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worried with teaching sense to the thoughtless, and morals to the truant, retain no sense of that strong moral tie friendship. Though the youthful vanity of writing first connected us, yet something more than vanity I hope keeps alive the remembrance of each other-Idem velle ac idem nolle is true of our devotion to virtue and learning.
On 25th August, 1761, Burke wrote to Shackleton
I have been very blamable as a correspondent both to you and to Dennis, and indeed to everybody. I shall attempt no apology, and only speak from my heart which has always done justice to your merit and to our long long friendship. (Fitz. Cor. 1, 36.)
Frequent reference has already been made in these pages to Richard Shackleton, who was not only the close companion of Burke during his school and college days, but his intimate friend in after life.
At the time of the foundation of the Club in April, 1749, Edmund Burke was eighteen years of age. We can see in every page of the Proceedings where Burke's utterances are summarised the germs of his career and character developing, we can recognise that love of justice, that abhorrence of anything that savoured of corruption, that unswerving devotion to duty, and that pure impetuosity which energised him all through life. He never missed a meeting of the Club. He never was late, he is commended for the "matter of his oration, but not for the delivery of it." The defect pursued him in later years.
Though it's not wrong (writes Lord Morley1) to say of Burke that as an orator he was transcendent, yet in that immediate influence upon his hearers which is commonly supposed to be the mark of oratorical success, all the evidence is that Burke generally failed. We have seen how his speech against Hastings affected Miss Burney, and how the speech on the Nabob of Arcot's debts was judged by Pitt not be worth answering. Perhaps the greatest that he ever made was that on Conciliation with America, the wisest in its temper, the most closely logical in its reasoning, the amplest in appropriate topics, the most generous and conciliatory in the substance of its appeals. Yet Erskine, who was in the House when this was delivered, said that it drove everybody away, including people, who when they came to read it, read it over and over again, and could hardly think of anything else. As Moore says2, rather too floridly, but with truth, "In vain did Burke's genius put forth its superb plumage, glittering all over with the hundred eyes of fancy-the gait of the bird was heavy and awkward, and its voice seemed rather to scare than attract."
1 Edmund Burke, English Men of Letters series, pp. 8, 9, 10.
2 Thomas Moore, when in Trinity College, was a member of the College Historical Society, and obtained a medal for Composition in 1798.
It is hard to see how Lord Morley derives this inference from Miss Burney's description.
All I had heard of his eloquence, and all I had conceived of his great abilities was more than answered by his performance. Nervous, clear and striking was almost all that he uttered, the main business indeed of his coming forth was frequently neglected and not seldom wholly lost but his excursions were so fanciful, so entertaining and so ingenious, that no miscellaneous hearer like myself, could blame them. It is true he was unequal, but his inequality produced an effect which in so long a speech was perhaps preferable, to greater consistency since, though it lost attention in its falling off-it recovered it with additional energy by some accent unexpected and wonderful. When he narrated he was easy, flowing and natural: when he declaimed, energetic, warm and brilliant. The sentiments he interspersed were as nobly conceived as they were highly coloured; his satire had a poignancy of wit that made it as entertaining as it was penetrating; his allusions and quotations, as far as they were English and within my reach, were apt and ingenious; and the wild and sudden flights of his fancy bursting forth from his creative imagination in language fluent, forcible and varied, had a charm for my ear and my attention wholly new and perfectly irresistible1.
Rogers, writing in 1842, states what was then the traditional view:
of many of the inferior accomplishments of an orator Burke was almost wholly destitute. His voice was harsh and unmusical, his pronunciation strongly marked with his native accent and his manner awkward.
Morley too says "Burke never lost a strong Irish accent, and his utterance was often hurried and eager." During his long stay with the Nagles in the South of Ireland, and from his early lessons in O'Halloran's hedge school, Burke may have acquired the adhesive cadence of the Cork intonation: on the other hand, his residence at his father's house in Dublin may possibly have left its mark in something of a Dublin brogue. Burke was not given to affectation nor was he likely to have set himself to imitate any mincing, halting, or other conventional English method of pitch or enunciation. If an objection on this score had ever been made to Burke himself he would probably as a sensible Irishman have considered that the defect lay not with him but rather in the "vacant ears of unthinking men" whose attitude evinced that distinct note of provinciality which has assisted so many Englishmen in misunderstanding those other nationalities, whether Irish, Oriental, or American, for whose cause the enraptured eloquence
1 The Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay (London, 1891), vol. II, p. 121.
of the greatest of English speaking orators too often vainly pleaded in words Favonian winged1.
The intolerance attributed to him in later days displayed itself in these undergraduate debates. He was charged by one of his fellow members with being "damned absolute." We find too in the impeachments by him of the delinquents among his companions before the tribunal of the Club, an anticipation of the persistent impulsiveness of his arraignment of Warren Hastings before the Lords in Parliament. Every member, with the single exception of Shackleton who, as he was then living at Ballitore, was not able to attend the debates regularly, came under the lash of his censorship.
