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to any position he would master. After reconnoitring it with skill and boldness, if not with perfect accuracy, he manæuvres with infinite address, and arrays a most imposing force of general principles mustered from all parts, and pointed, sometimes violently enough, in one direction. He now moves on with the composed air, the even, dignified pace of the historian; and unfolds his facts in a narrative so easy, and yet so correct, that you plainly perceive he wanted only the dismissal of other pursuits to have rivalled Livy or Hume. But soon this advance is interrupted, and he stops to display his powers of descriptionwhen the boldness of his design is only matched by the brilliancy of his colouring. He then skirmishes for a space, and puts in motion all the lighter arms of wit—sometimes not unmingled with drollery-sometimes bordering upon farce. His main battery is now opened, and a tempest bursts forth, of every weapon of 'attack-invective-abuse-irony-sarcasm-simile, drawn out to allegory-allusion-quotation-fable-parable—anathe
The heavy artillery of powerful declamation, and the conflict of close argument alone are wanting ; but of this the garrison is not always aware; his noise is oftentimes mistaken for the thunder of true eloquence; the number of his movements distracts, and the variety of his missiles annoys the adversary; a panic spreads, and he carries his point, as if he had actually made a practicable breach ; nor is it discovered till after the smoke and confusion is over, that the citadel remains untouched.
Every one of Mr Burke's works that is of any importance, presents, though in different degrees, these features to the view --from the most chaste and temperate, his Thoughts on the Discontents, to the least faultless and severe-his richer and more ornate, as well as vehement tracts upon revolutionary politics-his letters on the Regicide Peace, and Defence of his Pension. His speeches differ not at all from his pamphlets; these are written speeches, or those are spoken dissertations, according as any one is over studious of method and closeness in a book, or of ease and nature in an oration. The principal defects which we have binted at are a serious derogation from merit of the highest order in both kinds of composition. But in his spoken eloquence, the failure which it is known attended him for a great part of his Parliamentary life, is not to be explained by the mere absence of what alone he wanted to equal the greatest of orators.
In fact, he was deficient in judgment; he regarded not the degree of interest felt by his audience in the topics which deeply occupied himself; and seldom knew when he had said enough
on those which affected them as well as him. He was admirable in exposition ; in truth, he delighted to give instruction both when speaking and conversing, and in this he was unrivalled. * Quis in sententiis argutior ? in docendo edisserendoque subtilior ?' Mr Fox might well avow, without a compliment, that he had learnt more from him alone than from all other men and authors. But if any one thing is proved by unvarying experience popular assemblies, it is, that an excellent dissertation makes a very bad speech. The speaker is not the only person actively engaged while a great oration is pronouncing; the audience have their share; they must be excited, and for this purpose constantly appealed to as recognised persons of the drama. The didactic orator (if, as has been said of the poet, it be not a contradiction in terms) has it all to himself; the hearer is merely passive; and the consequence is, he soon ceases to be a listener, and if he can, even to be a spectator. Mr Burke was essentially didactic, except when the violence of his invective carried him away,
and then he offended the correct taste of the House of Commons, by going beyond the occasion, and by descending to coarseness.* When he argued, it was by unfolding large views, and seizing upon analogies too remote, and drawing distinctions “ too fine for hearers,' or, at the best, by a body of statements, lucid, certainly, and diversified with flower and fruit, and lighted up with pleasantry, but almost always in excess, and overdone in these qualities as well as in its own substance. He had little power of hard stringent reasoning, as we have more than once remarked; and his declamation was addressed to the head, as from the head it proceeded, learned, fanciful, ingenious, but not impassioned. Of him, as a combatant, we may say what Aristotle did of the old philosophers, when he compared them to unskilful boxers, who hit round about, and
* The charge of coarseness, or rather of vulgarity of language, has, to the astonishment of all who knew him, and understood pure idiomatic English, been made against Mr Windham, but only by persons unacquainted with both. To him might nearly be applied the beautiful sketch of Crassus by M. Tullius— Quo,' says he, nihil statuo ' fieri potuisse perfectius. Erat summa gravitas, erat cum gravitate
junctus, facetiarum et urbanitatis oratorius, non scurrilis lepos. Latine loquendi accurata, et sine molestiâ diligens elegantia-in disse* rendo mira explicatio ; cum de jure civili, cum de æquo et bono dis
putaretur argumentorum et similitudinum copia.' Let not the reader reject even the latter features, those certainly of an advocate ; at least lei him first read Mr Wis Speech on the Law of Evidence, in the Duke of York's case.
