Edmund Burke.

Correspondence of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; between the year 1744 and the period of his decease, in 1797 (Volume 2) online

. (page 11 of 27)
Online LibraryEdmund BurkeCorrespondence of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; between the year 1744 and the period of his decease, in 1797 (Volume 2) → online text (page 11 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

to continue so.

I should deceive you grossly, if I suggested the
most distant idea of my being able to do you any
essential service ; but I should be no less unjust
to myself, if I suffered you to entertain a moment's
doubt, that whatever is in my power is at your
command. It is possible that Mr. Rumbold may
be disposed to oblige me. Shall I try how far
that idea may be well founded ? A time may come,
and perhaps he may think so, when I may have
an opportunity of acknowledging his kindness to
you. Yet it is really difficult to know what to ask
for any person not in the Company's service. Mr.
Whitehill, if he does nothing else, may at least
give you good advice ; that is, he may point out
to you what you ought to ask for, and then I would
fairly try my utmost strength with Rumbold. If
all fails, and you find at last, for I would not
easily give it up, that nothing will answer on the
coast, I can offer you, in this house, a quiet, if not
a happy retreat from any circumstance, or situation
there, which you cannot, or ought not, to submit


to. Your reception here will be a hearty one at
least, if it promises nothing more. I do not say
that the prospect will not be a gloomy one in this
country ; but I flatter myself there may still be
some scattered rays of hope to enliven it. This is
all I can venture to say at present. Whenever
I can say more, with any tolerable confidence of
being able to make it good, I shall do it without

Mr. Edmund Burke's letter cannot be answered
these two months. From the sentiments I have
endeavoured to express in this letter, you may
judge whether I am capable of slighting a request
of his.

I do not wish you to meddle with our damned
politics. Indeed, I wish my enemy no worse than
to experience what I have done within the last
three years. If every relation between guilt and
punishment be not absolutely dissolved, a time
I think will come when they who now triumph
over me will tremble, if they do not repent. Ap-
pearances are yet in their favour, but I still hope
that I shall rise with lustre out of this fire.

The motions of the Court of Directors are more
than commonly mysterious with respect to our
affairs. I have some suspicion, however, from the
contents of their letter to Sir John Clavering, of
which I inclose you a copy, that vigorous mea-
sures may yet be taken to support me.


Be so good as to communicate this paper, with
my compliments, to Mr. Whitehill, and to any
body else you think proper.

I am, &c.,



Bayfordbury, near Hertford,
October 9, 1777.


Though I am not much of an enthusiast, yet as
I have never yet despaired of the cause in which
we are engaged, I cannot but hope that, against
the ensuing session, our friends will have had so
much foresight as to form something like a plan
for continuing that opposition, which, in my con-
science, I think is the only pledge the real friends
to their country can give of the sincerity of their
conduct. If it is asked who those are, we shall
not, I trust, differ much in the answer : Sir
George Savile, Lord Rockingham, the Cavendishes,
and yourself. What is doing among you? Six
weeks will bring the parliament together. Is the
meeting to be that of men who have not seen or
communed with each other since the end of last
session ? Or is any mode adopted, in which those
who think and have hitherto acted together may


most effectually exert their faculties to some good
end ? For I must needs confess, we seem hitherto
to have been wasting our powder in holiday fire-
works, and shall find ourselves in want of it in
the time of actual service, which this indeed is.
If you have nothing more to communicate than
that you and yours are well, I shall not think
these few lines mis-employed in producing an an-
swer. If any thing of the kind above hinted at is
seriously thought on, the knowledge of it will be
a real comfort to

Yours ever, most truly,



October 22, 1777.


The hopes I entertained that I should find an
opportunity of meeting you in town, or calling on
you in Bucks, prevented me from acknowledging
your favour of the 1 2th.

