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The i>oor, oppressed, honest man,
Had never, sure, been born,
To comfort those that mourn!
0 Death! the poor man's dearest friend,
The kindest and the best!
Are laid with thee at rest!
From pomp and pleasure torn;
That weary-laden mourn 1
EDMUND BURKE. 1730—1797.
Tmi most distinguished writer and statesman was born at Dublin on the 1st of January, 1730. On his mother's side he was connected with the poet Spenser, from whom, it is said, he received his Christian name. He was educated at Ballitore in the county of Kildare, at a classical academy under the management of Abraham Shackleton, a Quaker of superior talents and learning. Here, according to his own testimony, Burke acquired the most valuable of his mental habits; he ever felt the deepest gratitude for his early instructor, and with his only son, Richard, the successor in the school, he preserved an intimate friendship to the end of his life. In 1744 he entered Trinity College, Dublin, and in 1750 he was entered as a law-student at the Middle Temple, London: but his thoughts were soon entirely turned to literature and politics, to which, henceforth, all his time, and talents, and energies were devoted. His first publication was anonymous, entitled, "A Vindication
of Natural Society, in a Letter to Lord , by a Noble Lord." It was such
an admirable imitation of the style of Lord Bolingbroke, that many were deceived by it, and deemed it a posthumous publication of that nobleman, who had been dead but five years. It was ironical throughout, endeavoring to prove that the same arguments with which that nobleman had attacked revealed religion, might be applied with equal force against all civil and political institutions whatever.
In the next year, Burke published his "Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful," which, by the elegance of its language, and the spirit of philosophical investigation displayed in it, placed him at once in the very first class of writers on taste and criticism. His object is to show that terror is the principal source of the sublime, and that beauty is the quality in objects which excites love or affection. The fame acquired by this work introduced th» author to the best literary acquaintances, among whom were Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr. Johnson. In 1758 he suggested to Dodsley the plan of the Annual Register, and engaged, himself, to furnish the chief historical matter, which he continued to do for very many years, and which has made that work the most valuable repository of historical knowledge of the times.
In 1765, on the accession to power of the Marquis of Rockingham, he was appointed by that minister his private secretary, and was brought into parliament for the borough of Wendover. It would be impossible, in the limited space assigned to these biographical sketches, to give an outline of his subse
quent parliamentary and political career, or to enumerate all his various publications. His life is a history of those eventful times,—for in them he acted a part more conspicuous than any other man. His able and eloquent opposition to those infatuated measures of the ministry which led to and prolonged the contest between England and our own country—his advocacy of the froedom of the press—of an improved libel law—of Catholic emancipation—of economical reform—of the abolition of the slave-trade'—his giant efforts in the impeachment of Warren Hastings—and his most eloquent and uncompromising hostility to the French Revolution, in his speeches in parliament and in his well-known "Reflections on the Revolution in France,"—all these will ever cause him to be viewed as one of the warmest and ablest friends of man.
In 1794, his son, who had just been elected to parliament, took ill and diod;—a blow so severe to the father, that he never recovered from it; and it doubtless hastened his own end, which took place on the 9th of July, 1797.
As an eloquent and philosophic political character, Burke stands alone.a His intellect was at once exact, minute, and comprehensive, and his imagination rich and vigorous. As to his style, he is remarkable for the copiousness and freedom of his diction, the splendor and great variety of his imagery, his astonishing command of general truths, and the ease with which he seems to wield those fine weapons of language, which most writers are able to manage only by the most anxious care. The following remarks of an able critic5 are as beautiful as they are just:
"There can be no hesitation in according to Mr. Burke a station among the most extraordinary men that have ever appeared; and we think there is now but little diversity of opinion as to the kind of place which it is fit to assign him. He was a writer of the first class, and excelled in almost every kind of prose composition. Possessed of most extensive knowledge, and of the most various description; acquainted alike with what different classes of men kneXv, each in his own province, and with much that hardly any one ever thought of learning; he could either bring his masses of information to bear directly upon the subjects to which they severally belonged—or he could avail himself of them generally to strengthen his faculties and enlarge his views—or he could turn any portion of them to account for the purpose of illustrating his theme, or enriching his diction. Hence, when he is handling any one matter, we perceive that we are conversing with a rcasoner or a teacher, to whom almost every other branch of knowledge is familiar: his
1 Those who are not well rend In the hlatory of those times can hardly have an Idea of the deep, bitter, malignant hostility, which the early English abolitionists, Sharp, Clarkson, WUberforcc, and others, had to encounter. Even Lord Chancellor Ttiurlow Bald, In hU place In the Home of Lords, on Uie 18th of June, 1788, that "it was unjust that this rudden fit of yKtianthrupy, which was but a few days old, should be allowed to disturb the public mind, and to become the occasion of bringing men to the metropolis, who were engird in the trade, wllh tears In their eyes and horror In their countenances, to deprecate Ike ruin of their property, which they had embarked on Uie faith of parliament and the Earl of Westmoreland considered that "as much attenUon was due to our property and manufactures as to a/alee humanity."
The devotion of Burke to the best Interests of mHn caused Abraham ShacMeton to write of him thus: "The memory of Edmund Burke's philanthropic virtues will outlive the period when his shining political talents will ceose to act. New fashions of poliUcal sentiment will exist: but PhtJunthropy—lHMoaTALx Maket."
