Edmund Burke: Quotations (3)

Index File 3

Theory & Reality
Crowds & Crime
Power of the Crown
America & Justice
Censorship & Evil
Party Defined
Ireland farmed out
Religious Liberty
Community & Society
Not made a minion ...
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Warren Hastings

How the Penal Laws were passed ...

‘But what will you feel when you know from history how this statute passed, and what were the motives, land what the mode of making it? A party in this nation, enemies to the system of the Revolution, were in opposition to the government of King William. They knew that our glorious deliverer was an enemy to all persecution. They knew that he came to free us from slavery and popery, out of a country where a third of the people are contented Catholics under a Protestant government. He came with a part of big army composed of those very Catholics, to overset the [145] power of a popish prince. Such is the effect of a tolerating spirit: and so much is liberty served in every way, and by all persons, by a manly adherence to its own principles. Whilst freedom is true to itself, everything becomes subject to it; and its very adversaries are an instrument in its hands.
 The party I speak of (like some amongst us who would disparage the best friends of their country) resolved to make the king either violate his principles of toleration, or incur the odium of protecting Papists. They therefore brought in this Bill, and made it purposely wicked and absurd, that it might be rejected. The then court-party, discovering their game, turned the tables on them, and returned their Bill to them stuffed with still greater absurdities, that its loss might lie upon its original authors. They, finding their own ball thrown back to them, kicked it back again to their adversaries. And thus this Act, loaded with the double injustice of two parties, neither of whom intended to pass what they hoped the other would be persuaded to reject, went through the legislature, contrary to the real wish of all parts of it, and of all the parties that composed it. In this manner these insolent and profligate factions, as if they were playing with balls and counters, made a sport of the fortunes and liberties of their fellow-creatures.’

—‘Speech at the Guildhall, in Bristol’, in Letters, Speeches and Tracts [on] Irish Affairs, ed. Matthew Arnold (London: Macmillan 1881) & Do. [facs. rep.], as Irish Affairs, with an introduction by Conor Cruise O’Brien (London: Cresset 1988), pp.145-46.

Catholics, Protesants and dissenters ....

‘Every one knows that the Roman Catholic religion is at least coeval with most of the governments where it prevails; that it has generally gone hand in hand with them, and received great favour and every kind of support from authority. The Church of England too was formed from her cradle under the nursing care of regular government. But the dissenting interests have sprung up in direct opposition to all the ordinary powers of the world, and could justify that opposition only on a strong claim to natural liberty. Their very existence depended on the powerful and unremitted assertion of that claim. All protestantism, even the most cold and passive, is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our northern colonies[i.e., America] is a refinement on the principle of resistance: it is the dissidence of dissent, and the protestantism of the Protestant religion.’

Conciliation with America (Works, II, Nimmo Edn., London 1887, p.123) [quoted on .
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Theory & reality: ‘... I believe, after all, that systems must arise out of events, rather than pre-exist and guide them as they happen; though the latter would be infinitely more desirable.’ ([?to Hussey], Corr., V, p.342.)

Crowds & crime: ‘The share of infamy that is likely to fall to the lot of each individual in public acts is small indeed [...] Their own approbation of their own acts has to them the appearance of a public judgement in their favour. A perfect democracy is therefore the most shameless thing in the world’ (Works, II, p.368).

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Power of the Crown: ‘The power of the Crown, almost dead and rotten as Prerogative, has grown up anew, and with much more strength, and far less odium, under the name of Influence. [...] [T]o secure to the court the unlimited and uncontrolled use of its own private favour, has for some years past been the great object of policy [...] By this operation, two systems of administration were formed; one which should be in the real secret and confidence; the other merely ostensible to perform the official and executory duties of government [...] Thus parliament was to look on [...] while a cabal of the closet and the back-stair was substituted in place of a national administration.’ (Corr., II, p.78-79.) Further, ‘There was one grand domestic evil, from which all our other evils, foreign and domestic, had sprung. The influence of the Crown [...] it was the influence of the Crown in the two Houses of Parliament that enabled his Majesty’s ministers to persevere against the voice of reason, the voice of truth, the voice of the people.’ (Parl. Hist., XII, p.705.)

