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which have proved beyond dispute the prudence of such a maxim would have obtained pardon for me, if not approbation. But if I have not been so fortunate, I do most sincerely regret my great loss, with this comfort, however, that, if I have disobliged my constituents, it was not in pursuit of any sinister interest or any party passion of my own, but in endeavoring to save them from disgrace, along with the whole community to which they and I belong. I shall be concerned for this, and very much so; but I should be more concerned, if, in gratifying a present humor of theirs, I had rendered myself unworthy of their former or their future choice. I confess that I could not bear to face my constituents at the next general election, if I had been a rival to Lord North in the glory of having refused some small, insignificant concessions, in favor of Ireland, to the arguments and supplications of English members of Parliament, — and in the very next session, on the demand of forty thousand Irish bayonets, of having made a speech of two hours long to prove that my former conduct was founded upon no one right principle, either of policy, justice, or commerce. I never heard a more elaborate, more able, more convincing, and more shameful speech. The debater obtained credit, but the statesman was disgraced forever. Amends were made for having refused small, but timely concessions, by an unlimited and untimely surrender, not only of every one of the objects of former restraints, but virtually of the whole legislative power itself which had made them. For it is not necessary to inform you, that the unfortunate Parliament of this kingdom did not dare to qualify the very liberty she gave of trading with her own plantations, by applying, of her own authority, any one of the commercial regulations to the new traffic of Ireland, which bind us here under the several Acts of Navigation. We were obliged to refer them to the Parliament of Ireland, as conditions, just in the same manner as if we were bestowing a privilege of the same sort on France and Spain, or any other independent power, and, indeed, with more studied caution than we should have used, not to shock the principle of their independence. How the minister reconciled the refusal to reason, and the surrender to arms raised in defiance of the prerogatives of the crown, to his master, I know not: it has probably been settled, in some way or other, between themselves. But however the king and his ministers may settle the question of his dignity and his rights, I thought it became me, by vigilance and foresight, to take care of yours: I thought I ought rather to lighten the ship in time than expose it to a total wreck. The conduct pursued seemed to me without weight or judgment, and more fit for a member for Banbury than a member for Bristol.
I stood, therefore, silent with grief and vexation, on that day of the signal shame and humiliation of this degraded king and country. But it seems the pride of Ireland, in the day of her power, was equal to ours, when we dreamt we were powerful too. I have been abused there even for my silence, which was construed into a desire of exciting discontent in England. But, thank God, my letter to Bristol was in print, my sentiments on the policy of the measure were known and determined, and such as no man could think me absurd enough to contradict. When I am no longer a free agent, I am obliged in the crowd to yield to necessity: it is surely enough that I silently submit to power; it is enough that I do not foolishly affront the conqueror; it is too hard to force me to sing his praises, whilst I am led in triumph before him,- or to make the panegyric of our own minister, who would put me neither in a condition to surrender with honor or to fight with the smallest hope of victory. I was, I confess, sullen and silent on that day,- and shall continue so, until I see some disposition to inquire into this and other causes of the national disgrace. If I suffer in my reputation for it in Ireland, I am sorry; but it ncither does nor can affect me so nearly as my suffering in Bristol for having wished to unite the interests of the two nations in a manner that would secure the supremacy of this. Will
you have the goodness to excuse the length of this letter? My earnest desire of explaining myself in every point which may affect the mind of any worthy gentleman in Bristol is the cause of it. To yourself, and to your liberal and manly notions, I know it is not so necessary.
My dear Sir, Your most faithful and obedient humble servant,
EDMUND BURKE. BEACONSFIELD, April 4th, 1780.
TO JOHN MERLOTT, Esq., Bristol.