« AnteriorContinuar »
In his manner of working Burke was unlike Sydney Smith, who composed slowly, and seldom corrected what he wrote. Charles Butler tells us that he never sent a manuscript to the press which he had not so often altered that every page was almost a blot, and never received from the press a first proof which he did not almost equally alteri. Often the printers never attempted to correct his proofs, finding it less trouble to take the whole matter to pieces and begin afresh. Most writers have constantly beside them as a model some favourite classical author. Voltaire's model for prose was the ‘Petit Carême' of Massillon : for poetry, Racine. Burke, according to Butler, always had a • ragged Delphin Virgil' not far from his elbow. Milton, Pope, and Dryden were quite as familiar to him. He is said to have known Young's Night Thoughts by heart; but, if this is true, it is somewhat strange that not a single quctation from that author is to be found in all his writings. In his illustrations, no less than in the body of his work, he is remarkable for an exquisite instinct of selection; which is the polar opposite of what is often called, by a false application of a mathematical term, exhaustiveness—formerly much practised by the Germans, and consisting, to use the phrase of Goldsmith, in a certain manner of writing the subject to the dregs;' saying all that can be said on a given subject, without considering how far it is to the purpose; and valuing facts because they are true, rather than because they are significant, Burke also excels in the selection of words and epithets, in which he was assisted by his knowledge of the writers of Queen Anne's period; but he did not aim at the perfection attained in the most carefully elaborated works of Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke, like Pope in verse, loved to assemble specimens of the finer lights and shades of words. "He can bribe, but he cannot seduce; he can buy, but he cannot gain; he can lie, but he cannot deceive.' Burke, though not incurious of such effects, never stops in his course to seek for them. It was rather his practice to bring out the hidden force of common words and phrases, in such a way as to give dignity even to vulgarisins. This habit was early acquired. A passage in one of his earliest works (The Sublime and Beautiful'), beginning, 'In the morning of our days, when
1•I ask pardon for my blots (i. e. erasures and corrections). It is not proper, I am sensible, to send you a paper in that fashion ; but I am utterly incapable of writing without them. Correspondence, vol. iii. p. 196.
· the senses are unworn and tender,' &c., is as worthy of note in this respect, as any of the most brilliant passages of his latest writings. Indeed the remarkable unity of Burke's writings is produced, as much as by anything, by the ever fresh, natural, energetic air of his diction. He never appears to go out of his way for beauties, and yet his work is full of them. The study of law-books and state papers never blunted his keen sense of literary beauty and propriety, nor was the necessity of grappling with a definite mass of dry facts enough to defeat its habitual operation. Everything that he wrote charms in the reading. To understand the full meaning of these remarks the reader must be familiar with the manner, at once dry and verbose, of the speeches of the younger Pitt.
It is a well-known canon of rhetoric, that, in the selection of words with a view to energy, we must always prefer those terms which are the least abstract and general. Campbell and Whately have pointed out as a remarkable instance of this rule, the wellknown passage, Consider the lilies, how they grow,' &c. To illustrate the effect produced by its systematic employment, we will take a passage from the present volume, and compare it with a passage to the same purpose, in the ordinary style, from an early work of Lord Brougham:
In large bodies, the circula- "In all the despotisms of the tion of power must be less East, it has been observed, that vigorous at the extremities. Na- the further any part of the ture has said it. The Turk can- empire is removed from the not govern Ægypt and Arabia, capital, the more do its inhabiand Curdistan, as he governs tants enjoy some sort of rights Thrace; nor has he the same and privileges; the more ineffidominion in Crimea and Algiers, cacious, is the power of the which he has at Brusa and Smyr- monarch; and the more feeble na. Despotism itself is obliged and easily decayed is the organito truck and huckster. The sation of the government, &c.' Sultan gets such obedience as he (Brougham's Inquiry into the can. He governs with a loose Colonial Policy of the European rein, that he may govern at all; Powers). and the whole of the force and vigour of his authority in his centre is derived from a prudent relaxation in all his borders' (p. 184).
.. St. Luke xii. 27, 28.
This particularising style is of the essence of poetry; and in prose it is impossible not to be struck with the energy which it produces. Brougham's passage is excellent in its way; but it pales before the flashing lights of Burke's sentences. The best instances of this energy of style are to be found in the classical writers of the seventeenth century. When South says, 'An Aristotle was but the rubbish of an Adam, and Athens but the rudiments of Paradise,' he communicates more effectually his notion of the difference between the intellect of fallen and of unfallen humanity than in all the philosophy of his sermon put together.
Almost every device of the accomplished prose-writer may be learned from Burke. One of the first things to be learned is to avoid the opposite errors of extreme conciseness and of extreme prolixity. The practised rhetorician does this by an instinct which is bound by no rule. It is, however, a safe maxim to employ Repetition; not in our vulgar sense, but as answering to what the Rhetoricians called Interpretatio; in the words of Archbishop Whately, 'to repeat the same sentiment and argument in many different forms of expression; each in itself brief, but all, together, affording such an expansion of the sense to be conveyed, and so detaining the mind upon it, as the case may require. Cicero among the ancients,' he proceeds, and Burke among the modern writers, afford the most abundant practical exemplifications of this rule.' Almost every page of the ‘Present Discontents' will afford one or more of such exemplifications. The following passage from the First Letter on a Regicide Peace is one of the most remarkable examples of the employment of this effect:
'Even when men are willing, as sometimes they are, to barter their blood for lucre, to hazard their safety for the gratification of their avarice, the passion which animates them to that sort of conflict, like all short-sighted passions, must see its objects distinct and near at hand. The passions of the lower order are hungry and impatient. Speculative plunder; contingent spoil; future, long-adjourned, uncertain booty; pillage which must enrich a late posterity, and which possibly may not reach to posterity at all; these, for any length of time, will never support a mercenary war. The people are in the right. The calculation of profit in all such wars is false. On balancing the account of such wars, ten thousand hogsheads of sugar are purchased at ten
thousand times their price. The blood of man should never be shed but to redeem the blood of man. It is well shed for our family, for our friends, for our God, for our country, for our kind. The rest is vanity; the rest is crime.'
Burke commonly practises the method of Interpretatio by first expanding the sense, and then contracting it into its most compendious and striking form. This device is indispensable when the author is dealing with a subject which is presumed to be unfamiliar to his readers. The hearers,' says Dr. Whately, will be struck by the forcibleness of the sentence which they will have been prepared to comprehend; they will understand the longer expression, and remember the shorter1. Nor does any writer, not even Macaulay, excel him in producing effect by that less methodical interspersion of short, pointed, and forcible sentences throughout the performance, which is so necessary to the energetic and suggestive style.
The concluding periods of the paragraph last quoted form a remarkable example of what Fuller has called work sewn together with strong stitches. When once heard, it is almost impossible that they should ever drop out of the memory. The following passage, which occurs later in the same work, will further illustrate this way of working, combined with more periodic structure:
And is then example nothing? It is everything. Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other. This war is a war against that example. It is not a war for Louis the Eighteenth, or even for the property, virtue, fidelity of France. It is a war for George the Third, for Francis the Second, and for all the dignity, property, honour and virtue of England, of Germany, and of all nations.'
Here, as usual with Burke, the sententia ('Example is the school,' &c.) is introduced early in the passage, forming as it were
1 The student must beware of abusing this useful figure, as in the following passage: No individual can be happy unless the circumstances of those around him be so adjusted as to conspire with his interest. For, in human society, no happiness or misery stands unconnected and independent. Our fortunes are interwoven by threads innumerable. We touch one another on all sides. One man's misfortune or success, his wisdom or his folly, often by its consequences reaches through multitudes. Blair, Sermon VIII. Here the same proposition is repeated five times, without any material addition or illustration, the impression left being that of great poverty of thought. See note to p. 58, I. 25, infra.
a light to lighten the reader's path to the end. Passages such as these should be committed to the memory as standard examples of the Syntax of modern Rhetoric. This Syntax differs materially from the system employed by the earlier and equally great English rhetoricians, Milton and Taylor. The method of the latter has been called cumulative; that of Bolingbroke and Burke, constructive or artificial. The difference lies partly in the ·mode of connecting the members of the sentence, and partly in a studied variety in the grouping of the ideas. The transition from the one style to the other answers to the transition in poetry from a style of unsymmetrical redundance to one in which (to quote the editor of Pope in this Series) the chief end was form or art. Not that specimens of the earlier style are wanting in Burke, but they are rare. The manner of the following passage will be instantly recognised by the reader of Taylor:
"But when the fear, and the evil feared, come on together, and press at once upon us, deliberation itself is ruinous, which saves upon all other occasions; because when perils are instant, it delays decision; the man is in a flutter, and in an hurry, and his judgment is gone, as the judgment of the deposed King of France and his ministers was gone, if the latter did not premeditately betray him1.'
We have here a passage which consists of what the Greeks called kóupara, or short separate members, connected in a primitive way, by conjunctions. The modern or French method is to unite the members of the passage by a connexion of ideas; as Dr. Whately expresses it, “to interweave or rather felt them together,' by making the thought pass over from one member to the other; by concealing the sutures, and making the parts fit into and complement each other. This method leaves better opportunities for marking boldly the transitions in the argument, and, if appropriate, making corresponding changes in the style. In the literary art, as in all others, unprepared transition from one main member of the composition to another is an unfailing mark of barbarism? The Speech on Conciliation, which is the most remarkable of the works in this volume as a specimen of method, is full of illustrations of this canon. Of the boldness with which Burke sometimes broke
i Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians, 1792.