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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stances which set his mind at ease. This, with
the taking of Rhode-Island, which gives them a
fit post for harassing America both by land and
sea, for this whole winter, and the loss of the small
continental fleet inevitable, either by their own
hands or ours, makes the condition of the colonies
appear at this time with a far worse aspect than
they have done from the beginning. But whether
this will induce any thing approaching to an im-
mediate submission, I think very hard to divine ;
except in this affair of Rixon, I do not see- the
least appearance of it ; but Rixon's embassy, if he
is sent by Lord Stormont at Franklin's desire, is
something. On the whole, a degree of caution
is to be used, where much property and consider-
able risks in trade may depend upon these specu-
lations. Government will no doubt make the
fortunes of all their creatures, by the earliest intel-
ligence to them.

I have not had time, nor indeed have I now, to
write to you on the subject of the Bristol fire,
and the infamous use made of it with you, and
with us in this town. One piece of advice I give
you ; which is, not to suffer yourselves to be run
away with, or to be made involuntary instruments of
propagating reports, which your enemies have con-


trived in order to do you mischief. Sir Abraham
Elton, in answer to my letter to the mayor, sends
me a paragraph from the Bristol paper, as an
authentic account of the business, containing a
forged anonymous letter, with some scandalous re-
flections on it. Without discovering any intention
to proceed further, which may give them an alarm;
if any of the papers of that day remain in the
printer's hands, get somebody to buy one, in order
to furnish legal proof of his having published it.
If not, find out somebody who has bought it at
his house or shop, or some other sufficient proof
of his having published by himself, or his servant,
that specific paper. I shall certainly take the
opinion of counsel on it. Be assured, that the
wickedest designs are on foot. You do not, from
your own integrity and innocence, suspect half
enough the villany of others. Examine minutely
into the evidence from the beginning. See who
deposes to the finding the combustibles on board
the ships, and in the houses ; and if you find, as
I suspect in some cases you certainly will, that
there is no certain evidence to many of the facts
alleged as certain, then endeavour to trace the
reports to their authors. Observe that the ma-
nagers of these findings, depositions, &c. &c., are,
as far as I can see, your enemies. Do, for God's
sake, examine into these things ; for these stories
do incredible mischief. Have you seen the papier-

L 2


mdche snuff-box ? and in whose hands is it ?
Pray let me hear from you soon. Remember me
affectionately to our worthy and spirited Paul 3 ,
and Noble, and to all our friends.

Yours, &c.


Monday night.


February, 1777.


We shall publish no declaration. I am sorry for
it, though many are of opinion that the time does
not serve. I believe I shall write to you at
Bristol. Many ask why I did not attend the
habeas-corpw ; because I did not like the bill 4 ,
nor any of the proposed or accepted amendments;
and I should have the former to oppose against
the majority, and the latter against a great part of
the minority. I stay away from this, as I do from
all public business, because I know I can do no
sort of good by attending; but think, and am

3 Mr. Paul Farr ; he and Mr. Noble were considerable
merchants in Bristol, and attached friends of Mr. Burke.

* A bill to enable his majesty to detain and secure persons
charged with high treason in America, or on the seas for
piracy. It received the royal assent on the 3rd of March.


sure, I should do the work of that faction which
is ruining us, by keeping up debate, and helping
to make those things plausible for a time which
are destructive in their nature. The House never
made so poor a figure as in the debate on that
bill. The minister gave, he retracted, and he gave
again, with a sure majority to vote for his conces-
sion, retraction, or reconcession. His own opinion,
though not steady to itself for a moment, decided.
Never was a business so disgraceful to any govern-
ment. I am called away.

Ever yours,



April 3, 1777.


I sent to town, this morning, my letter to the
sheriff of Bristol, fairly copied out, and with such
corrections as the time would admit. Indeed, the
continual interruptions under which it was written,
required a much more accurate revisal. But if it
is likely to be at all useful, it is far better that it
should be early in its appearance than late, with
such perfection as I am capable of giving it;
which is undoubtedly such as never could com-
pensate for any delay.


