EDMUND BURKE 1729 -
xxxxxThe orator and political writer Edmund Burke entered parliament in 1765, and quickly gained fame for his support of the American colonists in their dispute with the British government. He opposed the Stamp Act and, via his Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents of 1770, and two memorable speeches, he attacked the government for its unwillingness to compromise. In the 1780s he brought to public notice the mismanagement of affairs in India, and was instrumental in having Warren Hastings, a former governor-
xxxxxThe outspoken Whig parliamentarian and political writer Edmund Burke is best remembered today for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, a work which did much to stir up opposition to the French Revolution. But in a political career spanning some thirty years, he also played a prominent and sometimes controversial part in other issues of his day, including the build up to the American War of Independence, the perennial problems associated with Ireland, and the East India Company’s mismanagement of Indian affairs. And as a political theorist he was instrumental in forming political parties at Westminster, defining the role of a member of parliament, and laying the foundations of conservatism.
xxxxxBurke was born in Dublin and, after attending Trinity College in 1744, came to London in 1750. There he began to study law at the Middle Temple, but soon turned to a career in both writing and politics. To this early period belongs his A Vindication of Natural Society (1756), criticizing the current theory of “back to nature”, and his A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, a contribution to aesthetic theory which proved of particular interest to the French philosopher Denis Diderot, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant and the German dramatist and critic Gotthold Lessing when it was published in 1757. In the following year appeared the first volume of his Annual Register, a yearly summary of world events which he edited for close on thirty years.
xxxxxHis career in politics began in earnest when he entered the House of Commons in 1765. Here he quickly gained a reputation for his rhetorical eloquence in support of the American colonists. He strongly opposed the Stamp Act -
xxxxxIn the 1780s Burke turned his attention to Indian affairs. For long concerned about the administration of the East India Company in that country, he played a leading part in condemning the company’s exploitation of the native population. The East India Bill that he drafted in 1783 called for the colony to be governed by a board of independent commissioners, based in London. When this bill was defeated, he instigated the impeachment of Warren Hastings, the former governor general of Bengal, identifying him -
xxxxxA conservative by nature -
xxxxxAs one would expect, Burke was also active in Irish affairs, where Roman Catholics remained excluded from public office, and barred from taking part in politics. He was constantly demanding a relaxation of these restrictions and calling for economic reforms to ease the widespread poverty suffered throughout the rural areas of the island.
xxxxxHe retired from Parliament in 1794 but remained active as a writer. In 1795, for example, he began a series entitled Letters on a Regicide Peace, in which he opposed any idea of coming to terms with the French. He took an active part in society throughout his career and, as a member of the Literary Club, was acquainted, among others, with the man-
xxxxxRegarded today as one of the greatest orators to grace the House of Commons, he also gained a reputation as a skilled parliamentarian. Opposing the king’s attempt to wield political authority via his personal friends, he sought to combat such royal patronage by building up party loyalty. And he was one of the first to attempt to define the role of a member of parliament, holding that he should attend to the local needs of his constituents, but use his own judgment on matters of national importance. He died in 1797 and was buried in the parish church of Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, the country town which was later adopted by the conservative prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, for the title of his earldom.
xxxxxIncidentally, it seems we owe the term “Fourth Estate” to Burke. According to the Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle, it was he who gave this name to the reporters’ gallery in the House of Commons, suggesting at the same time that that the press was far more important than the other three estates -
xxxxx…… Indeed, many of his pronouncements remain valid, including: “All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.”
Burke: after the Irish painter James Barry (1741-
xxxxxOne of the fiercest opponents of Burke’s denunciation of the French Revolution was the English-
xxxxxOne of the most vehement critics of Burke’s fierce denunciation of the French Revolution was the English-
xxxxxAmerican independence having been achieved, he returned to England in 1787, and it was then that he mixed with some of the prominent radicals of the day, including the poet and mystic William Blake, the political philosopher William Godwin, and the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Two years later, when the French Revolution got under way, he found himself diametrically opposed to the statesman Edmund Burke, who, alarmed at the extent and violence of this new political upheaval, came out against it in his Reflections of 1790. In direct response, Paine wrote his The Rights of Man (1791-
xxxxxIt was while imprisoned in France during the Reign of Terror that he wrote the first part of his Age of Reason, a work advocating the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women, and deism -
xxxxxIncidentally, Paine died in New York and was buried in New Rochelle, a farm given to him earlier in recognition of his writings during the War of American Independence. Ten years later the English political commentator William Cobbett had his remains exhumed and taken to England, planning to give Paine a funeral and a resting place worthy of his contribution to the welfare and dignity of the common man. Unfortunately his remains were lost, probably in transit, and were never recovered. The plaque illustrated here is displayed at the site of the old customs office in Alford, Lincolnshire, where Paine worked for a short time as an excise officer.
xxxxxThe Englishman George Crabbe (1754-
xxxxxThe Englishman George Crabbe (1754-
xxxxxHis most successful work, The Village, provided a stark, detailed picture of the poverty and misery of rural life, and was written to counteract the somewhat idyllic picture of village life depicted by the poet Oliver Goldsmith in his The Deserted Village of 1770.
xxxxxCrabbe was born at Aldeburgh, Suffolk, and was apprenticed to a surgeon before leaving for London in 1780 to attempt a literary career. The following year Burke not only assisted him in having his poems published, but also helped him to enter the ministry. He became rector of Aldeburgh later that year. For the last eighteen years of his life he was vicar of Trowbridge in Wiltshire.
xxxxxIncidentally, the English novelist Jane Austen described him as her favourite poet, and in 1945 the English composer Benjamin Britten based his opera Peter Grimes on one of the grim tales that make up The Borough.