Edmund Burke.

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

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than by the support of the most orthodox tenets
in the world.

You will have the goodness to excuse this letter,
which, though long, is written in the midst of
some hurry of business. You will take its length
as a mark of my respect, and its plainness as a
proof of my sincerity and regard.

I am, sir,

Your most obedient and humble servant,



Westminster, April 17, 1779.


I am honoured with your letter of the 13th of
April. In conformity to your wishes, I will attend
the African business, which, though, in this session,
I did not oppose, I never could approve. By
vigilance and activity, and some degree of firm-
ness, I was on a former occasion enabled to defeat
that pernicious scheme. I was, indeed, astonished
at the support it then met with. A report came
from the board of trade, manifestly calculated to


give a preference to the scheme of monopoly. It
was, indeed, utterly unfounded in fact, being
directly contrary to the circumstances of that
branch of commerce, which you state so very truly
in your letter ; and it was conceived throughout
in (what appeared to me) the grossest ignorance
of every commercial principle ; yet coming from
an authorized, however incapable, office, it must
produce some effect. What was of more conse-
quence, the town of Liverpool gave countenance
to the proceedings thus carried on against the
conduct of the present open trade ; and several
among my constituents thought proper to appear,
with great warmth and vehemence, on the same
side of the question. Observing such a spirit in
those whose interest was most immediately con-
cerned, and having found by experience that there
are many things which people, in some sorts of
temper, will not be taught but by feeling, I was
resolved to decline all further attendance on a
business which brought me nothing but ill-will,
where I had reason to expect a very different effect
of my endeavours. As I am now called back to
it by the most respectable encouragement, I shall
at your desire attend to this scheme of a monopoly,
and endeavour to oppose it to the best of my
power. But that power has been so weakened by
the countenance the project has received from
several who were concerned in the trade, that I


must request the support of your body by a peti-
tion to the House, if an inclination should appear
to carry it into execution.

Whenever I find an abuse, I am not (I trust) a
man to protect it, with regard either to things or
persons, or to put myself in opposition to any
rational plan of reformation. I have examined
very fully into this business. It cost me some
time and trouble on the former discussions. The
result has been, that I did not find the existence
of the abuses which, in general terms, had been
so much complained of, to be authenticated in
almost any particular. Many things stated as
grievances, were some of them the causes, and
others of them the necessary and beneficial effects,
of the flourishing state in which that trade stood,
about the beginning of the present unhappy trou-
bles. The forts in Africa were, indeed, in a very
bad condition ; but when I considered the number
of them, and compared it with the expense allotted
by parliament, not only for them, but for the sup-
port of the whole establishment, I knew of no
other administration that, at much greater expense,
had, on the whole, answered the purpose so well.
I must tell you, that the scale of the establishment
in Africa must be very greatly contracted, or the
charge very much increased, else their condition
will be much worse than it hitherto has been, let
the management be in whose hands it may. I


speak on a supposition, that we are at present in
possession of them.

I never could prevail on myself to enter into
the two projects then proposed for amendment.
To put the forts into the immediate management
of the crown, did not appear to me (whatever
else such a scheme might have to recommend it)
to be very promising as a plan of economy, be-
cause (to go no further, for example,) I had the
expense of Senegambia directly before me ; and,
as to the institution of a monopoly, whether in-
tended for the further improvement of a flourish-
ing trade, or for the re-establishment of a declining
commerce, it seemed, in either case, to be a very
injudicious and a very dangerous course. If the
African trade was in so good condition, as to be
susceptible of detriment by any management, the
degree of tampering which was then used would
have hurt it already.

