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EDMUND BURKE was born in Dublin, Ireland, in January, 1729. His father was an attorney with a fair practice, and looked for. ward to the same profession for his son. The boy received his education first in a private school; then in Trinity College, Dublin, — where he took the bachelor's degree in his nineteenth year; and last of all, in the Middle Temple, London. His studies gained him at the time no special academic honors, and never brought him to the actual practice of the law; yet in them, and especially in the wide and profound reading which accompanied them, was laid the foundation of his future greatness.
Burke's first public venture was in literature. In 1756 appeared his Vindication of Natural Society — a clever bit of irony - and his Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, an essay which at once attracted attention both in England and upon the Continent. Meantime, however, he had discovered the true bent of his genius, and was diligently studying the governmental problems of England. The first fruit of this study appeared in 1757, in his Account of English Settlements in America. From about this time also dates his long friendship with Dr. Johnson and the members of his famous Literary Club.
His political career began in 1765, when he became private secretary to Lord Rockingham, the head of the new Whig Ministry. A little later he was returned to Parliament as member for Wendover, taking his seat in time to distinguish himself in the debates which preceded the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766. His career in Parliament lasted without break from this time until 1794, when, broken in health and spirits, he withdrew from public life. His death occurred not long after, in 1797.
A passion for order and a passion for justice, some one has said, were the master-motives of Burke's thought and life. Both these passions led him directly into that field of human activity where they find their noblest play, the field of practical government. During his lifetime three mighty questions successively confronted the government of England: (1) How shall a great nation deal with colonies of its own proud blood and free traditions ? (2) How shall such a nation treat subject provinces of alien race and temper? (3) How shall it meet the fierce spirit of change and revolution at its very doors? They were the ques* tions of America, of India, and of France. Into their discussion Burke threw himself with all the ardor and force of his great nature. In his utterance upon the first of these questions Burke was undoubtedly at his best. It is not merely that this topic is one which naturally attracts American readers. It is not merely that his arguments have still a living interest in their application to great questions which confront England in our own day. Burke brought to it a fresher, truer insight, a judgment more sane, a temper more serene and genial, than he was able to command later, after years spent in unavailing struggle and bitter conflict. Furthermore, this question raised no schism within himself. His passion for the established order and his passion for justice both led him to the same conclusion.
When the American Colonies were forever lost, Burke turned his attention to the government of England's East Indian possessions. A series of brilliant speeches in Parliament led up to his crowning effort upon this subject, the speech at the trial of Warren Hastings, in 1787. Burke's grasp of facts is now more masterful, and his oratory more splendid than ever; but the noble effect is somewhat marred by a shrillness of tone, an excitement of personal feeling, and a fierceness of invective from which his earlier utterances were free.
In 1789 came the crash of the French Revolution. Burke's horror at the overthrow of long-established order was so great as to leave no room for calm consideration of justice as between oppressor and oppressed. With fiercer and fiercer outcry from this time onward he urged England to espouse the cause of the old tyranny, and to put down the Revolution.
SPEECH ON CONCILIATION WITH THE COLONIES.
At the opening of the year 1775 the harsh treatment which the Colonies were receiving from England had forced them to combine for mutual support against further aggression. The Continental Congress had already assembled. Lexington and Bunker Hill were not far off. It was becoming a matter of grave importance to the English government to break up this formidable union, and to bring the Colonies once more to deal separately and singly with England. At this juncture Lord North, the Prime Minister, unexpectedly announced what he was pleased to term a measure for “conciliating the differences with America." He proposed to exempt from further taxation any Colony which, after providing for the maintenance of its own government, should guarantee to the mother-country an amount satisfactory to her as being, “ according to the condition, circumstances, and situation of such Colony,” its proportionate contribution toward the common" defence. This transparent scheme deceived no one, — it was reaíly a plan to divide and conquer. To the friends of the Colonies, however, it was no small thing that the Ministry, after a long policy of coercion, should not merely accept, but of its own accord announce, the principle of conciliation. Burke seized the opportunity to propose conciliation which might really be effective.
