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CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN BURKE AND SHACKLETON RELATING TO THE DESCRIPTION OF BURKE WHICH APPEARED IN THE LONDON EVENING POST 14TH AND 17TH APRIL, 1770
Friends in England had frequently applied to Shackleton for information relating to Burke's early career. He sent a private letter to one of them in the year 1766, which seems to have been circulated, and came to Burke's knowledge. Burke wrote the following letter:
Burke to Shackleton.
28th October 1766
My dear friend,
I am sorry you should think me capable of being offended with any letter which you should think proper to write about me. That which you did write replete with the feelings of the most sincere friendship, and a partiality which arose from them, can displease me in nothing but in setting me up so high as to make it very difficult for me to give it any sort of credit by my conduct. However, I am glad to find you think of me in such a manner, and for this piece of knowledge, at least, I am indebted to the malice of my enemies. Their purpose was, since they were not able to find wherewithal to except to my character for the series of years since I appeared in England, to pursue me into the closest recesses of my life, and to hunt even to my cradle in hope of finding some blot against me. It was on this principle they set on foot this enquiry. I have traced it as far as Mr. Strettel, who refuses to let me know from whom in England he received his commission. The want of suspicion of their ill designs, and want of an exact knowledge of what effects a man in the world, made you enter into a more minute detail about my father, mother, and wife than was strictly necessary, or than I believe those who wrote to make the enquiry expected, or could flatter themselves they would receive; especially in the affair of religion, which being a leading part in your account, though not in the general thoughts of men of public business, they will therefore think could not have taken up so much room but for special reasons, and these they will take to construe into such as are not the most favourable. I think, too, that your manner of stating the condition of my father is, by mode of expression, made to convey, to the ears in which it will sound, impressions different from (what) you intended and from the reality. You say he was an attorney of the province of Munster in moderate circumstances; and this (from the evident partiality which reigns in the whole account, and which seems to soften everything) will be saying he was a hedge country-attorney of little practice. Now you know that the upper part of this profession
is very reputable as any can be; the lower absolutely otherwise. The fact is that my father never did practise in the country, but always in the superior courts; that he was for many years not only in the first rank, but the very first man of his profession in point of practice and credit-until, by giving way to a retired and splenetic humour, he did in a manner voluntarily contract his practice; and yet after some heavy losses by the banks, and living creditably for near forty years (one time pretty expensively) laying out something on Dick's establishment and on my education in the Temple (a thousand pounds or thereabouts for me), he died worth very near six thousand pounds. This I mention, as poverty is the greatest imputation (very unjustly, I think) that is ever laid on that profession; one or two other mistakes of fact there are of little consequence. But in general the rule is certainly right, when enquiries of this kind are made, to confine oneself to the person as much as may be, on every account; for as accounts of connections are multiplied, so are occasions of cavil too, on the part of the hearer, and of mistakes on that of the relater.
I have read over what I wrote, and am surprised to find how long I have talked on this nothing, but I am alone, which I seldom am, and my pen runs on. Be assured, whatever little mistakes there may be, it evidently can do me no kind of prejudice whatever. Strong declarations of esteem from an early friend who knows you entirely are the fullest presumption in your favour. The rest is one's own conduct, on which nine-tenths of everything depends. Be assured, my dear Richard, the account on the whole will much disappoint the enquirers. The only anxiety I have is to discover these enquirers, that I may not in my mind lay the charge on those who may possibly be innocent of it. So much for that, but, returning on my steps, I again and again caution you not to give yourself a moment's uneasiness for a most trifling inadvertence which came up amidst the effusions of affection, and which nothing but great affection could have caused. Let me add too, that no piece of writing can be more spirited and elegant.
I propose going immediately. We are all, Jenny, Dick and I, most sincerely and with the truest regards yours. Salute your wife for us, whom we value on her own account as well as yours. Your father I hope believes we love him, with a great mixture of reverence to his truly venerable character. Adieu! God Almighty bless you! Yours ever,
After all, on talking this matter over with Dick, I am far from clear that the enquiry may not have been from a friend1.
