« PreviousContinue »
ADVERTISEMENT TO THE READER.
The late Mr. Burke, from a principle of unaffected humility, which they, who were the most intimately acquainted with his character, best know to have been in his estimation one of the most important moral duties, never himself made any collection of the various publications with which, during a period of forty years,
he adorned and enriched the literature of this country. When, however, the rapid and unexampled demand for his “Reflections on the Revolution of France,” had unequivocally testified his celebrity as a writer, some of his friends so far prevailed upon him, that he permitted them to put forth a regular edition of his works. Accordingly, three volumes in quarto appeared under that title in 1792, printed for the late Mr. Dodsley. That edition, therefore, has been made the foundation of the present, for which a form has been chosen better adapted to public convenience. Such errors of the press as have been discovered in it are here rectified ; in other respects it is faithfully followed.
As the activity of the author's mind, and the lively interest which he took in the welfare of his country, ceased only with his life, many subsequent productions issued from his pen, which were received in a manner corresponding with his distinguished reputation. He wrote also various tracts, of a less popular description, which he designed for private circulation, in quarters where he supposed they might produce most benefit to the community ; but which, with some other papers, have been printed since his death, from copies which he left behind him fairly transcribed, and most of them corrected as for the press. All these, are now first collected together, in this edition.
The several posthumous publications, as they from time to time made their appearance, were accompanied by appropriate
prefaces. These, however, as they were principally intended for temporary purposes, have been omitted. Some few explanations only, which they contained, seem here to be necessary.
The “ Observations on the Conduct of the Minority in the Session of 1793,” had been written and sent by Mr. Burke as a paper entirely and strictly confidential; but it crept surreptitiously into the world, through the fraud and treachery of the man whom he had employed to transcribe it, and, as usually happens in such cases, came forth in a very mangled state, under a false title, and without the introductory letter. The friends of the author, without waiting to consult him, instantly obtained an injunction from the Court of Chancery to stop the sale. What he himself felt, on receiving intelligence of the injury done him by one, from whom his kindness deserved a ery different return, will be best conveyed in his own words. The following is an extract of a letter to a friend, which he dictated on this subject from a sick bed :
Bath, 15th Feb. 1797. "MY DEAR LAURENCE,
“On the appearance of the advertisement, all newspapers, and all letters have been kept back from me till this time. Mrs. Burke opened your's, and finding that all the measures in the power of Dr. King, yourself, and Mr. Woodford, had been taken to suppress the publication, she ventured to deliver me the letters to-day, which were read to me in my bed, about two o'clock.
“ This affair does vex me; but I am not in a state of health at present to be deeply vexed at any thing. Whenever this matter comes into discussion, I authorize you to contradict the infamous reports, which (I am informed) have been given out; that this paper had been circulated through the ministry, and was intended gradually to slide into the press. To the best of my recollection, I never had a clean copy of it but one, which is now in my possession ; I never communicated that, but to the Duke of Portland, from whom I had it back again. But the Duke will set this matter to rights, if in reality there were two copies, and he has one. I never shewed it, as they know, to any one of the ministry. If the Duke has really a copy, I believe his and mine are the only ones that exist, except what was taken by fraud from loose and incorrect papers by S- , to whom I gave the letter to copy.
As soon as I began to suspect him capable of any such scandalous breach of trust, you know with what anxiety I got the loose papers out of his hands, not having reason to think that he kept any other. Neither do I believe in fact (unless he meditated this villany long ago) that he did or does now possess any clean copy. I never communicated that paper to any one out of the very small circle of private friends, from whom I concealed nothing.
“But I beg you and my friends to be cautious how you let it be understood, that I disclaim any thing but the mere act and intention of publication. I do not retract any one of the sentiments contained in that Memorial, which was and is my justification, addressed to the friends, for whose use alone I intended it. Had I designed it for the public, I should have been more exact and full. It was written in a tone of indignation, in consequence of the resolutions of the Whig Club, which were directly pointed against myself and others, and occasioned our secession from that Club; which is the last act of my life that I shall under any circumstances repent. Many temperaments and explanations there would have been, if I had ever had a notion that it should meet the public eye.”
In the mean time a large impression, amounting, it is believed, to three thousand copies, had been dispersed over the country. To recall these was impossible ; to have expected that any acknowledged production of Mr. Burke, full of matter likely to interest the future historian, could remain for ever in obscurity, would have been folly; and to have passed it over in silent neglect, on the one hand, or, on the other, to have then made any considerable changes in it, might have seemed an abandonment of the principles which it contained. The author, therefore, discovering that, with the exception of the introductory letter, he had not in fact kept any clean copy, as he had supposed, corrected one of the pamphlets with his own hand. From this, which was found preserved with his other papers, his friends afterwards thought it their duty to give an authentic edition.
