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CHAPTER XIV.

French Revolution.--Mr. Burke.His Breach with Mr. Sheridan.

Dissolution of Parliament.--Mr. Burke and Mr. Fox.-Russian armament.--Royal Scotch boroughs.

There was ,

We have now to consider the conduct and opinions of Mr. Sheridan, during the measures and discussions consequent upon the French Revolution, an event by which the minds of men throughout all Europe were thrown into a state of such feverish excitement, that a more than usual degree of tolerance should be exercised towards the errors and extremes into which all parties were hurried during the paroxysm.

indeed, no rank or class of society, whose interests and passions were not deeply involved in the question. The powerful and the rich , both of State and Church , must naturally have regarded with dismay the advance of a political heresy, whose path they saw strewed over with the broken talismans of rank and authority. Many, too, with a disinterested reverence for ancient institutions, trembled to see them thus approached by rash hands, whose talents for ruin were sufficiently certain , but whose powers of reconstruction were yet to be tried. On the other hand, the easy triumph of a people over their oppressors was an example which could not fail to excile the hopes of the many as actively as the fears of the few. The great problem of the natural rights of mankind seemed about to be solved in a manner most flattering to the majority ;-the zeal of the lover of liberty was kindled into enthusiasm, by a conquest achieved for his cause upon an arena so vast, and many, who before would have smiled at the doctrine of human perfectibility, now imagined they saw, in what the Revolution performed and promised, almost enough to sanction the indulgence of that splendid dream. It was natural, too, that the greater portion of that unemployed, and, as it were, homeless talent, which, in all great communities, is ever abroad on the wing, uncertain where to settle, should now swarm round the light of the new principles ,—while all those obscure but ambitious spirits, who felt their aspirings clogged by the medium in which they were sunk, would as naturally welcome such a state of political effervescence, as might enable them, liko enfranchised air, to mount at once to the surface.

Amidst all these various interests, imaginations, and fears, which were brought to life by the dawn of the French Revolution, it is not surprising that errors and excesses, both of conduct and opinion, should be among the first products of so new and sudden a movement of the whole civilized world ;—that the friends of popular rights , presuming upon the triumph that had been gained, should, in the ardour of pursuit , push on the yanguard of their principles , somewhat farther than was consistent with prudence and safety; or that, on the other side, Authority and its supporters, alarmed by the inroads of the revolutionary spirit, should but the more stubbornly intrench themselves in established abuses, and make the dangers they apprehended from liberty a pretext for assailing its very existence.

It was not long before these effects of the French Revolulion began to show themselves very strikingly in the politics of England; and , singularly enough, the two extreme opinions, to which, as I have just remarked, that disturbing event gave rise, instead of first appearing , as might naturally be expected, the one on the side of Government, and the other on that of the Opposition, both broke out simultaneously in the very heart of the latter body.

On such an imagination as that of Burke, the scenes now passing in France were every way calculated to make a most vivid impression. So susceptible was he, indeed, of such impulses, and so much under the control of the imaginative department of his intellect, that, whatever might have been the accidental mood of his mind, at the moment when this astounding event first burst upon him, it would most probably have acted as a sort of mental catalepsy, and fixed his reason in the very attitude in which il found it. He had , however, been prepared for the part which he now took by much more deep and grounded causes. It was rather from circumstances than from choice, or any natural affinity, that Mr. Burke had ever attached himself to the popular party in politics. There was, in truth, nothing democratic about him but his origin ;-his tastes were all on the side of the splendid and the arbitrary. The chief recommendation of the cause of India to his fancy and his feelings was thal it involved the fate of antient dynasties, and invoked retribution for the downfall of thrones and princedoms , to which his imagination, always most affected by objects at a distance, lent a state and splendour that did not, in sober reality, belong to them. Though doomed to make Whiggism his habitual haunt , he took his perch at all times on ils loftiest branches , as far as possible away from popular contact ; and upon most occasions, adopted a sort of baronial view of liberty, as rather a question lying between the Throne and the Aristocracy, than one in which the people had a right lo any efficient voice or agency. Accordingly, the question of Parliamentary Reform, from the first moment of its agitation, found in him a most decided opponent.

This inherent repugnance to popular principles became naturally heightened into impatience and disgust, by the long and fruitless warfare which he had waged under their banner, and the uniform ill success with which they had blasted all his struggles for wealth and power. Nor was he in any better temper with his associates in the cause ,

having found that the ascendancy which he had formerly exercised over them, and which, in some degree, consoled him for the want of official dominion , was of late considerably diminished , if not wholly transferred to others. Sheridan, as has been stated, was the most prominent object of his jealousy ;and it is curious to remark how much , even in feelings of this description, the aristocratical bias of his mind betrayed itself. For, though Mr. Fox , too, had overtaken and even passed him in the race, assuming that station in politics which he himself had previously held, yet so paramount did those claims of birth and connection, by which the new leader came recommended, appear in his eyes, that he submitted to be superseded by him, not only without a murmur, but cheerfully. To Sheridan, however, who had no such hereditary passport to pre-eminence, he could not give way without heart-burning and humiliation; and to be supplanted thus by a rival son of earth seemed no less a shock to his superstitious notions about rank , than it was painful to his feelings of selflove and pride.

