud the Revolution, and to sneer at some of the most effective passages in the Reflections. Burke was not present, but he announced his determination to reply. On the day when the Quebec Bill was to come on again, Fox called upon Burke, and the pair walked together from Burke's house in Duke Street down to Westminster. The Quebec Bill was recommitted, and Burke at once rose and soon began to talk his usual language against the Revolution, the rights of man, and Jacobinism whether English or French. There was a call to order. Fox, who was as sharp and intolerant in the House as he was amiable out of it, interposed with some words of contemptuous irony. Pitt, Grey, Lord Sheffield, all plunged into confused and angry debate as to whether the French Revolution was a good thing, and whether the French Revolution, good or bad, had anything to do with the Quebec Bill. At length Fox, in seconding a motion for confining the debate to its proper subject, burst into the fatal question beyond the subject, taxing Burke with inconsistency, and taunting him with having forgotten that ever-admirable saying of his own about the insurgent colonists, that he did not know how to draw an indictment against a whole nation. Burke replied in tones of firm self-repression; complained of the attack that had been made upon him; reviewed Fox's charges of inconsistency; enumerated the points on which they had disagreed, and remarked that such disagreements had never broken their friendship. But whatever the risk of enmity, and however bitter the loss of friendship, he would never cease from the warning to flee from the French constitution. "But there is no loss of friends," said Fox in an eager undertone. "Yes," said Burke, "there is a loss of friends. I know the penalty of my conduct. I have done my duty at the price of my friend - our friendship is at an end." Fox rose, but was so overcome that for some moments he could not speak. At length, his eyes streaming with tears, and in a broken voice, he deplored the breach of a twenty years' friendship on a political question. Burke was inexorable. To him the political question was so vivid, so real, so intense, as to make all personal sentiment no more than dust in the balance. Burke confronted Jacobinism with the relentlessness of a Jacobin. The rupture was never healed, and Fox and he had no relations with one another henceforth beyond such formal interviews as took place in the manager's box in Westminster Hall in connexion with the impeachment.

A few months afterwards Burke published the Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, a grave, calm and most cogent vindication of the perfect consistency of his criticisms upon the English Revolution of 1688 and upon the French Revolution of 1789, with the doctrines of the great Whigs who conducted and afterwards defended in Anne's reign the transfer of the crown from James to William and Mary. The Appeal was justly accepted as a satisfactory performance for the purpose with which it was written. Events, however, were doing more than words could do, to confirm the public opinion of Burke's sagacity and foresight. He had always divined by the instinct of hatred that the French moderates must gradually be swept away by the Jacobins, and now it was all coming true. The humiliation of the king and queen after their capture at Varennes; the compulsory acceptance of the constitution; the plain incompetence of the new Legislative Assembly; the growing violence of the Parisian mob, and the ascendency of the Jacobins at the Common Hall; the fierce day of the 20th of June (1792), when the mob flooded the Tuileries, and the bloodier day of the 10th of August, when the Swiss guard was massacred and the royal family flung into prison; the murders in the prisons in September; the trial and execution of the king in January (1793); the proscription of the Girondins in June, the execution of the queen in October - if we realize the impression likely to be made upon the sober and homely English imagination by such a heightening of horror by horror, we may easily understand how people came to listen to Burke's voice as the voice of inspiration, and to look on his burning anger as the holy fervour of a prophet of the Lord.

Fox still held to his old opinions as stoutly as he could, and condemned and opposed the war which England had declared against the French republic. Burke, who was profoundly incapable of the meanness of letting personal estrangement blind his eyes to what was best for the commonwealth, kept hoping against hope that each new trait of excess in France would at length bring the great Whig leader to a better mind. He used to declaim by the hour in the conclaves at Burlington House upon the necessity of securing Fox; upon the strength which his genius would lend to the administration in its task of grappling with the sanguinary giant; upon the impossibility, at least, of doing either with him or without him. Fox's most important political friends who had long wavered, at length, to Burke's great satisfaction, went over tolthe side of the government. In July 1794 the duke of Portland, Lord Fitzwilliam, Windham and Grenville took office under Pitt. Fox was left with a minority which was satirically said not to have been more than enough to fill a hackney coach. "That is a calumny," said one of the party, "we should have filled two." The war was prosecuted with the aid of both the great parliamentary parties of the country, and with the approval of the great bulk of the nation. Perhaps the one man in England who in his heart approved of it less than any other was William Pitt. The difference between Pitt and Burke was nearly as great as that between Burke and Fox. Burke would be content with nothing short of a crusade against France, and war to the death with her rulers. "I cannot persuade myself," he said, "that this war bears any the least resemblance to any that has ever existed in the world. I cannot persuade myself that any examples or any reasonings drawn from other wars and other politics are at all applicable to it" (Corr. iv. 219). Pitt, on the other hand, as Lord Russell truly says, treated Robespierre and Carnot as he would have treated any other French rulers, whose ambition was to be resisted, and whose interference in the affairs of other nations was to be checked. And he entered upon the matter IV. 27 in the spirit of a man of business, by sending ships to seize some islands belonging to France in the West Indies, so as to make certain of repayment of the expenses of the war.

