Edmund Burke: Quotations (4)


Index File 3
File 4


For full text of each of these see RICORSO Library, “Major Authors ”, infra.

Reflections on the French Revolution (1790)

On the revolutionary government of French departments:

“[...] I believe the present French power is the very first body of citizens who, having obtained full authority to do with their country what they pleased, have chosen to dissever it in this barbarous manner. It is impossible not to observe that, in the spirit of this geometrical distribution and arithmetical arrangement, these pretended citizens treat France exactly like a country of conquest. Acting as conquerors, they have imitated the policy of the harshest of that harsh race. The policy of such barbarous victors, who contemn a subdued people and insult their feelings, has ever been, as much as in them lay, to destroy all vestiges of the ancient country, in religion, in polity, in laws, and in manners; to confound all territorial limits; to produce a general poverty; to put up their properties to auction; to crush their princes, nobles, and pontiffs; to lay low everything which had lifted its head above the level, or which could serve to combine or rally, in their distresses, the disbanded people under the standard of old opinion. They have made France free in the manner in which those sincere friends to the rights of mankind, the Romans, freed Greece, Macedon, and other nations. They destroyed the bonds of their union under color of providing for the independence of each of their cities.”

 

“Everything depends upon the army in such a government as yours, for you have industriously destroyed all the opinions and prejudices and, as far as in you lay, all the instincts which support government. Therefore, the moment any difference arises between your National Assembly and any part of the nation, you must have recourse to force. Nothing else is left to you, or rather you have left nothing else to yourselves. You see, by the report of your war minister, that the distribution of the army is in a great measure made with a view of internal coercion. You must rule by an army; and you have infused into that army by which you rule, as well as into the whole body of the nation, principles which after a time must disable you in the use you resolve to make of it. The king is to call out troops to act against his people, when the world has been told, and the assertion is still ringing in our ears, that troops ought not to fire on citizens. The colonies assert to themselves an independent constitution and a free trade. They must be constrained by troops. In what chapter of your code of the rights of men are they able to read that it is a part of the rights of men to have their commerce monopolized and restrained for the benefit of others? As the colonists rise on you, the Negroes rise on them. Troops again - massacre, torture, hanging! These are your rights of men! These are the fruits of metaphysic declarations wantonly made, and shamefully retracted!”

—See full text, in RICORSO Library, “Critical Classics” - Burke’s Reflections [Pt. 9], infra.

Letter to Richard Burke (10 Oct 1789): ‘This day I heard from Laurence who has sent me papers confirming the portentous state of France - where the Elements which compose Human Society seem all to be dissolved, and a world of Monsters to be produced in the place of it - where Mirabeau presides as the Grand Anarch and the late Grand Monarch makes a figure as ridiculous as pitiable’.

All circumstances taken together, the French Revolution is the most astonishing that has hitherto happened in the world. The most wonderful things are brought about in many instances by means the most absurd and ridiculous; […] and apparently, by the most contemptible instruments. Every thing seems out of nature in this strange chaos of levity and ferocity […]. In viewing this monstrous […] scene, the most opposite passions necessarily succeed, and sometimes mix with each other in the mind; alternate contempt and indignation; alternate laughter and tears; alternate scorn and horror.’ (Reflections, O’Brien edn., pp.92-93.) ‘I never desire … to read in the declaration of right [of 1689] any mysteries unknown to those whose penetrating style has engraved in our ordinances, and in our hearts, the words and spirit of that immortal law.’ (p.104.) [condemns Jacobinism as] ‘a maze of metaphysical abstraction’ (p.105.) ‘the new line [of English monarchs] was derived from the same stock. It was still a line of hereditary descent; still an hereditary descent in the same blood, though an hereditary descent qualified with Protestantism’ (p.106.) A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never looked backwards to their ancestors.’ (p.119.) ‘delusive plausibilities of moral politicians’ (p.125.) ‘Those who attempt to level, never equalise [...] The levellers therefore only change and pervert the natural order of things; they load the edifice of society, by setting up in the air what the solidity of the structure requires to be on the ground.’ (p.138.) ‘Nothing is a due and adequate representation of a state that does not represent its ability. But as ability is a vigorous and active principle, and as property is sluggish, inert and timid, it never can be safe from the invasion of ability, unless it be, out of all proportion, predominant in the representation. It must be represented too in great masses of accumulation, or it is not rightly protected. The characteristic essence of property, found out of the combined principles of its acquisition and conservation, is to be unequal. (p.140.) [Burke accuses Price of] ‘profaning the beautiful and prophetic ejaculation, commonly called nunc dimittis, made on the presentation of our Saviour in the Temple, and applying it, with an inhuman and unnatural rapture, to the most horrid, atrocious and afflicting spectacle, that perhaps ever was exhibited to the pity and indignation of mankind.’ (p.159.)