It would be well if gentlemen, before they
joined in a cry against any establishment, had well
considered for what purpose that cry is raised. If
they will not use that precaution, they may be
made accessaries to designs very opposite to their
interests. I am, therefore, much against listening
to loose, indeterminate complaints. A specific
misconduct, brought home to a particular man, is
always to be attended to. Powers of a mischievous
nature, though given by law, or if not given by


law, assumed without such authority, are always
very proper matter of complaint. But then they
ought to be distinctly stated, and the redress de-
sired made agreeable to the true nature of the
grievance ; that is, to charge that fault on the law
which belongs to the law, and on men, their own
abuses. I say this, because, on a former occasion,
gentlemen came to me with loud and passionate
complaints against persons, for doing what, by law,
they were authorized to do ; and with invectives
against men in public trust, upon no better foun-
dation than general ill opinion, or suspicions of
their own. When things are so confounded, as
by you I am persuaded they will never be, great
advantage is given to all sorts of projectors, whose
vague ideas of reformation will be more readily
listened to, when vague complaints of abuses are
once admitted. I for one, upon these general ideas,
or upon any mere speculations whatsoever, am an
enemy to a change in any establishment. I should,
therefore, wish that in this business, if it be seri-
ously pursued in the House, I may be favoured
with your sober and well-digested correspondence.
I shall always receive your commands on this,
and on every other occasion, with the greatest
pleasure ; and have the honour to be, with great
regard and esteem,

Sir, your most obedient and humble servant,




Edinburgh, April 24, 1779.


My presuming to write to you is occasioned by a
memorial to the public, in behalf of the Roman
Catholics of Edinburgh and Glasgow, where the
unhappy riots last February, in these cities, are
ascribed, among other causes, to the inflammatory
sermons and pamphlets of the clergy.

Before these riots only three pamphlets were
published by clergymen of the Church of Scotland,
on the subject of the popish bill ; Mr. Porteus's,
Dr. M'Farlane's, and your correspondent's. They
are sent to you along with this, that you may
judge what spirit they breathe, and what pretences
to honour, or conscience, those have, who charge
them with encouraging disorder and riot.

Equally false and malicious is the accusation of
inflammatory sermons, at least as to the clergy-
men in Edinburgh and the suburbs, most zealous
against the popish bill. No set of men felt or
expressed a deeper sorrow, and a warmer indigna-
tion, at these unchristian and disorderly proceed-
ings. The publishers of the memorial have, there-
fore, judged wisely, in not sending that pamphlet
to the shops of Edinburgh, where it must have
done their cause so essential hurt.


Pardon my solicitude not to be deemed a fanatic,
or a firebrand, by a gentleman whose wisdom and
eloquence I admire, and whose honest exertion
of them, in opposition to the fatal American mea-
sures, I honour and approve. Much reproach
have I suffered for my feeble efforts in the same
cause, in three pamphlets, of which I beg your
acceptance. They were not dictated by hatred of
men in power, and much less is the part I have
taken in the popery question instigated by aver-
sion to those in the opposition. I am a Protes-
tant in politics, and believe that the ablest and
most virtuous statesmen have erred, and may err.

This will be delivered to you by Lord Balgonie,
a sensible and worthy young nobleman ; and I am
confident, whatever fault you may find with this
epistle, or with the spirit of the Scotch clergy,
you will not be displeased that one of such a
character is ambitious of being introduced to you.
I am with sincere respect, sir,

Your obedient humble servant,



April, 1779.


I am Lonoured with your very obliging letter, by
Lord Balgonie, together with the four pieces which
you were so good as to send along with it. Nothing
but the urgency of public business could prevent
me from immediately waiting on Lord Balgonie,
to pay my respects to his lordship, and to make
my acknowledgments to him for his polite atten-
tion on the occasion ; and I am to thank you, sir,
for giving me an opportunity of being known to a
person, whose character must make every one
ambitious of his acquaintance.