I have, indeed, long been witness to the de-
spondency of our friends. To lament it was almost
all that, in my humble and unconsequential sta-
tion, I could do. I have, indeed, sometimes gone
further, hoping that the report of what others,


with whom they had constantly acted, thought of
them, through a channel which could not be sus-
pected, might have the effect of rousing their
pride, if not their public spirit, to resolve on ap-
pearing to do something, and to seem to have
some choice even of difficulties. But their irreso-
lution has been such, that even appearances have
not been saved, nor thought worth the saving.
Rivals for popular favour have borne away all the
merit of opposition, and the minister has repeatedly
triumphed in our divisions. But this is railing ;
what is to be done ?

In consulting me, you appeal to one of Job's
comforters. For if those indeed despair, in whom
my chief hopes were placed, I fear I shall be found
not far from despair myself. But though I draw
little comfort from your letter, which, I conceive,
exhibits too gloomy a picture of our situation,
I am not totally without it ; because I think our
situation ought to be reviewed in a very different
light. If the war, indeed, in which we are un-
fortunately engaged, were never to end, I should
agree that every thing literally every thing was
committed to the issue of it. But if peace and
freedom, justice to the injured, and exemplary
punishment on the heads of the guilty, ought con-
stantly to be in the view of every honest man, we
may perhaps be excused if, in policy, we submit
for a time to events which we cannot control ;


but if we are guided by them, we shall have little
reason to value ourselves on our principles, since,
in times of action, such as these are, the only
public test of them must be our conduct. For
who will give us credit that we think or feel as we
ought, if we are not ready likewise to become mar-
tyrs for our opinions ? If the language uniformly
held by opposition, in and out of parliament, in
speeches, protests, and petitions, has meant any
thing, or is really to be understood, this has been
the tenor of it. Parliament has been unduly in-
fluenced ; the king has been deceived ; the people
abused. A combination of all three, under these
circumstances of influence, deception, and abuse,
has produced the subject of our present complaint.
Is this ruinous combination broken ? Or do any
of these motives operate in a less degree than
they did ? No ! What inducement then have we
to alter our conduct, which will not necessarily
and justly be construed an abandonment of the
principles on which we have professed to act?
Are our opinions changed ? A frank confession of
such a change would be honourable, and consider-
ing it in a public light, much good might arise
from an union of all parties, in some one course
and system of action. No ; our opinions continue
the same ; the principles on which our opinions
are founded remain unshaken. But our conduct
must be suited to the times ; that is, follow the


events of war. But the events of war are un-
certain : our conduct must then vary according to
the last Flanders mail, or New York packet. But
shall we assume that as a rule of conduct for our-
selves, who pretend to reason, which we will not
allow to direct the temper of the people, who
reason not at all, but are moved merely by their
passions? After all, I am sensible of the difficulty
which must attend an attempt to reason men out
of so inveterate a despondency, as I perceive has
seized some of the best amongst us. I will, there-
fore, add no more than this : If we are thoroughly
and conscientiously convinced, that the measures
pursuing by the court are unjustifiable in princi-
ple ; that is, are morally and intrinsically bad, and
ruinous in their consequences ; that is, would de-
stroy the happiness of a large part of mankind,
and establish a precedent for reducing the rest
to the like miserable state : if we are convinced
of this, and that the affairs of this world are under
the government of a wise and beneficent Provi-
dence, the same inward suggestions which deter-
mined us originally to resist these measures, ought
to confirm us in an inflexible, unrelenting, public,
and avowed opposition to them ; because this con-
viction, if sincere, as I suppose it, will lead us to
expect a blessing from that good Providence on
our honest endeavours for the final establishment
of truth and justice ; and, in charity, we shall


hope to see the people brought back from their
error, and unite with us in those opinions, which
we have persuaded ourselves are right. We have
waited too long in expectation of opportunities
for action ; they are in part made to our hands.
Our diligence and zeal must improve and perfect

