Letters, Speeches and Tracts on Irish Affairs

Edmund Burke

collected and arranged
Matthew Arnold
with a preface

London: Macmillan and Co. 1881


Contents Preface

[Source: The text of the present edition has been captured at the Internet Archive online, using the Cresset Library facsimile edition of 1988 introduced by Conor Cruise O’Brien has been used as copy-text edition copy text is available in the edition, which shares the same pagination for the main text, though differing in the pagination of the front material - i.e, Contents, Introduction, and Preface. In the Cresset Arnold’s preface has been moved forward from pp.v-xiii to xxxviii-xxxxii [sic for xlii], making room for Cruise O’Brien Introduction on pp.vii-xxxvii (with Notes at pp.xxxiv-vi). Burke’s text begins, as in the 1881 edition, at [p.1].

Editorial Note: the pagination is set at the top of each page as in the Macmillan and the Cresset editions. Here, however, it is embedded in the text using {} brackets to design the turn of page. Paragraphs have been separated throughout with a space in accordance with standard HTML practice for easy reading, and as best suited to texts which do not involve dialogue. Arnold’s punctuation style has been modified a little, e.g., his punctuation <, — > has here been produced as < - > in keeping with modern practice. The footnotes, which appear at the foot of page in the original, are appended at the end of the current section (e.g, the end of Tracts, Chapter 1, Plan, and so on).]

1. Tracts on the Popery Laws
II. A Letter to Sir Charles Bingham, Bart., on the Irish Absentee Tax
III. A Letter to the Honourable Charles James Fox
Two Letters to Gentlemen in Bristol
    To Samuel Span, Esq., Master of the Society of Merchants Adventurers of Bristol
      To Messrs. and Co., Bristol [108]
Mr. Burke’s Speech at the Guildhall, in Bristol, 1780
VI. A Letter to a Peer of Ireland on the Penal Laws against Irish Catholics [182]
VII. A Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe, M.P., 1792 [206]
VIII. A Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Pery [279]

A Letter to Thomas Burgh, Esq.


A Letter to John Merlott, Esq.

XI. A Letter to William Smith, Esq. [322]
XII. A Second Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe [334]
XIII. A Letter to Richard Burke, Esq. [343]
XIV. A Letter on the Affairs of Ireland, 1797 [373]
  A Letter to the Duke of Portland [390]
  A Letter to the Rev. Dr. Hussey, 1795 [394]
  A Letter to the Same [401]
  A Letter to Thomas Keogh, Esq. [410]
  A Letter to the Rev. Dr. Hussey, 1796 [416]
  A Letter to the Right Hon. William Windham [436]
  A Letter to Dr. Laurence [438]

See full text versions of the contents of the edition in the Collected Works, 12 vols. (London 1887), via a table of contents with links to the corresponding volumes and their component documents, in under Burke, Works, supra - or go directly to the Contents page [attached].

Who now reads Bolingbroke? Burke once asked; and if the same question were at this day asked in respect to Burke himself, what would be the answer? Certainly not that he is read anything like as much as he deserves to be read. We English make far too little use of our prose classics - far less than the French make of theirs. The place which a writer like Pascal, for instance, fills in French education, and in the minds of cultivated Frenchmen in general, how different is it from the place which Burke fills in our reading and thoughts, and how much larger! Shakespeare and Milton we are all supposed to know something of; but of none of our prose classics, I think, if we leave stories out of the account, such as are the Pilgrim’s Progress and the Vicar of Wakefield, are we expected to have a like knowledge. Perhaps an exception is to be made for Bacon’s Essays, but even of this I do not feel sure. Our grandfathers were bound to know their Addison, but for us the obligation has ceased; nor is that loss, indeed, a very serious matter. But to lose Swift and Burke out of our mind’s circle of acquaintance is a loss {vi} indeed, and a loss for which no conversance with contemporary prose literature can make up, any more than conversance with contemporary poetry could make up to us for unacquaintance with Shakespeare and Milton. In both cases the unacquaintance shuts us out firom great sources of English life, thought, and language, and from the capital records of its history and development, and leaves us in consequence very imperfect and fragmentary Englishmen. It can hardly be said that this inattention to our prose classics is due to their being contained in collections made up of many volumes, - collections dear and inaccessible. Their remaining buried in such collections - a fate so unlike that which has been Rousseau’s in France, or Lessing’s in Germany, - is rather the result of our inattention than its cause. While they are so buried, however, they are in truth almost inaccessible to the general public, and all occasions for rescuing and exhibiting representative specimens of them should be welcomed and used.