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[On the attack on Marie Antoinette in her bedchamber:] ‘abused [by] the vilest of women’; ‘a spectacle more resembling a procession of American savages [...] after some of their murders called victories, and leading into hovels hung around with scalps, their captives, overpowered with the scoffs and buffets of women as ferocious as themselves, much more than it resembled the triumphal pomp of a civilised martial nation’; (p.159.) ‘The Assembly … acts before [the people] their farce of deliberation with as little decency as liberty […]; they act amidst the tumultuous cries of a mixed mob of ferocious men, and of women lost to shame […]. As they have inverted order in all things, the gallery is in place of the house’ (p.161); ‘by the voice of the sentinel at her door, who cried out to her, to save herself by flight - that this was the last proof of fidelity he could give - that they were upon him, and he was dead. Instantly he was cut down. A band of cruel ruffians and assassins, reeking with his blood, rushed into the chamber of the queen, and pierced with an hundred strokes of bayonets and poniards the bed, from whence this persecuted woman had but just time to fly almost naked […] to seek refuge at the feet of a king and husband, not secure of his own life for a moment.’ (p.164.) ‘After they had been made to taste, drop by drop, more than the bitterness of death, in the slow torture of a journey of twelve miles, protracted to six hours, they were, under a guard, composed of those very soldiers who had thus conducted them through this famous triumph, lodged in one of the old palaces of Paris, now converted into a Bastille for kings.’ (p.165.) ‘I knew, indeed, that the sufferings of monarchs make a delicious repast to some sort of palates [but] there were reflections which might serve to keep this appetite within some bounds of temperance’ (p.165.) ‘But I cannot stop here. Influenced by the inborn feelings of my nature, and not being illuminated by a single ray of this new-sprung modern light, I confess to you, Sir, that the exalted rank of the persons suffering, and particularly the sex, the beauty, and the amiable qualities […] instead of being a subject for exultation, adds not a little to my sensibility on this most melancholy occasion’ (p.168.) On Marie Antoinette: ‘that the great lady […] has borne that day (one is interested that beings made for suffering should suffer well) […] and the insulting adulation of addresses, and the whole weight of her accumulated wrongs, with a serene patience, in a manner suited to her rank and race; […] that she feels with the dignity of a Roman matron; that in the last extremity she will save herself from the last disgrace, and that if she must fall, she will fall by no ignoble hand.’ (Quoted in Conor Cruise O’Brien, ed., French Revolution, Penguin 1968, p.169, et seq.)

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It is now sixteen or seventeen year[s] since I saw the queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in - glittering like the morning star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Oh! What a revolution! And what an heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour, and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that charity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.’ [Cont.]

Note 1: Thomas Paine adverted to Burke's sentence on the "age of chivalry" when he wrote: ‘The fraud, hypocrisy, and imposition of governments [meaning, amongst others, the government of this kingdom] are now beginning to be too well understood to promise any long career. The farce of monarchy and aristocracy in all countries is following that of chivalry, and Mr. Burke is dressing for the funeral.’ The passage was quoted in his trial for treason which is the subject of a paper in The Libertarian for 4 May 2014 by George H. Smith, who adds the comment: ‘Thus did Paine exhibit “contempt of our said lord the king and his laws.” Part Two of Rights of Man was “against the peace of our said lord the king, his crown and dignity.”’ (Available online in Smith, ‘Thomas Paine versus Edmund Burke [Pt. 2] - online; accessed 31.07.2019; see further quotations under Commentary, infra.)