Pardon me, my good friend, if I speak freely
what I feel heartily ; and if, according to these
feelings, I find myself obliged to act. My patriot-
ism is not so local as to induce me to wish the
country in which all my worldly interests are
centred, should prosper in a pursuit I cannot re-
concile to my notions of common sense and com-
mon justice. An individual acting on the same
principles on which Great Britain is now acting,
would either be confined as insane, or severely
punished as the worst pest of society. The punish-
ment of national delinquency is in the hand of
Heaven alone ; and we begin already to experience
some of the dreadful means used for that purpose.
No event of war can, in my opinion, change the
ground on which it commenced, the unsupportable
claim of this country to the right of taxing America
without reserve. If the utter ruin of this country
is to be the consequence of her persisting in that
claim, I am the first to say, Let her perish !

In that day of common calamity, as in these of
our mutual and, to me, most honourable friend-


ship, I shall think as I have ever done of the
great philosopher of Beconsfield ; because I am
persuaded that, under all circumstances, he will
maintain those principles and that consistency of
conduct, which have made him one of the most
amiable and illustrious characters of the age. In
the number of his constant admirers and faithful
friends, he will ever find



Beconsfield, October 31, 1777.


You will be so good as to present my best and
most affectionate compliments to our friends and
fellow-members of the Bell-Club, and assure them
of my real concern that my affairs, and the ad-
vanced and uncertain season of the year, will not
permit me to make one among them, in their
good-natured and cheerful enjoyment of our
annual festival.

The fourth of November can never return,
without giving me a pleasing sense of the high
honour I received on that day. It renews in my
memory the obligations which I have to so many


worthy friends ; and what is better, it revives
and refreshes in my mind those principles to
which I originally was indebted for their favour.
I wish that on all sides we may never forget them.
A season somewhat cloudy may try our patience
and perseverance for a time ; but I trust that a
time will come, when we may act with a little
more success, because with a little more assistance
from several of our countrymen ; from whom, by
mistakes and misconceptions of our meaning, we
have been divided ; and when a bitter experience
has taught to several those lessons of prudence
and moderation, which they would not submit to
learn from reason and foresight.

But whether the disposition of the conductors
or abettors of the present measures shall alter or
not, I trust that you will always find me upon the
same ground ; a well-wisher to the peace of my
country, and a steady friend to the liberties of all
parts of it, according to the best notions which so
limited a capacity as mine, is capable of forming
on this great subject. I will continue, to the best
of my judgment, to act as I have done; and I
have no doubt that I shall meet my friends in
parliament, animated with their ancient senti-
ments, and ready to take such a part of vigilant
observation, or vigorous action, as the time and
circumstances sh^ll require from honest experi-
enced men, who govern their principles by the

VOL. n. o


truth of things, and direct their conduct by their
opportunities. Our task is difficult ; we shall
certainly do our best. But you ought not solely
to rely on us ; for be assured, that it is not either
the members of parliament, or the men in any
other public capacity, that have made or kept a
people safe and free, if they were wanting to
themselves. If members are honest, they deserve,
and I am sure they will want support ; if they
are corrupt, they merit, and I am sure they ought
to have blame and reprehension. We are like
other men, who all want to be moved by praise or
shame; by reward and punishment. We must
be encouraged by our constituents, and we must
be kept in awe of them, or we never shall do
our duty as we ought. Believe me, it is a great
truth, that there never was, for any long time,
a corrupt representative of a virtuous people ; or
a mean, sluggish, careless people that ever had a
good government of any form. If it be true in
any degree, that the governors form the people,
I am certain it is as true that the people in their
turn impart their character to their rulers. Such
as you are, sooner or later, must parliament be.
I therefore wish that you, at least, would not
suffer yourselves to be amused by the style, now
grown so common, of railing at the corruption of
members of parliament. This kind of general
invective has no kind of effect, that I know of,


but to make you think ill of that very institution,
which, do what you will, you must religiously
preserve, or you must give over all thoughts of
being a free people. An opinion of the indiscri-
minate corruption of the House of Commons,
will, at length, induce a disgust of parliaments.
They are the corrupters themselves, who circulate
this general charge of corruption. It is they that
have an interest in confounding all distinctions,
and involving the whole in one general charge.
They hope to corrupt private life by the example
of the public; and having produced a despair,
from a supposed general failure of principles, they
hope that they may persuade you, that since it is
impossible to do any good, you may as well have
your share in the profits of doing ill.