Justice for America: ‘All true friends of the Colonies, the only true friend they have had or can ever have in England, have laid and will lay down the proper subordination of America as a fundamental, incontrovertible maxim in the government of this empire.’ (Corr., II, pp.528-9.) Further, ‘The fierce spirit of independence is stronger in the English colonies probably than in any other people of the earth [...] the colonies draw from you, as with their life-blood, these ideas and principles.’ (q.source.) Further, ‘Nobody will be argued into slavery’ [ending] (‘Taxation’, Works, I, 382-437; Parl. Hist., XVII, pp.1215-69). Further, ‘Nothing is defensible which render millions of miserable men co-existent with oneself.’

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Censorship: ‘It is no inconsiderable part of wisdom, to know how much of an evil ought to be tolerated [...] the difficulties that attend all capital changes in the constitution.’ (Works, I, pp.365, 367-8). Note that the first part of this is cited in Sean O’Faolain, The Irish, 1947, p.119.

‘Party’ defined: ‘a body of men united for promoting b their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed.’ (Present Discontents, Works, I, p.375.)

Farmed out: Burke wrote that the English government has ‘farmed out Ireland, without the reservation of a pepper corn rent in power of influence’ (Letter to T. Hussey, 9 Dec. 1796; Burke’s Corr., IV, p.165).

Religious liberty: ‘I would give a full civil protection, in which I include an immunity from all disturbance in their public and religious worship, and a power of teaching in schools as well as temples, to Jews, Mahometans, and even pagans; especially if they are already possessed of those advantages by long and prescriptive usage ...’ (Corr., III, p.112.)

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Society & community: ‘[Society is] a partnership not only between those who are living but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.’ ([?Corr. 1, p.202]; see more extensively in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, Cape, 1995, p.19). Further: ‘I feel an insuperable reluctance in giving my hand to destroy any established institution of government, upon theory, however plausible it may be.’ (Speech of 1 Dec. 1783, on Fox’s East India Bill). ‘Society is indeed a contract [...] but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper or coffey, calico or tobacco, or some such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.’ (Works, II, p.368 [prob. Letter to a Member]; cited in Ayling, op. cit., pp.xvi-xvii.)

The little platoon: ‘To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon to which we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections’. [q. source.]

Treatment of Irish Jacobites: ‘You punish them for acting on a principle which of all other is perhaps the most necessary for preserving society, an implicit admiration and adherence to the establishment of their forefathers.’ [q. source.]

British legacy in India: ‘England has erected no churches, no hospials, no palaces, no schools; England has built no bridges, made no high roads, cut no navigations, dug no reservoirs ... If we were driven out of India this day, nothing would remain to tell that it had been possessed, during the inglorious period of our dominion, by anything better than the orang outang and the tiger.’ ((Quoted in Edward Grierson, The Imperial Dream: The British Commonwealth and Empire 1775-1969, Newtown Abbot 1973, p.44.) [See further quotations and remarks under Grierson > Commentary - supra.]

Not made a minion: ‘the hunt of obloquy, which ever has pursued me with a full cry through life’; ‘I was not made for a minion or a tool’; [Burke has] ‘strained every nerve to keep [Bedford] in that situation which alone makes him my superior.’ (Letter to a Noble Lord, 1795.)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: ‘We have had the great professor and founder of the philosophy of vanity in England [...] &c.’ (Writings, VIII, pp.312-316; quoted in Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Great Melody, 1992, p.435.]

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A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757)
Part I, Sect. VII - Of the Sublime: ‘Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling. I say the strongest emotion, because I am satisfied the ideas of pain are much more powerful than those which enter on the part of pleasure. Without all doubt, the torments which we may be made to suffer are much greater in their effect on the body and mind, than any pleasure which the most learned voluptuary could suggest, or than the liveliest imagination, and the most sound and exquisitely sensible body, could enjoy. Nay, I am in great doubt whether any man could be found, who would earn a life of the most perfect satisfaction, at the price of ending it in the torments, which justice inflicted in a few hours on the late unfortunate regicide in France [i.e., Robert Damiens]. But as pain is stronger in its operation than pleasure, so death is in general a much more affecting idea than pain; because there are very few pains, however exquisite, which are not preferred to death: nay, what generally makes pain itself, if I may say so, more painful, is, that it is considered as an emissary of this king of terrors. When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are, delightful, as we every day experience. The cause of this I shall endeavour to investigate hereafter.’

