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THE NEW TO THE OLD WHIG S.
T Mr. Burke's time of life, and in his disposi
tions, petere honestam missionem was all he had to do with his political associates. This boon they have not chosen to grant him. With many expressions of good-will, in effect they tell him he has loaded the stage too long. They conceive it, though an harsh, yet a necessary office, in full Parliament to declare to the present age, and to as late a posterity as shall take any concern in the proceedings of our day, that by one book he has disgraced the whole tenor of his life. Thus they dismiss their old partner of the
He is advised to retire, whilst they continue to serve the public upon wiser principles and under better auspices.
Whether Diogenes the Cynic was a true philosopher cannot easily be determined. He has written nothing. But the sayings of his which are handed down by others are lively, and may be easily and aptly applied on many occasions by those whose wit is not so perfect as their memory. This Diogenes (as every one will recollect) was citizen of a little bleak town situated on the coast of the Euxine, and exposed to all the buffets of that inhospitable sea. He lived at a great distance from those weather
beaten walls, in ease and indolence, and in the midst of literary leisure, when he was informed that his townsmen had condemned him to be banished from Sinope ; he answered coolly, “ And I condemn them to live in Sinope.”
The gentlemen of the party in which Mr. Burke has always acted, in passing upon him the sentence of retirement,* have done nothing more than to confirm the sentence which he had long before passed upon himself. When that retreat was choice, which the tribunal of his peers inflict as punishment, it is plain he does not think their sentence intolerably severe. Whether they, who are to continue in the Sinope which shortly he is to leave, will spend the long years, which I hope remain to them, in a manner more to their satisfaction than he shall slide down, in silence and obscurity, the slope of his declining days, is best known to Him who measures out years, and days, and fortunes.
* Newspaper intelligence ought always to be received with some degree of caution. I do not know that the following paragraph is founded on any authority ; but it comes with an air of authority. The paper is professedly in the interest of the modern Whigs, and under their direction. The paragraph is not disclaimed on their part. It professes to be the decision of those whom its author calls « the great and firm body of the Whigs of England.” Who are the Whigs of a different composition, which the promulgator of the sentence considers as composed of fleeting and unsettled particles, I know not, nor whether there be any of that description. The definitive sentence of “the great and firm body of the Whigs of England” (as this paper gives it out) is as follows:
“ The great and firm body of the Whigs of England, true to their principles, have decided on the dispute between Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke; and the former is declared to have maintained the pure doctrines by which they are bound together, and upon which they have invariably acted. The consequence is, that Mr. Burke retires from Parliament.” – Morning Chronicle, May 12, 1791.
The quality of the sentence does not, however, decide on the justice of it. Angry friendship is sometimes as bad as calm enmity. For this reason the cold neutrality of abstract justice is, to a good and clear cause, a more desirable thing than an affection liable to be any way disturbed. When the trial is by friends, if the decision should happen to be favorable, the honor of the acquittal is lessened ; if adverse, the condemnation is exceedingly embittered. It is aggravated by coming from lips professing friendship, and pronouncing judgment with sorrow and reluctance. Taking in the whole view of life, it is more safe to live under the jurisdiction of severe, but steady reason, than under the empire of indulgent, but capricious passion. It is certainly well for Mr. Burke that there are impartial men in the world. To them I address myself, pending the appeal which on his part is made from the living to the dead, from the modern Whigs to the ancient.
The gentlemen, who, in the name of the party, have passed sentence on Mr. Burke's book, in the light of literary criticism, are judges above all challenge. He did not, indeed, flatter himself that as a writer he could claim the approbation of men whose talents, in his judgment and in the public judgment, approach to prodigies, if ever such persons should be disposed to estimate the merit of a composition upon the standard of their own ability.
In their critical censure, though Mr. Burke may find himself humbled by it as a writer, as a man, and as an Englishman, he finds matter not only of consolation, but of pride. He proposed to convey to a foreign people, not his own ideas, but the prevalent opinions and sentiments of a nation, renowned for
wisdom, and celebrated in all ages for a well-understood and well-regulated love of freedom. This was the avowed purpose of the far greater part of his work. As that work has not been ill received, and as his critics will not only admit, but contend, that this reception could not be owing to any excellence in the composition capable of perverting the public judgment, it is clear that he is not disavowed by the nation whose sentiments he had undertaken to describe. His representation is authenticated by the verdict of his country. Had his piece, as a work of skill, been thought worthy of commendation, some doubt might have been entertained of the cause of his success. But the matter stands exactly as he wishes it. He is more happy to have his fidelity in representation recognized by the body of the people than if he were to be ranked in point of ability (and higher he could not be ranked) with those whose critical censure he has had the misfortune to incur.
It is not from this part of their decision which the author wishes an appeal. There are things which touch him more nearly. To abandon them would argue, not diffidence in his abilities, but treachery to his cause. Had his work been recognized as a pattern for dexterous argument and powerful eloquence, yet, if it tended to establish maxims or to inspire sentiments adverse to the wise and free Constitution of this kingdom, he would only have cause to lament that it possessed qualities fitted to perpetuate the memory of his offence. Oblivion would be the only means of his escaping the reproaches of posterity. But, after receiving the common allowance due to the common weakness of man, he wishes to owe no part of the indulgence of the world to its for