Where there are towards six hundred persons,
with much temptation and common frailty, many
will undoubtedly be moved from the line of duty.
But I have told you before, and I am not afraid to
repeat it, that there are many more amongst us
who are free from all sorts of corruption, and of a
more excellent public spirit, than could well be
expected. Since there is this difference, it is the
business of the constituents to distinguish what it
is the policy of some to confound. When you
find men that you ought to trust, you must give
them support ; else it is not them that you desert,
but yourselves that you betray. Nor is it at all

o 2


difficult to make this distinction. The way to do
it is quite plain and simple. It is to be attentive
to the conduct of men, and to judge of them by
their actions, and by nothing else.

It is true that many of our brethren, from their
habits of life, and their not being on the actual
scene of business, are not capable of forming an
opinion upon every several question of law or
politics, or, of course, of determining on a man's
conduct with relation to such questions. But
every man in the club, and every man in the same
situation in the kingdom, is perfectly capable, as
capable as if he were a minister of state or a
chief-justice, of determining whether public men
look most to their own interest or to yours ; or
whether they act an uniform, clear, manly part in
their station ; whether the main drift of their
counsels, for any series of years, be wise or foolish,
or whether things go well or ill in their hands.

You will, therefore, not listen to those who tell
you that these matters are above you, and ought
to be left entirely to those into whose hands the
king has put them. The public interest is more
your business than theirs ; and it is from want of
spirit, and not from want of ability, that you can
become wholly unfit to argue or to judge upon it.
For in this very thing lies the difference between
freemen, and those that are not free. In a free
country, every man thinks he has a concern in all


public matters ; that he has a right to form, and
a right to deliver an opinion upon them. They
sift, examine, and discuss them. They are curious,
eager, attentive, and jealous ; and by making such
matters the daily subjects of their thoughts and
discoveries, vast numbers contract a very tolerable
knowledge of them, and some a very considerable
one. And this it is that fills free countries with
men of ability in all stations. Whereas, in other
countries, none but men whose office calls them
it having much care or thought about public
affairs, and not daring to try the force of their
opinions with one another, ability of this sort is
extremely rare in any station of life. In free
countries, there is often found more real public
wisdom and sagacity in shops and manufactories,
than in the cabinets of princes in countries where
none dares to have an opinion until he comes into
them. Your whole importance, therefore, depends
upon a constant, discreet use of your own reason ;
otherwise you and your country sink to nothing.
If upon any particular occasion you should be
roused, you will not know what to do. Your fire
will be a fire in straw, fitter to waste and consume
yourselves, than to warm or enliven any thing else.
You will be only a giddy mob, upon whom no sort
of reliance is to be had. You may disturb your
country, but you never can reform your govern-
ment. In other nations, they have for some time


indulged themselves in a larger use of this manly
liberty, than formerly they dared 4 .


Beconsfield, November 5, 1777.


This may possibly reach you before you set out on
your journey southward, and I hope but a little
time before you begin to move. I have not seen
or heard from very many of your lordship's friends ;
but I know that some of the most zealously-
attached to you, and to the common cause, are
earnest that something systematic may be deter-
mined on, before we walk into the great rooms at
Westminster. In particular, I have received some
very earnest and anxious letters from Baker, on
that subject. I confess that, for my own part, I
do most perfectly agree with your lordship in every
particular of your letter. No man, I believe, less
chooses to determine any part of his principles by
events : but our conduct must be so governed ;
because the people by whom and for whom we

