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Dodsley's Annual Register; to this treadmill he returned in 1763, and toiled on for two years, steadily enlarging the circle of his reputation, and beginning to number among his friends such men as Hume, Garrick, Reynolds, Johnson. When Lord Rockingham became Prime Minister, he made Burke his private secretary (June, 1765); in December of this same year Burke entered Parliament for the borough of Wendover, and in January, 1766, delivered his maiden speech. This was a brilliant success; it was an argument in favor of receiving the petition sent to Parliament by the Stamp-Act Congress.
Lord Rockingham was Prime Minister for little more than a year; when he was dismissed, Burke could have held office under his successor, Pitt, but he preferred merely to retain his seat in Parliament, and to follow the political fortunes of his patron. The friendship thus cemented was broken only by Lord Rockingham's death sixteen years later; in his will he directed his executors to destroy all evidences of Burke's indebtedness to him.
This indebtedness amounted to thirty thousand pounds. Was. ever politician so trusted before !
It is useless to disguise the fact that for nearly the whole of his long political life Burke was overwhelmed by debt. Of the twenty-two thousand pounds which, in 1769, he agreed to pay for an estate in Buckinghamshire, fourteen thousand pounds were not paid until fifteen years after his death, and six thousand pounds were paid by Lord Rockingham. Yet, after all, are these facts as discreditable to Burke as to the English people to whose service he devoted his life? They looked on with indifference while a corrupt oligarchy polluted the springs of government; they allowed their greatest orator to drink the bitter waters of poverty and debt, while they were paying that elegant vacuity, Horace Walpole, £6,000 a year for being the son of his father.
In the opening pages of his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, Burke describes the unconstitutional system of a double cabinet under which England was then misgoverned, and to which he attributes the fact “that government is at once dreaded and contemned; that the laws are despoiled of all their respected and salutary terrors; that their inaction is a 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 slackened in their affection, and loosened from their obedience; that we know neither 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 confusion, in offices, in parties, in families, in Parliament, in the nation, prevail beyond the disorders of any former time — these are facts universally admitted and lamented.”
The body of the pamphlet is devoted to the evil effects of this double-cabinet system and to an exposition of Burke's views — ultra-conservative views we should now call them — on the English Constitution; the concluding pages contain as good a defense as has ever been set up for party government.
1 Compare the Kitchen-Cabinet in Jackson's first Administration.
The ministry of Lord North, then just entering upon power (1770), were annoyed by the shafts of Burke's rhetoric, but were much too thick-skinned to be seriously wounded by them. Perhaps the crassness of their pericrania rendered them impervious to the infiltration of new ideas; perhaps — but whatever the cause, intellectual, physical, or immoral, Burke moved them not. They attempted no reforms, either in home or foreign policy; a few years' persistence in this course resulted in Saratoga, Yorktown, and the loss of the American Colonies. During these years Burke's conduct was beyond praise, and deserves to be held in grateful remembrance of every American: from his seat in Parliament he continually raised the voice of protest and of warning - but it was the voice of one crying in the wilderness. He spoke to a king whose political wrongheadedness faithfully represented the popular will, and to a House of Commons which had no fear of hell before their eyes, save a deficit in the secret-service supplies.
In 1774 Burke was returned to Parliament for Bristol, then the second city in England. This seat he held for six years, failing of re-election because of his refusal to vote in accordance with certain sordid instructions from his constituents. On the 19th of April, 1774,-- just a year before Lexington, — he delivered his speech on American Taxation, in which he urged the repeal of the tea-duty; on the 22d of March, 1775, came the speech on Conciliation with the Colonies ; on the 3d of April, 1777, the immortal Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol on the Affairs of America. Of these three compositions Mr. John Morley has written golden words, which it would be absurd for me to try and burnish. He says: 1
1 “ Purs is the erchedeknes helle,” seyde he.
Canterbury Tales, 658.
“It is no exaggeration to say that they compose the most perfect manual in our literature, or in any literature, for one who approaches the study of public affairs, whether for knowledge or for practice. They are an example without fault of all the qualities which the critic, whether a theorist or an actor, of great political situations should strive by night and by day to possess. If the subject with which they deal were less near than it is to our interests and affections as free citizens, these three performances would still abound in the lessons of an incomparable political method. If their subject were as remote as the quarrel between Corinthians and Corcyra, or the war between Rome and the Allies, instead of a conflict to which the world owes the opportunity of the most important of political experiments, we should still have everything to learn from the author's treatment; the vigorous grasp of masses of compressed detail, the wide illumination from great principles of human experience, the strong and masculine feeling for the two great political ends of Justice and Freedom, the large and generous interpretation of expediency, the morality, the vision, the noble temper. If ever, in the fullness of time—and surely the fates of men and literature cannot have it otherwise -- Burke becomes one of the half-dozen names of established and universal currency in education and in common books, rising above the waywardness of literary caprice or [of] intellectual fashions, as Shake
1 Morley's Burke, chapter iy.
speare and Milton and Bacon rise above it, it [sic] will be the mastery, the elevation, the wisdom of these far-shining discourses in which the world will in an especial degree recognize the combination of sovereign gifts with beneficent uses."
The surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown gave the deathblow to the ministry of Lord North, and to the fatuous policy of the king upon which that ministry leaned. Lord Rockingham became Prime Minister for the second time (1782); and Burke, who had been the brains and bone and sinew of the Opposition for sixteen long years, who had kept the Whigs together and shaped their policy, who had written their best pamphlets and made their best speeches, who was allowed to have a more extensive and varied knowledge of public affairs than any man of his day Burke was omitted from the list of cabinet officers, and was appointed to the comparatively unimportant post of Paymaster of the Forces. Here he ranked as high, perhaps, as an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury would with us.
Lord Rockingham died in July, 1782, having been Prime Minister a brief three months. Burke could have continued in office under his successor, Shelburne; but he preferred to follow Fox into opposition — mistakenly as it appears, for this jar shook to its foundations the loosely cohering Whig party, and awoke from its coma the corpus vile of that Court policy which all good men hoped had passed into the stage of cadaveric rigidity. Shelburne's incapacity seemed to prove at first that Burke was right in his action; for in April, 1783, the Shelburne ministry went to pieces. In the new deal