Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 07.djvu/360

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

in the action off Ushant, Burke warmly upheld the cause of Admiral Keppel (ib. xx. 54-71), and in January 1779, in company with Rockingham and other great men of his party, went down to Portsmouth to be present at his trial by court-martial. Some parts of Keppel's defence are in his handwriting, and he shared in the joy felt at the verdict, which at once absolved the admiral and abased the ministers.

Burke's resistance to any change in the form of the constitution he venerated was accompanied by a desire to amend its working. He saw that the constitution was paralysed by corruption, and, with the idea of securing political health by enforcing economic purity, he laid before the house, 1 Feb. 1780, a plan for the better security of the independance of parliament and the economical reformation of the civil and other etablishments (Works, iii. 343). In a large and yet conservative spirit he sought to sweep away merely useless places and to destroy the accretions of jobbery which had grown round the court and had become at once a burden to the taxpayer and the food of ministerial corruption. He hoped to invigorate the constitution by sweeping away the useless places, the lavish pensions, and the ridiculous extravagance which enabled the court to keep a considerable number of members of parliament either in its immediate pay or hound to it by the expectation of future profit. North managed to defeat the bill by taking it in detail (Morley, E. B., a Study, 166).

Burke was too good an Irishman to be unmindful of the needs of Ireland. He saw clearly that the only means of bettering her condition was the admission of his countrymen to the privileges enjoyed by Englishmen, by the removal of trade restrictions, and by the relief of the catholics. Holding these views he naturally opposed the measure advocated in 1773 for imposing a tax on all absentee landlords, and in his ‘Letter to Sir C. Bingham ’ pointed out that, among other evils, such a, tax ‘would go directly against the happy communion of the privileges’ of the two kingdoms (Works, v. 502). In 1778 he joined Lord Nugent in obtaining some relief from the restrictions on trade, and finally, in 1779, succeeded in forcing Lord North to recognise the necessity of giving up the English monopolies (Parl. Hist. xx. 137, 1132, 1272). He also supported the slight relaxations of the penal laws made in 1778. On l8 May in the following year he advocated the relief of the Scotc catholics. Accordingly, on the outbreak ofthe Lord George Gordon riots in June 1780, his friends tried to persuade him to go out of town. He resolved, however, that the mob ‘should see that he was not to be forced nor intimidated from the straight line of what was right,’ and walked through the streets as usual, letting the people know who he was. He met with no annoyance. His house in Charles Street was occupied by a guard of soldiers, and he and his wife spent the week under the roof of General Burgoyne (Works, i. 432-5). Burke’s advocacy of the commercial rights of Ireland deeply offended the Bristol merchants, and his religious toleration increased their discontent (ib. 442). Parliament having been dissolved on 1 Sept. 1780, he Went down to Bristol and explained his views to his constituents. After a canvass of two days he found his election hopeless, and declined the poll (ib. iii. 407-47; Gent. Mag. l. 618). He stood by Fox during the Westminster election, and then went down to Beaconsfield, ‘wearied with the business, the company, the joy, and the debauch.' Lord Rockingham having provided him with a seat for his borough of Malton, Burke, in February 1781, again brought forward his bill for economical reform, but was defeated on the second reading by 233 to 190, On this occasion he was delighted at the speech made in support of his motion by William Pitt, and declared that he‘ was not a chip of the old block but the old block itself’ (Sir N. Wraxall, Hist. Mem. ii. 342). On the opening of the November session of 1781 Burke commented severely on the folly of the king's speech, which, in spite of the surrender of Cornwallis, still dwelt on the maintenance of our rights in America. Right, he said, signified nothing without might, and he compared the ministry to a man who would shear a wolf (Parl. Hist. xxii. 717). During the spring of the next year he and Fox made a series of attacks on the conduct of the war, which at last forced North to retire.

On the accession of the Rockingham whigs to office Burke was not offered a seat in the cabinet, and the party thus threw away a ‘ real guarantee ’ against the preponderance of the Shelburne section in the administration (Russell, Life and Times C. J. Fox, i. 284). The constant exclusion of Burke from cabinet office was to some extent due to the fact that he was a difficult man to work with. Fox once said that he was ‘a most impracticable person, a most unmanageable colleague; that he never would support any measure, however convinced he might be in his heart of its utility, if it had been prepared by another’ (S. Rogers, Table-talk, 81).' This, however, was said after the rupture of their long alliance, and, though Burke evidently lost