Patriotism and Public Spirit: Edmund Burke and the Role of the Critic in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Britain

Patriotism and Public Spirit: Edmund Burke and the Role of the Critic in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Britain

Patriotism and Public Spirit: Edmund Burke and the Role of the Critic in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Britain

Patriotism and Public Spirit: Edmund Burke and the Role of the Critic in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Britain

Synopsis

Patriotism and Public Spirit is an innovative study of the formative influences shaping the early writings of the Irish-English statesman Edmund Burke and an early case-study of the relationship between the business of bookselling and the politics of criticism and persuasion. Through a radical reassessment of the impact of Burke's "Irishness" and of his relationship with the London-based publisher Robert Dodsley, the book argues that Burke saw Patriotism as the best way to combine public spirit with the reinforcement of civil order and to combat the use of coded partisan thinking to achieve the dominance of one section of the population over another.

No other study has drawn so extensively on the literary and commercial network through which Burke's first writings were published to help explain them. By linking contemporary reinterpretations of the work of Patriot sympathizers and writers such as Alexander Pope and Lord Bolingbroke with generally neglected trends in religious and literary criticism in the Republic of Letters, this book provides new ways of understanding Burke's early publications. The results call into question fundamental assumptions about the course of "Enlightenment" thought and challenge currently dominant post-colonialist and Irish nationalist interpretations of the early Burke.

Excerpt

A little more than a year before his death, Edmund Burke published one of his most powerful works of political rhetoric. His Letter to a Noble Lord, which appeared in February 1796, was a response to assaults by the Duke of Bedford, a Whig aristocrat of radical persuasions, on parliament’s decision to grant Burke a pension for services to his country. Those services included, primarily, Burke’s attacks on the ideology of the revolutionaries in France, and Bedford’s underlying claim was that Burke had fashioned his antirevolutionary writings to secure his financial future: “At every step of my progress in life,” Burke argued in response, “(for in every step was I traversed and opposed), and at every turnpike I met, I was obliged to shew my passport, and again and again to prove my sole title to the honour of being useful to my Country, by a proof that I was not wholly unacquainted with it’s [sic] laws, and the whole system of it’s interests both abroad and at home.” A number of scholars have used this text to illustrate Burke’s lifelong, barely repressed frustration at being the eternal outsider in his adopted country. Dogged “in every step” by his social background, his Irish ethnicity (he was born in Dublin of “Old Irish” or “Anglo-Norman” stock), and his Catholic sympathies (his maternal family were Irish Catholic landowners in County Cork), his survival at the heart of the British Protestant Establishment seems to have depended, according to this reading, upon repressing his national loyalties and religious sympathies. The price of such repression—ironic, given Burke’s later conservative credentials—was a “Jacobin flame” that ran through his rhetoric and burst out finally in this scorching attack on the ingratitude of the system he had spent his career defending.

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