8 "The Immortality of Burke," says Qrattan, "Is that which Is common to Cicero or to Bacon,— ibat which can never be Interrupted while there exists the beauty of order or tlie lov- of virtue, and which can fear no death except what barbarity may Impose on the globe."
* Bead the article lu vol. xlvl. of the Edinburgh Review: also, his Life by James rrlor.
Views range over all the cognate subjects; bis reasonings are derived from principles applicable to other theories as well as the one in hand: arguments pour in from all sides, as well as those which start up under our feet, the natural growth of the path he is leading us over; while to throw light round our steps, and either explore its darker places, or serve for our recreation, illustrations are fetched from a thousand quarters; and an imagination mar vellously quick to descry unthought-of resemblances, points to our use the stores, which a lore yet more marvellous has gathered from all ages, and nations, and arts, and tongues. We are, in respect of the argument, reminded of Bacon's multifarious knowledge and the exuberance of his learned fancy; while the many-lettered diction recalls to mind the first of English poets, and his immortal verse, rich with the spoils of all sciences and all times,"1
1 The following comparison between Burke and Johnson U taken from C untMTland's "Retrospection.*'
Nature gave to each
Had charm'd as many and enlighten'd more. 9
Johnson, if right I judge, In classic lore
Both had a taste
Splendor of style, fertility of thought.
TERROR A SOURCE OF THE SUBLIME.
No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear; for fear being an apprehension of pain or death, it operates in a manner that resembles actual pain. Whatever therefore is terrible with regard to sight, is sublime too, whether this cause of terror be endued with greatness of dimensions or not; for it is impossible to look on any thing as trifling or contemptible, that may be dangerous. There are many animals, who, though far from being large, are yet capable of raising ideas of the sublime, because they are considered as objects of terror; as serpents and poisonous animals of almost all kinds. Even to things of great dimensions, if we annex any adventitious idea of terror, they become without comparison greater. An even plain of a vast extent of land, is certainly no mean idea: the prospect of such a plain may be as extensive as a prospect of the ocean; but can it ever fill the mind with any thing so great as the ocean itself? This is owing to several causes, but it is owing to none more than to this, that the ocean is an object of no small terror.
SYMPATHY A SOURCE OF THE SUBLIME.
It is by the passion of sympathy that we enter into the concerns of others; that we are moved as they are moved, and are never suffered to be indifferent spectators of almost any thing which men can do or suffer. For sympathy must be considered as a sort of substitution, by which we are put into the place of another man, and affected in a good measure as he is affected ; so that this passion may either partake of the nature of those which regard self-preservation, and turning upon pain may be a source of the sublime; or it may turn upon ideas of pleasure, and then.
And ornamental epithet drawn out,
Was, like the singer's cadence, sometimes apt.
Although melodious, to futlirue the ear:
Johnson, with terms unnaturalized and rude.
And Latlnlsms forced Into his line,
Like raw, undrlll'd recruits, would load his text
High sounding and uncouth: yet If you cull
His happier paces, you will find a style
Quintlllan might have praised. Still I perceive
Nearer approach to purity In Burke,
Though not the full accession to that grace,
That chaste simplicity, which is the last
And best attainment author can possess. Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was on the most intimate terms with both, thought that Dr. Johnson possessed a wonderful strength of mind, but that Mr. Burke had a more comprehensive capacity, a more exact Judgment, and also that his knowledge was more extensive: with the most profound rc*pecl for the talents of both, lie therefore decided that Mr. Burke was the superior character.
whatever has been said of the social affections, whether they regard society in general, or only some particular modes of it, may be applicable here.
It is by this principle chiefly that poetry, painting, and other affecting arts, transfuse their passions from one breast to another, and are often capable of grafting a delight on wretchedness, misery, and death itself. It is a common observation, that objects, which in the reality would shock, are, in tragical and such like
This, taken as a fact, has been the cause of much reasoning. This satisfaction has been commonly attributed, first, to the comfort we receive in considering that so melancholy a story is no more than a fiction; and next, to the contemplation of our own freedom from the evils we see represented. 1 am afraid it is a practice much too common, in inquiries of this nature, to attribute the cause of feelings which merely arise from the mechanical structure of our bodies, or from the natural frame and constitution of our minds, to certain conclusions of the reasoning faculty on the objects presented to us; for I have some reason to apprehend, that the influence of reason in producing our passions is nothing near so extensive as is commonly believed.
A low, tremulous, intermitting sound is productive of the sublime. It is worth while to examine this a little. The fact itself must be determined by every man's own experience and reflection. I have always observed that night increases our terror, more perhaps than any thing else; it is our nature, when we do not know what may happen to us, to fear the worst that can happen; and hence it is that' uncertainty is so terrible, that we often seek to be rid of it, at the hazard of a certain mischief. Now some low, confused, uncertain sounds leave us in the same fearful anxiety concerning their causes, that no light, or an uncertain light, does concerning the objects that surround us.
"A faint shadow of uncertain light,
But lighl now appearing, and now leaving us, and so off and on, is ever, more terrible than total darkness; and sorts of uncertain sounds are, when the necessary dispositions concur, more alarming than a total silence.
high species of pleasure.
UNCERTAINTY A SOURCE OF THE SUBLIME.