I have shown the letter to Lord Rockingham,
Mr. Fox, Sir George Savile, and to Mr. Ellis.
They are all of opinion it may be of consi-
derable use. Mr. Fox only objected to one thing ;
which seemed, though very gently, to lean on the
part he had taken in the habeas-corpus. Lord
Rockingham's and Sir George's objections were
only from delicacy with regard to what is said of
themselves. These did not seem to me sufficient
reasons for suppressing what they had in other
respects approved.

You will be so good as to communicate the
paper to the sheriffs ; but so as to lose as little
time as possible in the publication. I think neither
of them will differ from me in opinion very
materially; but if they should, they are not
responsible for the sentiments of any person who
chooses to address a letter to them. In the general
line of politics we must be of nearly the same way
of thinking. I know that some of our friends are
fearful of giving offence to the tories. If we did
so by any indecent personality, we should be
greatly to blame. But we ought not to omit
any means of strengthening, encouraging, or in-
forming our friends, for fear of displeasing those
whom no management can ever reconcile to our
way of thinking. When we speak only of things,
not persons, we have a right to express ourselves
with all possible energy ; and if any one is of-


fended, he only shows how improper that conduct
has been, which he cannot bear to be represented
in its true colours. Besides, this little piece,
though addressed to my constituents, is written to
the public. Would to God that there were none
of the factious addresses to be found any where
else than in Bristol! Many things want to be
explained to the nation, which they either never
have adverted to, or forget in the rapid succession
of the late unhappy events.

The piece ought to be entitled 5 " A Letter from
Edmund Burke, Esq., to John Farr and John
Harris, Esqrs., Sheriffs of Bristol, on the late
Laws relating to America ;" or, " on the Affairs of
America," whichever you like. Let it be decently,
but above all, correctly printed. Or, whether the
title of " A Letter from E. B., member for Bristol,

to , Esqrs., sheriffs of that city,"

without saying on what subject, would not be suf-
ficient, I leave to you to judge. Adieu ; I am
called away. Remember me to our friends, and
believe me ever faithfully yours, &c.


s It is published in the third volume of the works, octavo



April 4, 1777.


Long ago you must have apprehended, from
Gazette accounts, that America was subdued. It
is still in arms, or in rebellion, if the minister
pleases, and will remain so to eternity, notwith-
standing any efforts that Britain can make to sup-
press that rebellion. Never were a people so
metamorphosed. The plain farmer and even the
plain quaker is become a soldier, a man of iron,
armed at all points, despising danger, and pray-
ing for another frolic, as they call it, with Howe
and his red-coats. I can easily perceive that the
fleet may come up Delaware as far as Chester;
and the army may possibly dodge General Wash-
ington, and get along as far as Philadelphia. This
is, perhaps, the only event that can ensure their
destruction ; for if they ever come to this town,
few of them will ever go back, to describe the
streets. You may be told, and it is true that there
was, and is some diversity of sentiment concerning

6 The contents show this letter to have been written from
Philadelphia, and the date of the month and year are prefixed,
but the name of the writer is not given, nor are there any
means of tracing it.


the expedience of independence ; but the general
cause is not affected by that difference, for all are
agreed on this position, that they should fight to
the last drop of blood, rather than submit to par-
liamentary taxation. In fact, the people talk like
men who consider liberty as one of the necessaries
of life, at the very time that they despise life itself
as an article of doubtful value. Of the phrensy
that possesses the men, you may guess by the
spirit of the women, who are every one of them
for continuing the war. A woman here sees her
husband prepare for the field, and lends him a
hand, just as, with you, they prepare for a ball or
city feast. In conversation some days ago with a
lady aged about twenty-five years, who is fond of
her husband, and has four or five children, I found
that her husband had been administering anodynes
to the British troops in the form of leaden pills at
Trenton and Prince-town. I asked her, had she
no objection to his taking the field ? " Why should
I object?" says she, "you know that I am no tory."
"But you have a number of young children."
" Then," says she, " it is so much more their
father's duty to take the field, as I would not be
the mother of slaves." To die, they say, is an
accident that may happen to the meanest fellow,
or the most contemptible tory in the universe;
but to die in defence of liberty can only happen
to the virtuous and brave. A pamphlet has just