Note 2: Jonathan Swift also writes of ‘ten thousand swords’ in the Brobdingnag episode of Gulliver’s Travels: ‘I have often seen the militia of Lorbrulgrud drawn out to exercise in a great field near the city of twenty miles square. They were in all not above twenty-five thousand foot, and six thousand horse; but it was impossible for me to compute their number, considering the space of ground they took up. A cavalier mounted on a large steed, might be about a hundred feet high. I have seen this whole body of horse, upon a word of command, draw their swords at once, and brandish them in the air. Imagination can figure nothing so grand, so surprising, and so astonishing. It looked as if ten thousand flashes of lightning were darting at the same time from every quarter of the sky.’ [BS 06.04.2018.]

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This mixed sysem of opinion and sentiment had its origin in an ancient chivalry; and the principle, though varied in its appearance by the varying state of human affairs, subsisted and influence through a long succession of generations, even to the time we live in. If it should ever be totally extinguished, the loss I fear will be great. It is this which has given its character to modern Europe […/] But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonised the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defect of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our estimation, are to be exploded as ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion. / On this scheme of things, a king is but a man, a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal; and an animal not of the highest order.’ (p.171.)

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All homage paid to the sex in general as such, and without distinct views, is to be regarded as romance and folly. Regicide, and parricide, and sacrilege, are but fictions of superstition, corrupting jurisprudence by destroying its simplicity. The murder of a king, or a queen, or a bishop, or a father, are only common homicide; and if the people are by any chance, or in any way, gainers by it, a sort of homicide much the most pardonable, and into which we ought not to make too severe a scrutiny. / On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings, and which is as void of solid wisdom as it is destitute of all taste and elegance, laws are to be supported only by their own terrors, and by the concern which each individual may find in them, from his own private speculations, or can spare to them from his own private interests. In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows. Nothing is left which engages the affections on the part of the commonwealth. On the principles of this mechanic philosophy, our institutions can never be embodied, if I may use the expression, in persons; so as to create in us love, veneration, admiration, or attachment. But that sort of reason which banishes the affections is incapable of filling their place. These public affections, combined with manners, are required sometimes as supplements, sometimes as correctives, always as aids to law. The precept given by a wise man, as well as a great critic, for the construction of poems, is equally true as to states: - Non satis est pulchra esse poemata, dulcia sunto. [Horace, Ars Poetica, 1,99.] There ought to be a system of manners in every nation, which a well-formed mind would be disposed to relish. To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely. [...]’ [Cont.]

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When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment we have no compass to govern us; nor can we know distinctly to what port we steer. Europe, undoubtedly, taken in a mass, was in a flourishing condition the day on which your revolution was completed. How much of that prosperous state was owing to the spirit of our old manners and opinions is not easy to say; but as such causes cannot be indifferent in their operation, we must presume, that, on the whole, their operation was beneficial. / We are but too apt to consider things in the state in which we find them, without sufficiently adverting to the causes by which they have been produced, and possibly may be upheld. Nothing is more certain than that our manners, our civilization, and all the good things which are connected with manners, and with civilization, have, in this European world of ours, depended for ages upon two principles; and were indeed the result of both combined; I mean the spirit of a gentleman, and the spirit of religion. The nobility and the clergy, the one by profession, the other by patronage, kept learning in existence, even in the midst of arms and confusions, and whilst governments were rather in their causes than formed. Learning paid back what it received to nobility and to priesthood; and paid it with usury, by enlarging their ideas, and by furnishing their minds. Happy if they had all continued to know their indissoluble union, and their proper place! Happy if learning, not debauched by ambition, had been satisfied to continue the instructor, and not aspired to be the master! Along with its natural protectors and guardians, learning will be cast into the mire, and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.’ [Cont.]

