Imagens da página

within twenty-four hours. Malmesbury must then have seen that the Directory were determined on maintaining the war. He complied, however, as far as he was able, with this peremptory demand. He affixed his signature to the memorials. He pointed out that they contained no ultimatum: that they represented nothing more than a basis of discussion: and that to ask for an ultimatum, at the present stage of affairs, was to snuff out the negotiation. He therefore invited the Directory to produce, if they were so disposed, a counter-project. Immediately on receiving this temperate reply, and without an hour's delay, the Directory gave him notice to quit Paris within eight and forty hours. The pacific intentions of the Directory may be estimated by the fact that on the evening of the 16th, the day preceding the final conference between Malmesbury and Delacroix, a fleet set out from Brest for the Irish coast, carrying a force of eighteen thousand men, the command of which was entrusted to Hoche.

The British Ministry lost no time in publishing their comment on the failure of the negotiation. In a long and laboured Declaration, dated December the 27th, they evinced the strongest disappointment, and cast the whole blame on the French. They ‘lamented' its abrupt termination, and solemnly engaged, “in the face of all Europe,' to renew negotiations as soon as the French should be disposed to recommence them. This undignified attitude had at least the merit of consistency. It sealed and confirmed that abject. apostrophe to the French in the name of Pitt and his colleagues, which Burke in his contemptuous mood had already penned— Citizen Regicides ! .... Nothing shall hinder us from renewing our supplications. You may turn us out at the door: but we will jump in at the window' (p. 26).

Burke had foreseen the failure of the negotiations : and it was natural for him to hail its announcement with a satisfaction bordering on triumph. The ground was cut from under the feet of the peacemakers : and nothing remained but to prosecute the war. He now took up the pen for the last of its many laboursto write a Third and final Letter, characterising the recent negotiations, pointing out how inevitable was their failure, animating the nation to the continuance of the war, and proving at large, in answer to those who held that the war was ruining the country, the sufficiency of British resources for its maintenance. Pitt's purpose in the Declaration was to soothe the national resentment, and to stifle the warlike spirit, if such there were, of the English people. It was impossible to foresee what force or form that spirit might assume. If the people were bent on peace, they would see that the French Republic would make none with a Ministry which had done its best to destroy it. If the people were bent on war, they would see that Mr. Pitt was lacking in spirit, as he had gone far to prove himself lacking in ability, to conduct it. In either case, Mr. Pitt and his colleagues must lose their places. Burke was equally anxious to avoid this dilemma.' He knew that Windham and Fitzwilliam were not strong enough to form a Ministry: he knew that a revulsion of feeling would throw the nation into the hands of the Regicide Peace party, of Lansdowne and Fox, who had quenched their old mutual hostility, and agreed on a coalition. Erskine had published a pamphlet early in the year in furtherance of this object: and the disposition of the nation may be estimated by the unparalleled fact that thirty-three editions of it were called for during the year. In this pamphlet Erskine appealed, in answer to Burke's First and Second Letters, to the principles which the great statesman had laid down in his famous speech on ·Conciliation with America.' Boldly denying, as he did, all Burke's recent conclusions, and contrasting them with those contained in his collected works, then recently republished, Erskine tempered his criticism with the confession that when he looked into his own mind, he found

all its best lights and principles fed from that immense magazine of moral and political wisdom.' A sense, he said, of mingled awe and gratitude checked him, even in that respectful liberty which he allowed himself in the controversy. Erskine went on, in words as truthful as they were appropriate, to mark out the position which Burke had taken up, and in which he was now left. “When I look,' he wrote, "at his inveterate consistency, even to this hour, when all support of men and things has been withdrawn from him : when I compare him with those who took up his errors only for their own convenience, and for the same convenience laid them down, he rises to such a deceptive height in my imagination, that, with my eyes fixed upon ministers, I view him as upon an eminence too high to be approached?.'

1 View of the Causes and Consequences of the Present War with France, p. 119.

This estimate was not Erskine's alone. Those who wish to see to what intellectual eminence it is possible for a man to attain in his life-time, should read the Parliamentary debates of this time. Burke's opinions, on all subjects, are there quoted, like Scripture, by all parties, and in the most opposite senses.