The sentiments expressed in your pamphlet, so
far as they regard the affairs of America, are such
as do you great honour; and I am happy to find
the propriety of my sentiments confirmed by a
man of your talents. But you will be so indul-
gent as to excuse me, in differing with you ex-
tremely in other points. For, without presuming
to censure you, who have undoubtedly much bet-
ter reasons for all your opinions than I am able to
give for mine, I should think myself inconsistent,
in not applying my ideas of civil liberty to reli-
gious ; and that, when I could so far subdue the
ambition natural to mankind, by giving up, as I


did with great cheerfulness, very flattering powers
and very colourable rights, of the nation of which
I am a citizen, and of the legislature of which I
am a member, in favour of the happiness of a very
distant part of mankind, I should find it difficult
to trace the order and connexion of my own prin-
ciples, if I denied an indulgence to the speculative
opinions of my near neighbours and immediate
countrymen, when it was to be done without
abandoning any one object of honour or profit. I
wish, with you, that we may not be so far English-
men and Scotchmen, as to forget we are men ; or,
(I am sorry to be obliged to wish without you,)
even so far presbyterians, or episcopalians, or
catholics, as to forget we are Christians, which is
our common bond of religion while we are distin-
guished into sects, as the former is when we are
divided into states. I assure you that, though I
am by choice, as well as education and habit, a
very attached son of the Church of England, I
think myself bound not to wish to persecute you,
sir, who probably differ from me in many points,
and full as little to persecute any Roman Catholic,
who has altogether as good a right to claim a
share in my respect and benevolence, as even you,
sir; and no man, I am sure, can have a better title
to universal esteem and regard. I hope, too, that
you will not think it any sort of derogation from
the deference I ought to pay to your judgment,


that I am bound rather to take my opinion of
men's principles from themselves, than from you.
I keep at the same time, I assure you, very just
weights and measures ; and as I do not form an
estimate of the ideas of the churches of Italy and
France from the pulpits of Edinburgh, so I shall
certainly not apply to the consistory at Rome, or
to the College of the Sorbonne, for the doctrines
of the Kirk of Scotland. I have lived long
enough, and largely enough in the world, to know
for certain, that the religion which (I believe
most firmly) the Divine wisdom has thought
proper to introduce, for its improvement, not for
its depravation, contains in all its parts, (perhaps
I am presumptuous in thinking so, but, mixed as
T think they are all with a great deal of human
imperfections,) so much of good, as not wholly
to disappoint the wise purposes for which it was
intended, and abundantly to merit my esteem and
veneration. I think so of the whole Christian
church ; having, at the same time, that respect
for all the other religions, even such as have mere
human reason for their origin, and which men as
wise and good as I, profess, that I could not
justify to myself to give to the synagogue, the
mosque, or the pagoda, the language which your
pulpits so liberally bestow upon a great part of
the Christian world.

If, on this account, people call me a Roman


Catholic, it gives me not the smallest disturbance.
They do me too much honour, who will aggregate
me as a member to any of these illustrious socie-
ties ; for I do not aspire to the glory of being
a zealot for any particular national Church, until
I can be quite sure I can do it honour by my
doctrine or my life, or in some better way than
by a passionate proceeding, against those who are
of another description. I am not yet ripe for
such confidence in myself.

I have read the pamphlets and sermons you
have sent me. They are in many respects wrote
with the ability and skill to be expected from
men who are in the exercise of authority over
the mind ; but I am somewhat surprised that you
should think they serve as proofs of the moderation
of the writers and preachers, and that they had
no tendency to encourage violence against the
objects of their sanguinary invectives. If I had
the ability and wish, for that purpose (of raising
popular insurrections), I could not imagine any
thing more elaborately composed from all the
resources of skill and eloquence, for the purpose
of inflaming the minds of the people, than those
writings you have sent me ; and it is not a short,
slight caution, for moderating the effects of our
hatred, or a refinement on the difference between
a detestation of the man's principles and love to
his person, that can save him from the effects of


inflamed passions. To represent men, as danger-
ous, immoral, perfidious, murderers, and professed
enemies to the very foundations of human society,
and then to desire us to do them no evil, is,
under favour, rather a piece of very insulting
pleasantry, than a serious admonition.