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If, as I suspect, modern letters owe more than they are always willing to own to ancient manners, so do other interests which we value full as much as they are worth. Even commerce, and trade, and manufacture, the gods of our economical politicians, are themselves perhaps but creatures; are themselves but effects, which as first causes, we choose to worship. They certainly grew under the same shade in which learning flourished. They too may decay with their natural protecting principles. With you, for the present at least, they all threaten to disappear together. Where trade and manufacturers are wanting to a people, and the spirit of nobility and religion remains, sentiment supplies, and not always ill supplies, their place; but if commerce and the arts should be lost in an experiment to try how well a state may stand without these old fundamental principles, what sort of a thing must be a nation of gross, stupid, ferocious, and, at the same time, poor and sordid, barbarians, destitute of religion, honour, or manly pride, possessing nothing at present, and hoping for nothing hereafter? / I wish you may not be going fast, and by the shortest cut, to that horrible and disgustful situation. Already there appears a poverty of conception, a coarseness and a vulgarity, in all the proceedings of the assembly and of all their instructors. Their liberty is not liberal. Their science is presumptuous ignorance. Their humanity is savage and brutal. [...] (p.169; also given in extended extract in A. N. Jeffares & Peter Van de Kamp, eds., Irish Literature: The Eighteenth Century - An Annotated Anthology (Dublin/Oregon: Irish Academic Press 2006, pp.237-41; quoted [in large part] in Robert Welch, Changing States: Transformations in Irish Modern Irish Writing, London: Routledge 1993, p.16, citing Conor Cruise O’Brien, ed., French Revolution, Penguin 1968, p.171.)

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‘[W]hen kings are hurled from their thrones by the Supreme Director of this great drama, and become the objects of insult to the base, and of pity to the good, we behold such disasters in the moral, as we should behold a miracle in the physical order of things. We are alarmed into reflection; our minds (as it has long since been observed) are purified by terrour [terror] and pity; our weak unthinking pride is humbled, under the dispensations of a mysterious wisdom. Some tears might be drawn from me, if such a spectacle were exhibited on the stage. I should be truly ashamed of finding in myself that superficial, theatrick sense of painted distress, whilst I could exult over it in real life.’ (Coll. Works, edn. Laurence and King, 1803, Vol. V, p.157; cited in Christopher Reid, Edmund Burke and the Practice of Political Writing, 1983, p.40; copied [in part] in Abernethy, 1998, p.78.)

We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages. Many of our men of speculation, instead of exploding general prejudices, employ their sagacity to discover the latent wisdom which prevails in them. If they find what they seek, and they seldom fail, they think it more wise to continue the prejudice, with the reason involved, than to cast away the coat of prejudice, and to leave nothing but the naked reason.’ (p.183.) [Religion is] ‘the basis of all civil society and the source of all comfort’ (p.185.) [Burke expresses an apprehension that] ‘some uncouth, pernicious, and degrading superstition, might take place of it.’ (pp.187-88.)

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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; Conor Cruise O’Brien, ed., Reflections, pp.194-95.) ‘If that which is only submission to necessity should be made the object of choice, the law is broken, nature is destroyed, and the rebellious are outlawed, cast forth and exiled from the world of reason, and order and peace and virtue, and fruitful penitence, into the antagonistic world of madness, discord, vice, confusion and unavailing sorrow.’ (Reflections, ed., C. C. O’Brien, p.195; quoted in Daphne Abernethy, ‘Edmund Burke and the Paradoxes of History’, UUC MA Diss., 1998, p.41.) ‘He [God] who gave our nature to be perfected by our virtue, willed also the necessary means of its perfection. He willed therefore, the state, He willed its connexions with the source and original archetype of all connexion.’ (Ibid., p.196; quoted in Daphne Abernethy, ‘Edmund Burke and the Paradoxes of History’, UUC MA Diss., 1998.)

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Writers, especially when they act in a body, and with one direction, have great influence on the publick mind; the allegiance therefore of these writers with the monied interest had no small effect in removing the popular odium and envy which attended that species of wealth. These writers, like the propagators of all novelties, pretended to a great zeal for the poor, and the lower orders, whilst in their satires they rendered hateful, by every exaggeration, the faults of courts, of nobility, and of priesthood’ (pp.213-14.) ‘The law, which knows neither to flatter nor to insult, calls this high magistrate, not our servant, as this humble Divine calls him [vide, Price’s Discourse on the Love of Our Country], but “our Sovereign Lord the King”: and we, on our parts, have learned to speak only the primitive language of the law, and not the confused jargon of their Babylonian pulpits. (p.226; Abernethy, p.62.) ‘Even the clergy are to receive their miserable allowance out of the depreciated paper which is stamped with the delible character of sacrilege, and the symbols of their own ruin, or they must starve.’ (p.226.) ‘They countenanced too much of that [hoentious] philosophy which has helped to bring on their ruin. There was another error amongst them more fatal. Those of the commons, who approached to or exceeded many of the nobility in point of wealth, were not fully admitted to the rank and estimation which wealth, in reason and good policy, ought to bestow in every country: though I think not equally with that of other nobility.’ (p.244.) ‘Nobility is a graceful ornament to the civil order. It is the Corinthian capital of polished society’ (p.245.) ‘In every prosperous community, something more is produced than goes to the immediate support of the producer. This surplus forms the income of the landed capitalist. It will be spent by a proprietor who does not labour. But this idleness is itself the spring of labour; this repose the spur of industry … many wretches are inevitably doomed … generally pernicious to disturb’. (p.270-71.)