been reprinted here, called, "the Plea of the
Colonies," with some additions and explanations.
Though America is independent, people here are
extremely happy in believing that there is a body
of men in England, to whom they may on some
future day show their gratitude and affection. We
shall have a very large well-appointed army in the
field this year. Every thing is reformed ; the
medical arrangements greatly improved ; and the
present army, being raised to stand during the war,
will soon become veterans. T'other day, a whole
regiment, whose time was out, re-entered on those
terms. Troubled as times are, amidst all the com-
bustions and diversity of sentiments, one may
easily discover a leading sentiment, which, like a
characteristical feature, promises that kind of ter-
mination which you, or any other person of your
sentiments, must approve of, and which, I appre-
hend, you would labour for, were you here. We
shall be free ; and so will Great Britain, in the
sequel. News I cannot expect to give you. This
letter goes circuitous ; by some other conveyance
I may give you some.

I am, dear sir, with the utmost esteem,

Your most obedient humble servant,



May 9, 1777, Friday, nine o'clock.
I AM just come from the House ; and have only
to tell you, that I do not remember a more extra-
ordinary day in parliament. The ministry suf-
fered the enclosed speech 7 , which has given

7 The speech was delivered by Sir Fletcher Norton, then
speaker of the House of Commons, to his majesty in the
House of Peers on the 7th of May, upon presenting the bill
for settling an additional revenue of 100,000 a year upon
his majesty, for the services of the civil list. It is as follows :

" Most gracious sovereign, The bill which it is now my
duty to present to your majesty, is entitled an act for the
better support of his majesty's household and of the honour
and dignity of the crown of Great Britain, to which your
Commons humbly beg your royal assent.

" By this bill, sir, and the respectful circumstances which
preceded and accompanied it, your Commons have given the
fullest and clearest proof of their zeal and affection for your
majesty ; for in a time of public distress, full of difficulty
and danger, their constituents labouring under burthens almost
too heavy to be borne, your faithful Commons postponed all
other business, and with as much dispatch as the nature of
their proceedings would admit, have not only granted to your
majesty a large present supply, but also a very great addi-
tional revenue, great beyond example, and beyond your
majesty's highest expense.

" But all this, sir, they have done in a well-grounded con-
fidence, that you will apply wisely what they have granted


infinite offence to the king, and to all the court-
lords, to be printed by an order of the House.
This was managed with sufficient dexterity. The
rage of the courtiers was such, that Rigby fell
foul of the speaker in the chair. The speaker
appealed to the House. I wrote the motion
of approbation ; and as I was too hoarse to speak,
Charles Fox moved and supported it admirably.
A great debate arose. The attorney-general
moved an adjournment, in order to get rid of
the motion ; but the speaker, finding that he
would be well supported, behaved with resolution.
He declared that he must quit the chair, if the
question of adjournment was carried. After many
struggles, the ministry, finding that they must
either suffer an approbation of the speaker's speech
(which was a heavy and just condemnation of the
majority) to pass, or be driven to a new choice
at an inconvenient time, submitted to the former,
though the most dishonourable, of the inconveni-
ences. The motion was carried, and the question
of adjournment was withdrawn.

