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MR. BURKE'S SPEECH
AT BRISTOL, PREVIOUS TO THE ELECTION IN THE
THIS speech, Mr. Burke delivered' on the hust ings of the city of Bristol, at the election of 1780, in vindication of his parliamentary conduct, which he found on coming among them to be condemned by so large a proportion of his constituents as materially to affect his popularity.
He was charged particularly with having voted for the grant of increased privileges to the Irish trade contrary to their positive instructions, and under the conviction that the measure would be highly injurious to the commerce of Bristol.
In his defence he is manly, independent, and spirited. Confident of the rectitude of the principles which had governed his conduct, he no where descends to appease the murmurings of discontent, by holding out the winking taper of paltry excuses. "No," he exclaims, "I did not obey your instructions. I conformed to the instructions of truth and nature, and maintained your interest, against your opinions, with the constancy that became me. A representative worthy of you, ought to be a person of stability. I am to look, indeed, to your opinions; but to such opinions as you and I must have five years hence. Į
was not to look at the flash of the day. I knew that you chose me in my place, along with others to be a pillar of the state, and not a weathercock on the top of the edifice, exalted for my levity and versatility; and of no use but to indicate the shiftings of every fashionable gale." This
eloquent address, however, was ineffectual. On the second day of the election he declined the
MR. MAYOR, AND GENTLEMEN,
I AM extremely pleased at the appearance of this large and respectable meeting. The steps I may be obliged to take will want the sanction of a considerable authority; and in explaining any thing which may appear doubtful in my publick conduct, I must naturally desire a very full audience.
I have been backward to begin my canvass.-The dissolution of the parliament was uncertain; and it did not become me, by an unseasonable importunity, to appear diffident of the fact of my six years endeavours to please you. I had served the city of Bristol honourably; and the city of Bristol had no reason to think, that the means of honourable service to the publick, were become indifferent to me.
I found on my arrival here, that three gentlemen had been long in eager pursuit of an object which but two of us can obtain. I found, that they had all met with encouragement. A contested election in such a city as this, is no light thing. I paused on the brink of the precipice. These three gentlemen, by various merits, and on various titles, I made no doubt, were worthy of your favour. I shall never attempt to raise myself by depreciating the merits of my competitors. In the complexity and confusion of these cross pursuits, I wished to take the authentick publick sense of my friends upon a business of so much delicacy. I wished to take your opinion along with me; that if I should give up the contest at the very
beginning, my surrender of my post may not seem the effect of inconstancy, or timidity, or anger, or disgust, or indolence, or any other temper unbecoming a man who has engaged in the publick service. If, on the contrary, I should undertake the election, and fail of success, I was full as anxious that it should be manifest to the whole world, that the peace of the city had not been broken by my rashness, presumption, or fond conceit of my own merit.
I am not come, by a false and counterfeit show of deference to your judgment, to seduce it in my favour. I ask it seriously and unaffectedly. If you wish that I should retire, I shall not consider that advice as a censure upon my conduct, or an alteration in your sentiments; but as a rational submission to the circumstances of affairs. If, on the contrary, you should think it proper for me to proceed on my canvass, if you will risk the trouble on your part, I will risk it on mine. My pretensions are such as you cannot be ashamed of, whether they succeed or fail.
If you call upon me, I shall solicit the favour of the city upon manly ground. I come before you with the plain confidence of an honest servant in the equity of a candid and discerning master. I come to claim your approbation, not to amuse you with vain apologies, or with professions still more vain and senseless. I have lived too long to be served by apologies, or to stand in need of them. The part I have acted has been in open day; and to hold out to a conduct, which stands in that clear and steady light for all its good and all its evil, to hold out to that conduct the paltry winking tapers of excuses and promises-I never will do it. They may obscure it with their smoke; but they never can illumine sunshine by such a flame as theirs.
I am sensible that no endeavours have been left untried to injure me in your opinion. But the use of character is to be a shield against calumny. I could wish, undoubtedly (if idle wishes were not the most idle of all things) to make every part of my conduct agreeable to every one of my constituents. But in
so great a city, and so greatly divided as this, it is weak to expect it.
In such a discordancy of sentiments, it is better to look to the nature of things than to the humours of men. The very attempt towards pleasing every body, discovers a temper always flashy, and often false and insincere. Therefore, as I have proceeded straight onward in my conduct, so I will proceed in my account of those parts of it which have been most excepted to. But I must first beg leave just to hint to you, that we may suffer very great detriment by being open to every talker. It is not to be imagined how much of service is lost from spirits full of activi ty, and full of energy, who are pressing, who are rushing forward, to great and capital objects, when you oblige them to be continually looking back. Whilst they are defending one service, they defraud you of a hundred. Applaud us when we run; console us when we fall; cheer us when we recover; but let us pass on-for God's sake, let us pass on.
Do you think, gentlemen, that every publick act in the six years since I stood in this place before you
-that all the arduous things which have been done in this eventful period, which has crowded into a few years space the revolutions of an age, can be opened to you on their fair grounds in half an hour's conversation?
But it is no reason, because there is a bad mode of inquiry, that there should be no examination at all. Most certainly it is our duty to examine; it is our interest too. But it must be with discretion; with an attention to all the circumstances, and to all the motives; like sound judges, and not like caviling pettyfoggers and quibbling pleaders, prying into flaws and hunting for exceptions. Look, gen. tlemen, to the whole tenour of your member's conduct. Try whether his ambition or his avarice have justled him out of the straight line of duty; or whether that grand foe of the offices of active life, that mastervice in men of business, a degenerate and inglorious sloth, has made him flag, and languish in his course.
This is the object of our inquiry. If our member's conduct can bear this touch, mark it for sterling. He may have fallen into errours; he must have faults; but our errour is greater, and our fault is radically ruinous to ourselves, if we do not bear, if we do not even applaud, the whole compound and mixed mass of such a character. Not to act thus is folly; I had almost said it is impiety. He censures God, who quarrels with the imperfections of man.
Gentlemen, we must not be peevish with those who serve the people. For none will serve us whilst there is a court to serve, but those who are of a nice and jealous honour. They who think every thing, in comparison of that honour, to be dust and ashes, will not bear to have it soiled and impaired by those for whose sake they make a thousand sacrifices to preserve it immaculate and whole. We shall either drive such men from the publick stage, or we shall send them to the court for protection: where, if they must sacrifice their reputation, they will at least secure their interest. Depend upon it, that the lovers of freedom will be free. None will violate their conscience to please us, in order afterwards to discharge that conscience, which they have violated, by doing us faithful and affectionate service. If we degrade and deprave their minds by servility, it will be absurd to expect, that they who are creeping and abject towards us, will ever be bold and incorruptible assertors of our freedom, against the most seducing and the most formidable of all powers. No. Human nature is not so formed: nor shall we improve the faculties or better the morals of publick men, by our possession of the most infallible receipt in the world for making cheats and hypocrites.
Let me say with plainness, I who am no longer in a publick character, that if by a fair, by an indulgent, by a gentlemanly behaviour to our representatives, we do not give confidence to their minds, and a liberal scope to their understandings; if we do not permit our members to act upon a very enlarged view of things; we shall at length infallibly degrade our na