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greatest truth and regard, my dear Sir, your most faithful and obliged humble servant,
“ EDMUND BURKE.”
Ireland, notwithstanding his renewed endeavours in her favour, being still denied participation in the commerce of the empire, came to a variety of resolutions against importing British manufactures ; and with still more effect in the way of threat, formed her memorable volunteer associations, “nothing resembling which,” said Lord Sheffield, writing a few years afterwards, “ has ever been observed in any country, at least where there was an established government.”
Even Scotland was not quiet. The concessions to the Catholics in the preceding year instigated a mob not only to raze their chapels to the ground, but to destroy their private houses and property. A petition from this body, praying for compensation for their losses, and security against further injury, was presented by Mr. Burke, who found an opportunity on this occasion for exercising his wit, though, as a Scripture phrase, perhaps not in the best taste, yet to the great amusement of the House; for observing Lord North to be asleep (a frequent failing of that nobleman in public), at the moment he was attributing the popular excesses to the supineness of those in power, he instantly turned the incident to advantage—“ Behold,” said he, pointing to the slumbering Minister, “what I have again and again told you, that Government, if not defunct, at least nods; brother Lazarus is not dead, only sleepeth.”
Economical Reform.—Letter on Parliamentary Reform.—Conduct
during the Riots.—Intercedes for mercy towards the Rioters.Elocution Walker.—Slave Trade.—Rejection at Bristol.—The Prince of Wales, Mr. Burke, and the Curate.—Anecdotes of Mr. Burke's humanity and playful humour.—Note to Sir W. Jones.—Opposed to Mr. Fox on the Repeal of the Marriage Act.—Mr. Sheridan.-Shearing the Wolf.—Change of Ministry. -Letter to Dr. Franklin.
During the summer of 1779, the dangers of the country had alarmingly increased; no progress was made in subduing America; the expense of the war exceeded all precedent; the enemy's fleet sweeping triumphantly through the Channel, threatened Plymouth and other parts of the coast; and Ireland, in a state of moral, seemed rapidly proceeding to actual, revolt, by riots in Dublin, by the extension of the system and the imposing attitude of the volunteers, by the strong measure of a money-bill for six months only, and by very general resolutions against “ the unjust, illiberal, and impolitic selfishness of England.”
The speech from the throne, 25th November, recommending her hitherto rejected claims to consideration, drew from the Member for Bristol many bitter taunts on the want of the means, not of the will by Ministry, to coerce her by fire and sword as they had attempted with Ainerica. These reproaches, though stigmatized as inflammatory, were perhaps not undeserved; and the sense of the House was so far with him, that having sat down once or twice from being unable to render himself heard in the more distant parts of it, in consequence of a violent cold and hoarseness, he was pressed by loud and repeated calls from both sides, to proceed. Dire necessity alone had extracted this measure of conciliation from the Minister, upon whom a vote of censure for the neglect and delay, moved by Lord Ossory, Dec. 6th, gave birth to highly-applauded speeches by Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke; the latter remarking, that that which had at first been requested as a favour, was delayed till angrily demanded as a right; till threats extorted what had been denied to entreaties; till England had lost the moment of granting with dignity, and Ireland of receiving with gratitude.
When, however, Lord North introduced his plan of relief, such as it was, he gave it his approval, though without that warmth which the zealous spirits of Ireland expected, and they themselves displayed on the occasion, but which he conceived its tardy and reluctant justice scarcely deserved. Hence arose a misrepresentation there, that he was altogether indifferent to the relief now granted; his popularity therefore sunk at once, both in the land of his birth and in that of his adoption ; in Bristol, for conceding any commercial advantage whatever, and in Dublin, for withholding any point, however indifferent or unimportant in itself; a lot to which all statesmen, who act without favour or partiality towards contending interests, are too often exposed. To remove this impression in Ireland, he wrote
“ A Letter to Thomas Burgh, Esq.” dated Jan. 1, 1780, explanatory of his views and motives, which, though meant to be private, soon found its way, by the zeal of his friends, into the periodical prints of the time, and in some degree set him right with the more intelligent part of his countrymen.
The ill success of the war, and the increased taxation required to support it, occasioning at this moment loud outries for Parliamentary Reform, and retrenchment of the public expenditure, Mr. Burke dexterously wrested attention from the former, which he had always deemed an unsafe and impracticable measure, to the latter, which he thought was in every respect most desirable and expedient.
Of all men in the House he was perhaps the best qualified for this arduous undertaking by a share of political courage which shrunk from no duty however invidious, and habits of business which, at all times laborious, were on this occasion exerted beyond all precedent. “ For my own part,” said he, “ I have very little to recommend me for this, or for any task, but a kind of earnest and anxious perseverance of mind, which with all its good and all its evil effects is moulded into my constitution.” Cautious of experiment, as he professed to be, even to timidity, this feeling formed a pledge, that no crude or showy innovations should be attempted merely because they were new; and his idea of a very cheap government not being necessarily the very best, rendered it certain that nothing really useful should be taken away. He knew too much of human nature, and oi the business of the State, to be led astray by visionary schemes of hopeless purity and impossible perfection. The habits of the country, he knew, were any thing
but niggardly toward public offices and public servants. While duty, therefore, required that nothing gross should be permitted to remain, a personal as well as public liberality ensured that no injustice should be inflicted upon individuals; that economy should not become penury,or reform utter extirpation.
His notice of motion, on the 15th December, opened a brief but lucid exposition of the outlines of his plan, to which Opposition gave much praise for the matter and the manner, no one else venturing to say a word on so tender a subject. A slight incident, on this occasion, again showed his dexterity in debate. While enforcing the necessity for frugality, and recommending to the Minister the old and valuable Roman apothegm magnum vectigal est parsimonia, he used a false quantity, rendering the second word vectigal. Lord North, in a low tone, corrected the error, when Mr. Burke, with his usual presence of mind, turned the mistake to advantage. “ The Noble Lord,” said he, “ hints that I have erred in the quantity of a principal word in my quotation; I rejoice at it; because it gives me an opportunity of repeating the inestimable adage,”and with increased energy he thundered forth“magnum vect-i-gal est parsimonia.”
Great as was the idea entertained of his talents, expectation was infinitely surpassed by the production of the plan itself, introduced by the memorable speech of the 11th of February, 1780, which every one conversant with political history has read, and he who has read will not readily forget. No public measure of the century received such general encomium. Few speeches from the Opposition side