|Born||January 12, 1729(1729-01-12) Dublin, Ireland|
|Died||July 9, 1797(1797-07-09) (aged 68) Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, Great Britain|
|Spouse||Jane Mary Nugent|
|Children||Richard (1758) Christopher|
Life Sketch from The Other Eminent Men of Wilford WoodruffCopyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy. Irish/English Statesman, Political Author 1729-1797 The eighteenth century was an era of great political polarity. At the apex of each pole stood two men of renown, one who followed the ancient political principles , the other who decried the wisdom of the ages. The former was Edmund Burke; the latter, Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau’s philosophies of abstraction, emancipation, and an impotent deity, among others, greatly contributed to the French Revolution. On the other hand, Burke felt that liberty is true liberty only when it has its bearing and its ensigns in the past. Freedom must have a pedigree from the time immemorial in order to have a native dignity. Burke’s system was one of prescription, experience, duty to old ties, the reign of law, an omnipotent God. Without such connections, he felt, freedom is not liberty, but anarchy. Although Burke was originally criticized for his beliefs, in time Burk’s philosophies and his unwavering stand for the ancient principles of government served to lead the populace of England to a greater conviction of their own principles and a heightened sense of patriotism.
“Respecting your forefathers, you would have been taught to respect yourselves.” – Edmund BurkeBecause France’s revolution systematically destroyed the past, Burke was concerned about its results, He could see that the leader of the French Revolution worked for freedom by discrediting any wisdom from the past simply because it was old. He noted that other revolutionist had slain people, but French Revolutionist had slain the mind as well. Long before Paris was laid to waste, Burke put in writing his concerns about the direction France was heading and his opinions and were strongly attacked. Nevertheless, his prophetic warnings of the potential calamities that would result from France’s course came to pass with the precisioned accuracy. France’s revolution ended in the chaos and destruction–no in freedom. In the American Revolution Burke saw a different course, a cause he ardently supported, The American founders, unlike those of the French, had searched out liberty’s ancient pedigree and laid the foundations of the new government accordingly. Burke lived through one of the most unique times in history. His life spanned not only the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the corruptness of his own government, but Burke also lived through the destruction of his native land during the Irish Rebellion, events that had enormous historical impact. Burke’s writings and observation at this time established him as one of the greatest names in the history of political literature,. His writings were a political testament. Whether or not people are aware of it, Burke was a major contributer to the unchanging fundamentals of sound government. His political preferences were relevant only to his time, but his political principles are timeless. He discerned Diving Guidance in history, and because he was the champion of permanent things, his voice is ageless. Unlike others he is not famous so much for what he did as much as for was he was able to perceive. In an era of revolution Burke was not only a conservator, but a reformer and philosopher as well. These are the elements of Burke’s legacy.
Early LifeAlthough Burke’s public presence and wrings are well known, he was very quiet about this private life. There is even some question as to the date of his birth. The most generally accepted date is 12 January 1729. in Dublin, Ireland. As a child he had a delicate health and was tenderly cared for by his mother. It was under these conditions that his mother first taught him to read. Burke had a strong affection for his mother, who was a woman of cultivated understanding1 She and he family were Catholics and his father’s family were Protestant. Despite the religious differences between them, however, he dearly loved them both, During his years as a statesman he was known for his continual efforts in promoting religious tolerance. As a young boy Burke was sent to the country in the hope that the fresh air would give vigor to his frame. So young Burke went to stay with his maternal grandparents, the Nagles. Part of the Nagle estate consisted of medieval ruins. It was here that he first entered school, and it was here with his Virgil and the estate ruins that his devotion to the classical and the “ancients” began to settle upon his mind in earnest. Burke had a deep appreciation for those educators and mentors who touched his life. In later years when Burke returned to Ireland for a visit, his old schoolmaster, whose name was O’Halloran, sought out his now famous student and great statesman. When Burke saw his old master he dropped all that he was doing and rushed to take the aged man by both hands, lovingly looking him in the eyes and expressed his gratitude for his old master. 2 From the Nagle estate, young Burke was sent to a Quaker school at Ballitore since his health still could not take the air of Dublin. This Quaker school was run by a remarkable master, Abraham Shackleton. Burke spent two very productive years with Shackleton and formed a lifelong friendship with Shackleton’s son Richard. It is to Abraham Shackleton that Burke always gave credit for anything that he accomplished as a result of education. However, it was not so much the master’s skills that impressed him as it was his daily example of integrity and simplicity of heart.3 An experience at this time gives a good example of Burke’s character:
- “A poor man having been compelled to pull down his cabin, because the surveyor of roads declared it stood to near the highway, Burke, who saw the reluctant owner preform his melancholy task, observed with great indignation, that if he were in authority such tyranny should never be exercised with impunity over the defenseless: and he urged his school fellows to join in rebuilding the cottage.4
CollegeBy the age of fifteen, his health had somewhat stabilized and Burke entered Trinity College. Here he was rather a lackluster student, much to his father’s frustration. His father was a lawyer and had high ambitions for his son. He wanted him to practice law. The older Burke may have felt that his young son wasted his life in literature and politics. During this time Burke’s attention was drawn to a close examination of literature and the study of theology in a study of the principles of how to govern himself and the commonwealth. Among his favorite English authors were Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, Waller, and Young, and among the ancients he favored Virgil, Cicero, Sallust, Homer, Juvenal, Lucian, Xenophon, and Epictetus. Like his contemporary Samuel Johnson, Burke read everything. He later advised more reading of “the writing of those who have gone before us than our Contemporaries …”5 While at Trinity he was accustomed to rise with the dawn and walk out of the city to the fresh countryside until the want of breakfast drove him back. These morning walks provided time for contemplation and evaluation, a time in which his philosophies began to take root in his mind.