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Why should expenditure of a great landed property, which is a dispersion of the surplus products of the soil, appear intolerable to you and me, when it take its course through the accumulation of vast libraries … through great collections of antient records, medals, and coins, which a test and explain laws and customs; though paintings and statues, that, by imitating nature, seem to extend the limits of creation?’ (p.272.) the paradoxes of eloquent writers, brought forth purely as a sport of fancy, to try their talents, to rouse attention, and excite surprise, are taken up by these gentlemen, not in the spirit of the original authors, as a means of cultivating their taste and improving their style. These paradoxes become with them serious grounds of action, upon which they proceed in regulating the most important concerns of the state […]. I believe, that were Rousseau alive … he would be shocked at the practical phrenzy of his scholars, who in their paradoxes are servile imitators. (Reflections, pp.283-54.) ‘But the physician of the state, who, not satisfied with the cure of distempers, undertake to regenerate constitutions, ought to show uncommon powers’ (p.284.) ‘I am afraid I have gone too far into their way of considering the formation of a constitution. They have much, but bad, metaphysics; much, but bad, geometry; much but false proportionate arithmetic’ (p.296.) ‘The improvements of the national assembly are superficial, their Eros fundamental’ (p.375.) ‘[S]tanding on the firm ground of the British constitution, let us be satisfied to admire rather than attempt to follow in their desperate flights the aeronauts of France.’ (p.376.) Good order is the foundation of things […] To be enabled to acquire, the people […] must be tractable and obedient. The magistrate must have her reverence, and the laws their authority. The body of the people […] must respect that property of which it cannot partake [..] they must be taught their consolation in the final proportions of eternal justice.’ [Cont.]

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Permit me to continue our conversation and to tell You what the freedom is that I love and which I think all men entitled. It is not solitary, unconnected, individual, selfish Liberty. As if every man was to regulate the whole of his Conduct by his on will. The liberty I mean is social freedom. It is the state of things in which liberty is secured by the equality of Restraint; a Constitution of things in which the liberty of no one Man and no body of Men and no Number of men can find Means to trespass on the liberty of any Person or any description of Persons in the Society. ....You are now to live in a new order of things; under a plan of Govt. of which no Man can speak from experience. &c’ [390]; (Corr. VI, 39-50). The immediate occasion of the Reflections, Rev Richard Price, sermon at proceedings of The Revolution Society, a loyalist grouping in regard to 1688, expresses the ultra-Protestant view regarding the succession, but also moves a Congratulatory Address to the National Assembly in Paris on the assumption that the Revolution there was anti-Catholic in sentiment. [395] (Quoted in C. C. O’Brien, The Great Melody, 1992; page references to that text. O’Brien remarks: the title page, both the Price and Dupont connections are alluded to, under the respective forms of ‘proceedings in certain societies in London’ and ‘a letter intended to have been sent to a Gentleman in Paris.’ [O’Brien shows title page in printed format, p.401. The work originated on 4 Nov. 1789, when Burke received a letter from young Parisian acquaintance Charles-Jean-François Dupont asking for assurance that ‘the French are worthy to be free, and that they will know how to distinguish liberty from licence ...’. [389]; Burke gently repudiates the notion that he inspired that kind of theory of freedom [390]. He writes that the ‘most spectacular passage’, being that about the Queen as Burke saw her in 1773, has tended to given the impression that the whole consists in gorgeous rhetoric. ‘There is in reality very little rhetoric, quantitatively speaking. Most of the book is made up of plain and cogent argument.’ [402]. Quotes Burke in praise of ‘Circumstance’: ‘I think I envy liberty as little as they do, to any other nation. But I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to any thing which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands, stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to ever political principle its distinguishing colour, and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind. &c’ (Penguin Edn., 89-91) [405].

