Page images
PDF
EPUB

with smiles; he decidedly looked like a great man, but not like a meek or gentle one.

Though in entering public life Burke abandoned the career of letters, he never withdrew from close intimacy with the group of famous literary men and artists who were his contemporaries, and who live for us in the pages of Boswell's Johnson. Dr. Johnson himself was the chief of a literary club that numbered the gentlesouled Goldsmith, Garrick, greatest of actors, the famous painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, the historian Gibbon, and others of less fame. The friendship of Johnson and Burke lasted as long as they lived; and though very widely contrasted in genius, they had the most genuine love for each other. "Burke," said Johnson, “is such a man that 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 to take 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."

De Quincey justly describes Burke as "the supreme writer of his century." No writer of that century is to be compared with him as regards command of English expression. In all its varieties, his style is noble, earnest, deep-flowing, because his sentiment was lofty and fervid. "Burke," says Hazlitt, "has been compared to Cicero- for what reason is not clear. Their excellences are as different, and indeed as opposite, as they can well be. Burke had not the polished elegance, the glossy neatness, the exquisite modulation, of Cicero: he had a thousand times more richness and originality of mind, more strength and pomp of diction."

1. ON CONCILIATION WITH AMERICA.

"Con

[The following three extracts are from Burke's speech on ciliation with America," delivered in the House of Commons March 22, 1775. The pupil should recall the exact situation of things in the Colonies at that time. This speech, besides being one of the most finished of Burke's orations, has for us special interest from its subject. The lengthy exordium, or introduction, is taken up by an exhibition of the gravity of the situation between the Colonies and the Mother Country, the stupidity of the policy hitherto adopted, and the absolute necessity of pursuing a conciliatory course, such as would restore the former unsuspecting confidence of the American Colonies in the Mother Country." He then makes an admirable presentation of the condition of the Colonies as to (1) their population, (2) their trade, and (3) their productive resources, especially as regards agriculture and the fisheries. The following relates to the last topic.]

66

1.-AMERICAN AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES.

I PASS to the Colonies in another point of view, their agriculture. This they have prosecuted with such a spirit, that, besides feeding plentifully their own growing multitude, their annual export of grain, comprehending rice, has some years ago exceeded a million in value. Of their last harvest, I am persuaded they will export much more. At the beginning of the century, some of these Colonies imported corn3 from the mother country. For some time past the Old World has been fed from the New. The scarcity which you have felt would have been a desolating

1 comprehending rice = includ- | Charleston, S.C., which was planting rice. The cultivation of rice is ed, and yielded largely. referred to the latter part of the seventeenth century, when a vessel from Madagascar is said to have brought a sack of the grain to

2 a million in value=£1,000,000, which now seems to us a day of very small things. 3 corn, wheat.

famine, if this child of your old age, with a true filial piety, with a Roman charity, had not put the full breast of its youthful exuberance to the mouth of its exhausted parent.

As to the wealth which the Colonies have drawn from the sea by their fisheries. you had all that matter fully opened to you. You surely thought those acquisitions of value, for they seemed even to excite your envy; and yet the spirit by which that enterprising employment has been exercised ought rather, in my opinion, to have raised your esteem and admiration.

And pray, sir, what in the world is equal to it?1 Pass by the other parts, and look at the manner in which the people of New England have of late carried on the whale-fishery. Whilst we follow them among the tumbling mountains of ice, and behold them penetrating into the deepest frozen recesses of Hudson Bay and Davis Straits, whilst we are looking for them beneath the arctic circle, we hear that they have pierced into the opposite region of polar cold, that they are at the antipodes, and engaged under the frozen serpent of the South.3 Falkland Island,1

2 Whilst we, etc. Select vivid descriptive phrases.

1 what in the world is equal to | business is now nearly extinct. it? At this time Massachusetts Why? alone employed nearly two hundred vessels in the North Atlantic whale-fishery, and one hundred and twenty in the South Atlantic. The fishery was at first pursued from the shores; and then, as whales became scarce, they were pursued to their haunts. The

8 frozen serpent of the South, the Hydrus, or Water-serpent, a small constellation far to the south, within the antarctic circle.

4 Falkland Island. Locate the group.

which seemed too remote and romantic an object for the grasp of national ambition, is but a stage and resting-place in the progress of their victorious industry.

Nor is the equinoctial heat more discouraging to them than the accumulated winter of both the poles. We know that, whilst some of them draw the line. and strike the harpoon1 on the coast of Africa, others run the longitude,2 and pursue their gigantic game along the coast of Brazil. No sea but what is vexed by their fisheries. 3 No climate that is not witness to their toils. Neither the perseverance of Holland, nor the activity of France, nor the dexterous and firm sagacity of English enterprise, ever carried this most perilous mode of hardy industry to the extent to which it has been pushed by this recent people, a people who are still, as it were, but in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood.

4

When I contemplate these things; when I know that the Colonies in general owe little or nothing to any care of ours, and that they are not squeezed into this happy form by the constraints of watchful and suspicious government, but that, through a wise and salutary neglect, a generous nature has been suffered

1 draw the line and strike the harpoon. Note how much more vivid a specific, concrete statement than an abstract form as, "pursued their business."

2 run the longitude: i.e., pursue a course to the South American coast.

3 vexed, agitated. See a similar use of the word by Milton in Paradise Lost (p. 100).

4 hardy, bold, adventurous.
5 in the gristle, etc.
the figure of speech?

6 When I contemplate,
What kind of sentence?

What is

etc.

to take her own way to perfection, - when I reflect upon these effects, when I see how profitable they have been to us, I feel all the pride of power sink, and all presumption in the wisdom of human contrivance, melt and die away within me. My rigor relents. I pardon something to the spirit of liberty.

2.- SPIRIT OF LIBERTY IN THE COLONIES.

[Burke then proceeds to urge that force should not be used to coerce the Colonies, and for these four reasons: (1) that its use is but temporary; (2) its uncertainty; (3) that it may impair the object sought; (4) that experience is against it.]

THESE, sir, are my reasons for not entertaining that high opinion of untried force by which many gentlemen, for whose sentiments in other particulars I have great respect, seem to be so greatly captivated.1 But there is still behind a third consideration concerning this object, which serves to determine my opinion on the sort of policy which ought to be pursued in the management of America, even more than its population and its commerce, I mean its temper 2 and character.

In this character of the Americans, a love of freedom is the predominating feature which marks and distinguishes the whole; and, as an ardent is always a jealous affection, your Colonies become suspicious, restive, and untractable whenever they see the least

1 captivated. Sive a synonym.
2 temper, frame of mind.
3 restive. Explain.

4 untractable. Give the modern form. Which form do you prefer? See Glossary.

« PreviousContinue »