Edmund Burke and the Discourse of Virtue

Edmund Burke and the Discourse of Virtue

Edmund Burke and the Discourse of Virtue

Edmund Burke and the Discourse of Virtue

Synopsis

Close readings of Burke's public discourse and political writings

Excerpt

Those of you who have visited England's National Portrait Gallery know of its splendid collection of works by Sir Joshua Reynolds. In the summer of 1985 I had made my way to the gallery in hopes of seeing Reynolds' portrait of Edmund Burke. I expected to see it hanging there, somewhere between the oddly comical aspect of Goldsmith and the dour visage of Dr. Johnson. I found, to my great disappointment, that Burke's portrait had been recently removed to one of those mysterious rooms where paintings are stored, cleaned, relegated. It seemed to me then, and does so now, that something similar has happened to the historical Burke. This historical Burke, of course, is also a representation, or rather a series of them. Thus I have in mind no grand search for the "real" Burke, if only because modern thought so relentlessly warns against such fictions. I am more concerned that Burke has in some sense been taken away, that we have lost sight of a figure at once commanding, elusive, and complex. Whether he is, in his absence, being cleaned up or stored away until we have more space to accommodate him, I could not say. This book, in any event, represents my attempt to recall Burke from storage and present him again as a subject of public attention.

This said, it must be readily admitted that Burke has not suffered from any lack of scholarly interest in the last half-century. If anything, he seems to have yielded himself too easily, ready in any given surge of revisionism to offer the poignant maxim, the lesson on political wisdom or folly. Burke may in this sense be said to have . . .

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