The composition of the great fragment of a Third Letter on a Regicide Peace was spread over the last six months of Burke's life. It was begun in January, and the rest was probably written during the short intervals of ease which he enjoyed, while his incurable malady was slowly hastening his end. Burke spent the early part of the year partly at Beaconsfield and partly at Bath. To the latter place he went much against his inclination : for his sincere wish was to die as quietly as might be at home. His political allies drove him to the crowded pump-room of Bath in hopes of prolonging his life. "Your life,' Windham had written on the 22nd of January, 'is at this moment of more consequence than that of any other man now living. The cause of the Regicide war had now become indeed precarious. The hopes of those who wished to reanimate the nation rested, as Windham put it, on Burke's pen and Hoche's sword. The events of April added new force to the latter argument. Bonaparte, at the gates of Vienna, had driven Austria herself to sue for peace: and England now stood alone. In full expectation of speedy invasion, Windham turned anxiously to Burke. Unwilling as he was to tax Burke's declining powers, he begged him to write only a short letter indicating the measures necessary to be taken for the immediate safety of the country. “The danger,' he wrote, “is coming thundering upon us. We are miserably unprepared, in means and in spirit, for the crisis. But while the need was growing more urgent, Burke was growing less and less able to respond to it. The end was fast approaching. Towards the end of May, having spent four months at Bath to no purpose, he returned to his house at Beaconsfield. It was, as he expressed it, so much on his way to the tomb. "There,' he wrote, “I shall be nearer to a habitation more permanent, humbly and fearfully hoping that my better part may find a better mansion. Six weeks after this he breathed his last. Events had by that time far outrun his pen. Malmesbury was fruitlessly repeating the peace negotiations at Lille; while the French war-party were thwarting all attempts at compromise, and hastening on the Revolution of Fructidor, which extinguished all moderate counsels, and paved the way for the ambitious and unscrupulous despotism of Bonaparte. The Lille negotiations were yet going on, when Canning wrote to a member of the embassy: 'There is but one event, but that is an event for the world-Burke is dead!.... He is the man that will mark this age, marked as it is in itself by events, to all time.1'.

Dr. French Laurence, an eminent civilian, whose association with Burke during the Hastings Impeachment had led to the closest political and social relations with him, and Dr. Walker King, Bishop of Rochester, were Burke's literary executors. The Third Letter on a Regicide Peace was prepared for the press by the former; the Fourth, by the latter. The exact condition in which the Third Letter came to the hands of Laurence is described in the Advertisements, prefixed to it on publication, and reprinted in the present volume. Laurence added to it what was necessary to fill up the design: and the added portions are easy to be distinguished from the original. In the part written by Burke's own hand it is impossible to trace any marks of declining intellectual power. But it is easy to trace in it a declining disposition or ability to employ the old weapons of authorship. The rare exuberance, the inextinguishable force and vivacity which mark the 'Letter to a Noble Lord,' and are not wanting in the Fourth Letter,' are gone. In part, no doubt, they were destroyed by pain and debility. Nothing remains but the clear vision, the unimpaired judgment, the stern penetration which fact and reason alone endure, and the large conception which appears, to any other mind becoming for the first time familiar with it, almost a revelation.

The 'Regicide Peace' Letters form a natural complement to the two volumes of Burke's Select Works already issued in the present series. The main topic of the Tract and Speeches contained in the first volume is the relation of Government to the people in the mass, whether at home or in the colonies. The main topic of the famous work contained in the second volume is the relation of the present generation of men, viewed as a political body, to those which have passed away, and to those which are to come. The question in the present volume is the

1 Malmesbury's Correspondence, Vol. III. p. 398.

almost equally inexhaustible one of the relation of separate nations to that great family of nations which is called the civilized world. Of this question the interest is inexhaustible because it is perpetual, and because the conditions which surround it are perpetually changing. It is one which is passed on from one generation of Englishmen to another, with the continuous life of the great community itself which they compose. The duty and interest of England as a member of the European family of nations is indeed a large subject. We have it in the present volume discussed by a large and forethoughtful mind. In times when the duties of nations to their neighbours are as little settled, so far at least as belongs to practice, as were the duties of man in the Hobbesian state of nature, and when political conditions all over the world are rapidly becoming such that the attitude of nations to each other is practically determined, and determined in a very short space of time, by the capricious impulses of a majority told by the head, the mature conclusions of one so wise and so well-informed as Burke on this subject should possess some interest. Let us see, as briefly as possible, to what those conclusions amount. ,

In the preface to a previous volume of Burke's works we have sketched out Burke's doctrine of the position of the individual man in relation to mankind at large. Man is so formed as to be entirely controlled by instincts arising from intercourse with his neighbours. Severance from his fellow-men means the extinction of those controlling instincts, and the extinction, in and through them, of all the power that gives to man's natural eminence in the animal world its natural extent and significance. Now the common relations and interests of men in society, their mutual likings and dislikings, their jealousies and their ambitions, their selfishness and their generosity, and the whole mass of the sentiments and the reasonings which practically guide them, each and all have their parallel in the relations of nations. No nation can isolate itself from the rest of the world, without committing moral suicide. No nation can cast off its responsibility, whether to its neighbours, or to its own children, or even to its yet unborn descendants. The nation that shows any signs of this betrayal of its inherited trusts is on the high road to dissolution.

1 Select Works of Burke, Vol. II. p. xl. (Second Edition.)

« AnteriorContinuar »