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him by sympathy with their subject matter. He was equally acquainted with the poets, and was often indebted to them for an illustration.
The general resemblance which may certainly be traced between the style (though not the method) of Burke and that of Cicero, is due rather to similarity of circumstances than to intentional imitation. There is an amusing passage in Boswell's Life of Johnson', which contains the opinion of the great critic on this point in 1773. Being asked what was the particular excellence of Burke's eloquence, Johnson says, “Copiousness and fertility of allusion; a power of diversifying his matter by placing it in new relations. Burke has great information, and great command of language; though in my opinion it has not- in every respect the highest elegance.' Boswell: 'Do you think, Sir, that Burke has read Cicero much ?' Johnson: "I don't believe it, Sir. Burke has great knowledge, great fluency of words, and great promptness of ideas; so that he can speak with great illustration on any subject that comes before him. He is neither like Cicero, nor like Demosthenes, nor like any one else, but speaks as well as he can.' What Johnson indicated by this deficiency in the highest elegance was the familiarity of Burke's style. In his own writings he rarely lost a certain formal and academical air, which does not disappear altogether in his conversations. Even in the delightful writings of Goldsmith there is a constant savour of the press. Burke's political writings, on the other hand, have always the air of a spoken appeal from man to man. He is always forcible and earnest, but, in spite of the compass of his thought and the prodigality of his illustrations, the absence of self-consciousness is as remarkable as in the writings of Hooker and Taylor. As is usual in the case of men of good feeling, strong conviction, and high principles, there is no sense of labour or display in anything that he writes, and in this respect he even contrasts advantageously with such comparatively unambitious writers as Bolingbroke, Shaftesbury, and Swift.
Changes have been traced in the progress of Burke's style, but they are not worth considering. A remarkable identity connects his earliest and his latest works, but the greater diffuseness of the latter is attributable, of course, to the habit of public speaking.
? Ed. Croker, p. 336.
Burke's eloquence introduced a new model into Parliament. The conventional style of speaking in the middle of the last century may be best described in the words of Lord Hervey, who thus characterises the speaking of Lord Lyttelton, whose speech on the Jew Bill was considered a model of oratory:
He had a great flow of words, that were uttered in a lulling monotony, and the little meaning they had to boast of was generally borrowed from commonplace maxims of moralists, philosophers, patriots, and poets, crudely imbibed, half digested, ill put together, and confusedly refunded.' Walpole describes this nobleman as talking heroics through his nose, with the gesticulations of a puppet. Nothing can be more removed from this mixture of commonplace and falsetto, than the candour and profundity which mark the manner of Burke. He expressed his ideas with all the grandeur in which they were conceived; but the expression was always natural, and occasionally agreeably relieved by familiarity. It approaches to that manner of 'good conversation' which he himself attributes, as a high excellence, to Cicero. Burke reprehended any attempt to separate the English which is written from the English which is spoken' Plautus and Terence, and the beautiful fragments of Publius Syrus,' he considered to be models of good speaking and writing. He often casts to the winds all literary formality, and writes just as he may have spoken in public or private, freely and unrestrainedly. In this way Burke gave a lasting stimulus to English prose literature, as Wordsworth soon afterwards gave a stimulus to poetry, by the introduction of a fresher and more natural diction. His writings have ever since been the model of all who wish to say anything forcibly, naturally, freely, and in a comparatively small space. The common-sense politician recognises him as his master, and modern satire is indebted to him for originating the "Saturday Review' style2. He fell naturally into that manner which was best adapted to take and to keep hold of the
i See his letter to Murphy, upon his Translation of Tacitus.
? See, for instance, the Letter to W. Elliott, Esq., 1795. There may be sometimes too much even of a good thing. A toast is good, and a bumper is not bad; but the best toast may be so often repeated as to disgust the palate ; and ceaseless rounds of bumpers may nauseate and overload the stomach. The ears of the most steady-voting politicians may at last be stunned with “ Three times three.”).
practical English mind, and he brought that manner at once to its perfection.
The chief art of the speaker and writer consists in giving every part of his work its due degree of force, and its proper shade of colourl. This is remarkably exemplified in the products of the pen of Burke. His words,' says Hazlitt, are the most like things: his style is the most strictly suited to the subject. He unites every extreme and every variety of composition: the lowest and the meanest words and descriptions with the highest.' This is strictly true. Shakspere is no less conspicuously equal to himself whether drawing his greatest or his least characters, than Burke, on the occasion of the impeachment of Hastings, now preparing the highest flights of his rhetoric, and now employed upon the humble task of the legal draftsman ?. His addresses to the King and to the American Colonists should be noticed as specimens of the most difficult of all eloquence, that which produces its effect by extreme gravity and simplicity, avoiding all rhetorical ornament. There is a passage in the former which Lord Grenville thought the finest that Burke ever wrote-perhaps the finest in the English language-beginning, “What, gracious Sovereign, is the empire of America to us, or the empire of the world, if we lose our own liberties?' which was evidently suggested by the passage in St. Matthew 3, 'What shall a man give in exchange for his soul ?' In the sections of his works in which this grave simplicity is most prominent, Burke frequently employed the impressive phrases of the Holy Scriptures, affording a signal illustration of the truth, that he neglects the most valuable repository of rhetoric in the English language who has
1 'Is erit eloquens,' says Cicero, qui poterit parva summisse, modica temperate, magna graviter dicere. ... Qui ad id, quodcunque decebit, poterit accommodare orationem. Quod quum statuerit, tum, ut quidque erit dicendum, ita dicet, nec satura jejune nec grandia minute nec item contra, sed erit rebus ipsis par et aequalis oratio' (Orat. c. 29, 36)..
