A. D. 1729-1797.
It would be difficult to select an example of a more lofty and irreproachable character among the great statesmen of England than Edmund Burke. He is not a puzzle, like Oliver Cromwell, although there are inconsistencies in the opinions he advanced from time to time. He takes very much the same place in the parliamentary history of his country as Cicero took in the Roman senate. Like that greatest of Roman orators and statesmen, Burke was upright, conscientious, conservative, religious, and profound. Like him, he lifted up his earnest voice against corruption in the government, against great state criminals, against demagogues, against rash innovations. Whatever diverse opinions may exist as to his political philosophy, there is only one opinion as to his character, which commands universal respect. Although he was the most conservative of statesmen, clinging to the Constitution, and to consecrated traditions and associations both in Church and State, still his name is associated with the most important and salutary reforms which England made for half a century. He seems to have been sent to instruct and guide legislators in a venal and corrupt age. To my mind Burke looms up, after the lapse of a century, as a prodigy of thought and knowledge, devoted to the good of his country; an unselfish and disinterested patriot, as wise and sagacious as he was honest; a sage whose moral wisdom shines brighter and brighter, since it was based on the immutable principles of justice and morality. One can extract more profound and striking epigrams from his speeches and writings than from any prose writer that England has produced, if we except Francis Bacon. And these writings and speeches are still valued as among the most precious legacies of former generations; they form a thesaurus of political wisdom which statesmen can never exhaust. Burke has left an example which all statesmen will do well to follow. He was not a popular favorite, like Fox and Pitt; he was not born to greatness, like North and Newcastle; he was not liked by the king or the nobility; he was generally in the ranks of the opposition; he was a new man, like Cicero, in an aristocratic age,—yet he conquered by his genius the proudest prejudices; he fought his way upward, inch by inch; he was the founder of a new national policy, although it was bitterly opposed; and he died universally venerated for his integrity, wisdom, and foresight. He was the most remarkable man, on the whole, who has taken part in public affairs, from the Revolution to our times. Of course, the life and principles of so great a man are a study. If history has any interest or value, it is to show the influence of such a man on his own age and the ages which have succeeded,—to point out his contribution to civilization.