More than three years elapsed when without the sanction or knowledge of Shackleton, some person who had obtained a copy of Shackleton's original letter communicated it in April 1770 to the London Evening Post, writing over the signature "Eusebius"." Burke was greatly annoyed and he wrote as follows to Shackleton:
1 Leadbeater Papers, vol. II, p. 100.
Burke to Shackleton.
Gregories, 19th April 1770
My dear Shackleton,
You will be so good to excuse me for having so long delayed an answer to your letter....
I confess a little weakness to you. I feel somewhat mortified at a paper written by you, which some officious person has thought proper to insert in the London Evening Post of last night. I am used to the most gross and virulent abuse daily repeated in the papers-I ought indeed rather have said twice a day. But that abuse is loose and general invective. It affects very little either my own feelings or the opinions of others, because it is thrown out by those who are known to be hired to that office by my enemies. But this appears in the garb of professed apology and panegyric. It is evidently written by an intimate friend. It is full of anecdotes and particulars of my life. It therefore cuts deep. I am sure I have nothing in my family, my circumstances, or my conduct that an honest man ought to be ashamed of. But the more circumstances of all these are brought out, the more materials are furnished for malice to work upon; and I assure you that it will manufacture them to the utmost. Hitherto, much as I have been abused, my table and my bed were left sacred; but since it has so unfortunately happened that my wife, a quiet woman, confined to her family cares and affections, has been dragged into a newspaper, I own I feel a little hurt. A rough public man may be proof against all sorts of buffets, and he has no business to be a public man if he be not so; but there is as natural and proper a delicacy in the other sex, which will not make it very pleasant to my wife to be the daily subject of Grub-street newspaper invectives; and at present, in truth, her health is little able to endure it. It is true that you have said of me ten thousand handsome things, which are infinitely beyond anything I have deserved or can deserve; but this is only the language of friendship, which is always interpreted down to its proper level, possibly below it, by the severe scrutiny of the public. Indeed what you have said of my modesty and moderation in debate will, I fear, take off not a little from the authority of the rest. It is but too well known that I debate with great vehemence and asperity, and with little management either of the opinions or persons of many of my adversaries. They deserve not much quarter, and I give and receive but very little. Do not think, my dear Shackleton, that this is written with the least view of upbraiding you with what you have done with the best and purest motives, and in which you have erred from a want of knowledge of the evil dispositions of the world, and of the modes in which they execute their malice. I only write that if your friend Pike, in whose hands I found there had been a copy of this paper, and whom I suspect transmitted it to the newspaper, intends anything more of that kind, that you would quietly restrain him. I mention this because the newswriter desires a farther correspondence with him. I can hardly think Abraham Rawlinson could have been the publisher. As to the former gentleman, after what
passed when I was last in Dublin, I hardly thought he would have let any copies out of his hands. I just forgot to mention that you are mistaken in some circumstances; where you speak of my being made easy by patronage, &c. I assure you that if you allude to a small pension which I had for a time, and resigned upon an overstrained point of honour, I can inform you I got that from the patronage of no man living. It was indeed a defective performance of a bargain for full consideration. Nor have I had any advantage except my seat in parliament from the patronage of any man. Whatever advantages I have had have been from friends on my own level; as to those that are called great, I never paid them any court; perhaps, since I must say it, they have had as much benefit from my connection as I have had. This for your private satisfaction. Remember us all most cordially to Mrs Shackleton and to your father. Poor Richard is ordered to the Grenadas; no pleasant place, nor pleasantly inhabited for him. I have not interest to prevent it. Adieu, my dear friend, and believe me most faithfully and affectionately yours
I am down for a day to see how things go on. Mrs Burke is too weak to come along with me. Adieu.
R. Shackleton to E. Burke.
Ballitore, 28th of Fourth Month 1770.
My dear friend (if I may take the liberty still to call thee so),
I have received thy letter, written in the vexation of thy spirit, cutting and wounding me in the tenderest parts, and ripping open a sore which I thought was long since healed!