Pursuing LawIn 1750, having finished his degree, Burke was sent to Middle Temple in London to pursue his law studies. He had briefly contemplated remaining at Trinity as a teacher but the character of the professors seemed to have repelled him, He later wrote in the Annual Register: “He that lives in college, after his mind is sufficiently stocked with learning, is like a man, who having built rigging and victualed a ship, should lock her up in a dry dock.”6 While in England, Burke would sometimes retire to Bath for his health. There he met Dr. Nugent, who was one of the original members of Dr. Johnson’s famous literary club, Dr. Nugent took a liking to young Burke and invited him to his home. Burke could not help noticing the doctors’s beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter. They courted for some six years before they married. Burke found much solace and strength from this gentle lady and they were deeply devoted to each other. (It is interesting to note that like Burke’s mother, Miss Nugent had been raised Catholic. Later, his detractors would use his wife’s family’s religion against him.) The study of law was so contrary to his natural desires that he forsook it entirely. This was more than Burke’s stern father, with his ambitions for his son, could tolerate. He severed his son’s allowance. With this Burke began to earn his way with his writings, which were meager at best. His father’s harshness perhaps accounts for the reason Burke remained in England instead of returning to his native Ireland, and for a time Burke even considered emigrating to America.
Burke’s WritingsLittle is known about the next nine years in Burke’s life. Slowly his writings gained recognition. In 1756 he published A Vindication of Natural Society, a satirical attack on a rationalistic approachto religion written by a noted member of Parliament named Bollingbroke. Burke felt it was evident that religion required the something more than reason for its foundation. Faith, he wrote, was indispensable to social order,–faith in one’s fellow citizens as well as in the system. A Vindication, published anonymously, was written so exactly in Bollingbroke’s style that many, even the critics, thought that it was Bollingbroke himself who wrote it. In 1757, Burke became editor of the Annual Register, a position he held for the next thirty-two years. The Register analyzed the political events of the world at that time and gave Burke a vast store of knowledge of the contemporary governments. It was in the pages of the Register that reader began to discover men who were to become some of the greatest political writers of the day–Edmund Burke and Adam Smith. Burke and Smith had a great admiration for each other, though it is not known whether they ever met except through their writings.
Entering the House of CommonsWhen George III assumed the crown, Burke entered the House of Commons and began twenty-five years of public service. He stood in opposition to many of the acts of George III. His untiring efforts finally led to the repeal of the stamp act, to the resolution against general warrants and seizure of papers, and to the protection of private houses from the intrusion of tax officers by the repeal of the cider tax.7 He was so committed to following his conscience that at one time he so at the loss of his own party and Parliamentary friends.
Warren Hastings TrialOne of his greatest accomplishments came through his role in the Warren Hastings trial. The British governer of India, Hastings was tried for high crimes and abuses. The atrocities and lawlessness of with which Hastings had ruled in India led Burke to, as some have stated, a “divine rage.” The trial lasted fourteen years. Hastings, who had many friends and connections in high places, was finally acquitted. Although Hastings was acquitted, the long trial was not in vain, for England had heard Burke’s plea for decency and justice, The influence of Burke’s long years of work changed the way in which England began to rule India. By demand of the English public, strong laws of protection were passed. Burke wrote of this even: “If I were to call for a reward, it would be for the services in which for fourteen years without intermission, I showed the most industry and had the least success, I mean in the affairs of India …”8 By his uniting efforts a whole nation was set upon the road to dignity and education. This very act eventually led to the foundations of self-government for India.
Johnson’s Literary Club
Burke was the only statesman member of Johnson’s famous literary club. Johnson wrote that although he detested Burke’s political party, “I love his knowledge, his genius, his diffusion and affluence of conversation.” Johnson went on the say that Burke was “an extraordinary man.” 9Thomas Macaulay wrote that Burke was “the greatest man since Milton.”10Burke was gifted to see beyond the temporary governances of the day, He recognized the sacredness of law and defended it with holy fervor. He once noted that”there is a sacred veil to be drawn over the beginning of all governments,”11 and that it was only proper to attempt to thin that veil through the study of history. And that history is a great volume “unrolled for our instruction, drawing the material of future wisdom from the past errors.”12 Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy. 13
- See Prior, James. Life of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. London: George Bell & Sons, 1889, p. 5
- See ibid., p. 6.
- See Morley, John. Burke. London: Macmillan and Co., 1904, p. 4.
- Kirk, Russel. Edmund Burke A Genius Reconsidered. New York : Arlington House, 1967, p. 223=24.
- See ibid., p. 24-25.
- Ibid., p. 26.
- See Encyclopedia Britannica. 11th ed. 1910, 4:827.
- Ibid., p. 830.
- Ibid., p. 828.
- Morley, p. 3.
- Encyclopedia Britannica, 4:832.
- Harvard Classics. Conn.: Grolier Enterprises, 1980, p. 275.
- Anderson, Vicki Jo. (1994). The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Cottonwood, AZ: Zichron Historical Research Institute.