I was not, like His Grace of Bedford, swaddled and rocked and dandled into a legislator; “nitor in adversum” is the motto for a man like me. I possessed not one of the qualities, nor cultivated one of the arts, that recommend men to the favor and protection of the great. I was not made for a minion or a tool. As little did I follow the trade of winning the hearts, by imposing on the understandings of the people.
At every step of my progress in life, for in every step I was traversed and opposed, and at every turnpike I met, I was obliged to show my passport, and again and again to prove my sole title to the honor of being useful to my country, by a proof that I was not wholly unacquainted with its laws and the whole system of its interests both abroad and at home; otherwise no rank, no toleration even, for me.
In the “American Encyclopedia,” a work I cheerfully recommend, will be found a statement to the effect that Edmund Burke was one of the fifteen children of his parents. Aside from the natural curiosity to know what became of the fourteen, the matter is of small moment, and that its truth or falsity should divide men is most absurd.
Of this, however, we know: the parents of Burke were plain people, rescued from oblivion only through the excellence of this one son. The father was a lawyer, and fees being scarce, he became chief clerk for another barrister, and so lived his life and did his work.
When Edmund Burke was born at Dublin in the year Seventeen Hundred Twenty-nine, that famous city was at its flood-tide of prosperity. It was a metropolis of commerce, art, wit, oratory and literary culture. The one name that looms large to us out of that time is that of Dean Swift, but then there were dozens just as great as he–so-said.
Edmund must have been a bright, fine, attractive boy, for we hear that certain friends of his parents combined with his father and they bent themselves to the task of sending the lad to Trinity College. Before this, however, he had spent some time at a private school kept by one Abraham Shackleton, an Englishman and a member of the Society of Friends. Shackleton was a rare, sweet soul and a most excellent teacher, endowed with a grave, tranquil nature, constant and austere. Between his son Richard and young Mr. Burke there sprang up a close and affectionate friendship which neither time nor circumstance was able to dim.
Now, the elder Burke was a lawyer, but not a great lawyer.
What more natural, therefore, than that the boy Edmund should follow in his father’s footsteps and reap the fame and high honors which an unkind Fate had withheld from his worthy parent?
There was another boy destined for fame at Trinity College while Burke was there, but they did not get acquainted then. Some years later they met in London, though, and talked it over.
In countenance these two young men had a certain marked resemblance. Reynolds painted pictures of both Burke and Goldsmith, and when I looked at these portraits this morning, side by side, I said, “Sir Joshua hadn’t quite got the Burke out of his brush before he painted the Goldsmith.” Burke is Goldsmith grown big.
Each had a weak chin, which was redeemed by the fine, full forehead and brilliant eye.
In face and features, taken as a whole, Burke had a countenance of surpassing beauty. Note the full sensuous lips, the clear, steady, lustrous, beaming eye, the splendid head! There is nothing small, selfish, mean or trifling about the man–he is open, frank, sympathetic, gentle, generous and wise.
He is a manly man.
No wonder that even the staid and chilly Hannah More loved him; and little Miss Burney worshiped at his shrine even in spite of “his friendship for those detested rebels, the Americans; and the other grievous sin of persecuting that good man, Warren Hastings.”