It would, however, be unfair, to attribute the
robberies, burnings, and other outrages committed,
to these sermons, because all these enormities
were perpetrated before the sermons were
preached ; and there were, afterwards, few or no
persons or houses of any mark or note, or any
quantity of valuable goods left, where the popu-
lace could exert their zeal; but I cannot be
equally sure that some similar writings, or dis-
courses, were not the very natural cause of those
unhappy disorders ; nor can I by any means
agree with Dr. M'Farlane, in thinking that men,
who wish to free themselves from the terror of
penal laws, and the odium of being the object of
them, can be said to bring their misfortunes on
themselves, when, on that account, a furious
set of bigoted miscreants choose to rob them
and burn their houses. I really should be shocked
at that reverend gentleman's assertion, if I consi-
dered it as a deliberate position, or any more
than an effect of that sudden heat which, at times,
surprises the good sense of the most prudent and
equitable men.


But I really find I have trespassed, I fear, very
unwarrantably, on your time ; especially as all
discourse on the subject is, for the present, super-
fluous. The matter of the contest is over, for
this year. You have obtained in Scotland a
victory over those who differed from you in opi-
nion. In England, we are still better off; for we
have obtained two victories, though of a very
different nature ; victories, not over our adver-
saries, but over our own passions and prejudices :
having passed, last session, one bill for the relief
of Roman Catholics; and, in this session, a bill
in favour of Protestant dissenting Christians ;
among whom there are many of your discipline
and persuasion 2 .

On this latter, sir, you will permit me to con-
gratulate you most sincerely. Having agreed
with you so cordially as I do, in your liberal, wise,
and truly whiggish principles, in many respects,
it is with much pain I find myself obliged to
dissent in any other. But I have endeavoured so
to cultivate my mind, that I shall in every thing
consider an agreement of sentiment as a much
better ground of friendship, without making a
difference a reason for enmity. I am, with very

2 " An act for the further relief of protestant dissenting-
ministers and schoolmasters," received the royal assent on
the 18th May ; no relaxation of the popery -laws was proposed
this year.



real respect and esteem, and with many thanks
for the honour you do me,

Your most obedient and humble servant,



May 25, 1779.


I do most heartily congratulate you on your enjoy-
ment of the greatest good fortune which can at-
tend our time of life. I mean a retreat from care
and toil, with the view of a child entering into
active life, with a fair prospect, in his turn, of
enjoying the same repose, and in the same place.
If I had less interest than I really have in this
situation of your affairs, merely as a situation, it
could not fail to give me pleasure. May you
grow more and more pleased with the satisfaction
which you so well deserve, both you and your
excellent wife ! Give, in my name, all sorts of
felicitation to the third Shackleton, who, I have
no doubt, will fill his place as well as the two
first, and better he cannot. That young gentle-
man has been always a very great favourite of
mine, on account of his excellent good parts, and
the openness and liberality of nature that I ob-
served in him. These dispositions will insure much
happiness to you and to himself, and will enable


him to supply many virtuous and useful citizens
to his country. I hope he will help to fill up the
succession of the world, in its progress to better
things, public and private, than we have the for-
tune to see at this moment. Your solicitude
about my son is very kind and flattering to us
both. It does not become me to sav all I think


of him. My partiality may naturally influence my
judgment in such a case. But to you, I may per-
haps be allowed to express myself, as I think and
as I feel, on any subject. I thank God, he much
more than answers my hopes of him. I do not
know how I could wish him to be, in any parti-
cular whatsoever, other than what he is. He has
been, for some time, in the inns of court ; and
intends himself for that profession which is so
leading in this country, and which has this peculiar
advantage, that even a failure in it stands almost
as a sort of qualification for other things. Whether
he will ever desire, or ever have it in his choice,
to engage further in public affairs, is more than
I am able to foresee. If he should, I am sure
that your kind admonitions will have their full
effect, upon a constitution of mind very well dis-
posed to receive every lesson of virtue. What you
say about his engaging in parties may be right, for
any thing I know to the contrary. The nature,
composition, objects, and quality of the parties
which may exist in his time, or in the form of