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Murder at Versailles [Burke recalls despoliation and murder at Versailles on the journées revolutionnaires of 6 & 7th Oct. 1789; . 406; The Marie Antoinette passage was written at early stage in composition - viz.,: It is now sixteen years ... &c. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of exalted freedom. the unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise are gone! it is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness. (Penguin ed. pp.169-170; Conor Cruise O’Brien, op. cit., p.407];

Further: Burke wrote to Marie Antoinette, ‘under circumstances [which] require that my Words should be some words cautioning against falling in with the supposed constitution, and some more dire words of warning, ‘For Gods sake have nothing to do with Traitors. Those men can never be seriously disposed to restore the Nation, the King, yourself or your children, who have been authors of your common ruin. ... Their whole power is to hurt you; To serve you they have none. / If the King accepts their pretended constitution you are both of you undone forever.’ (Corr. VI, pp.349-51) [O’Brien, op. cit., 465-66].

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A spectable resembling a procession of American savages: ‘It was (unless we have been strangely deceived) a spectacle more resembling a procession of American savages, entering Onondaga after some of their murders called victories and leading into hovels hung round with scalps of their captives, overpowered with the scoffs and buffets of women as foerocious as themselves [...]’ (p.59.) ‘Their [two executed guards] heads were stuck upon spears and led the procession, whilst the royal captives who followed in the train were slowly moved along amidst the horrid yells, and shrilling screams, and frantic dances, and infamous contumelies, and all the unutterable abominations of the furies of hell in the abused shape of the vilest of women.’ (p.63.) ‘It is now sixteen or seventeen years’ This since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versaille [&c. continuing up to: But the age of chivalry is gone.]’ (p.66.)

‘This mixed system of opinion and sentiment had its origin in the ancient chivalry; and the principle, though varied in its appearance by varying states of human affairs, subsisted and influenced through a long sucession of generations even to this time we live in. If it should ever be totally extinguished, to loss I gear will be great. It is this which has given its character to modern Europe.’ (p.67.) ‘All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral indignation, which the heart owns and the understanding ratifies as necesssary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as ridiculous, absurd and antiquated fashion. On this scheme of things, a king is but a man, a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal, and an animal not of the highest order.’ (p.67; all the above in Thompson, quoted in Spurgeon Thompson, ‘Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and the Subject of Eurocentrism’, in Irish University Review, Autumn/Winter 2004], pp.245-62: pp.248-55 [q. page ref. in Burke.)

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The rights of man are a sort of middle, incapable of definition, but not impossible to be discerned’ (Reflections, 1955 edn., p.59; Eagleton, p.32.) ‘But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonised the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the superadded ideas, furnished frm the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as neessary to cover the defect of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our our estimation, are to be exploded as ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.’ ([quoted by Terry Eagleton, in ‘Aesthetics and Politics in Edmund Burke’, Irish Literature and Culture,d. Michael Kenneally, ed., Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1992]Ibid., p.74.)

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I flatter myself that I love a manly, moral, regulated liberty as well as any gentleman of that society [viz., the Revolution Society], be he who he will [...]. But I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to any thing which related to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) [that] give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour, and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind. Abstractedly speaking, government, as well as liberty, is good; yet could I, in common sense, ten years go, have felicitated France on her enjoyment of a government (for she then had a government) without enquiry what the nature of that government was, or how it was administered? Can I now congratulate the same nation upon its freedom [...]? / When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see a strong principle at work; and this, for a while, is all I can possibly know of it [...]. I must be tolerably sure, before I venture publicly to congratulate men upon a blessing, that they have really received one [...]. I should therefore suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France, until I was informed how it had been combined with government; with public force; with the discipline and obedience of armies; with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue; with morality and religion; with the solidity of property; with peace and order; with civil and social manners. All these (in their way) are good things too; and, without the, liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and is not likely to continue long. The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations, which may be soon turned into complaints. Prudence would dictate this in the case of separate, insulated, private men; but liberty, when men act in bodies, is power . Considerate people, before they declare themselves, will observe the use which is made of power; and particularly of so trying a thing as new power in new persons., of whose principles, tempers, and dispositions they have little or no experience, and in situations, where those who appear the most stirring in the scene may possibly not be the real movers.’ (Eliot Edn., 1968, pp.147-48.)