Such an occasion offer itself, for Burke, in the interest about Ireland which the present state of that country compels even the most unwilling Englishman to feel our neglected classic is by birth an Irishman; he knows Ireland and its history thoroughly. “I have studied it,” he most truly says, “with more care than is common.” He is the greatest of our political thinkers and writers. But his political thinking and writing has more value on some subjects than on others; the value is at its highest when the subject is Ireland. The writings {vii} collected in this volume cover a period of more than thirty years of Irish history, and show at work all the causes which have brought Ireland to its present state. The tyranny of the grantees of confiscation; of the English garrison; Protestant ascendency; the reliance of the English Government upon this ascendency and its instruments as their means of government; the yielding to menaces of danger and insurrection what was never yielded to considerations of equity and reason; the recurrence to the old perversity of mismanagement as soon as ever the danger was passed - all these are shown in this volume; the evils, and Burke’s constant sense of their gravity, his constant struggle to cure them. The volume begins with the Tracts on the Popery LawS, written probably between 1760 and 1765, when that penal code, of which the monstrosity is not half known to Englishmen, and may be studied by them with profit in the Tracts, was still in force, and when Irish trade was restricted, almost annulled, from jealousy lest it should interfere with the trade of England. Then comes the American war. In the pressure of diffiulty and danger, as that war proceeded, Lord North’s Government proposed, in 1778, to conciliate Ireland by partly withdrawing the restrictions on her trade. The commercial middle class - the class with which a certain school of politicians supposes virtue, abhorring nobles and squires, to have taken refuge, - the men of Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, and Bristol, were instantly in angry movement, and forced the Minister to abandon his {viii} propositions. The danger deepened; Spain joined herself with France and America; the Irish volunteers appeared in arms. Then, in 1779, the restrictions on Irish trade, of which the partial withdrawal had been refused the year before, were withdrawn altogether. But the irritation of his constituents at his supporting this withdrawal, and at his supporting a measure of relief to Catholics, cost Burke his seat at Bristol. Meanwhile, the Irish Parliament proceeded in establishing its independence of that of Great Britain. Irish affairs were controlled by Irish legislators; the penal laws were relaxed, the Catholics admitted to the franchise, though not to Parliament. The English Government had to govern Ireland through the Irish Legislature. But it persisted on leaning upon that party in the Irish Legislature - a Protestant Legislature, no doubt, but containing such patriotic and liberal Protestants as Grattan - it persisted on leaning upon that party which represented Protestant ascendency and the rule of the grantees of confiscation in its worst form. In 1789 came the French Revolution. To remove the disabilities under which the Catholics of Ireland still lay was a measure which commended itself to all the best politicians at that time. The English Government sent, in 1795, Burke’s friend. Lord Fitz William, as Viceroy to Ireland. Lord Fitzwilliam was the declared friend of Catholic emancipation. It seemed on thie point of being granted, when the Irish Protestant junto, as Burke calls it, prevailed with Mr. Pitt, and Lord Fitzwilliam was recalled. In 1797 Burke died, {ix} full of mournful apprehensions for the future; in 1798 came the Irish Bebellion. But with the Rebellion we pass beyond the life of Burke, and beyond the period of Irish history covered by this volume.

The rapid summary just given of that history, from 1760 to 1797, will afford a sufficient clue to the writings and speeches which follow. Burke, let me observe in passing, greatly needs to be re-edited; indeed, he has never yet been properly edited at all. But all that I have attempted to do in the present volume is to arrange chronologically the writings and speeches on Irish affairs, which, in Burke’s collected works, are now scattered promiscuously; and to subjoin the most important of his private letters on the saifoe subject, taken from the correspondence published in 1844 by the late Lord Fitzwil liam, the son of Burke’s friend, the Irish Viceroy.[1] In my opinion, the importance of Burke’s thoughts on the policy pursued in Ireland is as great now as when he uttered them, and when they were received, as he himself tells us, with contempt . “You do not suppose,” said Mr. Bright the other day in the City, - “you do not suppose that the fourteen members of the Government spend days and weeks in the consideration of a measure such as the Irish Land Bill without ascertaining in connexion with it everything everybody else can know.” Alas! how many English Governments have been confident {x} that they had ascertained in connexion with their Irish policy “everything everybody else could know!” Burke writes to Mrs. Crewe that a work of his has, he is told, “put people in a mood a little unusual to them - it has set them on thinking.” “One might have imagined,” he adds, “that the train of events, as they passed before their eyes, might have done that!” Nevertheless, it does not; and so, he concludes, “Let them think now who never thought before!” In general, our Governments, however well informed, feel bound, it would seem, to adapt their policy to our normal mental condition, which is, as Burke says, a non-thinking one. Burke’s paramount and undying merit as a politician is, that instead of accepting as fatal and necessary this non-thinking condition of ours, he battles with it, mends and changes it; he will not rest until he has “put people in a mood a little unusual with them,” until he has “set them on thinking.”

1. The copyright of these Letters belongs to Messrs. Rivington, and I have to thank them for their kindness in permitting me to print such as I needed for my purpose.


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