TEXTUAL NOTES. Page 1, 1. the austerity of the Chair means, of course, the dignity and seriousness of this assembly. The parliamentary fiction which regards not merely the dignity, but the personality, of the House as embodied in its Speaker, is an old-time device to banish from public deliberations the fierceness and the confusion of personal encounters. To it we owe our common rule of debate that all remarks must be addressed to the Chair, and that no mention be made by name of any person in the assembly. This rule was, no doubt, more rigidly observed in Burke's day than it is at present. But the literalness with which Burke at times carries out the fiction, though meant as pleasan
try, has a strong dash of the grotesque; as it has here in his ascription to the Chair of the actual moods and temper of the members, and again on p. 9, 1. 3, 4, where with doubtful compliment he speaks of “a blunter discernment than yours.” In a like vein is his disparagement here of his own perfectly natural and worthy feeling as · frailty' and “superstition.' Burke's weighty genius is not always at its best in toying with trifles.
8. the grand penal bill was a measure of Lord North's, cutting off the New England colonies from all trade except with the mother country and her dependencies, and, worst of all, putting a stop to the fisheries, one of their most successful and important industries. See pp. 14–16. The Lords returned the bill with a savage amendment making it apply to all the American Colonies. The amendment was afterwards withdrawn.
PAGE 2, 6, 7. This was at the beginning of 1766. Long before this date, however, Burke had discerned the gravity of the Colonial question, and had with characteristic energy set himself to master it; as is shown by his Account of European Settlements in America, published in 1757.
25, 26. The occasion was a memorable one — the repeal of the Stamp Act under Lord Rockingham's Ministry, March 18, 1766. The strength and sharpness of the impression made upon Burke are attested by a striking passage in his speech upon American Taxation, wherein, after sketching the situation within the House on that night, and the bearing of the great leaders there, he goes on to tell how, outside the walls of the chamber, “ the whole trading interest of this Empire, crammed into your lobbies, with a trembling and anxious expectation waited, almost to a winter's return of light, their fate from your resolutions ;” and how, when the result was announced, “from the whole of that grave multitude there arose an involuntary burst of gratitude and transport.”
PAGE 3, 15–17. This was a Mr. Rose Fuller, now in the Opposition along with Burke. During the previous session it was his proposition to repeal the Tea Tax which furnished the occasion of Burke's famous speech upon American Taxation, referred to in the last note.
PAGE 4, 12–19. Upon the Ministry and its supporters, Burke means to say, rests the responsibility for devising schenues for carrying on government. Schemes proposed by the Opposition are not merely sure to receive no fair consideration from the triumphant majority, but are apt thereby to be discredited in advance, and ruined for future usefulness. The scruple is thoroughly characteristic of Burke, as are also the considerations which induced him to set it aside.
PAGE 6, 9–14. the project has been outlined above in the Introductory Note to this speech. The impossibility of assigning any definite values to the factors which were to determine the proportionate share of each Colony, as well as the cool irony of talking about proportion at all, when the real object was in each case to extort the largest sum possible, strongly roused Burke. His imagination at once pictures the scenes Parliament is likely to witness in attempting to carry out such a scheme, and he sarcastically figures these as the splendors and sensations of a new entertainment provided by the Ministry. The noble lord was Frederick North, Prime Minister from 1770 till 1782, and largely responsible for the separation of the Colonies from England. He was at this time “lord' only by courtesy of speech. He did not come into his earldom until his father's death in 1790. Sons and younger brothers of peers, though commonly styled lords, are only commoners in fact, and as such are eligible to the lower house, where they often seek a career. A notable example in our own day is Lord Randolph Churchill. The blue ribbon is the badge of the famous Order of the Garter, a decoration rarely conferred upon commoners, and therefore often mentioned by Burke in his parliamentary designation of this Prime Minister to whom he was so long opposed.
Colony agents. In default of any regular channel through which a colony could make its condition and its needs known to Parliament, the practice was to secure the services of some member of Parliament to act as agent for the colony, and to look after its interests in the general legislation. Burke himself was such an agent for New York. A fuller recognition is now accorded the colonies of England, in the addition to the Ministry of a