commonwealth he may live to see, are not easy to
be guessed at. It must be wholly left to himself,
and must depend upon the future state of things,
and the situation in which he is found relatively to
them. " Humana qua parte locatus es in re" is
the best rule, both in morals and in prudence ; and
the progressive sagacity that keeps company with
times and occasions, and decides upon things in
their existing position, is that alone which can
give true propriety, grace, and effect to a man's
conduct. It is very hard to anticipate the occa-
sion, and to live by a rule more general. As to
parties, there is much discussion about them in
political morality ; but, whatever their merits may
be, they have always existed, and always will ;
and, as far as my own observation has gone, I have
observed but three kinds of men that have kept
out of them: Those who profess nothing but a
pursuit of their own interest, and who avow their
resolution of attaching themselves to the present
possession of power, in whose-ever hands it is, or
however it may be used: The other sort are
ambitious men, of light or no principles, who, in
their turns, make use of all parties ; and, there-
fore, avoid entering into what may be construed
an engagement with any. Such was, in a great
measure, the late Earl of Chatham, who expected
a very blind submission of men to him, without
considering himself as having any reciprocal obli-


gation to them. It is true that he very often
rewarded such submission in a very splendid man-
ner, but with very little marks of respect or regard
to the objects of his favour ; and as he put con-
fidence in no man, he had very few feelings of
resentment against those who the most bitterly
opposed or most basely betrayed him : The third
sort is hardly worth mentioning, being composed
only of four or five country gentlemen of little
efficiency in public business. It is but a few days
ago, that a very wise and a very good man (the
Duke of Portland) said to me, in a conversation
on this subject, that he never knew any man dis-
claim party, who was not of a party that he was
ashamed of. But thus much I allow, that men
ought to be circumspect, and cautious of entering
into this species of political relation ; because it
cannot easily be broken without loss of reputation,
nor (many times) persevered in without giving up
much of that practicability which the variable
nature of affairs may require, as well as of that
regard to a man's own personal consideration,
which (in a due subordination to public good) a
man may very fairly aim at. All acting in corps
tends to reduce the consideration of an individual
who is of any distinguished value. As to myself,
and the part I have taken in my time, I appre-
hend there was very Httle choice. Things soon
fell into two very distinct systems. The principle


upon which this empire was to be governed made
a discrimination of the most marked nature. I
cannot think that I have been in the wrong so far
as the public was concerned ; and as to my own
annihilation by it, with regard to all the objects of
man in public life, it is of too small importance
to spend many words upon it. In the course I
have taken, I have met, and do daily meet, so
many vexations, that I may with truth assure you,
that my situation is any thing rather than envia-
ble, though it is my happiness to act with those
that are far the best that probably ever were
engaged in the public service of this country at
any time. So little satisfaction have I, that I
should not hesitate a moment to retire from public
business, if I were not in some doubt of the right
a man has, that goes a certain length in those
things ; and if it were not from an observation,
that there are often obscure vexations and con-
tests in the most private life, which may as effec-
tually destroy a man's peace, as any thing which
may happen in public contentions. Adieu, my
dear friend ; enjoy your natural and deserved hap-
piness ; renew mine, and my wife's best wishes to
Mrs. Shackleton and the young pair. Both Richards
join most cordially in them.

I am always, my dear Shackleton,

Yours, affectionately and faithfully,



St. Stephen's Chapel,

Tuesday, June 15, 1779.


We have got into a new house, in which I hope
we shall have more success ; though we can
hardly have more internal satisfaction than we
have had in the old. We hope we shall soon see
you in the present habitation, in order to make
it, in every respect, as happy as the former. We

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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 15 of 27)