Such, as far as can be ascertained by a distantobserver of those times, was the temper in which the first events of the Revolution found the mind of this remarkable man ;-and, powerfully as they would, at any time, have appealed to his imagination and prejudices , the state of irritability to which he had been wrought by the causes already enumerated peculiarly predisposed him, at this moment, to give way to such impressions without restraint, and even to welcome, as a timely relief to his pride, the mighty vent thus afforded to the “ splendida biliswith which it was charged.

There was indeed much to animate and give a žest to the new part which he now took. He saw those principles, to which he owed a deep grudge, for the time and the talents he had wasted in their service, now embodied in a shape so wild and alarming, as seemed to justify him, on grounds of public safety, in turning against them the whole powers of his mind, and thus enabled him, opportunely, to dignify desertion, by throwing the semblance of patriotism and conscientiousness round the reality of defection and revenge. He saw the party, too, who, from the moment they had ceased to be ruled by him, were associated only in his mind with recollections of unpopularity and defeat, about to adopt a line of politics which his long knowledge of the people of England, and his sagacious foresight of the consequences of the French Revolution, fully convinced him would lead to the same barren and mortifying results. On the contrary, the cause to which he proffered his alliance ,

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would he was equally sure, by arraying on ils side all the rank, riches, and religion of Europe, enable him at length to feel that sense of power and triumph, for which his domineering spirit had so long panted in vain. In this latter hope, indeed, of a speedy triumph over Jacobinism, his temperament, as was often the case, outran his sagacity; for, while he foresaw clearly that the dissolution of social order in France would at last harden into a military tyranny, he appeared not to be aware that the violent measures which he recommended against her would not only hasten this formidable result, but bind the whole mass of the people into union and resistance during the process.

Lastly—to these attractions, of various kinds, with which the cause of Thrones was now encircled in the eyes of Burke, must be added one,

which, however it may still further disenchant our views of his conversion, cannot wholly be omitted among the inducements to his change ,--and this was the strong claim upon the gratitude of government, which his seasonable and powerful advocacy in a crisis so difficult established for him, and which the narrow and embarrassed state of his circumstances rendered an object by no means of secondary importance in his views. Unfortunately,-- from a delicate wish, perhaps, that the reward should not appear to come in loo close coincidence with the service, - the pension bestowed upon him arrived too late to admit of his deriving much more from it than the obloquy by which it was accompanied.

The consequence, as is well known, of the new course taken by Burke was that the speeches and writings which he henceforward produced, and in which, as usual , his judgment was run away with by his temper, form a complete contrast, in spirit and tendency, to all that he had put on record in the former part of his life. He has, indeed , left behind him two separate and distinct armouries of opinion , from which both Whig and Tory may furnish themselves with weapons, the most splendid , if not the most highly tempered, that èver Genius and Eloquence have condescended to bequeath to Party. He has thus too, by his own personal versatility, attained , in the world of politics , what Shakspeare, by the versatility of his characters, achieved for the world in general ,-namely, such a universality of application to all opinions and purposes, that it would be difficult for any statesman of any party to find himself placed in any situation, for which he could not select some golden sentence from Burke , either to strengthen his position by reasoning, or illustrate and adorn it by fancy. While, therefore, our respect for the man himself is diminished by this want of moral identity observable through his life and writings, we are but the, more disposed to admire that unrivalled genius, which could thus throw

itself out in so many various directions with equal splendour and vigour. In general, political deserters lose their value and power in the very act, and bring little more than their treason to the new cause which they espouse :

" Fortis in armis Cæsaris Labienus erat ; nunc transfuga vilis."

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But Burke was mighty in either camp; and it would have taken two great men to effect what he, by this division of himself, achieved. His mind, indeed, lies parted asunder in his works, like some vast continent severed by a convulsion of nature,-each portion peopled by its own giant race of opinions, differing altogether in features and language, and committed in eternal hostility with each other.

It was during the discussions on the Army estimates, at the commencement of the Session of 1790, that the difference between Mr. Burke and his party in their views of the French Revolution first manifested itself. Mr. Fox having taken occasion to praise the late conduct of the French Guards in 'refusing to obey the dictates of the Court, and having declared that he exulted , both from feelings and from principles,” in the political change that had been brought about in that country, Mr. Burke, in answering him, entered fully and, it must be owned, most luminously into the question ,-expressing his apprehension lest the example of France, which had, at a former period, threatened England with the contagion of despotism, should now be the means of introducing among her people the no less falal taint of democracy and atheism. After some eloquent tributes of admiration to Mr. Fox, rendered more animated, perhaps , by the consciousness that they were the last offerings thrown into the open grave of their friendship, he proceeded to deprecate the effects which the language of his Right Honourable Friend might have, in appearing to countenance the disposition observable

among some wicked persons " to " recommend an imitation of the French spirit of Reform, and then added a declaration, equally remarkable for the insidious charge which it implied against his own party, and the notice of his approaching desertion which it conveyed to the other,- that “ so strongly opposed was he to any the least tendency towards the means of introducing a democracy like that of the French , as well as to the end itself, that , much as it would afflict him, if such a thing should be attempted, and that any friend of his could concur in such measures (he was far, very far from believing they could), he would abandon his best friends, and join with his worst enemies to oppose either the means or the end.

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