2 There is a product of his pen which is raised by the nature of the subject from that description, but which is altogether a lawyer's work, full of patient research and mature judgment, the Report of the Committee to examine the Lords' Journals in relation to proceedings on the same occasion. Charles Butler, the eminent conveyancer, considered this an ample refutation of the notion that he was not equal to the subtleties of abstract jurisprudence.
It is one of the most valuable productions of his pen. It abounds in learning and profound observation, and embraces the whole of the subject' (Reminiscences, vol. i. p. 139).
3 xvi. 26.
not well studied the English Bible? Refined tastes prefer the simpler parts of Burke's works to the more ornate. Sir Samuel Romilly considered the best of his speeches, and indeed the best piece of oratory in the language, to be that "at Bristol previous to the Election, which he contrasted with that on American Taxation, much to the disadvantage of the latter. The comparison is unjust. The latter, though premeditated in some of its parts, was delivered in haste, in the heat of a debate; the former was a skilful and elaborate address, carefully prepared, embracing a wide field of subjects, and intended as a lasting vindication of his policy. The Speech on Conciliation, however, which has generally been the most admired, both by contemporaries and posterity, is almost faultless. It unites,' says Sir James Mackintosh, the careful correctness of his first manner to the splendour of his second.' It may be added, that it is a masterpiece of method; of what Goldsmith called Burke's way of 'winding into his subject, like a serpent.'
Of the characteristics of Burke's higher flights of rhetoric, it is difficult to say anything of value. Hazlitt confesses himself in despair at the task of analysing the style. “Its severe extravagance; its literal boldness; its matter-of-fact hyperboles; its running away with a subject, and from it, at the same time—but there is no making it out, for there is no example of the same thing anywhere else. We have no common measure to refer to; and his qualities contradict even themselves.' There is indeed something about the best rhetoric which baffles the analysis of the critic, as life evades the scalpel of the anatomist. And in Burke's profuse employment of imagery to extend and amplify the thought never merely echoing or repeating it, it is true that incongruity sometimes made its appearance. Sometimes, again, the brilliancy is overwrought, and instead of enforcing and illustrating the leading idea, draws off the attention to its picturesque accompaniment. But Burke's mind was by nature generative and progressive. 'Some collateral adjunct of the main proposition,' says De Quincey, 'some temperament or restraint, some oblique glance at its remote affinities, will invariably be found to attend the progress of his sentences, like the spray from a waterfall, or the scintillations from the iron under the blacksmith's hammer. It is less wonderful that a few errors of taste or
* See South's Sermon, The Scribe Instructed.'
method should find their way into such a train of ideas, than that these errors should be so few and so insignificant. It is hazardous to approach this fiery element too nearly. "Rhetoric,' says Selden, is very good, or stark naught : there's no medium in Rhetoric. These higher beauties will be imitated at the student's peril. In the manner of them, as in that of Pindar, there is no harbour for mediocrity: you must either succeed or fail. And the continual study of the finest passages is not to be recommended. “If dwelt on exclusively as models of style,' says Dr. Goodrich, they are sure to vitiate the taste. It is like taking all our nutriment from highly seasoned food and stimulating drinks 1.'
The favourite epithet of Shakspere is sweet'; that of Milton, 'bright'; that of Taylor, 'eternal.' That of Burke takes several forms, the chief being 'great,' noble,' 'manly,' and 'liberal.' Such epithets afford an index to the tendency of the works in which they abound. Taylor bears the thought of his reader in an irresistible current from the things of time to the things of eternity. Shakspere, above all things, refines the taste: Milton quickens and exalts the imagination. The peculiar effect of Burke is to enlarge, strengthen, liberalise, and ennoble the understanding. In following the train of his arguments, even in their minor particulars, he must be a wise man indeed who does not constantly perceive lights that never fell on him before. He must be an extraordinary man, and have laboured in an unusual degree in the study of the interests of Britain, who does not find his power of methodically comprehending those interests assisted and expanded by the perusal of every one of Burke's political works, from the Present State of the Nation' of 1769, to the posthumous Third Letter on the Regicide Peace. In the latter work Burke has been compared to an Atlas ; not labouring, but sporting with the burden of a world on his shoulders. This Letter has been held to exceed in intellectual magnitude all other single efforts of the human brain. Compared to that astounding work, said a man fresh from perusing it, the most famous effusions of ancient and modern eloquence sink into child's play?
1 Bishop Hurd well says : The more generally the best models are understood, the greater danger of running into that worst of literary faultsaffectation.'
2 Green, Diary of a Lover of Literature.