The Minute Book is almost entirely in his handwriting. Even when other members were acting as secretaries, he took up their business and wrote out the proceedings. The experience that he thus gained was a good early training for the work which twelve years afterwards he did in writing the Parliamentary Debates for the Annual Register. The Register first appeared in 1759, and Burke owed much to it. Not only was he paid a welcome salary of one hundred pounds a year, but the connection with its publishers introduced him to Lord Charlemont and Lord Rockingham, and through Lord Charlemont and Lord Rockingham he was introduced to public life. He conducted this compilation down to 1788 for Dodsley, the publisher. Few things are more curious (writes Lecky2) than the contrast between the feverish and passionate excitement with which he threw himself into party debates, and the admirably calm, exhaustive, and impartial summaries of the rival arguments which he afterwards drew up for the Annual Register. The same contrast reveals itself in Burke's brief chronicles of the Club debates of his undergraduate days.
That preference, too, of the via media of the practically possible rather than the theoretically perfect, which characterised Burke's political philosophy, appears in the pages of the Proceedings of the Club. In the Debate on "Whether serious matters may be handled ludicrously," Mr Pres. (Burke) "determines in favour of a confined ridicule." In that on "Whether an absolute pride or servile complaisance in a President be most commendable". -a debate no doubt suggested by the absolutism of Burke who was President at the time—
1 At the Irish Bar at the present day the affectation of an English accent by a Munster man is termed, from the fashionable promenade in Cork, "the Mardyke accent."—It is said to savour more of agriculture than of culture, and to drop off frequently when the question of costs arises.
History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. 111, p. 391.
he "determines Pride to be the least faulty of extremes but recommends the medium." In the debate on Luxury, he closes the debate by giving his judgment which was that "tho' Luxury should be disallowed there ought not to be a universal restraint." All this anticipates his practical attitude in after life. In his own words, "all Government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act is founded on compromise and barter1." It is "action and counter-action which in the natural and in the political world from the reciprocal struggle of discordant powers, draws out the harmony of the Universe"."
It is true that one might think, on reading the Club debates that Burke's moderation deserted him altogether on the question of lenity for the Scottish rebels. Two speeches were made by other members, one urging firstly that "mercy was due to the Scots for their loyalty to the Stuarts, their ancient kings," and in the second place "because they thought the Union with England was to their bane-and the destruction of their libertys," the second speech urging lenity on the plea that it was politic to spare them because they had already suffered enough "as the most hardened wretch admires and is awed by virtue." Burke's position (speaking "in character") is, however, unyielding in the debate. "No mercy should be shown him who is an enemy to his country, and he who rebels is liable to all the mischiefs such a crime brings upon him."
His letter of 26th April, 17463, to Shackleton written immediately after the battle of Culloden shows what his real sentiments were. "I am sure," he writes, "I share in the general compassion. It is indeed melancholy to consider the state of those unhappy gentlemen who engaged in these affairs." The utterances in the Club represented nothing more than the play of debate. Burke leant towards mercy not only through his natural benevolence and kindliness of disposition, but also on grounds of policy.
1 Speech on Conciliation with America.
' Cp. Reflections on the French Revolution. See also the passages collected in Buckle, History of Civilization in England, chap. VII: "Politics ought to be adjusted, not to human reasonings, but to human nature: of which the reason is but a part, and by no means the greatest part." "Observations on a late state of the Nation,' Burke's Works, vol. 1, p. 113: "Hence the distinction he had constantly in view between the generalizations of philosophy, which ought to be impregnable, and those of politics, which must be fluctuating; and hence in his noble work Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, he says: "No lines can be laid down for civil or political wisdom. They are a matter incapable of exact definition."
See ante p. 91.
See further, post p. 244.
Another debate, and speech of his, is of especial interest. On 29th May, 1747,
Ordered to speak on the Bill brought in by Mr Burke (in Parliament) to tax the absentees ten per cent of their estates-Burke says that 'tis the only means of preserving some part of the little money in the Kingdom wch appropriated to the Dublin Society might prove a great advantage to it.
In striking contrast are his views in October, 1773, on an Absentee Tax. They are contained in the well-known letter to Sir Charles Bingham on a proposed bill to tax absentees.
Lecky remarks on these expressions of opinion,
The truth is that Edmund Burke had on this question thrown himself with extreme vehemence in opposition to the predominating sentiments of his fellow countrymen. It is idle to speculate how far he was influenced by the party feeling or the private friendship which so often swayed his judgment, but no one who reads his letters to Rockingham and to Sir Charles Bingham can doubt the energy of his conviction, or fail to be struck with the variety, subtlety, and ingenuity of the arguments with which he enforced it1.
On the other hand, when we read the Minutes of the Club we can almost see the young statesman rending his own future arguments to pieces. In 1747 Dennis uses the argument against the tax that it would hinder improvement by travel. In 1773 Burke repeats this very argument of Dennis. In the Club he refutes in anticipation the arguments, "supposing them in earnest," which in after years he used to deprecate the introduction of such a measure into the Parliament of Ireland.
To draw further parallels between Burke's speeches and actions in the Club and those of his after life would be beyond the scope of this introduction. Sufficient has been indicated to show that the young Edmund Burke training in these College debates was there rapidly evolving those distinctive characteristics which, matured, distinguished him as the greatest statesman of his time, and, perpetuated, have moulded ever since, and will in future ages, mould the polity of every nation that seeks progress and safety along the paths of ordered liberty.
1 History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, vol. II, p. 38.