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Part 2, Sect. I - Of the Passion Called the SUBLIME: ‘The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with sorne degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it. Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that far from being produced by them, it anticipates our reasonings, and hurries us on by an irresistible force. Astonishment, as I have said, is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence, and respect.’

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Part 2, Sect. II - Terror: ‘No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. For fear being an apprehension of pain or death, it operates in a manner that resembles actual pain. Whatever therefore is terrible, with regard to sight, is sublime too, whether this cause of terror be endued with greatness of dimensions or not; for it is impossible to look on any thing as trifling, or contemptible, that may be dangerous. There are many animals, who though far from being large, are yet capable of raising ideas of the sublime, because they are considered it objects of terror. As serpents and poisonous animals of almost a kinds. And to things of great dimensions, if we annex an adventitious idea of terror, they become without comparison greater. A level plain of a vast extent on land, is certainly no mean idea; the prospect of such a plain may be as extensive as a prospect of the ocean: but can it ever fill the mind with anything so great as the ocean itself? This is owing to several causes; but it Is owing to none more than this, that the ocean is an object of no small terror. Indeed, terror is in all cases whatsoever, either more openly or latently, the ruling principle of the sublime. Several languages bear a strong testimony to the affinity of these ideas. They frequently use the same word, to signify indifferently the modes of astonishment or admiration, and those of terror. [...]’

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Part 2, Sect. III - Obscurity: ‘To make anything very terrible, obscurity seems to be necessary. when we know the full extent of any danger, when we can [233] accustom our eyes to it, a great deal of the apprehension vanishes. For every one will be sensible of this, who considers how greatly night adds to our dread, in all cases of danger, and how much the notions of ghosts and goblins, of which none can form clear ideas, affect minds, which give credit to the popular tales concerning such sorts of beings. The despotic governments, which are founded on the passions of men, and principally upon the passion of fear, keep their chief as much as may be from the public eye. The policy has been the same in many cases of religion. Almost all the heathen temples were dark. Even in the barbarous temples of the Americans at this day, they keep their idol in a dark part of the hut, which is consecrated to his worship. For this purpose too the druids performed all their ceremonies in the bosom of the darkest woods, and in the shade of the oldest and most spreading oaks. No person seems better to have understood the secret of heightening, or of setting terrible things, if I may use the expression, in their strongest light by the force of judicous obscurity, than Milton. His description of Death in the second book is admirably studied; it is astonishing with what a gloomy pomp, with what a significant and expressive certainty of strokes and colouring, he has finished the portrait of the king of terrors. [Quotes Paradise Lost: “The other shape, / If shape it might be called that shape had none / Distinguishable ... black he stood as night; Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell ... What seemed his head / The likeness of a kingly crown had on.”: II, 666-673.] / In this description all is dark, uncertain, terrible, and sublime in the last degree.’
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Part 2, Sect. VI - Power: ‘Besides those things which directly suggest the idea of danger, and those which produce a similar effect from a mechanical cause, I know of nothing sublime, which is not some modification of power. And this branch rises as naturally as the other two branches, from terror, the common stock of every thing that is sublime. The idea of power at first view seems of the class of these indifferent ones, which may equally belong to pain or to pleasure. But in reality, the affection, arising from the idea of vast power, is extremely remote from that neutral character. For first, we must remember, that the idea of pain, in its highest degree, is much stronger than the highest degree of pleasure; and that it preserves the same superiority through all the subordinate gradations. From hence it is, that where the chances for equal degrees of suffering or enjoyment are in any sort equal, the idea of the suffering must always be prevalent. And indeed the ideas of pain, and, above all of death, are so very affecting, that whilst we remain in the presence of whatever is supposed to have the power of inflicting either, it is impossible to be perfectly free from terror. Again, we know by experience, that, for the enjoyment of pleasure, no great efforts of power are at all necessary; nay we know, that such efforts would go a great way towards destroying our satisfaction: for pleasure must be stolen, and not forced upon us; pleasure follows the will; and therefore we are generally affected with it by many things of a force greatly inferior to our own. But pain is always inflicted by a power in some way superior, because we never submit to pain willingly. So that strength, violence, pain, and terror, are ideas that rush in upon the mind together. Look at a man, or any other animal of prodigious strength, and what is your idea before reflection? Is it that this strength will be subservient to you, to your ease, to your pleasure, to your interest in any sense? No; the emotion you feel is, lest this enormous strength should be employed to the purposes of rapine and destruction. That power derives all its sublimity from the terror with which it is generally accompanied, will appear evidently from its effect in the very few cases, in which it may be possible to strip a considerable degree of strength of its ability to hurt. When you do this, you spoil it of everything sublime, and it immediately becomes contemptible. An ox is a creature of vast strength; but he is an innocent creature, extremely serviceable, and not at all dangerous; for which reason the idea of an ox is by no means grand. A bull is strong too: but his strength is of another kind; often very destructive, seldom (at least amongst us) of any use in our business; the idea of a bull is therefore great, and it has frequently a place in sublime descriptions, and elevating comparisons. Let us look at another strong animal in the two distinct lights in which we may consider him. The horse in the light of an useful beast, fit for the plough, the road, the draught, in every social useful light the horse has nothing of the sublime; but is it [235] thus that we are affected with him, whose neck is clothed with thunder, the glory of whoses nostrils is terrible, who swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage, neither believeth that it is the sound of the trumpet? [Job 39:19-14] In this description the useful character of the horse entirely disappears, and the terible and sublime blaze out together. We have continually about us animals of a strength that is considerable, but not pernicious. Amongst these we never look for the sublime: it comes upon in the gloomy forest, and in the howling wilderness, in the form of the lion, the tiger, the panther, or rhinercos. Whenever strength is only useful, and employed for our benefit or our pleasure, then it is never sublime; for nothing can act agreeably to our will, it must be subject to us, and therefore can never be the cause of a grand and commanding conception. The description of the wild ass, in Job, is worked up into no small sublimity, merely insisting on his freedom, and his setting mankind at defiance; otherwise the description of such an animal would have nothing noble about it [...; 236].