not straight forward, and fight with little effect, though they may hy chance sometimes deal a hard blow.~'Olov ev tais maxais οι αγυμνασoι πoιoυσι. και γαρ εκεινοι περιφερουμενοι τυπτουσι πολλακις καλας πληγας" αλλ' ουτ' εκεινοι απ' επισημης.-(Metaphys.)*
Cicero has somewhere called Eloquence copiose loquens sapientia. This may be true of written, but of spoken eloquence it is a defective definition, and will, at the best, only comprehend the Demonstrative (or Epideictie) kind, which is banished, for want of an audience, from all modern assemblies of a secular description. Thus, though it well characterises Mr Burke, yet the defects which we have pointed out, were fatal to his success. Accordingly the test of eloquence, which the same master has in so picturesque a manner given, from his own constant experience, here entirely failed. — Volo hoc oratori con• tingat, ut cum auditum sit eum esse dicturum, locus in sub
selliis occupetur, compleatur tribunal, gratiosi scribæ sint in • dando et cedendo locum, corona multiplex, judex erectus ;
cum surgit is, qui dicturus sit, significetur a corona silentium, • deinde crebræ assensiones, multæ admirationes : risus, cum • velit; cum velit, fletus; ut, qui hæc procul videat, etiamsi • quid agatur nesciat, at placere tamen, et in scena Roscium in• telligat.' For many years, that is, between the latter part of the American war, and the speeches which he made, neither
many, nor long, nor in a very usual or regular style, on the French Revolution, the very reverse of all this was to be seen and lamented, as often as Mr Burke spoke. The spectator saw no signs of Roscius being in action, but rather of the eminent Civilian we have already spoken of. · Videt' (as the same critic has, in another passage, almost to the letter described it) • oscitantem * judicem, loquentem cum altero, nonnunquam etiam circulan. tem, mittentem ad horas; quæsitorem, ut dimittat, rogantem;
* The Attic reader will be here reminded of the First Philippic, in which a very remarkable passage, and in part too applicable to our subject, seems to have been suggested by the passage in the text ; and its great felicity both of apt comparison and of wit, should, with a thousand other passages, have made critics pause before they denied those qualities to the chief of orators. Ωσπερ δε οι βαρβαροι πυκτευουσιν, ουτω πολεμειτε φιλιππω. και γας εκείνων ο πληγεις αοι της πληγης εχεται. καν ετερωσε παταξη τις, εκπσε εισιν αι χερες, προβαλλεσθαι δ', και βλέπειν εναντιον, ovt' osdey, our' stenst, which he proceeds to illustrate by the conduct held respecting the Chersonese, and Thermopylæ.
† This desire in the English senate is irregularly signified, by the cries of Question,' there not being a proper quarter to appeal w, as iu the Roman courts.
• intelligit, oratorem in ea causa non adesse, qui possit animis * judicum admovere orationem, tanquam fidibus manum.'
But it may justly be said, with the second of Attic orators, that sense is always more important than eloquence; and no one can doubt that enlightened men in all ages will hang over the works of Mr Burke, and dwell with delight even upon the speeches that failed to command the attention of those to whom they were addressed. Nor is it by their rhetorical beauties that they interest us. The extraordinary depth of his detached views, the penetrating sagacity which he occasionally applies to the affairs of men and their motives, and the curious felicity of expression with which he unfolds principles, and traces resemblances and relations, are separately the gift of few, and in their union probably without any example. This must be admitted on all hands; it is possibly the last of our observations which will obtain universal assent, as it is the last we have to offer before coming upon disputed ground, where the fierce contentions of politicians cross the more quiet path of the critic.
Not content with the praise of his philosophic acuteness, which all are ready to allow, the less temperate admirers of this great writer, have ascribed to him a gift of genius approaching to the power of divination, and have recognised him as in possession of a judgment so acute and so calm withal, that its decisions might claim the authority of infallible decrees. His opinions have been viewed as always resulting from general principles deliberately applied to each emergency; and they have been looked upon as forming a connected system of doctrines, by which his own sentiments and conduct were regulated, and from which after times may derive the lessons of practical wisdom.
A consideration which at once occurs, as casting suspicion upon the soundness, if not also upon the sincerity, of these encomiums, is, that they never were dreamt of until the questions arose concerning the French Revolution; and yet, if well founded, they were due to the former principles and conduct of their object ; for it is wholly inconsistent with their tenor to admit that the doctrines so extolled were the rank and sudden growth of the heats which the changes of 1789 had generated. Their title to so much admiration and to our implicit confidence, must depend upon their being the slowly matured fruit of a profound philosophy, which had investigated and compared; pursuing the analogies of things, and tracing events to their remote origin in the principles of human nature.
Yet it is certain that these reasoners, (if reasoning can indeed be deemed their vocation,) never discovered a single merit in Mr Burke's opinions, or anything to praise, or even to endure, in his conduct, from his entrance into public life in 1765, to the period of that stormy confusion of all parties and all political attachments, which took place in 1791, a short time before he quitted it. They are therefore placed in a dilemma, from which it would puzzle subtler dialecticians to escape. Either they or their idol bave changed; either they have received a new light, or he is a changeling god. They are either converts to a faith, which, for so many years, and during so many vicissitudes, they had, in their preaching and in their lives, held to be damnable; or they are believers in a heresy, lightly taken up by its author, and promulgated to suit the wholly secular purposes of some particular season.
We believe a very little examination of the facts will suffice to show, that the believers have been more consistent than their oracle; and that they escape from the charge of fickleness, at the expense of the authority due to the faith last proclaimed from his altar. It would, indeed, be difficult to select one leading principle or prevailing sentiment in Mr Burke's latest writings, to which something extremely adverse may not be found in his former, we can hardly say his early works ;-excepting only the subject of Parliamentary Reform, to which, with all the friends of Lord Rockingham, he was from the beginning adverse; and in favour of which he found so very hesitating and lukewarm a feeling among Mr Fox's supporters, as hardly
amounted to a difference, certainly offered no inducements to compromise the opinions of his own party. Searching after the monuments of altered principles, we will not resort to his first works—in one of which he terms Damien a late unfortunate regicide,' looking only at his punishment, and disregarding his offence; neither shall we look into his speeches, exceeding, as they did, the bounds which all other men, even in the heat of debate, prescribe to themselves, in speaking now of the first magistrate of the country, while labouring under a calamitous visitation of Providence—now of kings generally. But we may fairly take as the standard of his opinions, best weighed and most deliberately pronounced, the calmest of all his productions, and the most fully considered, -given to the world when he had long passed the middle age of life, had filled a high station, and been for years eminent in parliamentary history.* Although, in compositions of this kind, more depends upon the general tone of a work, than on parti
* The Thoughts on the Causes of the Present Discontents was published in 1770—when Mr B. was above 40 years old.