Edmund Burke - Vol. 1

Edmund Burke - Vol. 1

Edmund Burke - Vol. 1

Edmund Burke - Vol. 1

Synopsis

Edmund Burke (1730-1797) was one of the most profound, versatile, and accomplished thinkers of the eighteenth century. Born and educated in Dublin, he moved to London to study law, but remained to make a career in English politics, completing A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) before entering the political arena. A Member of Parliament for nearly thirty years, his speeches are still read and studied as classics of political thought, and through his best-known work, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) he has continued to exercise a posthumous influence as `the father of conservatism'. This is the first full, scholarly biography of Burke for over a generation, to be completed in two volumes. The first volume covers the years between 1730-1784, and describes his Irish upbringing and education, early writing, and his parliamentary career throughout the momentous years of the American War of Independence. Lavishly illustrated, it provides an authoritative account of the complexity and breadth of Burke's philosophical and political writing and examines its origins in his personal experiences and the political world of his day. This outstanding book will be be required reading for anybody seeking a fuller understanding of eighteenth-century history, philosophy, and political thought.

Excerpt

When Sir Walter Elliot, in Jane Austen Persuasion, decides to let his ancestral home and retire to a more economical life at Bath, he is gratified that his prospective tenant is an admiral. No friend to the carrière ouverte aux talents, Sir Walter dislikes the Navy for bringing 'persons of obscure birth' into 'undue distinction'. Yet to be able to say 'I have let my house to Admiral Croft,' he reflects, 'would sound extremely well; very much better than to any mere Mr -----; a Mr (save, perhaps, some half dozen in the nation,) always needs a note of explanation. An admiral speaks his own consequence, and, at the same time, can never make a baronet look small.' Although much had changed in the twenty years between Burke's death and the publication of Persuasion, the England in which the novel is set remains recognizably Burke's world. Political power and social prestige are still largely the preserve of the landed gentry. A baronet outranks an admiral, and a 'new man' is still held in disdain by the likes of Sir Walter. Most of those 'persons of obscure birth' who achieved distinction in the eighteenth century rose, like Admiral Croft, through one of the professions: through the Army or the Navy, the law or the Church. Some of these 'new men', chiefly the lawyers, even worked their way into Parliament. Burke's career was unusual even among these exceptional few. Almost alone of the 'new men' of his age who achieved political prominence, he owed his rise not to professional success but to the force of his mind and his eloquence.

Burke's life falls naturally into three periods, dividing at 1765, and at 1782 or 1784. Until 1765, the surviving evidence is scanty; in the ten- volume edition of his letters, 1765 is reached half-way through volume i. Even so, by digging in the archives (especially the student records at Trinity College, Dublin) I have been able to treat Burke's early years more fully than previous biographers have done. Before 1766, Burke was known, if at all, as an author. Yet only one of his early writings, the Philosophical Enquiry, is familiar today. I have tried to redress the balance by treating at length two works hitherto neglected: the Account of the European Settlements in America (written in collaboration with William Burke) and his unfinished 'History of England'.

In July 1765, Burke became private secretary to the Marquis of Rockingham, himself just appointed First Lord of the Treasury; in December, he was elected to Parliament. Within a few months, he had established himself as one of the handful of leading speakers in the Commons, with the embryo of a national reputation. Though Rockingham's secretary for only a year, Burke remained tied to the marquis until his death in July 1782. Rockingham headed the small but influential party named after him; Burke . . .

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