The motion in effect was " That the speech of
the speaker of this House, ordered by this House
to be printed, did, with a just and proper energy,

liberally; and feeling what every good subject must feel with
the greatest satisfaction, that, under the direction of your
majesty's wisdom, the affluence and grandeur of the sovereign
will reflect dignity and honour upon his people."


express the zeal of this House, in supporting the
honour and dignity of the crown, in a time of
great national charge." This motion was followed
by the thanks of the House to the speaker;
thus their intended censure ended in a recorded

I am as well as one who has wholly lost his
organs of speech for the time, can be. Norton
bitched a little at last; but though he would
recede, Fox stuck to his motion for the honour of
the House ; and they were obliged to admit it.


Westminster, June 2, 1777.
(From the planting of Georgia, 45.)


I must consider the trifling hurt in my right
hand, which has disabled it for some days, as
a great misfortune. It prevented me from a
more early acknowledgment of the most flatter-
ing mark of honour which I ever received 8 . Such

8 What mark of honour is here alluded to is not discover-
able by any thing found in Mr. Burke's papers, nor is it a
matter of family tradition. General Oglethorpe, who served
with Prince Eugene against the Turks in the beginning of the
eighteenth century, and under the Duke of Cumberland in


a testimony to the uprightness of a man's conduct
is second only to the approbation of his own
conscience ; but such partiality to his endeavours,
is a satisfaction which he is not to draw from
his own self-love. However, from you, I have
some pretensions to favour. The weakest de-
fender of the rights of the colonies, naturally
claims some merit with one of the most distin-
guished of their founders. May you see the
colony planned by your sagacity and planted
by your care, become once more a free and flou-
rishing member of a free and flourishing empire !
But if this be too much to hope from a country,
which seems to have forgot the true source of
its dignity and greatness, may you never have
the misfortune of having led Englishmen into
servitude and misery in a strange land ! But
better things, I trust, await your honourable age,
and their generous youth. I am happy in having
known and admired the last of the English legis-
lators in America ; and am, with great sincerity
and esteem, always, sir,

Your most obedient and much obliged
humble servant,


1745, was better known as having settled the province of
Georgia. He died in 1785, at the advanced age of 87.



Broad Sanctuary, June 5, 1777.


I am informed by some gentlemen of the African
Committee, that your lordship still seemed disposed
to the project of those who have advised you
to stop payment of the advances which the ser-
vants of the African Company have made, accord-
ing to course, for the service of the current year.
The multiplicity of affairs in which your lordship
is necessarily engaged has, I am persuaded, pre-
vented you from adverting to the manifest injus-
tice of such a proceeding, if it can be executed;
or to the disagreeable consequences of various
kinds which must happen, if the execution should
prove impracticable.

You have not yet, at least publicly, come to
a determination that this trifling debt, which has
been seven-and-twenty years in contracting, has
been fraudulently contracted. As far are you
from having determined that the present servants
have had any share whatsoever in the fraud, if
any should be found ; or if they have, for what
proportion of the whole they are answerable.
Yet are they to be mulcted a whole year's charges,
for the present ; and, for aught they know, for


ever; and this for delinquencies neither proved
nor so much as specifically charged. When your
lordship coolly reflects on the condition of some
of the servants there, and the uncertain tenure of
life itself with regard to all of them, you will
scarcely think of imposing on the people who
have the misfortune, at this moment, of being
caught in a situation which clashes with the
schemes of some projectors, the fault, error, or
necessity of many successions of officers during
the course of more than twenty years. If justice
did not prevent this unexampled proceeding,
I am sure that your humanity would never
suffer it.

I feel myself deeply concerned in this matter :
not that I know a man on the coast of Africa so
much as by name; but I have been made a sort
of accomplice in doing the mischief, if it should
happen. For, on the faith of your lordship's
leaving things as they stood, I consented to post-
pone an examination, which would have demon-
strated the futility of the charges, on the supposed
weight of which the House is to take money out
of men's pockets, out of the pockets of those
who have advanced on the public credit of com-
mon official procedure, and the presumed faith of
parliament, derived from a regular annual provi-
sion. I cannot conceive the propriety of punishing
people unheard, on matters of accounts neither


stated nor examined, even so much as partially ;
and this, lest vague accusations and ungrounded
suspicions should not be attended with that autho-
rity which they do not deserve.