In the summer of 1794 Burke was struck to the ground by a blow to his deepest affection in life, and he never recovered from it. His whole soul was wrapped up in his only son, of whose abilities he had the most extravagant estimate and hope. All the evidence goes to show that Richard Burke was one of the most presumptuous and empty-headed of human beings. "He is the most impudent and opiniative fellow I ever knew," said Wolfe Tone. Gilbert Elliot, a very different man, gives the same account. "Burke," he says, describing a dinner party at Lord Fitzwilliam's in 1793, "has now got such a train after him as would sink anybody but himself: his son, who is quite nauseated by all mankind; his brother, who is liked better than his son, but is rather oppressive with animal spirits and brogue; and his cousin, William Burke, who is just returned unexpectedly from India, as much ruined as when he went years ago, and who is a fresh charge on any prospects of power Burke may ever have. Mrs Burke has in her train Miss French [Burke's niece], the most perfect Size Paddy that ever was caught. Notwithstanding these disadvantages Burke is in himself a sort of power in the state. It is not too much to say that he is a sort of power in Europe, though totally without any of those means or the smallest share in them which give or maintain power in other men." Burke accepted the position of a power in Europe seriously. Though no man was ever more free from anything like the egoism of the intellectual coxcomb, yet he abounded in that active self-confidence and self-assertion which is natural in men who are conscious of great powers, and strenuous in promoting great causes. In the summer of 1791 he despatched his son to Coblenz to give advice to the royalist exiles, then under the direction of Calonne, and to report to him at Beaconsfield their disposition and prospects. Richard Burke was received with many compliments, but of course nothing came of his mission, and the only impression that remains with the reader of his prolix story is his tale of the two royal brothers, who afterwards became Louis XVIII. and Charles X., meeting after some parting, and embracing one another with many tears on board a boat in the middle of the Rhine, while some of the courtiers raised a cry of "Long live the king" - the king who had a few weeks before been carried back in triumph to his capital with Mayor Petion in his coach. When we think of the pass to which things had come in Paris by this time, and of the unappeasable ferment that boiled round the court, there is a certain touch of the ludicrous in the notion of poor Richard Burke writing to Louis XVI. a letter of wise advice how to comport himself.

At the end of the same year, with the approval of his father he started for Ireland as the adviser of the Catholic Association. He made a wretched emissary, and there was no limit to his arrogance, noisiness and indiscretion. The Irish agitators were glad to give him two thousand guineas and to send him home. The mission is associated with a more important thing, his father's Letters to Sir Hercules Langrishe, advocating the admission of the Irish Catholics to the franchise. This short piece abounds richly in maxims of moral and political prudence. And Burke exhibited considerable courage in writing it; for many of its maxims seem to involve a contradiction, first, to the principles on which he withstood the movement in France, and second, to his attitude upon the subject of parliamentary reform. The contradiction is in fact only superficial. Burke was not the man to fall unawares into a trap of this kind. His defence of Catholic relief - and it had been the conviction of a lifetime - was very properly founded on propositions which were true of Ireland, and were true neither of France nor of the quality of parliamentary representation in England. Yet Burke threw such breadth and generality over all he wrote that even these propositions, relative as they were, form a short manual of statesmanship.

At the close of the session of 1794 the impeachment of Hastings had come to an end, and Burke bade farewell to parliament.

Richard Burke was elected in his father's place at Mahon. The king was bent on making the champion of the old order of Europe a peer. His title was to be Lord Beaconsfield, and it was designed to annex to the title an income for three lives. The patent was being made ready, when all was arrested by the sudden death of the son who was to Burke more than life. The old man's grief was agonizing and inconsolable. "The storm has gone over me," he wrote in words which are well known, but which can hardly be repeated too often for any who have an ear for the cadences of noble and pathetic speech, - "The storm has gone over me, and I lie like one of those old oaks which the late hurricane has scattered about me. I am stripped of all my honours; I am torn up by the roots and lie prostrate on the earth.. .. I am alone. I have none to meet my enemies in the gate.. .. I live in an inverted order. They who ought to have succeeded me have gone before me. They who should have been to me as posterity are in the place of ancestors." A pension of £2500 was all that Burke could now be persuaded to accept. The duke of Bedford and Lord Lauderdale made some remarks in parliament upon this paltry reward to a man who, in conducting a great trial on the public behalf, had worked harder for nearly ten years than any minister in any cabinet of the reign. But it was not yet safe to kick up heels in face of the dying lion. The vileness of such criticism was punished, as it deserved to be, in the Letter to a Noble Lord (1796), in which Burke showed the usual art of all his compositions in shaking aside the insignificances of a subject. He turned mere personal defence and retaliation into an occasion for a lofty enforcement of constitutional principles, and this, too, with a relevancy and pertinence of consummate skilfulness. There was to be one more great effort before the end.

