Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

great painter had sought Burke's acquaintance at an early period in his career. The powers of Burke as a critic and philosopher of art are clearly proved by that work, and by his letters to the painter Barry. But their best testimony is the fact that the Discourses of Reynolds are guided by a method, and expressed in a manner, which none who are familiar with Burke's writings can hesitate for a moment in pronouncing to be his. Until the appearance of Malone's edition of the works of Reynolds, it had been generally believed that Burke was the sole author of these Discourses. Many years afterwards, Northcote, who had good means of knowing, avowed his belief in what Malone had denied, that Burke had supplied much that was necessary to complete their literary form. To the reader of the present day, judging from these works themselves, it seems more probable that Burke composed them with facts supplied by Reynolds, than that the work of Reynolds was brought into shape and finished off by Burke. But the direct evidence is wholly in favour of the latter view. The · Discourses' are, however, pervaded by the mode of thought, as well as full of the expressions and illustrations, with which the reader of Burke is familiar. They bear evidence of a double influence. The philosophical critic guided the views of the artist, and his friendly pen corrected and embellished the writings in which they were expressed. Whatever may have been the exact share of Burke in them, they are models, in their kind, of style and expression, and part of the standard literature of England; and Sydney Smith, without any reference to Burke, has described them by the terms which Goldsmith so justly applied to his friend, as 'full of all wisdom.'

Burke, in the history of English letters, represents the transition from the formal style of the early part of the last century to the far less constrained one which has prevailed in the present. He restores to literature, in some measure, the wealth and freedom which it had enjoyed in the days of the great dramatists and philosophical divines. In the spirit of his writings, however, he is distinctly the son, and not the changeling, of his age. His philosophy recalls the didactic school of Young, Johnson, and Armstrong; he sometimes partakes the satirical vein of Churchill and Smollett; more rarely we trace in him a tone akin to that of the patriot poets,' of Thomson, Akenside, and Glover. The influence of the great literary school of France, and of the

English copyists of their style and phrase, is often noticeable. He has, however, none of that habitual stiffness on which Johnson sometimes congratulated his contemporaries', which had been diffused by the effect of French examples. If the aims of writing could be reached by simple reasoning and description, closely and concisely expressed, much of the poetry and the prose of the last century would be unsurpassable. The more sensitive elements in human nature, however, will not consent to be thus desolated, and the formal writer is thwarted at every step by the recoil of his own mechanism. In the literary art, as in all others, nature must be patiently studied. Burke, who never aimed at merely literary fame, and never once, in his mature years, cherished the thought of living to future ages in his works, was well acquainted with the economics of his art. He devoted himself solely to the immediate object before him, with no sidelong glance at the printing press or the library shelf. He reasoned little, or not at all, when he conceived reason to be out of place, or insufficient for his purpose. He never rejected a phrase or a thought because it did not reach 'the standard required by literary dignity. With all this, his writing always reaches a high standard of practical excellence, and is always careful and workmanlike. It is, moreover, well attuned to the ear. The cadence of Burke's sentences always reminds us that prose writing is only to be perfected by a thorough study of the poetry of the language. Few prose writers were so well acquainted with the general body of English verse, and few have habitually written so fully, so delicately, and so harmoniously.

This slight general sketch could not be better concluded than with the beautiful inscription composed by Dr. Parr for a national monument to Burke. Such a monument was demanded by public opinior, and the project was favoured by most of Burke's friends and admirers; but the House was never moved on the subject, partly from a scruple lest the wishes expressed in Burke's will should be violated, and partly on account of the disturbed state of popular opinion. The inscription is considered the best that Parr ever wrote: and as that eminent scholar was most eminent in inscriptions, it may be regarded as a masterpiece.

1.There is now an elegance of style universally diffused.' Again, on the Divines : ‘All the latter preachers have a good style. Indeed, nobody now talks of style ; every body composes pretty well.' Boswell, April 7, 1778.

VOL. I.

EDMUNDO. BURKE

VIRO
MULTIS. ET. EXQUISITIS. LITTERIS . IMBUTO
ET , SUMMA . INGENII , PRAEDITO. GLORIA

SODALI

SUIS, AMABILI
ET . IN. OMNI, GENERE, FACETIARUM .ORNATISSIMO

CIVI
QUI.REMPUBLICAM . PROPRIAM . BRITANNORUM

IDCIRCO . ESSE. OPTIMAM . STATUEBAT
QUOD. REGALIS. SENATORII. POPULARISQUE. JURIS

CONSENSU. FUNDATA . ESSET
ET.COMMUNIONE. UTILITATIS, STABILITA

CRITICO
QUI. E. RECONDITA . VI. VERBORUM. QUOTIDIANORUM?

QUOD. AUT. VERUM . EST
AUT, AD. ID. QUAM . PROXIME . ACCEDIT

ACUTE. ARGUTEQUE. ELICUIT
INTIMOS. QUOSDAM . ANIMI. SENSUS. PATEFECIT
ET . ADUMBRATAS. IN . EODEM .A . NATURA

RERUM . IMAGINES
MULTO. EXPRESSIORES, DEFINIENDO. ET. EXPLICANDO, REDDIDIT

PHILOSOPHO
QUI.MULTIPLICES.ET.ABSTRUSAS. REI. POLITICAE RATIONES

CUM. DISCIPLINA ..MORALI. CONJUNCTAS
UBERRIME . ET. GRAVISSIME . ILLUSTRAVIT

ORATORI
QUI. COPIOSE, ERUDITE. SPLENDIDE . DICENDO. EFFECIT

UT, OMNES . ARTES. SE. PRAEBERENT

COMITES , ELOQUENTIAE . AC . MINISTRAS
QUI , VIXIT. ANN . LXVII. MENS . V. DIES . XXVII
DECESSIT. VIII. ID. QUINTIL. ANNO. SACRO.M.DCC.LXXXXVII
ET . BEACONSFIELDIAE . IN. AGRO. BUCKINGENSI

SEPULTUS. EST
REX. SENATUSQUE , BRITANNICUS
H.M.P.P. IMPEN . PONENDUM . JUSSERUNT.