I am convinced that when you let your own
clear understanding and your natural sense of
equity have fair play, you will see the business in
the light that I do. To that understanding and
equity I appeal ; for I am not young enough to
flatter myself that I have any thing else to resort

I have the honour to be, &c. &c.


June 10, 1777.

I am perfectly sensible of the very flattering dis-
tinction I have received, in your thinking me
worthy of so noble a present as that of your his-
tory of America. I have, however, suffered my
gratitude to lie under some suspicion, by delaying
my acknowledgment of so great a favour ; but my
delay was only to render my obligation to you
more complete, and my thanks to you, if possible,
more merited. The close of the session brought a



great deal of very troublesome, though not very
important business, upon me at once. I could
not go through your work at one breath at that
time, though I have done it since. I am now
enabled to thank you, not only for the honour you
have done me, but for the great satisfaction and
the infinite variety and compass of instruction I
have received from your incomparable work. Every
thing has been done which was so naturally to be
expected from the author of the History of Scot-
land, and the age of Charles the Fifth. I believe
few books have done more than this towards
clearing up dark points, correcting errors, and re-
moving prejudices. You have, too, the rare secret of
rekindling an interest in subjects that had been so
often treated, and in which every thing that could
feel a vital flame appeared to have been con-
sumed. I am sure I read many parts of your
history with that fresh concern and anxiety which
attends those who are not previously informed of
the event. You have, besides, thrown quite a
new light upon the present state of the Spanish
provinces, and furnished both materials and hints
for a rational theory of what may be expected from
them in future.

The part which I read with the greatest pleasure
is the discussion on the manners and characters of
the inhabitants of that new world. I have always
thought with you, that we possess, at this time,


very great advantages towards the knowledge of
human nature. We need no longer go to history
to have it in all its periods and stages. History,
from its comparative youth, is but a poor in-
structor. When the Egyptians called the Greeks
children in antiquities, we may well call them
children ; and so we may call all those nations
which were able to trace the progress of society
only within their own limits. But now the great
map of mankind is unravelled at once, and there
is no state or gradation of barbarism, and no mode
of refinement, which we have not, at the same
instant, under our view: The very different
civility of Europe and of China ; the barbarism
of Persia and Abyssinia ; the erratic manners of
Tartary and Arabia; the savage state of North
America and of New Zealand : Indeed, you have
made a noble use of the advantages you have had.
You have employed philosophy to judge of man-
ners, and from manners you have drawn new
resources for philosophy. I only think that, in one
or two points, you have hardly done justice to the
savage character.

There remains before you a great field ; pericu-
losfB plenum opus alece tractas, et incedis per ignes
suppositos cineri doloso. When even those ashes
will be spread over this fire, God knows. I am
heartily sorry we are now supplying you with that
kind of dignity and concern which is purchased to

M 2


history at the expense of mankind. I had rather,
by far, that Dr. Robertson's pen were employed
only in delineating the humble scenes of political
economy, and not the great events of a civil war.
However, if our statesmen had read the book of
human nature instead of the journals of the House
of Commons, and history instead of acts of parlia-
ment, we should not by the latter have furnished
out so ample a page in the former. For my part,
I have not been, nor am, very forward in my spe-
culations on this subject. All that I have ventured
to make have hitherto proved fallacious. I thought
the colonies, left to themselves, could not have
made any thing like the present resistance to the
whole power of this country and its allies. I did
not think it could have been done without the
declared interference of the house of Bourbon ;
but I looked upon it as very probable, that France
and Spain, before this, would have taken a decided
part. In both these conjectures I have judged
amiss. You will smile when I send you a trifling
temporary production 9 , made for the occasion of
the day, and to perish with it, in return for your
immortal work. But our exchange is like the

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 9 of 27)