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23 Aprilis, 1747.
Ma. Edmundus Burke, filius secundus Ricardi Burke de civitate Dublin. Unius Attornatorum curiæ Scaccariæ Domini Regis in Regno Hiberniæ, admissus est in societatem Medii Templi, London.
El dat pro fine £4. Os. Od.
Early in 1750, not in 1753 as commonly stated, he arrived in London to keep the customary terms previous to being called to the bar. His name appears again in the books of the society as entering into bond, May 2, 1750; his sureties being John Burke, Serjeant's-inn, Fleet-street, Gent. and Thomas Kelly, of the Middle Temple, Gent.
His arrival, however, preceded this period by several months. The first letter to his friend Shackleton bears date the 20th of February, and mentions the introduction of the bill by the Earl of Chesterfield for that alteration in the calendar, which soon afterwards took place.
It may be remarked here, that a long copy of verses on Mrs. Cibber, the celebrated actress, contained in the Annual Register for 1768, are supposed to have been written by Mr. Burke previous to his quitting Dublin; it is possible they may be by his brother Richard ; and the least doubt upon the point is sufficient for not giving them insertion here.
First Impressions of London and England generally.-Contem
plates an Attempt for the Logic Professorship of Glasgow.Report about St. Omer.—Letter to his Father.-Idea of a perfect Wife.—Dr. Brocklesby's Compliment to Mrs. Burke.—First avowed Publications of Mr. Burke.
His first impressions on viewing the English metropolis are vividly expressed in a letter to his schoolfellow already mentioned, Mr. Matthew Smith; and the allusions to Westminster Abbey and the House of Commons, “ the chosen temples of fame,” as he said on another occasion, will be esteemed by those who look to auguries sufficiently remarkable ; the whole is in a peculiar degree expressive of character, the reflections ingenious, and just, and even profound, like most of his letters written afterwards, which, though really despatched off-hand, were by many believed to be studied compositions.
“ You'll expect some short account of my journey to this great city. To tell you the truth, I made very few remarks as I rolled along, for my mind was occupied with many thoughts, and my eyes often filled with tears, when I reflected on all the dear friends I left behind; yet the prospects could not fail to attract the attention of the most indifferent: country seats sprinkled round on every side, some in the modern taste, some in the style of old De Coverley Hall, all smiling on the neat but humble cottage; every village as neat and compact as a bee-hive, resounding with the busy hum of industry; and inns like palaces.
“ What a contrast to our poor country, where you'll scarce find a cottage ornamented with a chimney! But what pleased me most of all was the progress of agriculture, my favourite study, and my favourite pursuit, if Providence had blessed me with a few paternal acres. *
“ A description of London and its natives would fill a volume. The buildings are very
The buildings are very fine : it may be called the sink of vice: but its hospitals and charitable institutions, whose turrets pierce the skies like so many electrical conductors, avert the wrath of Heaven. The inhabitants may be divided into two classes, the undoers and the undone ; generally so, I say, for I am persuaded there are many men of honesty, and women of virtue, in every street. An Englishman is cold and distant at first; he is very cautious even in forming an acquaintance; he must know you well before he enters into friendship with you; but if he does, he is not the first to dissolve that sacred bond : in short, a real Englishman is one that performs more than he promises : in company he is rather silent, extremely prudent in his expressions, even in politics, his favourite topic. The women are not quite so reserved; they consult their glasses to the best advantage; and as nature is very liberal in her gifts to their persons, and even mind, it is not easy for a young man to escape their
At this period his elder brother being alive was of course in succession to the paternal property.
glances, or to shut his ears to their softly-flowing accents.
“ As to the state of learning in this city, you know I have not been long enough in it to form a proper judgment of that subject. I don't think, however, there is as much respect paid to a man of letters on this side the water as you imagine. I don't find that genius, the 'rath primrose, which forsaken dies,' is patronized by any of the nobility, so that writers of the first talents are left to the capricious patronage of the public. Notwithstanding discouragement, literature is cultivated in a high degree. Poetry raises her enchanting voice to heaven. History arrests the wings of Time in his flight to the gulf of oblivion. Philosophy, the queen of arts, and the daughter of heaven, is daily extending her intellectual empire. Fancy sports on airy wing like a meteor on the bosom of a summer cloud ; and even Metaphysics spins her cobwebs, and catches some flies.
“ The House of Commons not unfrequently exhibits explosions of eloquence that rise superior to those of Greece and Rome, even in their proudest days. Yet, after all, a man will make more by the figures of arithmetic than the figures of rhetoric, unless he can get into the trade wind, and then he may sail secure over Pactolean sands. As to the stage, it is sunk, in my opinion, into the lowest degree; I mean with regard to the trash that is exhibited on it; but I don't attribute this to the taste of the audience, for when Shakspeare warbles his * native wood-notes,' the boxes, pit, and gallery, are crowded—and the gods are true to every word, if properly winged to the heart.
“ Soon after my arrival in town I visited Westminster Abbey : the moment I entered I felt a kind of awe pervade my mind which I cannot describe; the very silence seemed sacred. Henry the Seventh's Chapel is a very fine piece of Gothic architecture, particularly the roof; but I am told that it is exceeded by a chapel in the University of Cambridge. Mrs. Nightingale's monument has not been praised beyond its merit. The, attitude and expression of the husband in endeavouring to shield his wife from the dart of death, is natural and affecting. But I always thought that the image of death would be much better represented with an extinguished torch inverted, than with a dart. Some would imagine, that all these monuments were so many monuments of folly ;-I don't think so; what useful lessons of morality and sound philosophy do they not exhibit! When the high-born beauty surveys her face in the polished parian, though dumb the marble, yet it tells her that it was placed to guard the remains of as fine a form, and as fair a face, as her own. They show besides how anxious we are to extend our loves and friendships beyond the grave, and to snatch as much as we can from oblivion_such is our natural love of immortality : but it is here that letters obtain the noblest triumphs; it is here that the swarthy daughters of Cadmus may hang their trophies on high; for when all the pride of the chisel and the pomp of heraldry yield to the silent touches of time, a single line, a half-worn-out ina scription, remain faithful to their trust. Blest be the man that first introduced these strangers into our islands, and may they never want protection or