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Edmund Burke
by [?]

During these nine years, once referred to by Burke as the “Dark Ages,” he had four occupations: book-browsing at Dodsley’s, debating in the clubs, attending the theater on tickets probably supplied by Garrick, who had taken a great fancy to him, and his writing.

No writing man could wish a better environment than this: the friction of mind with strong men, books and the drama stirred his emotions to the printing-point.

Burke’s personality made a swirl in the social sea that brought the best straight to him.

One of the writers that Burke most admired was Bolingbroke, that man of masterly mind and mighty tread. His paragraphs move like a phalanx, and in every sentence there is an argument. No man in England influenced his time more than Bolingbroke. He was the inspirer of writers. Burke devoured Bolingbroke, and when he took up his pen, wrote with the same magnificent, stately minuet step. Finally he was full of the essence of Bolingbroke to the point of saturation, and then he began to criticize him. Had Bolingbroke been alive Burke would have quarreled with him–they were so much alike. As it was, Burke contented himself by writing a book after the style of Bolingbroke, carrying the great man’s arguments one step further with intent to show their fallacy. The paraphrase is always a complement, and is never well done except by a man who loves the original and is a bit jealous of him.

If Burke began his “Vindication of Natural Society,” with intent to produce a burlesque, he missed his aim, and came very near convincing himself of the truth of his proposition. And in fact, the book was hailed by the rationalists as a vindication of Rousseau’s philosophy.

Burke was a conservative rationalist, which is something like an altruistic pessimist. In the society of rationalists Burke was a conservative, and when with the conservatives he was a rationalist. That he was absolutely honest and sincere there is not a particle of doubt, and we will have to leave it to the psychologists to tell us why men hate the thing they love.

“The Vindication of Natural Society” is a great book, and the fact that in the second edition Burke had to explain that it was an ironical paraphrase does not convince us it was. The things prophesied have come about and the morning stars still sing together. Wise men are more and more learning by inclining their hearts toward Nature. Not only is this true in pedagogics, but in law, medicine and theology as well. Dogma has less place now in religion than ever before; many deeply religious men eschew the creed entirely; and in all pulpits may be heard that the sublime truths of simple honesty and kindness are quite enough basis for a useful career. That is good which serves. Religions are many and diverse, but reason and goodness are one.

Burke’s attempt to prove that without “revealed religion” mankind would sit in eternal darkness makes us think of the fable of the man who planted potatoes, hoed them, and finally harvested the crop. Every day while this man toiled, there was another man who sat on the fence, chewed a straw and looked on. And the author of the story says that if it were not for the Bible, no one would have ever known to whom the potatoes belonged.

Burke wrote and talked as all good men do, just to clear the matter up in his own mind. Our wisest moves are accidents. Burke’s first book was of a sort so striking that both sides claimed it. Men stopped other men on the street and asked if they had read the “Vindication”; at the coffeehouses they wrangled and jangled over it; and all the time Dodsley smiled and rubbed his hands in glee.

Burke soon blossomed out in clean ruffled shirt every morning, and shortly moved to a suite of rooms, where before he had received his mail and his friends at a coffeehouse.