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The beginnings of confusion with us in England are at present feeble enough; but, with you, we have seen an infancy, still more feeble, growing by moments into a strength to heap mountains upon mountains, waging war with heaven itself.’ (p.149.) ‘You do not imagine, that I wish to confine power, authority, and distinction to blood, and names, and titles. No, Sir. There is not qualification for government but virtue and wisdom., actual or presumptive.’ (p.188.) Refers to the danger that [like Abraham] ‘in the moment of riot, and in a drunken delirium from the hot spirit drawn out of the alembic of hell, which in France is now so furiously boiling, we should uncover our nakedness.’ (p.226.) Further: ‘man is by nature a religious animal’ (p.226-27); ‘Good order is the foundation of all things. To be able to acquire [it], the people, without being servile, must be tractable and obedient’ (p.374.) [The foregoing all quoted in Will Murphy, MA Diss., UUC 2004; pp.62-67.]

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Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770) - extracts.

Bibliograhical details: Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770; Routledge Edn. 1913).

It is an undertaking of some degree of delicacy to examine into the cause of public disorders. If a man happens not to succeed in such an inquiry, lie will be thought weak and visionary; if he touches the true grievance, there is a danger that he may come near to persons of weight and consequence [e.g., the King/GIII], who will rather be exasperated at the discovery of their errors, than thankful for the occasion of correcting them. If he should be obliged to blame the favourites of the people [e.g., William Pitt, 1st Erl of Chatham], he will be considered as the tool of power; if he censures those in power, he will be looked on as in instrument of faction. But in all exertions of duty something is to be hazarded. In cases of tumult and disorder, our law has invested every man, in some sort, with the authority of a magistrate. Men the affairs of the nation are distracted, private people are, by the spirit of that law, justified in stepping a little out of their ordinary sphere. They enjoy a privilege, of somewhat more dignity and effect, than that of idle lamentation over the calamities of their country. They may look into them narrowly; they may reason upon them liberally; and if they should be so fortunate as to discover the true source of the mischief, and to suggest any probable method of removing it, though they may displease the rulers for the day, they are certainly of service to the cause of government. Government is deeply interested in everything which, even through the medium of some temporary uneasiness, may tend finally to compose the minds of the subject, and to conciliate their affections. I have nothing to do here with the abstract value of the voice of the people. But as long as reputation, the most precious possession of every individual, and as long as opinion, the great support of the state, depend entirely upon that voice, it can never be considered as a thing of little consequence either to individuals or to governments. Nations are not primarily ruled by laws: less by violence. Whatever original energy may be supposed either in force or regulation, the operation of both is, in truth, merely instrumental. Nations are governed by the same methods, and on the same principles, by which an individual without authority is often able to govern those who are his equals or his superiors; by a knowledge of their temper, and by a judicious management of it; I mean - when public affairs are steadily and quietly conducted; not when government is nothing but it continued scuffle between the magistrate and the multitude; in which sometimes the one and sometimes the other is uppermost; in which they yield and prevail, in a series of contempible victories, and scandalous submissions. [3] The temper of the people amongst whom he presides ought therefore to be the first study of a statesman. And the knowledge of this temper it is by no means impossible for him to attain, if he has not an interest in being ignorant of what it is his duty to learn.’ [Cont.]

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To complain of the age we live in, to murmur at the present possessors of power, to lament the past, to conceive extravagant hopes of the future, are the common dispositions of the greatest part of mankind; indeed the necessary effects of the ignorance and levity of the vulgar. Such complaints and humours have existed in all times; yet as all times have not been alike, true political sagacity manifests itself in distinguishing that complaint which only characterises the general infirmity of human nature, from those which are symptoms of the particular distemperature of our our air and season.  Nobody, I believe, will consider it merely as the language of spleen or disappointment, if I say, that there is something particularly alarming in the present conjuncture. There is hardly a man, in or out of power, who holds any other language. That government is at once dreaded and contemned; that the laws are despoiled of all their respected and salutary terrors; that their inaction is subject of ridicule, and their exertion of abhorrence; that rank, and office and title, and all the solemn plausibilities of the world, have lost their reverence and effect; that our foreign politics are as much deranged as our domestic economy; that our dependencies are are slackened in their affection, and loosened from their obedience; that we know  how to yield nor how to enforce; that  hardly anything above or below, abroad or at home,  is sound and entire; but that disconnection and [4] confusion, in offices, in parties, in families [referring particularly to Lord Temple and his brother George Grenville, and his brother-in-law Lord Chatham], in Parliament, in the nation prevail beyond the disorder of any former time: these are facts universally admitted and lamented.’ (pp.3-5.)