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Part 2. Sect. VII - Vastness ‘Greatness of dimension is a powerful cause of the sublime. [...] Of these [dimensions] length strikes least [...] I am apt to imagine [...] height is less grand than depth, and that we are more struck looking down from a precipice, than at looking up at an object of equal height; but of that I am not very positive. A perpendicular has more force in forming the sublime, than an inclined plane; and the effects of a rugged and broken surface seem stronger than where it is smooth and polished. [...I]t may not be amiss to add too these remarks upon maginitude; that, as the great [236] extreme of dimension is sublime, so the last extreme of littleness is in some measure sublime likewise: when we attend to the infinite divisibility of matter, when we pursue animal life into these execessively small, and yet organised beings, that escape the nice inquisition of the sense, then we push our discoveries, yet downward, and consider those creatures so many degrees smaller, and the still diminishing scale of existence, in tracing which the imagination is lost as well as the sense, we become amazed and confounded at the wonders of minuteness; nor can we distinguish in its effects this extreme of littleness from the vast itself. For division must be infinite as well as addition; because the idea of a perfect unity can no more be arrived at, than that of a complete whole to which nothing may be added. [...]; Sect. IX:
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Part 2, Sect. IX- Infinity: ‘Another source of the sublime is infinity; if it does not rather belong to the last [vastness]. Infinity has the tendency to fill the mind with that sort of delightful horror, which is the most genuine effect and truest test of the sublime. There are scarce any things which can become the objects of hour senses that are really, in their own nature infinite. But the eye not being able to perceive the bounds of many things, they seem to be infinite, and they produce the same efects as if they were really so. We are deceived in a like manner, if the parts of some large object are so continued to any indefinite number, that the imagination meets no check which may hinder its extending them at pleasure [i.e., leisure]. After whirling about; when we sit down, the objects about us still seem to whirl. After a long succession of noises, as the fall of waters, or the beating of forge hammers, the hammers beat and the water roards in the imagination long after the first sounds have ceased to affect it; and they die away at last by gradations which are scarcely perceptible.
(The foregoing given as successive extracts A. N. Jeffares & Peter Van de Kamp, eds., Irish Literature: The Eighteenth Century - An Annotated Anthology (Dublin/Oregon: Irish Academic Press 2006, pp.232-37.)

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Warren Hastings (2nd Impeachment, 1788 )

Impeachment of Warren Hastings (Opening Speech, Friday, 15 Feb. 1788): [Burke presents 12 articles of the “institutes of Tamberlane” by which the Moguls ruled as proof that there is no precedent in Indian or even Asian society and law for the exercise of artbitrary power by kings or their representatives and appointees - making Parliament and the Crown in effect responsible to ensure that the Governor of Bengal (Hastings) obeyed the instructions of the East India Company and the British State which in represents in India, whereas Hastings is shown to have said that he never succeeds better than when he acts in an utter defiance of those orders, and sets at nought the laws of his country’ (p.484 - as infra.)]


‘[...] Mr. Hastings has no refuge here. Let him run from law to law; let him fly from the common law and the sacred institutions of the country in which he was born; let him fly from acts of Parliament, from which his power originated; let him plead his ignorance of them, or fly in the face of them. Will he fly to the Mahomedan law? That condemns him. Will he fly to the high magistracy of Asia to defend taking of presents? Padishah and the Sultan would condemn him to a cruel death. Will he fly to the Sophis, to the laws of Persia, or to the practice of those monarchs? I cannot utter the pains, the tortures, that would be inflicted [481], if he were to govern there as he has done in a British province. Let him fly where he will, from law to law; law, I thank God, meets him everywhere, and enforced, too, by the practice of the most impious tyrants, which he quotes as if it would justify his conduct. I would as willingly have him tried by the law of the Koran, or the Institutes of Tamerlane, as on the common law or statute law of this kingdom. []’ (pp.481-82).

‘[] When a man pleads ignorance in justification of his conduct, it ought to be an humble, modest, unpresuming ignorance, an ignorance which may have made him lax and timid in the exercise of his duty; but an assuming, rash, presumptuous, confident, daring, desperate, and disobedient ignorance heightens every crime that it accompanies. Mr. Hastings, if through ignorance he left some of the Company’s orders unexecuted, because he did not understand them, might well say, “I was an ignorant man, and these things were above my capacity.” But when he understands them, and when he declares he will not obey them, positively and dogmatically, when he says, as he has said, and we shall prove it, that he never succeeds better than when he acts in an utter defiance of those orders , and sets at nought the laws of his country, I believe this will not be thought the language of an ignorant man. But I beg your Lordships’ pardon: it is the language of an ignorant man; for no man who was not full of a bold, determined, profligate ignorance could ever think of such a system of defence. He quitted Westminster School almost a boy. We have reason to regret that he did not finish his education in that noble seminary, which has given so many luminaries to the Church and ornaments to the State. Greatly it is to be lamented that he did not go to those Universities where arbitrary [484] power will I hope never be heard of, but the true principles of religion, of liberty, and law will ever be inculcated, instead of studying in the school of Cossim Ali Khân. / If he had lived with us, he would have quoted the example of Cicero in his government, he would have quoted several of the sacred and holy prophets, and made them his example. His want of learning, profane as well as sacred, reduces him to the necessity of appealing to every name and authority of barbarism, tyranny, and usurpation that are to be found; and from these he says, “From the practice of one part of Asia or other I have taken my rule.” But your Lordships will show him that in Asia as well as in Europe the same law of nations prevails, the same principles are continually resorted to, and the same maxims sacredly held and strenuously maintained, and, however disobeyed, no man suffers from the breach of them who does not know how and where to complain of that breach, that Asia is enlightened in that respect as well as Europe; but if it were totally blinded, that England would send out governors to teach them better, and that he must justify himself to the piety, the truth, the faith of England, and not by having recourse to the crimes and criminals of other countries, to the barbarous tyranny of Asia, or any other part of the world. (pp.484-85.)

—The Works Of The Right Honourable Edmund Burke , Vol. IX. (of 12) (London: Nimmo 1887).