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Edmund Burke
by [?]

Goldsmith was small in stature, apologetic in manner, hesitating, and at times there was a lisp in speech, which might have been an artistic and carefully acquired adjunct of wit, but it was not. Burke was commanding in stature, dignified, suave, and in speech direct, copious and elegant. Goldsmith overworked the minor key, but Burke merely suggests that it had not been omitted.

At college young Burke did not prove a brilliant student–his intellect and aptitude it seems were a modest mouse-color that escaped attention.

His reading was desultory and pretty general, with spasms of passion for this study or that, this author or the other. And he has remarked, most regretfully, that these passions were all short-lived, none lasting more than six weeks.

It is a splendid sign to find a youth with a passion for any branch of work, or study, or for any author. No matter how brief the love, it adds a ring of growth to character; and if you have loved a book once it is easy to go back to it. In all these varying moods of likes and dislikes, Burke was gathering up material for use in after-years.

But his teachers did not regard it so, neither did his father.

He got through college after a five-years’ course, aged twenty, by the grace of his tutors. He knew everything except what was in the curriculum.

Tall, handsome, with hair black as the raven’s wing, and eyes that looked away off into space, dreamy and unconcerned, was Edmund Burke at twenty.

His father was a business lawyer, with a sharp nose for technicalities, quirks and quillets, but the son studied law as a literary curiosity. Occasionally there were quick chidings, answered with irony needlessly calm: then the good wife and mother would intervene with her tears, and the result was that Burke the elder would withdraw to the open air to cool his coppers. Be it known that no man can stand out against his wife and son when they in love combine.

Finally it was proposed that Edmund go to London and take a course of Law at the Middle Temple. The plan was accepted with ill-concealed alacrity. Father and son parted with relief, but the good-by between mother and son tore the hearts of both–they were parting forever, and Something told them so.

It evidently was the intention of Burke the elder, who was a clear-headed, practical person, competent in all petty plans, that if the son settled down to law and got his “call,” then he would be summoned back to Dublin and put in a way to achieve distinction. But if the young man still pursued his desultory reading and scribbling on irrelevant themes, why then the remittances were to be withdrawn and Edmund Burke, being twenty-one years of age, could sink or swim. Burke pater would wash his hands in innocency, having fully complied with all legal requirements, and God knows that is all any man can do–there!

* * * * *

In London town since time began, no embryo Coke ever rapped at the bar for admittance–lawyers are “summoned” just as clergymen are “called,” while other men find a job. In England this pretty little illusion of receiving a “call” to practise law still obtains.

Burke never received the call, for the reason that he failed to fit himself for it. He read everything but law-books. He might have assisted a young man by the name of Blackstone in compiling his “Commentaries,” as their lodgings were not far apart, but he did not. They met occasionally, and when they did they always discussed Spenser or Milton, and waxed warm over Shakespeare.

Burke gave Old Father Antic the Law as lavish a letter of recommendation as the Legal Profession ever received, and he gave it for the very natural reason that he had no use for the Law himself.