4 The continuation of this letter has not been found. What
is now published is taken from a draft in Mr. Burke's own


do and ought to work, are entirely governed by
nothing else. We have, indeed, nothing for our
present comfort, and no source for our future
hope, but by preserving our reputation, which
cannot be done by the innocence of our intentions,
but by the rational activity of our exertions. To
make our activity rational, there must be some
disposition in the minds of the many to co-
operate, and something or other conspiring in the
circumstances. None of these occur. The wild
tumult of joy that the news of Sunday caused
in the minds of all sorts of people 5 , indicates
nothing right in their character and disposition.
Yet as the few who are not to be moved, want
comfort, it will be necessary not to carry the
appearance of too much despondency ; but to
appear to be doing something, lest they should
conclude, perhaps sooner than they ought, that
nothing can be done. And your lordship knows
but too well, what a propensity there is in every
routed party to throw the blame of their mis-
fortunes upon something improperly done, or
omitted, by those who lead them. There is, in-
deed, among your friends an unusual spirit, which
would counteract that natural propensity, if they
were left to themselves. But there are persons

5 The capture of Philadelphia by the British troops, Oct.
3rd of this year.


who do nothing themselves, and complain a great
deal, who, to my knowledge, labour day and night
to infuse jealousies and uneasiness amongst them ;
on this sole principle, that there is too much lan-
guor, inactivity, and remissness in the whole tenor
of our character. That they succeed to some
degree, I know to a certainty. Several of our
friends that are very high amongst us, and ought
to be still higher than they are, and assume more
lead than they do, are of opinion that these malig-
nant endeavours signify nothing ; and that, after
all, men's reputation will depend on their own
conduct, and not on the representations of others.
I am quite of that sentiment, provided you allow
ten or a dozen years for the operation. But, in the
mean time, opportunities are gone, and the fate
of nations and systems decided. In my thoughts,
a practical reputation, to do any good, must be in
possession, not in expectancy, and must co-exist
with every moment of our action. I say all this,
because, though I heartily concur in the very
sound and wise principles of your lordship's letter,
yet I would have the temporizing which I know to
be necessary, rather evident to others, than pro-
posed by you ; and that it should seem the result
of prudence, rather than of complexion. Let
people stand still, but let them stop themselves,
rather by the great dyke before them than your
bridle. Lord Chatham's figure has been for some


time exposed to several ; the blood of St. Janu-
arius began to liquefy. He was perfectly alive ;
very full of conversation ; nowise communicative ;
and fully resolved to go down to the House of
Lords on the first day of the session. But I am
afraid that the present American news will put as
many folds of flannel about him, as there are
linen fillets about an Egyptian mummy ; but like
a true obeyer of the laws, he will be buried in
woollen. Adieu, my lord, God bless you. Re-
member my most humble duty to my Lady
Rockingham. Here I am, ready for your com-
mands as usual ; and ever, with the most sincere
and affectionate attachment,

My dear lord,

Your lordship's much obliged and obedient

humble servant,


Sunday, December 9, 1777.


The fate of my worthy and unhappy friend, the
brave General Burgoyne, and his whole army, must
be a subject of a very melancholy interest to this
country, in whatsoever light it may be considered ;
and nothing but the success of that army in wasting


and ruining a country, just beginning to emerge
from a hideous desert by the indefatigable industry
of its inhabitants, could be more deplorable. But
such must be the events of a war, from the very
nature of which no sort of good whatsoever to any
side would, or ever could, possibly arise. The minis-
ter for America himself begins at length to see it in
its true light, and has explicitly declared that, if
it could be conquered and reduced to obedience
against the will of its inhabitants, the attempt to
hold it under such circumstances would be ruinous
to this country, and that we had much better be
rid of it. I was always of that opinion, and most
heartily wished that we could have seen this most
evident truth by its own light, and not have been
driven to grope our way to it through so much
expense of blood and treasure, through so many
calamities and disgraces.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Online LibraryEdmund BurkeCorrespondence of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; between the year 1744 and the period of his decease, in 1797 (Volume 2) → online text (page 11 of 27)