In the spring of 1796 Pitt's constant anxiety for peace had become more earnest than ever. He had found out the instability of the coalition and the power of France. Like the thrifty steward he was, he saw with growing concern the waste of the national resources and the strain upon commerce, with a public debt swollen to what then seemed the desperate sum of £400,000,000. Burke at the notion of negotiation flamed out in the Letters on a Regicide Peace, in some respects the most splendid of all his compositions. They glow with passion, and yet with all their rapidity is such steadfastness, the fervour of imagination is so skilfully tempered by close and plausible reasoning, and the whole is wrought with such strength and fire, that we hardly know where else to look either in Burke's own writings or elsewhere for such an exhibition of the rhetorical resources of our language. We cannot wonder that the whole nation was stirred to the very depths, or that they strengthened the aversion of the king, of Windham and other important personages in the government against the plans of Pitt. The prudence of their drift must be settled by external considerations. Those who think that the French were likely to show a moderation and practical reasonableness in success, such as they had never shown in the hour of imminent ruin, will find Burke's judgment full of error and mischief. Those, on the contrary, who think that the nation which was on the very eve of surrendering itself to the Napoleonic absolutism was not in a hopeful humour for peace and the European order, will believe that Burke's protests were as perspicacious as they were powerful, and that anything which chilled the energy of the war was as fatal as he declared it to be.

When the third and most impressive of these astonishing productions came into the hands of the public, the writer was no more. Burke died on the 8th of July 1797. For, who with all his faults was never wanting in a fine and generous sensibility, proposed that there should be a public funeral, and that the body should lie among the illustrious dead in Westminster Abbey. Burke, however, had left strict injunctions that his burial should be private; and he was laid in the little church at Beaconsfield. It was the year of Campo Formio. So a black whirl and torment of rapine, violence and fraud was encircling the Western world, as a life went out which, notwithstanding some eccentricities and some aberrations, had made great tides in human destiny very luminous. (J. M o.)/n==Authorities== -Of the Collected Works, there are two main editions - the quarto and the octavo. (I) Quarto, in eight volumes, begun in 1792, under the editorship of Dr F. Lawrence; vols. i.-iii. were published in 1792; vols. iv.-viii., edited by Dr Walter King, sometime bishop of Rochester, were completed in 1827. (2) Octavo in sixteen volumes. This was begun at Burke's death, also by Drs Lawrence and King; vols. i.-viii. were published in 1803 and reissued in 1808, when Dr Lawrence died; vols. ix.-xii. were published in 1813 and the remaining four vols. in 1827. A new edition of vols. i.-viii. was published in 1823 and the contents of vols. i.-xii. in 2 vols. octavo in 1834. An edition in nine volumes was published in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1839. This contains the whole of the English edition in sixteen volumes, with a reprint of the Account of the European Settlements in America which is not in the English edition.

Among the numerous editions published later may be mentioned that in Bohn's British Classics, published in 1853. This contains the fifth edition of Sir James Prior's life; also an edition in twelve volumes, octavo, published by J. C. Nimmo, 1898. There is an edition of the Select Works of Burke with introduction and notes by E. J. Payne in the Clarendon Press series, new edition, 3 vols., 1897. The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, edited by Earl Fitzwilliam and Sir R. Bourke, with appendix, detached papers and notes for speeches, was published in 4 vols., 1844. The Speeches of Edmund Burke, in the House of Commons and Westminster Hall, were published in 4 vols., 1816. Other editions of the speeches are those On Irish Affairs, collected and arranged by Matthew Arnold, with a preface (1881), On American Taxation, On Conciliation with America, together with the Letter to the Sheriff of Bristol, edited with introduction and notes by F. G. Selby (1895).

The standard life of Burke is that by Sir James Prior, Memoir of the Life and Character of Edmund Burke with Specimens of his Poetry and Letters (1824). The lives by C. MacCormick (1798) by R. Bisset (1798, 1800) are of little value. Other lives are those by the Rev. George Croly (2 vols., 1847), and by T. MacKnight (3 vols., 1898). Of critical estimates of Burke's life the Edmund Burke of John Morley, "English Men of Letters" series (1879), is an elaboration of the above article; see also his Burke, a Historical Study (1867); "Three Essays on Burke," by Sir James Fitzjames Stephen in Horae Sabbaticae, series iii. (1892); and Peptographia Dublinensis, Memorial Discourses preached in the Chapel of Trinity College, Dublin, 1895-1902; Edmund Burke, by G. Chadwick, bishop of Derry (1902).

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Rt. Hon. Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke (January 12, 1729 - July 9, 1797) was an important Irish politician, and writer. He became a member of the British Parliament in 1765.

Burke supported the American Revolution but made attacks against the French Revolution. His most famous book was Reflections on the Revolution in France, which created many of the ideas in conservatism.

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