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Edmund Burke
by [?]

The remittances from Dublin were always small, but they grew smaller, less frequent and finally ceased. It was sink or swim–and the young man simply paddled to keep afloat upon the tide of the times.

He dawdled at Dodsley’s, visited with the callers and browsed among the books. There was only one thing the young man liked better to do than read, and that was to talk. Once he had read a volume nearly through, when Dodsley up and sold it to a customer–“a rather ungentlemanly trick to play on an honest man,” says Burke.

It was at Dodsley’s that he first met his countryman Goldsmith, also Garrick, Boswell and Johnson. It was then that Johnson received that lasting impression of Burke, of whom he said, “Sir, if you met Edmund Burke under a gateway, where you had taken shelter for five minutes to escape a shower, you would be so impressed by his conversation that you would say, ‘This is a most extraordinary man.'”

If one knows how, or has to, he can live in a large city at a small expense. For nine years Burke’s London life is a tale of a garret, with the details almost lost in the fog. Of this time, in after-years, he seldom spoke, not because he was ashamed of all the straits and shifts he had to endure, but because he was endowed with that fine dignity of mind which does not dwell on hardships gone and troubles past, but rather fixes itself on blessings now at hand and other blessings yet to come. Then, better still, there came a time when work and important business filled every moment of the fast-flying hours. And so he himself once said, “The sure cure for all private griefs is a hearty interest in public affairs.”

The best searchlight through the mist of those early days comes to us through Burke’s letters to his friend Richard, the son of his old Quaker teacher. Shackleton had the insight to perceive his friend was no common man, and so preserved every scrap of Burke’s writing that came his way.

About that time there seems to have been a sort of meteoric shower of chipmunk magazines, following in the luminous pathway of the “Spectator” and the “Tatler.” Burke was passing through his poetic period, and supplied various stanzas of alleged poetry to these magazines for a modest consideration. For one poem he received eighteen pence, as tearfully told by Shackleton, but we have Hawkins for it that this was a trifle more than the poem was worth.

Of this poetry we know little, happily, but glimpses of it are seen in the Shackleton letters; for instance, when he asks his friend’s criticism of such lines as these:

“The nymphs that haunt the dusky wood,
Which hangs recumbent o’er the crystal flood.”

He speaks of his delight in ambient sunsets, when gilded oceans, ghostly ships, and the dull, dark city vanish for the night. Of course, such things never happen except in books, but the practise of writing about them is a fine drill, in that it enables the writer to get a grasp on his vocabulary. Poetry is for the poet.

And if Burke wrote poetry in bed, having to remain there in the daytime, while his landlady was doing up his single ruffled shirt for an evening party, whose business was it?

When he was invited out to dinner he did the meal such justice that he needed nothing the following day; and the welcome discovery was also made that fasting produced an exaltation of the “spiritual essence that was extremely favorable to writing good poetry.”

Burke had wit, and what Johnson called a “mighty affluence of conversation”; so his presence was welcome at the Turk’s Head. Burke and Johnson were so thoroughly well matched as talkers that they respected each other’s prowess and never with each other clinched in wordy warfare. Johnson was an arch Tory, Burke the leader of the Whigs; but Ursa was wise enough to say, “I’ll talk with him on any subject but politics.” This led Goldsmith to remark, “Doctor Johnson browbeats us little men, but makes quick peace with those he can not down.” Then there were debating societies, from one of which he resigned because the limit of a speech was seven minutes; but finally the time was extended to fifteen minutes in order to get the Irish orator back.