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WITH INTRODUCTION AND NOTES
E. J. PAYNE, M.A.
OF LINCOLN'S INN, BARRISTER-AT-LAW,
REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE
AT THE CLARENDON PRESS
[All rights reserved]
The famous letter or pamphlet contained in this volume represents the workings of an extraordinary mind at an extraordinary crisis: and can therefore be compared with few things that have ever been spoken or written. Composed in a literary age, it scarcely belongs to literature; yet it is one of the greatest of literary masterpieces. It embodies nothing of history save fragments which have mostly lost their interest, yet no book in the world has more historical significance. It scorns and defies philosophy, but it discloses a compact and unique system of its
It tramples on logic, yet carries home to the most logical
T discover its defects is easy enough. No book in the world
* So Macaulay has styled Burke.
fascination of jugglery: now you believe your eyes, now you distrust them: the brilliancy of the spectacle first dazzles, and then satisfies: and you care little for what lies behind. This is what the author intended: the critical faculty is disarmed, the imagination is enthralled.
What did Burke propose to himself when he sat down to write this book ? The letter to Dupont is obviously a mere peg upon which to hang his argument: the ook written for the British public. He believed himself to foresee whither the revolutionary movement in France was tending : he saw one party in England regarding it with favour, the other with indifference: he saw clear revolutionary tendencies on all sides among the people: and not a single arm was as yet raised to avert the impending catastrophe. Burke aimed at recalling the English nation to its ancient principles, and at showing the folly and imprudence of the French political movement. Burke's independence led him even to the extent of revolting from his own party. The great historical Whig party, the party of Somers, of Walpole, and of Chatham, was slowly passing through a painful transformation, which many observers mistook for dissolution. Burke found himself constrained to desert it, and that upon an occasion which afforded an opportunity of rendering it material support. From that time forward he became a marked man. Even for Burke the act of thinking for himself was stigmatised as a crime. While the events of the French Revolution commended themselves to the leaders of his party, he ought not to have allowed it to be seen that they aroused in him nothing but anger and scorn; nor ought he to have appealed to the nation at large to support him in his opposition. Such an appeal to the general public was characteristic of definite change of allegiance. Hence the obloquy which overwhelmed the last years of his life, raised by those who had been his associates during a career of a quarter of a century. Hence his counter-denunciation of them as' New Whigs,' as renegades from the principles of the English Revolution, by virtue of the countenance they gave to the political changes which were taking place in France.
Are Burke's opinions in the present work consistent with those contained in the first volume ? Notwithstanding that fundamental unity which may be justly claimed for Burke's opinions,