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The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe: The Reception of British and Irish Authors in Europe
 9781441196651, 9781474217668, 9781350012547

Table of contents :
Half title
The Reception of British and Irish Authors in Europe
Series Editor’s Preface Elinor Shaffer
List of Contributors
Chronology: Edmund Burke’s Life and Works
Timeline: The Reception of Burke
Introduction Peter Jones and Martin Fitzpatrick
1 The Reception of Burke in Ireland Martyn J. Powell
2 The Paradoxes of Edmund Burke’s Reception in America, 1757–1790 Mark G. Spencer
3 Edmund Burke and Rational Dissent Martin Fitzpatrick and Anthony Page
4 Some Nineteenth-Century Appraisals of Burke’s Reflections: From Sir James Mackintosh to John Morley Gregory Claeys
5 Edmund Burke, the French Revolution and his French Critics Jeremy Jennings
6 Edmund Burke and the Writings of Benjamin Constant Cecil Patrick Courtney
7 ‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France Norbert Col
8 An Ambivalent Conservatism: Edmund Burke in the Netherlands, 1770–1870 Wessel Krul
9 The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Imperial Ideas Relating to India, or Burke, the Brahmin and the Hot-House Sunil Agnani
10 Did an Edinburgh Debate on Taste Delay Response to Burke? Peter Jones
11 Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aesthetics in Medico-Philosophical Circles and Art Criticism, 1757–1824 Aris Sarafianos
12 Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right? Lioba Simon Schuhmacher
13 The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy: Translations as Thresholds of Interpretation Daniele Niedda
14 The Reception of the Enquiry in the German-Language Area in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century: August Gottlieb Meißner and Johann Gottfried Herder Tomáš Hlobil
15 The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Aesthetics in Hungary Piroska Balogh
16 Varieties of Old Regime Europe: Thoughts and Details on the Reception of Burke Reflections in Germany László Kontler

Citation preview

The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe

The Reception of British and Irish Authors in Europe Series Editor: Elinor Shaffer School of Advanced Study, University of London Published Volumes Volume I: The Reception of Virginia Woolf in Europe Edited by Mary Ann Caws and Nicola Luckhurst Volume II: The Reception of Laurence Sterne in Europe Edited by Peter de Voogd and John Neubauer Volume III: The Reception of James Joyce in Europe Edited by Geert Lernout and Wim Van Mierlo Volume IV: The Reception of Walter Pater in Europe Edited by Stephen Bann Volume V: The Reception of Ossian in Europe Edited by Howard Gaskill Volume VI: The Reception of Byron in Europe Edited by Richard Cardwell Volume VII: The Reception of H. G. Wells in Europe Edited by Patrick Parrinder and John Partington Volume VIII: The Reception of Jonathan Swift in Europe Edited by Hermann Real Volume IX: The Reception of David Hume in Europe Edited by Peter Jones Volume X: The Reception of W. B. Yeats in Europe Edited by Klaus Peter Jochum Volume XI: The Reception of Henry James in Europe Edited by Annick Duperray Volume XII: The Reception of D. H. Lawrence in Europe Edited by Dieter Mehl and Christa Jansohn Volume XIII: The Reception of Sir Walter Scott in Europe Edited by Murray Pittock Volume XIV: The Reception of Jane Austen in Europe Edited by A. A. Mandal and Brian Southam Volume XV: The Reception of S. T. Coleridge in Europe Edited by Elinor Shaffer and Edoardo Zuccato Volume XVI: The Reception of P. B. Shelley in Europe Edited by Susanne Schmid and Michael Rossington Volume XVII: The Reception of Charles Darwin in Europe Edited by Eve-Marie Engels and Thomas F. Glick Volume XVIII: The Reception of Oscar Wilde in Europe Edited by Stefano Evangelista Volume XIX: The Reception of Charles Dickens in Europe Edited by Michael Hollington Volume XX: The Literary and Cultural Reception of Charles Darwin in Europe Edited by Thomas F. Glick and Elinor Shaffer Volume XXI: The Reception of Robert Burns in Europe Edited by Murray Pittock Volume XXII: The Reception of George Eliot in Europe Edited by Elinor Shaffer and Catherine Brown Volume XXIII: The Reception of Alfred Tennyson in Europe Edited by Leonee Ormond Forthcoming volumes in the series include: The Reception of Isaac Newton in Europe Edited by Helmut Pulte and Scott Mandelbrote The Reception of William Blake in Europe Edited by Sibylle Erle and Morton D. Paley

The Reception of British and Irish Authors in Europe Series Editor: Elinor Shaffer School of Advanced Study, University of London

The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Edited by Martin Fitzpatrick and Peter Jones

Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square London WC1B 3DP UK

1385 Broadway New York NY 10018 USA BLOOMSBURY and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2017 © Martin Fitzpatrick and Peter Jones, 2017 Series concept and Series Editor’s Preface © Elinor Shaffer Martin Fitzpatrick and Peter Jones have asserted their right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as Editors of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury or the editors. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: HB: 978-1-4411-9665-1 epdf: 978-1-3500-1254-7 epub: 978-1-3500-1255-4 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. Series: The Reception of British and Irish Authors in Europe Cover image © National Gallery of Ireland Typeset by Fakenham Prepress Solutions, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 8NN

Contents Series Editor’s Preface Elinor Shaffer


Acknowledgements xii List of Contributors


Abbreviations xviii Chronology: Edmund Burke’s Life and Works Timeline: The Reception of Burke

xx xxiv

Introduction 1 Peter Jones and Martin Fitzpatrick 1

The Reception of Burke in Ireland Martyn J. Powell



The Paradoxes of Edmund Burke’s Reception in America, 1757–1790 39 Mark G. Spencer


Edmund Burke and Rational Dissent Martin Fitzpatrick and Anthony Page


Some Nineteenth-Century Appraisals of Burke’s Reflections: From Sir James Mackintosh to John Morley Gregory Claeys


Edmund Burke, the French Revolution and his French Critics Jeremy Jennings


Edmund Burke and the Writings of Benjamin Constant Cecil Patrick Courtney


‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France Norbert Col



An Ambivalent Conservatism: Edmund Burke in the Netherlands, 1770–1870 Wessel Krul



75 91 105

vi  Contents 9

The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Imperial Ideas Relating to India, or Burke, the Brahmin and the Hot-House Sunil Agnani

10 Did an Edinburgh Debate on Taste Delay Response to Burke? Peter Jones

171 191


Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aesthetics in MedicoPhilosophical Circles and Art Criticism, 1757–1824 Aris Sarafianos



Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right? Lioba Simon Schuhmacher



The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy: Translations as Thresholds of Interpretation Daniele Niedda



The Reception of the Enquiry in the German-Language Area in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century: August Gottlieb Meißner and Johann Gottfried Herder Tomáš Hlobil


The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Aesthetics in Hungary Piroska Balogh


Varieties of Old Regime Europe: Thoughts and Details on the Reception of Burke Reflections in Germany László Kontler

279 297


Bibliography331 Index385

Series Editor’s Preface The reception of British authors in Britain has in good part been studied; indeed, it forms our literary history. By contrast, the reception of British authors in Europe has not been examined in any systematic, long-term or large-scale way. Remarkably, the word ‘afterlife’ is the term used to refer to the merely English reception of any author, whereas the reception of any major author (and many others) will be characterized by a wider audience and a more varied life in criticism. With our volume on Jonathan Swift (2005), we altered our Series title to ‘The Reception of British and Irish Authors in Europe’, as a reminder that many writers previously travelling under the British flag may now be considered or claimed as belonging to the Republic of Ireland (1948). Irish writers have a powerful presence in the history of ‘English’ literature. Swift’s career in England was as prominent and embattled as his career in Ireland, while James Joyce in ‘silence, exile and cunning’ recreated himself as a European, and Oscar Wilde made and temporarily lost his name in England while establishing himself as a major dramatist in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. If it is the name of William Butler Yeats that has come to stand for ‘his country’s biography’, the life history of Ireland, as his most recent biographer has put it (R. E. Foster, I, xviii),  he too died in France. In the case of Edmund Burke, we have a figure who became so central in English public and parliamentary life and in the definition of its constitution that his Irish origins may sometimes be overlooked, not least by indignant French readers of Burke’s resounding attack on the French Revolution. It is the aim of this Series to initiate and forward the study of the reception of British and Irish authors in Continental Europe, or, as we would say, the rest of Europe as a whole, rather than as isolated national histories with a narrow national perspective. The perspectives of other nations greatly add to our understanding of individual contributors to that history. The history of the reception of British authors extends our knowledge of their capacity to stimulate and to call forth new responses, not only in their own disciplines but in wider fields and to diverse publics in a variety of historical circumstances. Often these responses provide quite unexpected and enriching insights into our own histories, politics and culture. Individual words and personalities take on new dimensions and facets. They may also be subject to enlightening critiques. Our knowledge of the writers of the British Isles is simply incomplete and inadequate without these reception studies. By ‘authors’ we mean writers in any field whose works have been recognized as making a contribution to the intellectual and cultural history of our societies. Thus the Series includes literary figures such as Laurence Sterne, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce; philosophers such as David Hume; historians and political figures such as Edmund Burke; and scientists such as Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton, whose works have had a broad impact on thinking in every field. In some cases, individual works of the same author have dealt with different subjects, each virtually with its own reception history. For

viii   Series Editor’s Preface example, each of Laurence Sterne’s two major works of fiction, Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey, has its own history of reception, giving rise to a whole line of literary movements, innovative progeny, and concomitant critical theory in most European countries. Even more strikingly, Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution (1790) was instantaneously translated, roused controversy, and moulded thinking on the power struggle in the Europe of his own day; whereas his youthful A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of the Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) exerted a powerful influence on aesthetic thought and the practice of writing and remains a seminal work for certain genres of fiction and of art. Recent writers on Burke have emphasized a specifically Irish quality in his aesthetic thought, with its stress on pain and danger in the experience of the sublime, the subjugation that represented ‘the underside of the Enlightenment’ in a country ruled from without, and this in turn gives an insight into Burke’s sympathy for the rebellion in the American colonies, and his deep concern for the practices of the British colonial rule in India. This mindset has also linked Burke with thinkers like Diderot, whose aesthetics and anti-colonial politics bore a similar underlying and unifying character. Many were initially surprised by Burke’s opposition to the French Revolution. But his quick response to an event of such magnitude established him as a major voice both on the contemporary European scene and in the long-term expression of what came to be thought of as conservative values. In Burke’s Reflections we have a prime example of a voice that is immediately heard and carries a long way. The research project examines the ways in which selected authors have been translated, published, distributed, read, reviewed and discussed on the continent of Europe. In doing so, it throws light not only on specific strands of intellectual and cultural history, but also on the processes involved in the dissemination of ideas and texts. The project brings to bear the theoretical and critical approaches that have characterized the growing fields of reader response theory and reception  studies in the last half century. These critical approaches have illuminated the activity of the reader in bringing the text to life and stressed the changing horizons of the reading public or community of which the reader is a part. The project also takes cognizance of the studies of the material history of the book that have begun to explore the production, publication and distribution of manuscripts and books. Increasingly, other media too are playing a role in these processes, and to the history of book illustration must be added slides (as in the popular versions of Scott’s and Dickens’s works), cinema (whose early impact forms an important part of our H. G. Wells volume, and in the circulation of George Eliot’s historical novel Romola provides a brief but telling piece of early cinema [1911]), and more recently television (as recounted in the Jane Austen and Dickens volumes). Byron’s writings, like Ossian’s and Scott’s, have almost as extensive a history in images and in sound as in prose and poetry. Scott’s novels, the most widely read English novels in Europe until about 1910, also have an imposing history in opera; Shelley and Burns in song. Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King have been carried by Gustave Doré’s grand illustrated books across Europe in a variety of translations, and Tennyson’s poetry has been closely linked with the painting of the Italian and Spanish nineteenth

Series Editor’s Preface   ix century, as well as with the more familiar British ‘Pre-Raphaelites’. Blake, that rare talent in which art and poetry are both exemplified in his own works and those of his diverse followers, has summoned an extraordinary variety of responses in all the arts as well as in politics. With Tennyson and Blake we have been able to provide illustrations for the first time in the Series. Performance history requires strenuous tracing, beyond the texts, whether for works written for the stage or for adaptations. Our Timelines or chronologies have sometimes had to give separate representation to stage or musical performance. Yeats’s poetic national dramas had remarkable resonance across Europe, extending to Catalan nationalism and Basque separatism. Wilde’s plays (not least Salome, banned in England until 1933) found a permanent place within the flourishing drama and music drama of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The study of material history forms a curious annexe, that is, of the objects that form durable traces of the vogue for a particular author, which may be parts of himself (as with the macabre story told in our Shelley volume of the wish to possess the dead poet’s heart), or items of his wardrobe (as with Byron’s shirtsleeves), or souvenir objects associated with his characters (Uncle Toby’s pipe from Sterne’s Tristram Shandy), or the more elaborate memorial gardens and graveyards such as linked Rousseau and Sterne in France. The ceremonial moving of Yeats’s grave in Roquebrune to his birthplace in Ireland is an aspect of such history. The author’s own image may achieve iconic status, as with Byron ‘in Albanian dress’, or Yeats, vast of stature, both mage and sage, aesthete and Senator. The significance of such cults and cult objects requires further analysis as the examples multiply and diversify. The Series as published by Bloomsbury is open-ended and multi-volumed, each volume based on a particular author. The authors may be regarded according to their discipline, or looked at across disciplines with their period. As the volumes accumulate they enrich each other and our awareness of the full context in which an individual author is received. The Swift volume shows that in many places Swift and Sterne were received at the same time, and viewed sometimes as a pair of witty ironists, and sometimes as opposites representing traditional biting satire on the one hand (Swift) and modern sentimentalism on the other (Sterne), and equally or diversely valued as a result. The Romantic poets were carried forward into mid-century nationalist movements and late-nineteenth-century Symbolist movements. The fin-desiècle aspects of Pater, early Yeats, Woolf and Joyce are interwoven in a wider European experience. In the twentieth century, Sterne was paired with Joyce as subversive of the novel form; and Joyce and Woolf became Modernists. These chronological shifts, bringing different authors and different works into view together, are common to the reception process, so often displacing or delaying them into an entirely new historical scene or set of circumstances or significances. Thus Byron’s two major works, Childe Harold and Don Juan, came to stand, after his death, for whole new epochs of feeling in Europe, first the melancholic, inward post-Napoleonic Weltschmerz, then the bitter and disillusioned, mocking tones of the failed Revolution of 1848. Clearly no commentary on a large-scale historical event, such as Burke’s, could do other than to alter under these pressures and to take on a variety of shapes

x   Series Editor’s Preface depending on the observer’s assessment of the Revolution’s role in these subsequent events. In period terms one may discern within the Series a Romantic group; a Victorian group; a fin-de-siècle group and an early Modernist group. Period designations differ from discipline to discipline, and are shifting even within any single discipline. Blake, who was a ‘Pre-Romantic’ poet a generation ago, is now considered a fully-fledged Romantic. Virginia Woolf may be regarded as a fin-de-siècle aesthete and stylist whose affinities are with Pater or as an epoch-making Modernist like Joyce. Terms referring to period and style often vary from country to country. What happens to a ‘Victorian’ author transplanted to ‘Wilhelmine’ Germany? Are English Metaphysical poets to be regarded as ‘baroque’ in continental terms, or will that term continue to be borrowed in English only for music or to an extent architecture? Is not ‘baroque music’ itself now referred to as ‘early music’? Is the ‘Augustan’ Swift a classicist in Italian terms, or an Enlightenment thinker in French terms? It is most straightforward to classify them simply according to century, for the calendar is for the most part shared. But the various possible groupings will provide a context for reception and enrich our knowledge of each author. Division of each volume by country or by linguistic region is dictated by the historical development of Europe; each volume necessarily adopts a different selection of countries and regions, depending on period and the specific reception of any given author. Countries or regions are treated either substantially, in several chapters or in sections where this is warranted; for example, the French reception of Yeats, Woolf or Joyce (and nearly all Englishlanguage works until after World War II pass first through the medium of French language and the prism of French thought), or on a moderate scale or simply as a brief section. In some cases, where a rich reception is located which has not been reported or of which the critical community is not aware; more detailed coverage may be justified. In general, comparative studies have neglected Spain in favour of France, Germany and Italy, and this imbalance needs to be righted. For example, we have shown the reception of Woolf in the different linguistic communities of the Iberian Peninsula, and given a detailed treatment of a play of Yeats in Catalan, Galician and Basque. In our George Eliot volume we have been able to give a much fuller and richer picture of what Eliot and Lewes did on their long journey through Spain than has previously been available. On the other hand, brevity does not indicate a lack of interest. Where separate coverage of any particular country or region is not justified by the extent of the reception, relevant material is incorporated into the bibliography and the Timeline. Thus an early translation may be noted, although there was subsequently a minimal response to an author or work, or a very long gap in the reception in that region. It is, of course, always possible, and indeed to be hoped and expected, that further aspects of reception will later be uncovered, and the long-term research project forwarded though this initial information. Reception studies often display an author’s intellectual and political impact and reveal effects that are unfamiliar to the authors’ compatriots. Thus, Byron, for example, had the power of carrying and incarnating liberal political thought to regimes and institutions to whom it was anathema; it is less well known that Sterne

Series Editor’s Preface   xi had the same effect and was charged with erotically tinged subversion. Shelley too, resident like Byron in Switzerland and Italy, was often understood in radical political terms, which in his native land became muffled. George Eliot was an advocate for Italian independence and a friend of political exiles. By the same token, the study of censorship, or more broadly, impediments to dissemination, and of modes of circumventing control, becomes an important aspect of reception studies. In studies on Bacon, the process of dissemination of his ideas through the private correspondence of organized circles was vital, Certain presses and publishers also play a role, and the study of modes of secret distribution under severe penalty is a particularly fascinating subject, whether in Catholic Europe or Soviet Russia. Much translation was carried out in prisons. Irony and Aesopian devices, and audience alertness to them, are highly developed under controlling regimes. A surprising number of authors live more dangerously abroad than at home. Where Yeats was at home is moot point; some Irish groups attacked him as aristocratic, elitist, even ‘fascistic’; yet he has been seen as the first prominent Western advocate of decolonization, and The Tower (1928) as advancing the perception that ‘colonial violence has to be counteracted by a politics of reason’. In fact, this perception may be attributed to his countryman Edmund Burke, whose untiring parliamentary investigations of the actions of Warren Hastings in colonial India, though Hastings was acquitted, give Burke pride of place by a large margin of time. The Project website provides further information about the Project’s history, advisory board, conferences, colloquia and seminars, as well as reviews of its volumes.

Dr Elinor Shaffer Director, Research Project The Reception of British and Irish Authors in Europe

Acknowledgements It began with a conference in 2004 to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Edmund Burke but for a variety of reasons it was not possible to follow it up with a book of its papers. By the time volume editors were in a position to begin work on a volume on the reception of Burke, the momentum had been lost and in some cases we had to begin de novo. In the process of seeking contributions we incurred many debts to those who advised us. These include Marie-Christine Skunke of the University of Uppsala; Richard Bourke, Queen Mary, University of London; Rod Preece, Wilfred Laurier University, Ontario; Anthony Cross, University of Cambridge; Simon Dixon, University College, London; Garry Hamburg, Claremont McKenna College; Pasi Ihalainen, University of Jӓsklӓ; Hugh Dunthorne, Swansea University; Knud Haaksonssen, Universität Erfurt and Eva Perez, University of the Balearic Islands. We are especially grateful to the Series Project Officer Lachlan Moyle for his help. Above all we are indebted to Skype which made our editing possible. Amongst our contributors Mark Spencer wishes to thank Roger L. Emerson, Craig Hanyan, Adam Nadeau, John Sainsbury, Wayne Thorpe, and F. L. van Holthoon for reading various drafts and offering many improvements. Tomáš Hlobil’s article was written with the generous support of the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic (grant no. P409/11/2083). The author thanks Derek Paton who has translated the whole text including the quotations. Piroska Balogh’s chapter was translated by Ambrus Mózes and her research was funded by the Hungarian Scientific Research Found (OTKA).

List of Contributors Sunil Agnani is Associate Professor of English and History at the University of Illinois in Chicago and author of a study of Burke and Diderot, Hating Empire Properly: The Two Indies and Limits of Enlightenment Anticolonialism (2013), awarded the Harry Levin Prize for Best First Book from the American Comparative Literature Association. He has held fellowships from the Princeton Society of Fellows, the UCLA Center for Seventeenth & Eighteenth-Century Studies, and Rice University’s Humanities Research Center. Piroska Balogh, PhD is Assistant Professor at Eötvös Loránd University of Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Institute of Cultural Studies and Hungarian Literature (Budapest, Hungary). Main fields of research: history of Hungarian aesthetics, and neolatin literature in Hungary between 1750–1900. She translated the principal monographs on aesthetics of this period (Georg Aloys Szerdahely’s and Johann Ludwig Schedius’s works) from Latin to Hungarian, and published them with commentaries. She is currently working on an anthology of polyglot tractates on aesthetics from Hungary between 1750–1850, intended as a basis for a detailed synopsis of the history of Hungarian aesthetics. List of publications at: Gregory Claeys was born in France and educated in Canada and the United Kingdom. He has taught in Germany and the US and since 1992 has been Professor of the History of Political Thought at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is the author of Machinery, Money and the Millennium: From Moral Economy to Socialism (Princeton University Press, 1987), Citizens and Saints: Politics and Anti-Politics in Early British Socialism (Cambridge University Press, 1989), Thomas Paine: Social and Political Thought (Unwin Hyman, 1989); The French Revolution Debate in Britain (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), Imperial Sceptics: British Critics of Empire, 1850–1920 (Cambridge University Press, 2010), Searching for Utopia: the History of an Idea (Thames & Hudson, 2011; German, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese editions), and Mill and Paternalism (Cambridge University Press, 2013). He has edited The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and (with Gareth Stedman Jones), The Cambridge History of Nineteenth Century Political Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2011), as well as some fifty volumes of primary sources. He is currently writing a book on the concept and historical manifestations of dystopia. Norbert Col is Professor of British history and literature at Université de Bretagne-Sud, Lorient (France) and is a member of UMR 6258, CERHIO. He is the author of a bilingual edition of Burke’s An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1996), of Burke, le contrat social et les révolutions (2001) and of À la recherche du conservatisme britannique: historiographie, britannicité, modernité. XVIIe-XXe siècles (2007), all for Presses Universitaires de Rennes. He has also edited Écritures de soi (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007).

xiv   List of Contributors Cecil Patrick Courtney is Emeritus Reader in French Intellectual History and Bibliography in the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Christ’s College. His publications include Montesquieu and Burke (Oxford, 1962), Isabelle de Charrière (Belle de Zuylen); a biography (Oxford, 1993), and numerous articles on eighteenth-century topics, particularly on Montesquieu, Burke and Raynal. He is General Editor of Benjamin Constant’s Correspondance générale, and co-editor of new editions of Montesquieu’s Œuvres complètes and Raynal’s Histoire philosophique des deux Indes. He is Officier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and a Corresponding member of the Académie de Bordeaux. Martin Fitzpatrick, formerly Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Associate at the department of History and Welsh History Aberystwyth University, was co-founder, with D. O. Thomas, and co-editor with James Dybikowski, of the journal Enlightenment and Dissent. He has edited the Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin; vol. I, Political Writings I, gen. ed. Mark Philp, Pickering and Chatto (1993), and with Peter Jones, Iain McCalman and Christa Knellwolf, The Enlightenment World (Routledge, 2004). His publications range over topics to do with the Enlightenment and religious toleration. They include the essay on ‘Enlightenment’ in Iain McCalman (ed.) The Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age, ‘Enlightenment and Toleration’ in Ole Grell and Roy Porter (eds) Toleration in Enlightenment Europe (2000)), and Marc G. Spencer (ed.) ‘England and the American Enlightenment’ in the Bloomsbury Encyclopaedia of the American Enlightenment (2014). Tomáš Hlobil has a degree in Czech and German Studies from Palacký University in Olomouc and a PhD in Aesthetics from Charles University in Prague, and is currently Professor of Aesthetics at Prague and Olomouc. He has been awarded numerous scholarships and grants (for example, from the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic, the Mellon Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service, and the Fulbright Foundation). His chief research interests are the history of European aesthetics from the late seventeenth to mid-nineteenth centuries, the emergence and early years of aesthetics as a university subject, and early Bohemian aesthetics, both Czech and German. His articles have appeared, for example, in Kant-Studien, Das achtzehnte Jahrhundert, British Journal of Aesthetics, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, Estetika: The Central European Journal of Aesthetics, and Česká literatura, and his book publications include Jazyk, poezie a teorie nápodoby (Příspěvek k dějinám britské a německé estetiky 18. století) (Language, poetry, and the theory of imitation: A contribution to the history of eighteenth-century British and German aesthetics) (Olomouc, 2001). František Palacký, An Historical Survey of the Science of Beauty and the Literature on the Subject (Olomouc, 2002), and Geschmacksbildung im Nationalinteresse: Die Anfänge der Prager Universitätsästhetik im mitteleuropäischen Kulturraum 1763–1805 (Hanover, 2012). Jeremy Jennings is Professor of Political Theory and Head of the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London. He previously held professorial appointments at the University of Birmingham, Queen Mary University of London and the Fondation Natiionale des Sciences Politiques in Paris.

List of Contributors   xv He has written extensively on the history of political ideas in France. His last monograph was entitled Revolution and the Republic: A History of Political Thought in France since the Eighteenth Century (Oxford University Press), which was awarded the Franco-British Society’s Enid McLeod prize. He is presently completing a study called Travels with Tocqueville. He also writes regularly for the monthly magazine Standpoint. Peter Jones is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, where he was also Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. He devised many scholarly projects attended by Heads of State, Prime Ministers and Ambassadors, and three ground-breaking exhibitions on Enlightenment themes at the Royal Museum of Scotland. He gave the Gifford Lectures in 1995 on ‘Science and Religion before and after Hume’, has held numerous Visiting Professorships and Fellowships abroad and served on many governing bodies, including the Royal Society of Edinburgh. After early work on the nineteenth-century novel, his main interests have centred on eighteenth-century philosophy, sciences and technology, together with opera, music and the arts of the period, spanning the time from Claude Perrault and Pierre Bayle to the philosophes and the clavichord works of C. P. E. Bach. He is the author and editor of over 150 articles and books, including Philosophy and the Novel (1975), Hume’s Sentiments (1982), Adam Smith Reviewed (ed.1992), The Reception of David Hume in Europe (ed. 2005), Ove Arup, Masterbuilder of the Twentieth Century (2006) and with Martin Fitzpatrick, The Enlightenment World (2004). László Kontler is Professor of History at Central European University (Budapest). His research and publications range across the history of political and historical thought, translation and reception in the history of ideas, and the production and exchange of knowledge, in the early modern period, mainly the Enlightenment. He is the Hungarian translator and editor of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1990). His English language books include A History of Hungary (1999/2002) and Translations, Histories, Enlightenments. William Robertson in Germany, 1760–1795 (2014); he edited, with Antonella Romano, Silvia Sebastiani and Borbála Zsuzsanna Török, Negotiating Knowledge in Early Modern Empires. A Decentered View (2014). He is one of the editors of the European Review of History / Revue d’histoire européenne and Europäische Geschichte Online / European History Online. Wessel Krul (1950) is Professor of Modern Cultural History at the University of Groningen (Netherlands). He has published widely on historiography, art theory and heritage studies. In 2004 he translated and  introduced the first complete Dutch edition of Burke’s Enquiry. Daniele Niedda teaches English Literature at UNINT (Università degli Studi Internazionali) in Rome. His main fields of research are the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To Edmund Burke he has dedicated two books (Linguaggio ed emozioni in Edmund Burke, 2003, and Governare la diversità. Edmund Burke e l’India, 2013) and several articles. He has also written on travel

xvi   List of Contributors literature (Joseph Addison e l’Italia, 1993), aesthetics, philosophy of language, collecting and narrative. He is currently working on a book on Benjamin Disraeli. Anthony Page is a Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Tasmania and reviews editor for the journal Enlightenment & Dissent. He is author of Britain and the Seventy Years War, 1744–1815: Enlightenment, Revolution and Empire  (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015),  John Jebb and the Enlightenment Origins of British Radicalism  (Praeger, 2003), ‘Rational Dissent,  Enlightenment  and Abolition of the British Slave Trade’,  The  Historical Journal, 54 (2011): 741–72, and other articles on politics and religion in late eighteenth-century Britain. Aris Sarafianos is currently Assistant Professor in Art History at the University of Ioannina, Greece. He received his PhD from Manchester University where he taught for a number of years (2001–08). He has held long-term fellowships from the Huntington Library and the Clark Library/ UCLA, and his research has been supported by awards from the Paul Mellon Centre in London/Yale University and the YCBA at Yale University. His work focuses on the extensive interactions between the history of medicine (physiology, anatomy, pathology and therapeutic practices) and art history, criticism and the history of literature, music and travel during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He is especially interested in the complex interdisciplinary and inter-professional issues raised by such interactions. He has published extensively on a wide range of related topics in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes. The title of his book in progress is The Sublime Real: Medical Men and Art Professionals, 1757–1824. Lioba Simon-Schuhmacher is Associate Professor in English Studies (University of Oviedo, and teaches eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury literature and culture. She was seconded to the ERASMUS programme in Brussels, and also worked for the Spanish Ministry of Education and the Agency for Quality of the Universities of Madrid (ACAP). Among around a hundred publications feature intercultural and higher education policy studies (e.g. THES), and books and articles, including on the Enlightenment. She is on the governing board of the Foundation ‘Foro Jovellanos’ in Gijón, and co-director of the eighteenth-century magazine Cuadernos Jovellanistas ( For more details: Mark G. Spencer is Associate Professor of History at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario. His monograph on David Hume and Eighteenth-Century America (University of Rochester Press, 2005) was reissued as a paperback in 2010. He has introduced editions of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Locke, and has edited or co-edited several collections, including Hume’s Reception in Early America, 2 vols (Thoemmes, 2002), Utilitarians and Their Critics in America, 1789–1914, 4 vols (Continuum, 2005), Ulster Presbyterians in the Atlantic World: Religion, Politics and Identity (Four Courts Press, 2006), David Hume: Historical Thinker, Historical Writer (Pennsylvania State University

List of Contributors   xvii Press, 2013) and, most recently, The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment, 2 vols (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). His shorter pieces have appeared in a variety of scholarly periodicals, including the American Historical Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and The William and Mary Quarterly. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, a Board Member and past President of the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society, and sits on the editorial boards of Enlightenment and Dissent and Hume Studies.

Abbreviations Corr. + volume number for the series of Burke’s correspondence, general editor Thomas W. Copeland (1958–1978) The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, 1729–1797, 10 vols, Cambridge & Chicago, Cambridge University Press: Chicago University Press. The correspondence of Edmund Burke. Vol. 1 April 1744–June 1768, edited by Thomas W. Copeland, 1958. The correspondence of Edmund Burke, Vol. 2, July 1768–June 1774, edited by Lucy S. Sutherland, 1960. The correspondence of Edmund Burke, Vol. 3, July 1774–June 1778, edited by George H. Guttridge, 1961. The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Vol. 4, July 1778–June 1782, edited by John A. Woods, 1963 The correspondence of Edmund Burke, Vol. 5, July 1782–June 1789, edited by H. Furber, 1965. The correspondence of Edmund Burke, Vol. 6, July 1789–December 1791, edited by A. Cobban and R. A. Smith, (1967) The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, January 1792–August 1794, vol. 7, edited by P. J. Marshall and J. A. Woods, 1968. The Correspondence of Burke, 1794–April 1796, vol. 8, edited by R. B. McDowell, 1969. The Correspondence of Burke, May 1796–July 1797, vol. 9, edited by R. B. McDowell and J. A. Woods, 1970. The correspondence of Edmund Burke, Index, Vol. 10, compiled by Barbara Lowe, Peter J. Marshall and John Woods, 1978. Speeches + vol. number The Speeches of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke in the House of Commons and in Westminster Hall, in Four Volumes, London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, paternoster Row; and J. Ridgway, Piccadilly, 1816.

Abbreviations   xix Works + volume number for: The Works of Edmund Burke, 8 vols, London, Bohn’s British Classics, 1854–89. Writings and Speeches + volume number For the series, The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Paul Langford (gen. ed.): William B. Todd (textual ed.), Oxford, Clarendon Press, 9 vols, 1981–2015. The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol. 1: The early writings, edited by T. O. McLoughlin & James T. Boulton, 1997. The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol. 2: Party, Parliament and the American Crisis,1766–1774, edited by Paul Langford, 1981. The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol. 3: Party, Parliament, and the American War, 1774–1780, edited by W. M. Elofson with John A. Woods, 1996. The writings and speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol. 4: Party, Parliament, and the dividing of the Whigs 1780–1794, edited by P. J. Marshall and Donald C. Bryant, 2015. The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol. 5: India: Madras and Bengal 1774–1785, edited by P. J. Marshall, 1981. The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol. 6: India: the Launching of the Hastings Impeachment, 1786–1788, edited by P. J. Marshall, 1990. The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke. Vol. 7: India: the Hastings Trial 1789–1794, edited by P. J. Marshall, 2000. The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke 1790–1794, Vol. 8: 1790–94, edited by L. G. Mitchell, 1989. The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol. 9: 1. The Revolutionary War 1794–1797; 2. Ireland, edited by R. B. McDowell, 1997. Enquiry: Burke, E. (1757) A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 2nd edition (1759), ed. J. T. Boulton, London: Routledge 1958. Other editions, Enquiry + date of edition used. ODNB: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, eds H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2004).

Chronology: Edmund Burke’s Life and Works 1730

Born in Dublin 12 January.


Spends these years with his mother’s Catholic relations in the Blackwater Valley, County Cork.


Attends the school of the Quaker, Abraham Shackleton, at Baltimore, County Kildare.


Studies law at Trinity College, Dublin.


Comes to London to pursue his legal studies, which he soon abandons, seeking a literary career instead.


Publishes in May A Vindication of Natural Society a satire on Bolingbroke’s Deism.


In March marries Jane Nugent, a Catholic and daughter of a physician, probably a relative of Thomas Nugent, translator of Montesquieu’s Esprit de Lois. In April Burke publishes A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful.

1758 Begins An Essay towards an Abridgement of English History; it is never completed; a fragment was published in 1812. He co-authors with William Burke (no direct relation), An Account of the European Settlements in America. Becomes editor of a new journal, the Annual Register at a salary of £100 per annum. Richard Burke born. 1759

Becomes private secretary to William Gerard Hamilton MP.


When Hamilton becomes Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Burke goes to Ireland with him as his private secretary. He begins his Tracts Relative to the Laws Against Popery in Ireland; those which he completed were eventually published in 1812.


Burke is granted a pension on the Irish establishment at £300 per annum.


Separates from Hamilton after a violent quarrel. He becomes private secretary to the Marquess of Rockingham, a leading Whig politician and one of the wealthiest men in England. In July Rockingham becomes Prime Minister and in December Burke is elected to parliament for Lord Verney’s pocket borough of Wendover.


In July Rockingham falls from power, and Burke, somewhat reluctantly, follows him into opposition.

Chronology: Edmund Burke’s Life and Works   xxi 1768

Buys a house and a 300-acre estate at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.


At a time when the relationship between Britain and the colonies is beginning to dominate politics, Burke writes his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, published in April. In December he is appointed London agent for the New York Assembly.


January to March, visits France with his son Richard. Sees Marie Antoinette at Versailles.

1774 April, Speech on American Taxation published in January 1775; November is elected MP for Bristol. Speech to the Electors of Bristol on being Elected. 1775 March, Speech on Conciliation with America, published May. 1776

American Declaration of Independence.


A Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol.


11 February Burke introduces his Economical Reform Bill. His speech is subsequently published. His aim is to reduce government (court) influence in the House of Commons, to reduce the expenditure of the royal household, to reform the public accounts and to abolish a number of placemen’s seats at Westminster. Eventually the bill has to be withdrawn. In the general election following the dissolution of Parliament in September, Burke withdraws his candidature for Bristol, having alienated the electorate. Subsequently Rockingham arranges for him to become MP for Malton, a pocket borough in Yorkshire which he owned.


March, Burke appointed Paymaster General in the Second Rockingham Administration at £4,000 per annum; his son, deputy paymaster at £400 per annum, his brother Richard Secretary to the Treasury at £3,000 per annum and his ‘cousin’ William, obtains a place in the Pay Office in India. On 1 July Rockingham dies and Burke’s hopes of attaining security for his family are dashed. The resignation of the leading Rockinghamite in the House of Commons, Charles James Fox, leads Burke to follow suit, though he tries to procure the receivership of The Crown Land Revenues for Essex for his son.


22 February resignation of the ministry of the Earl of Shelburne and the formation of the Fox–North Coalition. Burke is once again Paymaster General.   Burke sees as his first priority procuring the reform of the East India Company. His aim is to prevent the misgovernment of India by the East India Company, and the

xxii   Chronology: Edmund Burke’s Life and Works corruption of Westminster politics by the ‘nabobs’ who had made fortunes in India by exploiting the power of the Company. Two East India Bills are put forward, the one for bringing the Company under the control of Parliamentary Commissioners, the other for creating a code of conduct for the servants of the Company. The first bill is viewed as a partisan attack on the chartered rights of the Company and George III, working behind the scenes, ensures its overthrow in the House of Lords (in December) and with it that of the ministry. 1785 February Speech on the Nabob of Arcot’s debts and publishes it in August. 1786

Burke, convinced of the corruption of the East India Company and of the Governor General, Warren Hastings, persuades the government of Pitt the Younger to allow the impeachment of Hastings to go ahead. He is sure that the Company had abused its trust and therefore had forfeited its right to govern.


Trial of Hastings begins in February, Burke’s opening speech takes four days. The trial lasts until 1795, when Hastings is acquitted. Its length is largely due to Burke’s persistence.   October, George III lapses into insanity. The crisis over a Regency lasts until the following February when the king unexpectedly recovers. 1789

Richard Price preaches his Discourse on the Love of our Country on 4 November.


Burke opposes the motion for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, 2 March.


Burke responds to Price with the publication in November of Reflections on the Revolution in France. 32,000 copies were sold in a year.


A letter to a Member of the National Assembly published in April in French, May in English. Burke leaves the Whig party after a public breach with Charles James Fox in the House of Commons on 5 May; August publishes the Appeal from the New Whigs to the Old. December, writes Thoughts on French Affairs in December, published posthumously in 1797.


Opposes toleration for Unitarians in a speech in the House of Commons, 11 May; his view prevails.


May‒June, Burke sums up the case against Hastings. 25 June Burke retires from Parliament.


Burke attacks the French Revolution in vitriolic terms, in his Letters on the Regicide Peace; he argues for the use of military

Chronology: Edmund Burke’s Life and Works   xxiii force to stamp out its evil, and against any peace making with such a vicious state. 1795

Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, in which he supports laissez faire economic views; not published until 1800.


In his A Letter to a Noble Lord, he attacks irresponsible aristocrats, and defends his royal pension against the Duke of Bedford.


Dies on 9 July and is buried at his home at Beaconsfield.

Timeline: The Reception of Burke Timeline of foreign editions, translations and responses to Burke, drawn from the following chapters and bibliographies. 1757

Hume, David ‘Of the Standard of Taste’, in Four Dissertations, London: printed for A. Millar.


Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim, Werke 1758–1759, vol. 4, ed. Gunter E. Grimm (1997), Frankfurt a.M.: Deutscher Klassikerverlag.


[Burke, Edmund and William Burke] (1763) Storia degli stabilimenti europei in America, 2 vols, Venice: A. Graziosi.


Home, Heinrich, Grundsätze der Kritik, 2 vols, after the 4th rev. English edn, Leipzig: Dyck.


Burke, Edmund, Burkes philosophische Untersuchungen über den Ursprung unsrer Begriffe vom Erhabnen und Schönen (Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful), trans. Christian Garve, Riga: Hartknoch.


Hagen, Johann Jost Anton Von, Briefe deutscher Gelehrten an den Herrn Geheimen Rath Klotz, Halle: Curt.


Anon., ‘Burke’s Philosophische Untersuchungen ...’, Jenaische Zeitungen von Gelehrten Sachen, 10: 281–84.


Anon., ‘Burkes Philosophische Untersuchungen ...’, Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und der freyen Künste, 16: 53–68.


Anon, ‘Burke’s Philosophische Untersuchungen ...’, Russische Bibliothek, zur Kenntnis des gegenwärtigen Zustandes der Literatur in Rußland, 2: 137–38.


Anon., ‘Burke’s Philosophische Untersuchungen...’, Erlangische gelehrte Anmerkungen und Nachrichten, 9 July, 426–29.


Merck, Johann Heinrich (1776) ‘Ueber die Schönheit: Ein Gespräch zwischen Burke und Hogarth’, Der Teutsche Merkur, February 1776, pp. 131–41.

1777 Rz, ‘Burkes philosophische Untersuchungen ...’, Anhang zu dem dreyzehnten bis vier und zwanzigsten Bande der allgemeinen deutschen Bibliothek, 1240–41. 1777

Tetens, Johann Nicolaus, Philosophische Versuche über die menschliche Natur und ihre Entwicklung, Leipzig: Weidmann.


Szerdahely, Georg Aloys (1778) Aesthetica sive Doctrina boni gustus ex philosophia pulcri deducta in scientias, et artes amaeniores. 1–2. pars (Aesthetics or the Doctrine of Good Taste, deduced from the

Timeline: The Reception of Burke   xxv Philosophy of Beauty in the Human Arts and Sciences, Part 1–2), Buda: Egyetemi Nyomda. 1780

Raynal, Guillaume Thomas, Histoire philosophique et politique des établissemens et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes, 10 vols, Geneva: Chez J.-L. Pellet.


Eschenburg, Johann Joachim, Entwurf einer Theorie und Literatur der schönen Wissenschaften. Zur Grundlage bey Vorlesungen, Berlin and Stettin: Nicolai.


Camper, Petrus, Aanspraak van een Voorstander van het Huis van Oranje en der Oude Constitutie aan alle Rechtgeaarde Nederlanders (s.l., s.n. [1787]).


Arteaga, Esteban de, Investigaciones filosóficas sobre la belleza ideal considerada como objeto de las artes de imitación, Madrid: Antonio de Sancha


Destutt de Tracy, Antoine-Louis (1790) M. de Tracy à M. Burke, Paris: Imprimerie nationale. This text is available in English in the next item.


Translation of a Letter from Monsieur de Tracy, member of the French National Assembly, to Mr Burke, in answer to his remarks on the French Revolution, trans. anon., London; printed for J Johnson.


Anon. Europa op het einde der agttiende eeuw, Dordrecht: De Leeuw en Krap.


Eberhard, Johann August, Theorie der schönen Künste und Wissenschaften. Zum Gebrauche seiner Vorlesungen, 3rd rev. edn, Halle: Waisenahus.


Schaz, Georg, ‘Vorrede zur dritten deutschen Ausgabe’, in Home, Heinrich, Grundsätze der Kritik, vol. 1, 2nd rev. and expanded edn, Leipzig: Dyk, xii-xvii.


Home, Heinrich, Grundsätze der Kritik, 3 vols, 2nd rev. and expanded edn, Leipzig: Dyk.


Camper, Petrus (1791) Verhandeling over het natuurlijk verschil der wezenstrekken (…) Utrecht: B. Wild, J. Altheer.


Burke, Edmund (1791) Réflexions sur la Revolution de France, nouvelle edition, Amsterdam: Changuion & Dufour


Anon., Review of Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, in: Algemene konst- en letter-bode, 135 (28 January 1791), 27.


Anon. Review of Burke, Reflections, in Annalen der Geographie und Statistik, 2: 185–95.


Lettre de M. Burke sur les Affaires de France et des Pays-Bas; adressée à M. Le Vicomte de Rivarol Paris: Denné.

xxvi   Timeline: The Reception of Burke 1791

Lally-Tollendal, Trophime Gérard de Lettre écrite au très-honorable Edmund Burke, [Florence ?].


Rehberg, August Wilhelm, Review of Burke, Reflections, in Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, 45 (March): 561–66.


Seconde Lettre de M. de Lally-Tollendal à M. Burke, Paris: Desenne.


Camper, Petrus (1792), Redenvoeringen (…) over de wyze, om de onderscheidene hartstogten op onze wezens te verbeelden (…) (Utrecht: B. Wild, J. Altheer, 1792).


Cooper, Thomas, Antwoord op de aantijgingen van den Heer Burke tegen de Heeren Cooper en Watt aangevoerd, in het Huis der Gemeentens, op den 30 april 1792, Amsterdam: Wynands.


Rehberg, August Wilhelm, Untersuchungen über die französische Revolution, nebst kritische Nachrichten von der merkwürdigsten Schriften welche darüber in Frankreich erschienen sind, Hanover‒Osnabrück: Ritscher.


Häberlin, Friedrich Dominic, ‘Ueber die Güte der deutschen Staatsverfassung’, Deutsche Monatsschrift, January, 3–33.


Meyer, Friedrich Wilhelm, ‘Ueber die Verdeutschung des Burkeischen Betrachtungen über die französische Revolution’, Deutsche Monatsschrift, March, 177–86.

1793–94 Burke, Edmund, Betrachtungen über die französische Revolution. T. 1–2. Nach dem Englischen neu bearbeitet mit einer Einleitung, Anmerkungen, politischen Abhandlungen, und einem critischen Verzeichniß der in England über diese Revolution erschienenen Schriften von F. Gentz, Berlin: Vieweg. 1794

Camper, Petrus, The works of the late Professor Camper on the connexion between the science of anatomy and the arts of drawing, painting, statuary (…), trans. Th. Cogan, London: C. Dilly.


Barlow Joel (1794) Raadgeving aan de bevoorrechte standen in de onderscheiden staaten van Europa, voortvloeiende uit noodzakelijkheid en eigenaartigheid der grondbeginselen van het staats-bestier, Utrecht: Van Paddenburg

1794 Anon., De twee systema’s van het Contract Social, en de natuurlijke rechten van den mensch, of de gevoelens van Burke en Paine, ter toetze gebragt en wederlegd, Amsterdam: Willemsz. & Van der Hey. 1794

Anon. Review of Burke, Betrachtungen, in Oberdeutsche allgemeine


Price, Uvedale An Essay on the Picturesque as Compared with the Sublime and the Beautiful … (A New Edition with Considerable Additions), London: printed for J. Robson, New-Bond Street.


Anon. Review of Edmund Burke, Letters on a Regicide Peace, in

Timeline: The Reception of Burke   xxvii Nieuwe Algemene konst- en letterbode, nr. 195 (September 22, 1797), 91–92. 1797

Constant, Benjamin, Observations on the strength of the present government of France and upon the necessity of rallying round it, Translated from the French of Benjamin Constant, by James Losh, Bath. printed by R. Cruttwell, for G. G. and J. Robinson, PaterNoster-Row, London


Anon., ‘Berigten aangaande Edmund Burke’, Nieuwe Algemene Konst- en Letterbode, nr. 223 (April 6, 1798), 106–10; nr. 224 (13 April 1798), 114–16.


Price, Uvedale A Dialogue on the Distinct Characters of the Picturesque and the Beautiful, Hereford : Printed by D. Walker for J. Robson.

1801–02 Blair, Hugh (1801–1802) Lezioni di retorica e belle lettere di Ugone Blair professore di retorica e belle lettere nell’Università di Edimburgo, 3 vols, trans. Francesco Soave, Parma: G. Bodoni. 1802

Brandes, Ernst, Betrachtungen über das weiblichen Geschlecht und dessen Ausbildung in dem geselligen Leben, Hanover: Hahn.


Rehberg, August Wilhelm, Ueber den deutschen Adel, Göttingen: n. pub. 1803


Burke, Edmund (1804a) Ricerca filosofica sull’origine delle nostre idee del Sublime e del Bello, trans. Carlo Ercolani, Macerata: Bartolomeo Capitani.

Ricerca filosofica sull’origine delle nostre idee intorno al Sublime ed al Bello, trans. Gian Giuseppe Marogna, Milan: Francesco Sonzogno.


Knight, Richard Payne (1805) An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste, London: printed for T. Payne, Mews-Gate and J. White, Fleet-Street.


Bell, Charles (1806) Essays on the Anatomy of Expression in painting, London, repr. 1824.


Indagación filosófica sobre el origen de nuestras ideas acerca de lo sublime y lo bello, Castilian trans. don Juan de la Dehesa, Catedrático de Leyes en la Universidad de Alcalá, Alcalá: Oficina de la Real Universidad.

1807–20 Eberhard, Johann August, Handbuch der Ästhetik für gebildete Leser aus allen Ständen, Halle: Hennerde & Schwetschke, 2 vols, repr.. 1972. 1808

Cicognara, Francesco Leopoldo, Del Bello. Ragionamenti, Florence: Molini, Landi e C.


Brandes, Ernst, Betrachtungen über den Zeitgeist in Deutschland in den letzten Decennien des vorigen Jahrhunderts, Hanover: Hahn.

xxviii   Timeline: The Reception of Burke 1810

Price, Uvedale, Essays on the Picturesque ..., vol. 1, London.


Stewart, Dugald, Philosophical Essays, Edinburgh: printed by George Ramsay and Company, for William Creech, and Archibald Constable and Company; T. Cadell and W. Davies, Strand, John Murray, Fleet-Street, and Constable, Hunter, Park, and Hunter, London.


Haydon, Benjamin Robert (1816) ‘On the Judgment of Connoisseurs Upon Works of Art Compared with that of Professional Men; in Reference More Particularly to the Elgin Marbles’, The Examiner, 17 March, 162–64.


Delfico, Melchiorre (1818) Nuove ricerche sul bello, Naples: Agnello Nobile.


Reinoso, Félix José (1822a) ‘Ideas de Edm. Burke sobre las revoluciones’, La Constitución y las Leyes, Cádiz, 33 (16 August): 388–95.


Bouterwek, Friedrich, Aesthetik, 3rd rev. edn, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck.

1827/28 Talia, Giambattista, Principi di estetica, 2 vols, Venice: Tipografia Alvisopoli. 1828

Schedius, Johann Ludwig (1828) Principia philocaliae, seu doctrinae pulcri, ad scientiae formam exigere conatus est (Principles of Philocaly, or Doctrine of Beauty (Adapted to the Form of the Sciences ), Pest: Hartleben.

1828–31 Rehberg, August Wilhelm, Sämtliche Schriften, 3 vols, Hanover: Hahn. 1837

Bonacci, Gratiliano, Nozioni fondamentali di estetica, Foligno: Tomassini.


Anon. (1837) ‘Fox és Burke, vagy a parliamenti nevezetes éj’ (Fox and Burke, or a Famous Night in the Parliament), Athenaeum, 1: 56–72.


The Works of Edmund Burke, 9 vols, Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown.


Groen van Prinsterer, G. Ongeloof en revolutie. Eene reeks van historische voorlezingen, Leiden: Luchtmans.


Fruin, Robert, Het Antirevolutionair staatsregt van Mr. G. Groen van Prinsterer ontvouwd en beoordeeld, Amsterdam: Gebhard.


Fruin, Robert, De antirevolutionnaire bezwaren van Mr. Groen van Prinsterer tegen onzen staat en onze maatschappij overwogen, Amsterdam: Gebhard.


Zeising, Adolf, Aesthetische Forschungen, Frankfurt a.M.: Meidinger.

Timeline: The Reception of Burke   xxix 1857

Tommaseo, Niccolò, Bellezza e civiltà, o Delle arti del bello sensibile: studii, Florence: Felice Le Monnier.


Groen van Prinsterer, G Ongeloof en revolutie. Eene reeks van historische voorlezingen, 2nd edn, Amsterdam: Höveker.


Groen van Prinsterer, G Nederlandsche Gedachten, Tweede Serie, 5, Amsterdam: Höveker.

1877–99 Herder, Johann Gottfried, Herders sämmtliche Werke, 33 vols. ed. Bernhard Suphan, Berlin: Weidmann. 1906

Dessoir, Max Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft, Stuttgart: F. Enke; (1923) 2nd rev. edn.


Burke, Edmund Reflections…trans. Jacques d’Anglejan; published for the Nouvelle Librairie Nationale, related to Action Française, in 1912.


Braune, Frieda Edmund Burke in Deutschland. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des historisch-politischen Denkens, Heidelberg: Carl Winter’s Universitätsbuchhandlung.


Külpe, Oswald, Grundlagen der Ästhetik, ed. Siegfried Behn, Leipzig: Hirzel.


Dessoir, Max, Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft, 2nd rev. edn, Stuttgart: F. Enke.


Dilthey, Wilhelm, Die geistige Welt: Einleitung in die Philosophie des Lebens: Zweite Hälfte Abhandlungen zur Poetik, Ethik und Pädagogik, Leipzig and Berlin: Teubner.


Burke, Edmund, Ricerca filosofica sull’origine delle nostre idee del sublime e del bello, trans. Mario Manlio Rossi, in Rossi, L’estetica dell’empirismo inglese, Florence: Sansoni, 2: 600–97.


Burke, Edmund, Ricerca sull’origine delle idee del sublime e del bello, ed. Adelchi Baratono, trans. E. C. and R. B., Milan: Minuziano.


Reflexiones sobre la Revolución Francesa, prologue and trans. Enrique Tierno Galván, Madrid: Instituto de Estudios Políticos, Colección Civitas (Gráf. Benzal), repr. 1978.


Müller, Adam, ‘Von der Idee der Schönheit’, in Kritische, ästhetische und philosophische Schriften, vol. 2, ed. Walter Schroeder und Werner Siebert, Neuwied etc.: Luchterhand.


Burke, Edmund, Philosophische Untersuchung über den Ursprung unserer Ideen vom Erhabenen und Schönen, ed. with new intro. Werner Strube, trans. Friedrich Bassenge, Hamburg: Meiner.


Burke, Edmund, Reflexiones sobre la Revolución francesa, trans. Vicente Herrero, Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica.


Indagación filosófica sobre el origen de nuestras ideas acerca de lo sublime

xxx   Timeline: The Reception of Burke y lo bello, trans. anon., Murcia: Colegio Oficial de Aparejadores y Arquitectos Técnicos. 1985

Inchiesta sul Bello e il Sublime, ed. Giuseppe Sertoli, trans. Goffredo Miglietta, Palermo: Aesthetica.


Reflexiones sobre la revolución francesa, trans. Esteban Pujals Fontodrona, Madrid: Rialp, D. L.


Burke, Edmund, Réflexions sur la Révolution de France, suivies d’un choix de textes de Burke sur la Révolution, trans. Pierre Andler, intro. Philippe Raynaud, notes Alfred Fierro and Georges Liébert (1989), Paris: Hachette. Apart from Andler’s, all translations appeared in the 1790s.


Burke, Edmund, Traditie en vooruitgang, translation MP van der Marel, with an introduction by J. M. M. de Valk, Kampen: Kok Agora.


Saint Girons, Baldine (ed.) Burke, Edmund, Recherche philosophique sur l’origine de nos idées du sublime et du beau, (repr. 1998), Paris: Vrin.


Kontler, László, trans. Edmund Burke, Töprengések a francia forradalomról (Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France), Budapest: Atlantisz.


Kant, Immanuel, Bemerkungen in den “Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen”, ed. Marie Rischmüller, Hamburg: Meiner.


Burke, Edmund (1795) Thoughts and Details on Scarcity d’Edmund Burke, eds Norbert Col and Arnaud Pellissier Tanon (1994), Journal des économistes et des études humaines [Aix-en-Provence] 5–4 (December): 601–28.


Burke, Edmund, De lo sublime y de lo bello, trans. Juan Antonio López Férez, Barcelona: Altaya.


Burke, Edmund, Indagación filosófica sobre el origen de nuestras ideas acerca de lo sublime y de lo bello, intro. and trans. Menene Gras Balaguer (Greek and Latin trans. Juan Antonio López Férez) Madrid: Tecnos, Colección Metrópolis, repr. 1997; repr. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, El libro de bolsillo, 2005.


Col, Norbert, ‘Devising a French Answer to the Revolution of 1789: Maurras on Burke and Rivarol’, Mentalities / Mentalités [Hamilton, NZ] 13. 1–2: 92–101.


Burke, Edmund, Philosophische Untersuchungen über den Ursprung unsrer Begriffe vom Erhabnen [sic] und Schönen, ed. with intro. Manfred Kuehn, trans. Christian Garve, Bristol: Thoemmes.


Burke, Edmund, Het wezen van het conservatisme, trans. MP van

Timeline: The Reception of Burke   xxxi der Marel, with an introduction by B. J. Spruyt, Kampen: Agora, Kapellen: Pelckmans. 2003

Burke, Edmund, Reflexiones sobre la revolución en Francia, prologue, notes and trans. Carlos Mellizo, Madrid: Alianza Editorial.


Burke, Edmund, Een filosofisch onderzoek naar de oorsprong van onze enkbeelden over het sublieme en het schone, trans. and intro. Wessel Krul, Groningen: Historische Uitgeverij.


Balogh, Piroska (ed., trans), Doctrina pulcri. Schedius Lajos János széptani írásai (Doctrine of Beauty. Johann Ludwig Schedius’s Writings on Aesthetics), Debrecen: Kossuth Egyetemi Kiadó.


Edmund Burke, Filozófiai vizsgálódás a fenségesről és a szépről való ideáink eredetét illetően (Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful), trans. György Fogarasi, Budapest: Magvető.


Revolución y descontento: selección de escritos políticos de Edmund Burke, ed. Noelia Adánez González, trans. Mari Luz García González and Luisa Juanatey Dorado, Madrid: Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales.


Burke, Edmund, Vindicación de la sociedad natural, ed. Frank N. Pagano, trans. Javier Alcoriza and Antonio Lastra, Madrid: Trotta.


Burke, Edmund, Frantziako Iraultzari buruzko gogoetak, trans. Patxi Ezkiaga Lasa, Bilbao: Universidad del País Vasco/ Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea.


Raynal, Guillaume Thomas, Histoire philosophique et politique des établissements et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes (1780), ed. Anthony Strugnell, vol. 1, Ferney-Voltaire: Centre international d’étude du XVIIIe siècle.


Horkay Hörcher, F. and M. Szilágyi (eds) Edmund Burke esztétikája és az európai felvilágosodás (Edmund Burke’s Aesthetics and the European Enlightenment), Budapest: Ráció.


La segunda acometida de Edmund Burke contra la Revolución en Francia. Un Manuscrito inédito de la Biblioteca Nacional: Extracto de una carta de Mr. Burke a un miembro de la Asamblea Nacional de Francia (1791). Intro. transcripción y notas de Lioba Simon Schuhmacher.


Introduction Peter Jones and Martin Fitzpatrick

‘Interpreting’ ‘evidence’ All of us ‘use’, in the very broadest sense, whatever we read – for our own ends; however unaware we are of all our goals, interests, prejudices, current moods, contextual influences and concerns about what the author might have meant (Jones (1969, 1971, 1975). But this very wide sense of ‘use’, underlining what we can get out of what we read, or even contribute to what has been said, does not entitle us to equate the notion with any defensible notion of ‘reception’. Nor does it warrant any inference to the view that anything we read influences us, alters our mind set or motivates us to act differently from what we would otherwise have done. The multiple causes of our thoughts and decisions, and of the interconnecting consequences of what we do, are rarely traceable in detail, not least because of the constantly varying rates of change amongst all of them. Burke’s published writings and speeches present all of the challenges typically faced by those interested in their reception, understood in a more sharply defined sense than mere ‘use’ or ‘mention’. But there are prior questions to be tackled. What were the precise contexts of their original publication or delivery, including Burke’s own intentions, goals, and assumptions? What were the assumptions, interests and goals of those who referred approvingly or disapprovingly to his publications? What knowledge of Burke’s contexts did those interpreters have who lived in entirely different contexts? In what language were his works read, and what terms were singled out for special care in translation? What are the criteria of influence, in different contexts and at different times, conceding that apparent echoes or affinities are insufficient evidence of any acquaintance at all? The mere mention of an author’s name is insufficient evidence that the speaker or writer or audience has either read what the author wrote, or can offer any defensible interpretation of it. This is especially the case if the name is associated with religious or political beliefs or agendas. In the eighteenth century, the names of Spinoza and Hume were frequently used as tokens of extreme hostility by near contemporaries, albeit the preacher or writer in question had read not one word of either philosopher. Some of Burke’s works were known only through the writings of his opponents. With the passage of time, on the one hand, and linguistic and cultural differences, on the other, the words of past writers are read in entirely new contexts, and as if they meant

2   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe what the present writer would want them to mean. The contexts in which they were originally written or spoken, the likely or explicit intentions of the original speaker, and the interpretations of audiences at the time are often of little interest to later readers. The works and their content are readily disengaged from historical anchorage, and not infrequently coloured by the later interests and agendas of readers. Replacing the text as originally published, there emerges a ‘construct’ of later times, often heralded as revealing theories or assumptions which the original writer had explicitly repudiated. The present collection of essays clearly demonstrates all these features of Burke’s work and its reception. Until at least the second half of the eighteenth century, the term ‘philosophical’ meant roughly what in the twenty-first century would be described as ‘scientific’, although what issues, views and approaches counted as ‘philosophical’ varied greatly between contexts and cultures. There was a sharp contrast, however, between those who expected philosophical views and arguments to be essentially abstract and probably universal in scope, and those who viewed them in the spirit of the evolving sciences, dealing more with testable explanations, probabilities and a pragmatic treatment of constantly changing particular cases. Burke aligned himself with the latter view, adopting important ideas and methods of the day, associated primarily with the work of John Locke and David Hume. Those authors, among others before and since, held that the primary philosophical tasks were to establish how we acquire our beliefs, what counts as knowledge, evidence, proof and accountability, and what motivates individuals to act. Unless such matters were examined, there could be little understanding of how human beings functioned, and moral, social and political agendas could be neither coherently advocated nor pursued. Tacitly accepting such epistemological premises, Burke felt no need to enter into further discussion, apart from frequently insisting that most events had complex causes and that multiple causation affects our own thinking and decision-making equally; unintended consequences always accompany our actions, removing any possibility of certainty about outcomes. One feature of Burke’s position, however, which his opponents either overlooked or wilfully misunderstood, was that his emphasis on the past was meant to highlight the fact that the future is unknown and unpredictable, and the past is the source of our inherited beliefs, and of all our present concepts and methods – if ‘antient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment we have no compass to govern us; nor can we know distinctly to what port to steer’ (Clark 2001, 241). Locke, Hume and the others had shown how what counts as knowledge at any given time is a social construct, influenced by innumerable factors, but crucially not attainable by any one individual alone – none of us has enough experience and most of us remain entirely ignorant of the concepts we have used to interpret it, or of their own complex history. In his political essays and History of England, Hume had argued that it was never justifiable to implement ‘revolution’, for the reasons above, even when beneficial consequences occur after a lapse of time. Opponents held, of course, that some evils called for dramatic changes, not gradual evolution of beliefs and practices – suffering, inequity and injustice had gone on long enough, and

Introduction  3

the risks attending our ignorance of the future had to be accepted in order to change anything. Most who held such views also proclaimed a goal – moral, social, or political – which was abstract, universal in scope and superficially simple to understand. It was precisely this widespread phenomenon to which Burke objected, not least because no allegedly universal principle can or even attempts to encompass every particular case. This was the central challenge of casuistry. And Burke, however often his rhetoric might carry him away, was ultimately a particularist. We are individual human beings, our experiences are uniquely particular, our understanding is extremely limited, and in the ever changing contexts of which we become aware caution and gradual change are the wisest procedures. On any given occasion we could turn out to have been mistaken. Burke always acknowledged Montesquieu as his greatest inspiration and influence, and like the Frenchman saw his own enquiries as empirical, testable and firmly anchored in the context in which they were undertaken – metaphysics, abstract principles, a priori theories were to be avoided at all costs. There is no evidence that Burke had read Hume’s still anonymous Treatise of Human Nature, of 1739–40 – at over one thousand pages in length, its format is unlikely to have been appealing. But many observations in Burke’s 1759 ‘Introduction on taste’, apart from explicit acknowledgement of Locke, also echo Hume’s epistemological premises; these could readily have been encountered in Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, of 1748. In Burke’s own Enquiry there are several remarks which are more forcibly expressed in his later publications. It is ‘not uncommon to be wrong in theory and right in practice … men often act right from their feelings, who afterwards reason but ill on them from principle’ (Enquiry, 53). Above all, ‘a theory founded on experiment and not assumed, is always good for so much as it explains’ (5). In his later political writings emphasis on the particularity of every context is underlined: ‘Circumstances (which some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour, and discriminating effect’ (Clark 2001, 151); ‘as the liberties and the restrictions vary with the times and circumstances, and admit of infinite modifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them upon that principle’ (219). Because ‘the real effects of moral causes are not always immediate’ no ‘experimental science’ can be ‘taught a priori’ (220). Moreover, the science of government, for example, requires ‘more experience than any person can gain in his whole life’ by himself (220). ‘The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity; and therefore no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man’s nature, or to the quality of his affairs’ (220). Burke’s career The chronology of Burke’s life and works shows that his career can be roughly divided into two. In the first part, covering about fifteen years, he became a literary figure of note. His philosophical reflections on beauty and the sublime

4   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe attracted some famous readers, as did his better known but later political views. During this period he developed firm friendships with leading figures in the literary and artistic world. These included Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick, Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, Elizabeth Carter, Mrs Montagu and Thomas Warton. In February 1764 he was a founder member of Dr Johnson’s Club, although he would later regret that he hadn’t spent more time in their company; as David Bromwich has noted, ‘the distractions [of politics] were of his own choosing’ (110). From the moment that Burke, at the age of 30, entered politics as private secretary to William Hamilton MP, politics was central to his existence. Any assessment of the reception of his ideas needs to bear that in mind. In this second much longer period of his career Burke became a politician who would eventually, through his Reflections, make a major contribution to political philosophy. Up to then his publications were for the most part occasioned by issues which came before Parliament, and were speeches which he delivered in the House of Commons. It has been suggested that Burke established ‘an inseparable link between aesthetics and politics’ (Duff 2011, 62), yet few who were influenced by Burke would make any connection between the twin aspects of his career. For Burke, the bridge between these aspects of his career was his editorship of the new journal, the Annual Register beginning in 1758. For the next seven years of his editorship he was a major contributor, writing literary reviews and much of the historical section. This gave him a range of knowledge superior to most of his contemporaries and especially fellow MPs. It also gave him contact with the burgeoning reading public for it aimed at a ‘broad readership’(Lock 1998, 167).1 If Burke was ‘by temperament a generalist’ (Lock 1998, 167) his generalisations were based on detailed knowledge (Langford, 2004). He was one of the best informed politicians of his generation. Moreover, his literary and journalistic careers gave him an understanding of the need to mould public opinion. Although his natural instinct was to look to the aristocracy for leadership, aristocrats were not well placed to fulfil that role. Europe was experiencing a ‘reading revolution’ (Melton 2001, 80 et passim), and there was a growing conflict between the knowledge associated with Enlightenment forces and defenders of the ancien régime. The latter feared the corrosive effects of enlightened public opinion. Levels of literacy were increasing in most European states (Melton, 81–86),2 and governments feared the spread of ideas, even to the point, in the case of Spain, of trying to prevent news of the French Revolution crossing the Pyrenees.3 Burke’s career would tread the boundary between enlightened aspirations and fear of change. But he was

1 2


For a detailed discussion Burke’s editorship of the Annual Register, see Lock (1998, 164–79). Melton (2001, 81) has noted how Enlightened writers and their critics ‘grappled with the intractable problem of how to shape, control and even define’ the expanding public sphere. On 26 November 1789 a proclamation gave all foreigners and Spanish non-residents two weeks to leave Madrid. Subsequently measures were taken against foreigners elsewhere in Spain, and against the Spanish press (Herr 1958, 256–63). See also

Introduction  5

very much of his age in his awareness of the power of public opinion and the need to persuade, a subject which fascinated his first political patron William Hamilton (Bromwich, 104–06). As a politician he was not in the same league as Burke, but some of his insights may have rubbed off on Burke. His posthumously published Parliamentary Logic contains a series of aphorisms and often trite pieces of advice for the budding MP collected over his lifetime. Some may have been based on Burke, such as ‘When you cannot convince, a heap of comparisons may dazzle’ (Bromwich, 106). Hamilton was no mentor but he will have reminded Burke that the politics of persuasion required a range of skills. Although many of his fellow MPs would become impatient with his long interventions and he would sometimes admit that he had been carried away, there were invariably passages in Burke’s speeches of great persuasive power which MPs could applaud and which journalists would latch onto and incorporate in their newspaper reports and reviews. His political philosophy was honed through rigorous and often rowdy debate in the House of Commons and he developed a distinctive rhetoric which was recognized ‘as both refined and vulgar’.4 His readers, like his listeners, could react in quite different ways. If we add Burke’s tendency to personalize issues, one can see how he was a figure who raised strong emotions. One aspect of these studies is the way in which the reception of his ideas was coloured by political circumstance. It would vary according to whether or not those reading Burke (or heard about his ideas) were contemporaries involved in the issues on which he proclaimed or whether his ideas were felt to have salience irrespective of the detailed concerns which he was debating. Our studies indicate the longevity of his ideas and the ways in which they have been interpreted and found relevant in a great variety of political circumstances in European states. The graph of reception in different countries was very much determined by the way in which his readers felt that his ideas offered in some ways commentary and wise advice on issues of the day. For those who disagreed with the use of his ideas, their disagreement forms an aspect of their reception. The same applies to those who misunderstood him.5 The politician As a politician Burke was and is not easy to pin down. Had he been a closet political philosopher his ideas would have taken a more predicable form. Arguably they would have been less interesting and not such a rich source of ideas. There are consistent themes in his thought, but circumstance always had priority over consistency, although, as a good politician, he claimed consistency. When Burke left Hamilton’s service in 1765 after a violent quarrel he became private secretary to the Marquess of Rockingham. That did not

4 5

Schuhmacher, Chapter 12 this volume, for fears of the impact of the French Revolution in Spain. Smith (1984, 37). See Pocock (1987, Intro.) for valuable comments on the reception of Burke.

6   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe necessarily ensure that he would also enter Parliament, but at the end of that year, through the agency of Lord Verney and their close friend William Burke, he became MP for the pocket borough of Wendover. In no time Burke became one of the leading influences in the Rockingham party. Politics suited Burke. He was prepared to adjust his ideas to political circumstance. This fitted his predisposition to be suspicious of reason, or as he would often call it, abstract reason, and to favour actions which were based on circumstance and upon particular interests, most notably those of the Rockingham party. One example will suffice. This was his stance over the rebellious American colonies over the Stamp Act crisis. According to Paul Langford, the first Rockingham ministry’s solution was ‘to take the colonial view of what should be done and the imperial view of what should be said. To repeal the offending tax and yet defend the principle on which it was founded, on the basis that this was the only solution which would satisfy both the legislature and the colonies’ (Langford 1973, 150). This, suggests Langford, was the essence of Burke’s stance in his great speeches on conciliation in 1774 and 1775 (283). In those speeches, Burke had as far as possible to avoid an important issue of principle embodied in the Declaratory Act. That act, which the Rockingham administration had passed following the repeal of the Stamp Act, asserted the authority of the Imperial Parliament over the colonies. One might regard the act as of no consequence for the Rockinghamites, since they did not intend to assert it. When it was asserted by subsequent administrations, it led to Burke’s powerful pleas for conciliation in which he did his best to avoid the issue of imperial sovereignty.6 A conciliatory solution might have been to advocate the repeal of the Declaratory Act, but he preferred to draw a veil over the question of right. This remained his position even when conciliation had failed.7 Burke’s political legerdemains undoubtedly added to the complexity of his thought. Thus Jenifer Mori (2000, 41–42) can write of The Reflections: The Reflections can be read in several ways: as a Court Whig defence of the English constitution based on utility and prescription, as a conservative natural law attack on the revolution’s attempt to realise sterile Enlightenment theories of government, or as a vindication of modern commercial civilisation … Contemporaries saw it as all of these things, and loyalist authors, following Burke’s lead, denounced deism, the French Enlightenment and natural rights to argue that the true foundations of society and government lay in history and experience.



In his Speech on Conciliation with the Colonies, 21 March 1775, he declared: ‘I am resolved this day to have nothing at all to do with the question of the right of taxation’ (Burke 1816, 1:303). See Dickinson (2012, 163–64), There are some parallels here with Burke’s attitude towards Church reform. He declared: ‘I will not enter into the question, how much truth is preferable to peace. Perhaps truth may be far better. But as we have scarcely ever the same certainty in the one that we have on the other, I would, unless the truth were evident indeed, hold fast to peace, which has in her company charity, the highest of virtues’ (Burke 1816, 1:108), ‘Speech on the Clerical Petition for Relief from Subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles’.

Introduction  7

A review of present-day interpretations of Burke, would reveal even more rival interpretations and puzzling questions. For example, in relation to his place within eighteenth-century thought, was he typical of the moderate Enlightenment or was he a counter-Enlightenment figure? Was he a latitudinarian Whig or a Tory in Whig clothes? Was he a precursor of Romanticism?8 If his Reflections was ‘the founding text of conservatism’ (Hunt 2007, 17) and has been described as a ‘classic of conservative thought’,9 does that remain true of conservatism today, which lives with the legacy of Mrs Thatcher who was fond of the word ‘radical’?10 Given the changing nature of conservatism, does he belong more appropriately within a socialist tradition?11 Burke challenged Enlightenment thinkers who attacked prejudice; is there still something to be gained from revisiting that challenge (Dorschel 2000)? Burke, indeed, continues to be a source of great fascination. Yet many of the recent preoccupations, such as the examination of the tensions within Burke the man – an Irishman with a Catholic background who identifies with England and Anglicanism;12 a politician who often found it difficult to keep his temper under control (Kramnick, 1977) – are not entirely new. It was and is inevitable that there will be no single settled judgement on Burke the man and his works. The latter have been in print in a variety of forms during his lifetime and beyond.13 In the period from his first publication in 1748 to the publication of the final issue of the first edition of his complete works in 1827, William B. Todd has estimated that there were ‘at least 570 editions and impressions’ of Burke’s writings (1964, 11). Today one may draw on scholarly editions of his correspondence and his writings and speeches, but as Todd indicates much of Burke has been accessible from the early nineteenth century and there is a Burke for all tastes and occasions. For example, there was a pocket edition of Thoughts on the Present Discontents … published in 1886 in Cassell’s National Library (Morley). It was ideally suited to a railway journey with the inner covers displaying a range of adverts from patent medicines to Singer cycles, for ‘Health, Utility and

8 9 10


12 13

See Berlin (1997, 251, 256–57); Bronner (2004, 50, 62); Bourke (2012, 27–40), Israel (2011, 16–17); McMahon (2002, 68); Thomas (1999, 143). Pocock (1987, xliii). Burke occasionally used the word ‘radical’ in a non-pejorative sense. Over the failure of economical reform in 1780 he wrote of the need for ‘a radical Systematick Oeconomy’ which would lead to ‘the permanent reduction of influence’ (Corr. 4:218–22, at 219: ‘To Joseph Harford 4 April 1780). No anthology of conservatism is complete without extracts from Burke’s works. See for example Muller (1997). A case for the relevance of Burke for modern conservatism is made by Norman (2013). On the other hand, in reviewing David Marquand’s sympathetic discussion of Burke in Mammon’s Kingdom, Now Kenneth O. Morgan wrote: ‘Burke, for long an improbable hero for conservatives, is rightly rescued as a celebrant of the social roots of living communities’ (The I, 16 May 2014, p. 44). See Donlan (ed.) (2007). See Todd (1964) for a complete bibliography of his works from 1748 until the final issue of his collected works in 1827.

8   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Pleasure’. One feels that Burke would have approved. He was undoubtedly a writer for all seasons. As Paul Langford has concluded, ‘On the whole what is most striking about Burke’s influence is its variety’ (2004, 840). Neither time nor place alters the truth of that verdict and that makes the study of his reception so fascinating. Sources and circumstance Those who were closest in time and place to Burke inevitably viewed him differently from those who read him years later in a different country and a different place. Yet in the turbulent years of the late eighteenth century the passage of a few years would change the ways in which he was perceived (Chs 3, 9). The material for studying such perceptions are naturally fuller and more varied during Burke’s lifetime than after his death. All the contributors studying his reception for this period (and the years immediately following his death) have been able to deploy a rich range of sources, journals, newspapers, pamphlets and contemporary correspondence not available or relevant later. Burke the thinker increasingly took precedence over Burke the man. The sources for his posthumous reception were increasingly drawn from his published works and especially from his Reflections on the Revolution in France and his A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. But knowledge of these major works did not always come directly from them (Ch. 10) or from complete or indeed rival translations (Ch. 13) of them; for some it came through translations of excerpts, and for others from reading about him in a language other than their own, including Latin (Chs 12, 15). This is not to say that his reception was increasingly academic in nature, especially as regards his political philosophy. Interest in him would wax and wane according to his perceived relevance (Chs 4, 8). Moreover, his ideas remained contentious and capable of arousing passions which make a balanced assessment of his works almost impossible (Ch. 7). In periods of rapid change Burke can become a totemic figure for those who wish to restrict change or reject it altogether. Yet their remains plenty of room for his admirers to adopt different views drawn from his writing. As long as interest exists in the nature of our aesthetic responses, and anxiety remains about man’s tendency to destroy in the name of progress, Burke will continue to be read, to provoke debate, and to be translated. In respect of his reception, this volume raises new questions and points to work to be done (Ch. 14).14


We regret that for the purpose of these studies, Richard Bourke’s important new study Empire & Revolution. The Political Life of Edmund Burke (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015) appeared too late to be considered.

Introduction  9

Chapter summaries Chapter 1: The Reception of Burke in Ireland  Martyn J. Powell This essay seeks to explore the reception of Burke in Ireland through Ireland’s popular press – and particularly through the lens of the patriotic newspapers published in Dublin, Belfast and other Irish towns in the second half of the eighteenth century. In this sense it seeks to move away from much of the recent Irish historiography on Burke which has emphasized Irish agendas and inflections in his writings, and instead assess the ways in which Burke’s variegated career was absorbed by an influential mouthpiece of a certain kind of Irish public opinion. At least some of the issues that dominated his early political career were clearly Irish patriotic winners: Wilkes and Liberty; commercial reform; the American war. Even Burke’s support for Catholic Relief seemed to chime with a shift in the Irish zeitgeist in the late 1770s. However, as with so many features of the Irish political landscape in this period, it was the crystallization of Protestant Ascendancy after the failure of parliamentary reform, followed closely by the start of the French Revolution, that would create a shift in the way that Burke’s work was received. Chapter 2: The Paradoxes of Edmund Burke’s Reception in America, 1757–1790  Mark G. Spencer This chapter investigates Burke’s reception in pre-1790 America. It demonstrates that Burke’s ideas circulated in America through his earliest books – A Vindication of Natural Society, An Account of the European Settlements in America and A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. But Burke’s contributions to the Annual Register (often mined by American historians, without acknowledgement) and political writings, such as Thoughts on the Present Discontents and his ‘Conciliation’ speech, were even better known. While modern commentators question whether Burke knew the American colonial situation well, Burke’s American contemporaries, such as David Ramsay, had no doubt that he did. In early American print culture, Burke was repeatedly cast as a celebrated friend of the American Revolution. In short, Burke’s pre-1790 American impact differs considerably from what is supposed to be the conservative influence, in nineteenth-century America, of his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Chapter 3: Edmund Burke and Rational Dissent   Martin Fitzpatrick and Anthony Page This chapter examines the relationship between Burke and rational Dissenters, who provided leading figures in the late Enlightenment in England. It looks at the elements of agreement and disagreement with Burke over key issues of the day, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, parliamentary reform, and religious toleration. It charts the weakening of consensus between

10   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe them, leading eventually to a complete breakdown in their relationship, when Burke portrayed their leaders Richard Price and Joseph Priestley as radical revolutionaries who presented a dire threat to the constitution. The chapter examines the response of rational Dissenters in general, of Joseph Priestley in particular, and that of a provincial rational dissenter, Samuel Kenrick. From their perspective Burke had betrayed his principles and had become somewhat unhinged by his fear of revolution. Chapter 4: Some Nineteenth-Century Appraisals of Burke’s Reflections: From Sir James Mackintosh to John Morley Gregory Claeys This chapter considers some nineteenth-century appraisals of Burke’s most famous work, the Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke’s chief biographers, some leading nineteenth-century politicians, and a variety of historians of the period are considered. Amongst the assessments introduced and analysed are those by Sir James Mackintosh, H. T. Buckle, W. E. H. Lecky and John Morley. A key issue uniting many assessments was the question as to how far Burke remained a ‘Whig’ or became a ‘Tory’ in his response to the French Revolution. Chapter 5: Edmund Burke, the French Revolution and his French Critics  Jeremy Jennings This chapter assesses the response of French writers to the views of Edmund Burke on the French Revolution of 1789. It begins by examining the exchange of views between Burke and Claude-François de Rivarol in 1791, thereby establishing the attraction of the ideas of Burke to counter-revolutionary writers in France. However, the remainder of the chapter shows that, for the most part, French writers of all political complexions largely either disagreed with Burke’s analysis of the Revolution or ignored it. Reference to Burke’s writings was largely absent from the many nineteenth-century histories of the Revolution written by French authors. For Jules Michelet, Burke was no more than ‘the noisy Irish trumpet’ whilst, according to Alexis de Tocqueville, Burke had been mesmerized by events. Perhaps surprisingly Burke himself was critical of the few admirers he had in France (most notably the group known as the monarchiens). Chapter 6: Edmund Burke and the Writings of Benjamin Constant  Cecil Patrick Courtney The Spirit of conquest and usurpation (1814), in which Benjamin Constant (1767–1830) denounces the autocratic system of government of Napoleon and defends traditional forms of government, shows a strong affinity with the ideas and language of Burke. However, this has been found inconsistent

Introduction  11

with Constant’s earlier radical republicanism and his later views on individual liberty. The present chapter interprets the ‘Burkean’ passages in the context of Constant’s intellectual development. By 1814 he was convinced that hereditary monarchy, rather than republic, was the best guarantee of individual liberty. In his later writings he still shows respect for tradition, but for him, unlike Burke, tradition now includes what he sees as the gains of the Revolution and his final position, based on a theory of progress, is that the revolutionary ideals (liberty and equality) should be combined with a new kind constitutional monarchy based on the principle of ministerial responsibility. Chapter 7: ‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France  Norbert Col Burke’s reception in France was enthusiastic among counter-revolutionaries, even though they cannot be said to have entirely followed him, and rather more suspicious among liberals, even though there is some cause to consider that they owed something to him. These two putative posterities elicit lasting interrogations, since much of French research has focused, including during the years around the celebrations of the bicentenary of the Revolution, on to what extent Burke can be regarded as a conservative, or counter-revolutionary, or, alternatively, a liberal, some scholars suggesting various proportions along the spectrum. What is embarrassing is that such efforts miss the nature of what it meant to be a Whig in Burke’s day and age. Accordingly, anglicists, who have benefited from the findings of Anglophone research, move along different lines from those of philosophers or specialists of political science. New impasses appear, however, when one considers some aspects of the recent trend to address Burke from the angle of Ireland and/or postcolonialism. Chapter 8: An Ambivalent Conservative: Edmund Burke in the Netherlands, 1770–1870  Wessel Krul Before 1790, Burke’s Enquiry was read in the Netherlands by some prominent adherents of Orangism, such as Petrus Camper. Public opinion, however, was generally in favour of republicanism. As a result Burke’s Reflections were mainly known through the writings of his opponents. Thomas Paine was immediately translated, whereas Hogendorp soon abandoned his projected Dutch version of Burke’s pamphlet. Burke’s conservatism remained only marginally important in the Netherlands until the 1840s and 1850s, when it was adopted by the Anti-Revolutionary Party and its leader Groen van Prinsterer. A debate on the true nature of Burke’s politics, led by the liberal historian Robert Fruin, placed his works for some time in the middle of attention. After the introduction of parliamentary government in the 1860s and the evolution of the Anti-Revolutionary Party towards a form of Christian democracy, interest in a Burkean conservatism gradually faded away again.

12   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Chapter 9: The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Imperial Ideas Relating to India, or Burke, the Brahmin and the Hot-House Sunil Agnani Burke’s thought was global and ranged across ‘America, Ireland, France and India’, as many have noted. His speeches circulated amongst colonial intellectuals, evoking admiration as well as strong critique. This paper argues for a global sphere of circulation for understanding the reception of Burke work; it then looks within the corpus of his writings to elicit antecedents to the lively debate provoked later by his ideas and actions – especially his effort to impeach Warren Hastings, head of the East India Company. I draw on a satire of Burke by Ralph Broome, and discuss linkages Burke made between incipient colonialism in India and the metropole in Britain. Burke’s argument regarding ‘Indianism’ foreshadows and works in tandem with Jacobinism in his thought. I discuss an episode when Burke recounts hosting a visiting brahmin in his Beaconsfield home, arguing that for some it provoked criticism by revealing Burke to be too much of a ‘culturalist’ (in modern terms). I conclude by juxtaposing the sympathy Burke had with certain places (America, at times India), alongside his fear of others (St Domingue/Haiti) and argue that a global reception of Burke must uncomfortably grapple with both facets of this profoundly important and contradictory Anglo-Irish figure. Chapter 10: Did an Edinburgh Debate on Taste Delay Responses to Burke?  Peter Jones All the leading Scottish philosophers discussed and published their views on taste from 1755 onwards. Neither Burke’s 1757 remarks on the sublime nor his 1759 essay on taste were of great interest to them. They were mainly interested in the objectivity, social contexts and underpinnings of judgements, based on empiricist views about the nature and acquisition of knowledge. Rapidly evolving commercial societies from the 1750s generated passive and ignorant audiences for the arts, who were reassured by parasitic critics that what mattered most was each individual’s feelings. But Scottish thinkers held that communication, best exemplified in conversation, could not rest on such foundations. Echoing discussions in France, they explored analogies with the performing arts, where mastery of both basic techniques and improvisation established the criteria of excellence. Such analogies challenged the primacy of written texts as upholding the standard by which all communication should be assessed. Chapter 11: Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aesthetics in MedicoPhilosophical Circles and Art Criticism, 1757–1824  Aris Sarafianos Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry and its proposed physiology of sensations posed serious challenges to established forms of polite criticism. The essay begins with a new reading of the book’s tentative press reception in the 1750s and

Introduction  13

culminates with the turbulent turn of the century, when highly politicized readings of Burke’s unusual management of affect were catapulted to the centre of debate. From Richard Payne Knight’s polite assault on Burke’s ‘vulgar materialism’ or the objections of Dugald Stewart’s mental philosophy, to Uvedale Price’s or Charles Bell’s polemical endorsements of various versions of Burke’s physical method, the Enquiry remained at the forefront of fierce battles regarding the priority of the mind over the senses, intellectualism over materialism. If Burke’s text was one of the main testing grounds upon which such shifts were recurrently tried and tested, it is not so curious that the recent reception of Burke’s book has once again become useful in detecting similar divisions in the humanities during the twentieth century. Chapter 12: Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right?   Lioba Simon Schuhmacher While Burke’s Philosophical enquiry was relatively soon translated (1807), the first full Spanish version of his Reflections had to wait until 1954. In the turbulent years following the French Revolution, Napoleon’s invasion, and the Peninsular War, any printed matter on revolutions was censured, thus Burke’s work circulated clandestinely. In the strife around the Spanish Constitution of 1812 and afterwards, Burke’s ideas served both the liberals’ and the conservatives’ cause, amongst them Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, Cardinal Inguanzo, Félix José Reinoso, Félix Amat, Graciliano Afonso y Naranjo, Martínez de la Rosa. In the later nineteenth century, statesman Cánovas del Castillo found inspiration in Burke to support the restoration of the monarchy after the First Spanish Republic. Overseas his ideas contributed to shape independence from the mother country, through Joseph Blanco White, Andrés Bello and José Joaquín de Mora. In the twentieth century, the liberal thinker Ortega y Gasset, and later Tierno Galván (the first full translation of the Reflections) contributed to the wider recognition of Burke’s ideals in Spain. Chapter 13: The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy: Translations as Thresholds of Interpretation  Daniele Niedda The Italian reception of Edmund Burke’s aesthetic ideas is traced through the history of the five translations of A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful into Italian and researched in the period preceding the appearance of the earliest ones (1804) which occurred remarkably late compared to French and German contexts. The Italian translations are set in their cultural milieus, analysed, compared and evaluated as to the quality and efficacy of their rendering. Origins and impact of the inevitable acts of interpretation enhanced by the process of translating are discussed in the frame of the Italian aesthetic debates held by major figures of intellectuals from late eighteenth century up to date.

14   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Chapter 14: The Reception of the Enquiry in the German-Language Area in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century: August Gottlieb Meißner and Johann Gottfried Herder  Tomáš Hlobil Using the examples of August Gottlieb Meißner (1753–1807) and Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), this essay seeks to demonstrate two fundamental aspects of the reception of Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) in the German-language area in the second half of the eighteenth century. The example of Meißner is used for a complex discussion of the dissemination of the Enquiry, including translations and reviews; the example of Herder is useful for considering the nature of its German interpretations. The example of Herder demonstrates that the approach of the German aesthetics to the Enquiry cannot properly be described merely as a ‘contrasting backdrop’. A history of the reception of the ideas in Burke’s Enquiry in the German-language area has yet to be written. Chapter 15: The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Aesthetics in Hungary  Piroska Balogh Research into the history of Burke’s reception in Hungary in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has unearthed some remarkable facts. In this paper the topic is examined from three points of view. First, the resources available to researchers are described together with methods appropriate for their interpretation. Second, a description is offered of the international cultural environment and personal connections which made the reception of Burke’s works in Hungary possible. Third, the important conclusion emerges that the reception of Burke in Hungary was a dynamic one. Hungarian professors of aesthetics, Georg Aloys Szerdahely and Johann Ludwig Schedius did not simply repeat Burke’s aesthetics ideas but both of them were able to creatively incorporate some of Burke’s views into of their own theories to create their independent aesthetics system. Chapter 16: Varieties of Old Regime Europe: Thoughts and Details on the Reception of Burke’s Reflections in Germany  László Kontler Contrary to earlier approaches to the German reception of the Reflections on the Revolution in France, which focused on its possible contribution to ‘conservative’ ideology or the history of philosophy, this chapter explores the process from the angle of Burke’s crucial thoughts on European civilization, which he owes to the Enlightenment. Studying the translation of the work by Friedrich Gentz, its reviews in German periodicals, and original works by Gentz and Burke’s other ‘followers’ in Germany, it points to the diversity of responses, and explains the reasons and consequences of the fact that Gentz was exceptional in appreciating the above-mentioned dimension of Burke’s thought.


The Reception of Burke in Ireland Martyn J. Powell

Edmund Burke said ‘that eventually newspapers would govern the country’.1 The point is as moot in the late eighteenth-century context as it is in the early twenty-first, but there is no doubt that they played a major role in governing his reputation – forging ‘the opposer of the omnipotency of the British Parliament over its dependencies in America’ and ‘the avowed scourge of tyrannic governors in the more remote regions of the East’, just as they reduced him to the state of ‘mental derangement’ that allegedly engendered the writing of his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).2 Looking at how Burke was received in Ireland in the pages of this consumer item is clearly a very different way of approaching his Irish identity from the tacks taken by the likes of Connor Cruise O’Brien, Louis Cullen, Katherine O’Donnell and Luke Gibbons.3 This essay is not about asserting any kind of Irish influence, inflection or agenda in his writings, but rather trying to assess the ways in which Burke’s variegated career was absorbed in Ireland. As his career and interests were nearly as wide-ranging as the possible Irish audiences that are worth considering, it is important, in the first instance, to be realistic about what might be achievable. As hinted at above, the newspaper has been selected as the primary mode of getting to grips with the way in which Burke was received by Irish public opinion. There are problems here. It is, for the most part, reflective of the Irish urban experience – it would be dangerous to assume anything of views in rural, Gaelic-speaking Ireland using this evidence. Much of the readership may also have been Protestant, and certainly government-funded titles may not have reflected anything other than the views of the printer and those who paid him. Even the most popular title of the period, the Northern Star, would have had a readership, using the most generous of calculations, of 40,000 (O’Brien 1 2 3

Quoted in Werkmeister (1967, 27). Belfast News-Letter, 7 June 1791. Cullen (1993), Cullen (1997), O’Donnell (2006; 2007). For assessments of Burke in the Irish context see Fuchs (1996), Donlan (2006), ‘Introduction’, Brown (2006) and McBride (2012).

16   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe 1998, 17). Nevertheless a focus upon the way in which a certain representation of Burke was received by a popular press that was negotiating its way through complicated Whiggish agendas – whether government supporting or opposing – can be potentially revealing. The British parliamentary opposition had never been particularly sure-footed in its engagement with Irish politics, and Burke’s pamphleteering for the Whigs did not always help their cause. But at least some of the issues that dominated his early political career were clearly Irish patriotic winners: Wilkes and Liberty; commercial reform; the American war. Even Burke’s support for Catholic Relief seemed to chime with a shift in the Irish zeitgeist in the late 1770s, as many newspapers called for restrictions on Catholics to be removed and Volunteer regiments allowed Catholics to join up. As with so many features of the Irish political landscape in this period, however, it was the crystallization of Protestant Ascendancy after the failure of parliamentary reform that would create a shift in the way that Burke’s work was received. Just as a sharper divide between clubs, newspapers and politicians emerged, so did a split in the way that Burke could be interpreted. In an important re-reading of Burke, Luke Gibbons argues that Burke’s politics of the sublime ‘affords the possibility of a more grounded, ethnographic Enlightenment, sensitive to cultural differences, inherited loyalties, and the contingencies of time and place’. He continues: ‘Though easily construed as a counter-Enlightenment, it offers the possibility of an alternative vision of social change which questions the logic that modernity only extends to the victors, leaving the powerless casualties of history in its wake’ (Gibbons 2003, xiii). Whether this makes any sense in the urban public sphere of Dublin is an interesting question (and in some ways it does).4 But while Gibbons’s work necessarily privileges the Ireland of Burke’s ancestors, it is of course important to recognize that Burke was the archetypal urbane, civil society creature – clubman, writer for newspapers, imbiber in taverns, closely connected to dozens of figures identified by Roy Porter as of critical importance in his later eighteenth-century Enlightenment. In Ireland support for the press was a necessity for any patriot writer; significantly Burke even termed the United Irish newspapers as ‘rational, manly and proper’.5 But if we are looking to find Burke’s intellectual universe within them, or indeed other organs, then, as we shall see, there are complications. Indeed it is clear that in this context British newspapers may have been more attuned to Burke. Like Henry Bate’s Morning Herald, for example, Burke was an inheritor of the civic humanist tradition and would have inveighed against those straying outside of accepted norms – dissenters, political radicals, republicans, enlightenment philosophes, the enthusiastic (in religion or fashion). As we will see, the cross-over between British and Irish newspapers was exceptionally important in this period – but in some areas there would always be a particular Irish inflection. With this in mind, this essay will trace the way the Irish reception of Burke altered and bifurcated as his career was buffeted by the revolutionary 4 5

Katherine O’Donnell (2009) connects Burke’s club life to his Irish experience of poetic courts. Quoted in Gibbons (2003a, 163).

The Reception of Burke in Ireland   17 events that dominated the second half of the eighteenth century. Ultimately the French Revolution resulted in a seismic shift in political life that would find a Burke who might have claimed that true reasoned control over one’s passions was the preserve of the propertied elite become ridiculed for his own hysterical predilections. The Enquiry and John Wilkes In the Irish context above all it makes little sense to see the response to Burke simply in terms of his political life during the revolutionary period. From the publication of his Enquiry onwards he was a figure of note and comment. To the Belfast News-Letter in 1765 he was ‘Author of a celebrated performance on the Sublime and Beautiful’.6 Indeed much of his later output was seen in Ireland through the lens of this earlier activity – hence he was in 1794 the ‘sublime Mr Burke’ – and his interest in aesthetics did not always redound to his advantage.7 Mary Wollstonecraft claimed that his definitions of beauty in the Enquiry idealized weak and helpless women (Lock 1998, 111). Such a fascination with these unworthy beings also degraded men, and, according to Wollstonecraft, denoted unmanliness and effeminacy (Fulford 1999, 56). If we begin earlier than this, then the Burke held up for ridicule by Wollstonecraft was a very different animal to the image of the young man who entered Trinity College Dublin aged 14. College, club and associational life were arenas in which we can find a patriotic, manly Burke. Indeed Burke began his career in the rough and tumble of Dublin street politics. Two of the most notorious riots involving Trinity College students took place while Burke was an undergraduate and Burke played a minor role in the Gentleman versus Players, or ‘Kelly’ riots of January 1747. However if we are considering the reception of Burke in the press then this early version of Burke does not appear to have made much of an impact, beyond an awareness of his Irish education. Indeed in a reflective piece published in 1786 even the Enquiry is airbrushed out of his career: ‘Mr Ed. Burke, made his first appearance in public life at the time of the repeal of the Stamp Act in the year 1766.’8 This particular potted history was most concerned with Burke’s support for Irish free trade, and it made much of his determination to support an extension of Irish commerce against the views of his Bristol constituents. Such a position was heralded much earlier in his career. In a meeting of Burke’s own Dublin club in 1747 the topics for discussion included free trade, support for the linen and woollen industries, and the evils of absenteeism (Lock 1998, 48). This latter point was one of the few hostile barbs aimed at Burke in the 1786 Irish appraisal – his failure to reside in Ireland and add lustre to the Irish Commons.9 His role – as loyal

6 7 8 9

Belfast News-Letter, 30 July 1765. Dublin Morning Post, 23 August 1794. Belfast News-Letter, 13–17 October 1786. Belfast News-Letter, 13–17 October 1786.

18   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Rockinghamite party man – in undermining the proposed Irish absentee tax of 1773 might also have been mentioned.10 The Freeman’s Journal, patriotic but bullishly Protestant in its earliest incarnation, linked Burke’s aesthetics to his support for Catholic relief, and took a side-swipe at his recently awarded pension. If the viceroy had not laid the basis for ‘refining our language in a certain pension to a certain author’, then ‘the Roman Catholics, the Body of the Nation, would have lost a zealous Advocate and Private Agent with G[overnment] and our young S[enators], tho’ desirous of distinguishing themselves in Oratory, would have lost the Opportunity of improving from those delicate touches of the Sublime and the Beautiful, with which some particular speeches were bespangled in the last S[ession]’.11 The article was as mocking of Burke’s subject matter as it was contemptuous of his pro-Catholic stance. Here, however, Burke’s person was merged into the personality of the unpopular chief secretary, the calculating William Gerard Hamilton; it was he who had delivered Burke’s carefully crafted speeches in the Irish Commons. Luke Gibbons sees the execution of Nicholas Sheehy, on Whiteboyism charges, as a major incident in the formation of Burke’s views on the sublime, and most particularly the body in pain (Gibbons 2003a, xii). Later agitators for Catholic relief also expressed views on his Enquiry, ‘including, in the 1790s, both Thomas Russell and Wolfe Tone, Russell being particularly positive’ (Gibbons 2003a, 13). Much of the Irish reception of Burke in the late 1760s and early 1770s would have been filtered through the controversies involving John Wilkes. A good deal of this material, as might be expected, was cut and pasted from British newspapers, though of course the precise newspapers chosen for source material can be indicative of particular sympathies. Burke’s oratorical skills would clearly have been noted. Reflecting on his emergence after his connection was forged with Rockingham, the Belfast News-Letter claimed that ‘his mind abounds with a luxuriance of imagery, clothed in language of the most delicate and elegant nature’, though this was backed up with ‘the most solid and weighty arguments’.12 His activities on behalf of the petitioning movement – in defence of Wilkes and opposition to the Grafton ministry – particularly in Buckinghamshire, featured an hour-long speech ‘in a pure, eloquent, and rhetorical manner, truly Ciceronian, which he is well known to be master of ’.13 In the late 1760s and early 1770s the Freeman’s Journal (the Hibernian Journal and Dublin Evening Post were formed later in the 1770s) remained the most serious organ of Irish opposition politics. The controversial Townshend administration had polarized Ireland, and Wilkite politics became enmeshed in this. In his defence of John Wilkes, Burke opposed the use of General Warrants and wanted a parliamentary enquiry into the massacre at St George’s Fields. His speeches were invariably filtered through to the Irish newspaper 10 11 12 13

See Griffin (2006). Quoted in Gibbons (2003a, 87–88) Belfast News-Letter, 13–17 October 1786. Belfast News-Letter, 22 September 1769.

The Reception of Burke in Ireland   19 reading public through the Freeman’s Journal. Though it is difficult to prove absolutely the source of the Commons debates, or other material relating to Burke, it is clear that the London Evening Post and the Middlesex Journal were sources utilized. The former was the source for Burke’s tale ‘of some Mice who held a Consultation what to do with a Cat that tormented them; they voted that the Cat should be tied up, to prevent her Depredations for the future, but unfortunately forgot how to tie him up’.14 Burke’s speeches on Wilkes focused both on the application of arbitrary powers by the state, and its general incompetence. The Freeman’s Journal reported Burke’s repartee with North in the opening of the budget, most likely in this case taken from the Middlesex Journal. North said that the opposition had ‘contrived to lead the House into such Dilemmas, that they could not be moderate, without being accused of Timidity; or vigorous without being charged with oppression’. Burke’s reply was that most People, who had been brought into Dilemmas, were content to take only one Part of the evil Alternative; but this Ministry manage Matters so, as to fall into both the Evil Extremes. They had, with great Dexterity, contrived to be at once remiss and rigorous; but in such a Manner, that their Moderation should always evidently appear to the World the Effect of Fear, and their Rigour the Effect of Injustice.15

Of course Burke was not always singled out. Again on the budget the Freeman’s Journal noted that ‘Mr Burke, Col. Barré, and Mr Thomas Townshend, spoke … with their usual Eloquence’;16 and Burke’s Irish counterpart, the Chathamite Col. Issac Barré, MP for Chipping Wycombe, was probably toasted more frequently than Burke in Irish patriotic clubs in the 1770s. Obviously some parliamentary reporting tended to be fairly functional in nature and reproduced across many government and opposition titles. But the Wilkite material involving Burke, as reported in the Freeman’s Journal, often went a good deal further than this; in part because its source was frequently the Middlesex Journal. Burke was named in a list of 159 gentleman, ‘the standing Toast in all public Companies, and are Friends to the happy Constitution, and the Liberties of the People’.17 Discussion of the riots that attended the arrest of Richard Oliver in late March 1771 saw Burke described as one of the gentlemen ‘who distinguished themselves most in Favour of the Lord Mayor, and in support of the People’.18 An important point to note here is that when parliamentary debates were taken from the British press featuring Burke during this period, they usually concluded with political inflections and asides.19 The only Irish newspaper that showed any consistent opposition 14 15 16 17 18 19

London Evening Post, 2–4 May 1771; Freeman’s Journal, 9–11 May 1771. Middlesex Journal, 13–16 April 1771; Freeman’s Journal, 20–23 April 1771. Freeman’s Journal, 18–20 April 1771. Freeman’s Journal, 26–28 February 1771. Middlesex Journal, 26–28 March, 1771; Freeman’s Journal, 2–4 April 1771. See for example Freeman’s Journal, 30 March 1771–2 April 1771, which corrects Alderman Townshend’s supposed absence from the debate through illness in a vigorous fashion, complimenting his performance.

20   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe to Wilkes and his followers was the government-supporting Dublin Mercury, and here Burke was again featured in Wilkes’s coterie; for example in a list of ‘bankrupts in patriotism’, which included ‘Ed. Burke, pamphleteer’.20 Burke’s more obviously party work, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770), dealing with Wilkes, but also, in terms of the Rockinghamites’ fortunes, the notion of a double cabinet, was said to have been popular in Ireland. As Charles O’Hara put it: ‘no work of yours was ever so greedily read, nor so much applauded. Few understand it, but ‘tis the fashion to like it.’21 And here it is important to emphasize that Burke’s commitment to traditions of Whiggish liberty was a key element of his public profile – one that was received in Ireland. Indeed, Rockinghamite pamphlets like Thoughts can be regarded as, if not team efforts, then certainly bearing the mark of a party editorial policy (Brewer 1971, 483–84). Outside of the attractions of his party links Burke was, in many ways, a bad match for the brand of Whiggery that infused Irish patriotism in this period. Cromwell was regularly toasted at Irish dinner tables and the Protestant celebratory calendar would carry through into Orangism. Burke noted of this: ‘One would not think that decorum, to say nothing of policy, would permit them to call up, by magic charms, the grounds, reasons, and principles of those terrible confiscatory and exterminatory periods.’22 But in his early career he would have found himself toasting those very same Whig heroes – the memory of John Hampden for example during the petitioning movement in 1769.23 In 1788 Irish newspapers reported on a Whig Club meeting on the anniversary of the Glorious Revolution. Burke was in attendance and his fellow Irishman Richard Brinsley Sheridan was entrusted with ‘paying an eloquent tribute to the memory of our immortal deliverer WILLIAM the Third’. The same meeting saw the Revolution Society communicate to the Whig Club that it intended to press for a bill to make the anniversary of the Glorious Revolution a day of national thanksgiving.24 Nathan Wallace argues that Burke’s Whiggery ‘is a career-spanning practice of cultural and political border-crossing between his native Irishness and his adoptive Englishness’ (Wallace 2006, 134); a view that crucially allows for both the Burke that saw the Glorious Revolution, at least in Britain, as the ‘essential constitutional moment’ (Donlan 2006, 72), and the same individual who in the Irish context despised the same tenets enshrined within Protestant Ascendancy. This perhaps goes to the heart of the nature of Whiggery in late eighteenth-century Ireland, and its bifurcation over Catholic relief – an issue that saw Burke straddle both a tolerant, corrective, Whiggism, and its loyalist, anti-Enlightenment counterpart.25

20 21 22 23 24 25

Dublin Mercury, 22 November 1770. Corr. 2, 139, Burke to O’Hara [21 May 1770]. Quoted in Gibbons (2003a, 14). Belfast News-Letter, 22 September 1769. Belfast News-Letter, 11 November 1788. This also explains why Burke was such an ill fit for Irish conservatives – in contrast to, say, Sir Richard Musgrave – after the rebellion.

The Reception of Burke in Ireland   21 Free trade, America and Warren Hastings In the context of Irish public opinion the American War was probably more important in defining Burke as a supporter of Irish free trade than anything associated more directly with the American colonists’ cause. In this arena Burke had made his proto-nationalistic chauvinism evident at a very early stage. His articles for the Reformer, a newspaper established with his clubmates, focused on the way in which Ireland neglected home grown talent, preferring English imports (Lock 1998, 59). Burke also spent the 1760s and 1770s campaigning for Irish commercial relief, a principled stance that would go a long way towards ensuring that he lost his Bristol seat; a consequence noted by the Irish press: Never, perhaps, did our admired countryman, Mr Burke, appear to greater advantage, than on the Hustings at Bristol, delivering his valedictory speech to ungrateful, jobbing electors, Never, scarcely, can constituents appear in a more contemptible light, than those Bristoleans, when parting with a representative, whose attachment to liberty and extensive patriotism they could not comprehend, and would not support!26

Despite this sacrifice, Burke’s patriotic image would eventually be tarnished by his attitudes towards Irish Free Trade. In part this was because his actions as an Irish patriot were constrained by his allegiance to patron and party. But Burke was genuinely uneasy about Ireland’s anti-importation associations, though when Camden planned to term them as ‘threatening’ in Parliament, he was ‘wholly against the argumentative part of the motion’, regarding it as ‘most highly indiscreet and dangerous’.27 More significant for his reputation was his response to North’s concession of a generous Free Trade package. The Dublin Evening Post reminded its readers: ‘The men of this land should recollect how Fox, Burke, and others of that gang, “drooped their heads in silence”, when our rights were acknowledged in a British House of Commons.’28 It sardonically asked: ‘Did Burke, tho’ our countryman, exert himself in our cause?’29 The Irish patriot leader Henry Flood defended Burke, but the Irish patriot press found it difficult to forgive the British Whigs, and the event, and perhaps more importantly its press coverage, was significant enough to propel William Drennan, future United Irishman, to write his A Letter to Edmund Burke Esq; by Birth an Irishman, by Adoption an Englishman (1780). Worse still, in 1784 Burke backed Fox’s rather conniving approach to Pitt’s trade proposals, making it seem that his support for Irish commercial expansion was wavering. In that year when it was rumoured that Burke might travel to Ireland as chief secretary to the viceroy the Hibernian Journal referred sardonically to ‘our beloved countryman, Edmund Burke, who wept at Britain’s humiliation, when she gave Ireland a free trade’.30 26 27 28 29 30

Finn’s Leinster Journal, 23–27 September 1780. Corr. 4, 70–1, Burke to Rockingham [9 May 1779]. Dublin Evening Post, 17 January 1784. Dublin Evening Post, 12 February 1784. Hibernian Journal, 5 May 1784.

22   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe In general terms the Rockingham and then the Foxite Whigs played the Volunteers, the paramilitary body that had a major role in campaigning for free trade, very badly, perpetually unsure whether to regard them as a threat to British liberty, or fellow Whigs to be congratulated. The Duke of Portland’s attempt to subvert the Volunteers through the fencible scheme, followed by the assertive policies of the Fox–North coalition meant that by 1784 the British Whigs were in particularly bad odour. The Hibernian Journal referred to ‘the very extraordinary Contempt with which they treated the Address from the whole Volunteer Army of Ireland’.31 In comparison with Shelburne, who was savaged in the Irish press for his comments on the Volunteers, Burke was a little more circumspect, but his speech on the Volunteers on 12 March 1779, reported in the Irish press, unintentionally juxtaposed Ireland’s beloved Volunteers with Burke’s reputation for histrionics. Burke, ‘in great agitation of spirits which seemed nearly to approach to rage, endeavoured by the most animated exertions, to bring the members to a sense of their duty, repeatedly calling upon them to get up and speak like men’. Burke was reprimanded by the speaker and forced to offer a proper motion, which was ‘that an enquiry be made into the fact of there being 11,000 men now under arms in Ireland unknown to government’.32 His obsessing throughout the speech with the 11,000 men independent to government would not have met with patriot Irish approval. It is notable that William Burke, his close friend, reflected on the fact that the Volunteers ‘had no legal sanction for their conduct’, and described the vote of thanks given to the associations by the Irish Commons as ‘an abdication of all government’. His views, especially his fear of ‘a new dismemberment of the empire’, probably mirrored those of Burke.33 The responsible behaviour of the Volunteers was regularly compared in the Irish press to the Gordon rioters, and as a particular target of the mob, Burke was perhaps able to recover a measure of esteem in Ireland.34 His manly and principled conduct played well in the Irish press, as it did even in British organs usually hostile to Burke such as the Morning Post.35 Although Burke’s position on the American war was certainly popular in the Irish patriotic press and in clubs – he was toasted by gatherings in Dublin (the Free Citizens) and Belfast in 1776, along with other Whigs opposed to the American war36 – the broader implications of his role as New York agent and supporter of the grievances of the American colonists became more evident in the 1790s when they were contrasted with his opposition to the French Revolution. Some of the later commentary was misleading: ‘The blockade of New-York, the surrender of armies, and consequent disasters which threatened the heaviest sorrows to the bosom of Royalty, were to him

31 32 33 34 35 36

Hibernian Journal, 11–13 February 1784. Limerick Chronicle, 25 March 1779. Nottingham Lib., Pwf 2,169, William Burke to Portland [20 October 1779]. Limerick Chronicle, 25 February 1779; Freeman’s Journal, 27–29 June 1782 Morning Post, 7 June 1780. Hibernian Journal, 19–22 July 1776; Londonderry Journal, 10 September 1776.

The Reception of Burke in Ireland   23 situations the most agreeable, and points of view the most charming.’37 This of course takes no account of the important imperialist strain – influenced by his Whig allegiances38 – that can be discerned in Burke’s writing, and shaped his views on the American war, the rise of the Volunteers and Irish legislative independence. And as we have seen above, it was a facet of Burke that was recognized – and criticized – in the Irish press. The impeachment trial of Warren Hastings was also carried in detail by many Irish newspapers, and as with most aspects of his career, the response was largely dependent upon a particular newspaper’s relationship with the Irish government and by extension the British government (which Burke was opposing). The same could be said for his involvement in East India Company affairs more generally. A number of patriotic Irish newspapers including the Hibernian Journal and the Volunteers’ Journal were hostile to the Fox–North coalition, simply because it was now the face of the British ministry. As the Hibernian Journal put it: ‘we have in this kingdom nothing to do with the ministerial changes in England, for, however they differ in other respects, they perfectly agree in their systematic hatred and oppression of Ireland.’39 By extension this meant opposition to Fox’s India bill. There was, nevertheless, a broader public appetite for Burke’s oratory on this topic, as an Irish version of his speech on Fox’s bill was published by Luke White of Dame Street and advertised in the Dublin Evening Post and Freeman’s Journal.40 Significantly, perhaps, Burke’s treatment of Hastings was one of the episodes of his career that was difficult to forgive in the most positive of obituaries (carried by the Belfast News-Letter): ‘it has generally been thought strange that he should seem to attack Mr Hastings with so strong an indication of personal rancour and vindictive persecution.’ This was put down to Burke’s ‘diffusive humanity’ when considering the ‘oppressed millions’, but also ‘the effect of party combinations’, which was lamented.41 The Volunteer Evening Post, usually aligned to the British ministry’s interests, highlighted very particular aspects of Burke’s performance, which, as I have written elsewhere, located it firmly within Whiggish Irish political conventions (Powell 2010, 113–35). In one very revealing commentary it noted: ‘Mr Burke, we are inclined to believe is a well-meaning man; but the impetuosity and warmth of his imagination, betrays him into visionary conceits of men and things, which have no existence in truth and reason.’42 Burke’s approach to oratory in this reading was anathema to manly, civic patriotism, and from the late 1780s it is possible that newspapers were picking up on his reception in the Commons – he endured jeering from some MPs, particularly following his performance in debates on

37 38

39 40 41 42

Morning Post, 21 December 1790. O’Brien sees this imperial Whiggish stance as one adopted by Burke (1992, 152). On this see also Brown (1996, 209–10); Wallace (1996, 137–38); Lock (2006, 155–56, 161). Hibernian Journal, 5 May 1784. Dublin Evening Post, 26 February 1784; Freeman’s Journal, 28 February 1784. Belfast News-Letter, 21 July 1797. Volunteer Evening Post, 24 May 1787.

24   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe the Regency Crisis. The Volunteer Evening Post continued, prefiguring later comments by Matthew Arnold: ‘No man is better qualified to write or talk in the style and manner of the Arabian Nights Entertainments, for he has a fund of fancy, and a pavilion for poetic fiction, which is unbounded, but for sober debate and solid discrimination, no man was ever less endowed.’43 This was not the first time in his career that his manner of writing and speaking had, in the eyes of some commentators, undermined his message. A Limerick Chronicle reader sent the printer clippings from Sir Robert Dallas’s Considerations on the American Enquiry (1779) that did not redound to Burke’s advantage: ‘Intent upon the display of his own abilities, he cannot watch the passions, or accommodate himself to his audience.’ Dallas continued: ‘We admire for a while the splendour of the dress; but the eye becomes tired with the gaudy glare of the glittering tinsel, and wishes for the beautiful simplicity of nature.’44 A few years later the sometime lord lieutenant George Townshend, whilst in Ireland, remarked of Burke’s performance during Warren Hastings’ impeachment: ‘Mr Burke very brilliant sometimes, but prolix.’45 The Volunteer Evening Post pointed out during the Hastings trial: ‘As an enemy to Mr Hastings, he would describe him as the most abandoned being upon earth; but had he accidentally been his friend, Mr Hastings would have been exalted to the stars, and dignified with the virtues of an Archangel.’46 His style of rhetoric, particularly in the Commons, was of its time. Clare Connolly has written of later concerns over Irish eloquence – Burke spoke with an Irish brogue – and its connection with political enthusiasm (Connolly 2008, 125). However in Burke’s case one can also suggest that it was designed to fulfil audience expectations. A section of the Hastings trial printed by the Belfast News-Letter – no doubt taken from elsewhere, ended with the following comment: ‘A vast number of ladies attended; but they appeared dissatisfied, or rather disappointed with the figurative part of Mr Burke’s speech – As soon, however, as he dropped his observations on the Revenue, they were charmed and astonished by his eloquence.’47 Outside of the government supporting press that had an axe to grind with the Whig opposition, it can be suggested that the impeachment of Warren Hastings acted as a high point in Burke’s reputation in the Irish public sphere. A piece carried in the Belfast News-Letter on ‘Illustrious British Characters’, presumably taken from the British press, and also including the Duke of Portland, lavished praise upon Burke’s qualities: ‘Transcendent abilities, and erudition, will ever claim respect and attention; and though they have added but little to his fortune, have extended the limits of his fame.’ Of course the reference to ‘fortune’ would be turned on its head when Burke accepted a pension. The same can be said for another line in this encomium, in which Burke was said to have selflessly devoted himself to ‘establish the happiness 43 44 45 46 47

O’Donnell (2000, 99); Volunteer Evening Post, 24 May 1787. Limerick Chronicle, 13 September 1779. Beresford Correspondence, ii, 307, Townshend to Beresford [3 June 1786]. Volunteer Evening Post, 24 May 1787. Belfast News-Letter, 12 May 1789.

The Reception of Burke in Ireland   25 of millions, and affect the general rights of mankind’. Again in this piece the early intellectual legacy was evident, and offered further proof that it could be a label for friends and enemies: ‘Whatever is beautiful may be found in the mild purity of his private life; whatever is sublime, in his public disinterestedness, and contempt of wealth.’48 Burke and the French Revolution: (i) The Revolution Debate Recent scholarly efforts to reposition Burke in the 1790s tend to focus, naturally, on ways of reading Burke’s writings, many focusing on Burke as a radical Irish Catholic sympathizer. Among other material espousing this line, Luke Gibbons notes that Burke claimed that ‘Catholic Defenderism is the only restraint upon Protestant Ascendancy’, and has used Iain McCalman’s observations on Burke’s possible sympathy for United Irish revolutionary goals.49 But in his recent survey Michael Brown reaffirms that Burke was hostile to the politics of the United Irishmen (Brown 2006, 218). And there is not much evidence to show that this radical side of Burke was ever comprehended in the Irish public sphere; even if we accept that the United Irish conception of natural rights – due to their concern for native, Catholic, culture – had a ‘Burkean inflection’ (Gibbons 2003b, 70). The Reflections was certainly popular in Ireland, going through eight reprints in Dublin between 1791 and 1793, and there were pamphlets in support and opposition.50 As might be expected, government and opposition newspapers took pro- and anti-Burke lines, with some of the former printing extracts. Reflecting on the peerage given to Fitzgibbon, The Press, the Dublin United Irish newspaper, wondered: ‘But how can wash of heraldry efface, The name of Burke, and dignity disgrace.’51 As the Dublin Morning Post, also radical, put it: ‘It is not a question between two men of the names of Paine and Burke – it is the Rights of Men, against the Reign of Prejudice.’52 The Dublin Morning Post said of Burke’s Reflections that ‘there is a degree of malignancy, a contagious exhalation poured thro’ every page’.53 He was a ‘man who has volunteered himself in the cause of despotism, and in support of ecclesiastical tyranny’.54 Somewhat more telling were the ways in which some of the longstanding patriot organs dealt with Reflections. The Belfast News-Letter printed a long and determinedly moderate review, originally appearing in the Monthly Review, in

48 49

50 51 52 53 54

Belfast News-Letter, 15 May 1789. Gibbons (2003a, 243); McCalman (1996, 140); Corr. 8, 378, Burke to Thomas Hussey [18 January 1796]. For a broader view on Irish public opinion and the French Revolution, see Ultán Gillen, ‘Monarchy, Republic and Empire: Irish Public Opinion and France, c. 1787–1804’ (Oxford, DPhil, 2006). See O’Sullivan (2006, 172). The Press, 7 October 1797. Dublin Morning Post, 24 August 1793. Dublin Morning Post, 13 January 1794. Dublin Morning Post, 13 January 1794.

26   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe December and January 1790.55 However the tone was critical throughout: ‘He pleads for ancient usage, and precedent, and prescription, and non-resistance, with all the vehemence, and with much of the very sophistry, of the most determined Tory.’ There is a general acceptance of natural rights (echoed in the Dublin Evening Post), and if not a defence of Paine, then certainly a pointed reminder that this was common currency since John Locke’s writings. The reviewer went on to say that ‘the principles of civil government will never quietly settle, unless they rest on the choice, or acquiescence of the people.’56 A few days later the same newspaper printed a piece that was critical of Burke’s attitude towards revolution – more particularly his sympathy for the aristocracy and the church and his hostility towards the French lower orders, National Assembly and leading Enlightenment intellectuals.57 The Dublin Evening Post agreed, complaining that Burke would likely ‘call you a sophister, a philosopher, a rebel, and an atheist’ if you were not governed by his monarchical, aristocratic and ecclesiastical prejudices.58 The following year the Belfast News-Letter published extracts from Paine’s Rights of Man as ‘Paine’s Answer to Burke’.59 It also carried a positive puff for James Mackintosh, Burke’s critic and author of Vindiciae Gallicae, and extracts from the pamphlet itself.60 The work of less renowned authors also appeared, such as George Rous’s A Letter to Burke in Reply to His Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791). Not all snippets were given with their authors, which can perhaps lead to an overestimation of the genuinely Irish responses. William Roscoe’s ‘O’er the vine-cover’d hills’, which saw Burke (as a bat) shrink from the light of reason in its second verse, was printed anonymously in the Belfast News-Letter.61 Yet some Irish commentators took the time to address very particular elements of Burke’s writings – such as a misrepresentation of a sentence written by Paine in Burke’s Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791).62 It is perhaps significant that the substantial extract appearing on 8 November related to Rous’s sympathies towards dissenting communities, though there was also a reference to his rescue by Irish law students during the Gordon Riots.63 There was much support in the Irish press for the views of Joseph Priestley and Richard Price against those of Burke,64 and Burke’s antipathy to dissent was one of the more problematic areas of his post-1789 output in an Irish context. One writer referred to Burke’s ‘sneer at the body of Protestant Dissenters, whose unalterable attachment to liberty has more than once saved the state’.65 It certainly made him an unlikely United Irish 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65

Belfast News-Letter, 17 December 1790; Belfast News Letter, 18–21 January 1790. Belfast News-Letter, 17 December 1790; see Frankis (2012, 27). Belfast News-Letter, 21 December 1790. Quoted in Frankis (2012, 27). Belfast News-Letter, 8 April 1791; Belfast News-Letter, 19 April 1791. Belfast News-Letter, 19 August 1791; Belfast News-Letter, 6 January 1792. Belfast News-Letter, 20 September 1791. Belfast News-Letter, 18 November 1791. Belfast News-Letter, 8–11 November 1791; Rous (1791, 47–51). See for example ‘Priestley versus Burke’, Belfast News-Letter, 21 January 1791. Belfast News-Letter, 10 December 1790.

The Reception of Burke in Ireland   27 sympathizer; especially when considering the commercial tone of the United Irish support in Ulster. The reprinting of a letter from Joseph Priestley to the London Morning Chronicle in the Belfast News-Letter, focusing on a speech Burke had made in Parliament in which he had attacked Priestley’s politics, would likely have appealed to Belfast’s dissenters. Priestley’s response was moderate, rational, and, to an extent pained. Priestley remarked that Burke’s sneering at his lack of rewards for his activities ‘is a mean insult, in one basking in the sun-shine of power, on one who is under its frowns’. He continued, ‘far from expecting any reward, I shall think myself very happy if I escape without further punishment.’66 Burke’s apparent reverence for the aristocracy was also difficult to incorporate within Irish patriotism. Burke was, like Sheridan, a fish out of water in the higher echelons of the Foxites, and he was never wholly at ease with the round of country house visits beloved of the more aristocratic members of his party, and rarely accepted such invites. In contrast, his more urbane tastes did work in the Irish press (Langford 2004), but the defence of aristocracy in Reflections made any personal proclivities irrelevant, and given the violent anti-aristocratic sentiment that was palpable in Irish newspapers from the early 1780s there was bound to be a reaction. The Monthly Review piece sampled in the Belfast News-Letter critiqued both the aristocracy and Burke’s style, describing ‘the old feudal and chivalrous spirit of Aristocratic fealty … so overwrought, and extravagantly bespangled, that we fear the generality of beholders will look on them also as gilt baubles and painted gewgaws’.67 And one of the themes that the Dublin Morning Post focused on in a series of anti-Burke letters in the 1790s was the superiority of men of relatively humble origins – lawyers, medics – over aristocrats.68 That said, the popularity of aristocratic Whig leaders like Charles James Fox in Ireland throughout the 1790s is noteworthy. Burke’s planned publication on Rockingham was eagerly awaited,69 and Fox and Burke were brought together in an extract from Burke’s speech on the army estimates – their famous break – reprinted five years later in the Belfast News-Letter. Burke’s views on Fox – ‘drawn by a masterly hand’ – focused here on Fox’s moderation, ‘which is the best corrective of power’.70 The timing here is significant. In many quarters Burke had been proven right, and the moderate Whiggism of Fox in Britain, and the patriot Henry Grattan in Ireland, though old-fashioned, seemed distinctly peaceable, as the Revolution moved through Terror to war. However, even in moderate publications there were sallies against Burke in defending the progress of the Revolution. After mischievously quoting from Burke’s Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol (1776) – vide, ‘Liberty is in danger of being made unpopular to Englishmen’ – an Armagh correspondent noted that: ‘The popular excesses 66 67 68 69 70

Belfast News-Letter, 15 March 1793. Belfast News-Letter, 18 January 1791; Monthly Review, 1790: 439. Dublin Morning Post, 13 January 1794. Belfast News-Letter, 11 September 1789. Belfast News-Letter, 15 May 1795.

28   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe which attended the French Revolution shocked the feelings of many, without allowance being made for the former servitude unexpiated.’71 And continued: ‘Man is prone to extremes and even virtue runs into excess.’72 Earlier, a writer in the Dublin Morning Post had claimed: ‘I think the conduct of the armed multitude, virtually released from their allegiance, exhibits manifest proof of moderation and clemency.’73 Amongst certain sections of the Irish press there would of course be a shift to reflect the threat posed by France. Always a supporter of government, Saunders’s Newsletter printed a substantial extract from Burke’s Thoughts on a Regicide Peace in 1796.74 In the same year the Belfast News-Letter published substantial extracts from his A Letter to a Noble Lord, in an uncritical fashion.75 In 1797 the Belfast News-Letter carried a digest of Burke’s posthumous Three Memorials on French Affairs.76 Burke and the French Revolution: (ii) Masculinity Although this chronological shift is somewhat predictable, it is, I think, also worth considering some of the more consistent strains that featured in the Irish press response to Burke in this period. The historian Philip Carter suggests that as with Chesterfield before him Burke had undermined the predominant concept of masculinity (Carter 2000, 90). Following the publication of his Reflections, Edmund Burke was ridiculed by Mary Wollstonecraft for his claim to be the guardian of ‘manly sentiment’ (Carter 2000, 113). She linked his style to effeminacy, which, more recently, has been described as ‘evocative of feminine emotions’ (Fulford 1999, 56, 59). Even Burke’s ally, Sir Philip Francis, described the passages relating to Marie Antoinette in his Reflections as ‘pure foppery’ (Carter 2000, 123n). A very positive obituary carried in the Belfast News-Letter noted that: ‘As a writer he is often sublime and beautiful, though the exuberance of his genius, and the warmth of his feelings, frequently betrayed him into a violation of taste.’77 If in the 1790s Burke was demonstrating concern over the decline in politeness exhibited by French radical leaders (Carter 2000, 112), then the robust men of action now in the vanguard of Irish patriotism would have looked equally askance at Burke (and before him Chesterfield) and their championing of an ancien régime model of masculinity. Indeed, it is striking how much of the Irish response to Burke and his anti-revolutionary output in the 1790s touched upon issues around manliness. This, I would suggest, was for two reasons. Firstly the tone of the Reflections, which was frequently connected by the press to Burke’s earlier aesthetic interests, and sat uncomfortably with enlightened discourse

71 72 73 74 75 76 77

Belfast News-Letter, 4 October 1793. Belfast News-Letter, 1–4 October 1793. Dublin Morning Post, 2 December 1790. Saunders’ News-Letter, 5 November 1796. Belfast News-Letter, 29 February 1796. Belfast News-Letter, 18 September 1797. Belfast News-Letter, 21 July 1797.

The Reception of Burke in Ireland   29 based on reason, and, secondly, the nature of Irish patriot culture, still heavily influenced by a combination of Whiggism and civic humanism that valorized the citizen soldier, and scorned the standing army. On the first of these the Dublin Morning Post printed an extract (unacknowledged) from a pamphlet by the Dissenter Joseph Towers that juxtaposed the rational tone of Paine with the rather more florid style of Burke. Burke had a ‘luxuriant imagination’, ‘a great profusion of rhetoric’ and his take on the French Revolution ‘has often much more the appearance of an historical romance’. Burke is accused of indulging in the ‘false pathetic’.78 The Dublin Morning Post, in reference to Paine’s Rights of Man, claimed that Burke and his followers had not ‘dared to attack it in front, or ventured farther than to enfilade by a few distant oblique shots’. In its view the contest was between a proclamation and a political system, with Paine representing the latter.79 The current mode of government, it contended, ‘builds its hopes of permanence upon proclamations, encampments, and arbitrary dicta’. Again the discourse of manliness was important here. The refusal to allow the liberty of free discussion of the current system was all important. And, of course, ‘[t]he first dawn of manly reason must DISPEL such darkness’.80 Also on that theme the same newspaper considered Burke’s current actions in the light of theories on human behaviour – more particularly the inconstancies caused by acting according to passions – postulated by the Scottish philosopher Dr Hugh Blair. As the Dublin Morning Post’s restyling of Blair’s prose put it: ‘the disorderly [and fanciful mind] resemble[s] those tumultuous elements on earth, which by sudden and violent irruptions disturb the course of nature’; a statement that tied together – and surely not chosen by accident – Burke’s intemperate prose with his earlier work on the sublime.81 The Press, in a poem on Burke’s venality influenced by Juvenal – aptly enough as Burke was an admirer (Fuchs 1996, 34) – makes similar points on his rhetoric Not to be blam’d, but in a tender tone; Not to be prais’d, but with a heartfelt groan: He liv’d a lesson, for all future time, Pathetically great, and painfully sublime.82

Other Irish patriots were also called upon to enter the fray in defence of Paineite ideas. The Dublin Morning Post referred to the employment of ‘the whole force of ministerial persecution – in order to cry down his opinions like rap halfpence’. First in line was ‘Mr Burke’s battery’, ‘but soon silenced’.83 Here Burke is an unworthy Swift, and in many ways Burke was ranked by 78 79 80 81 82 83

Dublin Morning Post, 24 August 1793. The extract is taken from Joseph Towers, Thoughts on the Commencement of a New Parliament (1790). Dublin Morning Post, 9 June 1792. Dublin Morning Post, 9 June 1792. Dublin Morning Post, 21 December 1790; Blair (1786, 26), Sermon no.1, ‘On the Importance of Order in Conduct’. The Press, 7 October 1797. Dublin Morning Post, 26 June 1792.

30   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Irish patriot newspapers alongside that pantheon of Irish wits. The Belfast News-Letter, while expressing its doubts, reprinted a piece from another Irish paper which claimed that Burke’s name would ‘go down to posterity with those of Swift and Goldsmith’.84 On another occasion the same paper called upon the talents of ‘a GIBBON, a SHERIDAN’, to oppose Burke.85 The Juvenal pastiche in The Press, reflected: O why is genius curs’d with length of days? The head still flourishing, the heart decays! Protracted life makes virtue less secure; The death of wits is seldom premature.86

The specific case in point here was Samuel Johnson – disgraced by pension and support for the American war: ‘Quench’d too by years, gigantic Johnson’s zeal, Th’unwieldy elephant was taught to kneel.’87 The point is, I think, that Burke’s end of career publications and pension – criticized in the Irish press as soon as it was rumoured88 – were not only a betrayal of his patriotic Whiggism, but also his position as one of the great men of letters. Similar views were expressed in the Belfast News-Letter, which saw his Reflections as a betrayal of his ‘profound abilities as a literary character’.89 In the British context Burke’s anguish at the fate of Marie Antoinette was deemed to be foppish, and even friends and allies termed him ‘Don Dismallo’, the knight of woeful countenance (Fulford 1999, 5). This most notorious section of the Reflections was given plenty of attention in Ireland. A piece printed in the Belfast News-Letter referred to him speaking ‘with a bombastic rapture of the charms of his [Louis XVI’s] Queen’.90 The same newspaper’s Monthly Review extracts reinforced this image, referring, ironically, to ‘his sublime and beautiful apotheosis of the great lady’.91 More bluntly a correspondent accused Burke of attempting to ‘deceive us into general disgust to so grand an enterprise, because a young Queen was abused by a mob of female fishmongers,’92 an interesting near-defence of the female crowd, given that Burke’s chivalric prose was directed against their threat to masculine hegemony (Corbett 1994, 880–82). Another commentary claimed that according to Joseph Priestley the scene involving the queen had no basis in truth.93 This material was also a barb aimed at Burke’s championing of the chivalric code and knight errantry, a dimension that had particular ramifications in Ireland due to the massing of troops in Dublin and elsewhere. The Dublin 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93

Belfast News-Letter, 31 January 1792. Belfast News-Letter, 10 December 1790. The Press, 7 October 1797. The Press, 7 October 1797. Belfast News-Letter, 8 November 1791. Belfast News-Letter, 16 November 1790. Belfast News-Letter, 21 December 1790. Belfast News-Letter, 18–21 January 1791; Monthly Review, 1790: 439. Belfast News-Letter, 10 December 1790. Belfast News-Letter, 21 January 1791.

The Reception of Burke in Ireland   31 Morning Post locked onto his comment that ‘the Age of CHIVALRY is gone’ in precisely this context: The streets of Dublin would now bring to his exuberant imagination an idea that the AGE of CHIVALRY was reviven, after a sleep of some centuries; but he would not agree that it was altogether so cheap a defence. Every second coat he shou’d meet in the street he would discover, even without the help of his spectacles, to be a red one, and he would see such a profusion of plumage, nodding over the heads of the illustrious warriors, with a profusion of banners at every step, that he must suppose himself amongst a nation of Knight Errants.94

This may have been unfair, as Burke was himself uneasy about ‘the colonial garrison in Ireland’. And along with Fox and Sheridan he was very critical of the policies of the Protestant Ascendancy in the 1790s, views most notably enshrined in his Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe (1792).95 However, as we have seen, he had grave doubts about volunteering, and was even more concerned by political crowds. Both exhibited a heightened form of masculinity, which Burke himself had connected with energy and terror in his Enquiry.96 Burke and the French Revolution: (iii) Burke and Whiggism For sections of the Irish press Burke’s position on the American War was trumped by Paine’s. The latter’s Common Sense (1776) was printed in the Dublin Morning Post in the 1790s, and it is important to note that the debate between Burke and Paine on the French Revolution was not just about the 1790s, but had a lengthy back-story that Irish readers comprehended. As late as August 1790 the gentleman of the bar of the north east of Ireland, at their assizes, were toasting the pantheon of Whig heroes including ‘The memory of Algernon Sydney’, ‘The memory of Lord Russell’, and in the Irish context ‘The Free Citizens of Dublin’, ‘The Northern Whigs’ and ‘Our countryman, Edmund Burke’.97 Of course the publication of his Reflections in November changed this picture, and there was sniping at his abandonment of his ‘revolution principles’ and ‘all his Whig friends’; he was also criticized for reprobating the ‘good old Whig principle’ of the right of election.98 Burke claimed that his Whiggish constitutional position was entirely consistent with his past, and his references to the prosecution’s arguments in the impeachment of Henry Sacheverell in 1710 in An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791) should have worked in his favour in Ireland where Sacheverell was, at least for the

94 95 96

97 98

Dublin Morning Post, 23 August 1794. See Gibbons (2003a, 9). It is possible to read the French revolutionary crowds appearing in Burke as a sexual body, linked to the promiscuousness of earlier forms of Protestant dissent; see Paulson (1983, 61). Also see Corbett (1994, 880). Belfast News-Letter, 17 August 1790. Belfast News-Letter, 30 November, 10 December, 17 December 1790.

32   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe patriot press, an uncomplicated bogeyman.99 This was, of course, insufficient, as many Irish publications had moved to a position far more radical than any British parliamentarian – though the ‘Whig’ tag was still prevalent. In printing Paine’s response to Burke, the Morning Post cited the wishes of the Whigs of the Capital, a radical club led by the later United Irishmen James Napper Tandy.100 The Irish experience of the Glorious Revolution was more vivid than the English; and it could be added here, more discomforting for Burke. Hence the Dublin Morning Post cautioned that Burke’s Reflections was ‘reviving the notions of high prerogative, of the last century, which the Revolution had so completely checked, but probably did not destroy’.101 One of the most lengthy Irish responses to Burke – the series by ‘Decius’ in the Dublin Morning Post titled ‘Loose Thoughts on Mr Burke’s Letter, Addressed to the Men of Ireland’, stuck firmly to the Whig principles line. Indeed the series, excepting the title, was not particularly Irish, and would have sat easily within a more general Commonwealthman tradition. There was approval of Charles I’s defeat, and William of Orange was styled ‘our Great Deliverer’.102 One letter was a lengthy discourse on the Williamite revolution; the express purpose of which was to emphasize that ‘William the Third ascended the Throne in consequence of an express capitulation with the People’.103 Even the much more radical Press found it difficult to pull away from the Whiggish discourse that saw Burke’s actions as a betrayal of the pantheon of Whiggish patriots: ‘Glory resolve to act the Patriot part / Join Sydney’s pulse to Russell’s zealous heart.’ According to this newspaper, thanks to Burke’s betrayal, the true heirs to Russell and Sydney were Thomas Fysshe-Palmer and Thomas Muir – the Scottish radicals sentenced to transportation in 1793.104 A piece in the same paper had criticized Charles II and described the Scottish Covenanters as ‘the United Irishmen of the present day’.105 There was also much support for the conduct of Richard Price and the Revolution Society, and the anti-Catholic ethos of the latter, and its impact upon Burke, has been commented on by Conor Cruise O’Brien and Katherine O’Donnell; though, as we have seen, he had acted out the role of friend of the Glorious Revolution (and the Revolution Society) in the past (O’Brien 1992, 396; O’Donnell 2007, 417). Decius commented on ‘the absolute necessity of frequent meetings, or anniversary assemblies of the people’.106 A piece in the Belfast News-Letter also condemned Burke’s attack on Price and the Revolution Society as well as the Society for Constitutional Information, and another issue published the Society for Constitutional


Dublin Morning Post, 13 November 1790; Monk. Dublin Morning Post, 9 April 1791. 101 Dublin Morning Post, 13 November 1790. 102 Dublin Morning Post, 4 December 1790. 103 Dublin Morning Post, 14 December 1790. 104 The Press, 7 October 1797. 105 The Press, 14 October 1797. 106 Dublin Morning Post, 2 December 1790. 100

The Reception of Burke in Ireland   33 Information’s rejoinder to Burke.107 Other pieces insisted that striking at Price was equivalent to abusing John Locke, ‘the friend of our Molyneux and of mankind’,108 and there is no sense that Burke’s reading of Irish history was more palatable than that of Molyneux, notwithstanding the implications for Ireland’s Catholics (Fuchs 1996, 238). At a banquet with a strong United Irish presence in celebration of the anniversary of the French Revolution in July 1792, the company, according to the Northern Star, toasted Locke, Molyneux and Price.109 In Decius’s second letter there was hostility towards the French Catholic church and the ‘Romish whore of Babylon’.110 The approach of the Irish press to the depiction of the Catholic church in Burke’s Reflections also points to a reception characterized by a radical Whiggism, and if Burke’s treatment of the Catholic church was indeed layered, then the Irish press missed the subtleties (Blakemore and Hembree 2001, 505–20). In January 1791 the Belfast News-Letter noted that: ‘[w]hatever may be Mr Burke’s opinion as to the general consequences of the French Revolution, every rational and unprejudiced man will allow that it has been productive of at least one good effect – the deliverance of the great body of the people from ecclesiastical oppression.’111 It was a country ‘lately over-run with ridiculous monastic institutions, where a pampered, illiterate, and bigoted clergy engrossed a mighty territory’.112 But though there was a defence of the French religious orders in the Reflections (Beales 2005, 415–36), in the Irish context it should be noted that Burke saw Catholic relief as a limited and necessary constitutional reform, and did not in any way accept papal authority. He was certainly aware of the way in which a Gaelic Catholic Ireland welcome to his son on his visit to Munster could play in the ‘mischievous’ newspapers (O’Donnell 2007, 409). More problematic for Burke in an all-Ireland sense was his failure to stand against tithes, a cause of popular protest in Ireland throughout the second half of the eighteenth century. Response to Burke on this issue united criticism of both Anglican and Catholic churches: the ‘abolition of TYTHE will naturally excite the fears of all who enjoy them in these countries’; it was termed a ‘mode of providing for the Ministers of his holy religion, fraught with seeds of hatred and disunion between them and their flocks’.113


Belfast News-Letter, 16 November 1790; Belfast News-Letter, 10 June 1791. Belfast News-Letter, 10 December 1790. 109 Northern Star, 11–14 July 1791. 110 Dublin Morning Post, 4 December 1790. 111 Belfast News-Letter, 4 January 1791. 112 Belfast News-Letter, 10 December 1790. 113 Belfast News-Letter, 10 December 1790. 108

34   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Conclusion Following Burke’s death on 9 July 1797 a range of Irish newspapers carried very positive notices, obituaries and other forms of commentary. A poem published in the Belfast News-Letter, by Glaucus – address, High Street, Belfast – was one of the few pieces to go beyond the hysterical rhetoric line, and link Burke’s oratorical gifts to an Irish past: ‘No more, in wonder ‘rapt, the list’ning throng / Catch the fine accents of his tuneful tongue.’114 The Ennis Chronicle’s initial notice was tantalizing: ‘Was that eloquence, were his talents, and acquirements usefully employed?’ But the follow-up was glowing without any carping points.115 The Press – the only surviving radical organ in Ireland on Burke’s death – certainly acknowledged early greatness: ‘the fair fame of the Once celebrated EDMUND BURKE’. It is clear that Irish opinion never doubted his intellectual heft. In response to his honorary doctorate of law conferred upon him at Trinity College Dublin in December 1790, the Belfast News-Letter, described Burke as ‘the powerful advocate of the Constitution, the friend of public order, virtue and the happiness of mankind’.116 Flowing through much of the Irish commentary on Burke in the 1790s there was a recognition of his philosophical abilities, and the applicability of many of his maxims. During the turmoil in Dublin in the mid-1790s the Belfast News-Letter noted Burke’s statement in the Reflections that ‘Government, is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants’, and that in the Irish case government was most definitely not providing.117 In the Irish context he was frequently remembered as both author of the sublime and the beautiful and ‘the hero of American freedom’.118 He was also termed the ‘Champion of the East’, a reference to his role in the Hastings trial.119 And these intellectual and political contributions were seen as high water marks in his career, betrayed by his response to the French Revolution. As the Dublin Morning Post put it: ‘Alas! Poor Burke! How fallen is the sublime! How hurled from reason’s throne by a false zeal!’120 So, the most positive views on Burke in the patriot press were ‘before his fall’. In this interpretation, the French Revolution was the point of transformation – ‘his disgraceful apostacy’ – and also the cause of ‘the cankering remorse that rapidly brought him to the grave’.121 On Burke’s part, there were moments of remorse. He regretted the swinish multitude comment, and claimed that he had not meant the British ‘piggen-riggen’. A sense that Burke had somehow lost his reason during this period was reflected in a reference in the Belfast News-Letter to the ‘Swinish


Belfast News-Letter, 28 July 1797. Ennis Chronicle, 17 July 1797; Ennis Chronicle, 20 July 1797. 116 Belfast News-Letter, 14 December 1790. 117 Belfast News-Letter, 24 August 1795. 118 Dublin Morning Post, 17 January 1793. 119 Dublin Morning Post, 14 December 1790. 120 Dublin Morning Post, 17 January 1793. 121 The Press, 21 October 1797. 115

The Reception of Burke in Ireland   35 Multitude of poor Burke’.122 After the Revolution the dominant image of Burke was of one who has suffered ‘his passions and vehemence of temper to pervert his abilities to improper ends’.123 This was the Dublin Morning Post, but the Belfast News-Letter struck a similar note: ‘The eccentricities and fantastic wanderings of Mr Burke, give just cause of mortification to human pride, and may teach the most elevated genius humility; as they prove that the greatest powers of mind must cease to command applause, in the instant that the still voice of reason is silenced by the intemperance of passion.’124 In this sense Burke’s unreason was a product of his betrayal of Enlightenment principles. In the Irish context the Enlightenment was heading in two directions, but Burke’s claim to an important element of its Irish future through his criticism of the Protestant ascendancy was largely ignored by the radical press. Postcolonial criticism has an inbuilt antagonism towards the Enlightenment, and it has been carried on to its logical endpoint in relation to Burke’s career by Luke Gibbons. But aside from the theoretical wrangling, if we look at the Burke of the 1790s through the lens of the Irish patriot press then it is clear that he is condemned as the enemy of the Enlightenment. The Dublin Morning Post lined up Voltaire and Hugh Blair against him; the Belfast News-Letter Montesquieu.125 A choice section from Voltaire printed in the Dublin Morning Post, with Burke in mind, condemned the Anglican church’s attachment to its tithes.126 Burke’s writings were described, after Voltaire, as ‘a work of eloquent false reasonings’.127 The Belfast News-Letter published a response to Burke which noted that from him one would ‘hardly have expected that violent and somewhat illiberal attack on the philosophers and men of letters in France which your book contains’. ‘Do you really’, it said, ‘in your cooler judgment, believe, that this world has gained nothing by their labours?’128 This was the point perhaps – that Burke had betrayed his enlightened past; he was, after all, an admirer of Montesquieu, and most likely influenced by Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson (Fuchs 1996, 200). After his death he was still described in the Belfast News-Letter as one capable of leading the enlightened through the force of his oratory,129 and there is a sense in some newspapers that his arguments were ultimately based on reason and evidence, a point recently re-emphasized by F. P. Lock (2006, 157). Elsewhere, however, it was claimed that his style prevented scientific enquiry: ‘For philosophical research, his faculties are less


Belfast News-Letter, 25 June 1793. Dublin Morning Poste, 14 December 1790. 124 Belfast News-Letter, 7 June 1791. 125 Dublin Morning Post, 21 December 1790; Belfast News-Letter, 10 December 1790. 126 Dublin Morning Post, 21 December 1790; Voltaire’s reference to tithes was not, however, sympathetic to Catholic communities – quite the opposite, he saw it as one among the ‘great number of the Romish Ceremonies’ that the Anglican church had retained (Voltaire 1759, 25). The Dublin Morning Post version was slightly different in phrasing – but the meaning was the same. 127 Dublin Morning Post, 13 January 1794. 128 Belfast News-Letter, 21 December 1790. 129 Belfast News-Letter, 28 July 1797. 123

36   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe fit.’130 Of course in many ways Burke would have been content to be defined against some of these philosophers – as he put it, ‘We are not the converts of Rousseau; we are not the disciples of Voltaire; Helvetius has made no progress amongst us’ (1865–67, 345) – but their importance to a new generation of Irish radicals makes any reading of Burke or even the Reflections in a national, Irish, sense complicated. Much effort has been made in recent historiography to uncover a radical, Irish, Gaelic even, Burke. And there are ways of incorporating this reading into a press study of his reception – if Gaelic, Jacobite tinged then it stands to reason that Burke’s impassioned treatment of Marie Antoinette would have rubbed up the Irish press the wrong way (O’Donnell 2007, 405). The difficulty is that ‘old’-Whiggism can be traced both backwards to Burke’s former self, and forwards to the radical groups, and their publications, that forged the rebellion of 1798. In other words there is no easy way of reconciling older, ancestral pulls on Burke.131 Dublin’s public sphere had other uses for him. When the reception of Burke is considered in the pages of Irish patriotic newspapers at the end of the eighteenth century, it is evident that although there was much keening for his older more oppositional rhetoric, this was almost always couched in the language of manly Whiggism. Burke had betrayed both wits like Swift and Johnson (though the latter remarked ‘Burke never once made a good joke)132 and great Commonwealthmen such as Russell and Sydney. The Irish press – even very radical organs – were happy to combine praise for Burke as an enlightened figure defending local liberties, with the contradictory Whiggish position. If a thread can be found linking the various takes on Burke, then it is the discourse on manliness. Though his work on the sublime and the beautiful could be disengaged and lauded for its intellectual worth, it was just too easy for hack writers – and more serious philosophes – to link the emotional themes to the passionate rhetoric in the Reflections. Of course this reception of Burke is of a limited kind. Irish newspapers cannot be seen as being particularly reflective of public opinion outside of their predominantly urban constituencies. In many ways they were more reflective of a general pan-British Whiggism – a matter that is not surprising when we note the ways in which editorial staff criss-crossed the Irish Sea. William Bingley of the Wilkite North Briton contributed to Ireland’s Volunteers’ Journal, as did John Williams, better known as Anthony Pasquin, a one-time writer on Henry Bate’s Morning Herald. This perhaps gives a clue as to reasons behind the consistency in political thought on view in Irish newspapers, even through the revolutionary 1790s. Bingley and Williams wrote for two of the more obviously Whiggish journals on view in late eighteenth-century England, and yet went on to contribute copy to a radical Irish newspaper


Belfast News-Letter, 19 August 1796, taken from The Monthly Review, July 1796. Ian Crowe argues that the imaginativeness of Burke’s thought enabled him to ‘merge his Irish Whiggery so powerfully with the mainstream of eighteenthcentury political discourse’ (2005, 3) 132 Belfast News-Letter, 13 December 1785, extract from James Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson (1785). 131

The Reception of Burke in Ireland   37 printed by a Catholic. If we are thinking about (equally constant) views on Burke, then it is clear that the dominance of a Whiggism infused by the politics of Junius and Wilkes in the 1770s and 1780s meant that there was little room – in the press at least – for alternative enlightenments. However it is important not simply to see a Whiggish, hegemonic, enlightenment as the antithesis of an Irish national Burke.133 Rather Burke, willing or unwilling, was a part of it.134 David Hume might have accused him of being a party man on the Catholic question, and 1641 in particular (Bisset 1798, 195–97), but for much of his career he was another party man – a Rockingham Whig – and his reception in Ireland was defined to a great extent by his loyalty to, and betrayal of, this position.

133 134

Clare Connolly offers an interesting take on the ‘divided’ Burke (2008, 114–31) From a different perspective, Wallace suggests that there is a close relationship between Burke’s reverence for the constitution of 1688 and his experience of the Irish Jacobite tradition (2006, 140).



The Paradoxes of Edmund Burke’s Reception in America, 1757–17901 Mark G. Spencer

Historians have not ignored the topic of Edmund Burke’s (1729–97) American reception. Indeed, they have frequently – at times intensively – investigated Burke’s post-1790 American reception. They have looked most often to the American impact of Burke’s most famous book, his Reflections on the Revolution in France (London, 1790). That story is an interesting one, with dimensions informing American thought and culture through to the end of the nineteenth century. Burke’s bitter attack on what he predicted would be the excesses of the French Revolution became well known to nineteenthcentury Americans.2 What might be styled as Burke’s ‘conservative impact’ is evident from the 1790s, and intensified during the decades leading up to the American Civil War. Burke left an impression with figures such as John C. Calhoun (1782–1850), James Buchanan (1791–1868) and Rufus Choate (1799–1859), but also on a string of secondary philosophers, lawyers, politicians and intellectuals of various stripes such as Robert Y. Hayne (1791–1839) and Orestes Augustus Brownson (1803–76), among many others.3 As Seamus Deane has put it in a recent essay entitled ‘Burke in the United States’, Burke has ‘long retained a special position [in America] as the defender of 1



The author is grateful to the book’s editors for their helpful comments on his chapter. He also wishes to thank Roger L. Emerson, Craig Hanyan, Adam Nadeau, John Sainsbury, Wayne Thorpe and F. L. van Holthoon for reading various drafts and offering many improvements. Jonathan Boucher’s references to Burke’s Reflections and his Letters on a Regicide Peace, added to the 1797 revised edition of Boucher (1797) – a book dedicated to George Washington – is representative of the wider reception in America of Burke as a conservative critic of the French Revolution. For a guide to some of the historiography published before 1994, see Cowie (1994); however, much has been published since then. For Burke’s post-1790 American reception, see, in particular, Anders and Fisch (1939); Howe (1979); Belz (2000); Tate (2005); Connolly (2009); and, more recently, Deane (2012); and Macaig (2013).

40   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe a specifically Christian society against a desolating modernity’ (Deane 2012, 222). But what of Burke’s reception in pre-1790 America? Here, the historiography is far more sporadic, and even divided.4 The historical record is somewhat more evasive and at times even illusive; but there is an equally interesting story to tell. What early Americans made of Burke was informed by what Burke made of early America. And, from an early date, long before talk of an ‘American crisis’ in the 1760s and 1770s, America had had a place in Burke’s mind – perhaps even in his heart. When he first began to think about America is not clear, but by the mid-1750s a young Burke was seriously considering that he might move there. In his twenties, having given up on the study of law at the Middle Temple in London and uncertain of what direction his life would take, America was tempting; it may have offered a safe distance from the wrath of a displeased Irish father. Writing in the summer of 1757 to his good friend Richard Shackleton (1726–92), Burke remarked that his life was ‘chequered with various designs’ including ‘shortly please God, to be in America’.5 While no concrete action came of these designs, Burke would give sustained attention to American affairs in his writings over the next twenty years. By 1777, Burke could write in the opening lines of his ‘A Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol on the Affairs of America’: ‘I THINK I KNOW AMERICA – if I do not, my ignorance is incurable, for I have spared no pains to understand it.’6 From 1757 to 1777, as Burke had come to know America, America had also come to know Burke. In 1757 Burke was one of two anonymous co-authors of An Account of the European Settlements in America. That book, written in the context of the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), was primarily intended to bring American history to a British audience. It is a wide-ranging history in seven parts but centred on one theme: commerce. As the first line of the preface explained: The affairs of America have lately engaged a great deal of the public attention. Before the present war, there were but a very few who made the history of that




Most often the approach has been to assess Burke’s understanding of the ‘American crisis’, rather than to illuminate Burke’s American reception. As Harry T. Dickinson explains, ‘Modern scholars … are divided over Burke’s response to the American crisis. Some maintain that Burke was well informed about American affairs … Other scholars have argued that Burke never really fully appreciated the American position’ (Dickinson 2012, 156). See e.g. Ritcheson (1976). Corr. 1:123, Edmund Burke to Richard Shackleton [10 August 1757]. In a note in the Correspondence, Copeland explains that William Dennis, a mutual friend of the two correspondents, had written to Shackleton on 5 August 1757 that Burke’s ‘purpose for America holds’ (1:124 n.2). The thought was evidently still on his mind in 1761. Burke asked an Irish friend: ‘When you look at the Atlantick ocean do you think of America? In our old fabulous History I think I have read that the Prophet Moses advised the antient Scots to go as far Westward as possible; is this good advice to their posterity?’ (1:141, Burke to Charles O’Hara [10 July 1761]). For speculation on some of the possible reasons behind Burke’s ‘designs’ for America, see Lock (1998, 126). Reprinted in Kramnick (1999).

The Paradoxes of Edmund Burke’s Reception in America, 1757–1790   41 quarter of the world any part of their study; though the matter is certainly very curious itself, and extremely interesting to us, as a trading people (Burke 1839, 9:1).

It is now known that the Account was the product of collaboration between Burke and his close friend, his ‘cousin’, William Burke (1729–93). Scholars continue to debate which sections of the Account were written by which Burke, but it is widely agreed that Edmund was heavily involved throughout.7 What has not been so widely appreciated is that the Account circulated in colonial America from an early date, and with some discernable consequences.8 James Rivington (1724–1802), an English-born American bookseller and publisher, offered the Account for sale in New York in 1762. His book-selling partner, Samuel Brown, did the same in Philadelphia.9 More importantly, perhaps, The Library Company of Philadelphia – the brainchild of Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) – had the two-volume set on its shelves by 1765.10 How many colonists purchased the Account or borrowed it from the shelves of America’s most celebrated library? We do not know, but that it was available at all suggests it was of interest to some. We do know that at least one eighteenthcentury Philadelphian not only read the Account but discussed it in print and quoted it. Anthony Benezet (1713–84), a French-born American Quaker and an early abolitionist of considerable note, quoted it extensively in his A Caution and Warning to Great Britain, and Her Colonies, in a short representation of the calamitous state of the Enslaved Negroes in the British Dominions (1766). First published in Philadelphia, Benezet’s Caution and Warning was itself quite popular, being reprinted several times in America and also in London.11 Benezet wrote, near the beginning of his pamphlet, that, by referring to ‘authors of note’, he would aim to demonstrate that slavery ‘is inconsistent with the plainest precepts of the gospel, the dictates of reason, and every common sentiment of humanity’ (1766, 4). The very first work by an ‘author of note’ to which Benezet turned was the Account: ‘In an Account of the European Settlements in America, published in London in 1757’, wrote Benezet, ‘the author’ writes the following on the topic of slavery:



9 10 11

See Lock (1998, 126–41). J. C. D. Clark’s statement that ‘Little in [Burke’s] writings or speeches published before 1775 bore on America’ (2005, 79) needs to be ignored or qualified in the light of the Account, and also when Burke’s contributions to The Annual Register are taken into account, as they are below. There has been relatively little work on the early American dissemination of Burke’s writings. Lundberg and May (1976) include Burke in their statistical assessment, however, they do not consider the Account. That is only one of the shortcomings of their study when it comes to tracing Burke’s reception in early America. Burke also does not register in Lutz (1984). See Rivington and Brown (1762, 38). See Franklin and Hall (1765, 111). Those reprintings included ones in Philadelphia, in 1767 and 1784, and in London, in 1767 and 1785. The Caution and Warning was also issued in Benezet (1773), a volume that was also reprinted in the eighteenth century. My quotations below are drawn from the first Philadelphia edition of 1766.

42   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe The Negroes in our Colonies endure a Slavery more compleat and attended with far worse Circumstances, than what any people in their condition suffer in any other part of the world, or have suffered in any other period of time: proofs of this are not wanting. The prodigious waste which we experience in this unhappy part of our species, is a full and melancholy evidence of this truth. The island of Barbados, (the Negroes upon which do not amount to eighty thousand) notwithstanding all the means which they use to encrease them by propagation, and that the climate is in every respect (except that of being more wholesome) exactly resembling the climate from whence they come; not withstanding all this, Barbados lies under a necessity of an annual recruit of five thousand slaves, to keep up the stock at the number I have mentioned. This prodigious failure, which is at least in the same proportion in all our Islands, shews demonstratively that some uncommon and unsupportable hardship lies upon the Negroes, which wears them down in such a surprising manner; and this, I imagine, is principally the excessive labour which they undergo. (1766, 5)

Did Anthony Benezet know he was here quoting Edmund Burke? Probably not. The Account was not typically known to be Burke’s by his British contemporaries at that time and it is doubtful that colonial Americans knew anything more. However, Burke’s thought was to become much better known to eighteenth-century Americans through other writings which they knew to be his. Some scholars have argued that Burke’s name was suggested by the Secretary of the Board of Trade, John Pownall (1720–95), as a possible Agent for the Assembly of New York as early as 1761.12 (Burke eventually held that post, but not until 1771). If that was the case – it is less than certain because Pownall wrote of a ‘Thomas’ Burke – then the reply he received from Council President Cadwallader Colden (1688–1776) suggests Burke was not then well known in New York. Colden wrote of the Burke in question: ‘There is a difficulty, he is not so much as known by name to any person in this place or in what state he stands. But I hope the character you have given him and his being your friend will be sufficient to remove all difficulties.’13 Regardless of whether or not Colden was here commenting on Edmund Burke, on the whole, the available evidence suggests that Burke’s name was not widely known in New York or any other American colony in the early 1760s. Still, some Americans were reading Burke and quoting him, and not only from An Account of the European Settlements in America. Burke’s thought also circulated through his work as the primary editor and a prodigious contributor to The Annual Register. Published in London by the brothers Robert (1704–64) and James Dodsley (1724–97), the first number of The Annual Register appeared in 1758, two years before the accession of George III. American affairs figure prominently in The Annual Register from 1758 and increasingly so as the American crisis developed. From its inception, The Annual Register was popular in America, as it was elsewhere in the British Atlantic world.14 But, here again, the impact of an anonymous author is

12 13 14

See, in particular, Stebbins (1903). For an alternate and more convincing view, see Hoffman (1956, 16–17). Quoted in Stebbins (1903, 89). Lundburg and May’s study does not consider this publication either. On the early

The Paradoxes of Edmund Burke’s Reception in America, 1757–1790   43 difficult to trace with precision. There are many direct references to The Annual Register in eighteenth-century American publications, but it is also the type of material that was frequently read without particular notice.15 Indeed, it was sometimes even used without particular notice. American historians plagiarized shamelessly from Burke’s ‘Historical Accounts’ when they came to give ‘their’ accounts of the American Revolution in the early years of the Republic, as we shall see. But first, did colonial Americans know Burke as the author of two other volumes that he had published in the 1750s: A Vindication of Natural Society (London, 1756) or A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (London, 1757)? The first American reference found to either of these works is from 1762. That is the year in which Noel Garrat (1707–76), a New York bookseller, offered for sale in his annual catalogue, ‘Bourke [sic], on the Sublime and Beautiful’ (1762, 9).16 We also know that, about this same time, John Adams (1735–1826), who would soon be one of America’s most famous revolutionaries, was reading Burke on the sublime and beautiful. He tells us that others in New England were too.17 Adams recorded in his diary in early 1763 that many Americans read Burke’s book but that they did not agree with all that they read: ‘the Chapter upon Sympathy, they all disapprove. The Author says we have a real Pleasure in the Distresses and Misfortunes of others. Mem. To write a Letter to Sewal or Quincy, or Lowell on the subject of that Chapter’ (Butterfield 1962, 1:234). While some enlightened Americans, such as John Adams, were intrigued by Burke’s moral and philosophical thought, it was Burke’s political writings and career that were at the heart of his reception in eighteenth-century America. It is to this context that we should now turn. Burke’s political career had begun in the 1750s but hit full stride in 1765 with his appointment as private secretary to Charles Watson-Wentworth, second Marquess of Rockingham (1730–82). As the Burke scholar Frederick A. Dreyer put it, ‘Henceforth, Burke devoted himself entirely to politics’.18



17 18

popularity and dissemination of The Annual Register and Burke’s part therein, see the essays ‘A Career in Journalism’ and ‘A Body of Anonymous Writings’ in Copeland (1970); see also McLoughlin (1975); and Todd (1961). The Annual Register’s account of the War for American Independence had a particularly large audience in America. One indication of this is that it was serially reprinted, including in the South Carolina and American Gazette in 1778 and 1779. As well, in 1785, Thomas Jefferson remarked in a letter to David Ramsay that the account of the American Revolutionary War found in The Annual Register was the best that Great Britain would produce. Lundburg and May (1976) do include Burke’s Philosophical Essays in their study, finding it in seven of ninety-two colonial libraries and then, impressively, in twenty-four of the twenty-nine library catalogues they surveyed for the period of 1777–90. That latter figure is equal to John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government for the same period. See Barker-Benfield (2010, 37). On some of the similarities, and differences, between Adams and Burke, see Ripley (1965). For a book-length study of this core idea, see Dreyer (1979).

44   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Elected a Member of Parliament for Wendover in December 1765, Burke was one of the so-called Rockingham Whigs and the record established as their spokesman suggests that is the guise in which Americans of the 1760s came to know him best of all. With his reputation rising in Britain, Burke’s name was frequently mentioned in parliamentary lists and similar registers printed in colonial American almanacs and newspapers. A representative example would be when John Fleeming’s [or Fleming] Boston almanac included ‘Burke Edmund Wendover’ in its ‘Alphabetical LIST of the House of COMMONS’ (1771, 35). Burke’s first significant political pamphlet, probably published in 1762, was on Irish problems. That would have appealed to some in America. The second was published soon after his election to Parliament. A Short Account of a Late Short Administration (1766) offered a defence of Rockingham’s administration of 1765–66. Burke wrote that under Rockingham’s administration, the ‘passions and animosities of the colonies, by judicious and lenient measures, were allayed and composed, and the foundation laid for a lasting agreement amongst them’ (Burke 1839, 1:208). Surprisingly, perhaps, Burke’s Short Account does not appear to have been immediately or often discussed in print in America in the 1760s. However, there is evidence that it would be discussed in some circles as American resistance to imperial policy became a revolutionary movement in the 1770s. In 1774, John Adams would write to his wife, Abigail (1744–1818), describing a dinner party he had attended: ‘Mr. Collector Francis Waldo, Esqr. in Company with Mr. Winthrop, the two Quincys and the two Sullivans. All very social and chearfull – full of Politicks. S. Quincy’s Tongue ran as fast as any Bodies.’ What had Samuel Quincy’s (1734–89) fast tongue said? Adams tells us: ‘He was clear in it, that the House of Commons had no Right to take Money out of our Pocketts, any more than any foreign State – repeated large Paragraphs from a Publication of Mr. Burke’s in 1766, and large Paragraphs from Junius Americanus &c’ (Butterfield 1963, 1:131).19 As Burke became widely known as a British politician who opposed American taxation, the way was opened for him to become a celebrated friend of what was becoming an American Revolutionary cause. Frustratingly, American Revolutionaries did not often leave clear indications of how they were reading Burke. What evidence exists suggests they found a much different Burke than the conservative (or Romantic) one known by Americans in the nineteenth century. While modern commentators question whether Burke knew the American colonial situation well, Burke’s American contemporaries had no doubt that he did. Early American newspapers of the 1760s and 1770s are replete with references to Burke. There, Burke is often mentioned in columns reporting the news from ‘London’. So, for instance, The Boston Post-Boy reported, mistakenly, 19

John Adams to Abigail Adams [7 July 1774]. Butterfield explains in a note: ‘Edmund Burke published in 1766 “A Short Account of a Late Short Administration,” a manifesto of the Rockingham Whigs. “Junius Americanus” was a pen name used by Arthur Lee in contributing political pieces to the London papers’ (1:134 n.4).

The Paradoxes of Edmund Burke’s Reception in America, 1757–1790   45 that Burke was one of those to be ‘included in the intended new Ministry’.20 As was frequently the case with eighteenth-century newspapers, once printed a story was often reprinted, even in identical words; in this case by the end of the year in newspapers from New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts.21 Burke’s contributions to the debates in the House of Commons were also reprinted in colonial newspapers, such as in a Boston Chronicle article of 1769,22 and praised, such as when the Chronicle reported that ‘Mr. Burke, member for Wendover … spoke for near an hour, in a pure eloquent and rhetorical manner, truly Ciceronian, which he is well known to be master of ’.23 By 18 March 1769, the New York Gazette could report the meeting of ‘a company of gentlemen’ who drank toasts to celebrate the third anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Tax. Edmund Burke, ‘an asserter of American rights’, was one of those to whom they drank.24 In short, the Burke defined in American print culture of the 1760s was one who increasingly was being cast as a celebrated friend of the American colonial cause. In 1769 Burke published Observations on a Late Publication Entitled ‘The Present State of the Nation’, an attack on William Knox’s (1732–1810) pamphlet of the previous year.25 Here, Burke elaborated on his defence of the Rockingham administration’s 1766 repeal of the Stamp Tax of 1765. The Stamp Tax, wrote Burke, was designed to ‘let loose that dangerous spirit of disquisition, not in the coolness of philosophical inquiry, but inflamed with all the passions of a haughty resentful people, who thought themselves deeply injured, and that they were contending for everything that was valuable in the world’ (Burke 1839, 1:307).26 Burke argued in words that get to the heart of his thoughts on the American Revolution. In essence, he ‘maintained that real consequences and practical circumstances ought to be at the forefront of Britain’s policy toward her American colonies’ (Spencer 2006). Burke wrote:

20 21

22 23

24 25 26

‘LONDON, Sept. 19’, The Boston Post-Boy, 534 (9 November 1767): [2]. See ‘London’, New-York Mercury, 837 (16 November 1767): [2]; New-York Gazette, or Weekly Post-Boy, 1298 (19 November 1767): [2]; ‘London, September 12’, Pennsylvania Gazette, 2030 (Philadelphia, PA): [2]; ‘London, September 9’, New-York Journal, 1299, Supplement: [1]; Connecticut Journal, 7 (4 December 1767): [1]; Boston Evening Post, 1683 (28 December 1767): [2]. Boston Chronicle, 2.10: 78. ‘Extract of a Letter from Hague, Aug. 29’, Boston Chronicle, 11.47 (Thursday 16 November–Monday 20 November 1769): 376. This piece was reprinted in the New-York Gazette, and Weekly Mercury, 944 (27 November 1769): [2]; ‘London, September 8’, New-York Journal, 1404 (30 November 1769): 2. In the late 1760s, when he travelled to Britain, Benjamin Rush (1746–1813) recorded that he ‘attended the House of Commons, and there saw the celebrated speakers Col. Barre and Mr. Burke’ (Corner 1948, 65). See Hoffman (1956, 101). See also Boston Chronicle, 11.16 (Thursday 13 April– Monday 17 April 1769): 122. For Knox’s Present State of the Nation (1768), see Bellot (1999); see also Lock (1998, 259–64). Much of what Burke wrote served party ends. To his pragmatic American readers that did not appear to matter all that much, although perhaps to some it did.

46   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Whoever goes about to reason on any part of the policy of this country with regard to America, upon the mere abstract principles of government, or even upon those of our own ancient constitution, will be often misled. Those who resort for arguments to the most respectable authorities, ancient or modern, or rest upon the clearest maxims, drawn from the experience of other states and empires, will be liable to the greatest errors imaginable. The object is wholly new in the world. It is singular: it is grown up to this magnitude and importance within the memory of man; nothing in history is parallel to it. All the reasonings about it, that are likely to be at all solid, must be drawn from its actual circumstances. (1839, 1:314–15)

For Burke, the American crisis was unique because the American colonists were unique in their history and present circumstances; and, therefore, unique solutions ought to be sought. Part of the power of Burke’s message here is, as Daniel Hitchens puts it, that he ‘changes the subject from “America” as an “object” to its “people” with their particular nature’ (2013). Little wonder that colonial American newspapers reprinted Burke’s speeches and regarded him as a ‘celebrated’ orator who saw that the Americans are contending only for an inalienable right; the right of taxing themselves, which is inseparable from every country that boasts the least degree of freedom. When they crossed the Atlantic, they did not give up the rights of Englishmen … On the contrary, they shifted their abode in order to breathe a freer air, and to give full scope to that independent, that unconquerable spirit, with which they are still animated.27

It is almost as though from 1757 to 1770 Burke had come to know America so well that he could attempt to write as if he saw things through colonial American eyes. While not the sort of conclusion that can easily be proved, it is tempting to speculate that part of the explanation of his achievements lies in Burke’s early designs to go to America. Burke was able to appreciate deeply the imperial crisis and attempt to formulate his reconciling position from the perspective of an American, in part, because as a young man he had in his mind transported himself across the Atlantic when he considered migrating there to seek his own freer air. In 1771 the parameters of Burke’s American reception were to change again when he accepted an offer to serve as Agent for the General Assembly of the Province of New York. News of Burke’s appointment soon made its way into print in America. The New York General Assembly recorded its resolution: That Edmund Burke, Esq; of London, be, and hereby is appointed agent for this colony to the Court of Great-Britain, in the Room of Robert Charles, Esq; deceased, and that for his services as such, there be allowed to him the said Edmund Burke, Esq; at the rate of five hundred pounds per annum.28 27 28

New York Gazette, 30 April 1770; see Hoffman (1956, 101). Journal of the votes and proceedings of the General Assembly of the colony of New-York (1771), 18. For miscellaneous reporting of Burke’s activities as a public officer, see for instance, New York (State) (1773), 3; Journal of the votes … (1773), 6; Gaine’s universal register (1774), 98; Gaine’s universal register (1775), 44, 109. The New York

The Paradoxes of Edmund Burke’s Reception in America, 1757–1790   47 The Assembly’s appreciation of Burke’s work on their behalf also comes through at various times. A typical expression of this is found in a record for 15 March 1775, when the Assembly resolved: That it is the opinion of this committee, that there be allowed unto Edmund Burke, Esq. agent of this colony in Great Britain, as a reward for his care, trouble and diligence in attending upon his Majesty and his ministers of state, in that station, from and to the time aforesaid, after the rate of £500 per annum … and also the further sum of £140 for the contingent charges of the said agent.

No doubt Burke’s term as colonial agent influenced his reception with the colonial elite in New York. So too would the circulation of his political writings and speeches, words read by many more beyond the elite. Burke’s Thoughts on the Present Discontents (1770) is an important work informing Burke’s reception in early America. As Bernard Bailyn has perceptively remarked, Burke’s Thoughts was ‘particularly relevant to the American situation, for the apprehension that dominates that piece is in essence interchangeable with that of innumerable Revolutionary writers’ (1967, 146). The key place of that set of ideas to Bailyn’s influential understanding of the American Revolution ought not to be understated. As Burke had put it in 1769: ‘The Americans have made a discovery, or think they have made one, that we mean to oppress them: we have made a discovery, or think we have made one, that they intend to rise in rebellion against us […] we know not how to advance; they know not how to retreat […] Some party must give way.’29 As we have seen, Burke’s celebrity as an orator was evident in America as early as the 1760s. That reputation continued to grow in the 1770s. So, for instance, in New York, James Rivington included Burke’s name in ‘A List of principal Orators who have distinguished themselves at the Head of the Minority in the lower House of Parliament’ in his 1774 almanac, which was designed for ‘gentleman’ as well as ‘ladies’.30 In the years leading up to the outbreak of their Revolution, Americans eagerly sought out British editions of Burke’s speeches and they also printed their own editions. In 1775, the third edition of Speech of Edmund Burke, Esq; on American Taxation, April 19, 1774 was reprinted by Rivington in New York, and by Benjamin Towne (?–1793) in Philadelphia.31 That same year, Rivington reprinted The Speech of Edmund Burke, Esquire, on moving his Resolutions for Reconciliation with the

29 30


Journal reported on 9 May 1771: ‘Mr. Burke hath accepted the Agency of New York.’ Quoted in Bailyn (1967, 158–59). Rivington’s … Almanack (1773), 31. That year, Benjamin Franklin, America’s most famous revolutionary, struck up a correspondence with Burke. Franklin, like Burke, was a colonial Agent. Franklin’s first extant letter to Burke, of 19 December 1774, was related to those shared interests (Corr. 3:80–81). Between 1774 and 1782 Franklin and Burke exchanged at least eight letters, as that number have survived. Rivington had advertised his edition of Burke’s taxation speech on the final page of Arthur Lee (1775, 32).

48   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Colonies, March 22d, 1775 (New York, 1775). The degree to which Burke was at the core of Rivington’s publishing enterprise can be seen by the prominent place of Rivington’s reprintings of Burke’s works in the New Yorker’s advertisements.32 Burke’s ‘Conciliation’ speech was also reprinted in American newspapers. Sometimes it was even serialized as when the Pennsylvania Evening Post published its multi-issue reprinting: The speeches in the last session of the present Parliament, delivered by several of the principal advocates in the House of Commons, in favour of the rights of America … With the speech of Mr. Edmund Burke, in favour of the Protestant dissenters, in the second Parliament of George the 3d. If Burke was virtually unknown to Americans in 1757, by the time of the outbreak of the American War of Independence, he was the celebrated Edmund Burke, Esq.33 By the end of 1775, Burke’s speech was being advertised as ‘The CELEBRATED SPEECH of EDMUND BURKE, Esq. On moving his Resolutions for Conciliation with the Colonies, March 22, 1775’. It was touted in words of praise such as this: ‘The above is one of the most masterly speeches ever pronounced in a British House of Commons’ (Hutchins 1776, 3). Part of what is interesting here is to see Burke’s efforts at conciliation in the context of what was fast becoming a polarized factional divide. As Martin Fitzpatrick puts it in his essay on ‘England and the American Enlightenment’ in The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment, in his Speech on Conciliation with the Colonies, Burke essentially ‘argued that the colonial claims against the Westminster government were based upon English ideas and principles of liberty, and that the case for conciliation rested upon the shared social and political culture of England and America, upon ties “from kindred blood, from similar privileges, and equal protection”’.34 It is also interesting to note here that while modern commentators have often been concerned to reconcile (or not) a seeming paradox between Burke’s support of the Declaratory Act and his support of the American cause, eighteenthcentury Americans seem not to have been troubled by this. For them, there was no paradox in need of resolution.35 Eighteenth-century Americans not infrequently saw Burke in the same colours as Charles James Fox (1749–1806) and Isaac Barré (1726–1802), as one of the handful of British parliamentarians who openly voiced their support for the Americans. In America’s Appeal to The Impartial World (Hartford, 1775), Connecticut clergyman Moses Mather (1719–1806), could cast Burke as an ‘illustrious patriot’:

32 33

34 35

See, in particular, Rivington’s advertisements at the end of [James Rivington] (1775, 8). J. C. D. Clark’s foolish assessment of Burke’s ‘silence on the American Revolution’ (2005, 86) might come as a surprise to Americans who, in the 1770s, had heard Burke loud and clear. Spencer (2015, 1: 391). See Ritcheson: ‘There is therefore something of a paradox: Burke, the “champion’ of colonial liberty”; and Burke, the staunch adherent of the Declaratory Act’ (1976, 5).

The Paradoxes of Edmund Burke’s Reception in America, 1757–1790   49 I shall now proceed in the last place to consider this question in another light, viz. the equity of the demand made upon the colonies, and of the manner in which it is made. The ill policy of such measures, having in a most inimitable manner, been considered and exposed by those illustrious patriots, the earl of Chatham, Burke, Barre, the bishop of Asaph, &c. (whose names and memories no distance of place or time, will be able to obliterate from the greatful minds of the Americans) with such dignity of sentiment, energy and perspicuity of reason, such rectitude of intention, uncorruptness and candor of disposition, and with such force of elocution, as must have rendered them irresistible, only by the omnipotence of parliament. (Mather 1775, 476)

Americans not only had access to the text of Burke’s speeches, which they read for themselves, but they also read what others wrote about Burke. In Political Disquisitions: An Enquiry into Public Errors, Defects, and Abuses (London, 1774–75), James Burgh wrote that Burke was one of those who had defended Sir George Saville’s right to say that ‘This house hath betrayed the rights of the people’. Burgh remarked that Mr. Edmund Burke … with great spirit, defended Sir George Savile, and called upon the ministry to punish Sir George, if the accusation was false; and said, ‘That if a false and unjust charge had been made, the gentleman who made it ought to be sent to the Tower’: but added, ‘that the ministers were conscious of the truth of the assertion, and therefore in a tame and cowardly manner crouched under it’. He said, the people abhorred the present ministry, and asked the speaker if the chair did not tremble under him. (Burgh 1774–75, 1:479)

Burgh’s Political Disquisitions was reprinted by Robert Bell in three volumes in Philadelphia in 1775. The following year, 1776, Bell also reprinted in Philadelphia the first edition of John Cartwright’s (1740–1824) American Independence, The Interest and Glory of Great Britain. Burke did not figure large in that volume, but he did matter. Bell attached to the end of Cartwright’s text an extract from the Monthly Review’s review of the second London edition, writing, with his typical American nationalist flare: If any GENTLEMAN, possessed of the English second Edition of this Pamphlet, will be so obliging, as to favour the Printer ROBERT BELL with it, for a few days only, he will thereby render an essential service to the cause of LIBERTY and LITERATURE in AMERICA. (Cartwright 1776, 121)

The reviewer for the Monthly Review explained that the second edition had added to it ‘a copious Appendix, containing two additional Letters to the Legislature’ and ‘a Letter to Edmund Burke, Esq; controverting his Principles of American Government’ (Cartwright 1776, 121). Other references to Burke are to be found in America in the 1770s. There are occasional references to his Sublime and Beautiful, twice in Robert Bell’s catalogue for 1773: once to ‘Burke on the Sublime and Beautiful,’ octavo in gilt (1773, 15), and once as ‘Bourke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of Sublime and Beautiful – To which is added, a Vindication of Natural Society by the same Author’ (1773, 12). Harvard’s catalogue of

50   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe 1773 referred, mistakenly, to ‘Burke (William) on the sublime and Beautiful’ ([Winthrop] 1773, 8). Catalogues of the 1780s carried on that trend.36 References to Burke can be found in miscellaneous papers and various works published during the years of the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). In 1780, Samuel Cooper (1725–1783) referred to Burke in his A Sermon Preached before his Excellency John Hancock … the Senate, and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Seeing France’s Louis XVI as a potentially useful ally of the Americans, Cooper remarked that ‘The celebrated Mr. Burke, in his speech before the British house of Commons on February last’ gave praise to Louis. He went on: [W]hen speaking of some reforms in the finances and the court of France, he says, ‘The minister who does these things is a great man, but the prince who desires they should be done, is a far greater: We must do justice to our enemies; these are the acts of a patriot king.’ The friendship of such a monarch must be valuable indeed!37

The outbreak of war between Britain and America did not put an end to Burke’s correspondence with Benjamin Franklin. In one notable exchange, Burke aimed to solicit Franklin’s assistance for British General John Burgoyne (1722–92), Burke’s friend. Burke wrote to Franklin in America: If I were not fully persuaded of your Liberal and manly way of thinking, I should not presume, in the hostile situation in which I stand, to make an application to you. But in this piece of experimental Philosophy, I run no risque of Offending you. I apply, not to the Ambassador of America, but to Doctor Franklin the Philosopher; my friend, and the lover of his Species. (Corr. 4: 364–65 [15 August 1781])

Burke’s skills as a public orator continued to be praised in the colonial presses during these years too, but not always without qualification. So, for instance, in an American edition of the Letters of Thomas Lord Lyttelton, published in Philadelphia in 1782, Burke is noted for giving ‘a happy dignity to parts of his speeches, a want of which is, in general, their only defect, by the application of scriptural expressions’ (Lyttelton 1782, 39). In the 1780s, some Americans are known to have sought out Burke’s company when they visited Britain. John Adams did so in 1783, but was not impressed with his reception. Adams recorded in his Diary: Curiosity prompted me to trot about London as fast as good horses in a decent carriage could carry me. I was introduced by Mr. Harley, on a merely ceremonious visit, to the Duke of Portland, Mr. Burke, and Mr. Fox; but finding nothing but



For instance, in 1785, Thomas Seddon advertised for sale the ‘New annual register, by Edmund Burke’ as well as ‘complete sets’ in 21 volumes, The Pennsylvania Evening Herald and the American Monitor, 20 (1 October 1785): 77. ‘Burke on the sublime and beautiful’ was advertised in [Guild] (1787, 6). Reprinted in Sandoz (1990, 651).

The Paradoxes of Edmund Burke’s Reception in America, 1757–1790   51 ceremony there, I did not ask favours or receive any thing but cold formalities from ministers of state or ambassadors. (Butterfield 1962, 3:150)38

So did Samuel Chase (1741–1811), who stayed with Burke for several days.39 Burke himself sought out Americans who were in Britain, such as the prominent South Carolinian planter and merchant, Henry Laurens (1724–92). In Laurens’s case, the American praised Burke for showing him such care while he was incarcerated in the Tower of London, details we know from a letter that Laurens wrote to John Hancock (1737–93).40 In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, Burke’s various writings continued to circulate in America. The degree to which Burke was an established presence in early America, even before the publication of his Reflections on the Revolution in France, can be seen by looking to the 1789 catalogue of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Its Burke holdings are impressive. Along with ‘An account of the European settlements in America. Second edition. 2 vols. London, 1758’, which we have seen was in its collection from at least 1765, one now finds two copies of ‘Edmund Burke’s Speech on American Taxation. Third edition. London, 1775’, and also the ‘Third edition. New York, 1775’ (as well as ‘An answer to Burke’s speech on American taxation. London. 1775’), ‘Edmund Burke’s speech on moving for a conciliation with the colonies. Second edition. London, 1775’, ‘Edmund Burke’s speech on presenting to the house of commons a plan for the better securing of the independence of parliament, &c. Fourth edition. London. 1780’ (in two separate collections), ‘A representation to his majesty, moved in the house of commons by Edmund Burke, and seconded by William Windham. London, 1784’, and a complete set of ‘Dodsley’s annual register; or a view of history, politics, and literature; from the year 1758, to the year 1783. 31 vols. London’.41 Any endeavour to understand Burke’s reception in eighteenth-century America must take into account that Americans of the 1780s were themselves uncertain about the nature of the Revolution they had achieved. That searching nature is sometimes captured in their correspondence, such as the famous exchange of letters between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (1743– 1826) that centred on answering the question, as Adams styled it, ‘What was the American Revolution?’ The same searching tone is also evident in the histories that Americans wrote in the 1780s in their efforts to understand, and define, the causes, nature, and consequences of their Revolution. Of notably high quality here is The History of the American Revolution, by David Ramsay (1749–1815). Ramsay’s History is worthy of attention in a chapter on Burke’s reception in early America.42

38 39 40 41 42

Other Americans were also critical of Burke in the 1780s, including Henry Cruger, Jr (1739–1827); see Van Schaack (1859) and Lester (1999). See Horsnell (1999). See Cohen (2004, 42–43, 76). Philadelphia (1789, 35, 178, 187, 192, 194, 208). See O’Brien (1994, esp. 9).

52   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe From Orrin Grant Libby’s pioneering study published at the beginning of the twentieth century, historians have known that one of the ways in which Burke’s thought circulated in eighteenth-century America was when passages Burke contributed to The Annual Register were copied verbatim by men like Ramsay in his History of the Revolution in South-Carolina (1785) and The History of the American Revolution (1789).43 Ramsay was not alone in that regard; others too copied what was well-expressed, thought to be true and most useful.44 The plagiarism tells us something about Burke’s America reception. But Ramsay’s History of the American Revolution has other things to offer. Most noteworthy is Ramsay’s nuanced understanding of Burke’s own nuanced understanding of the American crisis.45 While modern scholars may conclude that Burke had ‘little understanding of the rapidly escalating issues in the American quarrel’ (Ritcheson 1976, 15), that is far from how Ramsay saw it. Rather, in his History of the American Revolution, Ramsay remarked that there had been a number of ‘plans for conciliation’ between America and Britain. Looking at these, by far ‘the most remarkable’ was the one that Burke put forward in his speech of 22 March 1775. Ramsay praised Burke’s Speech on Conciliation as so many in America had before him: ‘for strength of argument, extent of information, and sublimity of language’, it ‘would bear a comparison with the most finished performance that ancient or modern times have produced’. But it was the details of Burke’s argument that most caught Ramsay’s attention. That argument he summarized for his readers: In his introduction to this admirable speech, he examined and explained the natural and accidental circumstances of the colonies, with respect to situation, resources, number, population, commerce, fisheries and agriculture, and from these considerations shewed their importance. He then enquired into their unconquerable spirit of freedom; and he traced it to its original sources; from these circumstances he inferred the line of policy which should be pursued with regard to America – he shewed that all proper plans of government must be adapted to the feelings, established habits, and received opinions of the people. On these principles he reprobated all plans of governing the colonies by force; and proposed as the ground work of his plan, that the colonists should be admitted to an interest in the constitution. (Cohen 1990, 1:156)

Ramsay endorsed Burke’s understanding of the historical context of the Americans. He argued that Burke ‘contended that a communication to the members of an interest in the constitution, was the great ruling principle of British government’. Burke’s solution for the American crisis:


44 45

See Libby (1901–02). See also the ‘Foreword’ in Cohen (1990, xxx–xxxi). The most detailed assessment is found in Brunhouse (1965), esp. Appendix III, ‘Cases of Plagiarism’), which tabulates some two dozen passages in Ramsay’s History of the American Revolution that originated in Burke’s Annual Register. See Libby (1889, 1:367–88). It is also interesting to note that Ramsay was familiar with Burke on the Sublime. See his reference to that work in his letter to Benjamin Rush of 8 April 1777 (Brunhouse 1965, 55).

The Paradoxes of Edmund Burke’s Reception in America, 1757–1790   53 go back to the old policy for governing the colonies. He was for a parliamentary acknowledgment of the legal competency of the colony [sic] assemblies for the support of their government in peace, and for public aids in time of war – and of the futility of parliamentary taxation as a method of supply. He stated that much had been given in the old way of colonial grant, that from the year 1748 to 1763, the journals of the house of commons repeatedly acknowledged that the colonies not only gave, but gave to satiety; and that from the time in which parliamentary imposition had superceded the free gifts of the provinces, there was much discontent, but little revenue. He therefore moved six resolutions affirmatory of these facts, and grounded on them resolutions for repealing the acts complained of by the Americans, trusting to the liberality of their future voluntary contributions. (Cohen 1990, 1:156)

Sadly, explained Ramsay, Burke’s ‘plan of conciliation, which promised immediate peace to the whole empire, and a lasting obedience of the colonies, though recommended by the charms of the most persuasive eloquence, and supported by the most convincing arguments, was by a great majority rejected’ (Cohen 1990, 1:156–57). In other words, Burke had understood the American crisis, but most in Britain had not.46 Burke’s contribution to the American crisis and the earliest phase of his reception in early America, summarized here so nicely by Ramsay, would soon be supplanted. Burke’s American legacy was to become inextricably tangled with the controversial reception that met his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). In 1791, Burke’s Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, in consequence of some late discussions in Parliament, relative to the ‘Reflections on the French Revolution’ was reprinted in America. That same year, Hugh Gaine in New York reprinted A Letter from Mr. Burke, to a member of the National Assembly, in answer to some objections to his Book on French Affairs. Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France was reprinted in 198 pages by Hugh Gaine in 1791 and in even larger editions of 254 pages in Philadelphia in 1791 and 1792. About this time, Thomas Jefferson wrote to George Washington (1732–99) on 8 May 1791: ‘Sir, – The last week does not furnish one single public event worthy communicating to you: so that I have only to say “All is well.” Paine’s answer to Burke’s pamphlet begins to produce some squibs in our public papers. In Fenno’s paper they are Burkites, in the others, Painites’ (Peterson 1984, 977). Not long after, Charles Pigott (d.1794) in his The Female Jockey Club (London, 1794, but reprinted in New York that same year) could refer to Burke as ‘the Corinthian pillar of Aristocracy’ (Pigott 1794, 172). Burke figures significantly in the History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution (1805) by Mercy Otis Warren (1728–1814). For Warren, like Ramsay, Burke ‘always appeared to have a thorough detestation of corrupt men and measures. He advocated the cause of liberty, not only with the ability of an orator, but with an enthusiasm for the establishment of freedom in all countries’ (Cohen 1989, 2: 519). Burke ‘was the friend of 46

In the light of Ramsay’s assessment, we ought to be cautious in our acceptance of J. C. D. Clark’s suggestion that Burke had only ‘a shallow understanding of the colonies’ (Clark 2005, 81).

54   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Franklin and Laurens; corresponded with the first on American affairs, and made great exertions to mitigate the sufferings of the last, while in rigorous imprisonment’. Indeed: The celebrity of Mr. Burke for his general conduct, and his spirited speeches in favor of the rights of man, during the revolutionary war, were justly appreciated throughout America. He was admired for his oratorical talents, and beloved for the part he took in the cause of suffering individuals, either American prisoners of the oppressed in his own country. His feelings of humanity extended to the Ganges; and by his lively descriptions of the miseries of the wretched inhabitants of India, he has expanded the human heart, and drawn a tear from every compassionate eye. (Cohen 1989, 2:520)

Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France disrupted that set of appraisals. ‘Certainly, to such a man, the tribute of a tear is equally due, when he shall be beheld in the decline of life, deviating from his own principles, and drawing his energetic pen to censure and suppress the struggles for liberty in a sister kingdom’ (Cohen 1989, 2:520). Warren lamented: When we retrace the powers of the human mind, and view the gradations of the faculties, or the decline of genius, it is a humiliating reflection, that a more advanced period of life so often subtracts from the character of man, as it shone in full lustre in the meridian of his days. Perhaps in the instance before us, a deviation from the former principles might be more owing to a decline in correct political sentiment, than to any physical debility that was yet apparent … without further apology it is proper to observe, that before he finished his political drama, the world was astonished to behold Mr. Burke, fulminating his anathemas against a neighbouring nation, who were struggling with every nerve for the recovery of the freedom and the natural rights of man, of which they had long been robbed, and which had been trodden under foot, if not annihilated, by despotic kings, unprincipled nobles, and a corrupt clergy. (Cohen 1989, 2:520–21)47

The stage was set for Burke’s reception in nineteenth-century America and the seeming paradox that many historians still attempt to solve.


This did not stop Warren in her History from drawing liberally on Burke’s Annual Register as she did, without acknowledgement.


Edmund Burke and Rational Dissent Martin Fitzpatrick and Anthony Page

This essay discusses the relationship between Edmund Burke and the rational Dissenters who were an important reformist element within the British Enlightenment. The first section examines Burke’s attitude towards Dissent, especially rational Dissent; the second looks at Joseph Priestley’s perception of Burke; and the final section looks at the attitude of a provincial rational Dissenter, Samuel Kenrick, through his correspondence with his Scottish friend Rev. James Wodrow. Rational Dissenters formed a loose but powerful grouping within Protestant Dissent. They were usually highly educated, liberal in theology and many were forcefully heterodox, becoming Unitarian in theology. In politics they were reformist, covering a spectrum from moderate to radical. They were considerable self-publicists and played a major role in the media. Forming ‘a sort of cultural imperium in imperio’ (Lincoln 1938, 53), and an incipient middle class, they were subject to discriminatory laws that gave an edge to their self-understanding. During the American Revolution they would be natural allies of Burke, but subsequently they would become his natural enemies. For Burke, as L. G. Mitchell has noted, ‘religious dissent of all kinds acquired a demonic character’ (Writings and Speeches, 8:8).1 Edmund Burke (1730–1797) was born in Dublin where the majority of its inhabitants (as in the rest of Ireland) were Roman Catholics. While Burke was brought up a member of the Church of Ireland, he always looked with favour on measures for extending toleration to the Catholic community. Some believe that his father, an attorney, had converted from Catholicism to Protestantism in order to practise the law. F. P. Lock, however, in his recent two-volume biography has concluded that Burke’s father, Richard, was brought up a Protestant (1998, 26).2 Burke’s mother Mary Nagle, however, was certainly a Roman Catholic and his sister Juliana was raised and remained Catholic.3 These circumstances made Burke sensitive to the importance of 1

See also Duff (2011, 63). This remains a contentious view. O’Brien (1992, 3–13) has argued that Richard Burke did convert to Anglicanism in 1722 but was already practising as an attorney. 3 She was, according to the register of the Church of Ireland, baptized a Protestant, 2

56   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe religion, although it did not guarantee that he himself would be religious. His father, according to Burke’s school friend, Richard Shackleton (Lock 1998, 6), put worldly advancement before religion. For Burke worldly advancement was a vital concern, but never at the expense of religion, which he came to believe was essential to civilization. Shackleton was a Quaker and thus Burke’s first experience of Dissent, and it is notable that in later life he exempted Quakers from his attacks on Dissent (Lock 1998, 27). It has been suggested by those who believe that Burke’s father had converted to Protestantism for the sake of a career that this ‘permanently afflicted his son with a sense of familial guilt’ (Langford 2004). Whether true or not, however, we do not have to resort to his father’s putative apostasy to explain a sense of guilt or ambivalence toward religion, for Anglicanism in Ireland was the minority religion of a colonial power. In England, where Burke chose to pursue his career, it was the majority religion intimately bound up with the nation’s history and sense of identity. Reflecting on his youth in rural Surrey, William Cobbett wrote: ‘Our religion was that of the Church of England, to which I have ever remained attached; the more so, perhaps, as it bears the name of my country’ (1795, 21). For his part, Burke the politician would defend the Church of England to the last as essential to national unity and civilisation. If we add to this Burke’s tendency to personalize issues in which he engaged, then matters concerning church and state were exceptionally tender for him. Burke’s first sustained writing on church and state was his Tracts relating to the Popery Laws. Written in the early 1760s, the tracts were unfinished and only fragments remain. What they show, however, is Burke’s willingness at that time to use natural law and natural rights arguments to demonstrate the injustice of the penal laws concerning the Catholics, and particularly those relating to property and inheritance. After he became MP for Wendover in 1766 Burke became preoccupied with Westminster politics and usually set arguments of this sort aside – though they were always at the forefront of his views on Irish issues. In dealing with matters of church and state in Britain, Burke consistently stressed the importance of custom and circumstance, and if change were necessary it should be within existing tradition. We witness this attitude relatively early in Burke’s political career, when a movement arose to end the requirement of the clergy of the Church of England to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles that embodied the doctrine of the church, and replace subscription with a declaration of assent to the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures (Belsham 1812, 46).4 Those in favour of change were known as the Feathers Tavern Petitioners and they gathered some 200 names on the petition. These were from the latitudinarian wing of the Anglican church, and included some who were heterodox and finding it increasingly difficult to remain within the church. although she could have also been baptized into the Catholic Church. We owe this suggestion to Richard Bourke. 4 The petition also included a petition for the relief the subscription requirement in the universities; it included fifty lay signatures. See Ditchfield (1988, 45–80) and Ditchfield (2004).

Edmund Burke and Rational Dissent   57 During the parliamentary debates on the Feathers Tavern Petition in 1772 and 1774, Burke opposed any alteration in the requirement of clergy to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles.5 In 1772 he argued that the Bible was not an adequate basis for an established church, which he defined as ‘a certain system of religious doctrines and practices, fix’d and ascertained by some law’, maintained by a tax authorized ‘by the same sovereign authority’ (Cobbett 1813, 17:280 n.). While the Bible furnished ‘everything necessary to salvation’ it was inadequate as a basis for the church establishment. Indeed it was ‘one of the most miscellaneous books in the world’ (Cobbett 1813, 17:286). He summed up this view in his peroration: In short, I would have a system of religious laws, that would remain fixed and permanent, like our civil constitution, and that would preserve the body from ecclesiastical tyranny and despotism, as much at least as our code of common and statute law does the people in general; for I am convinced that the liberty of conscience contended for by the petitioners would be the forerunner of religious slavery. (Cobbett 1813, 17:288)

Burke’s speech did not go down well with Theophilus Lindsey, one of the key organizers of the Feathers Tavern Petition. He wrote of Burke’s contribution to the debate: Burke declaimed most violently against us in a long speech, but entirely like a Jesuit, and full of Popish ideas – the multifarious, strange compound of the book called the Scriptures – the uncertainty what were the Scriptures – the necessity of a priesthood – of men in society, religious as other, giving up their right of private Judgment &c. &c. (Ditchfield 2007, 124–26)6

It was thought that Burke was expressing the opinions of his patron Lord Rockingham (Ditchfield 2007, 124–26),7 but he maintained his stance when the issue was next (and finally) debated in 1774 arguing for ‘a strict estabilishment (sic), narrowly watched’ (Ditchfield 2007, 184–87).8 By that time Lindsey had left the church and joined the ranks of Dissent. Dissatisfied as he was with Burke’s attitude towards the established church, Lindsey could at least take comfort from Burke’s argument in favour of ‘the most unbounded toleration to Dissenters’ (Ditchfield 2007, 184–87). In 1772 Burke had remarked that the arguments of the petitioners and their supporters were more relevant


Here he found himself, as he wrote to Lady Huntingdon, ‘in opposition to the opinions of nearly all my own party’. Life of Countess of Huntingdon, vol. II, 287, cit. Lecky (1918–20, 4:295). 6 To William Turner of Wakefield, 7 February 1772. The previous year Burke was referred to in the press as ‘the Jesuit of St. Omer’s [the Jesuit College]’ (Lock 1998, 324). 7 Officially the Rockinghamites, led on this issue by Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond, were in favour of the petition, but Rockingham’s support was tepid (O’Gorman 1975, 290–91). 8 To William Turner of Wakefield, 5 May 1774.

58   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe to the issue of toleration for Dissenters, whose ministers tutors and schoolmasters were required to subscribe to the doctrinal articles of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Indeed, the debate gave heart to leading Dissenters and they decided to petition for their own relief from subscription. During this period, and well into the 1780s, Burke remained friendly with Dissenters and he favoured greater toleration for them, reminding MPs that toleration was not about tolerating opinions like one’s own but ‘those religious notions’ which are ‘totally different’ (Ditchfield 2007, 184–87).9 Yet if we look at his interventions on their behalf, and the causes they appeared to have in common, we can see elements in his thought that could quite easily lead him to turn against Dissenters. His speech on the Feathers Tavern Petition contained the stinging observation: ‘Dissent not satisfied with toleration, is not conscience, but ambition’ (Cobbett 1813, 17:281).10 Burke’s concerns about Dissent did not come to the fore until much later, however, and on one notable occasion, he seemed to embrace the most liberal view of religious toleration. In his speech on 17 March 1773 supporting relief for Dissenting ministers, tutors and schoolmasters from subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles, Burke at the same time betrayed his fear of atheism. Advocating broad religious freedom, and toleration for all who conscientiously dissented from the Church, he added: if dissent is at all punished in any country … it is upon a presumption, not that a man is supposed to differ conscientiously from the establishment, but that he resists truth for the sake of faction.

At this time the ‘wicked dissenters’ he had in mind were the atheists and infidels. They were ‘outlaws of the constitution; not of this country but of the human race’. He felt himself ‘sinking everyday under the attacks of these people’, and his remedy was to draw together all those who were ‘united in the belief of the great principles of the Godhead, that made and sustain the world’ (Cobbett 1813, 17:779). This speech was delivered soon after Burke had been to France, and in it we find some of the crucial ingredients of the Reflections. He had formed a generally favourable impression of French government and society. He appears to have been satisfied with the workings of the French legal system11 and was impressed by the Parisian clergy and those he met in the provinces (1790, 97). On 15 February 1773 he visited Versailles and saw Marie Antoinette – a view of her that led to a famous passage in the Reflections. If there was any danger to French society, it could be attributed to the atheism of the philosophes who


Ditchfield (2007, 184–87), Cobbett (1813, 17:436), debate on 3 April 1773 on Dissenters’ bill for abolishing subscription. 10 See also Cone (1957, 221–23). 11 Madame du Deffand commented: ‘Il va tous les jours au Palais écouter nos avocats, je ne sais s’il dit ce qu’il pense, mais il pretend en être content.’ Courtney (1975, 34), citing Marie-Anne, marquise du Deffand, Correspondance Complète¸ ed. le marquis de Sainte Aulaire (1866), II: 331–2.

Edmund Burke and Rational Dissent   59 frequented the Parisian salons, notably that of Baron d’Holbach (Courtney 1975, 35). In Reflections he claimed that a ‘literary cabal had some years ago formed something like a regular plan for the destruction of the Christian religion’. ‘A spirit of cabal, intrigue and proselytism pervaded all their thoughts, words and actions’ (1790, 97–98). He had by then come to regard rational Dissenters in the same light. In his 1773 speech there are indeed clues as to his subsequent condemnation of rational Dissent, and much that explains why rational Dissenters would feel betrayed. Yet they could hardly envisage that he would come to regard them among those who resisted ‘truth for the sake of faction’ and whose religion was not serious. They believed that Burke had resiled from his earlier declaration of toleration which embraced natural religionists and Deists, as well as those like themselves who were dependent on revealed religion but were theologically heterodox. The American Revolution In the 1770s rational Dissenters felt that Burke was very much on their side, not just regarding toleration but also on the great political issue of the day, namely the American Revolution. In 1770 Burke had been appointed Colonial Agent for New York. In that capacity, and as an MP, he did all he could to prevent the rift between the imperial government and the colonies developing into all out war. Most Dissenters, according to James Bradley, favoured the American cause, and especially rational Dissenters (1990). One of their leading luminaries, Rev. Richard Price, in his best-selling tract Observations on the Nature of Civil liberty (1776), provided a philosophical justification for American Independence: ‘every community has the right to govern itself and every man has the right to participate, in some form or other, in the government of his own country’ (Thomas 1999, 146). This was distinctly at odds with the stance of Burke and the Rockingham party, for they had asserted, in the Declaratory Act of 1766, the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament over the American Colonies. In Price’s view this constituted a species of slavery (Page 2011, 53–73). Of that act he wrote: ‘I defy anyone to express slavery in stronger language’ (Thomas 1991, 37). Burke in turn wrote in his Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol (1777) that: ‘there are people, who have split and anatomised the doctrine of free Government, as if it were an abstract question concerning metaphysical liberty and necessity; and not a matter of moral prudence and natural feeling.’12 Price was right to infer that this was, in part, aimed at him. Not long after Price published Observations on Civil Liberty in early 1776, Burke wrote to an important supporter: Let Dr Price rail at the declaratory act of 1766. His friends have so abused it, that it is but too natural. Let him rail at this declaration, as those rail at freewill who have sinned in consequence of it. (Corr. 3:254)13

12 13

Cit. in Faulkner (2005, 109). To Richard Champion [19 March 1776]; see also Faulkner (2005, 110).

60   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Yet this remained a dispute between friends. Indeed, it appears that Dissenters failed to notice or understand that Burke’s position was fundamentally different from most of those who favoured the American cause upon matters of principle (Bisset 1798, 289).14 This is less surprising when one considers that Burke himself was anxious to downplay the right of the Westminster Parliament ‘to make laws and statutes to bind the colonies’, as the Declaratory Act asserted (Thomas 1991, 37).15 In his ‘Speech on Conciliation’ (1775) he argued that America should be governed according to her ‘nature and circumstances’ and ‘not according to our own imaginations, not according to abstract ideas of right, by no means according to mere general theories of government’ (Hill 1975, 162). ‘Man’, he declared in conclusion, ‘acts from adequate motives relative to his interest, and not on metaphysical speculations’ (Hill 1975, 186). Yet if Burke did not favour the natural rights approach of Richard Price, and if he did his best to side-step the issue of sovereignty, he nevertheless seemed to be on the side of the Dissenters when he described the nature and circumstances of the Americans. As Frank O’Gorman has argued, ‘Burke displayed considerable insight into the spirit of the American people and the conditions which had formed it including traditions of protestantism, free thought, free education, and self government’ (1973, 77). In retrospect, Richard Price’s nephew and biographer, William Morgan, argued that for Burke and the Rockinghamites the principles of his uncle ‘were much too liberal for their creed’ (Thomas 2003, 29). He observed that Burke had taken occasion ‘in his Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, to censure Dr. Price’s principles on the origins of government’ (Thomas 2003, 29). Yet he noted that Price acknowledged their differences without ‘the slightest resentment’. Indeed, even if the rational Dissenters could not view Burke ‘as one of us’, it was natural for them to see him as being on their side. His rhetoric was appealing. How could they disagree with the sentiment that ‘liberty is a good to be improved, and not an evil to be lessened’, even if that statement came after Burke’s attack on Price’s abstract principles (Hill 1975, 199–200).16 Price himself believed that ‘there are … few in the world whose zeal for it [liberty] is more united to extensive knowledge and an exalted understanding’ (Peach 1979, 48–50n. c).17 And Capel Lofft, in reviewing several proposals for resolving the conflict with the American colonies, concluded that Burke’s was best (1776, 49).


Bisset felt it necessary to remind his readers that only superficial examiners of their writings could believe that Burke and Price derived their support for the Americans from the same political principles. 15 Price cited the act in his Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty. 16 A Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol (1777). 17 From Richard Price, The General Introduction and Supplement to Two Tracts on Civil Liberty, the War with America and the Finances of the Kingdom.

Edmund Burke and Rational Dissent   61 Toleration and parliamentary reform At the end of the 1770s, a further motion was put for abolishing the subscription requirement of Dissenting ministers. This was in many ways a follow-up to the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 that upset many Dissenters (though ably supported by Burke). Dissenters were angered to see Lord North’s government encouraging ‘popery’ with the 1774 Quebec Act and the 1778 Catholic Relief Act, while their own petitions for greater toleration had been rejected in the early 1770s (Haydon 1993, 183–85). Burke was in favour of relief for the Dissenters but not on their terms, and there were straws in the wind that indicated Burke was not entirely on their side. When the Dissenters’ 1779 bill was attacked in the House of Commons, Lindsey reported that Burke spoke ‘gloriously’ in its favour (Ditchfield 2007, 288).18 The Dissenters hoped that the bill would free them from subscription entirely, but the episcopate was generally against relief. Many bishops even opposed a less radical proposal that relief from subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles should be replaced by a requirement that Dissenting ministers make a Declaration that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain the whole revealed will of God, and that they will receive them as their rule of faith and practice. That was however what Lord North proposed and in a debate in the Commons, in which Lindsey felt Burke’s intervention was crucial, it was that, with a minor modification, which carried the day (Ditchfield 2007, 292).19 It was at least possible to see Burke’s role as a mediating one, for during the course of the relief campaign he had dined with the Dissenters’ Relief Committee.20 He does not seem to have incurred the censure of rational Dissenters like Lindsey even though in the course of the debates on subscription he had described Socinians and Arians as beyond the Christian pale, even mentioning Lindsey by name (Ditchfield 2007, 289–90).21 Events in the 1780s, however, would widen and then break the link between Burke and leading Dissenters – especially those closely associated with the movement for parliamentary reform. In 1780 Richard Price, John Jebb, Brand Hollis and Capel Lofft were founding members of the Society for Constitutional Information, and Joseph Towers would play a major role. For Burke such radical reformers were ‘very despotic persons’, and careful argument against their proposals often ended up in impassioned rhetoric (Corr. 4:235–38).22 Speaking against the consequences of triennial Parliaments, Burke suggested that ‘society would be dissolved, industry


To William Tayleur, 17 March 1779. To William Tayleur, 21 April 1779; see also Ditchfield (1988). The word ‘whole’ was omitted from the final declaration. 20 Diary of Thomas Gibbons, 17 March 1780. 21 To William Tayleur, 27 March 1779. Dr John Disney, who joined Lindsey as a minister at Essex Street Unitarian Chapel, London, in 1783, in recollecting the 1770s, bracketed Burke with Fox as an advocate of toleration. Correspondence of Rev. John Disney: To Rev. C. Wyvill, 9 July 1803. 22 To the Duke of Richmond [post 8 May 1780]. 19

62   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe interrupted … morals vitiated and gangrened to the vitals’ (Cannon 1969, 84). When in May 1782 Pitt the Younger proposed an enquiry into the state of the representation, Burke could hardly contain himself. According to Sheridan, Burke attacked Pitt ‘in a scream of Passion’, declaring that ‘Parliament was and always had been precisely what it ought to be and that all who thought of reforming it wanted to overturn the constitution’ (Price 1966, 1:144–47).23 Rhetoric aside, Burke believed that more frequent elections would serve only to strengthen the patronage powers of the Crown. Instead, he favoured economical reform as a means of diminishing the influence of the Crown, which the Rockinghamites believed had been responsible for the collapse of their first administration. To that extent he was on the side of the reformers – but it was reform he would not go beyond, and which they thought inadequate. After the death of Lord Rockingham in mid-1782, his followers were led by Charles James Fox into opposition after Lord Shelburne was made prime minister. Rev. Joseph Towers lamented the loss of Burke to government: a ‘gentleman who possesses such a splendour of genius … and extent of knowledge, and such uncommon powers of eloquence’, and no less entitled to ‘esteem for the qualities of his heart’. Towers regretted, however, that ‘this amiable man, this elegant and classic orator’, was not ‘more a friend’ to electoral reform, being ‘too much under the influence of aristocratic prejudices’ (1782, 27–28). Everything changed, however, with the Fox–North coalition. This coalition of declared foes came as a shock to the Dissenters. John Jebb, who had been an ally of Fox, denounced the coalition as ‘a hateful union’ concerned ‘with power, not the good of the country’. Jebb, in a long speech to the electors of Westminster in March 1783, delivered ‘with all the vehemence which the action called for, to the great offence of Mr Fox’s friends’, urged Fox not to enter coalition with North (Page 2003, 248, 251). After the fall of the Fox– North coalition rational Dissenters placed their hopes for reform in Pitt, and supported him in the election of 1784, with Jebb declaring: ‘the conduct of the coalitionists is so fundamentally wrong, that … I most cordially wish entire rout to the party of Fox, Burke and North’ (Page 2003, 252). As far as Burke was concerned after 1784 the Dissenters were in the wrong camp and some of their leading luminaries, notably Priestley and Price, were closely associated with Shelburne, whom Burke personally detested.24 After returning to government as part of the Fox–North coalition in 1783, Burke told his friend Richard Shackleton: We have demolished the Earl of Shelburne; but in his fall he has pulled down a large piece of the Building. He had indeed undermined it before. This wicked man, and no less weak and stupid, than false and hypocritical, has contrived to break to pieces the body of men, whose integrity, wisdom, and union, were alone capable

23 24

To Richard Fitzpatrick, 20 May 1782. According to John Cannon (1969, 23–24), Burke could not be persuaded to refrain from ‘bombarding him with lurid personal invective’ in the period after the death of Rockingham during the formation of Shelburne’s short-lived ministry.

Edmund Burke and Rational Dissent   63 of giving consistency to publick measures, and recovering the Kingdom from the miserable State into which it had fallen. (Corr. 5:71–72)25

The coalition was short-lived and in 1784 Burke found himself out of power. Without Rockingham’s patronage Burke lost status and influence among the Whigs. He complained that the opposition led by Fox had lost its focus: ‘As to any plan of Conduct in our Leaders there are not the faintest Traces of it’ (Corr. 5:177).26 He had also lost authority in the Commons where he was treated with disrespect (Bisset 1798, 395–97).27 With a decline in his status, and the American war over, restraints on Burke and leading Dissenters saying what they really thought of each other were loosened. Burke brooded on the Dissenters’ desertion of the Whig party, and absented himself from a vote on repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1787.28 When the Dissenters of Bristol asked him to support repeal in 1789, Burke professed that if he attended the house for the debate he would vote for the motion, but he was unwell and had other priorities (Corr. 5:469).29 He observed that there were ‘no Men on Earth to whom I have been more attached, and with a more sincere Esteem and Affection, than to some amongst the Dissenters’, but: In the year 1784, a great Change took place; and all of them who seem’d to act in Corps, have held me out to publick Odium, as one of a gang of Rebels and Regicides, which had conspired at one blow to subvert the Monarchy, to annihilate, without cause, all the Corporate privileges in the Kingdom, and totally to destroy the constitution.

Dissenting attacks had sapped Burke’s energy and hindered him from serving ‘the cause of humanity, with facility and Authority, which I am now struggling to perform lamely, imperfectly and inefficiently’ (Corr. 5:470–72)30 In 1789 the Dissenters’ repeal motion came close to success, losing by only twenty votes (100 to 122), and they believed one final push would succeed. This was not likely, however, because the near success of 1789 came at the 25 26



29 30

3 March 1783. To William Windham, 14 October 1784. Bisset noted his ‘uncommon genius and eloquence … were treated by many in the house with a disrespect they had never experienced before.’ Burke for his part was easily goaded by ‘hooting’, ‘coughing’ and the stamping of the feet, and ‘frequently fell into the most outrageous fits of passion’. Bisset’s views were noted by a reviewer in the Dissenter-dominated Monthly Review: ‘ART. III. Dr. Bisset’s Life of Mr. Burke’, Monthly Review, 27 (September 1798) 23. According to Bisset (1798, 436) he attended the debate but absented himself from the vote. A deputation from the Dissenters’ Repeal Committee had waited on Burke early in February 1787 but had not received an encouraging response (Davis 1978, 5 n.17). Richard Bright to Burke, 5 May 1789. Apparently Bright had written to Burke asking for his support in 1787. See also Henriques (1961, 108–15). To Richard Bright, 8, 9 May 1789. The cause Burke was referring to was the impeachment of Warren Hastings (Lock 2006, 261).

64   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe end of a session dominated by the Regency Crisis and attendance had been low. The Dissenters nevertheless organized on a national scale in the hope that more pressure on their MPs would do the trick. The newspapers were full of the resolutions of their regional meetings in which they claimed toleration as a natural right. Such claims of abstract rights, as Burke would view them, were reinforced by commemorations for the Glorious Revolution and the Toleration Act of 1689. In many of these celebrations it was claimed that the people, not Parliament, was sovereign – the Glorious Revolution was depicted as unfinished business on the road to popular sovereignty (Wilson 1989, 349–86). These notions were encapsulated in Richard Price’s Discourse on the Love of our Country – the published version of his commemoratory sermon for the London Revolution Society on 4 November 1789. He reiterated the society’s view that the revolution established: First; the right to liberty of conscience in religious matters. Secondly; the right to resist power when abused Thirdly; The right to chuse our own governors; to cashier them for misconduct; and to frame a government for ourselves. (Price 1790, 34)

Price portrayed the revolution in France as a development of the revolutionary tradition of Britain and America, and attached the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizen to the published sermon. And to cap it all, in his peroration, Price rejoiced in the way the French had treated their king: I have lived to see THIRTY MILLIONS of people, indignant and resolute, spurning at slavery, and demanding liberty with an irresistible voice; their king led in triumph, and an arbitrary monarch surrendering himself to his subjects. –After sharing in the benefits of one Revolution, I have been spared to be a witness to two other Revolutions, both glorious. (Price 1790, 49)

Price, of course, was by no means alone in expressing the euphoria of the moment, but his Discourse was also an expression of his moral philosophy, and a view of patriotism, with which Burke profoundly disagreed (Duthille 2012, esp. 32–33). In February 1790 Burke responded, declaring his abhorrence of the French Revolution to a shocked House of Commons in the debate on the Army Estimates. In the following month, during the debate on the Test and Corporation Acts, Burke accused the Dissenters of ‘asserting doctrines which threatened the most imminent danger to the future safety and even the very being of the church’. He speculated that: the dissenting preachers were themselves recommending the same sort of robbery and plunder of the wealth of the church as had happened in France, where some men were weak enough to imagine a happy revolution had taken place: but where he knew the most miserable system of government at this moment prevailed that ever disgraced the annals of Europe.

Under the guise of claiming their natural rights the Dissenters threatened the stability of society. Such rights ‘were the most useless and dangerous to

Edmund Burke and Rational Dissent   65 resort to. They superseded society, and broke asunder all the bonds which had formed the happiness of mankind for ages. He would venture to say, that if they were to go back abstractedly to original rights, there would be an end of all society.’ This led to an eloquent passage in which he praised the virtues that accrued to society from abdication of natural rights: abstract principles of natural right had been long since given up for the advantage of having, what was much better, society, which substituted wisdom and justice, in the room of original right.

After enumerating the beneficent effects of society he added that ‘the advantages attributable to the society’ were ‘also deducible from the church, which was the necessary creature and assistant of society in all its great and beneficial purposes’ (Cobbett 1813, 29:432–43). Burke’s defence of the existing constitution in church and state was overlain with personal hostility towards leading Dissenters. This was encapsulated in his Reflections, which he had started drafting before the debate. In February 1790 Burke had sent his friend Philip Francis the first draft of what he proposed to call, ‘Reflections on certain proceedings of the Revolution Society, of the 4th November 1789, concerning the affairs of France’. Francis counselled against entering into a controversy, for he suggested that Price would be the victor.31 Burke was angered by his description of the encomium to Marie Antoinette as ‘pure foppery’ (Corr. 6:85–87).32 He immediately penned a long reply in which he declared they were his ‘real feelings’: But I intend no controversy with Dr. Price or Lord Shelburne or any other of their set. I mean to set in a full View the danger from their wicked principles and their black hearts; I intend to state the true principles of our constitution in Church and state – upon Grounds opposite to theirs … I mean to do my best to expose them to the hatred, ridicule, and contempt of the whole world; as I shall always expose such, calumniators, hypocrites sowers of sedition, and approvers of murder and all its Triumphs. (Corr. 6:88–92)33

Burke depicted Price in the Reflections as heir to the seventeenth-century regicide, Hugh Peters – as someone who gloried in the misfortunes of the French royal family, as a cold-blooded, calculating personality. Such a portrayal of Price came as a shock to Dissenters, and did not square with the man whose ‘talents and character were revered by all parties’ (Hall 1791, 73). Mary Wollstonecraft, who knew Price personally and had attended his congregation at Newington Green, was profoundly influenced by rational Dissent (Taylor 2002, esp.108–12). Her Vindication of the Rights of Men (November 1790) was the first response to Burke: 31

Morgan noted in his Memoirs of Price: ‘Some of his friends had urged him to reply to Mr. Burke’s late publication; but at this period his spirits were not equal to the task, even if he had thought it necessary to engage in it’ (Thomas 2003, 86–87). 32 Philip Francis to Edmund Burke, 19 February 1790. 33 To Philip Francis, 20 February 1790.

66   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe In reprobating Dr. Price’s opinions you might have spared the man; and if you had but half as much reverence for the grey hairs of virtue as for the accidental distinctions of rank, you would not have treated with such indecent familiarity and supercilious contempt, a member of the community whose talents and modest virtues place him high in the scale of moral excellence. (Wollstonecraft 1790, 33)34

Price refused to get embroiled in controversy with Burke, but he did reply to the most hurtful charge that he had rejoiced in the mob’s treatment of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette on the night of 6 October. According to F. P. Lock, this was the defining moment for Burke, and he believes, as Burke did, that Price was referring to those events when he spoke of ‘the king led in triumph’ (2006, 295–96).35 Here we must distinguish between what Price meant and what his audience thought he meant. Since the theme of the sermon was about the accountability of kings to their people, and opposition to arbitrary government, one might argue that the defining moment for those who thought like Price was the fall of the Bastille. Yet given the greater proximity of the October days to 4 November, when Price delivered his discourse, even those who admired him may not have immediately realized Price was referring to the events of July. Those who were hostile to him would not need to think twice that Burke was correct in thinking he was referring to the October days. Burke footnoted evidence in Reflections to substantiate his claim. In a typically balanced note on the issue, D. O. Thomas argued that Burke, at least, carelessly failed to realize that the sources he footnoted pre-dated the October days (Thomas 1982, 202–04). He also failed to note the source was one person not two (as it appears in Reflections). That source was Price’s nephew, George Cadogan Morgan, who was in Paris at the time of the fall of the Bastille. He wrote to Price about the events and his letter, or parts of it, were subsequently published in The Gazeteer on 13 August and 14 September. Unfortunately those issues have not survived, neither has the manuscript of the letter. However, Morgan kept a memoir, which has recently come to light. He does not repeat the phraseology of his letter but indicates his pleasure at witnessing the king’s entrance into Paris ‘without his guards’ (Constantine and Frame 2012, 53). Price shared the euphoric feelings of Morgan and his travelling companions in France – a passage from Edward Rigby’s journal matches closely Price’s sentiment in the peroration of his Discourse – and this lends credibility to his referring to the events immediately following the fall of the Bastille (Constantine and Frame 2012, 18–19). Although Price drew attention, in the preface to the fourth edition of his Discourse, to the inconsistencies in Burke’s use of evidence, by then the damage was done (1790, v–vi). Wollstonecraft complained that he had ‘grossly’ misrepresented Price’s meaning. Besides, she thought Burke had given ‘in some instances, a most exaggerated description of that infernal night (6 October)’ even though she herself had described it as ‘the mobbing triumphal catastrophe’ (Wollstonecraft

34 35

See Jones 2002, 47–48. Lock believes that Price’s account was ‘scarcely credible’; cf. Thomas (1982).

Edmund Burke and Rational Dissent   67 1790, 25–26).36 Nonetheless it remained easy to slip into Burkeian ways of thinking; a subsequent defence of Price, by the historian William Belsham, carelessly applied Price’s very words to the October event. Perhaps it did not matter to him. While not condoning the ‘dreadful and sanguinary’ event, he suggested that it had saved France from civil war (Belsham 1791, 52–53).37 Burke may have done Price a disservice, but he was not concerned with the finer points of evidence against rational Dissenters – he was now clearly launched on his crusade ‘to expose such, calumniators, hypocrites, sowers of sedition, and approvers of murder and all its Triumphs’ (Corr. 6:88–92).38 Gillray’s caricature, Smelling out a Rat, could be applied not just to Price but to all his fellow rational Dissenters (1790). In 1792 they petitioned the Commons for toleration for Unitarians and that gave Burke another opportunity to portray them as seditious (Ditchfield 2012, 189–90).39 Of course, he was by no means the first to express the idea that the Dissenters were dangerous – the idea had a long pedigree. Yet Dissenters like Samuel Heywood felt more bitter towards Burke than towards traditional enemies of Dissent who asserted High Church doctrines of passive obedience and non-resistance. His High Church Politics, occasioned by the failure of the campaign for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in March 1790, concluded by turning its attention to Burke’s Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791), a work in which Burke had renewed his attack on Price. Heywood argued that Price’s account of the right of resistance was historically grounded and philosophically correct. He was, however, unfortunate enough to live ‘in times when it was become fashionable to trace back the path from liberty to passive obedience, and when, after the enjoyment of free government for more than a century, we are obliged to re-learn its principles’ (Heywood 1792, 184). In his speech opposing the Unitarian petition, Burke denounced ‘the Constitutional, the Revolution, and the Unitarian societies’, as ‘insect reptiles’ aiming to inaugurate a revolution, French style, by seizing the Tower of London on Bastille day (1852, 105–6; Barlow 1962, 287). In response, William Smith MP claimed that the Unitarians were ‘inoffensive men’ and ‘ridiculed Mr. Burke’s idea of plots’ (Parliamentary Register 1792, 32). But Burke had given authority to the most serious alarmist fears at a time when the tide of public opinion was already flowing strongly against them.40 Rational Dissenters did their best to justify their principles and conduct. From the very beginning of their campaigns for wider toleration they had emphasized their adherence to the principles of the Glorious Revolution


37 38 39


Joseph Priestley later claimed that he had heard from a gentleman who was in Paris at the time that Burke’s account of 6 October was erroneous. Letters to… Burke (1791), in Rutt (1817–31, 22:162 n.). Willam Belsham was the brother of Thomas Belsham, the leading Unitarian of the next generation. To Philip Francis, 20 February 1790. To Timothy Kenrick, 29 May 1792. Lindsey wrote of ‘Mr. Burke’s ravings against unitarians’. See Ditchfield (1991, 59–61).

68   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe and loyalty to the Hanoverian dynasty.41 Joseph Towers provided a detailed vindication of the Revolution Society and its principles, as articulated by Price, and justified the right of the Society and the Society for Constitutional Information to correspond with enlightened individuals and societies in France (1790, 77–78).42 Price had printed some of the correspondence in his Discourse on the Love of our Country. Rev. Christopher Wyvill pondered the question as to why the ‘fierce animosity’ and ‘insatiable malevolence’ experienced by Price far exceeded the ‘utmost rancour of opposition, which the [parliamentary reform] Associations experienced during the period of their greatest activity’. Since Burke had ‘never accepted’ Price’s principles, his answer pointed to Burke’s personality and circumstances; ‘personal enmity, disappointed ambition, the loss of popularity and the despair to recover it’ led ‘a mind naturally irritable’ to attack Price (Wyvill 1792, 71–72).43 William Roscoe, the Liverpudlian rational Dissenter, in a popular poetic broadside entitled The Life, Death and Wonderful Achievements of Edmund Burke (1791), took up the theme of a personality given to ‘squabbles and fighting’, portraying him as a knight in armour tilting at his foes (a common theme in caricatures of Burke), yet finally felled by Wollstonecraft and Paine (Chandler 1953, 83, 386–90). Roscoe would later argue that Burke was ‘the avowed and ostensible instigator of a most sanguinary and cruel war’ with France (1796, 6).44 Although this was somewhat wide of the mark, it remains true that until his death in 1797, Burke was the leading proponent of a counter-revolutionary crusade against France (Macleod 1998, 82). The Dissenters’ one-time friend and supporter had become their foremost critic and opponent of all they stood for. Priestley and Burke One of those who suffered most from the upsurge of hostility towards rational Dissenters was Joseph Priestley, whose house, laboratory and library were demolished in the Birmingham Riots of July 1791. How did Priestley chart Dissenting relations with Burke? Here we are fortunate that towards the end of his life he left recollections on that very point.45 Priestley says that 41

Heywood (1787, 3) described the Dissenters as among ‘the best friends of the constitution’. The Dissenters continued to emphasize their patriotism and loyalty in the deteriorating circumstances of the 1790s. See Abraham Rees, To the Editor of the Times, 14 March 1793, p. 3 Issue 2558; Col. B, dated Hackney 9 March 1793. 42 See Writings and Speeches, 9:57n. 43 Wyvill described Burke’s eloquence as ‘Asiatic’ (1792, 81). 44 Roscoe’s pamphlet was a response to Burke’s, Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796). Lindsey, described Roscoe’s Letters as ‘deservedly prized’, although he attributed them to Roscoe’s friend, William Rathbone; Ditchfield (2012, 413–15), To John Rowe, 23 December 1796. 45 In 1802 Priestley wrote a letter to the Monthly Magazine (published in February 1803) about Franklin and Burke. That was followed by a letter penned on 1 February 1804, five days before he died, about his own relationship with Burke.

Edmund Burke and Rational Dissent   69 he had first met Burke when he was a minister at Leeds through a common friend, John Lee, subsequently Solicitor General in the Second Rockingham Administration. At the time they had no difference of opinion, except that Burke believed the power of the Crown was best checked ‘by increasing the influence of the great Whig families in the country’, whereas Priestley thought the same end would be ‘most effectually secured by a more equal representation of the Commons in Parliament’. According to Priestley, this difference of emphasis did not affect their views on the American Revolution: ‘We had but one opinion, and one wish, on that subject; and this was the same with all who were classed by us among the friends of the liberty of England’ (Rutt 1817–31, 25: App.24, 395). This seems fairly typical of the way pro-American and pro-reform Dissenters minimized their differences. On one occasion, when Burke helped Priestley through the crowd wanting to get into the Privy Council hearing of the grievances of Massachusetts, Priestley said: ‘Mr. Burke, you are an excellent leader’; and he replied, ‘I wish other persons thought so too’ (Rutt 1817–31, 25: App.24, 393). According to Priestley, his last conversation with Burke was at Birmingham in 1782.46 Burke had just visited Rockingham’s nephew and heir, Earl Fitzwilliam, to help sort out Rockingham’s papers. The visit to Yorkshire had not been a great success, as it appears that Burke broke the cardinal rule of hospitality by quarrelling with some of Fitzwilliam’s guests on the topic of parliamentary reform (Lock 1998, 519). On his return journey to Beaconsfield he took a detour to spend an afternoon with Priestley. Theophilus Lindsey wrote that Burke, ‘having called upon Dr. Priestley and seen his Library, Laboratory, and philosophical pursuits, reported him to all his friends as the most happy of men and most to be envied’ (Ditchfield 2007, 386–88).47 This was not long before the Fox–North coalition and Priestley never saw anything of Burke again, ‘except by accident’ (Rutt 1817–31, 25: App.24, 396). Priestley thought it was his reply to the Reflections that earned him Burke’s hostility, most notably his call for the separation of church and state.48 It is true that the Letters to Edmund Burke (1791) were particularly feisty, but the seeds of their falling-out had long been sown. In his History of the Corruptions of Christianity (1782) Priestley predicted calamitous convulsions in the political world unless a timely reformation occurred and the unnatural alliance of church and state were broken. His beliefs were antithetical to Burke, for he believed that religion was a private matter for individuals (Priestley 1791, 27), and was confident that the separation of the spiritual and secular would be the fulfilment of prophecy. Such millennial views may have seemed harmless when

These documents were reprinted as an appendix in Rutt (1817–31, 25: App.24, 391–98). 46 Samuel Kenrick reported Priestley calling on Burke after the publication of Reflections (W-K Corr., f.165, 10 July 1791). 47 To William Turner of Wakefield, 1 September 1783. 48 Priestley pointed to a weakness in Burke’s defence of the Church of England, for its establishment in Catholic Ireland could not be justified on the basis of his own principles (Priestley 1791, 28–29).

70   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe published in the mid-century by Priestley’s great inspiration, David Hartley, but in the tumultuous decades closing the century they seemed thoroughly alarming. Indeed, Priestley’s memory was not quite accurate, for he was one of those Burke singled out for attack in his speech against the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts (Cobbett 1813, 29:438). Priestley concluded his account of his relations with Burke by relating that, according to someone present at the time, when news of the Birmingham Riots reached Burke ‘he could not contain his joy on the occasion’ (Rutt 1817–31, 25:398).49 This may have been overstating things, but Burke seems to have shared George III’s view that Priestley was ‘the sufferer for the doctrines he and his party have instilled’.50 Whether or not Burke approved of the riots,51 he did not approve of their consequences, for he felt that they had made rational Dissenters more dangerous. Early in 1792 Burke wrote: This affair of Birmingham which frightened them at first, now fortifies them. They come forth as persecuted men. They all, as fast as they can meet, take up Priestly, and avowedly set him up as their head. They are preparing to renew the 14. of July. At Manchester they have advertised their Thanks to Mr Thomas Paine for his second work, more infamous if possible than their first. They keep up their French correspondences as before. In short, the unitarian Society, from whence all these things originate are as Zealous as their Brethren at Constantinople – If care is not taken, I should think it very probable, that you may live to see Christianity as effectually extirpated out of this Country as it is out of France. (Corr. 7:119)52

A few months after this letter, Fanny Burney dined with Burke. Writing to friends, she expressed a wish that they ‘could meet this wonderful Man when he is easy, happy and with people he cordially likes! – but Politics, even on his own side, must always be excluded: his irritability is so terrible on that Theme that it gives immediately to his Face the Expression of a Man who is going to defend himself from Murderers’. Burke was convinced that ‘English Liberty and Property’ were threatened by a ‘contagion of Havock and novelty’ (Sabor and Troide 2001, 347).53 Dissenting enthusiasts for radical reform attracted the full force of his terrible irritability. 49

Rutt 1817–31, XXV, 395–98. George III to Dundas, 16 July 1791, cit. Ehrman (1983), p.133. Burke wrote of the ‘insidious Hypocrisy’ and evil intentions of ‘Faction’: ‘They have changed some of their Notes since the Riots at Birmingham. Now that the anniversary of murder has produced arson and given it a direction they did not wish, they are Martyrs of order, Good government and sobriety – but “peace to all such” a thing, by the way, they do not over eagerly desire.’ Corr. 6:311–12, To Dr. French Laurence, 2 August 1791. 51 In the debate on the Unitarian Petition, Burke claimed to sincerely regret the riots, but such sympathy was extremely limited for he argued that the riots were a result of the politics of Priestley and his supporters. Parliamentary Register (1792, 30) 52 To Richard Burke Jr, 23 March 1792. 53 F. Burney to Susanna Phillips and William and Frederica Locke, 18 June 1792. 50

Edmund Burke and Rational Dissent   71 In the 1790s Loyalist fears of revolution in Britain placed leading Dissenters like Priestley in the dock under the accusation of subversion.54 Perhaps the death of Price in 1791, and the exile of Priestley in 1794, helped to ease the tension, for they were consistently caricatured as dissident, atheistical, regicidal republicans. Nonetheless many ministers and leading laity remained true to their principles and suffered for supporting the Friends of Peace. David Wykes has uncovered widespread evidence that rational Dissenting ministers and their congregations were intimidated by Loyalists (1991, 22–3). Indeed, John Wilkinson, Priestley’s brother-in-law, thought that the best security was ‘a gun well-manned’ (Chaloner 1958, 145–46). Vicesimus Knox published a work entitled The Spirit of Despotism (1795) in which he defended Price as ‘among the first ornaments of his age’, but was advised to publish it anonymously (Rutt 1817–31, 22:181–2n.). Being an Anglican clergyman and critic of rational Dissenting theology was no guarantee of personal safety. Unsurprisingly some rational Dissenters at the time preferred to keep a low profile, like the congregation in Exeter of Rev. Timothy Kenrick, which was upset by his refusal to refrain from criticizing the persecuting spirit of the times (Gordon, rev. Skedd 2004). The correspondence of James Wodrow and Samuel Kenrick Timothy Kenrick was the nephew of Samuel Kenrick, who provides us with the best information we have for the reception of Burke’s thought among provincial lay Dissenters. Like many rational Dissenters he was highly educated, not at one of the Dissenting academies in England and Wales (Kenrick’s family came from Ruabon, Denbighshire), but at the University of Glasgow. There he met his future lifelong friend James Wodrow, who became a minister of the Kirk at Stevenston in Ayr. Kenrick’s initial intention was to become a Dissenting minister, but feeling he was not suited to the church he eventually settled in Bewdley, Worcestershire, joining his brother in a banking and grocery business. The two friends maintained a lively correspondence in which they debated the issues of the day.55 They rarely agreed. Wodrow’s views were fairly typical of a Scottish Moderate clergyman, although he was better informed than most about the situation of Protestant Dissenters in England and Wales, and sympathized with their efforts for greater toleration. But in politics he was cautious, and sympathetic to authority. Indeed, he defended the government’s policy over the American colonies against the more radical views of his friend. In the correspondence it is Wodrow’s view of


See ‘An Address of the Deputies and Delegates of the Dissenters of England to the Sufferers in the Riot at Birmingham …’ which declared their attachment ‘to the constitution of this kingdom, as settled on the principles of the glorious Revolution, on which alone depends the title of the present august family to the British throne …’ (Rutt 1817–31, 19:568–70). 55 Differences in their outlook are explored in Fitzpatrick (1988) and Fitzpatrick (1996).

72   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Burke which is more fully expounded, and who was prepared to give Burke detailed consideration. As far as Samuel was concerned Burke had ‘never liked us or our cause’ (W-K Corr., f.153, 24 February 1790). He rejoiced, however, in the controversy stirred up by Burke’s Reflections. Like Priestley, he was an eternal optimist, confident that whatever happened, all would be for the good. He believed in the triumph of truth through vigorous debate and therefore saw virtue in those who openly opposed reform at home and revolution abroad. Characteristically, Wodrow agreed but added a note of scepticism: ‘But as you say of Burke’s book I hope it will co-operate in doing good in opening the eyes of men yet it will only be the eyes of the virtuous & already enlightened’ (W-K Corr., f.161, 29 April 1791). In the very letter describing the devastation of the Birmingham riots, Samuel Kenrick added: ‘Tis all right – good, great good, will arise out of it’ (W-K Corr., f.166, 21 July 1791). This was very much Priestley’s own view: ‘violence is temporary, truth eternal.’ Wodrow cautioned his friend against such excessive optimism, remarking on the violence in France: ‘Every thing adverse & hostile you consider as intended by providence to support and benefit the cause it was meant to hurt & suppress’ (W-K Corr., f.174, 30 May 1792).56 In discussing the Birmingham Riots, Kenrick almost makes concessions to the role of circumstance, but they are soon swamped by his continued enthusiasm for the times and confidence in providential progress. Burke was partly responsible for gloomy future prospects, as his defence of prejudice had encouraged the cherishing of atavistic prejudices. Yet, buoyed up by Priestley’s optimism and equanimity in the face of persecution, Kenrick enthused: If bigotry & barbarity are hurrying up to their άκμή, (acme) it probably announces their approaching downfall. How feeble, how cautious are their partisans! No person of character or literary fame except Burke hath put his name to what has been written in their defence. And how has he shrunk under the weight of sound arguments & bold truths wch. he has called forth & wch. wd. not probably have so soon been brought forward! Was not the Revolution in America a miracle in favour of the cause of truth & happiness prevailing even in this wicked world[?] how is this confirmed by a much greater Revolution in France ― & this followed by Poland, perhaps still more improbable! From wch. we have much more reason to expect similar changes, in every country in Europe. (W-K Corr., f.173, 10 April 1792)

Kenrick never gave up his belief in the value of controversy and its role in bringing about progress. In that sense he was indebted to Burke: ‘I look upon Burke whatever his views may have been as co-operating with all his able antagonists in bringing forward the work of great improvement – for had he not written – what must the world have lost – which he has called forth’ (W-K Corr., f.160, 20–21 April 1791). A similar view was expressed in a toast to Burke at a meeting of the newly formed Unitarian Society on 14 April 1791. This was communicated to him the following day and reportedly 56

Andrew Kippis (1794, 12), in trying to make sense of violent times, argued that the Deity ‘will not permit the cause of truth and integrity to be oppressed, though, for valuable purposes, he may leave it in a suffering state’.

Edmund Burke and Rational Dissent   73 ‘threw him into a paroxysm of rage’ (W-K Corr., f.163, 10 June 1791). Described by F. P. Lock as an insult, Kenrick’s private observation indicates that this idea was more than a means of goading Burke, but was a deep-seated belief among some rational Dissenters (2006, 411). As Anna Barbauld put it in addressing those like Burke who had opposed the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts: ‘We appeal to the certain, sure operation of increasing light and knowledge which is no more in your power to stop than to repel the tide with your naked hand’ (1790, 30–31). Such optimism was not completely misplaced, for as Mark Philp has observed, Burke ‘prompted precisely the kind of intellectual fervour in favour of reform which he so despised’ (Philp 1990, 109–10). Indeed he may have made ‘the radical position more capable of being articulated’ (Smith 1984, 37). Not all rational Dissenters were quite such unbridled believers in progress. Addressing the Dissenters after the failure of the campaign for repealing of the Test and Corporation Acts, John Aikin argued that the reaction to the campaign provided ‘too strong evidence against that progress towards general reformation which some of you are so fond of conceiving’ (1790, 10, 31–32). Whatever the divisions within rational Dissent, however, there appears to be little evidence that Burke persuaded any of them to abandon their optimistic view of human nature, and their belief that, in a candid free society, progress would occur – progress which, in the strained context of the 1790s, they understood primarily in intellectual and spiritual terms. They believed Burke’s conduct in the last decade of his life was reprehensible and was a betrayal of his principles. Even the mild James Wodrow thought Burke ‘a little deranged’, and, although impressed by some of the arguments in Reflections, believed that he had laid ‘too much stress on prejudice & custom, so much in my opinion as to destroy all the difference between … right and wrong’ (W-K Corr., f.159, 28 March 1791). Conclusion The rational Dissenters generally regarded Burke as someone who had abandoned his principles. Their view was hardly subtle nor was it exclusive to them. Burke had appeared to be in favour of the American Revolution, of greater toleration for Dissenters, and even a modicum of constitutional change via economical reform. On all these things Burke had appeared to be on the side of moderate reform. Then, with the outbreak of the revolution in France, he suddenly became a reactionary, deeply hostile to them, and their cause. From the viewpoint of Reception Studies this is not an unfamiliar story – the rational Dissenters had, to a degree, heard what they wanted to hear, read what they wanted to read. They had failed to see the underlying elements of in Burke’s hostility to natural rights philosophy and to reform based on such principles. It may be true, as scholars like F. P. Lock have argued, that Burke applied his principles consistently, attacking the rational Dissenters, in the context of the French Revolution, as dangerous and factious. Nevertheless, this fails to take into account the degree of personal invective which informed Burke’s attack, and the shock this administered to the rational Dissenting

74   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe community. Burke played a key role in fixing the reputation of rational Dissenters as dissident, atheistical, regicidal republicans. In his address at Price’s funeral, Rev. Andrew Kippis dismissed Burke’s hostile rhetoric as amounting to no more than the ‘coruscations of the northern lights’ (1791, 17). But Kippis could not foresee the increasing vehemence of Burke’s writings in the 1790s as his warnings were largely ignored (Philp 1990, 100). William Morgan, looking back over this period, suggested that there was a demonic aspect to his hostility to rational Dissent (Thomas 2003, 82). Hostility to Dissent was not exclusive to Burke, and the Loyalist movement was not dependent on him, yet, as Gillray’s caricature suggests, there was something wild and manic in Burke’s attitude towards leading rational Dissenters. The idea that Burke had lost his bearings after the death of his patron Lord Rockingham was not unique to the rational Dissenters – it can be seen in Robert Bissett’s account of his life, published a year after Burke’s death. And it was well expressed by William Belsham: During the lifetime of the Marquis of Rockingham, [Burke] appeared, not without some remarkable deviations, to adhere with laudable zeal to the genuine principles of Whiggism; but from the lamented decease of that distinguished Nobleman, he became on a sudden, very capricious and eccentric in his conduct; and his judgement, being naturally weak and his passions proportionally violent and habitually indulged, the force of his genius in other respects has unfortunately only plunged him, in the latter years of his life, deeper into the abyss of absurdity and extravagance.57

Perhaps viewing Burke in this light diminished the sense of fear Dissenters experienced in reading his words, and turned him into an eccentric figure, certainly not harmless, but perhaps rather pitiable.58


Belsham (1795, 2:51–52) cf. Darrin M. McMahon’s recent comment that in the closing days of his career Burke acceded to violent anti-Enlightenment views which earlier he would have repudiated; see McMahon (2003), Kindle location 5677–5694. 58 Close to the time of his death he was described by Theophilus Lindsey as ‘that wild man, now poor Burke’. Ditchfield (2012, 427–29), To Russell Scott, 17 May 1797.


Some Nineteenth-Century Appraisals of Burke’s Reflections: From Sir James Mackintosh to John Morley Gregory Claeys

Introduction As the nineteenth century progressed the burdens and challenges of greatness provoked tendencies both to puffing self-advertisement and introspective selfscrutiny among the Victorians. Both propensities induced a desire to enlist suitable heroes into an expanding national pantheon. Kings and Queens, soldiers and sailors, eventually too, by the age of Smiles, inventors and engineers, populated this galaxy of role models. But so too did a few philosophers and political thinkers; Carlyle had (probably grudgingly) nominated Rousseau to join the greats responsible for creating the new organization of the men of letters, along with Robert Burns and Samuel Johnson.1 That such a renowned politician as Edmund Burke should have been one such figure throughout much of this period might appear indisputable. If one man had set Britain on the course to Waterloo and thus to predominance over the following century by firmly rejecting the principles of the French Revolution, Burke might legitimately claim to have done so. Not only France but other continental nations had been wracked by convulsion throughout the century following the storming of the Bastille. The model of revolutionary strategy and republican polity which had emerged after 1789 had seemingly eventuated in mindless bloodshed, turmoil and eventual dictatorship. Much of what Burke had predicted in the Reflections thus seemed adequately proven, and the cautious democratization of the British constitution and constitutional monarchy vindicated against intemperate ideologues. Late Victorian workingclass conservatism had begun to set the pattern of popular electoral as well as cultural sentiment for much of the coming century. Whiggism had transformed into liberalism, but liberals, too, like John Stuart Mill and later James


Carlyle (1885, 300–31), ‘The Hero as Man of Letters’.

76   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Bryce, often cautioned against the extremes of democracy. And Whiggish history, the ‘story of English freedom’, did indeed often draw upon Burke in crafting a narrative of English liberties lost and found.2 If a figure like Burke could not exemplify the Janus-faced, modernizing yet conservative nature of the British Sonderweg, who could? Yet Burke’s standing in this epoch, as in the closing years of his life, was far from uncontested. Clearly there was not one, but many reputations. His career demonstrated complex and potentially contradictory political facets: the defender of American independence, opponent of the slave trade, the assailant of Warren Hastings, protector of Irish Catholics, scourge of French Jacobinism, the paragon of parliamentary eloquence in an age which still valued it. Burke’s non-political writings, notably the Vindication of Natural Society (1756) and the Philosophic Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), also gave him a cachet in philosophical circles. But for the nineteenth century there was considerable ambivalence about how parts of this inheritance should be understood, and then, particularly by the century’s end, adapted to the needs of a more unsettled era increasingly prone to impugn the wisdom of its ancestors. Choosing which Burke should be the best embodiment of Victorian virtues or paradigm for Victorian statesmen was as we will see a difficult task. And Burke’s would remain, indeed, one of the most contested reputations in the history of political thought to the present day, though in a transatlantic context a general drift from seeing Burke as a ‘liberal’ to portraying him as an archetypal ‘conservative’ is evident. In this assessment the effect and reputation of all of Burke’s other writings put together was usually outweighed by that of the Reflections on the Revolution in France.3 To the revolutionary generation itself, looking backwards a few years later, the Reflections often provided a succinct account of the follies and error of their own youth, a mirror, so to speak, in which their own temporary intoxication appeared in distorting and degrading refraction. It also demonstrated the collective catastrophe of France’s efforts to remedy the defects of the ancien régime, and the misconception, malice, misplaced zeal and ineptitude which had characterized much of the revolutionary process. Much of the previous literature on the making of Burke’s early nineteenth-century reputation respecting the Reflections has thus rightly concentrated on his influence on the Romantic poets, the former radicals Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth and Robert Southey in particular, and the novelist Walter Scott. Here the focus has chiefly been upon the doctrine of the divinely instituted, organic nature of constitutions, Burke’s account of nationality, and, at some points, a sensibility to the sufferings of the poor and oppressed, ensconced in the rapidly disappearing appeal of the doctrines of noblesse oblige and the aristocratic

2 3

See Kumar (2003, 143–44). On the immediate reception of the text in the 1790s see Claeys (2000, 40–59), and the discussion offered in Claeys (1995, 1:xvii–lvi) and Claeys (2007).

Some Nineteenth-Century Appraisals of Burke’s Reflections  77 trusteeship of national wealth.4 In this, the first of what might be termed the two ‘heroic stages’ in the making of Burke’s reputation, the Napoleonic and the Bolshevik, the Reflections has been understood as offering an essential contribution to the crafting of an ideal of British national identity. Here it is presumed that the indispensable elements in the continuity of national consciousness are few: the established church, ‘the first of our prejudices’; the ‘Corinthian capital’ of a ‘natural’ aristocracy; and the force of traditional custom and habit and of ‘covenanted’ prescriptive rights tempered by those duties habitually binding us to that ‘partnership,’ ‘our little platoon’, by a ‘manly, moral, regulated liberty’.5 Abuses within this system might be reformed, but any fundamental alteration therein was to be approached with great prudence. How far do these assumptions foreshadow the portrayal of Burke in the middle and later nineteenth century? A focus on the aftermath of the French Revolutionary debate tends to indicate that the Great Reform Act marks the apogee of Burke’s reputation in this period, as the case for parliamentary if not further constitutional reform would now become virtually omnipresent, constantly simmering below if not bubbling to the surface of British politics. This chapter accordingly focuses in greater detail upon a range of later discussions of Burke in order to enrich the image now current. That image, of course, remains controversial. The Reflections on the Revolution in France, which appeared in November 1790, rapidly spawned a political debate of astonishing proportions and often bitter disagreement, still often (mis)described as the ‘Burke–Paine debate’.6 A variety of questions agitated the first generation of the Reflections’ readers. Does the text extend the defence of liberty central to Burke’s American writings? Or is it too caustically dismissive (in late 1790) of the claims of France to enjoy the benefits of constitutional monarchy, even a republic? And if so, why? What accounts for the vehemence and intensity of Burke’s opinions in the Reflections? How far are these driven by Catholic sentiments and sympathies? And how ought we to classify the text? Later commentators became increasingly fond of labelling Burke the ‘founder of modern conservatism’.7 But did he remain a ‘Whig’ rather than a ‘Tory’, even if an ‘old Whig’? In Carlyle’s judgement, ‘Burke was essentially a Whig, and only, on reaching the verge of the chasm towards which Whiggism from the first was inevitably leading, recoiled … recoiled with no measure, convulsively, and damaging what he drove back with him’ (1899, 3:121). We might expect, as we reach the period of the Second Reform Act (1867), and even more the Third (1884), that some tempering of the image of Burke the opponent of ‘democracy’ and parliamentary reform would be likely in an age when both were seemingly a foregone conclusion. After all, the Conservative 4

These lineages are already traced in nineteenth-century commentaries, e.g. Brooke (1896). They are explored most extensively in Cobban (1960). 5 Burke (1899, 3:352, 416, 292, 240), Reflections on the Revolution in France. 6 For this interpretation see Claeys (1989). 7 For initial moves in this direction, see, e.g. Brooke (1896, 14–15).

78   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Party under Disraeli was rapidly remaking itself as the party of the common man, albeit while robustly supporting both the aristocracy and an increasingly imperial monarchy. But equally we might anticipate that the central message of the Reflections, the hostility to violent revolutionary change as opposed to incremental, modest and timely progressive development, would find stronger support from the 1870s onwards than at any period since the 1790s, given the increasing popularity of revolutionary socialism. We might surmise, then, that the reincarnation of Burke after 1917, which induced such proclamations as that Burke’s importance was ‘never greater than it is today [in 1931]’ (Murray 1931, 407),8 and even more notably after 1945,9 does not mark an unbroken continuation of an unblemished reputation. Instead it represents the reapplication and renovation of principles widely perceived as outmoded a century after the French Revolution. These hypotheses will be examined here by briefly treating the assessment of the Reflections by Burke’s chief biographers, by some leading nineteenth-century politicians, and at greater length by some historians of the period. It is necessary to commence, however, by introducing the most famous apostate from the original debate over the Reflections, James Mackintosh. The ‘Whig Cicero’, as he is sometimes called, Mackintosh (1765–1832), is often described with Thomas Christie and a few others as one of the Reflections’ ablest opponents from among the educated classes and rising stars of the Whig party. His erudite Vindiciae Gallicae (1791) was an early, well-crafted Whig reply to the Reflections, and one of the few responses potentially capable of shifting middle-class opinion into the reformers’ camp. The shattering defeat of the latter in 1794–95 in the face of war, French dictatorship, and domestic repression laid any hopes of reform to rest for a generation. It also brought about a sobering volte-face for the young Scottish jurist: the later historian Spencer Walpole pompously termed this change ‘one of the most noteworthy that ever occurred in the mind of man’ (Walpole 1912–14, 1:229). In correspondence with Burke in 1796, Mackintosh now termed the latter’s principles ‘the only solid foundation both of political Science and of political prudence’ (Corr. 9:193).10 Following an amicable visit to Beaconsfield, Mackintosh lectured on the law of nations in the spring of 1799 at Lincoln’s Inn, where he had been called to the bar in 1795. This heralded his public conversion to the ranks of the Revolution’s opponents, particularly after a prudent introductory discourse was published reassuring those who feared a revival of the themes of the Vindiciae Gallicae.11 Unfortunately the printed version of the


A similar later claim is made by Ayling (1988, 285), for the ‘special resonance’ the Reflections possesses for the twentieth century because of its account of egalitarianism. 9 For an early example, see Carver (1942–43). 10 James Mackintosh to Edmund Burke, 22 December 1796. 11 Mackintosh declared privately in June 1799 that Burke was ‘in his estimation, without any parallel, in any age or country, except, perhaps, Lord Bacon and

Some Nineteenth-Century Appraisals of Burke’s Reflections  79 lectures is exceedingly sparse, their author having spoken from brief notes.12 After a review of Grotius, Pufendorf and other authors, Mackintosh offered an unqualified paean to the principles of marriage and private property (both under assault from the ‘New Philosophy’ of Godwinism), and politically condemned equally the ‘system of universal despotism in Hobbes, and of universal anarchy in Rousseau’ (Mackintosh 1846, 1:370).13 His commitment to the British constitution, social and civil, was equally unequivocal: ‘The best security which human wisdom can devise, seems to be the distribution of political authority among different individuals and bodies, with separate interests, and separate characters, corresponding to the variety of classes of which civil society is composed’ (Mackintosh 1846, 1:373). While linking him with Fox, Mackintosh expressed his ‘profound veneration’ for Burke (Burke himself doubted the sincerity of this ‘supposed conversion’ [Corr. 9:204–05]).14 Most importantly, Mackintosh now clearly opposed revolutionary change: Such a body of political laws must in all countries arise out of the character and situation of a people; they must grow with its progress, be adapted to its peculiarities, change with its changes, and be incorporated with its habits. Human wisdom cannot form such a constitution by one act, for human wisdom cannot create the materials of which it is composed. (Mackintosh 1846, 1:375)

Constitutions, in other words, must evolve organically: they cannot be brewed from a stew-pot of ideas. This is perhaps the greatest of Burkean themes, often portrayed in terms of the confrontation of the ‘organic’ and ‘mechanistic’ conceptions of the state.15 Rousseau is a principal target. But the point is as relevant to twenty-first-century nationalism, and the assumptions behind the transplanting of political principles through liberal interventionism as it was to their eighteenth-century counterparts. A clearer conversion from the era of the Vindiciae could not be demonstrated, though by 1802 even Mackintosh would admit privately that the tone of the lectures had erred too far in the opposite direction.16 He was knighted in 1803, however, and then enjoyed a

12 13 14

15 16

Cicero; that his works contained an ampler store of political and moral wisdom than could be found in any other writer whatever’ (1836, 1:91). The lectures are reprinted in Mackintosh (1846, 1:341–88). Isaac Kramnick (1983) has alluded to some of these changes in Godwin’s opinions in relation to Burke. To French Laurence, 25 December 1796. Burke suspected it did ‘not extend beyond the interior politicks of this Island, but that, with regard to France and many other Countries He remains as franc a Jacobin as ever. This conversion is none at all, but we must nurse up these nothings and think these negative advantages as we can have them.’ Other observers, however, spoke of the ‘immense revolution’ in Mackintosh’s opinions as evidenced by the lectures (Green 1810, 127). See e.g. Butler (1957, 36). ‘As a political philosopher I will not say that I now entirely approve the very shades and tones of political doctrine which distinguished these lectures. I can easily see that I rebounded from my original opinions too far towards the opposite extreme. I was carried too far by anxiety to atone for my former errors. In opposing

80   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe lucrative Indian career as Recorder of Bombay. If the 1799 lectures had been a risky gambit they paid off well enough. Biographers and essayists Historians have noted, as we reach the years approaching the Great Reform Act, that Burke’s star seemed to have waned. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine conceded in 1825 that ‘the ashes of Edmund Burke slumber almost without notice’, while John Wilson Croker lamented in the Quarterly Review a year later that Burke’s ‘mighty name was for a time obscured’.17 Later standard accounts of the rise of conservatism, like T. E. Kebbel’s History of Toryism (1886), though acknowledging the Reflections’ great impact (1886, 398), pay scant attention to Burke. It is thus tempting to conclude with James Sack that ‘Burke had no paradigmatic influence on most leading Conservative politicians of the Victorian age’. This ‘widespread neglect’ by Tories was, it is supposed, derived in part because ‘Burke may never have appeared completely convincing as a Tory’ (Sack 1997, 80, 83).18 To many nineteenth-century commentators, indeed, it would appear that Burke was indeed not a ‘Tory’ but rather what Keith Feiling later termed a ‘converted Whig’ (1913, 39).19 If we follow one possible teleological strand by attempting to track Burke’s reputation as a ‘Tory’ or ‘father of conservatism’, thus, we will inevitably be led astray. Here there is a clear advantage in concentrating on the more substantial treatments of the Reflections across the course of this period, and assessing what was actually said about Burke’s view on the Revolution. Even a superficial survey of this type may shed some light on Burke’s changing fortunes. Let us turn, then, to biographers of Burke, and a few notable essayists. The first large-scale biography of Burke to appear was a hostile, Foxite account by Charles McCormick, which dismissed the Reflections as ‘a tissue of falshood and sophistry, however decorated with the splendors of artificial eloquence’ (1797, 339). The next major study, a two-volume life by Robert Bisset which appeared in 1798, was, however, paradigmatic for later interpreters in identifying two issues as central to assessing Burke’s views on the Revolution: whether his principles ‘were conformable to wisdom and rectitude’, and whether they were consistent with his previous ideas and actions (1800, 2:267).20



19 20

revolutionary principles, the natural heat of controversy led to excess’ (Mackintosh 1836, 1:133). Both cited in Sack (1997, 77). See also Sack (1987). Elsewhere, however, Sack (1993, 96) makes the claim that the Reflections was one of two texts, the other being Richard Musgrave’s Memoirs of the Different Rebellions in Ireland (1801), to define the ‘British Right’ in the nineteenth century. But Burke is later here also bracketed with ‘all the great Tory writers’ such as Bolingbroke and Coleridge (142). Coleridge, for instance, gave great stress to the fact that Burke’s principles in his American and French writings were ‘exactly the same and the deductions the same’ (Coleridge 1844, 98). The issue of Burke’s consistency has not disappeared.

Some Nineteenth-Century Appraisals of Burke’s Reflections  81 Bisset’s answer to the former question was twofold: that ‘esteeming arbitrary power a great evil, he knew that unwise efforts to shake it off might produce greater calamities’; and that with ‘religion he foresaw that morals would fall; and that instead of the old arbitrary government … a compound of impiety, anarchy & wickedness would be substituted’. To the latter question, Bisset responded that: Uniformly inimical to metaphysics, as the instrument of intellect in planning conduct, he, CONSISTENTLY WITH HIMSELF, reprobated the speculative doctrine of the Rights of Man … his arguments and proceedings on the French revolution were on the same broad grounds as in the former parts of his life. (1800, 2:289–90, 295)

Several subsequent studies shed little light on these issues, however. In James Prior’s two-volume biography of Burke, published in 1826, some sixty pages are devoted to the Reflections and the revolutionary controversy. But ‘laboured analysis’ of the text itself is discountenanced from ‘want of inclination’, on the somewhat quaint grounds that every educated person had read the text, and those who had not would not benefit from a meagre digest thereof (1826, 2:102). George Croly’s Memoir of the Political Life of Edmund Burke describes the Reflections as ‘the most magnificent political prophecy ever given to the world’ (1840, 1:291). It summarizes the book extensively and celebrates its most famous passages, focussing on Burke’s defence of religious establishments, but again with little analytical acuity. This is equally true for Peter Burke’s The Public and Domestic Life of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke, which merely offers copious extracts from the book (1853, 242–53). By the mid-Victorian period accounts of Burke begin to reveal doubts about the essential and absolute correctness of the Reflections’ judgement on the French Revolution. In an oration delivered at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1854, for example, Henry Montagu Butler, while fulsome in his praise of Burke’s ‘first characteristic’ and ‘loftiness of thought’, also contended that: it was reserved for Burke to stand in the gap between the old and the new, to point out all the beauty and significance of the past, to detect the hidden harmonies which bind together social life, and to assert its divine foundation. A great work this, and one which never can become obsolete; yet still partial and one-sided … it must … be granted that his view of the French Revolution was most inadequate. He could neither see the necessity of the consequence upon the hopeless corruptions of the old system, nor yet the promise which it held out for the future. To appreciate existing good lying at the root of existing institutions was far more congenial to his nature than to search nicely for abuses, or even to foresee coming developments. The idea of human progress was not one which coloured his life. (1854, 10–12, 14–15)

Much the most impressive of the Victorian biographies was Thomas

Carl Cone, for instance, stresses Burke’s early hostility to rationalism, secularism, materialism and perfectibilism (1964, 287).

82   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Macknight’s three-volume study (1858–60), which devotes one volume of some seven hundred pages to the French Revolution. Here (287–361) the Reflections is exonerated as having amply and justly judged the National Assembly and 1791 Constitution it produced as inexorably hastening the bloody culmination of the revolutionary process. Though the focus is upon narrative rather than analysis or theory, much praise is offered for Burke’s doctrines, with little belabouring of the issue of consistency (1858–60, 3:342–44). Macknight stresses that Burke judged the American Revolution by contrast to the French as ‘stained by no massacres, by the avowal of no monstrous doctrines of hostility to all sovereigns, or by the proclamation of principles incompatible with the existence of any good government or the peace of the world’ (1858–60, 3:498). His concluding judgement is that Burke was ‘the greatest political thinker of his time, and perhaps of any time’ (1858–60, 3:723). Here, too, we see the miscalculations of the Whiggish critics of Burke in the Reform era condemned as having misjudged Burke by the ‘the delusive medium of the Orleans Government’. Thus the view that Burke ‘had after all miscalculated greatly, and … ought to have foreseen France, after years of bloodshed and misery, happy, tranquillized, and regenerated under the benignant auspices of Louis Philippe’ was entirely disproved by the events of 1848 (1858–60, 3:749–50). Politicians We can now consider some appraisals of the Reflections by nineteenthcentury politicians and political commentators, moving from left to right on the political spectrum. Most plebeian radicals and socialists were uniformly hostile to Burke, and their accounts are omitted here for lack of space. But the impact of Burke upon the Tory-turned-radical William Cobbett, whose edition of A Letter from the Right Honourable Edmund Burke to a Noble Lord was published in Philadelphia in May 1796, merits attention. For Cobbett, far and away the most influential radical journalist of the age, never warmed to republican principles after his ‘conversion’, and remained more sympathetic to the American than the French Revolution. He long remained an admirer of Burke, terming him ‘this great man … the profoundest of statesmen; the ornament of his country’, only later disavowing his views and attributing the doctrines of the Reflections to Burke’s government pension (Spater 1982, 1:117, 273). Similarly other radicals like William Hazlitt were insistent that ‘Mr. Burke, the opponent of the American war, and Mr. Burke, the opponent of the French Revolution, are not the same person, but opposite persons – not opposite persons only, but deadly enemies’ (1819, 161). As we would expect, the Chartists, by and large doctrinal Paineites, had little to say about the Reflections’ implications for their own campaign for the franchise. Burke was only one among many ‘champions of aristocracy’ to be opposed (Russell 2001, 5:186). We would also expect that leading reformist Whigs like Charles James Fox’s nephew, Henry Vassall-Fox, Lord Holland, would be prone to dismiss Burke’s ‘intemperate view of the French Revolution’. This Holland blamed on an

Some Nineteenth-Century Appraisals of Burke’s Reflections  83 ‘extravagant veneration for all established rites and ceremonies in religion’ and an ‘absurd degree of reverence’ for even the abuses of aristocratic power (1852–54, 1:4–5, 7). Other prominent Whigs of this generation were equally harsh, however. Henry, Lord Brougham, not only emphasized that Burke’s views in ‘1770, were very different from those which breathe through every page of his Anti-Jacobin writings’ (1839, 1:157). He also stressed: That Mr. Burke did, however, err, and err widely in the estimate which he formed of the merits of a restored Government, no one can now doubt. His mistake was in comparing the old régime with the anarchy of the Revolution; to which not only the monarchy of France but the despotism of Turkey was preferable. He never could get rid of the belief that because the change had been effected with a violence which produced, and inevitably produced the consequences foreseen by himself; and by him alone, therefore the tree so planted must for ever prove incapable of bearing good fruit. He forgot that after the violence, in its nature temporary, should subside, it might be both quite impossible to restore the old monarchy, and very possible to form a new, and orderly, and profitable government upon the ruins of the Republic. Above all, he had seen so much present mischief wrought to France during the convulsive struggle which was not over before his death, that he could not persuade himself of any possible good arising to her from the mighty change she had undergone. All this we now see clearly enough; having survived Mr. Burke forty years, and witnessed events which the hardiest dealers in prophecies assuredly could never have ventured to foretell. (1839, 1:280)

Among other leading liberal statesmen, William Ewart Gladstone, who began life as a Tory, and was wont to refer to Burke on Ireland (1886, 119), averred that Burke could not be ‘read too much nor too attentively’ (1910, 2:169). Yet revealingly, on one occasion when he discussed Burke at length, he commented, in 1877, that very loth am I, except in some vital matters of the French Revolution, to dissent from that great authority. But, since the time of Mr. Burke, old dangers have disappeared, new dangers have come into view, new evils into almost a virulent activity; the adjustment of political and social forces has been entirely remodelled. (1879, 1:167)21

Similarly equivocal was Archibald Primrose, Lord Rosebery, who succeeded Gladstone as Prime Minister briefly in 1894, and who praised Burke as ‘our most splendid political figure’ (1921, 2:336). But at the unveiling of a statue of Burke in Bristol in October 1904, Rosebery noted that he had failed with regard to the French Revolution … in being blinded, by his disgust at what was passing, to any appreciation of the other side of the question. He saw the horrors as we see them and as we read of them. What he did not see was that they were the outcome of a century of misgovernment, and of misrule and debauchery


See Montgomery (1886), which focuses on Gladstone’s use of Burke in his speeches in support of his Irish policy, denying any analogy between the American colonists’ cause and the case presented for Home Rule.

84   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe such as had caused a long continuance of terrible calamity … And the result is that Burke passes out of history with the appearance of a reactionary to whom the re-action of his day was totally insufficient, while he passed his life as a reformer, daring and grasping enough to frighten the very souls of his admirers. (1921, 1:136)

How far did more conservative political figures in the nineteenth century contribute to Burke’s reputation by adverting to the Reflections in the public arena, especially the House of Commons? The answer would seem to be remarkably little, at least to judge from collected editions of available speeches. (Doubtless a full perusal of Hansard would be more revealing.) References are more fulsome in the early decades, without doubt. The Anglo-Irish politician George Canning described ‘Mr. Burke’s last works and words [as] still the manual of my politics’ (Stapleton 1887, 1:74). The Reflections, he thought, had demonstrated ‘that series and succession of calamities, which the principles of the French Revolution, in all its parts, must inevitably produce’ (1836, 3:199), noting that ‘almost every sentence’ of the book ‘however canvassed and disputed at the time, has been justified by the course of subsequent events; and almost every prophecy has been strictly fulfilled’ (1836, 5:451). Sir Robert Peel referred to Burke in Parliament on many occasions, chiefly respecting Catholic issues, the rights of Dissenters, reform of the civil list, against slavery, on the revolt of the American colonies, and on the utility of a territorial aristocracy, but never at any length on the French Revolution. (At one point he did however compare Burke’s description of Marie Antoinette to Queen Victoria [1850, 129].) Although it has been asserted that Benjamin Disraeli ‘knew his Burke well’ (Bauman 1929, 64), the towering figure of later nineteenth-century conservatism spoke only rarely about him, though he praised ‘that rare union that has rendered Burke so memorable; blending with that intuitive knowledge of his race, which creative minds alone enjoy, all the wisdom which can be derived from literature, and a comprehensive experience of human affairs’ (1913, 218). Among other Conservative premiers, Lord Salisbury and the Duke of Wellington virtually never referred to Burke in their major speeches. Historians Such omissions may seem surprising. But did Burke receive a more balanced, vigorous and judicious assessment at the hands of nineteenth-century historians? Among his contemporaries, of course, it is the judgement of Edward Gibbon which is most frequently cited in relation to the reception of the Reflections among historians: ‘I beg leave to subscribe my assent to Mr. Burke’s creed on the revolution of France’, Gibbon insisted: ‘I admire his eloquence, I approve his politics, I adore his chivalry, and I can almost excuse his reverence for church establishments’ (1911, 178).22 Burke might have been ‘the most


A slight variant is: ‘Burke’s book is a most admirable medicine against the French disease, which has made too much progress even in this happy country. I admire

Some Nineteenth-Century Appraisals of Burke’s Reflections  85 eloquent and rational madman that I ever knew’, but Gibbon was pleased to term himself ‘as high an Aristocrate as Burke himself ’ (Prothero 1896, 2:251). The great distance between their views on the central subject of religion, however, he did not dwell upon. Respecting opinion in the next generation, the historian and Whig politician Thomas Babington Macaulay’s phrase, the ‘greatest man since Milton’, is often cited (Trevelyan 1889, 613). Another appraisal by Macaulay is, however, more ambiguous: ‘Burke saw much further than any of his contemporaries: but whatever his sagacity descried was refracted and discoloured by his passions and his imagination’ (Macaulay 1898–1908, 10:533). This assertion, that Burke’s emotions had got the better of his judgement in 1790, we will see, would prove to be a prominent theme in later decades. More controversial was the assessment of that most encyclopaedic of mid-Victorian historians, Henry Thomas Buckle, for whom Burke’s breadth of thought marked him as an ‘extraordinary man’ and statesman who rose far above the ‘feeble and shallow’ politicians of his day (1908, 1:367). Yet in a lengthy digression on Burke’s last years in volume one of the History of Civilization in England (1857), consider his judgement on Burke’s view of the French Revolution: When the French Revolution broke out his mind already fainting under the weight of incessant labour could not support the contemplation of an event so unprecedented so appalling and threatening results of such frightful magnitude. And when the crimes of that great revolution instead of diminishing continued to increase then it was that the feelings of Burke finally mastered his reason; the balance tottered; the proportions of that gigantic intellect were disturbed. From this moment his sympathy with present suffering was so intense that he lost all memory of the tyranny by which the sufferings were provoked. (1908, 1:378)

Nor is Buckle beyond hazarding a psychological interpretation of this development: It would perhaps be displaying a morbid curiosity to attempt to raise the veil and trace the decay of so mighty a mind. Indeed in all such cases most of the evidence perishes; for those who have the best opportunities of witnessing the infirmities of a great man are not those who most love to relate them. But it is certain that the change was first clearly seen immediately after the breaking out of the French Revolution; that it was aggravated by the death of his son; and that it became progressively worse till death closed the scene. In his Reflections on the French Revolution; in his Remarks on the Policy of the Allies; in his Letter to Elliot; in his Letter to a Noble Lord; and in his Letters on a Regicide Peace we may note the consecutive steps of an increasing and at length an uncontrollable violence. To the single principle of hatred of the French Revolution he sacrificed his oldest associations and his dearest friends. (1908, 1:379)23 his eloquence, I approve his politics, I adore his chivalry, and I can forgive even his superstition’ (Prothero 1896, 2:237). 23 This account was evidently written in 1852. See Taylor (1872, 1:xlii). It is worth

86   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe It is Fox, who ‘would not abandon that love of popular liberty’ (Buckle 1908, 1:380), in this context, who consequently earns Buckle’s loudest praise. For Buckle the Reflections represented both a change in ‘the associations and composition’ of Burke’s mind, and of both his opinions and their groundwork. These developments for Buckle manifestly contradicted Burke’s views of the American conflict, representing a painful descent from being ‘the most eminent political philosopher England has ever possessed’ (1908, 1:385) to the ‘noble wreck’ of a ‘diseased mind’.24 Spencer Walpole, too, reinforced the hint that Burke had been ‘weakened by affliction and disease’ (1912–14, 1:221). Of historians writing in the high Victorian period, a certain partiality to Burke might be anticipated from the Irish writer W. E. H. Lecky, who boasted of carrying the Reflections ‘for many years [as] my favourite pocket companion in long solitary mountain walks in Ireland and Switzerland’ (Elisabeth Lecky 1909, 306). His History of England in the Eighteenth Century (1878–90) indeed regarded the work as one of the most famous and valuable books of the eighteenth century … no other English book affords so many lessons of enduring value to those who are engaged in the study either of the British Constitution or of the general principles of government. (W. E. H. Lecky 1892, 6:389–90)

Yet Lecky, too, stressed that Burke’s ‘judgment was often obscured by violent gusts of passion’, and if his ‘judgment of the French Revolution was … far more profound and far-seeing than that of his contemporaries … it cannot reasonably be denied that he greatly underrated the faults and exaggerated the merits of the Government that preceded it’ (1892, 6:306–7). Lecky also added that Burke could not be said to be in real harmony with our modern type of government. His conception of politics was indeed widely different from that which now generally prevails. He was as far as possible from a democratic statesman. He believed that pure democracy would always in the long run prove subversive of property, subversive of true freedom, subversive of all stability in the State. (Elisabeth Lecky 1909, 306–07)

This, Lecky clearly appreciated, was not a position likely to appeal to a late Victorian electorate. A similar theme is taken up by Edward Alloway Pankhurst, writing in 1886. Here the Reflections is praised for having correctly foreseen tyranny arising ‘not as a random utterance, but given as a necessary consequence of that abolition of all CLASSES so dear to the republicans of his time’. But Pankhurst nonetheless queried why Burke had ‘resisted with strange pertinacity all noting that Burke himself had responded to the allegation of mental instability by retorting to his niece that ‘the Jacobins … affect to think, that I am mad; but believe me, the world twenty years hence will, and with reason too, think from their conduct that they must have been mad’ (quoted in Timbs 1862, 347). 24 Among later interpreters, the extreme limits of the psychological interpretation are probed in Kramnick (1977).

Some Nineteenth-Century Appraisals of Burke’s Reflections  87 schemes of parliamentary reform’, which rendered it ‘difficult to reconcile his conduct in this question with his own assertion, that his life had been given to the reform of abuses’. Burke thus ‘might have been mistaken in his views’. But, Pankhurst added, no one now doubts the sincerity of his convictions or the purity of his motives … In the ‘Reflections’ there are, doubtless, truths too strongly stated. It presents only one side of the subject. The stick was bent too much one way, and Burke sought to bend it in the other, in order to regain the normal direction. (1886, 25–26, 56)

In accounting for this, the leading conservative Henry Maine described the ‘great disillusion’ which seemed to separate Burke’s American writings from those on the French Revolution (1886, 172). Similar, too, is the judgement of another prominent late Victorian, Leslie Stephen, to whom ‘Burke was incomparably the greatest of all English political writers’ (1892, 2:38–39). In an extensive discussion in his History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (1876), Stephen focused on the issue of Burke’s consistency. He acknowledged that in the ‘Appeal to the Old Whigs’ Burke had shown his lifelong antipathy to the principles of violent revolution, but contended that nonetheless, in some respects, Burke may fairly be called inconsistent. Popular instinct sometimes outruns philosophical insight. Burke’s theory condemned the French, whilst it justified the American, movement; but the two movements had really a connection not contemplated in his philosophy. The man who is in intention only setting a precedent for maintaining an ancient right of way may be, in fact, encouraging his followers to break down established fences. Burke helped – much against his will – to stimulate the current of feeling which drew fresh strength from the American war, and brought about the crash of the French system. He was the less conscious of this because he was blind to the positive side of the revolutionary creed. (1902, 2:245–50)

Indisputably the best-known late Victorian exposition of Burke’s views, and probably that which had the greatest influence upon twentieth-century writers, was contained in two accounts by the liberal politician John Morley.25 Morley acknowledged in his memoirs that in his practical political conduct he ‘owed more to Burke for practical principles in the strategy and tactics of public life than to the others’ (1917, 1:81–82). His first study, Edmund Burke. An Historical Study, was begun in 1866 and was published in the Fortnightly Review in February 1867 before appearing as a book. It initially portrays the hero who ‘led the Whigs to the forgotten truth that a government exists for the sake of the whole people’ (Hirst 1927, 88–118). The last ninety pages are a study of the French Revolutionary period, which terms the Reflections ‘the soundest contemporary criticism we possess’ (Morley 1867, 260). Yet to Morley, too, Burke’s magnum opus was also essentially an unbalanced work 25

See the praise offered by MacCunn (1913, 17) in the first scholarly study of Burke’s political ideas.

88   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe which failed to appreciate the progressive elements and potential of the revolutionary movement. Burke had ‘ignored the sincerely constitutional character’ of the intentions of the revolutionaries ‘through anger at their total misapprehension of the only means by which, as he thought, their intentions could be carried out’. Morley found admirable Burke’s ‘hostile and reasoned judgment against the revolutionary methods, his extraordinary foresight into some of their remote consequences, his general theory of the sacredness of order’. But he condemned the fact that at the bottom of all, we discern that the lessons deducible from all European history, that of England not excepted, had not yet made themselves felt within his mind. He shows no consciousness that feudalism and Catholicism, in a certain stage of progress the most binding and indispensable of social conditions, had now, in their season of decay, grown bitterly and fiercely anti-social.

Here then we have the apparent lesson of the debates surrounding and the consequences of the 1867 Reform Act: It is the essence and significance of all separate classes – capitalist, hereditary, aristocratic, monarchic – to be more or less anti-social in the modern stage, until they have learnt by patient, disinterested, and humane meditation, that the claims of the multitude are sovereign and paramount, just because it is the multitude. (Morley 1867, 267, 299–301)

Morley’s second account of Burke began life as an Encyclopaedia Britannica entry (Hirst 1927, 2, 7) and appeared in 1879 to the praise of, among others, Gladstone. Recast as Burke (1888), in the ‘English Men of Letters’ series, it reiterated that Burke’s role in the struggle for American independence, commands almost without alloy the admiration and reverence of posterity. His attitude in the second of them, the great revolution in France, has raised controversies which can only be compared in heat and duration to the master controversies of theology. (Morley 1888, 209)

Here, however, Morley’s condemnation was if anything considerably harsher than that voiced a decade earlier. ‘Unhappily’, he thought, Burke had ‘advanced from criticism to practical exhortation, in our opinion the most mischievous and indefensible that has ever been pressed by any statesman on any nation’. The point was one of mistaken timing: The year 1790 was precisely the time when the hopes of the best men in France shone most brightly, and seemed most reasonable. There had been disorders, and Paris still had ferocity in her mien. But Robespierre was an obscure figure on the back benches of the Assembly. Nobody had ever heard of Danton. The name of Republic had never been so much as whispered. (224)

Burke, then, had in a sense created a self-fulfilling prophecy by taking sides at a moment when his intervention actually affected the Revolution’s outcome. Yet Morley credits Burke as not merely having had his prophecy ‘fulfilled to the letter. What is still more important for the credit of his foresight is, that

Some Nineteenth-Century Appraisals of Burke’s Reflections  89 not only did his prophecy come true, but it came true for the reasons that he had fixed upon’ (1888, 227), specifically because of the civil constitution of the clergy, and the levelling policies of the National Assembly. Nonetheless the true root of Burke’s error was his treatment of ‘the Revolution as the solution of a merely political question’ when, in fact, [the] question was much deeper. It was a social question that burned under the surface of what seemed no more than a modification of external arrangements … It was not a question of the power of the king, or the measure of an electoral circumscription, that made the Revolution; it was the iniquitous distribution of the taxes, the scourge of the militia service, the scourge of the road service, the destructive tyranny exercised in the vast preserves of wild game, the vexatious rights and imposts of the lords of manors, and all the other odious burdens and heavy impediments on the prosperity of the thrifty and industrious part of the nation. If he had seen ever so clearly that one of the most important sides of the Revolution in progress was the rescue of the tiller of the soil, Burke would still doubtless have viewed events with bitter suspicion. (1888, 230–32)

Instead Burke’s sensibilities were dead in this direction, and alive only to ‘feeling on one side, and to a sensibility that is only alive to the consecrated force of historic associations’ (1888, 232). These were clearly lessons relevant to a Britain facing agricultural and industrial depression, deepening poverty, and the widespread perception that ‘social’ problems were rapidly rendering high Victorian political and economic assumptions obsolete. At the end of our period, finally, we find another leading liberal historian, the Catholic Lord Acton, terming Burke ‘our best political writer, and the deepest of all Whigs’ (Figgis and Laurence 1917, 1:277), and the creator of ‘the noblest political philosophy in the world’ amidst the American crisis (Acton 1909, 56). ‘You can hardly imagine’, he wrote once, ‘what Burke is for all of us who think about politics, and are not wrapped in the blaze and the whirlwind of Rousseau’ (Paul 1904, 55–56). Clearly sympathetic to Burke’s philo-Catholicism and general sympathy for religious sentiment,26 Acton saw Burke as among the ‘greatest writers of the Whig party’ and a writer who ‘when true to himself ’, was ‘the most intelligent of our instructors’ (1909, 53; 1906, 28). Religion, then, was central to this appraisal; to Acton, in ‘the writings of his last years (1792–1797) whatever was Protestant or partial or revolutionary of 1688 in his political views disappeared, and what remained was a purely Catholic view of political principles and of history’ (Gasquet 1906, 4). Conclusion The Victorian assessment of the Reflections was less hagiographical, more sceptical, and more driven by existing domestic political developments than in either of the two heroic phases in the making of Burke’s reputation. Burke 26

E.g. Figgis and Laurence (1908, 347).

90   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe was not a seminal figure for Victorian statesmen or historians because his anti-revolutionary writings were assumed to be palpably anti-democratic in an age when such elitism, if widely entertained in private, invited political isolation when aired in public. (But there are of course also more and less democratic readings of Burke’s oeuvre as a whole.)27 Whigs found it awkward identifying with someone so apparently at odds with the actual course travelled by European history in the nineteenth century. Tories found Burke inspirational, but nonetheless insufficiently Tory to ever become a figurehead in the reconstruction of their own tradition until the early twentieth century.28 Many in both camps were contemptuous of, perhaps also fearful of, American democracy. Yet Burke’s American writings thus remain the benchmark for most of the positive assessment of his thought in this period, rather than his analysis of the French Revolution. Many leading Victorians, as we have seen, were happy to countenance the thought that the French Revolution had contained progressive elements which Burke had chosen to overlook. More soberly, perhaps, they appreciated that ignoring the suffering masses had helped occasion the Revolution in the first place and, in the last third of the century, that moral was one that few could afford to overlook. Most were much more distant from the age of chivalry than Burke’s contemporaries, and some, no doubt, were themselves simply sophisters, economists or calculators. The Burke of the Reflections, then, did reach an era of irrelevance. ‘Though Burke lives we meet with no Burkites’, commented Henry Sidgwick (1904, 136). ‘Burke is out of fashion’, claimed a writer on South Africa in 1905 (Methuen 1905, 161). The great Burke revival of the mid-twentieth century, then, was occasioned by an entirely divergent set of developments, principally another revolution, and then several such, of a type recognisably condemnable on the criteria of the Reflections and Burke’s subsequent writings on the French Revolution. Long dismissed, the utility of the Reflections as a substantive analysis could again be brought to the fore. Burke again found his readers by the thousand, and a reincarnation which persists to the present.



See the comments of MacCunn (1913, 161–62). By 1923 a leading commentator would claim that ‘from the publication of the Reflections [Burke] must be reckoned not a Whig but a Tory’ despite Burke’s own denial of this ‘accusation’ (Lord Hugh Cecil 1923, 41). But there are certainly much earlier echoes; cf. Dicey’s view that Burke ‘had always in constitutional matters leaned strongly towards historical conservatism’ (Dicey 1905, 72).


Edmund Burke, the French Revolution and his French Critics Jeremy Jennings

In 1791 the publication of an exchange of letters between Edmund Burke and Claude-François de Rivarol took place.1 At first glance their publication looked unpromising, as the Parisian editor was obliged to announce that the first of Rivarol’s letters could not be published because its author had not retained a copy of it. However, once this disappointment has been overcome, there can be no doubt as to the interest of this brief exchange for, if Burke was now hailed as the author of the celebrated Reflections on the Revolution in France, Claude-François de Rivarol was the brother of unquestionably the most brilliant and the most defamatory of all of France’s counter-revolutionary journalists, Antoine de Rivarol, author of numerous merciless diatribes against the course of the Revolution and its leaders, as well as the editor of the Journal politique national.2 Burke was not slow in getting to the point. Having thanked ClaudeFrançois de Rivarol for his ‘polite and flattering’ letter and indicated that his Reflections on the Revolution in France were intended to serve the interests of ‘this kingdom and of mankind’, he next confessed that he had read the Journal politique national (presumably Rivarol had sent it to Burke) too late for it to have informed his own account. Yet, he averred, these texts would one day be placed by the side of the annals of Tacitus. There was, Burke wrote, ‘a strong coincidence in our way of thinking’. This, however, was not all, because, as Burke indicates, Rivarol had also sent him some of his poems, most notably a poem running to over 200 lines entitled Les Chartreux.3 ‘So far as I am capable of forming any judgment upon French poetry,’ Burke commented, ‘your verses are spirited and well-turned.’ Moreover, Burke added, ‘the author


Lettre de M. Burke … (1791). The text of Burke’s letter, written in English, can be found in Corr. 6:265–70; to Claude-François Rivarol [1 June 1791]. 2 Journal politique national (1808). 3 Les Chartreux, trans. The Carthusians.

92   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe possesses the art of interesting the passions, which is the triumph of that Kind of eloquence’ (Corr. 6:265). To this we will return, but we might for the moment care to reflect upon what had brought these two figures together. Antoine de Rivarol’s early works – for example, his famous and still-read Dissertations sur l’universalité de la langue française – predate the Revolution, but they were to provide the philosophical support for what was to be the most vehement and coherent attack upon the principles of 1789. Specifically, Rivarol denied the veracity of Condillac’s sensationalist epistemology, arguing that sentiment preceded sensation, doubted that man could or should be dissected into his constituent parts, and believed that truth and wisdom were embodied in language. Of all languages, French was undoubtedly the most superior, and this for the reason that it excluded all obscurity and confusion. ‘That which is not clear’, Rivarol wrote, ‘is not French’ (Rivarol 1784, 30).4 In nature, everything was in harmony and proportion, and it thus followed that ‘the man who analyses, whether as a chemist or as a reasoner, can only … decompose and kill’.5 In Rivarol’s opinion, it was precisely this analytical spirit that inspired the philosophes and which accounted for their dangerous errors. The philosophe, Rivarol wrote, was a man who shook prejudices but did not acquire virtues, who spoke to the mind but not to the heart. And the heart was everything. Accordingly, the philosophes had mistaken resemblance between men for the equality of man. They had failed to realize that, in politics, it was not truth but ‘fixity’ that mattered. Nor could one legitimately speak of universal justice: all judgements were relative to circumstances. Likewise, it was foolish to speak of man’s natural goodness. It was not without considerable effort that men acquired a moral sense. Men therefore needed government, religion and morality to protect and elevate them. Moreover, men by nature were not solitary but social beings. It was the solitary condition that was the artificial condition. All of these arguments were brought to bear by Antoine de Rivarol from the summer of 1789 onwards in his analysis of the Revolution contained in the Journal national politique referred to by Burke. Thus armed, he, like Burke, could argue that the Revolution was doomed to fail from its very first step. The Terror denoted not the derailing of the Revolution but its logical conclusion. This is amply demonstrated, as it is with Burke, in Antoine de Rivarol’s analysis of the Revolution’s use of the language of rights. The Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen was, according to Rivarol, nothing but a criminal and dangerous document. It was a text that ignored practice and experience, confused the savage with the social man, and mistook natural independence for civil liberty. Why, he asked, talk to citizens of rights they will never exercise? Why tell men that they are born equal when it would be honest to tell them that one is born strong and another weak? Why precede 4

‘Ce qui n’est pas clair, n’est pas Français’ (all translations into English are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated). 5 ‘l’homme qui analyse, soit comme chimiste, soit comme raisonneur, ne peut que … décomposer et tuer.’

Edmund Burke, the French Revolution and his French Critics   93 a constitution with a statement of metaphysics that earlier legislators had always had the good sense to hide within the foundations of their institutions? Furthermore, the people – the embodiment of blind fury, envy and ignorance – would not understand such a declaration of rights. In their hands, what had been formulated to defend rights would quickly become a means of attack. Having been told that they enjoyed civil equality, the people would demand absolute equality of ownership. A hatred of rank would turn into a hatred of all authority. ‘The negroes in our colonies and the servants in our houses’, Rivarol proclaimed, ‘could, with the declaration of rights in their hands, chase us from our inheritance’ (Rivarol 1808, 113).6 As for the soldier told to defend private property, he would reply that the earth belonged to all men and that he wanted his share. ‘What would you say’, Rivarol asked, ‘to this sophist armed with your declarations of rights and a gun? He would take your goods as a man of nature, enjoy them as a citizen, and defend them as a soldier’ (Rivarol 1808, 257).7 In short, if you encouraged the ignorant to believe the false idea that rights and conditions should be equal, the result would be blood, ruin, and death. Behind Rivarol’s charge that talk of natural rights in the context of a society grounded upon social and economic inequality was foolish and incautious nonsense lay the belief or awareness that civilization was only ever a fragile construction and one that could be easily swept away by the spirit of barbarism. By the same token, if Rivarol accepted that the church and the royal court were, in part, responsible for France’s ills, he remained convinced both that only a monarchy and a hereditary aristocracy, combined with the institutions of private property, the family and an established religion, could restore order and that a fetish for popular sovereignty had effectively dissolved the body politic, producing an altogether new species of revolutionary government. Blame lay with philosophy for having undermined the ancien régime and the fanatical demagogues who had voiced its principles in the National Assembly. Upon this evidence, when Burke acknowledged the similarities between his and Antoine de Rivarol’s way of seeing things, there are grounds for thinking that he was being more than simply polite and one can only speculate as to how he would have reacted as he read Rivarol’s blistering prose. But what of this exchange of letters between Burke and Antoine de Rivarol’s brother, Claude-François? What light, if any, does it cast on both authors and their opinions? Burke’s reply to Claude-François de Rivarol addresses three, slightly related, issues. The first part of his text spoke of recent events in the Low Countries and how the Emperor Leopold might set about restoring his authority. Rivarol appears specifically to have asked for Burke’s views on this matter. The context is not unimportant. The Emperor Joseph II had set about imposing a series 6

‘Les nègres, dans nos colonies, les domestiques dans nos maisons, peuvent, la déclaration des droits à la main, nous chasser de nos héritages.’ 7 ‘Que diriez-vous à ce sophiste armé de votre déclaration des droits et un fusil? Il prendra votre bien comme homme de la nature, il en jouira comme citoyen, et le défendra comme soldat.’

94   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe of reforms designed to modernize and centralize the political, judicial and administrative system of the Austrian Netherlands. This also involved the secularization of the educational system and the reorganization of several religious orders. In January 1790 a popular revolt broke out against these policies, leading to the creation of the short-lived United States of Belgium. Joseph’s successor, Leopold, quickly reasserted the authority of the Habsburg dynasty, bringing the revolt to a close by December of that year. The question, in short, was whether the Emperor should seek to repress what Rivarol had called ‘monkish fury’8 by deploying a fury of his own? In his response, we see Burke at his most moderate and pragmatic. Burke’s concern was that such fury would unleash a fury from another source that would prove even more damaging and difficult to bring to an end. This question, he wrote, was of such importance that all great statesmen should consider which of these two furies would prove more fatal to government and to the prosperity and peace of the country. Burke did not deny the reality of the despair felt by those deprived of their property and chased from their homes by violence. Nor did he question the sense of compassion that such misfortune induced in our hearts. These were feelings implanted in us by our creator and which assured our own preservation. They were, however, far removed from what Burke dismissed as ‘men’s imaginary political systems concerning governments’. In brief, if, ‘from mistaken ideas of policy’, princes wanted to ‘excite the passion of [the] multitude’ against a particular class or group of people in society – in this case, priests – they ran the risk of calling to their aid an ally still more dangerous than the enemy they wished to defeat. No doubt the Emperor had made great sacrifices. But, Burke asked, did he wish to unleash a deluge similar to that which had inundated the ‘great Monarchy’ of France? It was not a question of knowing whether the people would argue well or badly but of whether the outcome of its discussions would prove fatal to kings as to priests. Of course, the Emperor could rely upon his army, but great armies had been seduced, and the seducers were never far away. He could strengthen his frontiers but fortresses too had traitors and the ‘democratick faction’ in the Low Countries had an ‘armed ally’ close at hand. Surely, therefore, a far better and more prudent policy dictated that security for the Emperor resided in fortifying himself in ‘the heart of his people’? It was better to repair ‘those dykes and barriers, which prejudice might rise in his favour’ than to destroy them. In brief, allegiance was best secured by cultivating affection. In the Low Countries, Burke continued, the Emperor possessed the most populous, the most cultivated and, consequently, the most flourishing country in Europe. The people were industrious, frugal, easy and obedient. What, therefore, did it matter if they remained fond of monks, attached to the sound of church bells or occasionally lit a candle? ‘A wise prince’, Burke concluded, ‘will study the genius of his people’ and will ‘indulge them in their humours’. Nor will he take away its privileges. He will act according to the circumstances and for as long as he follows ‘the practical principles of a practical policy’ he will be the ‘happy Prince of a happy people’. 8

‘furie monacale’.

Edmund Burke, the French Revolution and his French Critics   95 Moreover, he should ignore the chatter of the Condorcets and Raynals of the world, the rebukes voiced by those Burke refers to contemptuously as ‘the magpies and Jays of philosophy’ (Corr. 6:266–68).9 At this point Burke addresses his second question. The rebellion in the Austrian Netherlands, he observes, was ‘a rebellion against innovation’. When Leopold reclaimed his territory, he found everything as it had been before. Could the same be said, Burke asks, of the king of France? Even if a restoration were to take place, would he find his kingdom in the same condition? The answer was clearly no, for the simple reason that, in contrast to the revolt in the Low Countries, the rebellion in France had been ‘a revolt of innovation’. There was, Burke commented, no shortage of people eager to recommend to Leopold that he should follow a similar path, that he should create a ‘democratick party’ in order to allow him, all the better, ‘to curb the Aristocratic and the Clerical’. Burke was in no doubt as to the errors involved in this strategy. In general, Burke wrote, a politics based upon civil discord is perilous for the prince and fatal for his subjects. The maintenance and permanence of orders and a genuine understanding between all the parties that make up government offered a better – indeed, the best – chance of peace and tranquillity. Corporations with a permanent existence and an hereditary nobility were the best protectors of monarchical succession. Without this system of orders and institutions, hereditary monarchy could not survive. Yet, in creating a ‘democratic royalty’, this was exactly what had been brought into existence in France. The monarchy alone rested upon the hereditary principle. All other institutions were elective. And thus the monarchy was an anomaly, was in blatant contradiction with all the sentiments and ideas of the people. In brief, the intricate web of self-regulating institutions and practices, around which ties of duty, friendship, loyalty and reciprocity had been enacted and formed, had been ruthlessly stripped away, leaving the hereditary monarchy exposed and ready to fall. The monarchy of France, Burke concluded, ‘is a solitary, unsupported, anomalous thing’ (Corr. 6:268). The third aspect of Burke’s reply is arguably the most intriguing. It concerns his response to Rivarol’s poem, Les Chartreux. The subject of Rivarol’s poem is that of two young lovers, one of whom, Eugénie, disguises herself as a man so as to follow her lover into the cloisters of a monastery. Burke takes the intended moral of the tale to be that isolation from the affections and relationships found in society ‘makes the heart cold and unfeeling.’ Burke is not entirely convinced by this, commenting that the ‘greatest crimes’ usually have their source not ‘from a want of feeling for others’ but in our ‘over sensibility for ourselves and an over indulgence to our own desires’. Such solitary beings as the Chartreux, he continued, whilst they were less touched by the sympathies which softened our manners, were ‘less engaged in the passions which agitate the mind’. In summary, austerity, while it hardened the heart, gave less nourishment to crime. ‘In my experience,’ Burke explained, ‘I have found that those who were the most indulgent to themselves were … less kind to others’ 9

To Claude-François Rivarol [1 June 1791].

96   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe and certainly less so than those who ‘lived a life nearer to self-denial’. Indeed, he went on, ‘I have observed that a luxurious softness of manners hardens the heart at least as much as an overdone abstinence’. Thus, he did not agree with what he took to be Rivarol’s view that the only love worth its name was that professed by ‘Phaedras’ or by ‘ancient or Modern’ versions of ‘Eloyses’. ‘Ladies’ should not pursue ‘their lovers into convents of Carthusians, nor follow them in disguise to camps and slaughterhouses’ (Corr. 6:269–70). Beneath this plea for a moderation of the passions, however, lay a broader point, and one that related directly to the fate of contemporary France. It was, Burke observed, in the nature of the poet to choose subjects intended to ‘excite the high relish arising from the mixed sensations which will arise in that anxious embarrassment of the mind’ found where ‘vices and virtues meet near their confines’. In Paris, he went on, he sensed that philosophers shared the instincts of the poets, that they were ‘naturally led by a desire of flattering the passions’. What, Burke commented, might be allowed in a poet could not be indulged in a philosopher. Through a mixture of hatred and scorn, they had succeeded in exploding what Burke termed ‘that class of virtues which restrain the appetite’. In their place they had substituted a virtue they called humanity or benevolence. By this expedient, Burke observed, ‘their morality has no idea in it of restraint, or indeed of a distinct settled principle of any kind’. He concluded: When their disciples are thus left free and guided only by present feeling, they are no longer to be depended upon for good or evil. The men who to day, snatch the worst criminals from justice, will murder the most innocent persons to morrow. (Corr. 6:270).

What was the nature of Rivarol’s response to Burke? Broadly speaking, he agreed with Burke’s analysis of the best course of action to be taken in the Low Countries. ‘This odious and disruptive sect’10 of the philosophes, he conceded, was best dealt with by ‘firm and wise’11 government than by bayonets. A sound administration of the finances – as, he admitted, had not been the case in France – would take away the pretexts for their complaints and deprive them of a receptive audience, leaving them with nothing better to do than drown themselves in metaphysics and their love of the universe. The ‘thousand-headed hydra’12 of democracy must not be replaced by the ‘hydra of aristocracy’13 intent on devouring the people. Revenge was to be avoided. Yet there could be no doubt as to Rivarol’s loathing of the philosophes. ‘A philosophe’, he wrote, ‘knows that personal interest is the motive behind everything, that love of ourselves is the first law of nature’14 and therefore that it was ‘madness to be a good son, a good father, a good friend and a


‘Cette secte odieuse et perturbatrice’. ‘ferme et sage’. 12 ‘hydre à mille têtes’. 13 ‘hydre de l’aristocratie’. 14 ‘Un philosophes sait que l’intérêt personnel est le mobile de tout, que l’amour de nous-mêmes est la première loi de la nature.’ 11

Edmund Burke, the French Revolution and his French Critics   97 subject citizen’.15 The philosophe, he concluded, ‘is a true savage at the heart of society’16 (Lettre de M. Burke 1791, 19). On the moral to be drawn from the experience of the two lovers, there was no such agreement. There was, Rivarol responded, no merit in solitude. Celibacy, retirement, inaction, were crimes against nature. It was in the midst of society that ‘gentle sympathy’17 was nurtured and bore fruit, where relationships and lines of affection of limitless kinds united the human race in an ‘immense marriage’18 of the heart. ‘I have always noticed’, Rivarol remarked, ‘that the most dreadful man is the man without family, and I have also noticed that, in the national assembly, the most criminal sedition monger was either a bachelor or a bad husband, which amounts to the same thing’(Lettre de M. Burke 1791, 25).19 The philosophes on this account were all monks: they had neither affections, nor fathers, nor children. ‘The first law of nature’, Rivarol concluded, ‘is to live for yourself; but the first law of society is to live for others’(Lettre de M. Burke 1791, 25).20 In the ideas of both of the Rivarol brothers, we can see a prefiguration of what were to become the central themes raised by theorists of counterrevolution in France from the 1790s onwards. The Revolution was a conspiracy organized and led by the philosophes. It was the expression of atheism and of individualism. It was an act of providence and a display of divine displeasure with a sinful France. All republics, all political systems resting upon the claims of popular sovereignty, were doomed to collapse. Rights could only be granted if reciprocal duties were acknowledged. Only a restored and purified monarchy could put an end to anarchy. From this perspective – that is to say, from the perspective of the Rivarol brothers – there was much to be admired in Burke’s account of the Revolution. Above all, he had seen the frightening originality of the events that were unfolding and, from the outset, had seen the spirit of innovation and of philosophy that would drive the Revolution forward towards its cataclysmic and destructive conclusion. Yet, we should acknowledge the limits to the admiration felt by the French and other counter-revolutionaries for Burke, limits that were to become more obvious in the writings of Joseph de Maistre (a Savoyard) and Louis de Bonald (a Frenchman). We know that Joseph de Maistre read Burke’s Reflections soon after it appeared in French in November 1790 (a matter of weeks after its publication in English).21 In a letter to his friend Henri Costa de Beauregard, dated 21

15 16 17 18 19

20 21

‘de la folie à être bon fils, bon père, bon ami et sujet soumis’. ‘un vrai sauvage au milieu de la société’. ‘douce sympathie’. ‘immense mariage’. ‘J’ai toujours remarqué dans le monde que l’homme la plus atroce est l’homme sans famille, et j’ai aussi remarqué dans l’assemblée nationale que les factieux les plus criminels étaient ou célibataires ou mauvais époux, ce qui revient au même.’ ‘La première loi de la nature est celle-ci, vis pour toi-même, mais la première loi de la société est de vivre pour autrui.’ See Jean-Louis Darcel, Intro. to Maistre ([1794] 1992, 79–85).

98   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe January 1791, he not only praised ‘the admirable Burke’ but indicated that the Reflections had reinforced and confirmed his own ‘anti-democratic and anti-gallican ideas’.22 Moreover, Maistre cited Burke in his first counterrevolutionary publication, his Lettres d’un royaliste savoisien of 1793, specifically referencing the Burkean argument that neither society nor government could be rebuilt upon abstract, metaphysical principles. Yet, when Maistre published his now-famous Considerations on France in 1797 Burke received only one mention and this was only to add to Maistre’s mockery of the number of laws produced by France’s revolutionary National Assembly (Maistre 1974, 100). Maistre’s attitude towards the Revolution had clearly hardened in the interim and, from his new position, he found Burke’s argument both troubling and ambiguous. For example, in his Réflexions sur le protestantisme, published in 1798, Maistre defended Burke against the criticism levelled at him by Thomas Paine in The Rights of Man (citing Burke as ‘this great patriot, this great writer, this celebrated prophet’ [Maistre 2007, 325])23 but he also cast doubt on Burke’s ‘ingenious’ hypothesis that in 1688 James II had committed an act of ‘voluntary abdication’.24 In effect, Burke stood accused of allowing the principles of popular sovereignty and rebellion in through the back door (Maistre 2007, 315). This hinted at deeper reasons explaining Burke’s limited appeal to French counter-revolutionaries. After all, Burke was a Protestant and Protestantism, in the words of Maistre, was ‘a religious enemy of the French’, a religion that could only lead to anarchy (Maistre 2007, 315).25 Nor, more obviously, did such writers share Burke’s appreciation of traditional English liberties or his attachment to representative institutions. Least of all were they prepared to accept the exemplary character and role that Burke attributed to English history. This place was to be held by France as the eldest daughter of the church. The true counter-revolution, Maistre believed, would only commence when England reconverted to Catholicism (Maistre 2007, 1114). So Burke was largely to fade from view in subsequent counter-revolutionary histories. Indeed, as François Furet has remarked, Burke was absent from most French histories of the Revolution written in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (2007, 902–15).26 This is not unduly difficult to understand. As we know, for Burke the Revolution of 1789 amounted to a sudden and spontaneous eruption of evil into the European body politic. By contrast, for most French commentators the Revolution was far from being the result of accidental forces and had its roots deep within centuries-old developments of French (and European) history. This, for example, was the view of the writerpolitician François Guizot. It was also that of Madame de Staël. Accordingly, Burke, apart from a few minor asides, is absent from her monumental


See Richard A. Lebrun, Intro. to Maistre (1974, 5). ‘ce grand patriote, ce grand écrivain, ce prophète célèbre’. 24 ‘abdication voluntaire’. 25 ‘une religion ennemi des Français’. 26 This is a view echoed by Gérard Gengembre, who wrote that ‘French historians from Thiers to Lefebvre have shown little interest in Burke’ (1989, 916). 23

Edmund Burke, the French Revolution and his French Critics   99 Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution. She cites Burke on the recall of her father, Jacques Necker, to government and remarks on how, having ‘attained a great ascendant over his countrymen’, Burke contributed to public indignation against France, but that is about it (Stael [1818] 2008, 387). That Burke was largely ignored by nineteenth-century authors of accounts of the Revolution is further confirmed if we refer to Hippolyte Taine’s multivolumed Les Origines de la France contemporaine, penned after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Unlike many of his countrymen, Taine saw no redeeming features in the Revolution. It was bad from start to finish. Moreover, in Burkean fashion, he saw it as an outbreak of ‘spontaneous anarchy’, fuelled by the theories of the philosophes (and Rousseau in particular). Yet, if Taine cites Burke as ‘the ablest theorist of political liberty’ on the other side of the Channel and refers to the Reflections as ‘a work which is a prophecy and a masterpiece’ (Taine [1876] 2002, 1:141), he makes no further use of Burke’s text or ideas. As for writers broadly sympathetic to the Revolution, they found it hard to disguise their contempt for Burke. Jules Michelet, one of the towering figures of French intellectual life in the mid-century, called Burke ‘the noisy Irish trumpet’27 and referred to his ‘infamous book, wild with rage, full of lies and cheap insults’.28 Burke, he averred, had taken his ideas on the Revolution from those who had fled France and gone into exile: from this, he had concluded that France was a country unfit for liberty and that its ‘harebrained and violent people’ were easily turned to crime.29 Burke’s ‘furious and foul’ book, Michelet wrote, was so full of anger that ‘the author forgets on each page what he has just written’.30 In it was to be found nothing but ‘abuse and contradiction’.31 The Reflections, he concluded, was a call to return to the ‘spectacular governments of the middle ages, to the politics of the miracle’ (Michelet [1847–53] 1979, I, 341–55).32 There was however another group of French writers whom we might have expected to have expressed admiration for Burke: those liberals who, from bitter experience, came to appreciate the perils of political utopianism. But here too there were a series of problems. One of the very first responses to Burke’s fulminations against the Revolution came from Antoine-Louis Destutt de Tracy. Indeed his text M. de Tracy à M. Burke was published some seven months before the publication of the Reflections and was largely a commentary on what Destutt de Tracy admitted to be only extracts from a speech made by Burke to the House of Commons in February 1790.33 In essence, Destutt de Tracy’s charge was that Burke revealed ‘a great ignorance

27 28 29

30 31 32 33

‘la bruyante trompette irlandaise’. ‘livre infâme, insensé de rage, plein de calomnies, de basses insultes’. ‘un pays indigne de la liberté, un people étourdi, violent, qui, par faiblesse de tête, tournait aisément au crime’. ‘l’auteur oublie à chaque page ce qu’il vient de dire dans l’autre’. ‘injure et contradiction’. ‘aux merveilleux gouvernements du Moyen Age, aux politiques de miracle’. Destutt de Tracy (1790). For a commentary on this text see Welch (1984, 20–22).

100   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe of the principles and operations of the French National Assembly’34 and that he had failed to understand the spirit of the Revolution. Burke was wrong to see the Revolution as a sudden ‘collapse’35. Rather it was the result of a ‘gradual’36 decline and a ‘long despotism’.37 Only when all these misfortunes had reached their apogee did France begin the restoration of its liberty. Burke had misjudged ‘the remarkable patriotism by which every province of the French empire has hastened to renounce every privilege, feeling that there are none to be compared to liberty or any private distinction as valuable as general union’ (1790, 4).38 More critically still, if Destutt de Tracy accepted the legitimacy of Burke’s argument that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 had only been a ‘restoration’,39 he countered that such was the parlous state of France that it needed a ‘complete revolution’40. What, he asked sarcastically, did Burke believe that the French should have preserved of ‘the ancient order of things’?41 Its old privileged orders and redundant aristocracy? Nor did Destutt de Tracy accept that France’s ‘greatest mistake’42 was that it had not sought to copy the English constitution ‘exactly’.43 Certainly, he replied, there were ‘things admirable and admired’ in England’s constitution but was France also to imitate its faults? Should France emulate parliamentary corruption and the press gang? Nor did Destutt de Tracy intend to apologize for the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen. ‘If our declaration of rights is nonsense’, he concluded, ‘our conduct is an excellent commentary upon it. It was at the moment when America busied herself with such nonsense that it became invincible to the whole force of England’ (1790, 14).44 Burke, in other words, did little to dent Destutt de Tracy’s initial optimism that, with the help of public education and a good dose of patriotism, the Revolution would succeed both in fostering liberty and producing moderate representative government ‘founded on morality and the desire of making mankind happy’ (1790, 4).45 There was therefore relatively little to be learned from him. A similar stance is found in the writings of Benjamin Constant. The first reference to Burke by Constant is found in a letter to Isabelle de Charrière


‘une grande ignorance des opérations & des principes de l’Assemblée Nationale Française’. 35 ‘chute’. 36 ‘graduelle’ 37 ‘long despotisme’. 38 ‘l’étonnante patriotisme par lequel toutes les Provinces de l’Empire Français se sont empressées de renoncer Privilège, sentant qu’il n’y a en a pas de comparable à la Liberté, ni de distinction particulière qui vaille l’union générale.’ 39 ‘restauration’. 40 ‘révolution entière’. 41 ‘ancien ordre des choses’. 42 ‘plus grand tort’. 43 ‘exactement’. 44 ‘Si notre déclaration des Droits est un galimathias, notre conduite en est une excellente commentaire. C’est à l’instant où l’Amérique s’est occupée de pareil galimathias, qu’elle est devenue invincible à toutes les force de l’Angleterre.’ 45 ‘fondé sur la morale & le désir du bonheur des hommes’.

Edmund Burke, the French Revolution and his French Critics   101 dated 10 December 1790. Constant was just twenty-three years old at the time and, as we know, Reflections on the Revolution in France had appeared in French scarcely two weeks previously. ‘I occupy myself at present’, Constant wrote, ‘with reading and refuting the book by Burke against the French Levellers. There are as many absurdities as lines in this famous book … He defends the nobility, the exclusion of radicals, the establishment of a dominant religion, and other things of this nature.’46 ‘I have already written much’, he added, ‘on this defence of abuses’47 (Constant 1996, 140).48 Despite Constant’s hopes to the contrary, nothing of substance came of this refutation but, as Steven Vincent has written, it is clear that Constant, with time, came to identify ‘Burke with those who rejected principles in favour of arbitrary rule’ (Vincent 2013, 120).49 As Constant was later to write in one of his most important pamphlets of the 1790s, Des Réactions politiques [1796], Burke maintained that ‘some axioms, metaphysical truths, are able to be politically false, preferring to these axioms motives, prejudices, memories, weaknesses, all things vague, indefinable, fluctuating’ (Constant 1988, 142).50 There was a more fundamental issue. For both Destutt de Tracy and for Constant, Burke’s account of English liberties as being rooted in long-established traditions and institutions seemed to preclude the possibility of liberty ever being properly established in France. Revolutions, as they came to see, might well be bad things with terrible human costs but one had occurred and what mattered was that the good things it announced had to be consolidated and protected in whatever new polity might emerge. It was for this reason that French liberals, unlike Burke, were prepared to make a distinction between the spirit of 1789 – the spirit of liberty – and the spirit of 1793 – the spirit of equality. In France liberty could not be restored: it had to be created. Condemning the Revolution in its entirety, as Burke had done, made no sense. What of the monarchiens, those men such as Jean-Joseph Mounier, LallyTollendal, and others, who wished not only to preserve the French monarchy but to reform it along something like the English model?51 Surely here there was a meeting of minds with Burke? Again this was unfortunately not to be the case. Burke quoted Lally-Tollendal at length in a footnote to Reflections on the Revolution in France, commenting that the Frenchman was ‘one of the most honest, intelligent and eloquent members of the National assembly’ (Works 46



49 50


‘Je m’occupe à présent à lire et à refuter le livre de Burke contre les Levellers français. Il y a autant d’absurdités que de lignes dans ce fameux livre … Il défend la noblesse et l’exclusion des sectaires et l’établissement d’une religion dominante, et d’autres choses de cette nature.’ ‘J’ai déjà beaucoup écrit sur cette apologie des abus.’ For her part, Isabelle de Charrière responded that she ‘had not been able to read’ Burke (1996, 153): ‘Ici on a Burke que je n’ai pas pu lire.’ For a discussion of Charrière’s views on Burke see Courtney (1993, 431–33). See also Philippe Raynaud, ‘Préface’ to Constant (1988, 21–26). ‘des axiomes, métaphysiquement vrais, peuvent être politiquement faux, préfèrent à ces axiomes des considérations, des préjugés, des souvenirs, des faiblesses, touts choses vagues, indéfinissables, ondoyantes.’ On the monarchiens, see Griffiths (1988) and Craiutu (2012, 69–109).

102   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe 2:346), but by the time that Burke wrote his A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly in May 1791 he was prepared to blame anyone who had had a hand in the Revolution, no matter how well-intentioned they might have been. This included the now-exiled and defeated monarchiens.52 ‘As to Mr Mounier and Mr Lally’, Burke wrote, I have always wished to do justice to their parts, and their eloquence, and the general purity of their motives. Indeed, I saw very well from the beginning, the mischiefs which, with all these talents and good intentions, they would do their country, through their confidence in system. (Burke 1992, 60)

They were ‘young and inexperienced’, lacked moderation, ‘entertained dangerous visions … publicly advertised for plans and schemes of government, as if they were to provide for the rebuilding of an hospital that had been burned down’. The result of their actions, Burke proclaimed, was ‘to unchain the fury of rash speculation amongst a people’. To their credit, the monarchiens had not ‘carried mistake into crime’, standing back on ‘the brink of the gulph of guilt and public misery’ but ‘their early rashness ought to be remembered to the last moments of their lives’ (Burke 1992, 60–61). How could the poor monarchiens reply to such withering criticism? Clearly stunned to find that someone he had presumed to be a friend was in fact an adversary, Lally-Tollendal responded on at least two occasions.53 Burke, he argued, was ‘cruelly mistaken’, that he and his colleagues of ‘the moderate party’ were in no way responsible for the misfortunes that had befallen France. Nor did they deserve to be censured for supporting the doubling of the number of deputies of the Third Estate in 1789 as it had been a political necessity. Moreover, there was nothing inevitable about the outcome of this decision. What, he countered, did Burke mean by system? If, he wrote, ‘a man devoid of all personal ambition … seeking to connect what was, what is, with what ought to be, wished to lead France on the basis of its own principles towards the perfection of constitution that has placed England in a position of greatness and of previously unknown prosperity’ was a man of system, then he readily admitted to being ‘systématique’ (Lally-Tollendal 1792, 13–14).54 What Burke failed to appreciate was that the monarchiens had sought to save the monarchy and to preserve liberty and that they had endeavoured to pursue a middle course of action that would protect the tranquillity of the realm. Lally-Tollendal also argued that foreign intervention into France – a policy supported by Burke – would only make things worse. 52

In a letter to Burke dated 7 August 1791, François de Menonville described both Mounier and Lally-Tollendal as ‘honest’ men but also as men ‘guilty of great, Errors, of dangerous errors’ that could not be excused by their ‘good intentions’. This might explain Burke’s change of heart (Corr. 6:166–67). 53 See Lally-Tollendal (1791, 1792). 54 ‘un homme dénué de toute ambition … cherchant à lier ce qui a été, ce qui est, et ce qui doit être, voulait conduire la France par ses propres principes à ce perfectionnement de constitution qui a placé l’Angleterre dans un état de grandeur et de prospérité inconnu avant elle.’

Edmund Burke, the French Revolution and his French Critics   103 Burke was unmoved. ‘I have just received Mr Lally’s Book’, he wrote to the Abbé de la Bintinaye on 3 August 1792. ‘It is not worthy of an answer.’ ‘As to his schemes of the British Constitution for France’, Burke continued, it is not to know either France or England, or indeed any thing of mankind or of human Affairs. I am sure He knows nothing of our constitution, as it stands, and full as little of the process by which it has been made, and the manner by which it produces its effects.

‘This worthy Gentleman’, Burke concluded, is ‘the very surface of superficiality’ (Corr. 7:166–67). Several years later another of the monarchiens, Pierre-Victor Malouet, visited Burke in London. Burke, he wrote, was everything he expected him to be, ‘agreeable, luminous, eloquent, passionate, strongly attached to the constitution of his country’.55 But, he wrote, ‘the unjust criticisms’56 Burke had directed against his friend, Lally-Tollendal, brought a coldness to their conversation. Burke, he concluded, ‘had the ideas of a French aristocrat’ (Malouet 1874, 2:259–62).57 To conclude, I wish briefly to consider whether Burke was read with more or less perspicacity as the years passed on from the French Revolution controversy. Here we might consult one of the most famous of all writers on the French Revolution. Following the lead given by Charles de Rémusat,58 Alexis de Tocqueville read the complete corpus of Burke’s writings on the Revolution in the English original, taking extensive notes. This Tocqueville did as part of his preparations for the writing of The Old Regime and the Revolution / L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution (1856).59 From this close reading, according to Robert T. Gannett (2003), Tocqueville judged that Burke had identified four essential causes of the Revolution: its antireligious character, its anarchic quality, its propagandism, and its rejection of the old European constitution.60 In each case, Tocqueville conceded, Burke’s analysis had a certain plausibility – Burke had been right, for example, in seeing the Revolution as ‘a revolution of doctrine and theoretic dogma’ – but equally in each case he had mistaken appearance for reality, had seen only the accidental causes of the Revolution rather than its fundamental cause. This, Tocqueville conceded, was not surprising given the unprecedented nature of the event but Burke, he commented, ‘does not realize that what stands before his eyes is the revolution which will abolish the old common law of Europe; he does not understand that this is its sole purpose’ (Tocqueville

55 56 57

58 59 60

‘bon, lumineux, éloquent, passionné, fort attaché à la constitution de son pays’. ‘préventions injuste’. ‘les idées d’un aristocrate français’. Rémusat published two long articles entitled ‘Burke: Sa vie et ses écrits’ in the January and February 1851 editions of the Revue des Deux Mondes. See ‘Quatre jugements sur Burke’, in Tocqueville (1953, 338–42). The argument developed below draws heavily upon Gannett (2003, 57–77).

104   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe 1998, 107). Burke, in short, like so many of his contemporaries, had been mesmerized by events. He had not seen what was right before his eyes. By this point in time Tocqueville’s own historical inquiries had convinced him that the dominant characteristic of French history was the inexorable march towards equality and thus the cause of the Revolution lay in the centuries-long struggle to secure the replacement of aristocratic, feudal institutions with ‘a more uniform and simple social and political order which had equality of conditions for its base’. It followed that the Revolution was ‘least of all an accident’ (1998, 106). However it was because this process had largely been achieved by the absolute monarchy that resistance to the Revolution had been impossible. When the Revolution broke out, according to Tocqueville, there were not ‘ten men who had the habit of acting in common in an orderly way’ (1998, 243). The monarchy had sealed its own fate. Once again, in Tocqueville’s view, ‘Burke did not understand very well the condition in which the monarchy he regretted had left us to our new masters’ (1998, 243). As Tocqueville remarks in his own famous text: ‘It is surprising that what seems so easy to discern today remained so entangled and veiled to the most clairvoyant eyes’: namely, that the Revolution was ‘the sudden and violent climax of a task to which ten generations had contributed’ (1998, 106). Thus, Burke’s unapologetic defence of the old order, of its institutions and its manners, could have no purchase upon a French society long-accustomed to the uniformity and administrative centralisation of the absolute monarchy. For all Burke’s pleading, there could not have been a return to old traditions, a recovering of ancient liberties. The sad irony, of course, is that Tocqueville was writing these words under the Second Empire of Napoleon III where all semblance of public liberty had been crushed and trampled underfoot. To that extent, Burke, not Tocqueville, had the last laugh. Is Burke still seen in this light in France? Arguably not. The entry on Burke in François Furet and Mona Ozouf ’s A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution makes the point that ‘recently’ Burke ‘has found his way back into the good graces of French scholars’ (Gengembre 1989, 916). An example of this would be Patrice Guennifey’s La Politique de la Terreur (2000). Why might this be the case? The short answer is that scholars like Furet (who had a huge influence on a generation of French historians) came to implicate the French Revolution in the totalitarian nightmare of Europe’s twentieth century. From this perspective, the violence of the Terror was not an accident but something intrinsic to the whole project of revolution. And this, as we know, was precisely what Edmund Burke had believed.


Edmund Burke and the Writings of Benjamin Constant Cecil Patrick Courtney

1 In January 1814 Benjamin Constant published De l’esprit de conquête et de l’usurpation (The Spirit of Conquest and Usurpation), which was an immediate success; the original edition, published in Hanover, was reprinted three times in the same year, once in England and twice, with revisions, in France. It was also translated into German and, in the following year, into Swedish.1 It remains probably the best-known and most accessible of his political writings. This is a work which can be read at various levels. At the most obvious, it is a denunciation of the autocratic system of government of Napoleon, which was now coming to an end. It is also a pamphlet written in support of the candidature to the French throne of Bernadotte and, in the final edition, after Bernadotte had withdrawn, in support of the Bourbon candidate, who became Louis XVIII.2 At yet another level it is a statement of the central principles of Constant’s political philosophy: here we find a memorable expression of his views on the importance of imposing limits on the power of the State, his distinction between ancient and modern liberty, and his attack on the implications of Rousseau’s theory of the general will which, he argues, had led in practice to a centralized despotism incompatible with the liberty of the individual. The work is also remarkable for certain passages which show a strong affinity with the ideas and language of Burke, especially when Constant insists on the importance of respecting traditions and attacks reforms undertaken in the name of abstract theories. This affinity is most striking in Chapter 13 of Part I, entitled ‘De l’uniformité’ (‘On uniformity’), particularly in the following passages:3 1

For a description of these editions and translations see Courtney (1981, items 10a–10d). 2 For the political background to the work, see the introductions in Constant, Œuvres complètes 1993–, vols 8.1 and 8.2 (hereafter Œuvres). 3 Translations from Constant are my own.

106   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe I have for the past, I confess, a great veneration and each day as I learn from experience or am enlightened by reflection, this veneration increases. I will say, to the great scandal of our modern reformers, whether they call themselves Lycurguses or Charlemagnes, that if I found a people who had been offered the most perfect institutions, metaphysically speaking, and who refused them in order to remain faithful to those of their ancestors, I would admire this people, and would consider them happier in their feelings and in their heart under their imperfect institutions than with all the proposed improvements.4

In the same vein, he continues: Quite apart from these considerations, and separating happiness from morality, you will notice that man adapts himself to established institutions, as he does to the rules of physical nature. He adjusts, even to the imperfections of these institutions, his interests, his ideas, his whole way of life. These imperfections become softened because whenever an institution lasts for a long time, there is an exchange between it and human interests. Human relations, and aspirations, cluster around that which already exists. To change this, even for the better, is harmful.5

A further point is developed in the following passage, where he condemns legislators who aim at uniformity: It is obvious that peoples placed in different situations, brought up with different customs, living in different places, cannot be subjected to institutions, practices and laws which are absolutely identical, without a constraint that costs them much more than it is worth. The series of ideas of which their moral being has been gradually formed since their birth, cannot be changed by an arrangement which is purely nominal, purely exterior and independent of their will.6


‘J’ai pour le passé, je l’avoue, beaucoup de vénération; et chaque jour, à mesure que l’expérience m’instruit ou que la réflexion m’éclaire, cette vénération augmente. Je le dirai, au grand scandale de nos modernes réformateurs, qu’ils s’intitulent Lycurgues ou Charlemagnes: si je voyais un peuple auquel on aurait offert les institutions les plus parfaites, métaphysiquement parlant, et qui les refuserait pour rester fidèle à celles de ses pères, j’estimerais ce peuple, et je le croirais plus heureux par son sentiment et par son âme sous ses institutions défectueuses, qu’il ne pourrait l’être par tous les perfectionnements proposés’ (Œuvres, 8.1:588). 5 ‘Indépendamment de ces considérations, et en séparant le bonheur d’avec la morale, remarquez que l’homme se plie aux institutions qu’il trouve établies, comme à des règles de la nature physique. Il arrange, d’après les défauts mêmes de ces institutions, ses intérêts, ses spéculations, tout son plan de vie. Leurs défauts s’adoucissent parce que toutes les fois qu’une institution dure longtemps, il y a transaction entre elle et les intérêts de l’homme. Ses relations, ses espérances se groupent autour de ce qui existe. Changer tout cela, même pour le mieux, c’est lui faire mal’ (Œuvres, 8.1:589). 6 ‘Il est évident que des peuples placés dans des situations, élevés dans des coutumes, habitant des lieux dissemblables, ne peuvent être ramenés à des formes, à des usages, à des pratiques, à des lois absolument pareilles, sans une contrainte qui leur coûte beaucoup plus qu’elle ne leur vaut. La série d’idées dont leur être moral s’est formé graduellement, et dès leur naissance, ne peut être modifiée par un

Edmund Burke and the Writings of Benjamin Constant   107 The obvious affinity with Burke in these passages is by no means lessened by the fact that elsewhere in De l’esprit de conquête Constant expresses admiration for the British form of government, including the principle of hereditary nobility. Again, he offers a ‘whig’ interpretation of the Glorious Revolution and sees a parallel between the role of William III and that of the possible successors to Napoleon.7 While all this appears unmistakably Burkean, there is no mention of Burke. The nearest we get to what might seem such a reference is in the following, slightly earlier passage: But each generation, says one of the foreigners who has been the most prescient in observing our mistakes from the beginning, each generation inherits from its ancestors a treasure of moral riches, a treasure which is invisible and precious, which it passes on to its descendants.8

The first reaction of the reader will be that the foreigner in question must be Burke, but there is a footnote giving a precise reference to Rehberg’s Über den Code Napoléon und desses Einführung in Deutschland (On the Code Napoleon and its development in Germany), which had been published in 1813 in Hanover by Hahn, the publishers of the first edition of Constant’s treatise.9 However, the quotation from Rehberg does not diminish the Burkean affinity; August Wilhelm Rehberg (1757–1836), like his fellow-Hanoverian Ernst Brandes (1758–1810) and the Prussian Friedrich von Gentz (1764–1832), was an admirer of The Reflections on the Revolution in France.10 Why did Constant not quote Burke himself rather than Rehberg? The answer may be that in France Burke was seen as a spokesman for the counterrevolution in the same tradition as Maistre and Bonald; Constant did not want to be assimilated to this tradition and, indeed, the quotation from Rehberg (who was unknown in France) may have been a strategy to deflect attention from the obvious Burkean affinities. However this may be, some of Constant’s contemporaries found that the stress placed on respect for the past and traditional institutions seemed to indicate that the author, who in all his previous publications had presented himself as a convinced republican, was now inexplicably speaking the language, if not of Burke, at least of the counter-revolutionaries.11

arrangement purement nominal, purement extérieur, indépendant de leur volonté’ (Œuvres, 8.1:588–89). 7 In Chapter 5 of the first editions of the work the proposed successor (who is not mentioned by name) is obviously Bernadotte; in the last edition (July or August 1814) it is Louis XVIII. 8 ‘Mais chaque génération, dit l’un des étrangers qui a le mieux prévu nos erreurs dès l’origine, chaque génération hérite de ses aïeux un trésor de richesses morales, trésor invisible et précieux qu’elle lègue à ses descendants’ (Œuvres, 8.1:587). 9 The passage quoted is from pp. 8–9 of Rehberg’s text. 10 For Rehberg and the German context see Chapter 16 of the present volume. That Constant was acquainted with Rehberg is confirmed by references in his Journal and correspondence of 1813–14. 11 See, for example, the comments of the duc de Broglie (1886, 1:282).

108   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe This has remained an issue in Constant criticism. At least one modern commentator describes these passages not merely as an inconsistency, but as an ‘aberration’, incompatible not only with his earlier republicanism but also with his later career as an admirer of the idealism of the Revolution, opponent of attempts to return to the values of the ancien régime and outspoken champion of reform on liberal principles (Holmes 1984, 207–11). 2 At this point it will be useful to turn to Constant’s earlier writings, beginning with his unfinished autobiography, Ma Vie (My Life),12 which covers the period from his birth in Lausanne in 1767 up to 1788. There is here no precise reference to Burke, but in the account of his education at the University of Edinburgh (1782–83),13 Constant informs us that his best friend was a certain John Wilde, who later became professor of civil law and who, we know from other sources, was an admirer of Burke.14 Wilde is the author of a charactersketch which portrays Constant, when a student at Edinburgh, as ‘constant in versatility, in inconsistency consistent’: An atheist professed, he maintains at the same time the cause of paganism, and, while he spurns Jehovah cringes before Jupiter, while he execrates the bigotry and laughs at the follies of superstitious Christians, yet makes the vices of adulterous deities the subject of his panegyric, and prostitutes his genius to support the ridiculous mummeries of its priests.

As for his political ideas, In politics warm, zealous, keen, invariable, he resembles an Englishman of the purest times; and here indeed, alone, we find an exception to his general character. He seems indeed, to have drawn freedom with his first breath, and sucked the principles of liberty with the milk of his childhood. But it is impossible, in any respect but this to pursue him through the endless mazes of his character. He outdoes even Proteus himself.15

From this, one can infer that the young Constant, at least in certain moods, shared the irreligious ideas of the radical Enlightenment. In Ma Vie, he refers to his atheism and how, after leaving Edinburgh, he began writing a history of polytheism inspired mainly by his reading of Helvétius and a desire to refute the ‘prejudices’ of the Christian religion (Œuvres 3.1:314). With regard to his


Also known as Le Cahier rouge (The Red Notebook). For Constant’s education at Edinburgh, see Courtney (1992, 303–24) and Wood (1993, 43–62). 14 According to Sir James Mackintosh, a contemporary of Constant’s at Edinburgh, ‘Wilde, as an orator, copied too much the faults of Mr. Burke’s manner’ (Mackintosh 1835, 1:27). 15 Constant, Correspondance générale, 1:372–73 (hereafter CG). 13

Edmund Burke and the Writings of Benjamin Constant   109 political ideas, he informs us that on another visit to England, in 1787, he was taken to meet Lady Charlotte Wentworth (1732–1810), whom he ‘beheld with a very special veneration because she was the sister of the Marquis of Rockingham and because my Scottish political ideas had filled me with a great enthusiasm for the Whig administration of which he had been the head’.16 It is reasonable to assume that this veneration included Burke, though we are speaking, of course, of Burke before 1789, and what the young Constant admired was probably the Rockinghams whose image was that of a reform party who had opposed the government of the day on the American question, supported economical reform and made a point of attacking the alleged excessive influence of the Crown. It would seem, however, that those ‘principles of liberty’ which Constant, according to John Wilde, ‘had sucked with the milk of his childhood’,17 were somewhat more radical than anything associated with the Rockinghams. In another passage of Ma Vie, referring to his Vaudois roots and the traditional resentment of the inhabitants of the Pays de Vaud against their subordination to the government of Berne, Constant writes, ‘My father loathed this government and had brought me up in these principles’.18 He describes a journey of about 1786 from Holland to Switzerland in the company of a young Bernese officer: Filled with my father’s hatred of the Berne government, I was no sooner in a chaise de poste with a Bernois than I began to repeat all the known arguments against political privilege, the rights taken away from a people, hereditary authority, etc., etc., not forgetting to promise my travelling companion that, if ever the occasion should arise, I would deliver the Pays de Vaud from the oppression under which it was held by his compatriots.19

It is hardly surprising that, with this background, Constant should have welcomed the French Revolution with its ideals of liberty and equality. Naturally, he found himself in disagreement with Burke, to whom he refers


‘que je contemplais avec une vénération toute particulière, parce qu’elle était sœur du marquis de Rockingham, et que ma politique écossaise m’avait inspiré un grand enthousiasme pour l’administration des Whigs dont il avait été le chef ’ (Œuvres, 3.1:347–48). The allusion to Scottish political ideas is possibly a reference to some of the Scottish professors (William Robertson, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson and others) with whose historical and sociological approach to various aspects of civilization Constant may already have been familiar. 17 See note 15. 18 ‘Mon père avait ce gouvernement en horreur et m’avait élevé dans ces principes’ (Œuvres, 3.1:353–54). 19 ‘Rempli de toute sa haine contre le gouvernement de Berne, je me trouvai à peine dans une chaise de poste avec un Bernois que je commençai à répéter tous les arguments connus contre les privilèges en politique, contre les droits enlevés au peuple, contre l’autorité héréditaire, etc., etc., ne manquant pas de promettre à mon compagnon de voyage que, si jamais l’occasion s’offrait, je délivrerais le pays de Vaud de l’oppression où le tenaient ses compatriotes’ (Œuvres, 3.1:355).

110   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe for the first time in a letter to Isabelle de Charrière of 10 December 1790, where he expresses his reactions to the Reflections:20 I am at present busy reading and refuting Burke’s book written against the French Levellers. There are as many absurdities as lines in this celebrated book, and for that reason it is successful everywhere in English and German society. It defends the nobility and the exclusion of dissenters and the establishment of a dominant religion, and other things of the same nature. I have written at length on this apology of abuses and if my leisure is not interrupted by the wretched law suits in which my father is involved at present, I shall be able, for the first time in my life, actually to have brought a work to completion.21

This was written from Germany where, since 1788, Constant was a Chamberlain at the Court of the Duke of Brunswick. Unfortunately, there is no trace among his surviving manuscripts of the refutation of Burke; however, from his correspondence of this period, we can follow his reactions to the Revolution which were consistently favourable and even included acceptance of the Terror as a necessary stage in the process of reform.22 It is hardly surprising that, at the Court of Brunswick, his views were the subject of strong disapproval.23 Up to this point Constant was an observer of French politics, with no direct involvement. This was to change when he met Mme de Staël in September 1794 and, in the following year, accompanied her to Paris, where he began his political career, first as a journalist and pamphleteer and then in a minor provincial administrative post in the canton of Luzarches, to the north-west of Paris. His publications during the period from 1796 to 1799 are written in defence of the Directory, the policy of which he describes as an attempt to form a stable republican government by avoiding the extremes of anarchy and tyranny. In these works, he is consistent in his admiration of the ideals of 1789 which, he argues, were not to be confused with those of the Terror. As for Burke, it may be with him in mind that in his first political pamphlet De 20

The first edition was published in London on 1 November 1790 (Todd 1964, item 53a). 21 ‘Je m’occupe à présent à lire et à réfuter le livre de Burke contre les Levellers français. Il y a autant d’absurdités que de lignes dans ce fameux livre, aussi a-t-il un plein succès dans toutes les sociétés anglaises et allemandes. Il défend la noblesse, et l’exclusion des sectaires et l’établissement d’une religion dominante, et autres choses de cette nature. J’ai déjà beaucoup écrit sur cette apologie des abus, et si le maudit procès de mon père ne vient pas m’arracher à mon loisir, je pourrai bien pour la première fois de ma vie avoir fait un ouvrage’ (CG, 1:271). 22 As late as 7 June 1794 he was still uncompromising in his defence of the Revolution: ‘Les partis mitoyens ne valent rien, dans le moment actuel, ils valent moins que jamais. Voilà ma profession de foi’ (‘The parties which occupy the middle ground are worthless, at this juncture they are more worthless than ever. That is my profession of faith’ [CG, 2:381]), letter to Isabelle de Charrière. 23 This unfavourable impression was not lessened by the fact that his closest friend in Brunswick was Jacob Mauvillon (1743–1794), who was a freemason, collaborator of Mirabeau and a translator of Raynal’s Histoire philosophique des deux Indes.

Edmund Burke and the Writings of Benjamin Constant   111 la Force du gouvernement actuel de la France et de la nécessité de s’y rallier (1796),24 Constant delivers a scathing attack on those who defend prejudice, which he equates with intellectual error (Œuvres, 1:372–74). This is followed in his second pamphlet, published in 1797, Des Réactions politiques (Political reactions), where Burke is named and taken to task, not only for his defence of prejudice, but also for his hostility to abstract principles: They are supporters of arbitrary power, those who with Burke assert that axioms which are metaphysically true, can be politically false and who prefer to these axioms, considerations, prejudices, memories, weaknesses, all of which are vague, indefinable, unstable and consequently belong to the domain of the arbitrary.25

Constant insists, however, that his principles are not, like those to which Burke refers, a priori, but empirical generalizations based on experience and observation. Nevertheless, his views are not so different from Burke’s when he adds a rather complicated argument to demonstrate that the application of ‘first principles’ requires the elaboration of ‘intermediary principles’ before they can be applied to concrete circumstances.26 Burke is not mentioned in the other writings of these years, where Constant reaffirms his commitment to the policy of the Directory, especially in a pamphlet where he defends the coup d’état of Fructidor,27 and in Des suites de la contre-révolution de 1660 en Angleterre (1799) (The Consequences of the Counter-revolution of 1660 in England), in which he warns the reader that any attempt to reinstate the Bourbons would inevitably mean a return to the absolutism of the ancien régime. In all this, Constant could feel that he had begun a successful career, which culminated in December 1799 with his appointment, on the recommendation of Sieyès, to the newly formed Tribunate, where he would attract attention by delivering speeches severely critical of the government. This fearless opposition was not appreciated by those in power and in January 1802 his membership of the Tribunate was terminated by Bonaparte.


Translated into English by James Losh (Constant, 1797). ‘Ceux-là sont partisans de l’arbitraire, qui prétendent avec Burke que des axiomes, métaphysiquement vrais, peuvent être politiquement faux, préfèrent à ces axiomes des considérations, des préjugés, des souvenirs, des faiblesses, toutes choses vagues, indéfinissables, ondoyantes, rentrant par conséquent dans le domaine de l’arbitraire’ (Œuvres, 1:496). The reference is to the following passage in Reflections: ‘The pretended rights of these theorists are all extremes: and in proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false’ (Writings and Speeches, 8:112). Constant is, of course offering something of a caricature of Burke, who writes, ‘I do not put abstract ideas wholly out of any question, because I well know that under that name I should dismiss principles’ (Works, 6: 113–14), speech of 11 May 1792. 26 Œuvres, 1:489–95 (Chapter 8, ‘Des principes’). 27 Discours prononcé au Cercle constitutionnel, pour la plantation de l’arbre de la liberté, 16 September 1798, Paris, Lemaire (Œuvres, 1:545–62). 25

112   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe 3 There followed a period from 1803 to 1813 when excluded from politics, Constant spent much time in Switzerland and Germany, publishing little of significance. It was not until 1814 that he resumed his career as a pamphleteer, breaking his silence with De l’esprit de conquête and, if we pass directly to this work from his early political writings, we shall indeed be struck by the fact that the former young republican has shifted his ground. This is not, however, some kind of ‘aberration’, but simply the outcome of the fact that Constant, having re-examined his earlier views on politics and religion, has arrived at what he considers more mature conclusions. In fact, it can be argued that the true ‘aberration’ of the young idealist was his active support of the Directory; in his later years Constant preferred to forget his hobnobbing with the likes of Barras and his support of a régime which imposed laws from above and could survive only by flouting the constitution. During the apparently fallow period of 1803 to 1813 Constant produced a number of works which he kept as manuscripts and on which he would draw for much of what he was to publish between 1814 and his death in 1830. Some of these have now been published in their entirety, including two important political works, Principes de politique applicables à tous les gouvernements représentatifs (Principles of politics applicable to all representative governments) and Fragments d’un ouvrage abandonné sur la possibilité d’une constitution républicaine dans un grand pays (Fragments of an abandoned work on the possibility of a republican constitution in a large country). Also preserved are numerous drafts of his work on religion,28 which passed through many stages and of which the first three volumes would not be published until 1824, 1825 and 1827 respectively as De la religion, considérée dans sa source, ses formes et ses développements (Religion, considered in its source, its forms and its developments) followed by the last two volumes, published posthumously in 1831. In addition, there is his novel, Adolphe, completed before 1810, but not published until 1816, and a number of introspective writings which would not be published until long after Constant’s death, including the Journaux intimes and Ma Vie. What is most striking is how Constant has changed his ideas on politics and religion. However, before turning to the writings of this period, it will be useful to quote once again from Ma Vie, where he summarizes his new outlook. First, as for politics, after referring to his father’s hatred of the despotic government of Berne, in the passage quoted above, he writes: Neither he nor I knew at that time that nearly all old governments are gentle (doux) because they are old and all new governments are harsh (durs) because they are new. I make exception however, for absolute despotism.29



Fonds Constant II, Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire, Lausanne. ‘Ni lui ni moi ne savions alors que presque tous les vieux gouvernements sont doux parce qu’ils sont vieux et tous les nouveaux gouvernements durs, parce qu’ils sont nouveaux. J’excepte pourtant le despotisme absolu’ (Œuvres, 3.1:354–55). Cf. De l’esprit de conquête: ‘Monarchy, as it exists in most European states, is an

Edmund Burke and the Writings of Benjamin Constant   113 As for his remark about delivering the Pays de Vaud from the Bernese domination, he adds: The occasion arose, eleven years later, but I had before my eyes the experience of France where I had been a witness of a revolution and an actor powerless in the sense of liberty founded on justice and I was careful not to get involved in revolutionizing Switzerland.30

This was written probably in 1811 and, by this date, Constant had also changed his mind on religion, recording in Ma Vie his relief that he had never completed the refutation of Christianity rashly undertaken in his youth. Already, in 1805 he had written in his Journal, ‘In irreligion there is something coarse and trite which I find repugnant’,31 and on 11 October 1811, in a letter to his friend Claude Hochet, he quotes Bacon’s dictum: ‘It is true that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion’.32 4 There is no reason to doubt the veracity of the account given by Constant of his rejection of some of his early radical ideas and in fact it is possible, from a study of his manuscripts, Journal and correspondence, not only to confirm what he says in Ma Vie, but to attempt to arrive at some understanding of the various stages of his intellectual development. In the Principes de politique (1806) Constant begins with the problem of the uses and abuses of power.33 He accepts Rousseau’s theory that sovereignty must emanate from the general will, but rejects the assumption that representatives of the people automatically embody this general will and therefore have absolute power. This analysis of the abuse of power in the context of the practice of the various revolutionary governments is something new in Constant and in reformulating the problem of legitimate power he seems to

institution modified by time, softened by habit’ (‘La monarchie, telle qu’elle existe dans la plupart des Etats européens, est une institution modifiée par le temps, adoucie par l’habitude’ (Œuvres 8.1:605)). 30 ‘L’occasion s’est offerte, onze ans après: mais j’avais devant les yeux l’expérience de la France où j’avais été témoin de ce qu’est une révolution, et acteur assez impuissant, dans le sens d’une liberté fondée sur la justice, et je me suis bien gardé de me mêler de révolutionner la Suisse’ (Œuvres, 3.1:355). The reference is to the Vaudois revolution of 1798. 31 ‘Il y a dans l’irréligion quelque chose de grossier et d’usé qui me répugne’ (Journal, 19 February 1805, Œuvres, 6:330). 32 From ‘Of Atheism’. Constant abridges the quotation and writes, ‘un peu de science mène à l’athéisme et plus de science à la religion’ (CG, 8:371). 33 The date 1806 is usually inserted after this title in order to distinguish it from the later Principes de politique published in 1815.

114   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe have been influenced by Sieyès;34 whether Burke had any influence cannot be established, but Constant cannot have been unaware of the latter’s views, which are expressed throughout the Reflections and summarized neatly as follows in the Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs: The new Whigs hold, that the sovereignty, whether exercised by one or many, did not only originate from the people (a position not denied nor worth denying or assenting to), but that in the people the same sovereignty constantly and inalienably resides.

This is followed by a presentation of the logical consequences of the theory that the people may lawfully depose kings, not only for misconduct, but without any misconduct at all; that they may set up any new fashion of government for themselves, or continue without any government at their pleasure; that the people are essentially their own rule, and their will the measure of their conduct. (Works, 3:44–45)35

The only direct reference to Burke in the Principes is when Constant writes: ‘Burke says that liberty is power; likewise one can say that power is liberty.’36 What he objects to here is Burke’s choice of words, but in fact he agrees with the substance of the argument concerning the illegitimate seizure of power by those who claim to represent the people. In the light of this changed perspective Constant is obliged to re-examine almost every aspect of his political philosophy. Particularly relevant to his affinities with Burke are the three sections of Book XV of the Principes, devoted to uniformity, stability and premature improvements. The most obvious source for his ideas in the first section is not Burke, however, but Montesquieu, not only in Chapter 18 of the Esprit des lois, the title of which (‘Des idées d’uniformité’) is appropriated by Constant for Chapter 3 of the Principes but, more generally, in Montesquieu’s theory of the ‘esprit général’ (‘general spirit’). According to this, laws and institutions should be in harmony with morals, manners, customs and religion and, while legislators should not lose sight of the principles of natural justice or the possibility of gradual improvement, they should not aim at perfection. Constant, ringing the changes on this theme and


See the important quotation from Sieyès in the Principes: ‘Les pouvoirs illimités sont un monstre politique, et une grande erreur du peuple français. … il n’a pas lui-même ces pouvoirs, ces droits illimités que les flatteurs lui ont attribués’ (‘Unlimited powers are a political monster, and a grave error on the part of the French people … they do not themselves have this power, these unlimited rights attributed to them by flatterers’ (Œuvres, 5:109). 35 Here Burke is responding to the statement of the sovereign rights of the people in Richard Price’s Discourse on the Love of our Country; see Chapter 3 of the present volume (editor’s note). 36 ‘Burke dit que la liberté est une puissance: on peut dire de même que la puissance est une liberté’ (Œuvres, 5:557, 646). Burke had written in Reflections, ‘liberty, when men act in bodies, is power’ (Writings and Speeches, 8:59).

Edmund Burke and the Writings of Benjamin Constant   115 quoting Montesquieu, stresses that to impose uniformity is ‘contrary to the nature of men and the nature of things’37 because it involves ‘the sacrifice of sentiments, memories, local traditions which make up individual happiness, that is to say the only true happiness’38 and at the same time is destructive of the ‘series of ideas of which their moral being has been gradually formed since their birth’.39 In the second section of Book XV, on stability, we find an outline of a theory of progress, which Constant had been developing for some time and which owes much to Turgot, Condorcet and others, including possibly Lessing and Herder.40 This is essentially an attempt to make sense of history: according to Constant, history demonstrates mankind’s gradual progress through various stages from the earliest times, a progress which is to be explained, not by Divine providence or external factors, but by a natural urge which leads human beings to strive for freedom from arbitrary power, and finally, for equality. History furnishes the spectacle of the human spirit creating political institutions or ‘forms’ which, as it progresses, it must discard and replace with more enlightened ones, which in turn will be discarded. Constant had come to similar conclusions regarding the history of religion: religious institutions are not simply imposed from above but thrown up from below by religious sentiment, which is mankind’s natural aspiration towards transcendence and perfection. Constant accepts that, in the real world, progress is not a smooth and simple process, for the institutions created in response to human needs and aspirations tend to become stationnaires (‘fixed’) and arrested by vested interests (particularly governments or priests) or they suffer from the interference of over-hasty reformers. It is in the light of this theory of perfectibility that Constant interprets recent French history: the ancien régime, as an absolute monarchy, represents a period when laws and institutions based on the assumptions of privilege, were out of step with the national spirit; the Revolution was the result of this spirit throwing off dead forms and reasserting itself, but neither the revolutionaries nor their successor, Napoleon, understood that the spirit of the age (characterized by commercial expansion) demanded a new kind of liberty based on individualism, not the anachronistic ‘liberty of the ancients’, which was the ideal of some of the revolutionaries, or the equally anachronistic authoritarian militarism of the Empire. In the section of Book XV on premature improvements, Constant offers as examples the reforms introduced by Pombal and Joseph II, whose policy he contrasts with that of Tsar Alexander I, whom he holds up as an enlightened ruler who understands the principles of progress: ‘For a people to achieve


‘contraire à la nature des hommes et des choses’ (Œuvres, 5:559). ‘le sacrifice d’une foule de sentiments, de souvenirs, de convenances locales, dont se compose le bonheur individuel, c’est-à-dire le seul bonheur véritable’ (Œuvres, 5:560). 39 ‘la série d’idées dont leur être moral s’est formé graduellement et dès leur naissance’ (Œuvres, 8.1:589); see above, note 5. 40 For a detailed account of Constant’s theory of progress, see Hofmann (2009). 38

116   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe progress it is sufficient that the government should not thwart it. Progress is in the nature of man. A government which leaves man free, favours his progress sufficiently.’41 That Constant’s ideas on uniformity and premature reforms, along with his general historical and sociological approach to politics, are similar to those of Montesquieu and Burke will be obvious, though whereas he is happy to quote Montesquieu, there is no reference to Burke. As for his theory of progress, it is not to be found in that precise form in either Montesquieu or Burke, though both had a general belief in progress and gradual improvement.42 In the other most important work of this period, the Fragments d’un ouvrage abandonné sur la possibilité d’une constitution républicaine dans un grand pays, we can see how, in the course of composition, Constant changes his mind about monarchy. The early chapters are quite simply hostile to any form of hereditary privilege; however, as he surveys the history of monarchies past and present, Constant finds himself attracted by certain features of the English variant which, he discovers, offers a solution to a problem which had not been solved by French republican constitution-makers: how to establish a working relationship between the executive and legislative bodies and to prevent either of them from seizing absolute power. The standard solution to this problem was the theory of the balance and separation of powers as recommended by Montesquieu. However, recent experience had demonstrated that this theory was ineffective; an additional power, according to Constant, was required, a pouvoir neutre (neutral power) composed of a body of citizens elected for life who would not engage directly in politics, but be guardians of the constitution, with the authority, in moments of crisis, to dissolve the legislative body and dismiss ministers. In addition, a system of ministerial responsibility would clarify the relations between the executive and legislative and provide a procedure for changes in the composition of the government without automatically causing a constitutional crisis.43 Constant was convinced that the English were already in possession of a system approximating to this plan, that in England the King was de facto, if not de jure a neutral power and that the ministers were responsible to the legislative body. While his ideas on this subject probably owe much to Sieyès, Necker and Mme de Staël,44 they were also shaped by his extensive 41

‘Pour qu’un peuple fasse des progrès il suffit que le pouvoir ne les entrave pas. L’avancement est dans la nature de l’homme. Le gouvernement qui le laisse libre, le favorise assez’ (Œuvres, 5:588). 42 Montesquieu’s theory of the ‘esprit général’ implies the possibility of progress, but neither he nor Burke believes in the inevitability of progress. Burke’s views on progress and the possibility of perfecting human nature have a religious basis; see Reflections: ‘He who gave our nature to be perfected by our virtue, willed also the necessary means of its perfection ‒ He willed therefore the state ‒ He willed its connexion with the source and original archetype of all perfection’ (Writings and Speeches, 8:148). 43 For a detailed analysis of Constant’s theory, see Jaume (1997, 185–92). 44 See Constant (1991, 41–56).

Edmund Burke and the Writings of Benjamin Constant   117 study of British history of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which may have included the parliamentary debates of November 1779, when the Rockinghams were pressing for something which comes very close to his theory that ministers should be responsible to the legislature. The main speaker on this occasion was Charles James Fox, with whom Burke let it be known he was in agreement, though he was himself prevented from speaking by hoarseness. However, the proposal was rejected as unconstitutional and the future of the theory belongs to the history of the nineteenth century.45 Constant’s understanding of the English system was, in fact, inaccurate and his highly important and original theory anticipated the constitutional practice of a later period. The Principes de politique (1806) and the Fragments bear witness to that extraordinary change in Constant’s ideas to which he refers in Ma Vie and which reflects his disappointment with the failure of politicians to produce institutions embodying the ideals of the Revolution. Numerous passages from these works are reproduced, often word for word, in De l’esprit de conquête, including the ‘Burkean’ passages on uniformity. Whether Constant was influenced by a fresh reading of Burke it is not possible to say, but that there are obvious affinities it is difficult to deny, especially in the distrust of power and general conception of politics founded on traditional values.46 5 In the months following the publication of De l’esprit de conquête events moved swiftly. On 6 April 1814 Napoleon abdicated and the Senate offered the throne to Louis XVIII, who on 2 May announced the new constitution, or Charter, which would be promulgated on 4 June. By this time Constant, given his conviction that monarchy was not incompatible with freedom, felt that he could now, without inconsistency, support Louis XVIII and on 26 May he published Réflexions sur les constitutions, la distribution des pouvoirs et les garanties (Reflections on constitutions, the distribution of powers and guarantees) a work which is essentially a recycling of material from the Fragments. He also published the fourth edition of De l’esprit de conquête with two additional chapters designed to answer his critics. In the first additional chapter Constant states that his admiration for the past is not blind acceptance of obvious abuses and that reforms are salutary only when they follow public opinion. To those who assert it is difficult to

45 For

the debate, see Cobbett (1813, 20:1116–41); see also Courtney (1963, 109–10). In the Letter to a Member of the National Assembly Burke expresses the orthodox eighteenth-century view that the King of Great Britain ‘is a real King and not an executive officer’ (Writings and Speeches, 8:331). 46 Marcel Gauchet points out that Burke had anticipated Constant in his analysis of the dangers of unlimited power and that part of Constant’s originality is to have appropriated certain aspects of the ‘conservative‘ criticism (by Burke and others) of the Revolution (Constant 1980, 27–30).

118   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe assess public opinion he replies with what amounts to a defence of freedom of expression: If you allow opinion to express itself freely, you will easily come to know it … If authority remains silent, individuals will speak; from the clash of ideas enlightenment will be born and it will be impossible not to know the general feeling.47

At the same time he expands the passage on Tsar Alexander’s method of governing: The improvements are slow and gradual; the people become enlightened without being forced; the laws are perfected in detail without anyone thinking of overturning the whole system … Honour to the prince who, in his prudent and generous course [marche], favours natural progress, respects all necessary adjournments, and who knows also how to protect himself from the mistrust which desires to interrupt and the impatience which wants to rush ahead.48

In all this Constant becomes, if anything, even more like Burke than in the text of the first edition of the work, especially when he adds that ‘moral beings cannot be subjected to the rules of arithmetic or mechanism. The past puts down deep roots in them, which cannot be destroyed without pain.’49 In the second additional chapter Constant returns to the example of the Glorious Revolution and, like Burke, stresses the element of continuity in the transition from James II to William III. However, by insisting that William III was ‘élu librement par la nation’ (freely elected by the nation) he was going beyond anything said by Burke (Œuvres, 8.2:817). A further defence of Constant’s views is found in the preface to the Réflexions sur les constitutions. While refusing to disavow the principle that ‘the memories, habits and traditions of the people should form the basis of their institutions’,50 he offers, by way of clarification, a distinction between, on the one hand, an old constitution which has been gradually perfected in the course of time and has survived in people’s memories and, on the other, a dead constitution 47

‘Si vous laissez à l’opinion la faculté de s’exprimer librement, vous la connaîtrez sans peine … Que l’autorité reste muette, les individus parleront; du choc des idées naîtra la lumière, et le sentiment général sera bientôt impossible à méconnaître’ (Œuvres, 8.2:806). 48 ‘les améliorations sont lentes et graduelles: le peuple s’éclaire sans qu’on l’y contraigne; les lois se perfectionnent dans les détails, sans qu’on imagine d’en bouleverser l’ensemble … Honneur au prince qui, dans sa marche, à la fois prudente et généreuse, favorise tous les progrès naturels, respecte tous les ajournements nécessaires, et sait également se garantir de la défiance qui veut interrompre, et de l’impatience de tout devancer’ (Œuvres, 8.2:808). 49 ‘Les êtres moraux ne peuvent être soumis aux règles de l’arithmétique ou du mécanisme. Le passé jette en eux de profondes racines, qui ne se brisent pas sans douleur’ (Œuvres, 8.2:812). For Burke’s hostility to reforms based on ‘arithmetic’ see especially Reflections (Writings and Speeches, 8:61, 103, 221, 229). 50 ‘les souvenirs, les habitudes, les traditions des peuples doivent servir de base à leurs institutions’ (Œuvres, 8.2:957).

Edmund Burke and the Writings of Benjamin Constant   119 which has left nothing for the citizens to remember or cherish and is only of antiquarian interest (Œuvres, 8.2:957). He also reiterates his hostility to rash innovators. Unfortunately, this defence is hastily written and readers must have asked whether the author was consistent in attacking innovators when he was himself outlining a new form of constitution, with unheard-of restraints on the king, and whether he could claim to oppose those who resuscitated dead traditions while he was welcoming the principle of legitimacy and the restoration of the Bourbons, who had been in exile for some twenty years. Again, while he argues at one moment that the French have no fond memories of any ancient institution, at the next he states, after declaring that providence is about to offer the French the glorious gift of liberty: May it [this glory] fall to the monarch who reunites in the eyes of the French everything that can found the hopes and speak to the intimate emotions of the heart. I mean precious memories, the habit of enlightenment, goodness, the reverence due to a long period of unhappiness and the present legitimacy, the surest guarantee of a peaceful stability, that legitimacy of which peoples are sometimes obliged to do without, but of which the deprivation makes them feel a pain which resembles remorse.51

It is doubtful whether this somewhat fulsome tribute to Louis XVIII,52 here idealized as a monarch who embodies the principle of legitimacy and inspires memories dear to the hearts of the French, would convince readers that Constant was not continuing to speak the language of the counter-revolution. Indeed, it reads like a clumsy distillation of much that was ‘Burkean’ in De l’esprit de conquête. 6 By 1815 Constant was still a marginal figure in French politics. But once again events moved swiftly and he would find himself propelled briefly to the centre of affairs. On 5 June the news arrived in Paris that Napoleon had left Elba and was marching on the capital. Constant’s immediate reaction was to publish a thundering denunciation of the former Emperor (whom he compared to Attila and Genghis Khan) in the Journal des débats of 19 March and to defend the restored Bourbons. However, a month later, Louis XVIII having taken refuge in Belgium, Constant allowed himself to be convinced that Napoleon was prepared to introduce liberal reforms and accepted the 51

‘Qu’elle soit le partage du monarque qui réunit aux yeux des Français tout ce qui peut fonder les espérances et parler aux émotions intimes de l’âme, je veux dire, de grands souvenirs, l’habitude des lumières, la bonté, la sainteté d’un long malheur: et cette légitimité, garantie la plus sûre d’une stabilité paisible, cette légitimité, dont les peuples sont contraints de se passer quelquefois, mais dont la privation leur fait éprouver une douleur qui ressemble au remords’ (Œuvres, 8.2:959). 52 It is worth noting that this passage was deleted in the edition of Constant’s collected works published in 1818–20 (Œuvres, 8.2:1065–283).

120   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe post of Conseiller d’Etat, with special responsibility for the drafting of a new constitution, which was promulgated on 24 April as the Acte additionnel aux Constitutions de l’Empire. A fortnight later he published Principes de politique applicables à tous les gouvernements (1815), which contained much material recycled from the Réflexions sur les constitutions and other works. Shortly after this, following Waterloo and the return of the Bourbons, he found himself included on the list of those condemned to exile; he was pardoned by Louis XVIII but, judging it expedient to disappear from France for some time, went first to Belgium and then, in January 1816, to England, where he published Adolphe and began preparing a defence of his role during the Hundred Days. He returned to France at the end of 1816 and his career from this date until his death in 1830 was one of intense activity, which included journalism and, after 1819, the busy life of a député, first for the Sarthe department (1819–22), then for Paris (1824–27) and finally for the Bas-Rhin department (1827–30). His numerous publications from this period include, apart from occasional pamphlets, an edition of his collected works (1818–20), Mémoires sur les Cent-Jours (1820–22), Commentaire sur l’ouvrage de Filangieri (1822–24), De la religion (1824–30), Discours à la Chambre des Députés (1827) and Mélanges de littérature et de politique (1829). During this final, and most productive, part of his career, Constant makes no reference to Burke. However, he retains his affinity with Burke regarding the importance of imposing limitations on power, on respecting manners and morals and on retaining the principle of the hereditary monarchy and nobility. The difference between these works of his maturity, and the Réflexions sur les constitutions, in which the ‘Burkean’ or traditional elements seemed to pull in one way and the desire for a new model monarchy in another, is that Constant has now found a formula which indicates that his aim is to reconcile past and present or, more precisely, the idealism of the Revolution and the principles of the Charter. Thus he makes his position clear, writing in December 1816 in De la doctrine politique qui peut réunir les partis en France:53 The moral interests of the Revolution … are what the nation wanted at the time of the Revolution, what it still wants, what it can never cease to want, equality of the citizen before the law, freedom of conscience, personal security, responsible independence of the press. The moral interests of the Revolution are principles.54

His position is expressed even more clearly in Des élections prochaines (August 1817): The Revolution was made for liberty. The Charter has consecrated the good achieved by the Revolution and discarded what was deplorable. Let us consolidate 53


For the translation by Thomas Elde Derby, see Constant (1817). ‘Les intérêts moraux de la révolution … sont ce qu’à l’époque de la révolution la nation a voulu, ce qu’elle veut encore, ce qu’elle ne peut cesser de vouloir, l’égalité des citoyens devant la loi, la liberté des consciences, la sûreté des personnes, l’indépendance responsable de la presse. Les intérêts moraux de la révolution, ce sont les principes’ (Œuvres, 10.1:321).

Edmund Burke and the Writings of Benjamin Constant   121 the Charter and end the Revolution by giving the nation what it wanted and causing the constitution to be cherished by granting the people the advantages it offers.55

Constant now has defined his programme: support for the new constitutional monarchy, which will consolidate the gains of the Revolution and at the same time create conditions favouring progress towards the ideals of liberty, equality and security. Having accepted the Revolution and its break with the ancien régime, Constant cannot, like Burke, appeal to continuity in terms of an old established constitution; he therefore makes a different appeal: to the continuity of a moral tradition represented by those who, like Socrates and Cicero, have never lost their faith in the future of mankind. Thus he had already written in De l’esprit de conquête, referring to these ‘friends of humanity’ who represent an almost Burkean ‘correspondence’ between past and present: Yet it is in them that hope for the human race lies. We owe to them that great correspondence between the centuries which bears witness in ineffaceable letters against all the sophisms which are repeated anew by every tyrant.56

As for Constant’s respect for habits and traditions, he is now more careful with his wording than in De l’esprit de conquête. Thus we read in a speech of 27 March 1824, referring to the importance of the harmonious relation between political institutions and enlightened public opinion, ‘what is best for the people, when this happy agreement is found, is long-established habit supporting the throne and fresh enlightened ideas presiding over institutions’.57 This combination of enlightened ideas (clearly those associated with the Revolution) and the Charter includes the retention of the hereditary nobility: ‘Modern governments, to be moderate and stable, should combine heredity with election … Alongside royalty there can exist a hereditary power deriving its strength from its age, a bulwark protecting the royal authority if the elected powers became threatening.’58 Rather curiously, earlier in the same speech he says: ‘Two great 55

‘La Révolution a été faite pour la liberté. La Charte a consacré ce que la Révolution avait conquis de bon, en écartant ce qu’elle avait de déplorable. Affermissons la Charte, terminons la Révolution, en donnant à la nation ce qu’elle a voulu, et faisons-lui chérir sa constitution, en lui en accordant les avantages’ (Œuvres, 10.2:765). 56 ‘En eux repose toutefois l’espoir de la race humaine. Nous leur devons cette grande correspondance des siècles qui dépose en lettres ineffaçables contre tous les sophismes que renouvellent tous les tyrans’ (Œuvres, 8.2:798). Constant also speaks of ‘[le] lien des générations entre elles et de l’homme avec l’univers (‘the link between generations and between man and the universe’ (Œuvres, 8.2:778). Cf. the celebrated passage in Reflections where Burke refers to ‘a just correspondence and symmetry with the order of the world’ (Writings and Speeches, 8:84). 57 ‘ce qu’il y a de mieux pour le peuple, quand cet heureux accord se rencontre, c’est l’habitude antique appuyant le trône, et les lumières présidant aux institutions’ (Bastid 1966, 1:390). 58 ‘Les gouvernements modernes, pour être modérés comme pour être stables doivent combiner l‘hérédité avec l‘élection … A côté de la royauté peut exister aussi un

122   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe systems have at all times divided the world; one is heredity, the other election … the less a people is enlightened, the more heredity should have authority; the more a people is enlightened, the more election gains ground.’59 This passage can be interpreted to suggest that the natural progress of mankind and increase in enlightenment will lead in the future to a pure republican form of government.60 However this may be, Constant had no doubt that a hereditary monarchy was right for the period after 1814. His greatest disappointment was that little interest was shown in his constitutional ideas and that as time passed the French government moved further and further away from the ideals not only of the Revolution, but also of the Charter.61 7 While there are numerous affinities between Burke and Constant, there will always remain the fact that they are divided by their assessment of the Revolution. Constant, given his interpretation of history as progress, could argue that the Revolution was a stage in this process, an example of how the human spirit, having cast off dead laws and institutions, had attempted to replace them with new ones. The attempt was not immediately successful, for the reforms had overshot the mark and, while it was easy to destroy the old system of government, there were problems in devising a new one which would be appropriate to the state of mind of the nation. Unfortunately, the failure to solve this problem had culminated in the centralized and autocratic government of the Empire. In this state of affairs, where the State is all and the individual nothing, those shared values which are essential to any community collapse and individuals, finding themselves in ‘an unnatural isolation’ (‘un isolement contre nature’) are reduced to living for the moment and pursuing their selfish interests (Œuvres, 8.1:590). Burke’s analysis of this failure is in many ways similar to Constant’s: there is the same description of the abuse of power which has led governments to regard the citizens not as free agents, but as mere instruments, the same portrayal of the corruption of moral values and of the alienation from the community of individuals who, ‘like the flies of a summer’ (Writings and Speeches, 8:145), have no past and no future. Burke and Constant are speaking here as moralists who condemn the undermining of those shared moral values, including ‘untaught feelings’ (Writings and Speeches, 8:138), and religious beliefs, which they believe are the

pouvoir héréditaire, tirant sa force de sa durée, et rempart de l’autorité royale, si les pouvoirs électifs devenaient envahissants’, speech of 6 April 1829 (Constant 1964, 2:136). 59 ‘Deux grands systèmes se sont de tout temps partagé le monde; l’un est l’hérédité, l’autre l’élection … Moins un peuple est éclairé, plus l’hérédité doit avoir de force, plus un peuple est éclairé, plus l’élection gagne de terrain’ (Constant 1964, 2:134). 60 See Grange (2004, 355–57). 61 For Constant’s opposition to the drift of the government to the right, especially after 1820, see Alexander (2009).

Edmund Burke and the Writings of Benjamin Constant   123 foundations of social and political life. However, whereas Constant believes that the new regime, which will combine the gains of the Revolution with the promises of the Charter, will usher in a new age in which the human spirit will recover its natural élan, Burke can see no such future. Constant’s optimism is expressed as follows: Tyranny, immorality, injustice are so unnatural that a single effort, a single courageous voice suffices to rescue man from this abyss. He returns to morality through the misfortune of having forgotten it. He returns to liberty through the unhappiness of having forgotten it. The cause of no nation is without hope.62

Burke, on the other hand, believes that the Revolution is a monstrosity ‘out of nature’ (Writings and Speeches, 8:60)63 which has corrupted morals and religion beyond repair. Comparing the Revolution to an earlier episode in the history of France, he notes that, following the wars of religion, the moral life of the nation had recovered, since the French ‘had not slain the mind of their country’ (Writings and Speeches, 8:100). But the Revolution, he believes, had, indeed, slain the mind of France; there was no way forward, no possibility of recovery. Constant, at times, seems to share this view. For example, in a draft preface to Adolphe, the work which is his acknowledged masterpiece, he describes, like Burke, how there are certain moments when the death of the human spirit can occur. Thus, referring to the period in which he lives, he regrets the degradation which has affected those natural feelings which form the basis of genuine commitment to love, liberty and religious belief: Inconstancy or fatigue in love, incredulity in religion in many dull or frightening forms and servility in politics are contemporary symptoms. It is a sad period when the decrepitude of civilization has killed what is natural and where there remains to man neither hope in heaven, dignity on earth or refuge in his own heart.64

This is not his last word, however, which is one of resignation and acceptance of the course which will be taken by events. Thus referring to the period from 1789 to 1829, he writes in the preface to the Mélanges: The crisis which is taking place before our eyes … is not the last one which will change the face of the earth. After the things which are disappearing today, many more will disappear. But these disappearances or rather these later deliverances are 62

‘La tyrannie, l’immoralité, l’injustice sont tellement contre nature qu’il ne faut qu’un effort, une voix courageuse pour retirer l’homme de cet abîme. Il revient à la morale par le malheur qui résulte de l‘oubli de la morale. Il revient à la liberté par le malheur qui résulte de l’oubli de la liberté. La cause d’aucune nation n’est désespérée’ (Œuvres, 8.2:799). 63 For this aspect of the Revolution see Courtney (1973). 64 ‘L’inconstance ou la fatigue en amour, l’incrédulité en religion sous mille formes, ternes ou effrayantes, la servilité en politique, sont des symptômes contemporains. Triste époque où la décrépitude de la civilisation a tué la nature et où il ne reste à l’homme ni espoir dans le ciel, ni dignité sur terre, ni refuge dans son propre cœur’ (Draft preface for the second edition of Adolphe, 1816 [Œuvres, 3.1:198]).

124   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe reserved for another period. Let us not anticipate the future: let us absorb doctrines brought and consolidated by time.65

And similarly, he writes: ‘If humanity follows an invariable course [marche], we must accept it. Only resignation will save us from senseless struggles and frightful unhappiness.’66 Would Burke have agreed? There is a curious passage at the end of his Thoughts on French Affairs (December 1791): I have done with this subject, I believe for ever. It has given me many anxious moments for the two last years. If a great change is to be made in human affairs, the minds of men will be fitted to it, the general opinions and feelings will draw that way. Every fear, every hope will forward it; and then they who persist in opposing this mighty current in human affairs, will appear rather to resist the decree of Providence itself, than the mere designs of men. They will not be resolute and firm but perverse and obstinate. (Writings and Speeches, 8:386)

This suggestion that one should resign oneself to accepting ‘the mighty current in human affairs’ is very similar to what we have found in Constant. However, in the final analysis, neither Burke nor Constant accepted passivity or resignation in the face of events; Burke continued in his opposition to the Revolution even to the point of campaigning for a war against France and Constant gave his full support to the July Revolution, hoping that in its outcome it would be more successful than the governments of the Restoration in combining the ideals of the Revolution with constitutional monarchy. There are many approaches to the extremely diverse works of Constant. To approach them by examining possible affinities with Burke offers a perspective which takes into account that interest in history, manners, morals and religion sometimes lacking in studies which concentrate narrowly on Constant’s constitutionalism or his theory of negative and positive liberty. At the same time, it is a perspective which, without claiming that there are demonstrable influences (as distinct from affinities), invites the reader to reflect on how a ‘Burkean’ analysis of the French Revolution, in terms of the abuse of power and the practice of imposing laws from above, continues a certain tradition of ‘moderation’67 in political thought which could be found relevant, even by those who initially opposed Burke, to the political and constitutional problems of the following century.


‘La crise qui s’opère sous nos yeux … n’est pas la dernière qui changera la face du monde. Après les choses qui tombent aujourd’hui, beaucoup tomberont encore. Mais ces destructions, ou pour mieux dire ces délivrances ultérieures, sont réservées à une autre époque. N’anticipons point sur le temps: pénétrons-nous des doctrines que les temps ont amenées et qu’ils consolident’ (Œuvres, 33:147). 66 ‘Si l‘espèce humaine suit une marche invariable, il faut s‘y soumettre. La résignation seule épargnera aux hommes des luttes insensées et d’affreux malheurs’ (Œuvres, 33:470). 67 For an analysis of this tradition, from Montesquieu to Constant, see Craiutu (2012).


‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France Norbert Col

Gérard Gengembre once termed ‘the climacteric event in our history’1 that which Burke generally regarded as occurring ‘in France’.2 Burke was not downplaying the Revolution, though. There would be ‘transmigrations … by fire and blood’ before France was restored to her true self; more radically, he anticipated Gengembre’s echo of revolutionary, tabula rasa rhetoric when he confessed his qualms about clinging to divine commands that seemed nullified by the new turn in history (Burke 1969/82 [1790], 376; 1907–10, 3:393).3 Burke’s reduction of the Revolution to mere geography, and fears of some new Revelation, have had a complex posterity. Counter-revolutionaries viewed the Revolution as null and void, while that major liberal, Tocqueville, averred that it proceeded from the ancien régime; another outstanding liberal, Chateaubriand, was closer to Burke’s possible providentialism. Burke’s repute in France could not have derived solely from the Enquiry,4 nor from either his strictly British commitments or those with Ireland or India; and his American writings would have been a mere trailblazer for Tocqueville: his fame rests on the Revolution, and his depiction as a counter-revolutionary alternative to Tocqueville suggests the nature of ongoing debates (Dumont 1984, 230–45).5 Writers in French-speaking countries were not slow in engaging with Burke’s views, as translated by Gaëtan-Pierre-Marie Dupont in 1791. Their relation with British institutions has entailed endless misinterpretations. Burke’s 1

‘l’événement climatérique de notre histoire’ (Gengembre 1989, 7). See the very title of Reflections on the Revolution in France, and Col (2001, 229–36). My translations throughout of French originals. 3 For brief remarks on the latter passage, from Thoughts on French Affairs (1791), see Col (2012a, 98), against Strauss who viewed it as an example of Burke’s historicism (1971 [1953], 317–19). 4 On the latter, see Saint Girons (1990; 1998) and Halimi (2008). Burke’s Irishness is addressed via the Enquiry in Fuchs (1996). 5 The phrase, ‘les prodiges du sacrilège’ (the prodigies of sacrilege), comes from Burke (1969/1982 [1790], 359). 2

126   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe own position was a guarded one (Burke 1969/82 [1790]), 121–22; 1907–10 [1791], 2:551–55). His balanced views did not fall on deaf ears and – with the notable exception of Louis de Bonald – French royalists, even the ultras of the Restoration, did not rule out drawing some inspiration from Britain (Oechslin 1960, 131, 201–02). However, Georges Lavau affirmed that neither Antoine de Rivarol nor Joseph de Maistre ever considered British institutions (Lavau 1981 [1959], 483), ignoring Rivarol’s views (1989 [1789–90], 135) and the Sardinian Maistre’s complex, though not entirely negative, attitude to Britain (Col 2005, 105–16). Burke’s opinions were indeed courted, starting with the request from Charles-Jean-François de Pont that elicited the Reflections. There was also a brief correspondence in 1791 between Burke and ClaudeFrançois de Rivarol, brother of the better-known Antoine.6 In the same year, the Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, to François-Louis Thibault de Ménonville, a député to the Assemblée Constituante, contained Burke’s earliest reservations about the monarchiens, specifically Jean-Joseph Mounier and Trophime Gérard de Lally-Tollendal, who had just been praised in the Reflections (Burke 1969/82 [1790], 167–68n). Burke blamed the monarchiens for their inexperience and systematic turn of mind (1907–10 [1791], 2:547). Like many others, he chose to forget that they were committed monarchists and that their bicameralism was subservient to a strong, centralized monarchy (Griffiths 1988, 141, 144). But even that was evidence of their participation in the revolutionary blank slate, among other things because they rejected those Parlements which he stubbornly regarded as checks to royal power. Unfortunately, Burke dodged issues like the veto advocated by the monarchiens: he could have shown that such a veto gave the king an absurd level of control over the sovereign legislature, which was incompatible with his post-1688 notion that Parliament made laws that the king could reject, and that Parliament could refuse to support the king’s appointment of ministers. Those, in any case, were Burke’s ideas in Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (Burke 1907–10 [1770], 1:333).7 To him, the ‘king of Great Britain … is a real king, and not an executive officer’, with ‘a more real, solid, extensive power, than the king of France was possessed of before this miserable Revolution’ (Burke 1907–10 [1791], 2:554). The conflict with the monarchiens illustrates how usual concepts and clichés obscure, rather than clarify, issues. This is evidenced by Burke’s various fortunes in France. No matter the disappearance of monarchy, there remained a fascination with what could be salvaged of his political philosophy when France suffered its endless misfortunes, and some of that fascination could be placed to the right, even extreme right. But Burke’s influence declined in the twentieth-century interwar period, partly because Action Française never really addressed him,8 and if it had, Burke’s reputation would have fared even worse after 1944. Renewed interest developed with the Cold War and 6

The latter’s wife, Louise, née Mather-Flint, translated An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs. 7 On the French situation, see Burke (1969/1982 [1790], 321–25). 8 A new translation of Reflections by Jacques d’Anglejan was published for the

‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France   127 the insights of American neo-conservatism, then refocused on France in the run-up to the Revolution bicentenary. Though interest in Burke is no longer the preserve of political commitment but of allegedly disinterested academics, political preoccupations were not thrown overboard entirely: in 2000 the former French President, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, found cause to praise Burke. Interest in Burke is also apparent in subjects for the competitive examinations for teachers of English. In such emerging fields as postcolonial studies, French authors intermingle with their Anglophone counterparts. Burke, who acknowledged his indebtedness to Montesquieu (Burke 1996 [1791], 200), before mapping out ways of addressing the Revolution, remains the product of English-speaking cultures suggesting new perspectives for French scholars. A Burkean posterity in France? Burke’s posterity in France is so varied as to discourage exhaustive investigation. Hippolyte Taine, Ernest Renan and Maurice Barrès were devout readers,9 mainly owing to their fascination with his views of an organic State and, when it comes to Taine and Barrès, ‘prejudices’.10 But Barrès’s republicanism diverges from Burke’s stress on the exteriority of power. Though Burke was no Bonald and never exclusively supported the monarchical constitution, he would have been loath to theorize the exteriority of power in a republic, especially in republicanized France.11 As for Taine and Renan, their preference for Protestantism separates them from Burke: an Erastian, he held that France was a Catholic country that must be tolerant of Protestants, but he also claimed bluntly that the Reformation was an early subversion completed by the French Revolution.12 Taine and Renan were indebted to the Whig interpretation of history, down to their distrust of democratic excesses, and were accordingly attracted to Burke, but being ‘Whig’, in their case, meant a rejection of the earlier association in France of monarchy and Catholicism. They transposed Burke to another time and space, and he would have regarded their suggestions as mechanical and unsavoury innovations. Difficulties are not allayed when one turns to those who, allowing for individual differences, were royalists with a lesser or greater stake in





Nouvelle Librairie Nationale, related to Action Française, in 1912, but this does not amount to much. See Ganzin (1972, 350–412). These pages also include analyses of Maistre. See Ganzin (1972, 383, 387) on Taine and Barrès; Savinel (1987, 326) on Barrès. On Burke’s conception of ‘prejudice’, see Burke (1969/82 [1790], 183) and Col (2001, 218–27). See Burke’s insistence on ‘a power out of themselves’ (1969/82 [1790], 151). At the most, in Remarks on the Policy of the Allies, he preferred a property-based republic over a ‘Democracie Royale’ that sanctioned disruptions to property (1907–10 [1793], 3:417). On toleration of Protestants in a restored monarchy in France, see Burke’s Remarks on the Policy of the Allies (1907–10 [1793], 3:444–45); on Reformation and revolution, see Burke’s Thoughts on French Affairs (1907–10 [1791], 3:350–52).

128   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Catholicism. It would be easier to assess such putative posterity if Maistre, Bonald, Maurras, Chateaubriand and Tocqueville had closely discussed Burke.13 Maurras admitted him to a constellation of counter-revolutionary thinkers, all of them empiricists – ‘Renan, Taine, Balzac, Bonald, Burke, Macaulay, a few more’ (1983 [1937], 164) – but also viewed him as a mere ‘practitioner’ as against Maistre and Rivarol.14 Maistre recognized that Burke gave him ammunition against both democracy and Gallicanism.15 He did not make Burke a Catholic but, oblivious to his digs at ‘the Servant of Servants’ and ‘the Fisherman’ (Burke 1969/82 [1790], 114), considered that Burke regarded the Pope as ‘head even of those Christians who disown him’.16 Of course, Burke, who never viewed the Pope as an Antichrist, was an ideal crack shot against those Dissenters whose attacks on established Churches were just as many slurs against sundry sorts of loose women,17 but Maistre’s enthusiasm was that of an independent mind. As for Bonald’s rapturous encomium, its romanticized Burke could hardly do the latter any real service: Burke, that eloquent and sensitive defender of the true principles of a monarchical Constitution. I dare hope that some of my thoughts, on these lofty objects, will be in unison with his profound meditations, when I remember with what forcefulness he upholds public religion, royal power, hereditary succession and social distinctions. That virtuous stranger entering the lists in that memorable joust, where all passions vied against all principles, called to mind those knights who, in tournaments of yore, hastened from distant countries, for the sake of glory, and fastened every eye on them so strong were their weapons, proud their mottoes and mighty their strokes. Never had the preserving principles of societies been attacked by such profound means as they have been in our age, never had they been defended with such genius, learning and courage.18



15 16 17


For Tocqueville’s royalism, see a letter of 1852 to the Comte de Chambord in which he offered fruitless theoretical and practical suggestions for a Restoration of the elder Bourbon branch (Rials 1984/1987). See Col (1998a, 92). Letter from Maistre to Joseph-Henry Costa, 21 January 1791, in Maistre (1992, 79). ‘le chef des chrétiens même qui le renient’ (Maistre 1928 [1819], 1:302n.). Maistre (1928 [1819], 2:203), quoting from Burke’s speech of 2 March 1790 in the debate on the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. ‘Burke, ce défenseur éloquent et sensible des vrais principes de la Constitution monarchique. J’ose croire que quelques-unes de mes pensées, sur ces grands objets, se trouveront à l’unisson de ses méditations profondes, lorsque je me rappelle avec quelle force il défend la religion publique, le pouvoir royal, la succession héréditaire, les distinctions sociales. Ce vertueux étranger venant rompre une lance dans cette joute mémorable de toutes les passions contre tous les principes a rappelé ces chevaliers qui, dans les anciens tournois, accouraient des pays lointains, attirés par le désir de la gloire, et fixaient tous les regards par la force de leurs armes, la fierté de leurs devises et la force de leurs coups. Jamais les principes conservateurs des sociétés n’avaient été attaqués par des moyens aussi profonds qu’ils l’ont été de nos jours, jamais ils n’avaient été défendus avec autant de génie, de connaissance et

‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France   129 Others, from the liberal side, dismissed Burke’s outlook. Compassionate though he was to the man’s sorrow after the death of his son, Richard, Chateaubriand considered that Burke ignored the passage of time, and regarded his stand against the Revolution as indirectly responsible for ‘the fields of Waterloo’ and for ‘keep[ing] England’s politics in the past’. However, he mentioned the British constitutionalist’s opposition to the threats posed by the ‘new theories’, hinting that he might someday share the same ground (1973 [1849], 1:467, 473, 489–90). Charles de Rémusat identified some inconsistency in Burke who, he argued, rejected absolutism and indicted the French who ended the same absolutism.19 This is similar to Tocqueville’s dig at Burke who, allegedly, cannot see ‘that what lies before his eyes is that revolution that must precisely abolish the ancient common law of Europe’.20 The short-sighted liberal calls the Burke kettle myopic. In other places, though, Tocqueville admits that the two saw eye to eye. Investigation into a Burkean posterity could be easily deemed irrelevant. Burke’s alliance of tradition and political liberalism was at odds with the positions of both ‘moderate and extremist counter-revolutionaries’ (Martin 1998, 100). Burke was a Whig (Martin 1998, 99), but Martin does not point out that Burke’s Whiggism had elements of Bolingbrokean Country ideology (Burke 1996 [1791], 210–11, 225, 238, 256, 259–61, 266).21 It was a nineteenth-century liberal who best sensed the complexity of Burke’s background: Rémusat pointed to the counter-revolutionary potential in British Whiggism.22 Even so, one should remember that the abyss between Burke and other counter-revolutionaries, not to mention the most conservative among French liberals, also develops from Burke’s instinctive endorsement of England’s politics, notably in that seventeenth-century revolutionary thinking endlessly posed as a restoration of alleged earlier modes marked by Parliamentary supremacy. Whether Burke’s Francophone followers grasped that much would call for a specific enquiry. Liberals were unaware of such intricacies, quite possibly because they took Britain for granted; counterrevolutionaries grunted given their mitigated diffidence towards Britain.23 Burke’s rejection of the French Revolution as inaugurating a new epoch in world history enabled him to stress England’s singularity since the mendacity de courage’ (Bonald 1864 [1796], 441) in Ganzin (1972, 346–47). I use ‘stranger’ instead of ‘foreigner’ in accordance with eighteenth-century usage. 19 Rémusat, ‘Burke, sa vie et ses écrits’, Revue des deux mondes, January–February 1853 and March–April 1853, in Raynaud (1989, xcvi). 20 ‘que ce qu’il a sous les yeux, c’est la révolution qui doit précisément abolir cette ancienne loi commune de l’Europe’ (Tocqueville 1967/86 [1859], Pt.1, Ch.5, 81). 21 These references are to my own editorial notes. 22 See an extract from Rémusat’s ‘Burke, sa vie et ses écrits’, in Fierro and Liébert’s notes (Burke 1989, 778). 23 See, for instance, Maistre’s jibe at Britain for paying with ‘torrents of blood’ (‘des flots de sang’) for the ‘privilege to be the most heavily taxed nation in the world’ (‘privilège d’être la nation la plus imposée de l’univers’): Maistre (1928 [1819], 1:172).

130   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe of revolutionary ideals had been identified as early as the age of John Ball in 1381 (1996 [1791], 158), which allowed for a condemnation of the Civil Wars of the 1640s while praising the Glorious Revolution: that much emerged from the muddled debates of the Sacheverell trial (1710).24 Conversely, Maistre and Bonald could hardly have regarded the French Religious Wars as an opportunity for an inclusive reading of the past. They oversimplified the ancien régime, as well as the relationships between Church and State.25 Their vision, strangely enough, turned more towards a reconciling future than a restoration of the past, and Bonald – in this a true, though silent, disciple of Burke, even a forerunner of Tocqueville – agreed that the ancien régime nursed the revolutionary catastrophe.26 This reduces the customary fracture between conservatism and liberalism. As for Maurras, his balanced judgements on Jacobinism show the latter as less destructive of French traditions than liberalism: Let others rejuvenate the grievous utopias of 1789: if one must, at all costs, find inspiration in the history of our great crisis, we prefer to turn to 1793. After all, a Danton continues a Henry IV, a Louis XI, a Philip Augustus, though miserably so, a Roland or a La Fayette could only disturb or diminish the State.27

But Maurras was just as independent as Maistre. Michel Ganzin only remarks that Maurras noted the gap ‘between English liberalism and democracy’ (Ganzin 1972, 237n.), and Pierre Boutang says nothing of Burke in his monumental biography of Maurras (1984). The latter certainly never read Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770) and its advocacy of party government, and never reflected on Burke’s Bolingbrokean mention of those republican elements – to Burke, quite plausibly, this would have meant parties – that enter the composition of a true monarchy (1969/82 [1790], 229–30). Whether Bolingbroke would have agreed on parties is no foregone conclusion, obviously, and, just as obviously, Maurras would have begged to differ from Burke. Parties were just those ‘factions’ that monarchy must curb because they are ‘inherent in the city of men just as sin is in the souls of men’.28 Conversely, the Republic gives them its blessing, thus institutional-


See Burke (1996 [1791], 86–120). See Bonald (1988, 53). That ‘agitation’ was just ‘superficial’ under the monarchy is something of an understatement. See also Maistre (1928 [1819]); for the complex history of the dedication to the Pope, Pius VII, see Maistre (1966 [1819], viii–xxxiv). 26 See Bonald on Louis XVI’s unconstitutional responsibility in doubling the Tiers État (1966 [1796], 125–26); see also Burke (1907–10 [1791], 2:550–51). 27 ‘À d’autres de renouveler les utopies funestes de 1789: s’il faut à tout prix chercher l’inspiration dans l’histoire de notre grande crise, nous préférons aller à 1793. Après tout, un Danton continue un Henri IV, un Louis XI, un Philippe-Auguste, même s’il les continue misérablement, un Roland ou un La Fayette ne put rien que troubler l’État ou le diminuer’ (Maurras 1933, 5:162). 28 ‘inhérents à la cité des hommes, comme le péché à l’âme des hommes’ (Maurras 1933, 5:87). 25

‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France   131 izing their endless feuds.29 Parties might be relevant to a newly born Germany or an England plagued by the vicissitudes of her national history and foreign sovereigns, but the French solution was a rejuvenation of its States General.30 Burke might have agreed, though with countless provisos. But Maurras’s interest in trade unions, at least in the early phase of Action Française, was alien to Burke’s free-trade views.31 A shared belief between Burke and the counter-revolutionaries was that one must repudiate hubristic individualism. But this did not mean absorbing the individual into the State, as shown by Maurras’s stress on trade unions, preferably guilds: a remote, and unintended, echo of Burke’s ‘little platoon’ (Burke (1969/82 [1790], 135). To royalist liberals, protection against an encroaching State was the principal task of a constitution, and they were at pains to clarify what they meant by liberalism. Tocqueville viewed himself as a ‘liberal of a new species’.32 Chateaubriand was concerned that liberalism meant ‘the risk of upsetting the lawful throne’ and jointly stressed his loyalty to the elder branch of the Bourbons and his ‘liberal opinions’ (1973 [1849], 3:142, 749). But this matters less than the similitude between Burke’s description of James II’s faults in Reflections and that of the 1830 ordinances by Chateaubriand: What is intolerable in the ministers’ report is the brazen claim, namely: THAT THE KING’S POWER PREEXISTS THE LAWS. What do constitutions signify then? … The first two liberties, freedom of the press and electoral freedom, were radically extirpated … by ordinances as in the days of royal pleasure.33

However, though Chateaubriand’s analyses of the ancien régime and the Restoration call to mind Burke’s Whig rendering of the Glorious Revolution, one must also pinpoint differences. Chateaubriand’s fidelity was to men, or rather lineages, not their ideas, and he rejected the monarchy of July while Burke extended the legitimacy of the Glorious Revolution to an alteration in the succession line. They agreed on the danger posed by monarchy to


Maurras (1933, 5:87). First published in Action française, 22 June 1915. See Col (1998a, 100). 31 However, Chapman suggests that the heyday of industrialization might have led Burke to revise his positions (1967, 80). 32 ‘Un libéral d’une espèce nouvelle’: Tocqueville, letter to Charles Stoffels, 24 July 1836, in Lamberti (1983, 103). 33 ‘Ce qui n’est pas tolérable dans le rapport des ministres, c’est cette prétention effrontée, à savoir: QUE LE ROI A UN POUVOIR PRÉEXISTANT AUX LOIS. Que signifient alors les constitutions? … Les deux premières libertés, la liberté de la presse et la liberté électorale, étaient radicalement extirpées … par des ordonnances comme au temps du bon plaisir’ (Chateaubriand 1973 [1849], 3:160– 61). Article 14 of the Charter granted the king considerable leeway, via regulations and ordinances, to enforce laws and to protect the State. Chateaubriand had been alarmed as early as 1816, in a post-scriptum to La Monarchie selon la Charte: article 14 could be used by ministers to impose their views, thus nullifying the whole of the Charter; see Clément (1987, 154). 30

132   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe liberty buttressed by law. Was that liberalism? Chateaubriand’s would then be a ‘new’ liberalism, by courtesy of Tocqueville, one that partly derived from the nobiliary reaction of the eighteenth century with its belief in a beneficent genealogy of liberties suppressed by absolutism. But this was just what embarrassed Tocqueville. A customary constitution was no obstacle to centralization, which enabled him to view the ancien régime as the dialectical soil of the Revolution. However, his prudential advice to the Comte de Chambord makes it impossible to regard a text, even a constitution, as an absolute starting point, which is Burkean enough (Tocqueville’s disappointment with Chambord’s unresponsiveness may have been an element in the description of the ancien régime as preparation for the Revolution). One is on the horns of a dilemma here. To Burke, the Glorious Revolution brought the crowning touch to those positive constitutional changes that emerged even in the otherwise catastrophic era of the Stuarts (1969/82 [1790], 107–08). But to Chateaubriand and Tocqueville, the problem was to make a written constitution the foundation of a practice that was not yet in existence and that could only be defined in intaglio. They were worse off than Maistre, that ‘continental and French (linguistically speaking) continuation of the insular Burke’, or that ‘new Burke, but a rejuvenated Burke transfigured by mystical accents’,34 who endorsed Whig views when considering that sovereigns ultimately depend on opinion, thus obliquely condemning James II (Maistre 1980 [1821], 2:i, 3).35 But these are just cosmetic differences between the two sides of Burke’s posterity. Both are equally concerned with the function of time, which further blurs customary distinctions.36 When at Trinity College Dublin, Burke had been brought up in a cultural environment steeped in Thomism (Canavan 1960, 198–211). This agreed with the ancient constitution but, against such intellectual stability, there came with the French Revolution more dramatic, providentialist outlooks, whereby God directly intervened in the conduct of human affairs. Burke was not immune to such views, exaggerated as they were by Leo Strauss, but they were equally shared by the liberals and Maistre. One need only remember Chateaubriand’s apocalyptic pronouncement, in the face of rising socialism, that he will ‘boldly descend, with the crucifix in my hand, into eternity’.37 Tocqueville described the terrifying advances of the new, democratic despotism (1986 [1835 and 1840], 2: bk.iv,, 431–38), and wondered about the immoderate, radical, desperate, audacious, nearly insane yet potent and efficacious character of these Revolutionaries [which] is unprecedented, so it seems to 34

‘suite continentale et française (par la langue) de Burke l’insulaire’ ; ‘un nouveau Burke, mais un Burke rajeuni et transfiguré par un accent mystique’ (Chevallier 1993 [1979], 663). 35 James II lacked ‘adroitness’ (Maistre 1989 [1797], 187). 36 Col (1998b) also addresses the issue of the social contract: remote traces can be discovered in Bonald and Maurras, while they are far less conspicuous in the liberal camp, though they would have been anticipated there. 37 ‘je descendrai hardiment, le crucifix à la main, dans l’éternité’ (Chateaubriand 1973 [1849], 3:737).

‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France   133 me, in the great social agitations of earlier centuries. Whence comes the novel fury? … I can feel where the unknown object lies but, try as I may, I cannot lift the veil that covers it. I can feel it as if through a foreign body which prevents me from either properly handling it or seeing it.38

That ‘unknown object’ challenged his connection between ancien régime and Revolution. While Maistre posited that the Pope should be the ultimate ruler of the world, Tocqueville placed all his hopes in a religious moralization of democracy, with a specific eye on Catholicism (1986 [1835 and 1840], 2: bk.ii, ch.xv, 200, and bk.i,, 48–49). The arch-Catholic Bonald, the agnostic Maurras, even Burke would not have dissented. The usual distinctions between liberals and conservatives lose much of their significance, but one has an inkling of the far more rewarding complexities offered by comparative history. This is the permanent battle ground of the reception of Burke in France. It is a struggle between liberty and equality (and in this, both counter-revolutionaries and liberals were on the side of liberty, although they did not make it bear on the same objects) which also encompasses an ongoing conversation with Britain and the Whig interpretation of history. Burke’s specificities are those of a privileged country where elements have been felicitously balanced while they were, according to liberals, unbalanced elsewhere.39 Burke had a hand in laying such foundations, and in this he left later thinkers to think things out along the lines of France’s permanent plight. To counter-revolutionaries, Burke’s virtue lay precisely in his not being representative of his country’s political order; to liberals, his faults lay in his being rather too insular. Ultimately, Burke was a seminal inspiration who could be quickly relegated to the background. Academic research after the Second World War Those were the great names of a highly conflictual era, but such eras have a knack for perpetuation. The Cold War helped retrieve Burke’s spirit against a new enemy, while leaving aside the precise conditions in which his thinking had come into being: this distorted discussion around the categories of liberalism or conservatism. That influence of the Cold War is not immediately detectable in French authors, but they mention with approval Thomistic Anglophone sources related to neo-conservatism. This is apparent in the 38

‘le caractère immodéré, radical, désespéré, audacieux, presque fou et pourtant puissant et efficace de ces Révolutionnaires-ci n’a pas de précédent, ce me semble, dans les grandes agitations sociales des siècles passés. D’où vient cette rage nouvelle? … Je sens où est l’objet inconnu, mais j’ai beau faire, je ne puis lever le voile qui le couvre. Je le tâte comme à travers un corps étranger qui m’empêche soit de le bien toucher, soit de le voir’, Tocqueville, letter to Louis de Kergorlay, 16 May 1858, in Furet (1978, 256n). 39 Confirmation on the counter-revolutionary side is in Maistre’s Essai sur le principe générateur des constitutions politiques (n.d. [1814], 246–47).

134   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe eulogistic conservative reading of Michel Villey, whose polemical accents suggest that Burke was in fact far more cognizant of the rights of men than the revolutionaries of his and later times (1976, 130–33). This was largely owing to his updating ‘the doctrine of natural right’ and fitting it ‘to our own modern world’ (1976, 137). American neo-conservatism incurred Conor Cruise O’Brien’ displeasure.40 Subsequently, in France, Michel Fuchs’s initial irritation with Burke (1988) evolved into an attack on neo-conservatism from which he sought to salvage Burke’s reputation (1996). In earlier decades, things were perhaps less polemical. The Reflections was ‘a wonderful arsenal of weapons for all the enemies of the Spirit of the time ‒ the ahistorical, abstract, rationalistic and individualistic spirit of the time’.41 Thirty years later, Jean-Jacques Chevallier’s Burke was no ‘philosopher of History’ as against Saint-Simon, Auguste Comte or Hegel, but the founder of historicism (1993 [1979], 658). But these are mostly descriptive contributions, as is Ganzin’s hefty PhD dissertation, a scholarly account which highlights Burke’s originality, thereby exempting him from traditional French interrogations. Burke has a degree of respectability since he is not entirely conservative, let alone reactionary. While he does not mention J. L. Talmon, Ganzin regards Rousseau as the origin of ‘totalitarian democracy’ while Burke is the ‘precocious eulogist of modern parliamentarianism’: ‘With him a world dies, the eighteenth century; another one is born, the nineteenth century’.42 Clearly, this is so neat as to be simplistic. François Crouzet, shrewdly noting that William Pitt was not so much of an ideological crusader as Burke, and that Burke’s crusade was against the Revolution, not France herself (1975/1985, 232), acknowledged something that pertains to the very title of Reflections. A few years before, he had also placed Burke among ‘the theological school of the counter-Revolution, though in the Protestant branch, with … Mallet du Pan’ and that other Genevan, Sir Francis d’Ivernois (1962/85, 522n). While Crouzet also identified Burke’s role in turning most of the Whigs to Pitt after 1792 (1975/85, 227), his focus is clearly not on Burke. Yet in these few remarks he is sure-footed and, in any case, displays little of the polemical tone which the title of his substantial collection of articles about France and England might lead readers to expect (De la supériorité de l’Angleterre sur la France: L’économique et l’imaginaire XVIIe-XXe siècle). Whatever English superiority there may have been, this is consistently balanced by careful scrutiny of the French attempt to catch up, until the Revolution and Napoleonic era put paid to this effort. Burke would not have disagreed. Crouzet’s collection raised a few suspicious eyebrows since his assessment, largely deriving from cliometrics, challenged home-grown views opposed to


See O’Brien’s edition of Burke (1969/82, 56–67). ‘ce merveilleux arsenal, où devaient puiser leurs armes tous les ennemis de l’Esprit du siècle ‒ de l’anhistorique, abstrait, rationaliste et individualiste esprit du siècle’ (Chevallier 1970 [1949], 156). 42 ‘démocratie totalitaire’; ‘précoce chantre du parlementarisme moderne’; ‘avec lui un monde meurt, le XVIIIe siècle; un autre naît, le XIXe’ (Ganzin 1972, 419–20). 41

‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France   135 the ancien régime. Here one senses something of the atmosphere surrounding the run-up to the bicentenary of the French Revolution, which was principally marked by a return to the Enlightenment for inspiration. This goes together with indictment of Burke, since his alleged irrationalism supposedly treads the dangerous path leading to German historicism and its twentiethcentury continuations. Blandine Barret-Kriegel does not exactly make the connection, but she notes that Burke moves away from the Common Law and ‘the legislator’s will’ and transforms the contract into a ‘doctrine of alliance’: ‘a double alliance with God and history’. In this the nation takes precedence over the State.43 Barret-Kriegel’s book was republished in 1989, together with a later one in which her study of Burke’s ‘historicism’ immediately precedes an attack on Fichte, Brentano and Achim von Arnim’s segregation of Jews, and their Nazi-inspiring precedence of the rights of Germany over those of men (1989 [1987], 12–13). Although Burke is not bracketed with such later developments, there is more than a faint sense of implication by assimilation.44 Such readings have not displaced older debates about whether Burke was a liberal or a conservative. René Rémond has identified three nineteenth-century rights – Legitimist, Orleanist and Bonapartist – with their twentieth-century continuations as extreme-right, Giscardism and Gaullism. Rémond says little about Burke, merely noting that he was one of those eminent non-French ultra-royalists (which is pretty questionable) and pointing to his influence on French ultras who could not understand why different countries should have the same political institutions (1982, 52, 55). But if this is so, what about a few names who generally come under the liberal banner? For Pierre-François Moreau, Montesquieu and Tocqueville were so attached to the local and historical, as against natural rights theories, that they were closer to Burke than to liberalism (1978, 16). Some of these points must be taken with a pinch of salt, since Moreau leaves out Strauss’s momentous distinction between classic and modern natural right (Strauss 1971 [1953]), but he places Burke at the heart of a specific tradition that cannot be termed liberal. Had Moreau addressed Tocqueville, much new light could have been shed on Tocqueville’s flippant dismissal of Burke, and the ongoing opposition of the two thinkers could have been fruitfully revisited. Stéphane Rials and Philippe Bénéton, a few years later and apparently without heeding Moreau, were rather more hesitant respecting Burke’s position. Rials argues that Rémond’s glaring shortcuts originate in ‘a confusion between the right and the centres of the nineteenth century’ and an obsession with ‘building up filiations between those ancient trends and today’s tendencies’.45 He also insists that the counter-revolution, embodied in légitimisme as sole real right, posits that ‘man cannot constitute’ society (Rials 1985/87,


‘la volonté du législateur‘; ‘doctrine de l’alliance‘; ‘double alliance avec Dieu et avec l’histoire’ (Barret-Kriegel 1989 [1979], 181). 44 Far worse slurs connecting Burke with Herder, ‘Barrès, Maurras and Spengler’, and ‘the various Fascist movements’, even the Holocaust, appear in Sternhell (2006, 253, 558). 45 ‘une confusion entre la droite et les centres au XIXe siècle’; ‘vouloir établir des

136   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe 58–59), and thence constructs a challengeable interpretation of the real essence of the counter-revolution: In Burke, there was still room for a contract understood in a particular way. But not with Bonald who wished to break radically with the revolutionary principle whereby society is a voluntary, even artificial, authority … It is in Joseph de Maistre, a subject of the king of Savoie, that one finds, ultimately, the most coherent critique of revolutionary constitutionalism. The after-effects of modern thinking are, naturally enough, present in his writing, but they are, in many ways, not so prevalent as in Burke, the Whig, or the systematic thinker, Bonald. Never would Maistre have suggested that the sole ‘constituted’ government was the monarchy …46

In short, Burke is a poor relation of the counter-revolutionary family, because Rials does not really differentiate between the Burkean contract and revolutionary varieties of contract theory. Rials’s conception of providentialism and his rejection of human will ultimately tell us less about the intricacies of the counter-revolution than they do about specific issues in the 1980s. In fact, his genuine political right evokes the spontaneous order of free-market doctrines, as in F. A. Hayek (Rials 1985/87, 62–68) or, before him, Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’. This is not out of place in the light of Burke’s Thoughts and Details on Scarcity (1795) or certain remarks by Maistre:47 free trade and a minimal State have indeed contributed something to counter-revolutionary thinking. But, writing in the 1980s, when the Chicago school of economics was becoming influential in France, Rials may well have fallen prey to another, though antagonistic, version of the extended history for which he criticized Rémond. Not long after Rials, Bénéton offered another typology that differed both from Rémond’s three rights and Rials’s sole genuine right. Of Bénéton’s two branches of conservatism, one goes as far back as Aristotle and Aquinas and springs to life with the refutation of the French Revolution by Burke, Maistre and Bonald (Bénéton 1988, 45–49). The other branch is that of the liberals but, in some variation on Rials’s exclusions, they are conservatives by default. Tellingly enough, as if to highlight the inherent difficulties in such typologies, filiations entre ces courants anciens et les tendances actuelles’ (Rials and Bluche 1983/87, 41). 46 ‘Chez Burke, il y avait encore une place pour le contrat entendu d’une façon particulière. Pas chez Bonald qui veut rompre absolument avec le principe révolutionnaire qui tend à faire de la société une instance volontaire et plus encore artificielle … C’est chez Joseph de Maistre, sujet du roi de Savoie, que l’on trouvera, en fin de compte, la critique la plus conséquente du constitutionnalisme révolutionnaire. Chez lui, les séquelles de la pensée moderne, bien qu’elles ne soient naturellement pas inexistantes, sont à bien des égards moindres que chez Burke – le whig – ou Bonald – l’homme de système. Ce n’est pas chez Maistre que l’on verrait avancer l’idée que le seul régime “constitué” est la monarchie …’ (Rials 1987, 16–17). The final remark is a dig at Bonald. Respecting Burke’s particular acceptation of the contract, see Burke (1969/82 [1790], 194–95), and Franck Lessay’s analyses below. 47 See Burke (1994 [1795]); Maistre (n.d. [1814], 222–24.

‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France   137 another study by Bénéton in the preceding year gave pride of place to the liberalism of Montesquieu, Tocqueville, Élie Halévy and Raymond Aron in an identification of ‘the joint renewal of political philosophy and a classic, or neo-classic, problematic in political science’.48 Just as tellingly, those counterrevolutionaries under scrutiny in Le conservatisme went unmentioned, except for Burke and his respect for English and American liberties (Bénéton 1987, 168). Accordingly, there existed a modern means of challenging the modernity of those regimes that, in their very nature, reject counter-revolutionary theories. The year after, perhaps having realized that there were problems with his suggestion, Bénéton introduced a distinction between Burke and Tocqueville. The latter shares many preoccupations with the author of Reflections (from whom he has probably borrowed much, though he seldom quotes him). Tocqueville fears that modern principles, those of liberalism, may be the ferment of anarchy or despotism, he is worried by the erosion of natural aristocracies, those of virtue and ability, and by the decline in the standard of morals and manners but, unlike Burke, he accepts the legitimacy of those principles whose dynamics he fears. If Burke is a liberal conservative, Tocqueville is a conservative liberal.49

Bénéton then silently excludes French liberalism from conservatism, and concentrates on a definition of a genuine conservatism proceeding from the ‘counter-revolutionary moment’. It includes ‘three fundamental critiques that conservative thinking will permanently level at modernity’. The first is ‘an epistemological critique: a just reason is exterior to the individual’ and depends on providence and ‘earlier centuries’; the second is ‘a political critique: a just power is exterior to individuals’, and ignorance of transcendence ‘paves the way for anarchy and/or despotism’; the third is ‘a sociological critique: a good society is no aggregation of individuals but a lively, orderly society’.50 Additionally, one has a ‘reaction against the universalist pretensions of revolutionary thinking’, together with attachment to ‘particularities’ and a ‘reaction


‘renouveau à la fois de la philosophie politique et de la problématique classique ou néo-classique en science politique’ (Bénéton 1987, 9). 49 Tocqueville ‘partage nombre des préoccupations de l’auteur des Réflexions (auquel il a probablement beaucoup emprunté, s’il ne le cite guère). Tocqueville redoute que les principes modernes, ceux du libéralisme, soient le ferment de l’anarchie ou du despotisme, il s’inquiète de l’effacement des aristocraties naturelles, celles de la vertu et des talents, du déclin de la qualité des mœurs et des manières. Mais à la différence de Burke, il admet la légitimité de ces principes dont il redoute la dynamique. Si Burke est un conservateur libéral, Tocqueville est un libéral conservateur’ (Bénéton 1988, 26–27). 50 ‘trois critiques fondamentales que la pensée conservatrice ne cessera de faire à la modernité’; ‘une critique épistémologique: la raison juste est extérieure à l’individu’; ‘des siècles précédents’; ‘une critique politique: le juste pouvoir est extérieur aux individus’; ‘ouvrir la voie à l’anarchie ou/et au despotisme’; ‘une critique sociologique: la bonne société n’est pas un simple agrégat d’individus, elle est une communauté vivante et ordonnée’ (Bénéton 1988, 46–47).

138   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe against the rationalistic pretensions of revolutionary thinking’.51 This so neatly matches Burke’s views that one wonders about the relevance of Bénéton’s terse distinguo between Burke and Tocqueville: Burke could have been simply pronounced conservative. This shows how difficult it is to fit the square peg of Burke’s practical philosophy to the round hole of academic definitions, and more or less contemporary productions testify to much the same concerns, although it is from a decidedly liberal angle that Burke is assessed, praised and eventually dismissed. Those were the years accompanying the bicentenary celebrations. In François Furet’s view Burke created a lasting divide within European history, with England and France as ‘antagonistic, irreconcilable figures’ (1986, 57). He also drew from Tocqueville in order to pinpoint Burke’s originality, since Tocqueville’s identification of the French Revolution’s universalism is what Burke regards as the lie of the Revolution from as early as September 1789, when the monarchiens were defeated (Furet 1986, 60–61).52 Furet’s article is an articulate rendering of Burke’s tenets. Its distinctive observation is that, according to Burke, time ‘is not simply cumulative’ but also offers ‘instances of a sudden dissolution of age-old achievements’; in this, Burke’s ‘traditionalism’, with its awareness that time is what men make of it, differs from nineteenthcentury historicism.53 However, the final paragraphs are largely indebted to Rémusat’s reproaches and Furet, who admits that French liberals may not have been so alien to Burke as counter-revolutionaries were, concludes that ‘two hundred years after Reflections, it seems to me that today’s democracy goes on feeding from the two traditions that he contrasted, though it has never managed to reunite them’.54 Those ‘two traditions’ are ‘the English liberal tradition’ as against ‘the legacy of 1789’ illustrated by ‘Benjamin Constant, Mme de Staël and Guizot’ (Furet 1986, 66). Furet’s Burke, clearly separated from the comparatively sterile counter-revolution, is our contemporary because his intervention in the French arena has forever made a common European history impossible. This makes Burke a maverick liberal exposing all that, in the liberal tradition, regards universalism as unavoidable in spite of its accompanying havoc. What ultimately differentiates Rémusat and Furet is that the latter’s perception of Burke stresses the stimulating gadfly, not his alleged impasses. In 1988, Bernard Cottret’s La Glorieuse Révolution d’Angleterre: 1688 was both a contribution to the tercentenary of the Glorious Revolution and, 51

‘réaction contre la prétention universaliste de la pensée révolutionnaire’; ‘particularités’; ‘réaction contre la prétention rationaliste de la pensée révolutionnaire’ (Bénéton 1988, 48–49). Bonald alone is unconcerned with particularities given his ‘theologico-sociological universalism’ (‘universalisme théologico-sociologique’): (Bénéton 1988, 48). 52 Furet does not mention the later fracture between Burke and the monarchiens. 53 ‘n’est pas tout uniment cumulatif ’; ‘des exemples de dissolution subite de l’œuvre des siècles’ (Furet 1986, 64–65). 54 ‘Deux cents ans après les Réflexions, il me semble que la démocratie contemporaine continue à se nourrir aux deux sources qu’il a opposées, sans jamais être parvenue à les réunir’ (Furet 1986, 66).

‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France   139 more indirectly, the bicentenary of the French Revolution. Accordingly, it gave Burke pride of place, since Cottret sensed that Richard Price, far from pointing to the hallowed events of the Glorious Revolution, was in fact enthusing about the execution of Charles I. Accordingly, regicide might always follow whenever revolutions did not abide by the moderate settlement of 1688 (Cottret 22).55 Burke retained the historicism that is apparent in Locke’s preface to the Two Treatises of Government, though obviously he left out Locke’s central ‘theory of natural right’ (Cottret 2013 [1988], 206, 222). This echoes an earlier book in which Burke’s analysis of the Glorious Revolution closely reflected the ‘conservative’, even ‘oligarchic’ turn given to the Glorious Revolution in opposition to Locke’s views (Cottret and Martinet 1987, 17). The originality of Burke’s attitude to political parties is stressed since he was the first to ‘defend their existence on principle’ (Cottret and Martinet 1987, 76), insisting on their reconciliation of ‘national’ and ‘particular’ interests (Cottret 1992b, 191), and Present Discontents was Burke’s exorcism of Bolingbroke’s ghost (Cottret 1992b, 496). Philippe Raynaud’s contribution to Stéphane Rials’s La déclaration de 1789 is a classic account of what induced Burke, relying on the principles of 1688–89, to indict the French declaration of the rights of man. It accepts Leo Strauss’s view that Burke differed from ‘the classic tradition’, and identifies Burke as both a counter-revolutionary and a liberal who was ultimately entangled in his conservative reading of the Glorious Revolution: the latter, as he refused to accept, was an act of Parliamentary sovereignty. This was Burke’s limit, since the rationality of his history came short of that universality later noted by Hegel and based on the ‘abstraction of the rights of man – and their declaration’ (1988, 158–59, Raynaud’s emphasis, here and elsewhere). The year after, Raynaud produced an introduction to Reflections in which he aptly identified the ironical purpose of Vindication of Natural Society (1756, 1757). There, Burke attacked English radicalism and upheld a Christian and aristocratic order, but Raynaud regarded the whole as supportive of a nascent ‘liberal English society’, which is rather more debatable (1989, xvi–xix). In the tradition of Strauss, Raynaud also viewed the Enquiry as an instance of irrationalism (1989, xixn.). But he sensed that Burke’s so-called liberal moves were based, as in the American case, on ‘the continuity of English history’ (1989, xxi) and that he consistently opposed ‘the ideal of a complete rationalization of politics, or the belief in a universal right to participate in public affairs’.56 Raynaud also gives a learned account of the main strands of Reflections and occasionally reflects on related subjects, such as the monarchiens whose ‘project’ was ‘infinitely more “voluntaristic”’ than Burke’s (1989, lv). Then he launches into a typology of Burke’s ‘divided posterity’, listing readings from neo-conservatism and its French disciples like Michel Villey (1989, lvi–lvii), the radically anti-constructivist tradition of Friedrich Hayek (1989, lvii–lviii) 55

Regicide as permanent revolutionary potential also appears in Cottret (1992a, 114). 56 ‘l’idéal d’une rationalisation complète de la politique, ou … l’idée d’un droit universel à la participation aux affaires publiques’ (Raynaud 1989, xxii).

140   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe and Hannah Arendt’s phenomenology (1989, lix–lx). His Burke is much more than just a politician with a philosophical background.57 He focuses on Aristotelianism and late Thomism to explain Burke’s views on the rights of man and mentions Burkean economics, but suggests that Burke was a conservative, not a reactionary, rather than locate Burke between liberalism and conservatism (1989, lxxiii–lxxiv). He also addresses ‘the unity of Burke’s œuvre’ (1989, lxxviii–lxxxii), the controversy with Paine, German criticism of the Enlightenment (though without any disturbing insinuations) and returns to the old debate about conservatism and liberalism, finally deciding that no ‘satisfactory position’ can be founded on Burke – though the same can be said of Hegel and Tocqueville. Yet the latter two were keenly aware of the ‘truth’ of the foundation of democracies on equality and autonomous individuals (1989, civ). Burke deserves reading because of his perception of ‘human finitude’ (1989, cv), but Raynaud’s teleological outlook pronounces him wrong in the name of some form or other of liberalism, since there was, after all, so little of modernity about him. Raynaud’s articulate liberal French reading ultimately comes with an air of dismissive authority supported by the return of Enlightenment thinking in French academia. Burke’s Reflections and Paine’s Rights of Man were on the Agrégation syllabus in 1988–9, and against this background Michel Fuchs and Jacques Sys published contributions in BSÉAA XVII–XVIII, both in 1988.58 Refusing to limit Burke to utilitarianism, Sys argues that Burke allies theory and practice and that the two combine in ‘the construction of human nature (both in a theological and teleological sense)’.59 Accordingly, History is two-fold, partly ‘horizontal’ and local, partly ‘vertical’; ‘nature and super-nature, necessity and grace’ are thus indissolubly related.60 With this Aristotelian Burke, ‘the state of nature’ is a ‘state of society’ where ‘man is closest to his archetype, closest to human nature’ conceived as ‘animal rationale’.61 A few years later, Sys’s ‘Edmund Burke ou le goût de l’horreur’ was heavily indebted, beyond the Reflections itself, to the Enquiry, and more precisely to its considerations about darkness, awe and deformity that provide so much of the imagery, even bestiary, in A Letter to a Noble Lord (1796) and Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796–7). Sys addresses Burke’s uneasiness with analogy, since ‘the moral laws that preside over the future of those moral ensembles, nations, are always unknown to us’ while those governing ‘the laws of physical nature’ are more accessible to us.62 57 58 59 60 61


Raynaud does say that ‘[m]ore than a philosopher, Burke is a politician’ (1989, xix), but the drift of his introduction conflicts with this statement. Fuchs will be mentioned elsewhere. One can also cite Sys (1987) and Halimi (1989). ‘la construction de la nature humaine (au double sens théologique et téléologique’ Sys (1988, 69). ‘nature et surnature, nécessité et grâce’ Sys (1988, 76). ‘l’homme est au plus près de son archétype, au plus près de la nature humaine’: Sys (1988, 82). See Burke (1996 [1791], 156). ‘les lois qui président au devenir des ensembles moraux que sont les nations nous sont toujours inconnues’: Sys (1991, 98). This refers to Burke (1907–10 [1796–97], 5:153).

‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France   141 This is a ‘Kantian’ Burke, one that is marked by ‘theological rationalism’, but there is another Burke closer to the darker aspects of Christianity, including a vengeful God. Faced with the possibility that current evil should become good, that ‘apocalyptic’ and ‘eschatological’ thinker is fascinated with the ‘positivity of negativity’ (1991, 99). In a word, his pessimism is closer to ‘the Jewish apocalyptic tradition’, even to the ‘dualism’ of the early stages of ‘the theology of Judeo-Christianity’, than to ‘the Christian optimism’ in Saint John’s Revelation (1991, 100–01). Gengembre’s topical, and at times partisan, book considers that Burke acknowledged no other rights of man than mere biological needs (1989, 27).63 To Gengembre, Reflections has ultimately little of the supernatural element that is so apparent in Maistre, given Burke’s attachment ‘to a human history’ (1989, 33). This is sound enough, even though Gengembre leaves out later texts like Thoughts on French Affairs, with Burke’s acute perception of God’s intervention displacing ancient beliefs. But there are more debatable perspectives, such as when Gengembre, commenting on Burke’s claim that ‘our political system is placed in a just correspondence and symmetry with the order of the world’ (Burke 1969/82 [1790], 120), wonders whether this borders on theocracy, concluding in the negative since ‘the English model cannot be exported’ (1989, 54, also 196). The connection is tenuous indeed. Gengembre also considers that Church and State are not in a relation of interdependence in Burke, which is dubious.64 More convincing is his comment that the Burkean God permits the social contract and a consensual legislation since the latter refers to his supreme law. It is the God of classic natural right, where authority, the course of History and a problematic of progress combine. Half-way between divine right and secularization, Burke’s position presents itself as a kind of compromise.65

Reflections is also indebted to the ‘troubadour genre’ with its importance of chivalry as a metaphor of the contract between ‘the visible and invisible world’ and as ‘continuity’ (1989, 234). This is a Romantic reading of Burke, but Gengembre is closer to the point when noting how Burke’s denunciation of the ‘monied interest’ shows him at his most Tory, not Whig, indicting ‘a mafia of speculators’ that has seized power (1989, 270). All in all, the book contains perceptive insights but hovers between academic research and underlying political resentment that tries both to connect the counter-revolution with,


The book bears the marks of the rise of Front National, though it acknowledges that the counter-revolution ‘is in no manner pre-Fascist’ (323), and indicts Pope John Paul II’s positions on Eastern Europe and South America (331 n.13). 64 See Burke (1969/82 [1790], 190, 198). 65 ‘Le Dieu burkéen autorise le contrat social, et permet une législation consensuelle, puisque rapportée à sa loi suprême. Il s’agit d’un Dieu du droit naturel classique, où se combinent autorité, sens de l’Histoire et problématique du progrès. À mi-chemin du droit divin et de la laïcisation, la position burkéenne se donne comme une sorte de compromis’ (Gengembre 1989, 122–23).

142   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe and disconnect it from ongoing events in France in the late nineteen eighties. Burke emerges relatively unscathed. Far different from Gengembre’s study are a handful of articles by Franck Lessay published in the same year. These provide an alternative to some points made by Raynaud relating to Burke on reason. Lessay addresses Burke’s alleged anti-rationalism (1989a, 68) and acknowledges that Burke’s was a ‘prudential empiricism with a conservative turn’ and marked ‘theological presuppositions’ which are a limit to the importance of history, not to mention historicism, in Burke (1989a, 73). To put it differently, the nation is indeed a ‘rock’ that breaks ‘abstract political typologies’, but societies are also ‘metahistorical’ and Burke’s background is ultimately Augustinian (1989a, 76). This matches the conservatism of eighteenth-century Whiggism, but the latter is modified by contract theory with its claims for reason (1989a, 78, 79). Such reason is obviously not the same as the one celebrated in Paris in 1793, but it cannot be ignored (Lessay 1989a, 82). Though Lessay does not mention Strauss, his analyses are a useful corrective to some of the shaky points in Natural Right and History. ‘Penser la révolution anglaise’, a transparent allusion to Furet’s Penser la Révolution française, largely focuses on An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, specifically Burke’s quotations from the Sacheverell trial, and insists that the Whig managers’ declarations were hardly different from what Tories, ‘barring the Jacobites of the conservative trend of the time’, could have put across; in other words, Locke had disappeared altogether (1989b, 588). In this, Burke’s social contract was clearly a conservative one, which enabled him to turn to ‘myth’ rather than ‘history’ respecting the ancient constitution (1989b, 589–90). Similar considerations emerge from ‘Du bon usage du contrat social’, where Lessay avers that ‘society itself, through its existence and duration, is a contract’ (1993, 116). Burke’s specific view, with its theological anchorage, does not connect with ‘the contract of classic theory’ (1993, 117).66 Lessay then engages on a scholarly discussion of Hobbes, Filmer, Locke and Rousseau and the managers of Sacheverell’s trial the better to return to Burke, and also Paine, in order to conclude that Kant’s view of the contract as distinct from a historical fact, with, however, its ‘indubitable (practical) reality’, could have been shared by Burke and Paine: that “indubitable practical reality” … was incorporated in their respective doctrines on the constitution. That it should have received a different formulation from that of contractarian philosophy signified the end of an epoch. But that its trace remained more than present demonstrates that the positivity of the concept had not been exhausted.67


Paine ‘paradoxically … reaches the same conclusion as Burke: the social contract is the specific constitution of a given country’: ‘paradoxalement, Paine en arrive à la même conclusion que Burke: le contrat social, c’est la constitution propre à un pays donné’ (Lessay 1993, 118). 67 ‘Cette “réalité pratique indubitable” … était incorporée à leurs doctrines respectives de la constitution. Le fait qu’elle y reçût une formulation différente de celle de la philosophie contractualiste marquait la fin d’une époque. Que sa trace y fût,

‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France   143 Lessay also published ‘La raison dans le droit: Philosophie et Common Law selon Blackstone’, where Burke’s presence is rather less detectable than in his earlier articles although he builds on Blackstone’s account of the social contract by making it a synonym of society and relating it to ‘eternal society’ (1994, 214).68 A monumental La Révolution française highlights Burke’s practical influence on, for instance, the Quiberon expedition in 1795 (Meyer and Corvisier 1991, 1: 654) and, more generally, the accuracy of his views on French bellicosity in the face of Pitt’s initial pacifism (Meyer and Poussou 1991, 2:866, 1276). It also draws attention to Burke’s awareness of the Parisian assertion of central control counteracting the ‘extreme decentralization’ of the early revolution (Meyer and Poussou 1991, 2:1173). Classically enough, Burke is identified as ‘an archetype of the liberal as well as the conservative’ (Meyer and Poussou 1991, 2: 1253). Later research does not turn its back on the fascination exercised by Burke’s writings on the Revolution. Patrick Thierry insists that Rousseau’s prudential considerations about ‘national character’ in Poland or Corsica might have elicited Burke’s approval, although in Letter to a Member of the National Assembly he chose to focus on Rousseau’s ‘concerted’ action ‘on the economy of passions’ (1994, 131).69 This is an ‘Arendtian’ Burke whose biased portrait of Rousseau is in fact already evocative of Robespierre’s hypocritical sincerity and sentimentalism (1994, 134). Pascal Dupuy pinpoints some limits in Burke’s knowledge of revolutionary developments, since he was not really aware of the federalists and viewed the Jacobins as just some indistinct group, shattered by ‘the violent jolts of the same incarnate ideology’ – implicity, that of Robespierre (1995, 334–35). As for Pierre Besses’s ‘Edmund Burke, prophète de la Terreur’, it gives a thorough account of Gengembre’s book before launching into a detailed study of Letter to a Member of the National Assembly with a specific focus on Burke’s quarrel with the monarchiens, concluding that Burke’s England was characterized by a repressive law rather than by army or police repression. All in all, Burke’s prophecies are just the wishful thinking of one who lamented the contribution of Rousseau’s Nouvelle Héloïse to the ruin of the nobility.70 Antoine Capet’s emphasis is on the elitism that colours the British outlook on monarchy, bringing together Burke, Walter Bagehot and Stanley Baldwin and stressing the evolution of the elite, from Burke’s ‘natural aristocracy’ (Burke 1996, 156) to Bagehot’s plutocracy and Baldwin’s insistence on governmental responsibility matched by the need for the people to ‘be worthy of good governors’ (Capet 1995, 9–21). More recently, Antoine

cependant, mieux que présente manifestait que la positivité du concept n’était pas épuisée’ (1993, 128). 68 See Burke (1969/82 [1790], 195). 69 The title of Thierry’s article, ‘Le Socrate malsain de l’Assemblée nationale’, is a faulty translation of Burke’s ‘the insane Socrates of the National Assembly’. There is a better translation (‘Socrate dérangé’) on p. 133, since ‘malsain’ means ‘unwholesome’. Thierry misses all that is stiflingly programmatic in Rousseau’s views of ‘national character’. 70 Cf. Besses (1997, 13–27) and Émile V. Telle (1991).

144   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Compagnon’s Burke provides a backdrop for an exploration of those Frenchspeakers who may be more or less related to him, but little of substance can be gleaned about Burke himself (2005, 24, 51, 52, 53, 69). In a nutshell, Burke is mostly envisaged as a proto-‘anti-modern’, which is convincing enough, but the asperities of his thinking are rather watered down and much seems to derive from what is least convincing in Strauss. Burke’s Irishness The variety of French approaches to Burke in recent decades testifies to a rather clear predominance of more or less liberal outlooks, countered by the influence of J. C. D. Clark’s studies of politics and religion. Although no clear trend emerges, it is notable that those authors who come under the anglicist tag – among them Bernard Cottret, Franck Lessay, Michel Fuchs, François Piquet, Jacques Sys and Antoine Capet – have mainly shunned the timehonoured enquiries into Burke’s liberalism or conservatism, a question that, conversely, is generally addressed by their colleagues in history, philosophy or politics departments. Unsurprisingly, French anglicists are far more akin to their counterparts on the other side of the Channel, or Atlantic: a fuller comprehension of the forms and meanings of Whiggism makes it somewhat irrelevant to wonder about Burke’s place in the formation of home-grown French views. Therefore, it would be rather pointless to decide whether Burke’s views on the slave trade are illustrative of his liberalism or conservatism.71 As for interest in Burke’s ‘Irishness’, a salient feature of French academia at the moment, it may lead to just as dangerous a dead end. Burke posed as ‘an Englishman’ (Burke 1996 [1791], 20), but his contemporaries had their jibes at the ready.72 Ironically enough, they foreshadowed the recent polemics about a Hibernian Burke. J. C. D. Clark recently dismissed this discussion as an anachronistic product of ‘Celtic nationalism’ (Burke 2001, 25), quite plausibly hinting at O’Brien’s depiction of Burke as a maverick who, in his permanent uneasiness in Britain, obliquely vented an Irishman’s frustration in his counter-revolutionary writings (Burke 1969/82, 37). Then came, though not from an Irish vantage point in spite of similar conclusions, Isaac Kramnick’s Burke as a bourgeois ‘radical’ pandering to an aristocracy to which he was a defiant servant.73 O’Brien’s introduction was followed by a more sustained exploration of Ireland as the heart of Burke’s


See Col (2009b). See, for instance, O’Brien in Burke (1969/82, 23–24). 73 See Kramnick (1977). This Marxist-cum-psychoanalytical interpretation bewildered one of its most sympathetic French readers: ‘Kramnick attributes to Burke a multifarious repressed unconscious (homosexual, sadistic, masochistic: why stop short of all the other fascinating possibilities?), but these are sheer hypotheses: see his The Rage of Edmund Burke, an otherwise extremely intelligent book’ (Fuchs 1996, 266n.). 72

‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France   145 thinking.74 François Piquet highlights Burke’s ‘quasi blasphemous’ treatment of Henry VIII in Letter to a Noble Lord (1993, 5) and, after O’Brien, the relevance of Ireland and Jacobitism to a proper understanding of Burke’s complexities (Piquet 1993, 6). Burke is aware that talent should be given its due but might, ‘after too long humiliation’, ‘question the fragile edifice of 1688’ (Piquet 1993, 8): Piquet does not mention Kramnick, but this captures the gist of the latter’s book although there are no psychoanalytical quagmires. At about the same time, Fuchs’s analysis of Burke’s positions on America included an account of Ireland’s specificity in Burke’s eyes; there, emancipation can only be achieved ‘progressively and in agreement with England’ (1992, 110).75 However, there is much more in Fuchs, whose vision of Burke as a man of the Enlightenment would never have been endorsed by O’Brien despite his opposition to neo-conservatism.76 One intriguingly elliptical passage in Fuchs might suffice as an illustration. Quoting Burke’s savage outburst, in Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe (1792), that ‘a man is certainly the most perfect Protestant who protests against the whole Christian religion’ (Burke 1907–10, 3: 313), he comments: ‘Such ideas obviously imply a rationalistic mind tending to reduce religion to its psycho-sociological aspects. They might seem to have been lifted from Bossuet, without the faith’ (Fuchs 1996, 79–80). Just as unfortunately, Fuchs, who in some respects follows O’Brien, in fact relegates him to the background, considering that in The Great Melody, O’Brien exaggerated Richard Burke’s – Edmund’s father – conversion to the Church of Ireland in order ‘to follow his profession’ as attorney (1996, 17 and n.). He also makes a mere passing reference to O’Brien’s views on Burke’s intricate religious views in his introduction to Reflections (Fuchs 1996, 19n.). Yet Fuchs’s is a most challenging book whose discussion of the important debates of the time – political, religious, aesthetic, even humanitarian – consistently connects Ireland and the Enquiry. However, there is another disquieting passage: Ireland, as a principle of explanation, accounts naturally for Burke’s rationalist belief, for his reforming passion, and supplies a key to his “inconsistencies”. It may not be a pattern after which to fashion oneself but it is a far more powerful influence than Thomas Aquinas, Cicero and sundry other fathers of culture who are sometimes said to have given shape, form and substance to Burke’s personality. Ireland’s is a tortured culture, a powerful matrix of character, a shaping factor that has the ability to blend the most heterogeneous elements into a more or less coherent whole which has the coherence of an enduring passion. (Fuchs 1996, 308–09)

By then the book is nearing its end, and Fuchs downplays all that he also says, not on Aquinas himself – whose influence he dismisses as it ties up with those supposedly unsuccessful disciples of Strauss, namely Peter Stanlis and Russell Kirk (1996, 284) – or Aristotle, not regarded as a highly illuminating source of 74

See O’Brien (1992). On Burke and Ireland, see also Le Gros (1993). 76 See O’Brien’s reading of the Vindication of Natural Society in the light of a combination of anti-Enlightenment and Irish Catholic preoccupations (1992, 448–51). 75

146   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Enquiry (1996, 149), but on Cicero. Indeed, he refers to Philip Francis’s Letter missive to Holland of June 1812 in which Francis writes that Burke viewed Cicero as ‘the model, on which he laboured to form his own character, in eloquence, in policy, in ethics and in philosophy’.77 Fuchs mentions Juvenal on ‘Roman gluttony depriving the provinces of the necessaries of life’, associating that view with Burke’s remark on ‘the appetite of England resulting in the greatest misery for the greatest number in Ireland’ (1996, 34). He points to the influence of Horace, Virgil, Milton and Pope on Burke’s juvenile poetry (1996, 49). Accordingly, his concluding identification of Ireland as a matrix may not do full justice to the ‘most heterogeneous elements’ also alluded to. Yet there are perceptive passages on Burke’s indebtedness to Swift whom he discovered at Trinity College Dublin (1996, 34); his being ‘the strange result of crossbreeding between Houyhnhnms and Yahoos, becoming a Gulliver, fascinated by the former while being full of compassion for the latter’, always trying ‘to reconcile the English Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos of all types, Irish, American or Indian’ (1996, 39); his Houyhnhnm-like ‘sense of literary conventions and his admiration for a thought well expressed’ while being ‘a Yahoo to the core’ (1996, 59)78 and, finally, the influence of Swift on Vindication of Natural Society. But Burke, Fuchs adds, reaches beyond Swift since ‘instead of a satire in a closed circuit, self-satisfied with its own hackneyed moral commonplaces, Burke … offers us an open-structured satire in the manner of Mandeville where the message never takes definitive form’ (1996, 145–46).79 Fuchs also avers that: rejected or suspected by the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms, Burke, the Irish Gulliver, did not sink into the madness of his English forebear, he simply recognised that his task was impossible, because the self-interest of England was the only standard of English policy. (1996, 303)

But, unlike O’Brien, Fuchs never pauses to wonder whether Burke was exactly the same kind of Irishman as, for instance, Jonathan Swift, of the Church of Ireland (Burke 1969/82 [1790], 41n.). This may be because his Enlightenment Burke is separated from the Catholic substratum that O’Brien unearthed; Fuchs’s is a Romantic perception which Burke would hardly have endorsed. Fuchs also follows O’Brien, without naming him, on the French Revolution, before drifting into rather more challengeable considerations: This latter event enabled [Burke] to give free rein to the ‘repressed’ feelings about Ireland that slumbered within him and to sing, for instance, the praise of old Catholic France with impunity to the bemused members of the Revolution Society in London! It also shaped his attacks on the English reformers whom he did not


Philip Francis, Letter missive to Lord Holland, June 1812 (London, 1816), in Fuchs (1996, 33–34). 78 O’Brien’s Burke, tellingly enough, was writing ‘in the persona of an Englishman – which is in itself a cause of confusion’ since he was ‘in fact Irish to the marrow of his bones’ (Burke 1969/1982, 41). 79 Whether there was something ‘hackneyed’ in Swiftian satire is best left to Fuchs’s discretion.

‘The climacteric event in our history’: Aspects of Burke’s Reception in France   147 hesitate to reproach with having a selective sympathy, thus anticipating Cobbett’s reaction to the English members of the anti-slavery movement at the beginning of the nineteenth century: you extend your charity abroad only so that you may close your eyes to what takes place in your own country. (1996, 310)

Fuchs’s mention of ‘impunity’ makes short shrift of Burke’s political isolation and the spate of caricatures of him as a Jesuit, not to mention Paine’s insinuations about his crypto-Catholicism, at a time when the Gordon Riots were still a recent feature of political life. As for the Cobbett parallel, it is lame at best, since in 1792 Burke submitted his Sketch of a Negro Code to Henry Dundas. One is just as uneasy about Fuchs’s characterization of what, to him, makes Burke a man of the Enlightenment, as shown by his account of Burke’s objection to George Berkeley’s idealism. To him, the dismissal was owing to Burke’s indebtedness to the sensualist, Locke (Fuchs 1996, 159–60), but Fuchs forgets that Burke’s reliance on the senses in order to establish the reality of the outside world can be just as easily related to Aquinas’s realism, to which, incidentally, Locke too was indebted.80 In short, disconnecting Burke from a classical and Christian environment, in order to throw into relief Ireland’s centrality and Burke’s rationalism, reads rather like a failed undertaking. Fuchs’s book enjoyed a mixed reception in the English-speaking world.81 The reasons behind the aborted conversation must be left to speculation. Of note is that Gibbons, contrary to Fuchs, identified Burke’s anti-colonialism as ultimately conservative, based as it was on group beliefs and habits and, as such, irreducible to Enlightenment individualism.82 But it is telling that all such postcolonial studies should leave out Burke’s classic anchorage and some significant features of Irishness, including Jacobitism, in his formative years.83 Jacobitism is intriguingly left aside by Fuchs, yet it is much more valuable in shedding light on Ireland than the Enlightenment with which he associates Burke. Was it incompatible with Fuchs’s blend of Marxism and postcolonialism? 80

For Fuchs, Burke could not have afforded to attack Berkeley because it ‘would have drawn upon him the anathema of Christian orthodoxy’. James Beattie had done so ‘in the name of a robust Christian commonsense with no qualms about using the reduction ad absurdum’, but he was not Irish nor ‘young and vulnerable’. Conversely, Burke used ‘the established discoveries of science in his time’ and an oblique method: ‘He could thus confront Berkeley while avoiding the critical point at which orthodoxy would have been lying in wait for him’ (1996, 160–61). That Berkeley was an exemplar of orthodoxy, which Fuchs seems to doubt given his remark about Beattie, is another issue, and the points lack total clarity. 81 Clark does not mention Fuchs. Gibbons has a few favourable comments – see Gibbons (2003, 7, 241, 264, 78) – but Deane merely refers to Fuchs in a note on Burke’s Irish background (2005, 185). 82 Fuchs’s book came too early to benefit from Clark’s observation that the expressions ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘the Age of Enlightenment’ appeared in the late nineteenth century only (2000, 9 and note). Gibbons uses the customary shortcuts, though he does not yield to their most glaring anachronisms. 83 Gibbons alone focuses on the relevance of Burke’s maternal Jacobitism, which brings him close to O’Brien’s Great Melody, adding Lord Lovat’s execution in 1747 as a key to the Enquiry; see Gibbons (2003, 25) and Enquiry, i, xv, 93–94.

148   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe More thorough French engagement is called for in order to follow on from Fuchs, while leaving out his blind spots. This must be an uphill battle, when one takes into account Clark’s view of Burke as a typical Whig because Whig Britain was an ancien régime. With this independent return to Rémusat, French interrogations about Burke as conservative or liberal are made irrelevant since they fail to grasp why Burke could instinctively be what he was within a system that was irreducible to French experience. Concepts of a later currency tend to obscure rather than clarify things. But it is telling that Fuchs, who tried not to think along such anachronistic lines, devised other embarrassing perspectives. These, and other dead-ends are still common in the English-speaking world itself. Biographers may argue that Burke remained more or less the same throughout his career, contrary to his critics of the 1790s who regarded him as a turncoat.84 Nonetheless, there remains a vague suggestion that something happened after the American crisis or Pitt’s coming to office,85 even though Burke’s allegedly liberal causes – Ireland, India, the slave trade –went on occupying much of his time when he was also engaged against the French Revolution. As for O’Brien’s one-volume biography, it mapped out dangerous territory, and the rasher Fuchs reduced Burke’s Irishness to sympathy for the oppressed (which obviously cannot be ruled out), ignoring the fact that Burke’s Irishness was also indebted to a ruling power anchored in a classical European heritage.86 Postcolonial approaches need major correctives in order to attain a balanced assessment of Burke that can incorporate the countless complexities which make up Burkean unity. Otherwise, new stumbling blocks will have been merely substituted for unexamined Whig history or Burke’s so-called liberalism. Burke may not have had any real posterity in France, but his reception there is not about to end.


Fuchs (1988) was still more or less espousing Painean views. His book of 1996, based on the centrality of Ireland, offers a far more unified perspective on Burke. 85 See the divisions within Cone (1957, 1964) and Lock’s two-volume biographies. Bromwich’s recent volume (2014) is due to be followed by another, taking over from the post-American years, which means the same neat, and potentially deceptive, division. 86 For recent examinations of Burke and Ireland, see Col (2009a) and (2012b).


An Ambivalent Conservatism: Edmund Burke in the Netherlands, 1770–1870 Wessel Krul

Introduction It has often been remarked that the Dutch do not like to describe themselves as ‘conservative’.1 Even those politicians and intellectuals who were conservative in every respect usually asserted that they were forward-looking in one way or other. This tendency perhaps originates in the Dutch republican tradition, with its absence of an influential aristocratic and courtly culture, and its predominantly bourgeois and commercial values. In the Netherlands, the political programme developed by Edmund Burke, ‘the father of conservatism’, was usually associated with an aristocratic or elitist point of view. For a long time, it had only a limited appeal.2 Editions of Burke’s major writings in Dutch have begun to appear only in recent decades.3 In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the audience for his works was restricted to the relatively small group of highly educated people who were able to read the original texts, or who consulted them in French or German. But precisely this group tended to think of itself as more or less ‘liberal’. Burke’s defence of the ancien régime in 1790 met with little 1

Von der Dunk (1975); Von der Dunk (1976, 119–22); Boogman (1982); Kossmann (1987a); Van Raak (1999). 2 No complete analysis of Burke’s influence in the Netherlands exists in print. Kloek and Mijnhardt (2004, 58) remark that the Reflections ‘also created a stir in the Netherlands’, without explaining how and where. Spruyt (2002) is a useful discussion of Burke’s place in the thought of the founders of the Anti-Revolutionary Party. I have also profited much from the unpublished MA thesis by B. Bremmer at the University of Leiden (Bremmer, 2013), and I am grateful to him for showing it to me. 3 A selection from the Reflections was published as Burke (1989b); it was reprinted, under a different title and with a new introduction by B. J. Spruyt, as Burke (2002). The first Dutch edition of the Enquiry is Burke (2004). A recent book-length study (the first after more than a century) is Boon (2004).

150   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe sympathy in a country where widespread resentment was felt against the recent repression of the movement for constitutional reform. Public opinion for a large part sympathized with the French Revolution. A Dutch version of the Reflections was announced on several occasions, but it never saw the light of day. Most readers came into contact with Burke’s ideas only through the many books and pamphlets attacking him. The situation did not change very much in the post-revolutionary era. There was nothing comparable to the impact the Reflections made in Germany. Romantic conservatism in the Netherlands did not draw its inspiration from Burke. Only around the middle of the nineteenth century did Burke’s ideas suddenly became the object of intense discussion, as the political wing of the orthodox Protestants, the so-called Anti-Revolutionary Party, began to present Burke as one of its models. This claim was contested by a number of moderate liberals who, evidently influenced by the prevailing view in Britain at the time, considered Burke as one of their own. However, attempts to organize a secular, not explicitly religious, conservative movement remained without effect. Burke’s opinion that politics were inseparable from religion gave the Anti-Revolutionary leaders a strong argument against their opponents. But in spite of its name, the Anti-Revolutionary Party did not think of itself as primarily conservative. It represented a large segment of the lower middle class, which until then had been excluded from political participation. Emancipatory aims gradually prevailed. From the 1860s onward, the party adopted an extension of political and civil rights as part of its programme. When the first steps were taken towards a modern Christiandemocratic ideology, Burke’s ideas again lost much of their immediate relevance. Aesthetics and counter-revolution Burke’s earliest readers in the Netherlands in the years before 1790 all belonged to the relatively small elite that had for a long time exercised almost absolute power in the republican government. From 1781 onward, in reaction to the disastrous war with England over the independence of the United States, a revolutionary movement, the so-called Patriot Movement, contested this hegemony. The widespread political unrest resulted in a radical coup d’état in many towns after 1784, followed by a counter-revolutionary coup in 1787, supported by the British ambassador, James Harris, and put into effect by Prussian military intervention.4 The outcome was a restoration in office of the ‘stadtholder’, William V of Orange, who, although he formally upheld the republican constitution, now occupied a semi-monarchical position. Most of the defenders of the status quo, the Orangists, looked for inspiration to 4

On the ‘first Dutch revolution’, see Palmer (1959, 323–40); Leeb (1973); Schama (1977); Kossmann, (1978, 34–47); Te Brake (1989); Jacob and Mijnhardt (1992); Kloek and Mijnhardt (2004); Velema (2007). A recent summary in Dutch is Rosendaal (2005).

An Ambivalent Conservatism   151 England and Germany, whereas their radical opponents, the Patriots, were in close contact with oppositional groups in France. This may be the reason why references to Burke’s first important work, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, are almost exclusively found in the writings of prominent Orangist intellectuals. One of them was the young Rijklof Michaël van Goens (1748–1810). Acclaimed as a child prodigy, he was appointed professor of classical Greek at the University of Utrecht in 1766 when he was only 18 years old. By that time he had already completed the first of the essays for which he is remembered as a pioneer of comparative literary studies.5 In 1769, Van Goens published a Dutch edition of Moses Mendelssohn’s Betrachtungen über das Erhabene und das Naive in den schönen Wissenschaften (Thoughts on the sublime and the naïve in the sciences of beauty) (1758).6 Mendelssohn made no mention of Burke, but Van Goens added a footnote stating that the author of the Essay on Sublime & Beautifull [sic] (London 1767) had a different opinion on the effect of astonishment caused by the sublime (Mendelssohn 1774, 7–8). Although he boasted of his wide reading on the subject, from Longinus to the present day, Van Goens apparently was not aware of more important differences between Burke’s Enquiry and the traditional Longinian accounts of the sublime. Neither was he well informed about the author. He possessed two copies of the Enquiry, but the sale catalogue of his library ascribed them to William Duff, the Scottish Presbyterian minister whose anonymous Essay on Original Genius (London 1767) Van Goens had recommended as an ‘intelligent work … worthy of translation’.7 This remained the pattern for some time to come. The authorship of the Enquiry was established soon enough. After all, both the French translation of 1765 and the German one by Garve of 1773 printed Burke’s name on the title page. But for Dutch readers who tried to find their way through the rapidly growing number of treatises on aesthetics then appearing in English, French and German, it must have been difficult to select the really outstanding contributions. The classicist tradition, which conceived of the sublime primarily as a rhetorical instrument, was still highly influential. In Dutch late eighteenthcentury writings on aesthetics the sublime was certainly not neglected. But


The first of these essays, ‘Vrymoedige bedenkingen over de vergelyking der Oude dichteren met de Hedendaegschen’ (‘Candid thoughts on the comparison between the ancient poets and those of today’) (1765) was reprinted, with a summary in English, as Van Goens (1972). The most extensive study is Wille (1937 and 1993), but also see Van den Berg (1999). 6 Mendelssohn (1774). The first edition of this translation was privately printed in 1769. Somewhat later Mendelssohn entirely rewrote his essay, incorporating ideas derived from Burke’s Enquiry, and this second version has become the standard text. But by then, Van Goens was no longer interested. 7 ‘Het verstandige engelsche werk … ’t geen ene vertaeling verdiende’. Van Goens, in a footnote to Mendelssohn (1774, 38). His copies of the Enquiry were the fifth and sixth editions of 1767 and 1770. Cf. Van Goens (1776, 1:242–43) and Wille (1993, 326).

152   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Burke’s Enquiry played only a minor role.8 From the 1790s onward some authors began to consider the sublime as an autonomous category, but in this they followed Immanuel Kant, and they were mostly interested in the moral aspects.9 Even the one Dutch thinker who was personally acquainted with Burke, and who unreservedly admired his Enquiry, had little use for his conception of the sublime, or for an aesthetics of ‘delightful horror’. Petrus Camper (1722–1789), a professor of surgery in Amsterdam, Franeker and Groningen, and successor to the great Herman Boerhaave as one of Europe’s most highly regarded medical practitioners, was also a gifted amateur of the arts.10 Between 1770 and 1782, he delivered a number of lectures at the Amsterdam Academy of Design, in which he tried to combine his experience as a draughtsman with his insights as a surgeon and anatomist. After his death in 1789, his notes, only partially expanded and rewritten, were published by his eldest son (Camper 1791 and 1792). French, English and German translations followed almost immediately.11 In the last lecture, ‘On physical beauty’, Burke is explicitly praised as ‘the great philosopher and statesman’ (Camper 1792, 80).12 Camper was so impressed with the Enquiry that he tried to make contact with the author. In June 1775 he sent Burke a flattering letter, and ten years later, in November 1785, he spent a day and a night at Burke’s country house in Beaconsfield. Although an outspoken person himself, he described Burke, a ‘tall, well-mannered man in his fifties’, in his travel diary as ‘one of the most eloquent men I have met so far’.13 But it was not the idea of the sublime that attracted him in Burke’s aesthetic theory. In the arts, Camper was a strict classicist.14 Like most of his contem8

The poet and Orangist politician Hieronymus van Alphen (1746–1803) does not seem to have consulted Burke while preparing his Theorie der schoone kunsten en wetenschappen (Theory of the beautiful arts and sciences), published in 1778. The book was a heavily annotated translation of a German compendium by J. J. Riedel. The only reference to Burke was already there in the original German text; cf. Wille (1993, 83). The philosopher Frans Hemsterhuis (1721–1790), the author of an influential Lettre sur la sculpture (1769) and a number of Platonic dialogues on ethics and aesthetics, certainly knew Burke’s Enquiry, but felt no sympathy for his materialist explanations; cf. Funder (1913, 8–9, 77–81, 103); Sonderen (2000, 218–19). 9 Cf. Madelein (2010). A modern edition of three Dutch treatises on the sublime, all of them influenced by or reacting against Kant, is Pieters and Madelein (2008). 10 For a general introduction, see Schuller and Koops (1989) and J. Van der Korst (2008). 11 The English version, translated by Thomas Cogan, was published as Camper (1794). This edition, which omitted the last lecture of 1782, was reprinted in 1821. 12 ‘De groote wijsgeer, en staatkundige’. Not included in Camper (1794). 13 The letter is not preserved, but see Burke’s reply in Corr. 3:178–79 to Pieter Camper [18 July 1775]. For Camper’s visit in 1785, see Camper (1939, 202–04), original Dutch text (‘een lang, welgem. man, meer dan 50 jaar’; ‘een der welspreekendste die ik nog ontmoet hebbe’) and English translation. Courtney (1962, 467–75) suggests that Camper and Burke may already have met in London in 1752. 14 For a more detailed treatment of Camper’s aesthetics, see Krul (2015).

An Ambivalent Conservatism   153 poraries, he admired the Apollo Belvedere as an unsurpassed masterpiece. But he refused to accept that this piece of sculpture was experienced as beautiful simply because it represented an ideal human form. From an empirical point of view, the Apollo was an anomaly. Real people never looked like that. There had to be a material reason why he, like almost everybody else, should prefer shapes like these above more naturalistic representations. He found part of the answer to this question in Burke’s Enquiry (Camper, 1791, 72; 1794, 79). In the first place, Burke offered an empirical, even materialistic, explanation of the way beauty is experienced by the eye. Secondly, Burke explained at length that beauty had little to do with ideal proportions. Camper experienced this insight as a revelation. When he revised his lecture ‘On the natural difference of features’ to be delivered in Paris in 1777, he added some remarks on his reading of Burke. ‘I myself had always been a great defender of this idea (i.e. that art depends on proportion)’, admitted Camper, until I read Burke’s On the Sublime. I found his argument so strong that I was immediately convinced. … If beauty depends on the proportion of the head and the neck with the height of the body, either the swan cannot be beautiful, or the dove is quite ugly.15

Burke’s rejection of the proportional canon became the basis of Camper’s wellknown theory of the ‘facial angle’.16 Looked at in profile, the Apollo has an almost flattened face; the nose projects only a little, while the line from the chin to the forehead is almost exactly vertical (Camper 1791, 20).17 This is not a perfect proportion, but an exaggeration. In normal human beings, the 15

‘J’ai été moi-même un grand protecteur de cette idée, jusqu’à ce que j’ai lu l’ouvrage de Mr Burcke [sic] sur le Sublime. J’ai trouvé ses arguments si forts, et si persuasifs, que j’en ai été convaincu dès le moment. … Si dit-il la beauté dépend de la proportion de la tête et du col, etc., avec la hauteur du corps, le cygne ne peut pas être beau, ou bien le pigeon est fort laid’, Camper Archive, University of Leiden Library. Quoted in the original French in Courtney (1962, 471). Courtney found it impossible to date the manuscript, but it must have been written as an introduction to Camper’s lecture at the Académie des Sciences in Paris in July 1777; cf. Van der Korst (2004, 156). The idea of a canon of beauty, especially in the human body, remained a fixture of classicizing art theory until well into the nineteenth century (Barbillon 2004). 16 On account of his theory of beauty, and especially on the basis of the accompanying drawings, Camper has sometimes been regarded as one of the founders of modern racism. His text makes it abundantly clear that he had no such thing in mind, rather the contrary. The sequence ‘from ape to Apollo’ was no evolutionary sequence and depicted no ascending degrees of intelligence. The matter was aggravated by his English translator, Thomas Cogan, who used ‘races’ wherever Camper was talking of ‘nationalities’ or ‘populations’; cf. Meijer (1999). Nonetheless, Camper’s ideas perhaps too easily lent themselves to misconstruction, as has been argued by Bindman (2002, 81–91). 17 Cogan’s English translation (Camper, 1794, 19) has ‘smoothness of countenance’, but this is not what Camper intended.

154   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe facial angle is always below eighty degrees. The reason we admire the Apollo, instead of being repelled by it, is related to a problem of optics. Nature is, at least since the Renaissance, represented in Western art according to the laws of perspective. Perspective, however, leads to certain deformations in the field of vision. In the Apollo, which was made to be seen from below, these deformations are corrected. In this way, according to Camper, the impression of beauty afforded by the Apollo could be scientifically explained without recourse to a theory of ideal proportions (1791, 73–75, 90–91; 1794, 80–82, 99). Camper discussed these ideas with Burke during his visit in 1785. Whether Burke agreed with him is not recorded, but in gratitude he presented Camper with the antlers of a moose for his anatomical collection (Camper 1939, 202–04).18 Did they talk about politics as well? Camper was a confirmed Orangist, and naturally he looked to Britain for support of his own cause. His praise of Burke as a ‘great statesman’ already dates from before the Patriot upheaval. It may still refer to Burke’s attitude towards American independence. But it is striking how, during the next few years, the political sentiments of Burke and Camper developed along similar lines. After the restoration of the ancien régime in the Netherlands in September 1787, Camper was appointed president of the Council of State. In this new capacity he had the honour of welcoming the consort of the stadtholder, Princess Wilhelmina of Prussia, with her two sons and daughter, at her return to The Hague. The ceremony was explicitly meant to compensate the Princess for her offended sense of dignity. Camper was not only officially but also emotionally involved. During the Patriot uprising, the stadtholder and his family had sought refuge in Nijmegen, in the eastern part of the country. In the spring of 1787, however, Princess Wilhelmina decided to travel to The Hague in the hope of stirring up Orangist resistance. Halfway, she was arrested by Patriot militiamen, held in custody for several days, and then sent back to her husband. The incident, represented as a deliberate insult to the Prussian crown, provided the government in Berlin with the final pretext to put down the Dutch revolution. An anonymous pamphlet railed loudly against the indignities the Princess had had to suffer at the hands of the populace. Its author is generally assumed to be Petrus Camper (1787, 7–8). Burke probably never read it. In retrospect, however, Camper’s complaint sounds like a first draft of the famous passage in the Reflections where Burke takes up his chivalric stand in defence of the ill-treated Marie-Antoinette. Without doubt, Camper would have applauded Burke’s indictment of the revolution in France, had he lived until 1790. Waiting for a translation After the restoration of 1787, the Dutch press was severely curtailed. Nonetheless, public opinion remained very much on the side of the 18

See also Corr. 5:375–76, Dr. William Hamilton to Edmund Burke [24 January 1788].

An Ambivalent Conservatism   155 opposition. Burke himself was well aware of the prevailing mood. As he wrote in 1791: ‘The suppressed faction, though suppressed, exists. Under the ashes, the embers of the late commotions are still warm’ (Writings and Speeches, 8:361). In Holland, his reputation had suffered much from his support of the Orangist restoration. Characteristic of the ambivalence with which he was regarded, is the first short review of his Reflections, published in January 1791 in the Algemene Konst- en Letterbode (General Review of Arts and Letters). According to this enlightened middle-class weekly, the Reflections were ‘an unusual book, in every sense of the word, with much that is beautiful, but also much that is wrong; with much truth, but no less falsehood’. ‘His work was written with the explicit aim of placing the revolution in France in a hateful light, and discrediting its sympathizers in England, especially Dr. Price, in the most violent manner.’ When the popular Richard Price died a few months later, the journal attributed his unexpected demise to Burke’s attacks.19 In Europa op het einde der agttiende eeuw (Europe at the End of the Eighteenth Century) the anonymous author, writing in 1790, tried to evaluate the consequences of the recent revolutionary movements for the balance of power in Europe. Although he welcomed the French Revolution as a ‘blessed event’, his interpretation of international affairs was strictly based on the theory of raison d’état. France’s internal struggles obviously weakened her position as a great power. This was much to the advantage of the English. To conceal their political aims, they tried to convince the French of their benevolent intentions. Primarily for that reason, the British government had allowed the publication of so many declarations of sympathy and adhesion. But now Burke had rudely torn off the official mask: The savage anger, the outbursts of envy, the ill-considered ranting of the peevish Burke, ran the risk of making this effort fruitless, and of opening the eyes of the nation which they hoped to lull asleep. This must be why both parties in the House of Commons so strongly combatted the rage of this hot-headed orator.20

In December 1790, several Dutch newspapers advertised a forthcoming translation of the Reflections on the Revolution. Apparently, it never went into print, and from February 1791 a French translation was made widely available in Holland (Burke, 1791). Did the French edition obliterate the demand for a Dutch version? Or were Burke’s arguments too controversial even for his 19

‘Een, in alle beteekenis des woords, ongemeen boek, waarin veel schoons, dog ook veel gebrekkigs voorkomt, veel waarheid, dog ook niet minder valsheid’ (Anon. 1791a). ‘Het stuk is opzettelijk geschreeven om de omwenteling in Frankryk in een haatlyk licht te zetten, en alle begunstigers daar van in Engeland, byzonder Dr Price, vinnig doortestryken’ (Anon. 1791b). 20 ‘De woeste norschheid, de openlijk uitbarstende jalouzij, en het onbezonnen razen van eenen gemelijken Burke, zou misschien in staat geweest zijn van dezelve vruchteloos te maken, en der Natie, die men zoekt in slaap te wiegen, de oogen te openen: ook hierom denkelijk, maar tevens hierom alleen, hebben zich, in het huis der Gemeenten, beide de partijen zoo zeer tegen de drift van dezen dollen redenaar verzet gehad’ (Anon. 1790, 355).

156   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Dutch sympathizers? Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp (1762–1834) was an ambitious aristocrat with close connections to the court of the stadtholder. He was educated as an army officer in Berlin, and from 1783–84 spent a few months in the newly independent United States, where he met Washington and Jefferson. After the restoration of 1787 in Holland, he was raised to the office of pensionaris (permanent city counsellor) in Rotterdam. But he saw this only as a stepping-stone towards greater things. In late 1790, or perhaps early 1791, he started work on Burke’s Reflections.21 Characteristically, his version would have been a selection with his own comments. His first draft of an introduction neatly summarizes the lessons he wanted to draw from the book. ‘The author’s primary aim was evidently’, he wrote, ‘to make his fellow citizens aware of the danger of making changes in the structure of the State, and especially to warn them against desperate attempts to demolish this structure, in order to replace it with something new’. It was Burke’s great merit to have shown ‘that the happiness of men, such as they are, or at least such as they are in the present age, is not promoted by forms of government that are based on abstract considerations of their natural and original rights’.22 With his translation, Hogendorp hoped to reach ‘the well-to-do middle classes’, the honest bourgeois, who had been led astray ‘by fashionable ideas of freedom and rights’. They might understand Burke’s great sagacity ‘in showing the middle way between a general revolution and blind attachment to what is old’. This was the position he himself wanted to take, as by now he had come to see the necessity of ‘suitable improvements in our Constitution’.23 Van Hogendorp’s papers and letters offer no clue as to why he did not complete his version of the Reflections. But it seems that the devising of ‘suitable improvements’ very soon took precedence in his mind. Moreover, in the course of 1791 and the following years, it became clear that the Dutch middle class was not yet ready to part with its easily acquired ‘pseudo-truths’.


It remains unclear whether his translation was the Dutch edition announced in December 1790 in the newspapers. 22 ‘Het schijnt mij klaar dat de Schrijver eerstelijk zijne medeburgers van het gevaar van alle verandering in het Staatsgebouw heeft willen indachtig maken, en vooral van de wanhopige onderneming afschrikken, om dat gebouw te sloopen, ten einde een nieuw in de plaats te stellen’. ‘Dat het geluk der menschen, zooals derzelven zijn, althans in dezen tijd nog zijn, geenszins bevorderd wordt door Regeeringsvormen ingesteld ingevolge de afgetrokkene beschouwing hunner natuurlijke, oorspronkelijke regten’, quoted in Van der Hoeven (1976, 45). 23 ‘Nieuwerwetsche denkbeelden van vrijheid en regten’; ‘de middenweg, tusschen de omkeering van alles en de blinde verkleefdheid aan het oude’; ‘aangepaste verbeteringen’ (Van der Hoeven 1976, 45). The two most recent biographies, united in their representation of Van Hogendorp as a modern liberal, fail to mention his interest in Burke (Slijkerman 2013; Van Meerkerk 2013).

An Ambivalent Conservatism   157 The mirror of the opponents In the next few years, almost every English-language refutation of Burke was translated into Dutch. It was as if Dutch readers tried to ignore the Reflections, but nonetheless felt the need to fortify their own convictions with every argument against Burke they could find. The two volumes of Tom Paine’s Rights of Man, published in a Dutch translation in 1791–92, were an immediate success; by 1793 the book was already in its third printing (Paine, 1791–92). Reviewers insisted on Burke’s impure motives. He had ‘represented the Revolution in the most hateful manner, and trampled the holy rights of man underfoot’. Therefore all that was left to him was ‘to write the epitaph of the aristocracy’.24 One reviewer even assumed that Burke had written the Reflections out of spite because he had been unable to foresee the coming of the Revolution. As he did not even show ‘a faint spark of contentment about the liberation of such a great people’, inevitably others had rushed into print to confute ‘his doctrinaire and authoritarian arguments, set down without proof ’.25 Paine’s Rights of Man were followed in 1792 by a translation of James Mackintosh’s Vindiciae Gallicae – in Burke’s own opinion the only valuable response to his Reflections. In his introduction, the anonymous translator announced that now, at last, the Reflections would soon be published in Dutch. A counterweight such as the Vindiciae therefore would be welcome. He thought the book much superior in style and argument to Paine’s Rights of Man, which had been ‘read so eagerly by our nation’. Until recently, Burke’s attitude in the political arena had been ‘worthy of great respect’. But now he had been carried away by his own eloquence. His sudden change of opinion must have been caused by ambition. ‘The behaviour of this statesman raises the presumption that we will soon see him climb to the highest rank among ministerial honours in the English Cabinet’ (Mackintosh 1792, vi–viii).26 A reviewer of this version of the Vindiciae expressed his surprise that this was ‘the second refutation, published in our language, of a work that is still unavailable in that language’.27 But again, the promised translation of the Reflections failed to appear. Perhaps the moment had passed, according to the editor of the next anti-Burke treatise that found its way into Dutch: A Reply to 24

He had the Revolution ‘op de haatlykste wyze voordragt, de heilige rechten van den Mensch als met de voeten getrapt’. All he could do was ‘deszelfs grafschrift schrijven’ [i.e. of the aristocracy] (Anon. 1791c, 572, 575). 25 ‘een flauw vonkje van genoegen over de verlossing van zoo een groot volk’; ‘zijne leerstellige en gezagvoerende redevoering, zonder bewijzen daar neder gesteld’ (Anon. 1792a, 212–13). 26 ‘Dat met de grootste greetigheid door onze natie geleezen is’; ‘die tot hiertoe zulke achtingswaardige gevoelens op het staatkundig toneel hadt aan den dag gelegd’; ‘Het gedrag van deezen Staatsman doet mij vermoeden dat men hem eerlang tot den hoogsten top van ministerieele eerampten in het Engelsen Kabinet zal zien opstijgen’. 27 ‘in onze Taale, eene tweede Wederlegging … van een Geschrift, ‘t welk daarin niet bestaat, schoon de Vertaaling van ‘t zelve aangekondigd zy’ (Anon. 1792b, 416).

158   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Mr. Burke’s Invective Against Mr. Cooper, and Mr. Watt, in the House of Commons of 1792. By now, the translator declared, Burke’s arguments had been surpassed and replaced by the competent and truly disinterested writings of gentlemen such as Van Alphen, Meerman and the anonymous other Dutch statesman in his curious essay The Rights of Man in France no Illusory Rights in the Netherlands.28

These writers, however, carefully avoided giving the impression that they were followers of Burke. They sometimes came to almost identical conclusions, but they arrived at this position from a different point of departure (Velema 2007, 141–42). Their main argument, sometimes explained at great length and with much subtlety, was that in the context of the Dutch constitutional tradition many individual and political liberties had already been realized. Holland was in this respect much more advanced than France. Therefore every attempt at transplanting French revolutionary ideology on Dutch soil ran the risk of jeopardizing the Republic’s historical freedom. This was a conservative point of view, but it was presented on intellectual, not emotional, lines. Elie Luzac (1721–1796) sometimes came very close to Burke’s political ideas, but he never referred to him (Velema 1993, 185). Neither did Hieronymus van Alphen (1746–1803), treasurer-general of the Republic, in his learned De waare volksverlichting met opzigt tot godsdienst en staatkunde beschouwd (The True Enlightenment of the People with Regard to Religion and Politics) of 1793, the first of the cluster of writings mentioned by Thomas Cooper’s translator. He rejected Thomas Paine’s ‘exaggerated principles’, but seems to have had similar thoughts about Burke (1793, 178). His heroes were Montesquieu and Herder. Adriaan Kluit (1735–1807), the anonymous author of the ‘curious essay The Rights of Man in France no Illusory Rights in the Netherlands’, published in the same year, on just one occasion spoke of ‘the basic principles of Edmund Burke and all healthy brains’.29 He at least admitted he had read the Reflections. Johan Meerman (1753–1815), who wrote extensively on the contrast between healthy civic liberties and dangerous popular freedom, did not name any of his sources at all (1793). Nonetheless, one reviewer read Meerman’s treatise, once again dating from 1793, as no more than a Dutch adaptation of Burke’s theories (Anon. 1793a, 143). Precisely this sense of familiarity may explain why Burke was not received with more enthusiasm among those who agreed with him in principle: they had already been saying the same things since the 1780s (Kossmann 1987b, 236; Van Sas 2004, 192). An additional explanation may be that Burke was one of the leaders of the war party in Britain, whereas the reigning Dutch government tried to avoid or postpone war with

28 ‘door

de kundige en waarlijk belanglooze schriften van de Heeren VAN ALPHEN, MEERMAN, en den Naamloozen anderen Hollandschen Staatsman in zijn curieus stuk de RECHTEN van den Mensch geen gewaande Rechten in de Nederlanden, is voorgekomen en vervangen’ (Cooper 1793, iii–iv). 29 ‘het grondbeginsel van Burke en van alle gezonde harsens’ (Kluit 1793, 351). On his affinities with Burke, see Leeb (1973, 256) and Boogman (1982, 40).

An Ambivalent Conservatism   159 France as long as possible (Van Hogendorp 1981, 253). ‘In my opinion, to wage war on France’, wrote L. P. van de Spiegel, until 1795 head of the Orangist government, ‘was the greatest folly one could commit, and the surest way to make the Revolution there completely triumphant’ (Van de Spiegel 1800, 71).30 The notorious Burke The name Burke – ‘the notorious Burke’, as he was called in a compendium of grievances against the stadtholder, published in 1793 – became an easy catchword to denote everything a well-meaning Dutch citizen objected to (Anon. 1793b, 685).31 But with one exception, there was very little original engagement with his ideas. In 1790 one of the many Dutch scientific, literary and theological societies held a competition for an essay on the question: How far can people be said to be equal? And which rights and duties can be derived from this? The winning answer, by the Amsterdam professor of law Hendrik Cras (1739–1820), was published in 1793. Cras was no radical, but in his opinion the theory of the rights of man was unassailable. ‘Let them now come to the fore’, he exclaimed in his concluding words, who hold the subject of these considerations, and this whole discourse, in contempt, or even ridicule it! … Let them decide whether it is decent to display and abuse their gaudy eloquence in order to suppress and overwhelm the right cause, the cause of Humanity!

In a footnote he explained that he had in mind ‘Mr Burke, in his booklet against the Revolution in France, published in 1790’.32 30

‘Ik voor my ben in een denkbeeld geweest, dat den Franschen den oorlog aantedoen, de grootste dwaasheid was, die men begaan kon, en het regte middel, om de Revolutie aldaar volkoomen te maaken.’ 31 The demand for anti-Burke publications in Dutch seems to have been inexhaustible. Joel Barlow’s Advice to the Privileged Orders in the Several States of Europe, reviewed as ‘the most original and intelligent contribution to the really important debate initiated by Mr. Burke’s attack on the French Revolution’ (‘Gedurende den ganschen loop des waarlyk belangryken geschils, dat ontstaan is uit Mr. Burke’s aanval op de Fransche Omwenteling, verscheen er geen meer origineele Schryver, geen beter beoeffend Staatkundige, of schranderder redenaar dan de Auteur van dit stuk’) (Anon. 1793c), also duly appeared in translation (Barlow, 1794). But in the same year, obviously in reaction to the Terror, a pamphlet was published, purportedly translated from the English, which called for a middle course between Burke and Paine (Anon. 1794a). 32 ‘Dat zy dan vry komen, die het onderwerp van deeze geheele overweeging, en dit betoog, of kleinagten, of ook zelfs bespotten! … Dat zy vry komen, en beslissen, of het betaamlyk is, alle hunne opgesmukte welspreekendheid uit te stallen en te misbruiken, om de goede zaak, de zaak der Menschlykheid, te onderdrukken en te overrompelen!’; ‘den Heer Burke, in zyn Werkje tegen de Omwenteling in Frankryk, in ‘t licht gegeeven in ‘t Jaar 1790’, cited in Anon. (1794b, 20). On Cras and Burke, see also Leeb (1973, 225–26).

160   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Cras’s essay appeared in a series of Verhandelingen, raakende den Natuurlyken en Geopenbaarden Godsdienst (Treatises Devoted to Natural and Revealed Religion). This shows that even at this stage explicit admiration of the French Revolution was not considered incompatible with the enlightened Protestantism professed by most Dutch intellectuals. A second contribution to the same competition, however, written by the lawyer and politician Pieter Paulus (1753–1796), and published separately in 1793, tried to add a new argument to the debate on Burke’s Reflections.33 Paulus declared himself in full agreement with Tom Paine. But although he rejected Burke’s work as ‘nothing but an eloquent show of words, a demonstration of some antiquarian learning, full of dogmatic, authoritarian expressions and haughty but unproved judgements’, he thought the subject urgent enough to devote some more attention to it. In the next few pages he tried to prove that Burke’s refusal to recognize a right to participation, based on the principle that nobody should be a judge in his own case, was irrational, and in contradiction with his acceptance of other rights. He concluded that the great success of the Reflections in England must have been caused by Burke’s sudden change of opinion, and looked back with nostalgia at Burke’s attitude in the Wilkes affair in 1770: ‘But that was the Burke of the good old days, and the Burke we now have to combat is Burke of the present times; two completely different persons, in whom we are unable to discover the same man.’34 To find expressions of sympathy with Burke in the Netherlands at this point, one has to leave the intellectual world of the educated social elite. Part of the traditional education of schoolchildren in Holland had been books with vivid descriptions of the sufferings of the Dutch people under foreign occupation or during foreign invasions. Various often reprinted pamphlets in this genre, the so-called ‘mirrors of the young’, were current: about the cruelties of the Spanish during the Dutch war of independence, the cruelties of the French during the occupation of 1672–74, and the cruelties of the British during the wars at sea.35 In 1793 a sequel was added detailing the bloodshed and deprivations caused by the French Revolution. In De spiegel der jeugd of Nieuwe Fransche tiranny (The mirror of the young or the new French tyranny), a dialogue between a father and son, Burke is portrayed in his famous ‘dagger scene’.36 It was discovered ‘that the National 33

Cf. Vles (2004, 85–91). ‘welsprekende woordenpraal, vertooning van wat oudheidkundige geleerdheid, leerstellige, gezagvoerende en zonder bewys uit de hoogte vonnisvellende uitdrukkingen’. ‘Doch dit was Burke van den goeden ouden tyd, en de persoon, dien wy thans te bestryden hebben, is Burke van den nieuwen tyd: twee onderscheidene personaadjen, waaronder het onmooglyk is, denzelfden man te erkennen’ (Paulus 1793, 154–56, 168). Interestingly, Paulus admitted he knew Burke only from the French translation published in Amsterdam in 1791, and had never seen the English edition. 35 The first of these ‘Mirrors’ was based on the Morgenwecker (Morning Watchman, 1610), an anti-Spanish pamphlet by Willem Baudartius (1565–1640). Cf. Van Deursen (2010, 89). 36 On 28 December 1792, Burke threw a dagger to the ground in the House of 34

An Ambivalent Conservatism   161 Convention planned to send eighteen- or twenty-thousand scoundrels into Britain, all well paid to propagate their false teachings of freedom and equality in that country’. After they had stirred up local revolts, ‘they were to ask the French to send troops, in order to effect a complete revolution in that kingdom. Mr. Burke, one of the members of British Parliament, showed a dagger in the House of Commons, according to which model several thousands were manufactured in Birmingham to serve the murderers, and he also declared it demonstrably true that nineteen regicides had arrived in Britain to eliminate the whole Royal Family.’ The obedient son of course reacts with dismay, as the same might happen at home.37 In January 1795 the French army finally did cross the Dutch frontiers. The Patriot émigrés returned and began transforming the old United Netherlands into the new Batavian Republic. This inaugurated a period of French dominance which lasted until 1813. After a number of successive constitutions had been tried, in 1806 a kingdom was proclaimed under Napoleon’s brother Louis, but in 1810 all that remained of the former territory was incorporated into the immense French Empire. During this time, open opposition to the principles of the Revolution and demonstrations of Orangism or of pro-English sentiments were obviously impossible. Burke and his Reflections were largely forgotten, or, if mentioned at all, dismissed according to the official ideology. Characteristic of this is Jan Konijnenburg’s Tafereelen van de staatsomwenteling in Frankrijk (Scenes from the Political Revolution in France) where ‘the notorious Burke’ appears as an eloquent mercenary in the service of the British aristocracy, full of ‘partisan ignorance and bad faith’, whose ‘open violation of the rights of men and of peoples made him hated, even in his own country, by all friends of liberty’. The only reason his writings had reached such a wide audience, Konijnenburg explained with heavy irony, was that nobody, even among his best-known opponents, ‘was able to refute his wideranging nonsense with the exquisite delicacy corresponding to his exaggerated requirements’.38 Commons, pretending that many such daggers were held ready in England by revolutionary societies. 37 ‘Men had ontdekt … dat het plan van de Nationaale Conventie was, om een agttien of twintig duizend van deze schelmen, in Grootbrittanien over te voeren, deze alle wierden door de Nationaale Conventie rykelyk betaald, om hunne valsche Vryheids en Egaliteits leer in dat Land voort te planten … en dan de Franschen om hulp te verzoeken … en daar mede een geheele omkeering in dat Koningryk te veroorzaaken. De Heer Burke een der Leeden van het Britsche Parlement vertoonden in het huis der gemeenten een ponjaard, die het model was waar naar eenige duizende in de Stad Birmingham ten dienste der Moordenaars wierden gereed gemaakt, zeggende tevens dat het een beweezen waarheid was, dat negentien Koningsmoorders uit Frankryk waaren overgekomen om de geheele Koninglyke Familie om te brengen’ (Anon. 1793c, 84–85). 38 ‘de partijdige onkunde, of wel de kwaade trouw van den Brit’; ‘dat zijne openlijke schennis der rechten van menschen en volken hem, in zijn eigen land, den haat berokkenden van alle vrienden der vrijheid’; ‘bij verr’ te kort schoten, om

162   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe At least everybody recognized Burke’s talents as a writer. In February 1797, several Dutch newspapers prematurely announced his death, which had to be repeated in July, after he had actually died (Bremmer 2013, 10). In September 1797 a major weekly journal looked back upon the tumult Burke had caused during the last days of his life with his Letters on a Regicide Peace. Again, his eloquence was praised: the pamphlet, ‘a subtle product of partisanship’ was ‘as clever as it was full of anger’.39 The reviewer did not feel impelled to defend the revolutionary principles at all cost. Among the many replies to Burke’s Letters, he recommended Thomas Erskine, A View of the Causes and the Consequence of the Present War with France, which he much preferred over ‘the furious Rights of Nature against the Usurpation of Establishments by John Thelwall, the well-known popular orator’. In Erskine’s pamphlet one found ‘calm deliberation and level-headed conclusions, combined with real eloquence; the more respectfully he appears to treat his opponent, the deeper his arrows hit’.40 An obituary published in the same journal in April 1798 showed a similar desire for moderation. Clearly a certain fatigue with the course of the revolution had set in. Burke’s change of opinion in 1790 was described as follows: ‘He, who had fought so bravely for the freedom of the Americans, now suddenly and openly jeered at the then still so magnificent attempt by a neighbouring people to free itself.’41 Then still so magnificent – the sense of disappointment is hard to mistake. From Falck to Groen From the French occupation in 1795 until the establishment of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1814–15, Burke’s writings seem to have had little resonance in Holland. But there is at least one example of a Dutch politician and diplomat who was introduced to Burke’s ideas while staying abroad. In 1802, the young lawyer Anton Reinhard Falck (1777–1843) was appointed secretary to the Dutch ambassador in Madrid. Here, Falck became close friends with Henry Richard Fox, Lord Holland, nephew of the famous Charles James Fox, and especially with the attractive and free-spoken Lady Holland. Until then, Falck, like so many Dutch moderates, had seen Montesquieu as his guiding light, but Lady Holland set him on a reading course in modern British weidschen onzin zoodanig te wederleggen, dat de verfijnde smaak zijne overdreven eischen mogt kunnen voldoen’ (Konijnenburg 1798, 54–56). 39 ‘Dit fyngesponnen gewrogt van Partyzucht … zo schrander als vol woede geschreven.’ 40 ‘bedaard overleg, en koelzinnige gevolgtrekkingen by echte welsprekendheid gevoegd; en met hoe meer eerbied Erskine zynen tegenstander, in schyn, behandeld, hoe dieper zyne pylen treffen’ (Anon. 1797, 92). 41 ‘Hy, die voor de vryheid van Amerika zo fier gestreden had, beschimpte nu op eens de toen nog zo schitterende poging welke een naburig Volk voor de vryheid deed, openlyk’ (Anon. 1798, 110). The sequel even spoke of the ‘honest Burke’ (‘de eerlyke Burke’), who had often possessed ‘a striking foresight in politics’ (‘in het Staatkundige menig treffend voorgevoel’) (Anon. 1798, 114, 116).

An Ambivalent Conservatism   163 political and economic theories: Smith, Bentham, but especially Burke. Falck admired Burke’s defence of private property and his insistence on an aristocratic element in politics. But he admitted he found parts of the Reflections hard to digest. The British constitution was in his opinion no more than an incidental and arbitrary form, erroneously taken by Burke as something definitive, and he saw Burke’s veneration of religious pomp and circumstance as an absurdity (Van der Horst 1985, 81). Nonetheless, it is remarkable that two of the men who played a leading role in the Dutch declaration of independence from France in 1813, and in the formation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands under William I, had been deeply impressed by Burke at an earlier moment in their career. Van Hogendorp had, after his failed attempt at translating the Reflections in 1790–1791, drawn the conclusion that things had to change in order to retain their balance. The constitution of the new kingdom was largely based on his proposals. In a similar way, Falck, who in 1813 had led the revolt against the French in Amsterdam and later became Dutch ambassador in London, was confirmed by his reading of Burke in his opinion that every country had to adapt a policy according to its own traditions. Both interpreted Burke in a more or less ‘liberal’ way. They did not favour a reactionary politics in the Romantic style. For their part, the Romantic reactionaries in the Netherlands had no use for Burke. Neither Willem Bilderdijk (1756–1831), poet, historian and political visionary, nor his follower Isaac da Costa (1798–1860), who shocked the nation in 1823 with his ultra-orthodox Bezwaren tegen de geest der eeuw (Objections to the Spirit of the Age), mention Burke anywhere in their writings.42 As far as Burke was remembered at all in the early decades of the nineteenth century, he was no longer seen as a controversial figure. John Bake (1787–1864), professor of classics at Leiden University, always declared Burke one of his favourite authors. He read his speeches again and again, but primarily as an example of brilliant oratory (Bakhuizen 1876, 418). The crisis of 1830, however, revived an interest in Burke’s political ideas. The Belgian declaration of independence and the expensive status-quo policy maintained by King William I until 1839 accentuated the need for reform, both internally, as the defects of the existing constitution became more and more evident, and in the international context, as the kingdom of the Netherlands had to shed the last illusions of being a significant power. The leader of the liberal opposition was Johan Rudolf Thorbecke (1798–1872), architect of the new constitution of 1848 and, later, three times prime minister. In the course of the 1830s and 1840s, his political opinions developed into a principled or ‘doctrinaire’ liberalism. It is significant that the only reference to Burke in his writings occurs in his early and still very cautious Over de verandering van het algemeen staten-stelsel van Europa (On the Changes in the General Political System in Europe) of 1831 (Drentje 2004, 269).43 For the rest of his career, 42 43

Van Eijnatten (1998, 515) considers it likely that Bilderdijk never read Burke. Thorbecke read Burke in French during his time as a professor in Ghent between 1825 and 1830. In 1835, when a colleague told him he had set a PhD student to

164   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Thorbecke left the adaptation of Burke’s legacy to his friend and political adversary Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (1801–76). Thorbecke and Groen were united in their rejection of indifference, mediocrity and commonplace thinking. But whereas Thorbecke tried to stimulate the nation to greater industry and initiative by introducing new legislation, Groen van Prinsterer hoped to restore its confidence by returning to what he saw as its age-old Calvinist identity.44 He approached politics through history. The political crisis of 1830 coincided with a crisis in his personal life. While staying in Brussels as a government official, he concluded that the union with Belgium was unsuccessful, and that the northern Netherlands, as a separate nation, had to reinvent a proper political raison d’être. In the private sphere, he found a new moral footing by converting to a personal variety of revivalist Protestantism. Soon he began to develop these ideas into a political programme. About the same time he read Burke’s Reflections and came to see them as a vade mecum: They aroused an irresistible desire for the Opera Omnia. These were not wellregarded in Brussels, for obvious reasons, and even difficult to find. I still remember the joy I felt when I finally discovered the complete edition in eight volumes. I insatiably devoured those that were most ad rem, for their content as well as their form, in particular the eighth volume, with the Letters on Regicide Peace, his swan song.45

It was a true shock of recognition, and he immediately began to recommend Burke to his friends (Groen van Prinsterer 1925, 279; 1964, 98). For a long time, he thought Burke’s Works ‘almost indispensable’. He always had them ready ‘on the tribune of the Estates-General, when, during a lengthy and soporific debate, I allowed myself the pleasure of some absorbing reading’ (1874, 306).46 To a certain extent, of course, Groen was already familiar with Burke’s ideas, even if he had not read the author himself. He had studied Friedrich prove that ‘Burke could very well reject the principles of the French Revolution and accept those of the Americans, without being inconsistent’ (‘dat Burke, zonder inconsequent te zijn, zeer wel de beginselen der Fransche omwenteling kon afkeuren, en die der Americanen goedkeuren’), Thorbecke showed no marked enthusiasm. The PhD thesis apparently was never written (Thorbecke 1979, 232). 44 The most recent biography is Kuiper (2001). 45 ‘Zij maakten de begeerte naar de Opera omnia onweerstaanbaar. Te Brussel waren ze, dit laat zich begrijpen, niet in trek en zelfs niet ligt uitvindbaar. Nog herinner ik mij de blijdschap, toen ik eindelijk de volledige uitgaaf, in acht deelen, ontdekt had. Die het meest ad rem waren verslond ik onverzadelijk om inhoud en vorm. Inzonderheid het achtste; vooral den zwanezang Letters on a Regicide Peace’ (Groen van Prinsterer 1874, 334). 46 ‘Bijkans onontbeerlijk, zelfs op de tribune der Staten-Generaal, wanneer nu en dan, bij de gerektheid van een slaperig debat, het genoegen eener boeijende lectuur vergund was.’ Groen added that he read Lamennais with the same intensity. The passage is often interpreted as if Groen later, when a member of Parliament, used to return to Burke in quieter moments on the benches. But here he is clearly referring to his job as secretary of the King’s Cabinet from 1829 to 1833.

An Ambivalent Conservatism   165 von Savigny, the German founder of historical law, and the historian A. W. L. Heeren, who were both deeply influenced by Burke.47 Moreover, Groen had been taught in Leiden by John Bake, who admired Burke as a writer. In 1847, on the eve of a new revolution, Groen van Prinsterer offered a synthesis of his thoughts on history, religion and politics in his programmatic treatise Ongeloof en revolutie (Unbelief and Revolution) in which Burke was frequently quoted as an authority. From Burke, Groen derived three important principles: the wisdom of the forefathers has a prescriptive value for present-day society; every attempt at revolution will inevitably lead to bloodshed and dictatorship; the prevention of revolution is not only a political but also a religious struggle. Time and again, he quoted Burke’s saying that ‘a religious war’ had to be fought, ‘a holy war for religion, morality, property, order, public law’.48 But there were problems, as his opponents as well as his friends pointed out.49 Groen tried to combine his reading of Burke with the absolutist conception of kingship and the state by the German theorist C. L. von Haller. To do so, he had to ignore the fact that Burke allowed much more room for change and renewal than would ever have been acceptable to someone like Haller. Moreover, as everybody knew, Dutch independence was the result of a revolt against the Spanish king Philip II, who from a legal point of view was perfectly entitled to rule the country. Groen therefore had to explain that the Dutch Revolt had not been a revolution in the modern sense, but a legitimate change of government, like the Glorious Revolution in Britain. On these points his liberal critics could easily accuse him of inconsistency or even hypocrisy. On the other hand, Burke had a more instrumental conception of religion than Groen, who sought ultimate political wisdom in obedience to God and his laws. Groen’s copy of Burke’s Works shows that he only read and reread his later writings (Spruyt 2004, 19–24).50 He clearly had no affinity with the image of Burke as a reformer or even as a liberal thinker, current in England about this time. Conservatives and anti-revolutionaries Once more a revolution revived interest in Burke among political commentators. The course of events in 1848 seemed to bear out Burke’s prediction that revolutions always follow the same pattern, from a call for popular sovereignty to civil war and inevitable repression. In his monthly political feature


This is rightly pointed out by Bijl (2011, 105–16). Groen adopted the phrase in 1831 and returned to it throughout his career; cf. Kuiper (2001, 56). For a similar expression in 1874, see Groen van Prinsterer (1874, 333, 336). 49 The similarities and differences between Burke and Groen are systematically listed in Van Vliet (2008, 131–42). 50 Groen’s annotated copy of The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, 8 vols (London: M’Lean, 1823) is now in the Royal Library in The Hague. Apparently he never bought a later, more reliable edition. 48

166   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe in the journal De Gids, Jan Heemskerk Bzn. (1811–80), a liberal member of parliament, came to the conclusion that ‘the experiments in revolution had only damaged the cause of liberty’.51 Only British institutions and statecraft remained as a model of constitutional practice. This tradition, Heemskerk assured his readers, was thoroughly imbued with Burke’s ideas: ‘Everything shows that British politicians of every colour and shade do not forget the lessons, and at least act according to the principles of the man whose authority is recognized as nearly classical by all parties, that is to say Edmund Burke.’52 Again and again he referred to Burke as one of ‘the profoundest thinkers’ (‘diepzinnigste denkers’) and ‘the wisest of statesmen’ (‘wijsste der staats­ lieden’). But of course he was aware that this reverence for Burke brought him close to Groen van Prinsterer, whose political and religious convictions he did not share at all. In 1850 he added a long footnote to one of his columns, in which he contested Groen’s right to appropriate Burke exclusively for his own Anti-Revolutionary movement (Heemskerk 1850, 719). This, for the first time in the Netherlands, led to a debate about Burke in which all participants favoured his ideas. The question was not whether Burke was right, but who could justly claim him as a model. In 1852, Cornelis W. Opzoomer (1821–92), a professor of philosophy at the University of Utrecht, supported Heemskerk with a brochure De staatkunde van Edmund Burke (The statecraft of Edmund Burke).53 The slender volume opened with a string of quotations translated from Burke, and continued with a summary of his life, career and political opinions. Like Heemskerk, Opzoomer was full of praise for Burke, and clearly he had looked at his pre-revolutionary writings with more attention than Groen. In publishing his essay, originally planned as a public lecture, he was motivated by a double agenda.54 Until 1848 his thinking had shown a strong idealist element, but influenced by the political circumstances he now adopted a strictly empirical position. By referring to Burke, political empiricist par excellence, he hoped to justify his philosophical turnabout.55 Moreover, he belonged to a group of liberals who had acclaimed Thorbecke’s constitutional reforms in 1848, but who now felt that political change was accelerating too much, and who began to look to Burke for

51 52




‘Dat de revolutionaire experimenten de zaak van de vrijheid alleen maar geschaad hadden.’ ‘Uit alles blijkt, dat Britsche staatslieden van alle kleur de les niet vergeten, ten minste handelen overeenkomstig de leer van den man, die bij iedere partij bijna als klassiek gezag wordt beschouwd, – van Edm. Burke’ (Heemskerk 1848, 246–47). Cf. Aerts (1997, 186–89). The suffix ‘Bzn.’ (‘son of B. Heemskerk’) is added to distinguish this author from his cousin Jan Heemskerk Azn. (1818–1897) who was also a prominent political figure. On Opzoomer’s ideas see also Kossmann (1978, 261–63). Requested to deliver a public lecture at his university, Opzoomer had planned to speak about Burke. When it was made clear to him that this had to be in Latin, he decided to publish his text separately, rather than make the effort to drape Burke in classical costume; cf. Fruin (1957, 37). This is stressed in a review by Van der Hoeven (1852, 689–92).

An Ambivalent Conservatism   167 political guidelines.56 To do this, they had to distance themselves from Groen and his followers. Opzoomer left it to his friend Robert Fruin (1823–99), later professor of history at Leiden University, to attack Groen directly. At first, Groen had welcomed the growing interest in Burke’s ideas as an approach to his own point of view. Even the Roman-Catholic press discerned in Opzoomer’s apparent conversion to anti-revolutionary politics an important sign of the times.57 But Fruin’s brochure Het Antirevolutionair staatsregt van Mr. G. Groen van Prinsterer ontvouwd en beoordeeld (The Anti-revolutionary Constitutional Law According to G. Groen van Prinsterer Explained and Criticised) dispelled this illusion. In 1853, an improvised national-conservative movement brought down Thorbecke’s liberal government.58 Fruin, concerned about what he saw as Groen’s growing influence, tried to demolish his political principles on theological, historical and constitutional grounds. That the moderate liberals now claimed Burke as one of their own was no concession to Groen, for he had completely misunderstood the British statesman. Burke never preferred abstract ideas above facts. Groen’s own system, taken at face value, excluded even the possibility of gradual change. It misconstrued the historical origins of the Dutch nation as well as its political and legal tradition. In fact, it amounted to a rigid, absolutist dogmatism, closer to Joseph de Maistre than to Burke, and completely at variance with the libertarian ideals that had always been the country’s safeguard (Fruin 1853).59 Fruin’s polemic drew much attention.60 In a review of his pamphlet, J. Heemskerk Bzn. concentrated on the way the liberals and anti-revolutionaries both harnessed Burke for their own ends. He tried to take an intermediate position. Fruin’s interpretation was far too radical; what Burke had actually said came closer to Groen’s point of view, but then his writings did not warrant an explicitly orthodox Protestant politics, as propagated by Groen (Heemskerk 1853). This, of course, pleased nobody. Heemskerk made it clear that he was not ready to join the Anti-Revolutionaries, but the liberals from now on regarded him as a traitor to their cause (Fruin 1957, 49; Aerts 1997, 188–89).61 Fruin reacted with an even sharper second pamphlet 56



59 60 61

As he wrote in May 1853: ‘Since I, at the same time as you, made the change from speculation to empiricism, I have grown more moderate … in certain respects, especially by Burke and Stahl, I have been convinced of former errors, but I have not changed my principles’ (Fruin 1957, 42). See Groen’s reactions to Opzoomer in De Nederlander, 19 April 1852 and 17 January 1853. For a Catholic opinion see De Tijd, 16 April 1852; quoted in Bremmer (2013, 40). Groen’s Anti-Revolutionaries were involved, but other leaders of this improvised coalition, the so-called ‘April Movement’, did not look to Burke for inspiration, but rather scientific rationalism and positivism; cf. Van Raak (2001, 39–43). Cf. Smit (1958, 23–24) and especially Geyl (1978, 135–80). A recent assessment of Fruin’s work is Paul and Te Velde (2010). The wider context of the debate, which immediately took a legal-constitutional turn, is analysed in Kossmann (1995, 192–208). See also Groen van Prinsterer (1874, 326–33).

168   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe in which he pointed out, among many other things, that Burke had always remained a Whig, and therefore, in contrast to Groen, sought to limit the power of the monarchy. Against Groen’s frequent appeals to principles, he quoted Burke’s remark in the Reflections that he would not reject any form of government on the basis of abstract principles (Fruin, 1854).62 From 1853 until 1862 the Netherlands had a succession of governments that are usually described as conservative (Kossmann 1978, 275–83). As far as they looked for a theoretical foundation, they came close to Heemskerk’s point of view, but they felt no need to justify their programme by references to Burke. Some of the participants were inspired by scientific positivism. They saw in Burke’s appeal to historical precedents precisely the kind of Romantic thinking they wanted to distance themselves from. But the overwhelming majority of politicians and political commentators at the time belonged to the legal profession. They were interested in law making, and discussed political problems, including constitutional issues, almost exclusively in legal terms. For them, Burke’s concepts were too vague and too ambivalent. In their disagreements with Groen and the more progressive liberals, they turned to German theorists, not the British constitutional tradition (Kossmann 1995, 197). For his part, Groen van Prinsterer always refused to think of himself as a conservative (Kuiper 2001, 56). In his writings, the word ‘conservatives’ always denotes a separate group of traditionalist liberals with whom he could at best conclude temporary alliances, as in 1853, but to whom he certainly did not belong. In 1857 one of his followers, Isaac Capadose, published a short biographical introduction to Burke and his works. The text, part of which was clearly derived from Opzoomer’s earlier publication, was not much more than an extended dictionary article, but at the end the author showed he had also digested Fruin’s remarks: ‘In an English sense Burke was thoroughly liberal: he remained a Whig even while fighting against the French Revolution’ (Capadose 1857, 72).63 He regretted that Groen had taken an anti-liberal position. The reproach stung; many years later Groen still grew indignant at the thought that Capadose had apparently considered him a reactionary.64 A new constitutional crisis in 1866 definitively established the principle of parliamentary democracy. To all effects, this put an end to Dutch conservatism as a distinct political movement; Groen this time resolutely refused to take their side. Influenced by the German theoretician F. J. Stahl, he published a new edition of his Ongeloof en revolutie (Unbelief and Revolution) in 1868 in which he, at least for the post-revolutionary age, accepted an idea of the state as based on the interests of the citizens.65 Some of his followers thought he had now erred too far in the other direction: ‘I thought you would never


For the quotation, see Burke (1989, 174). ‘In dien Engelschen zin was Burke zeer liberaal; hij bleef Whig toen hij de Fransche omwenteling bestreed’. From 1867 onwards, Capadose (1834–1920) was active as a preacher (‘Angel’) in the Catholic-Apostolic Church, expecting the imminent return of Christ the Saviour. 64 Letter to Abraham Kuyper, November 8 1869, in Groen van Prinsterer (1967, 52). 65 An abbreviated English translation is included in Van Dyke (1989). 63

An Ambivalent Conservatism   169 agree with the revolutionary conception of the state, any more than Burke in his time’.66 But in his own opinion, Groen remained true to Burke until the end. In 1869, he warmly recommended his works to the young preacher Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), who was to become his political successor and the founder of the Anti-Revolutionary Party as a modern organization. Kuyper took his advice, and summarized his studies in a (now lost) lecture on Burke. But although he held a high regard for Burke, it is significant that he only occasionally mentioned him in his voluminous later writings. Conclusion In the last decades of the nineteenth century, Burke’s presence in Dutch political debate dwindled to a few well-known phrases. His definition of a party as a group of men united for a purpose was regularly invoked in the journals and in parliament, as was his famous lament for the vanishing age of chivalry. Outside the Anti-Revolutionary Party, however, Burke’s influence as a theorist of conservatism was minimal. And even there, his importance was until recent times more taken for granted than discussed.67 The few unsuccessful proposals to found a new conservative party made no reference to Burke at all.68 For most conservative Christians, he was not religious enough, and for the right-wing liberals he was too exuberant, aristocratic and unsystematic to be of much use. Moreover, he was obviously a difficult writer. In the liberal journal De Gids, an occasional Anglophile invoked the ‘neverfailing insight’ (‘het nimmer falende inzicht’) of the ‘noble Edmund Burke’ (‘edele Edmund Burke’), and in 1883 he was still described as ‘the great and enlightened statesman’ (‘de groote en verlichte staatsman’) (Kok 1867, 266, 280; Bake 1883, 268). But such expressions became more and more rare. Perhaps the development of Potgieter’s opinions can be taken as a measure of his diminishing reputation. E. J. Potgieter (1808–1875), poet, critic, novelist and long-time editor of De Gids, had in 1844 translated Hazlitt’s ‘On Reading Old Books’ with its extended praise of Burke as a stylist. In 1858, Potgieter published a booklength essay on George Crabbe and his time, a mixture of literary criticism and biography, with frequent novelistic elements (Potgieter 1886).69 It is probably the only work in Dutch in which Edmund Burke is introduced as a literary character. Potgieter admitted that Burke possessed ‘genius’; he was ‘the unequalled investigator of all the great questions of his time’. Nonetheless,


C Mulder to Groen, 6 November, 1875; in Groen van Prinsterer (1967, 852). Not very long ago, the debate was brought full-circle by Sap (1993), who contended that Calvinism, far from being an anti-revolutionary principle, originated in a revolution and was itself the origin of popular sovereignty. 68 E.g. the naïve and simplistic Kremer (1866). 69 The essay was ostensibly a review of a Dutch translation of Crabbe’s Parish Register. Potgieter derived much of his information on Burke from Charles de Rémusat’s essay in the Revue des Deux Mondes (1853). 67

170   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe he left no doubt that he considered his ideas totally outdated. The Enquiry was unbearably tedious: ‘even with the best intentions, it is too taxing for our patience’. And the Reflections? Today ‘the people, even the rabble, fascinated by a copy of De la Roche’s Marie Antoinette, does not take sides with the terrorists, but with the queenly woman … democracy has kept its respect for virtue, she has not discarded everything you valued.’ Burke defended ‘a lost world with which we, who saw our republic change into a constitutional monarchy, were never infatuated’.70 Several years later, Potgieter referred to Burke in a letter simply as ‘that fanatic’.71 In the writings of his correspondent, the critic Conrad Busken Huet (1826–86), by his own admission a conservative thinker, Burke is conspicuously absent. During the next century, his name remained virtually unknown outside the circle of specialist historians.


‘De ongeëvenaarde onderzoeker van iedere groote vraag zijns tijds’ (Potgieter 1886, 18:102); ‘het Onderzoek blijkt, ook bij den besten wil, te zwaar een toets voor ons geduld’ (Potgieter 1886, 17:356); ‘staat het volk, staat zelfs het graauw, niet voor eene navolging van De la Roche’s Marie Antoinette geboeid, of het schaart zich niet aan de zijde der terroristen, het trekt partij voor de koninklijke vrouw … der democratie is de eerbied voor deugd gebleven, alles wat gij waardeerdet verloor zij niet’; ‘eene ondergegane wereld, met welke wij, wier republiek in eene constitutioneele monarchie is verkeerd, nooit dweepten’ (Potgieter 1886, 18:104, 106). The painting referred to is Marie Antoinette devant le tribunal (1851) by Paul Delaroche (1797–1856). 71 ‘Die fanaticus’. Potgieter (1972, 2:412), letter of 23 May 1872.


The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Imperial Ideas Relating to India, or Burke, the Brahmin and the Hot-House Sunil Agnani

From a national to a global reception of Burke’s ideas To write about Edmund Burke’s ideas relating to India in a collection concerned with the reception of his work calls to mind several questions. Working backwards in time, there is firstly the reception of Burke’s ideas in the present, among scholars in different disciplines, among political commentators of right and left who may lay claim to him, etc. Taking a further step back, one must acknowledge that there is no unmediated access to his ideas as they are always filtered through various entities and media: influential readings and interpretations of his work, which at times come to stand in for his own writings; the different literary chronologies which yield what appears to be a definitive reading of his significance as an anti-revolutionary thinker, or as a parliamentarian, or as an early augur of Romanticism, etc. One example of an influential reading of Burke, for nineteenth-century British readers, might be John Morley’s multiple studies of him.1 That, at the very least, is how I will understand the inclusion of and emphasis upon ‘reception’ in this collection.2 Burke’s writings on India trace an interpretative circle, or at least bring one full circle: the story begins in the 1780s, perhaps the 1770s if one wants to track his family and financial interests in the East India Company. The period is notable for its ‘non-state actors’, that is, private trading companies from several nations, company officials, their armies and alliances with native princes. But Burke’s own era is followed by what C. A. Bayly ambiguously


For John Morley’s significance, more with regard to his interpretation of Diderot and Raynal’s work on the Histoire des deux Indes, see Agnani (forthcoming 2015). 2 The valences of this term would be different from the perspective of literary theory, evoking as it does related approaches such as reader-response theory, and critics associated with it (e.g. Stanley Fish, Wolfgang Iser, Hans-Robert Jauss).

172   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe called Britain’s ‘Imperial meridian’, formalizing the British Empire in India, and subordinating or incorporating Company interests into a formal project of territorial empire (Bayly 1989). Moving time’s arrow forward, that empire undergoes its own crisis of legitimacy beginning in the early twentieth century with the inception of multiple nationalist and/or insurgent movements, culminating in the ambivalent moment of decolonization and partition at once. All along, Burke’s speeches are anthologized in countless Victorian collections, and taught in schools both in Britain and India, recalling Gauri Viswanathan’s classic argument regarding the importance of literary education in Masks of Conquest (1989). Generations of intellectuals trained in colonial schools – from C. L. R. James in Trinidad, who refers to Burke’s speeches on America in his biography, to Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866–1915) in India – are at the very least profoundly influenced by the language, rhetoric and tenor of these speeches on America, India and France. What notice they took of his writings on Ireland I will leave to others to discern.3 In the period since decolonization, Burke’s sense of undertaking ‘a Labour hardly credible, in hopes of obtaining Justice for an oppressed people’ (Corr. 8:425) before a privileged but inattentive and insufficiently sympathetic audience in metropolitan England has shifted;4 the fortunes of the heirs to the investor class that originally funded the joint-stock companies of the eighteenth century have risen and fallen, leaving aside the earlier antecedents in the original charters of the early seventeenth century, such as the East India Company’s charter from 1600. What I mean is that the fortunes of India in relation to England in the early twenty-first century are a sign of the movement of capital, in that India along with China today serve as the horizon for the future expansion of the world economy, and in the process challenging the earlier predominance of the United Kingdom and especially the United States. In this latest phase, some will call it neo-liberal, a description that


C. L. R. James mentions the importance of Edmund Burke’s speeches on America in his biography: ‘I already knew long passages of him [Burke] by heart’ (James 1963, 6). For two key readings of Burke and Ireland, see Deane (2005) and Gibbons (2003). Burke’s influence on Gokhale is noted by Wolpert (1962, 22, 296). ‘The bulk of Gokhale’s literary output was … prose, in which he developed a rich and polished English style modeled after the writings of Burke, Mill, Bright and Morley. While at Deccan College he is said to have committed part of Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution [sic] to memory, and much of his later political conservatism was perhaps motivated by this potent early influence’ (22). For the influence of Burke on the nationalist elite in India, see the thoughtful early article by Ganesh Prashad (1966): ‘How and why the thought of Indian liberals was inspired chiefly by Burkean conservatism is an intricate and intriguing problem that deserves exploration’ (412). Many contemporary readers of Gandhi make the link between his thought and Burke’s, as does Prasad in this discussion: ‘Gandhi was Asoka and Burke in one ‒ an accepted and conscious Asokan, a crypto and unconscious Burkean …’ and ‘Perhaps, after Burke’s, Gandhi’s was the greatest contribution to the liberal methodology’ (419). For one notable recent reading which links Gandhi to Burke, see Mehta (2011). 4 To Lord Loughborough [c.17 March 1796].

The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Imperial Ideas Relating to India   173 itself creates other blind-spots, we are returned to a political form in which Euro-American entanglements in places like India happen less through state intervention and more through the proliferation of transnational companies, such as the role of private contractors in the conflict in Iraq, corporate investments shifting from one national space to another seeking lower labour costs and the diminished role of sovereign states in the face of larger institutions (in the 1990s, entities associated with the ‘Bretton Woods institutions’ such as the World Bank, the IMF, etc.), all of which was, for a time, described with the benign and vague word ‘globalization’. In the present, additionally, for some theorists of the Indian state, such as Partha Chatterjee, the question necessarily looms of seeing India as a regional hegemon in its own right.5 If we paint this expansive, panoptic picture, then the public among which Burke’s ideas circulate will also necessarily change: from a predominantly European audience to a global Anglophone one, not limited to English speakers but composed of Europeans, Indians, Jamaicans, Ghanaians, etc., and the large diasporas residing in multifarious parts of the world. Moving from nation to linguistic network, this is the outer circle of the global reading public of Burke and India I wish to sketch before proceeding to more detailed interpretations.6 Burke and the ‘Bramin’ These thoughts of where Burke’s influence circulates necessarily come to mind when reading such rich passages as those by the pamphleteer and satirist Ralph Broome (1742–1805), forgotten to most save scholars of his work and those fond of eighteenth-century parodies. It may seem unfair to inaugurate a review of Burke’s thought by citing an obscure figure more sympathetic to his antagonist, Warren Hastings, the head of the East India Company and the object of the impeachment effort which Burke led (formally begun in 1786 and lasting from 1788–1795), but it allows us to address the weighty issues which Burke brought to the fore with a lighter air. However, let me first frame the relationship between Burke and Broome by way of one of the only references to the latter in Burke’s correspondence, which occurs in the same lengthy letter which Burke wrote to Lord Loughborough defining his fears regarding ‘two different enemies’ which threaten ‘our Government and our Laws’, namely ‘Indianism, and Jacobinism’ (Corr. 8:432). The letter itself was composed after the announcement of the verdict regarding the acquittal of Hastings (Loughborough had voted the other way, as Burke mentions), but Burke particularly contests Loughborough’s remark regarding Hastings that ‘many men conscientiously believe, he has always behaved well’. It is this observation which prompts Burke’s ire as he reminds the recipient of his letter both of his expertise in the area and of the nefarious faction of Nabobs and their

5 6

See Chatterjee (2011), Chapter 11, ‘Empire and Nation today’. I have in mind Levine (2014).

174   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe sympathizers who are arrayed against him, and who threaten Parliament itself with corruption. I have heard it [asserted of Hastings’ good behaviour] ten thousand times over. But to give it any weight in my Mind, I must suppose that I know, what I do not, who these conscientious men are, who think, that Mr Hastings always acted right. If they are persons who have studied this Business more to the bottom than I have I ought to defer undoubtedly to a knowlege superior to my own, at least as far as authority can go. But if they are not so studied, but are on the contrary, people who take their Ideas from Mr Scotts or Mr Broomes Libels on me and on the House of Commons … then I say that … they are not conscientious persons; but wicked and abandond wretches … who condemn whole Nations to depopulation famine and misery, without so much as knowing any thing of their Case. (Corr. 8:433–34)

There arises and ends Burke’s references to Broome in his collected Correspondence, though Broome’s writings, originally written for the newspaper World, circulated widely and caused much consternation to Burke. P. J. Marshall notes that ‘the House of Commons ordered the Crown to prosecute the printer of the World in 1789’,7 and Burke’s Writings and Speeches contain the text of Burke’s ‘Speech on Libel on the House of Commons, 16 June 1789’ as part of an effort to counter what he felt was a newspaper media in thrall to Hastings’ influence (7:71–74). Who was, one may ask, Ralph Broome? He was Frances (Fanny) Burney’s brother-in-law and a former Captain in the Bengal Army, who had thus spent time in India, and became a longstanding opponent to Burke. He wrote other responses, to Thomas Paine, for example, and is said to have fathered a daughter with an Indian woman. He was also a Persian translator, for so he signs many of his contributions to East India Company minutes, and a publication relating to the Hastings Trial (Broome 1790). In his Letters from Simkin the Second, Broome takes many authorial liberties and gleefully inhabits Burke’s mind as he carries forward the impeachment: He hoped, and he trusted, they would not reject The proof he could bring, for so trifling defect – That so high a tribunal ought not to be ty’d To the Forms, and the Rules whereby LAWYERS decide, But conveniency take a less fallible guide; For if Pains and Penalties are not inflicted On Eastern Delinquents, till fairly convicted, The MANAGERS here may a longtime harangue Before they may see any one of them hang; And if probable Evidence is not admitted, The Prisoner’s in danger of being acquitted. (Broome 1789, 97)

Broome, writing in 1789 in the midst of the trial – which would indeed end in an acquittal for Hastings many years later in 1795, much to Burke’s dismay – brings out the manner in which Burke tried to invoke much larger issues in the legal proceedings. Broome suggests, in this pseudo-epistolary work 7

See the remarks of P. J. Marshall in the Intro. to Writings and Speeches, 7:5–6.

The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Imperial Ideas Relating to India   175 structured as a series of letters between a certain Simkin, residing in London, and his country brother Simon in the Welsh countryside, that excessive legalism and formalities stood in the way of taking cognizance of the gravity of the situation, the enormity of the crimes and the extent of the abuse of power. Thus ‘forms’ and ‘rules’ prevent taking action against Hastings, the ‘Eastern delinquent’. Describing and echoing the texture of the original, Broome picks up what Burke late in his life began to call ‘Indianism’, on analogy with Jacobinism, and which Burke together took to be two great evils of his time (Corr. 8:432).8 As Broome puts it in an earlier moment of this work: And indeed, my dear Brother, you cannot but think, That so much Corruption must horribly stink; And believe me, I smell it whenever I meet An Indian NABOB, as I travel the street. The Nobles, I trust, will this season recal Their Relations and Sons, from contagious BENGAL; What a horrible thing, if such base peculation Were imported from thence to an innocent Nation! (Broome 1789, 65)

Broome here attempts to remove the sting from Burke’s argument, one to which Burke returned again and again, regarding a possible contagion from the colonial frontier of Bengal.9 The vehicle for this ‘contagion’ was the British Nabob whose actions – along with those of the East India Company – Burke took to reveal a national complicity with morally corrupt behaviour, one that would return to haunt parliament and thereby all of Britain as these Nabobs influenced parliament, married into wealthy families or ‘eased’ estates with loans of their ill-begotten lucre. As Burke put it, impugning these Indiareturned Britons: Arrived in England, the destroyers of the nobility and gentry of a whole kingdom [India] will find the best company in this nation, at a board of elegance and hospitality. Here the manufacturer and husbandman will bless the just and punctual hand, that in India has torn the cloth from the loom, or wrested the scanty portion of rice and salt from the peasant in Bengal, or wrung from him the very opium in which he forgot his oppression and his oppressors. They marry into your families; they enter into your senate; they ease your estates by loans … (Writings and Speeches, 5:403)

It is striking how Burke generated the notion of ‘Indianism’, and used the public proceedings of the trial to circulate it in London; equally striking is the quick repartee penned by Broome which (ambivalently) seems to tame it, throw it back and reject it. Broome’s ironic reference to Britain as an ‘innocent Nation’ clearly implies that this attribute is misplaced.



To Lord Loughborough [c. 17 March 1796]. For some passing discussion of Burke and Broome, see Frans De Bruyn (2004). The interesting recent work, Garcia (2012), also has some brief considerations of Broome’s satire.

176   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe There is one ripe moment in Broome’s work which cannot pass without comment, namely his mockery of a reported encounter between Burke and a Brahmin who is said to have visited him in his Beaconsfield home, which appears as an illustrative digression in the work under the title, ‘Burke ‒ The BRAMIN ‒ and the Hot-House’ (Lock 2006, 34–35; Broome 1789, 97). The first citation above, where a fictional Burke quibbles with the petty legalism surrounding the grand issues at stake, comes from the moment when he introduces an allegedly native source of authority to speak to the assembled audience. Living WITNESSES into this country to bring From INDIA, my Lords, is a difficult thing: There was but one BRAMIN who ventur’d to cross The Sea, and he felt irretrievable loss, Nothing less than the family title of Doss. This allusion just then I did not comprehend, ‘Till ‘twas clear’d up by Edmund’s particular friend. (Broome 1789, 97)

Who was this living witness and ‘particular friend’? Broome, as F. P. Lock notes, is making reference to Humand Rao, an agent of Ragunath Rao, who gave evidence to the select committee on ‘caste practices’ in 1780 (Lock 2006, 34).10 However, in Broome’s tale the native authority on high-caste Brahminical practice is shown to be a clever impostor who takes in the whole lot of ‘experts’ of his day, from Burke to William Jones, as he fabricates holy books and feigns fear of pollution by making demands to eat alone, in a separate structure (the ‘hot-house’ or greenhouse of the episode’s title) furnished for his pleasure. Broome also plays with a range of fictional topoi in the period involving the figure of a fallen prince and a changed identity. In narratives concerning slavery, this usually went the other way: from sovereign prince to abject subject, such as Oroonoko in Aphra Behn’s eponymous early novel (published in 1688). However, Broome’s short text, in which footnote references explaining caste to the reader play a key role, has a mere ‘joiner’ pass himself off as a high-caste ‘Bramin’ – one whose ‘irretrievable loss’ refers to the supposed demotion in caste status incurred when crossing the seas (circulating under the term kalapani or ‘black water’). Conflating caste with class, a prominent debate in the social science scholarship on India, the text suggests that Burke is too swayed by the allure of a mere name change indicating ‘noble’ lineage – analogous to the sudden appearance of de in a British surname. In other words, Broome’s real sting is against class hierarchy and the authority attributed to those with elevated standing in it. When Goonisham to England came, He heard of Edmund’s sounding fame, And adding Doss to his Surname,


There are innumerable ways Ragunath’s name has been spelled and transcribed: Raghunath, Raghu Nath, etc. Burke refers to him in ‘Fox’s East India Bill’ as Ragoba and Ragonaut Raw (Writings and Speeches, 5:393, 398). ‘Humand’ is itself very likely a corruption of ‘Hanumant.’

The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Imperial Ideas Relating to India   177 With That Enthusiastic, past For Bramin* of the highest Cast.

Here Broome quickly levels at Burke the charge of ‘enthusiast’ which Burke would apply to the zealous French Revolutionaries, who believed themselves to be ‘inspired by a god’ – as the etymology of en + theos indicates – and thereby shows how the clever joiner, dubbed, in a fit of phonological creativity that baffles modern South Asian transcription, ‘Goonisham’, dupes him and is able to ‘pass’ as one with elevated status.11 The superscript in the last cited line leads us to the footnoted remark: ‘the Bramin Cast is the highest in India’. Already, one finds a British ambivalence and fascination with caste present in this work: a ‘joiner’ of low caste who jumps on board a ship, adds ‘Doss’ to his name,12 and thereby passes himself off as high caste. The point is emphasized by means of a significant ensemble of veridic footnotes typical of orientalist scholarship, and even orientalist literary work. The examples are too numerous, but in Robert Southey’s 1801 epic poem, Thalaba the Destroyer, there are footnotes which occupy more than half the physical page for portions of the work. Broome sought to parody what, in fact, made Burke’s approach to India stimulating to reflect upon and lasting in influence. True, from a modern, politically left, position, Burke could be said to be guilty of conflating ‘noble’ classes in India with those in Europe, and thereby affirming hierarchy in two albeit differently stratified societies.13 The episode, however, revives a scene that epitomizes what is elusive and alluring in the study of this period: that early moment of ‘encounter’ which so much of the scholarship and literature around Burke’s writings on India also consider. Burke and empire Why did Broome see fit to invoke this episode of Burke, the Brahmin and his hot-house? Clearly, he thought Burke was, in modern terms, too much of a ‘culturalist,’ pandering to the unreasonable and patently foolish requests of this priestly character, who was no priest. It allowed Broome to have his egalitarian cake and eat it too, in that he appears to emphasize the complex otherness of caste, invoking the joiner who is ‘lowest’ and the Brahmin who is ‘highest’ in 11

For more on the topic of ‘enthusiasm’, see Klein and LaVopa (1998). Presumably ‘das’/’dāsa’, a common enough Indic surname which, when translated into Sanskrit, ironically means ‘slave’ – in the sense of ‘devotee’ – but here indicates the opposite. 13 Many have charged Burke with this, with some reason, beginning with Marx’s impatient and dismissive remarks of Burke as a ‘sycophant’ and ‘vulgar bourgeois’ in Capital, Vol. 1, Chapter 31, note 13; see Marx (1981, 914–26). The same chapter from Marx makes passing reference to the Warren Hastings trial, cited to illustrate extraction from colonies such as India, though Burke is not mentioned at that moment. For a more recent critical appraisal of Burke’s place in Indian history which echoes Marx’s language and assessment, deeming Burke to be in thrall to elite interests, see Desai (2009, 60–65). 12

178   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe a manner which recalls the function of social class in Elizabethan drama, and yet it suggests that Burke was fooled by one of the lowest. It suggests, further, that Burke would naturally want to find sympathetic kinship with his peer elites – all the while not really knowing the difference between a real one and an impostor. There is, in Burke’s collected correspondence, a draft of a letter which he composed that makes explicit reference to this episode at Beaconsfield, and that was intended for these Maratha agents to take back with them to India. Dated August 1781, it was addressed to Ragunath Rao, for whom, let us recall, Humand Rao, the Brahmin at the centre of this parable, served as an agent (Corr. 4:367). The text of the letter opens, as do many of Burke’s letters, with a gracious and self-effacing tone that befits the correspondence between diplomatically influential people. This precedes and accompanies a polite refusal of a request for troops in the context of the complex shifting alliances of an incipient empire – since the East India Company was establishing ties with particular native authorities at the expense of others. It was written in reply to a letter (now lost) from Ragunath Rao, a Peshwa or high-ranking minister of the Marathas, a title achieved under very dubious circumstances,14 and makes reference to the elevated status of the addressee, which would have amused Ralph Broome and confirmed him in his mockery: I hope you have the condescension to excuse me if I am not well enough acquainted with your Customs to employ the address that is usual in writing to persons of your Rank and Character. But I beg you will be assured that I wish to employ the Style best fitted to express the highest possible respect to the illustrious and sacred Cast to which you belong… (Corr. 4:367)

Some of the keywords from Burke’s lexicon find their place here (e.g. ‘custom’), alongside the explicit reference to the ‘sacred Cast’ to which both the agent and the recipient of the letter belong. Burke continues his letter and mentions his having hosted Humand Rao, yet the details imaginatively elaborated by Broome do not figure so prominently as the motive for doing so, namely learning to accommodate the visitor’s personal and ritual needs. You set too much value on the few and slight services that I have been able to perform for your Agent Hunmund Row; and his Assistant Manuar Parsi. It was nothing more than the Duty which one man owes to another.

Remarks like these reflect the common formalities of a letter, but they also relate to Burke’s avowed emphasis on the ethical importance of the near and face-to-face encounter. We could tie these together with his often-cited observation which argues that our affections and sympathy necessarily begin with an inner circle of people with whom we have a non-abstract relationship,


See the masterful account of this in Gordon (1993, 158, 162, et passim). Ragunath Rao had his nephew, Madhav Rao, assassinated in order to accede to this position as Peshwa.

The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Imperial Ideas Relating to India   179 ‘our little platoon’, and then are enlarged to society at large. This is the ‘duty’ which is owed to another. Hunmond Row, has done me the honour of being my guest for a very short time, and I endeavored to make my place [i.e. Beaconsfield] as convenient, as any of us are able to do, for a person so faithfully strictly observant as he was, of all the rules and ceremonies of the religion, to which he was born, and to which he strictly conformed often at the manifest hazard of his Life. To this I have been witness.

The accommodation of Humand Rao’s various requests are only referred to in passing here, although the adverbial emphasis (‘faithfully strictly’) on the degree of his adherence to the ‘rules and ceremonies’ of his religion makes clear that Burke found this attachment admirable. These were customs ‘to which he was born’ and did not choose, echoing the ‘theory’ which Burke invokes in his elaboration of an ‘inter-generational’ contract elsewhere, in implicit disagreement with Rousseau and those who held to a contractarian theory of society.15 The evidence is again ocular, immediate and based upon his own contact with the person, hence the reference to his being ‘witness’ to this. Pursuing our focus on this one letter as a micro-analysis through which to see Burke’s larger political thinking with respect to empire and the religiocultural difference which it brought to the fore in British consciousness, one sees how his sympathy with this figure would also lay the practical ground for future emissaries to be suitably hosted – a form of exchange vital to the workings of empire and the many alliances between native elites and Europeans upon which it depended. The ethnographic knowledge gleaned from this encounter would serve an important function: We have however Sir derived one benefit from the instructions he has given us relative to your Ways of Living, that whenever it shall be thought necessary to send Gentûs of an high Cast to transact any business in this Kingdom … we shall be enabled to provide for them in such a manner as greatly to lesson the difficulties in our intercourse and to render as tolerable as possible to them, a Country [England] where there are scarcely six good Months in the year. (Corr. 4:368)

It is not certain whether the jokes about English weather would mean much to the recipient, but the intent of the earlier remarks is clearer: providing for the needs of this caste-conscious ‘Gentû’ (the term ‘Hindu’ not yet in use) would allow for future visitors to convey messages and information or ‘transact any business’ in an easier manner. Many other messengers and emissaries would follow in the footsteps of this Humand Rao, who formed part of a disputatious multi-religious group of travellers from India, accompanied as he was by a Parsi: 15

See the Reflections: ‘As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primaeval contract of eternal society …’ (Writings and Speeches, 8:147)

180   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe The sufferings this Gentleman underwent at first was owing to the ignorance not the unkindness of this Nation. Hunment Row is a faithful and able servant of yours. And Manuar Parsi and his Son used every exertion to second him. If your affairs have not succeeded to your wishes it is no fault of theirs. (Corr. 4:368)

As with Burke’s work as colonial agent in Britain for New York, Burke was representing these Maratha agents and advocating on their behalf, with letters sent to the appropriate people in this case (Hoffman 1956). The editors of Burke’s Correspondence supply us with peppery footnotes on Manuar Parsi and his son, Cursetji Manuar (e.g. ‘The Parsee gave trouble throughout his mission’ (Corr. 4:356)),16 and we can only surmise to what degree the British hosts of these agents had to mediate and intervene between them as Manuar grew increasingly impatient with Humand Rao. We are told that on their return journey to India, in Venice, the British Consul Robert Ritchie had to ‘attempt a reconciliation between the Bramin and the Parsee’; Ritchie described the latter as ‘one of the most quarrelsome, troublesome, provoking men I ever met with’, and had to physically separate Manuar from Humand during one fit of anger; they continued their journey homeward on two separate ships and routes at Humand’s insistence (Corr. 4:372).17 But to pursue our original thread, namely Humand Rao’s visit to Burke’s residence, the event around which these words are circling was described most distinctly during a visit to Beaconsfield in 1784 by the Irish author and diarist Mary Shackleton (1758– 1826, later Mary Leadbeater).18 She was shown the greenhouse which had a flag on which a Bramin, who had come over about the East-india affairs, and was two days at Butler’s-court, used to dress his dinner; he would eat in no house which was not his own, so they had given him this–Tho’ he had a servant he prepared his own dinner, using I think neither animal food or wine, eating off the ground stripped from his waist up, and throwing away his dinner if any one came within a certain distance from him. It seems being in company with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Ed. Burke and some other such men, he was so pleased with the expression of their countenances, tho’ he could not understand their conversation, that he desired his interpreter to inform them that in his country there was a beast called the Rhinoceros, which sustained her young by her look, and to this he compared himself being fed by their looks. (Corr. 4:368n. 2)19

The passage is notable for presenting a picture which is more recognizable in the present: that of a caste-conscious vegetarian presumably eating with his hands while seated on the floor and fearing the taint of another’s touch. It goes further, however, in presenting some of the flavour of that meeting, where the function of gazing, translation and the role of interpreters supplements and aims to overcome linguistic impediments to communication. The ‘look’ or gaze supplements what speech cannot supply; it ‘feeds’ the guest who, in


To the Earl of Hillsborough [12 July 1781]. To Pete Molini [11 September 1781], editor’s note. 18 On Mary Leadbeater, see Luddy (2004). 19 To Ragunath Rao-[August 1781]. 17

The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Imperial Ideas Relating to India   181 Aesopian fashion, even evokes some of the exotic animals of his clime. At the same time, we find on display here in this greenhouse the troubling notions of purity and pollution which would puzzle and outrage many later critical observers of Hindu society, both internal and external, from Ambedkar to modern anthropologists such as Louis Dumont and modern-day Dalit critics of untouchability. It is important not to romanticize this practice, keeping in mind the manifold critiques within Indian society which notions of ritual Brahminical purity would produce, and against which it would define itself. Nonetheless, it is also striking, with regard to Burke, to see it as an instance of the faraway and abstract made concrete in the opaque yet intriguing behaviour of Humand Rao. Lack of space will prevent me from pursuing this archival trail further, but we can see in this episode many of the characteristic features of Burke’s later thought on empire, alongside broader features which give a telling foretaste of the crucial roles the British would see themselves as playing in the Indian subcontinent, such as mediating between feuding religious identities. Ralph Broome may not have been persuaded by any of this; surely he felt, as one who had lived in that other space himself, disabused of the appeal of someone like Humand Rao, whom he promptly brought down many pegs on the social order. The historian Stewart Gordon concludes his review of the circumstances around Ragunath Rao with the following observation: There are several long-term trends to be noted in this period of factional warfare … [W]e should note the British attempt to control the Maratha polity through the vehicle of Ragunath Rao. This tactic is the same as the subversion of Bengal and Awadh a decade earlier, and no different from the British ‘protection’ of the Peshwa a quarter-century later in 1803. It failed, in this period, partly because they could not control Ragunath Rao, but mainly because the Marathas defeated the Bombay army. (Gordon 1993, 165–66)

This is certainly written with the benefit of an all-encompassing retrospective view, but we can see formulated in another letter from the same period that Burke himself was beginning to assemble what became his recognizable position on India, consonant with his aversion to the rapid upheavals in France at the end of the 1780s. In a letter to Sir Thomas Rumbold, who worked for the East India Company in Bengal, was eventually a member of the Bengal Council and was later appointed Governor of Madras after Lord Pigot, Burke makes reference to the ‘present ruinous Maratta War’ and appears to praise him delicately for ‘discountenancing [this conflict], as I understand you have done’. ‘Not to engage rashly in Wars with the powers of the Country’, he writes, ‘is … an eminent degree of merit in an East India Governor’ (Corr. 4:344).20 Then, with several of the conflicts in different regions of India in his mind, including that of the Nawab of Arcot, he makes a tactfully critical statement that indicates where his thinking on India would go in the coming years, especially marked by his later work on ‘Fox’s East India Bill’:


Letter dated 23 March 1781.

182   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe I am unable to regard the acquisition of Territory to the Company as matter of Merit, until I find that in some one instance, the condition of the Inhabitants has been improved by the revolution, or that the affairs of this Kingdom have derived some benefit from it. For unfortunately in proportion to our acquisitions both in Bengal and in the Decan, we find the Country infinitely injured, and the Treasures and revenues both of the Company and the subordinate powers wasted and decayed. (Corr. 4:346)

In this complex passage, Burke seeks to find both moral and political improvement for the people (‘Inhabitants’) at this moment of ‘revolution’, and some compatibility with the commercial aims of the East India Company and the incipient empire; the company being in the process of moving its alliances around the strategic chessboard of the subcontinent, in contrast to the alleged absent-mindedness of empire that would later be wrongly attributed to this expansion. The passage echoes his idea that the benefit to India and Britain must be mutual. The suggestion of a higher moral concern for the improvement of the inhabitants’ condition seems to be undercut by the subsequent concern for benefits to Britain. It is a vacillation between these two modes that will repeat itself even in his later speeches at the impeachment, as Burke begins his critique of the East India Company by, firstly, noting the failures of the Company as a commercial enterprise and then later moving to his moral and political critique of Hastings. It reveals his conflicted desire that government should serve the interests of the governed, even in a context where their sovereignty is subordinated to that of Britain. We therefore give the last word to Burke over Broome, for at least he more openly worked through the insuperable contradictions of an imperial project in the making – and this already in 1781. Empire’s future The sympathy with cultural difference which Burke evinces in contrast with ‘liberal’ writers such as Mill father and son, Jeremy Bentham and Macaulay is one implication of Uday Mehta’s Liberalism and Empire, a key modern critical work which has revived interest in Burke’s India writings (Mehta 1999). Written after an earlier study he wrote of John Locke, who remains a touchstone for comparison, Mehta explores the contradiction that many liberal thinkers were active or passive advocates of empire while Burke, an allegedly conservative thinker, was critical of it. Mehta examines the role of the unfamiliar and the strange within liberal thought to show how it lacked the ability to grapple with these qualities other than by ignoring them or restating the familiar in rational terms, as defined by its own parameters. Drawing on H. G. Gadamer’s idea of prejudice to explicate Burke’s notion of custom, he illustrates how both of these are crucial to understanding how humans make a dwelling for themselves or feel ‘at home’ – the resonances with Heidegger reveal Gadamer’s debt to that thinker (Gadamer 1984). Mehta tries to show that Burke does not require a pre-given

The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Imperial Ideas Relating to India   183 understanding of a rational framework. However, his main point has more to do with the absence of a teleological structure underlying Burke’s thought: a telos to do with the ‘future’ of empire.21 Burke, unlike liberal thinkers, was able to admit the possibility that if there was no necessity that India was comprehensible and governable by British law, then it would be a genuine possibility that it ought not to be governed by British law.22 In other words, there was not a pre-given requirement or assumption that Britain could govern India rationally, or more effectively. Liberalism, Mehta argues, had an impoverished notion of experience, and it was this which it replaced with abstract reason in its effort to understand the colonies (Mehta 1999, 23). Mehta’s critique concerning abstract reason seems true not merely of British liberalism, I would add, but also of radical aspects of the French Enlightenment. The primary difference between Burke and the variety of liberal thought of which Mehta is critical is the following: Burke was able to see a pre-existing community, which implied a set of habits which were inherited. Unlike a liberal, Lockean view of the subject, whose bounds were isomorphic with those of the self, Burke discerned a pre-existing order into which a person was born, and therefore saw that these affiliations might be involuntary. By contrast, a liberal view saw all in terms of voluntary affiliation. Moreover, for liberal thinkers of this strand, freedom was something granted to the colony after a period of tutelage, in the future – it was promissory. For Burke, by contrast, political society was something that already existed and was not a deferred element (Mehta 1999, 161). I will explain shortly why I differ from this interpretation of Burke at certain key points, but it is one of the most compelling readings of Burke as a political thinker, profoundly sympathetic to a complex political figure often reduced to a counter-revolutionary straw man. In my view, what makes Burke’s thought with regard to empire interesting is the range of areas he brings together or concatenates, as the oft-cited line from Yeats, highlighted by Conor Cruise O’Brien, illustrates: ‘American colonies, Ireland, France and India / Harried, and Burke’s great melody against it’.23 Even that line presents a puzzle for us to disentangle, since America and India represented two species of colonialism in his day: settler-colonialism and what became a ‘company empire’. France fits this puzzle, too, given the way in which he described this type of ‘conquest’ by the Jacobins as akin to a colonial 21

There is an affinity here between Mehta’s project and that which Ranajit Guha outlined in Guha (1998) and developed in Guha (2002). 22 See his speech on Fox’s East India Bill: ‘I must beg leave to observe, that if we are not able to contrive some method of governing India well, which will not of necessity become the means of governing Great Britain ill, a ground is laid for their eternal separation; but none for sacrificing the people of that country to our constitution’. Burke, however, does continue this line with a different turn of thought: ‘I am however far from being persuaded that any such incompatibility of interest does at all exist. On the contrary I am certain that every means, effectual to preserve India from oppression, is a guard to preserve the British constitution from its worst corruption’ (Writings and Speeches, 5:383). 23 From ‘The Seven Sages’ in Yeats (1989, 241), from which Conor Cruise O’Brien derived the title of his biography of Burke (O’Brien 1993).

184   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe situation. The underlying analogy in his quip is that the Jacobins sought to make ‘colonies of the rights of men’ of its populace – a very odd conjoining of the pejorative aspects of colonial settlement with the ‘rights of man’.24 But Burke was often able to identify and name a series of contradictions in the professed aims of the East India Company which seem to have been forgotten or repressed by many writers and public figures of the early nineteenth century. At his pithiest, he declaimed that the Company was a ‘State in disguise of a Merchant, a great public office in disguise of a Countinghouse’ (Writings and Speeches, 6:283).25 India became a place of unhealthy and dangerous inversions, which he expressed in various ways: For in all other Countries, a political body that acts as a Commonwealth is first settled, and trade follows as a necessary consequence of the protection obtained by political power. But here the order was reversed. The Constitution of the Company began in commerce and ended in empire. (Writings and Speeches, 6: 283)

This distrust of the mercantile guise of the empire can be taken as one illustration of his distance from those who placed unwavering faith in commerce. Commerce or trade alone could not, for Burke, inaugurate a commonwealth. Burke often expresses his ambivalence with regard to this, though these aspects of his thought are very often overlooked. One of the most cited passages from the Reflections on the Revolution in France is the following: Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure – but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, callico or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. (Writings and Speeches, 8:146–47)

Why mention pepper, callico, etc.? These colonial commodities came to stand in for two things: they illustrate the liberal voluntarist idea of all relationships as contracts that one can break on a whim, as Mehta has observed, and they show Burke’s desire to preserve and arrogate for the state a higher legitimacy: one which Indianism, elsewhere understood as the contempt of law, undermined. A merely commercial relationship in this sacral arena would be anathema to Burke. These are, then, the geographic and spatial reasons to take an interest in Burke, following his thoughts as they traverse disparate domains.


‘Magistrates and collectors of revenue are now no longer acquainted with their districts, bishops with their dioceses, or curates with their parishes. These new colonies of the rights of men bear a strong resemblance to that sort of military colonies which Tacitus has observed upon in the declining policy of Rome’ (Reflections, in Writings and Speeches, 8:231). 25 Opening of Impeachment, 15 February 1788.

The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Imperial Ideas Relating to India   185 Burke’s productive contradictions A wealth of studies in the last few decades on Britain and India in the nineteenth century, including Gauri Viswanathan’s examination of the origins of literary study in India, make clear that a sea-change took place in the British public debate on empire soon after Burke. This is yet another reason to review his admittedly troubled and contradictory reflection on the ends of government in India. Yet it is far better to be unsettled, as Burke was, by the reported behaviour of East India Company officials than to displace the problem by means of a project of reforming and remaking the natives for their own improvement.26 To cite another scholarly work which makes an observation pertinent to this discussion of Burke’s insights, the historians Peter Cain and A. G. Hopkins also made reference to the problematic exclusion of the empire in their influential study of the role of ‘gentlemanly capitalists’: ‘The empire as a whole … does not feature systematically in the discussion, and its role is often pared down to the point at which near-sighted observers might begin to doubt its existence.’27 By contrast, Burke’s voluminous writings and, even more manifestly, his geographic and spatial vision give copious consideration to the dynamic and dangerous activities of an unregulated class of British East India Company officials. Further, one could not charge Burke with neglecting the pivotal roles of either North America or India; indeed, unlike the later prizing apart of these two domains, his thought and career involved both, and his speeches on America from the 1770s and then on India from the 1780s bear the imprint of the range of his experience. This does not require that we ‘exculpate’ Burke from the project of extraction that clearly formed part of the original imperative to govern and subordinate Indian territory, that is, by the ‘drain of wealth’ theory, a notion introduced by Burke himself and given renewed attention in its reiteration by Dadabhai Naoroji (1825–1917).28 We must note the unavoidable yet productive contradictions in his writings on empire and conquest, and also acknowledge that these played a decisive role in giving shape to his writings on France which are his most widely known corpus. 26

See the discussion of this dynamic with regards to education in Viswanathan (1989, 26–28). 27 ‘Prospective: Aristocracy, Finance and Empire, 1688–1850’ in Marshall (ed.) (2003, 375). For the original, see Cain and Hopkins (1993). 28 See Naoroji (1901). One source in Burke for this is the lengthy ‘Ninth Report of Select Committee, 25 June 1783’ (Writings and Speeches, 5:194–333). ‘But at, or very soon after, the Acquisition of the Territorial Revenues to the English Company … a very great Revolution took place in Commerce as well as in Dominion … From that Time Bullion was no longer regularly exported by the English East India Company to Bengal, or any part of Hindustan … A new Way of supplying the Market of Europe by means of the British Power and Influence, was invented; a Species of Trade (if such it may be called) by which it is absolutely impossible that India should not be radically and irretrievably ruined …’ (5:223). A few pages later, he writes: ‘Three foreign Companies appear at First Sight to bring their contribution of Trade to the Supply of this Drain’ (5:226, my emphasis).

186   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe I suggest that one ought to interpret Burke’s ‘fears’ about empire alongside, rather than separately from, his fears about the emergence of a new Europe as represented by the Jacobins and the French Revolution. In this sense, we can adjoin to the work of historians of political thought the insights of those writers associated with postcolonial thought, such as Dipesh Chakrabarty’s remark in Provincializing Europe that the various spaces of non-Europe were assigned to ‘the waiting room of history’.29 What I mean by invoking this thought is that attending closely to Burke’s writing on these multiple geographic spaces allows us to dismiss the diffusionist accounts of new modes of thought, whereby an irruption – whether economic or technological – is said to occur in Europe and then ripple outwards with concentric, delayed ramifications in various colonial peripheries.30 This ‘colonial lag time’ can easily be shown to be a retrospective fiction if one perceives the many ways in which the characteristic features of revolutionary frames of mind, saliently displayed in Burke’s description of France, are already present in his description (or even repetition?) of the colonial frames of mind he diagnosed in the East India Company in India.31 If we accept this point – that the terms used to describe the emergence of revolutionary modes of thought are embedded in the colonial as well as the metropolitan European space – then we need to redefine how we understand the ‘colonial question’ to operate in Burke. If one rejects Burke’s treatment of France, America and India as discrete concerns, one can reveal how he maps one location onto another. Many critics have noted how his ‘cosmopolitan sympathy’ (not his term) enabled him to render the ‘strange’ and different space of India more familiar, as with his reference to Germany in the Speech on Fox’s East India Bill: If I were to take the whole aggregate of our possessions there, I should compare it, as the nearest parallel I can find, with the empire of Germany. Our immediate possessions I should compare with the Austrian dominions, and they would not suffer the comparison. The Nabob of Oude [Awadh] might stand for the king of Prussia… It is an empire of this extent, of this complicated nature, of this dignity and importance, that I have compared to Germany, and the German government; not for an exact resemblance, but as a sort of middle term, by which India might be approximated to our understandings, and if possible to our feelings; in order to awaken something of sympathy for the unfortunate natives, of which I am afraid we are not perfectly susceptible, whilst we look at this very remote object through a false and cloudy medium. (Writings and Speeches, 5:390)

This passage is commented on frequently for Burke’s use of the notion of a ‘middle term’ to bring the listener closer to the object; in other words, using the analogy with Germany to explain India, or for a visual evocation of the 29 ‘Historicism

– and even the modern, European idea of history…came to non-European peoples in the 19th century as somebody’s way of saying “not yet” to somebody else’ (Chakrabarty 2000, 8–9). 30 For one discussion of this, see Sudipta Kaviraj (2005). 31 See Sunil M. Agnani (2013).

The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Imperial Ideas Relating to India   187 terrain. But the opposite movement – understanding Europe through the colonial – appears to underlie his description of France through the notion of ‘geometric reason’: It is impossible not to observe, that in the spirit of this geometrical distribution, and arithmetical arrangement, these pretended citizens treat France exactly like a country of conquest. Acting as conquerors, they have imitated the policy of the harshest of that harsh race. (Writings and Speeches, 8:230)

Burke means something quite specific here and even distinguishes between geometric and arithmetic reason. The latter can be more easily linked with Burke’s fear of the ‘tyranny of number’, his fear of democracy being understood as numerical predominance. Few now have an interest in defending this idea, although it was certainly common in his time and persisted through the nineteenth century as a widespread view; but the other notion, of geometric reason, finds an affinity with later, critiques of Enlightenment reason as shorn from context, as abstract reason, resembling instrumental reason as explored by Adorno and Horkheimer in The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1994). Consider Burke’s description of how reason operates when not located in place and space. What he presents is a picture of a vulnerable subject, eviscerated of particular characteristics that might otherwise help to define his or her beingin-the-world, to use phenomenological vocabulary, or the passions and affects that give flesh to the instinctive responses and habits that animate a subject within an inherited tradition. He writes: In this enlightened age I am bold enough to confess, that we are generally men of untaught feelings … Many of our men of speculation, instead of exploding general prejudices, employ their sagacity to discover the latent wisdom which prevails in them. If they find what they seek, and they seldom fail, they think it more wise to continue the prejudice, with the reason involved, than to cast away the coat of prejudice, and to leave nothing but the naked reason; because prejudice, with its reason, has a motive to give action to that reason, and an affection which will give it permanence. (Writings and Speeches, 8:138)

Burke appears here to use ‘enlightenment’ ironically, emphasizing selfreflection, preferring ‘untaught feelings’ to ‘naked reason’. There are, historically, good grounds for being suspicious of this view, which valorizes the ‘rust of antiquity’ – Mary Wollstonecraft’s jibe against Burke (Wollstonecraft 1997, 38). That countervailing perspective emphasizes the role of individual choice, maintaining a critical view of inherited political institutions such as monarchy or parliament and also of individual practices which we would today regard as ‘cultural’. To return to the colonial question in Burke, he was averse to remaking the individual subject, even to the point of using his notion of ‘prejudice’ and defending its role in the formation of habit. It was for this reason that so many of the cavalier arguments put forth by the East India Company lacked any persuasive power to him. In fact, he saw in the lack of regard for native culture displayed by young East India Company officials something similar to the rejection of tradition by Jacobins – hence the significance of his coupling Indianism and Jacobinism. Analogically, these

188   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe young East India Company officials were like Revolutionaries in France in their radical neglect and contempt for existing laws and practice. Burke was a sharp observer, too, when those same officials could purport to blend in with native practice in order to cover over crimes or illegality. The most rhetorically powerful and amusing example of this is the bon mot he tossed at Hastings, who made such a defence of his actions in the proceedings of the trial. Burke’s mocking reply unmasked the self-interested use of ‘culture’ in this case by invoking a higher morality, and perhaps also a higher legality, which laid a fraught claim to justice within empire: But he [Hastings] has told your Lordships in his defence, that actions in Asia do not bear the same moral qualities as the same actions would bear in Europe … And having stated at large what he means by saying that the same actions have not the same qualities in Asia and in Europe, we are to let your Lordships know that these Gentlemen have formed a plan of Geographical morality, by which the duties of men … are not to be governed by their relation to the Great Governor of the Universe … but by climates, degrees of longitude … as if, when you have crossed the equinoctial line all the virtues die. (Writings and Speeches, 6:346)

In this image of a shifting and variable morality, altering with the longitude, he made risible the claim that the politically subordinate colonial space was one of lawlessness, instead recalling the centuries of ‘mohammedan law’ which many commentators see as parallel to his argument concerning the ‘ancient constitution’ in Britain.32 We can juxtapose that remark with one he made earlier in his career when more preoccupied with America. Here, notwithstanding Raynal’s use of the expression (1780),33 it is often overlooked how interlaced were Burke’s thoughts on the two Indies – on the waxing influence of the colonies of the Old World and the Orient and the waning influence of those in North America. Burke presents us with a picture of a ‘diversified mass’ of people within the empire, and reaffirms his commitment to practice over theory: Instead of troubling our understandings with speculations concerning the unity of empire, and the identity or distinction of legislative powers, and inflaming our passions with the heat and pride of controversy, it was our duty … to conform our Government to the character and circumstances of the several people who composed this mighty and strangely diversified mass. I never was wild enough to conceive, that one method would serve for the whole; I could never conceive that the natives of Hindostan and those of Virginia could be ordered in the same manner, or that the Cutchery court and the grand jury of Salem could be regulated on a similar plan. I was persuaded that Government was a practical thing, made for the happiness of mankind, and not to furnish out a spectacle of uniformity, to gratify the schemes of visionary politicians. Our business was to rule, not to wrangle; and 32

For the discussion of Mahometan (Islamic) law see Writings and Speeches, 6:353. He also discusses ‘Gentoo Laws’ (6:365), with a view to refuting the claim from Hastings that the region was already governed according to ‘arbitrary’ power and law. 33 A modern critical edition is underway; vol. 1 has been published (Raynal 2010).

The Reception of Edmund Burke’s Imperial Ideas Relating to India   189 it would have been a poor compensation that we had triumphed in a dispute, whilst we lost an empire. (Writings and Speeches, 3:316–17)34

The practical matter is to rule, and not to dispute or theorize what common code links these disparate spaces. In these moves from America to India, from Virginia to Hindustan, we see the conceptual limits of Burke’s language applied with difficulty to two fundamentally different colonial spaces. The tensions reflect a degree of unease, perhaps an unconscious expression of an Anglo-American settler colonialism in the American colonies; resulting on the one hand in reluctant claims for sovereignty though culminating in a revolution, provoked by unjust taxation, etc.; as opposed on the other hand to the expansionist aims of the East India Company as it displaced petty kingdoms, or princely states, and gradually garnered a large region and populace effectively under its rule. Are there new ways of interpreting this set of interests? One closing set of thoughts on this subject, given the ‘global frame’ that I suggested we use for a reception of Burke, would be to suture together the ‘great map of mankind’ which he had before his view: But now the Great Map of Mankind is unrolld at once; and there is no state or Gradation of barbarism, and no mode of refinement which we have not at the same instant under our View. The very different Civility of Europe and China; The barbarism of Persia and Abyssinia. The erratick manners of Tartary, and of arabia. The Savage State of North America, and of New Zealand. (Corr. 3:351)35

A study of the reception of these ideas, and as they occur in the wider discourse, would focus on the function of the savage, nomad, or barbarian and by contrast establish the notion of the civilized dweller of a polis. Indian antiquity – in its Persianate, Sanskritic forms and in Mughal courtly culture – was clearly visible to Burke, if not to many of his peers, as a set of cultural institutions that provided vital orientation to a society; he could thus speak without hesitation on their behalf, as he strikingly put it to Mary Palmer, the niece of Joshua Reynolds, who had written to him about the trial: … in India affairs, I have not acted at all with any party from the beginning to the End… I began this India Business in the administration of Lord North to which in all its periods [I was] in direct opposition… I have no party in this Business, my dear Miss Palmer, but among a set of people, who have none of your Lilies and Roses in their faces; but who are the image of the great Pattern as well as you and I. I know what I am doing; whether the white people like it or not. (Corr. 5:255)36

That Burke we must recall when reductive readers write him off as a one-dimensional Francophobic reactionary. Here, he became self-aware


Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, on the Affairs of America [April 3 1777]. To Dr William Robertson [9 June 1777]. It is from this that Marshall and Williams (1982) draw their title. 36 To Miss Mary Palmer [19 January 1786]. 35

190   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe enough to proclaim what is usually a normative assumption in the period, a false universal to which he is drawing attention (‘whiteness’). But we must also simultaneously bear in mind the notion of antiquity that did not allow him to see nomadic peoples and tribal cultures as worthy of consideration – something which, for example, Diderot had seen.37 Nor should we ignore the fact that his fear of Jacobinism meant he perceived in the revolution of St Domingue, the important French Caribbean sugar colony, later Haiti, only a ‘cannibal republick’ rather than an expression of ‘freeborn Africans’, demonstrating an innate commitment to sovereignty.38 To clarify: Burke’s view of the American revolutionaries was quite sympathetic, and at one point he describes them even as a species of freeborn Englishmen only expressing what comes naturally to them: a love of freedom.39 Others were, we must concede, able to discern the more universal claims to liberty that the Haitian revolutionaries sought in their complex dialogue with multiple sources, including Enlightenment ideas from France. Sympathy for one (America and, at times, India); fear of the other (St Domingue/Haiti): a more global reception of Burke will have to wrestle uncomfortably with both facets of this profoundly important and contradictory Anglo-Irish figure, one whose intellectual impasses we can see beyond only because of the benefit of hindsight. Thinking with and through Burke’s dilemmas should also chasten us, prompting us to reflect on what remains unexamined in our political and social visions of the globe (and globalization) in the present.


To clarify, the nomadic peoples of the New World often served as a contrast to Oriental scribal and literate antiquity for Burke, e.g. when he introduced and defended the function of Islamic or ‘Mohametan law’ in India by prefacing his remark with the statement that this ‘multitude of men does not consist of an abject and barbarous populace; much less of gangs of savages, like the Guaranies and Chiquitos, who wander on the waste borders of the River of Amazons or the Plate…’ (Writings and Speeches, 5:389), Speech on Fox’s East India Bill. 38 See Chapter 5 (a), ‘Reflections on the Revolution in St. Domingue/Haiti’, in Agnani (2013, 133–61). 39 ‘In this Character of the Americans, a love of Freedom is the predominating feature … This fierce spirit of Liberty is stronger in the English Colonies probably than in any other people of the Earth … The people of the Colonies are descendants of Englishmen. The Colonists emigrated from you, when this part of your character was most predominant … They are therefore not only devoted to Liberty, but to Liberty according to English ideas, and on English principles. Abstract liberty is not to be found’ (Writings and Speeches, 3:120), from ‘Speech on Conciliation with America’.


Did an Edinburgh Debate on Taste Delay Response to Burke? Peter Jones

Yes, and the reasons are to be found in the precise contexts of the discussions because, in all the arts and crafts and all the professions and callings, identification of contexts is central to discerning what happens, and why. Only by establishing what routes writers believe they have already travelled can one understand the directions they subsequently take. To identify pre-suppositions is both an historical and a logical enquiry; but to identify the examples actually available, tacitly assumed or eventually cited to support a view, requires challengeable interpretations of how those examples were regarded in contexts very different from our own. What counts as a legitimate question, and as a proper way of answering it, differs greatly across time and place. Problems, like the concepts in terms of which they are formulated, have histories, evolve and become obsolescent. In 1755, the Edinburgh Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Sciences, Manufactures, and Agriculture proposed a medal for ‘the best essay on taste’: in fact, they did not award the medal until the following year, when they gave it to Alexander Gerard, Professor of Philosophy at Aberdeen. The driving force of the discussion society was Allan Ramsay, a widely respected and successful scholar and portrait painter, who later became the Royal portrait painter in London; other founding members were David Hume, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, Lord Kames and William Robertson. Ramsay, Hume, Smith and Kames all published their own views on taste before or shortly after Gerard published his revised prize essay in 1759.1 Gerard had read most of his book to his Aberdeen colleagues in 1758 and 1759 and many of them immediately responded. John Gregory, Thomas Reid and George Campbell all published their 1758 papers, as did James Beattie his 1762 paper, variously updated with 1

Allan Ramsay, Dialogue on Taste, The Investigator, 322 (1755); David Hume, ‘Of the Standard of Taste’, in Four Dissertations (1757); Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1976 [1759]); Henry Home, Lord Kames, Elements of Criticism (1762); Alexander Gerard, An Essay on Taste (1759).

192   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe allusions to other authors if appropriate. Adam Ferguson had incorporated his own views in his lectures published in 1767.2 Gregory, who had been Professor of Medicine, refers to both La Mettrie and Stahl on considering uniting ‘the philosophy of the Human Mind, with that of the Human Body’ (1765, 6), a view that might have appealed to Burke. But in the early 1760s, the Scottish debates about taste dropped out of fashion and thereafter almost no one knew anything about them. Scotland was geographically isolated from both London and the continent, and first-hand knowledge of the arts was, by later standards, limited.3 Hume and Smith only lived in France in the mid-1760s, where they experienced the unrivalled luxuries of Paris. Only Ramsay had lived in Italy (1736–38, 1754–57, and 1775–77) or for any extended period in London; