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meet Mr. Burke by accident under a gateway, to avoid a shower, without being convinced that he was the first man in England. If you met him for the first time in the street, where you were stopped by a drove of oxen, and you and he stepped aside for shelter, but for five minutes, he'd talk to you in such a manner, that when you parted you would say, “This is an extraordinary man.' Now," added he, with a modesty he rarely expressed, “you may be long enough with me without finding anything extraordinary.” Goldsmith, who tried to shine in the same way, was equally enamoured of Burke's skill in conversation, praising it above that of the king of critics, and asking in reply to an eulogy upon the colloquial achievements of “the old man eloquent,” “But is he like Burke, who winds into his subject like a serpent ?"
Burke's conversational fame, but still more the literary reputation which he acquired by his “ Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful,” rendered him a man of note in all well-informed circles, before he entered upon the stage
of political conflict in the House of Commons, and interwove his name and history with the annals of the British empire. In 1766 he first appeared in parliament, and began his career with an augury of success as gratifying to his friends as it was flattering to himself. We remember well the old St. Stephen's, with its close
. and heavy galleries, its narrow floor, its long benches, the timehonoured chair of the speaker, and the huge brazen chandeliers «containing a vast array of wax candles. It had somewhat of a meeting-house aspect, but it had glorious associations of patriotism, statesmanship, and oratory, in which many a young student of English history, as he sat in the strangers' gallery, delighted to revel. We remember it well, and we can almost fancy ourselves in that very house on the night of the 14th of January, 1766, when Mr. Burke made his maiden speech, and took up the American question. He has just sat down amidst great applause, when Mr.
Pitt gets up, and observes that “the young member has proved a very able advocate ; he had himself intended to enter at length into the details, but he has been anticipated with so much ingenuity and eloquence, that there is little left for him to say: he congratulates him on his success, and his friends on the value of the acquisition they have made.” That is enough. Such praise is of itself a passport to fame. Cordial congratulations from fellowmembers follow that effort; and friends, who have been sitting in the gallery to witness his début, perhaps with some anxiety, as soon as the house breaks up, come crowding round him with fervent greetings. · The public are loud in extolling the new statesman. A member of the Literary Club, not over-amiable, not fancying Burke very much, indeed a little annoyed by a recent encounter with him, and envious of his superior powers, expresses some surprise at his political elevation; but he is soon crushed by the dictum of Johnson, who declares: “Sir, there is no wonder at all. We, who know Mr. Burke, know that he will be one of the first men of the country.”. As such we propose to follow his “shade” through the rest of this sketch.
Many characteristic reminiscences of the man and his oratory are connected with the old House of Commons. Were its walls still standing, were they endowed with memory, and could they speak, how would they tell of his famous speeches on American affairs, on financial reform, on Mr. Fox's East India bill, on the Nabob of Arcot's debts !--pieces of resplendent eloquence, in which reason, knowledge, and imagination vie with each other, all dressed in that livery of stately diction, with which his master mind was wont to clothe them as they fulfilled his service. Those walls would tell of that memorable scene of excitement, when he and Mr. Fox, after a firm friendship for many years, broke on the subject of the French revolution; the former exclaiming: “I know the value of my line of conduct; I have indeed made a great sacrifice; I have done my duty, though I have lost my friend ; there is something in the detested French constitution that envenoms every thing it touches :" while the latter, bursting into tears, appealed to the remembrance of their past attachment, their reciprocal affection, as dear and almost as binding as the ties of nature between father and son. Those walls would tell of subsequent fierce conflicts between Burke and the Whig party, among whose leading members he had formerly been ranked ; and how the violence, not to say bitterness of speech, that sometimes marked the debates between him and them, illustrated those well-known words of the wise man, “ A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” Those walls would tell of the significant looks with which Burke was often regarded when he arose to address the house, and "how even strangers easily recognised him in his latter days, in the tall elderly gentleman with a tight brown coat, bobwig with curls, and huge spectacles, on the side opposite to Mr. Fox; how occasionally even the eloquence of the great orator had a soporific effect, and an elaborate speech, full of abstract disquisition, extended rather beyond the limit of parliamentary patience, induced honourable members, not accustomed to go so deeply into things, to get up and put on their hats and leave the house; and how, finally, when a young generation appeared, knowing little of the days of Chatham and the applause he yielded Burke, they would sometimes, when he rose, rudely drown his voice with boisterous interruptions. Those walls could also tell of a ludicrous Irish incident in the history of Burke's oratory, and with what tact he turned it to account. “The minister," said he, “comes down in state, attended
; by his creatures of all denominations, beasts clean and unclean; for the treasury, as it has been managed of late, is worse than Noah's ark. With such, however, as they are he comes down, opens his budget, and edifies us all with a speech. Well, he sits down. What is the consequence? One half of the house goes away. A gentleman on the opposite side gets up and harangues on the state of the nation, and in order to keep matters even, another half retires at the close of the speech. A third gentleman follows their example, and rids the house of another half.” A loud laugh rung through the building at this bull of the great Irishman.“Sir," said he, addressing the chair, “I take the blunder to myself, and express my satisfaction at having said anything that can put the house in good humour."
Walking up and down Parliament-street-that pathway to the grandest of political arenas-along which so many anxious senators, their brains throbbing with excitement, their hearts bursting with passion, havo gone to and fro, we pass and repass the shade of Edmund Burke, and have recalled to our minds two little incidents in this great man's life, connected with that well-known thoroughfare; the one illustrative of his strong feeling of political antagonism, the other of his pitiful and practical benevolence. One wet night, as Mr. Curwen, a supporter of Mr. Fox's views on the French revolution, was waiting for his carriage at the door of the House of Commons, Mr. Burke requested that he would give him a ride home. The former rather reluctantly complied. The two statesmen comfortably seated, Mr. Burke began to compliment Mr. Curwen, under the mistaken idea that he agreed with him in his opinion of recent events in the history of France. The latter could not disguise his real sentiments, though he expected that by expressing them he would rouse the indignation of his companion. So it proved; for Mr: Burke, on hearing a declaration of sympathy with Fox, caught hold of the check-string, and furiously cried: “You are one of these people set me down.” They had reached Charing Cross. Mr. Curwen with difficulty prevailed upon the irascible statesman to continue in the carriage till they reached his house in Gerard-street, when, without breaking the silence,
which had lasted since his fiery exclamation, he hurried out of the vehicle, and ended for ever all intercourse with the honourable member.
But the breast so susceptible of resentment was equally the subject of generous and kind affections. Going home from the house one night on foot, he was accosted by one of those unhappy beings who haunt the highways of the great metropolis, seeking for a subsistence the wages of vice, and who, wasted by want and sorrow, became a supplicant for charity. In reply to his inquiries, she stated that she had been lady's maid in a respectable family, and had been driven through gradations of misery to her present forlorn state, which she confessed to be wretched beyond description, looking forward to death as her only relief. “Young woman," said Mr. Burke, as he reached his door, "you have told a pathetic story; whether true or not is best known to yourself; but tell me, have you a serious and settled wish to quit your present way of life, if
you have the opportunity of so doing ?” Indeed, sir," she replied, “I would do anything to do it.” “Then come in," said Mr. Burke. “Here, Mrs. Webster,” he proceeded, addressing his housekeeper, “here is a new recruit for the kitchen; take care of her for the night, and let her have everything suitable to her condition, till we can inform Mrs. Burke of the matter.” The poor fallen creature was reclaimed through his compassionate care; and we must confess, that on that achievement of mercy our minds rest with a satisfaction and pleasure far beyond what we feel as we dwell on his brilliant intellectual exploits.
Walking past Whitehall, we recollect that Burke, as paymastergeneral in the Rockingham Cabinet, once occupied the office in that building devoted to this department; but there we cannot linger on our way back to Westminster Hall, where we must glance at the great orator on the most celebrated occasion of his life. The part he took in the impeachment of Warren Hastings was charac