I know nothing in the world about the publication of that unfortunate paper, but what thou tell'st me, nor who could be the publisher of it. I have used thee and thy family grossly ill. I acknowledged it as fully as I could. I am covered with grief, shame and confusion for it. It was done in the simplicity of my heart; I mean the writing of it. The giving a copy of it I will not call indiscretion, but madness and folly. With the same simplicity I before let thee know how I came to write it, and why I gave a copy of it. When I had given it to my friend, and he had given a copy to his friend, it very probably circulated out of the power of either of us to recal. It passed like money through the hands of people good and bad, friends and enemies; and because the matter was gold, though bunglingly coined, and possibly still more defaced in the circulation, it was too precious to be lost. I am sure I had no more thoughts of its spreading as it has done, nor of its ever being published than I have of the publication of this letter. If what has been published varies at all from the copy which I sent thee, or if I can do anything by way of atonement or amendment, grant me this last favour of putting it in my power to do it. In a few days I expect to see Dick Pike, and purpose to make all the inquiry, and give all the charges necessary. I said thy letter cut and wounded me; it did indeed effectually. It was dictated by a perturbed mind; it was calculated to punish and fret me; and it has obtained its end. Thy family, thy circumstances, thy conduct,
thy bed, thy board-I am indirectly or directly charged with defaming and vilifying them all, not indeed as a false friend, but as a very foolish one. I could bear even all this, whether deserved or not from thee. Thou art so used to lay about thee, and give and take no quarter with thy enemies, that it is unsafe for thy friends to be near thee. If there be any of the language of friendship in thy letter, it is only like oil to make the edge more keen. If the voice be anywhere like Jacob's, the hands are Esau's. Thou art grown a "rough public man," sure enough. I say I could bear even this from thee (for I know both my own heart and thine), and if the affair lay only between ourselves, there might sometime be an end of it. But thy mention of my interfering in thy domestic connections, and dragging the partner of thy bed and the softener of thy busy scenes of life into a newspaper, is wounding to the last degree. Whatever thou art pleased to think of me, I have, perhaps, and (for aught I know) ever had as great a delicacy in these matters as any man. Look into that ill-advised impertinent paper which I stupidly wrote, and see is there anything that offends against the nicest delicacy. The truth is, this paper and conduct of mine will, like most other things, bear a double construction. Taking a full view of it altogether, I cannot be reckoned exceeding criminal; view it in a partial light, luce maligna, and it will be deemed thy great misfortune that in the early part of thy life thou happened to have had any connection with such low companions and indiscreet friends. I do in the sincerest and most earnest manner beg forgiveness of thy amiable companion-the bosom friend of my friend-for having written anything that could give her the most distant cause of uneasiness. As to any of her house being offended with me for taking the liberty of delineating thy character, be it known to them that not one of them all, nor, I believe, any man living, more zealously, more affectionately, more assiduously seeks and desires the welfare of Ned Burke than I do; and though in a way which neither he nor they may know much about, I am sure it is in sincerity, and I trust not altogether in vain. What is flattery to fools is plain-dealing and truth to a man of sense, and a man of sense will not be hurt by it. The talents which God has given thee, the powers which thou hast displayed, the high ground on which thou standest, have rendered thee an object of public admiration -they that hate thee yet admire thee. Hence naturally follows envy. Why wouldst thou expect to escape it? Thou knowest far better than I how the greatest men among the Gentiles felt and lamented it. The first apostle among the Christians says he approved himself in his office "by honour and dishonour, by evil report, and good report, as a deceiver and yet true." Wert thou my inferior or my equal, I might indulge in expatiating on this and such topics, but then I look up to thee, thou seemest so thoroughly to have anticipated in thy observation and experience all that I could say upon the subject, that anything that I could drop would appear to myself more like the trite commonplace declamation of a conceited country pedant who loved to hear himself prate, than the pertinent and seasonable remarks of a rational friend. I will therefore have done.
I am sorry we must lend Richard to the barbarians on the other side