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It is true, that the peers have a great influence in the kingdom, and in every part of the public concerns. While they are men of property, it is impossible to prevent it, except by such means as must prevent all property from its natural operation: an event not easily to be compassed, while property is power; nor by any means to be wished, while the least [24] notion exists of the method by which the spirit of liberty acts, and of the means by which it is preserved. If any particular peers [E.g., the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham], by their upright, constitutional conduct, by their public and their private virtues, have acquired an influence in the country; the people, on whose favour that influence depends, and from whom it will never be duped into an opinion, that such greatness in a peer is the despotism of an aristocracy, when they know and feel it to be the effect and pledge of their own importance.’ (pp.24-25.)

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I am no friend to aristocracy, in the sense at least in which that word is usually understood. If it were not a bad habit to moot cases on the supposed ruin of the constitution, I should be free to declare, that if it must perish, I would rather by far see it resolved into any other form, than lost in that austere and insolent domination. But, whatever my dislikes may be, my fears are not upon that quarter. The question, on the influence of a court, and of peerage, is not, which of the two dangers is the more eligible, but which is the more imminent. He is but a poor observer, who has not seen, that the generality of peers, far from supporting themselves in a state of independent greatness, are but too apt to fall into an oblivion of their proper dignity, and to run headlong into an abject servitude. Would to God it were true, that the fault of our peers were too much spirit. It is worthy of some observation that these gentlemen, so jealous of aristocracy, make no complaints of the power of those peers (neither few nor inconsiderable) who are always in the train of a court, and whose whole weight must be considered as a portion of the settled influence of the Crown. This is all safe and right; but if [25] some peers (I am very sorry to they are not as many as they ought to be) set themselves, in the great concern of peers and commons, against a back-stairs influence and clandestine government, then the alarm begins; then the constitution is in danger of being forced into an aristocracy.’ (pp.25-26.)

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The popular election of magistrates, and popular disposition of rewards and honours, is one of the first advantages of a free State. Without it, or something equivalent to it, perhaps the people cannot long enjoy the substance of freedom; certainly none of the vivifying energy of good government. The frame of our commonwealth did not admit of such an actual election: but it provided as well, and (while the spirit of the constitution is preserved) better for all the effects of it than by the method of suffrage in any democratic state whatsoever. It had always, until of late, been held the first duty of Parliament to refuse to support government, until power was in the hands of persons who were acceptable to the people, or while factions predominated in the court in which the nation had no confidence. Thus all the good effects of popular election were supposed to be secured to us, without the mischiefs attending on perpetual intrigue, and a distinct canvass for every particular office throughout the body of the people. This was the most noble and refined part of our constitution. The people, by their representatives and grandees, were intrusted with a deliberative power in making laws; the king with the control of his negative [i.e., the Royal veto]. The king was intrusted with the deliberative choice and the election to office; the people had the negative in a Parliamentary refusal to support. Formerly this power of control was what kept ministers in awe of Parliaments, and Parliaments in reverence with the people. If the use of this power of control on the system and [39] persons of administration were gone, everything is lost, Parliament and all.’ […; 40.]

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The court party resolve the whole into faction. Having said something before upon this subject, I shall only observe here, that, when they give this account of the prevalence of faction, they present no very favourable aspect of the confidence of the people in their own government. They may be assured, that however they amuse themselves with a variety of projects for substituting something else in the place of that great and only foundation of government, the confidence of the people, every attempt will but make their condition worse. When men imagine that their food is only a cover for poison, and when they neither love nor trust the hand that serves it, it is not the name of the roast beef of Old England that will persuade them to sit down to the table that is spread for them. [50]

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