The “Thoughts and Details on Scarcity” were originally presented in the form of a Memorial to Mr. Pitt. The author proposed afterwards to recast the same matter in a new shape. He even advertised the intended work under the title of “ Letters on Rural Economics, addressed to Mr. Arthur Young;" but he seems to have finished only two or three detached fragments of the first letter. These 'eing too imperfect to be printed alone, his friends inserted them in the Memorial, where they seemed best to cohere. The Memu.ial had been fairly copied, but did not appear to have been examined or corrected, as some trifling errors of the transcriber were perceptible in it. The manuscript
of the fragments was a rough draft from the author's own hand, much blotted and very confused.
The “ Third Letter on the Proposals for Peace," was in its progress through the press when Mr. Burke died. About one half of it was actually revised in print by himself, though not in the exact order of the pages as they now stand. He enlarged his first draft, and separated one great member of his subject, for the purpose of introducing some other matter between. The different parcels of manuscript, designed to intervene, were discovered. One of them he seemed to have gone over himself, and to have improved and augmented. The other (fortunately the smaller) was much more imperfect, just as it was taken from his mouth by dictation. No important change, none at all affecting the meaning of any passage, has been made in either, though in the more imperfect parcel, some latitude of discretion in subordinate points was necessarily used.
There is, however, a considerable member, for the greater part of which, Mr. Burke's reputation is not responsible: this is the inquiry into the condition of the higher classes. The summary of the whole topic indeed, nearly as it stands, was found, together with a marginal reference to the bankrupt-list, in his own hand-writing; and the actual conclusion of the letter was dictated by him, but never received his subsequent correction. He had also preserved, as materials for this branch of the subject, some scattered hints, documents, and parts of a correspondence on the state of the country. He was, however, prevented from working on them, by the want of some authentic and official information, for which he had been long anxiously waiting, in order to ascertain, to the satisfaction of the public, what with his usual sagacity he had fully anticipated from his own personal observation, to his own private conviction. At length the reports of the different committees, which had been appointed by the two houses of parliament, amply furnished him with evidence for this purpose. Accordingly he read and considered them with attention ; but for any thing beyond this the season was now past. The Supreme Disposer of all, against whose inscrutable counsels it is vain as well as impious to murmur, did not permit him to enter on the execution of the task which he meditated. It was resolved, therefore, by one of his friends, after much hesitation, and under a very painful responsibility, to make such an attempt as he could at supplying the void ; especially because the insufficiency of our resources for the continuance of the war was understood to have been the principal objection urged against the two former “Letters on the Propo
sals for Peace.” In performing with reverential diffidence this duty of friendship, care has been taken not to attribute to Mr. Burke any sentiment which is not most explicitly known, from repeated conversations, and from much correspondence, to have been decidedly entertained by that illustrious man. of nearly three pages, containing a censure of our defensive system, is borrowed from a private letter, which he began to dictate, with an intention of comprising in it the short result of his opinions, but which he afterwards abandoned, when, a little time before his death, his health appeared in some degree to amend, and he hoped that Providence might have spared him at least to complete the larger public letter, which he then proposed to resume.
In the preface to the former edition of this letter, a fourth was mentioned as being in possession of Mr. Burke's friends. It was in fact announced by the author himself, in the conclusion of the second, which it was then designed to follow. He intended, he said, “to proceed next on the question of the facilities possessed by the French Republic, from the internal state of other nations, and particularly of this, for obtaining her ends; and, as his notions were controverted, to take notice of what, in that had been recommended to him." The vehicle which he had chosen for this part of his plan was an answer to a pamphlet which was supposed to come from high authority, and was circulated by ministers with great industry, at the time of its appearance in October, 1795, immediately previous to that session of parliament when his majesty for the first time declared, that the appearance of any disposition in the enemy to negotiate for general
peace, should not fail to be met with an earnest desire to give it the fullest and speediest effect. In truth, the answer, which is full of spirit and vivacity, was written in the latter end of the same year, but was laid aside when the question assumed a more serious aspect, from the commencement of an actual negotiation, which gave rise to the series of printed letters. Afterwards, he began to re-write it, with a view of accommodating it to his new purpose. The greater part, however, still remained in its original state; and several heroes of the Revolution, who are there celebrated, having in the interval passed off the public stage, a greater liberty of insertion and alteration than his friends on consideration have thought allowable, would be necessary to adapt it to that place in the series for which it was ultimately designed by the author.