1.Sublime' and Beautilul.'

Burke is so copious and so clear a writer that the text of his works is, in general, amply sufficient to make him intelligible to an intelligent reader. It is believed that all additional illustration which is necessary is included in the Notes at the end of the volume; but those who require still further information may refer to the works mentioned in the footnote. It only remains to give some particulars of the history of the works in the present volume.

The Present Discontents' is a political pamphlet of the old school. The style is mainly pedestrian, relieved by some touches of humour, and by a few passages of a descriptive character. It contains much solid reasoning, but no rhetoric, except that of facts, or alleged facts. Great attention has been paid to style and finish, though no superfluities have been admitted, and there is a certain affectation of plainness, intended to sustain the author's assumed character of a private citizen. The facts are admirably marshalled, and it is clear that long meditation in the writer's mind has given the principal arguments a well-rounded form. Burke had already written and printed an historical jeu-d'esprit, shadowing forth the principal matters in the pamphlet under the figment of an insurrection against the Crown of Spain, in the form of a remonstrance from the supposed insurgents. The pamphlet itself seems to have been commenced shortly after the unusually early prorogation of parliament in May 1769,

1 HISTORY. The Histories of Bisset, Belsham, Adolphus, Massey, Phillimore, Bancroft, and Stanhope ; Wraxall's Historical and Posthumous Memoirs; Walpole's Memoirs ; Jesse's Memoirs of George III; Rockingham Memoirs; Bedford Correspondence; Grenville Papers; The Annual Register; Almon's Biographical Anecdotes; Letters of Junius; Chesterfield's Letters; Macaulay's Essays; May's Constitutional History.

BIOGRAPHY. Boswell's Life of Johnson; Butler's Reminiscences; The Lives of Burke by MCormick, Bisset, Prior, and the recent work of Mr. Macknight, which, however, does not supplant the work of Sir James Prior as the standard biography; the brief Life of Burke by Mr. Sergeant Burke; Mr. Morley's Edmund Burke, a Historical Study; the admirable Lecture on the Life of Burke to the Dublin Young Men's Christian Association, 1862, by Sir Joseph Napier; Professor Robertson's Lectures on Burke.

GENERALLY. Professor Goodrich's Select British Eloquence; Hazlitt's Political Essays and Eloquence of the British Senate; Rogers's Biographical and Critical Introduction to Holdsworth and Ball's Edition of Burke's Works, 1834; Allibone's Critical Dictionary, art. Burke; De Quincey on Style and Conversation; Mackintosh's Memoirs and Works; Winkelmann's (German) edition of the two Speeches in this volume; Müller's Lectures, and Miscellaneous Writings (German).

when the turbulence of the freeholders of Middlesex was extending to the country at large. The nation was indignant that a ministry labouring under an unprecedented weight of odium should continue to stand their ground. Most of the counties were holding meetings for petitions of remonstrance to the King on the subject of the Middlesex election. The administration adopted the singular course of endeavouring to repress the symptoms, instead of to cure the disease. They moved heaven and earth, in the words of Burke, to prevent the progress of the spirit of petitioning. Rigby got it under in Essex: then proceeded to Norfolk, and was busy, when the first mention of this pamphlet occurs in Burke's letters, opposing it in Northamptonshire. The ministry were looking with anxious eyes to Yorkshire, where the influence of Lord Rockingham was sufficient to authorise or to prevent a county petition; and the Whig leader seems to have hesitated on a matter so little in accordance with Whig traditions. Burke, however, urged him to this measure; and the Petition, which bears the marks of Burke's pen, was signed by more than 10,000 freeholders?. Lord Temple, in Buckinghamshire, was less scrupulous; and Burke assisted to present the remonstrance of the freeholders of that county at St. James' on the 29th of November.

Burke had much difficulty in continuing his pamphlet from time to time, in adapting it to the frequent changes in the unsettled state of affairs ?. At first it seems to have been drawn out in the form of a letter, addressed to a retired member of the Rockingham party (John White, formerly M.P. for Retford). In October he sent a large portion of the manuscript to Lord Rockingham, with a request that it might be circulated among the party. He writes:

"The whole is in a manner new cast, something to the prejudice of the order, which, if I can, I will rectify, though

1 Addresses were sent in the early part of the year from the counties of Essex, Kent, Surrey and Salop, the towns of Bristol, Liverpool, Leicester, Coventry, &c., and from almost every part of Scotland. The county of Middlesex led the way in petitions on May 24: and was followed by the livery of London, the electors of Westminster, and the freeholders of Surrey, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Wilts, Gloucester, Worcester, Hereford, Northumberland, and the most important cities and boroughs.

? • More difficult .... than to produce something altogether new.' Letter to Rockingham, July 30.

« AnteriorContinuar »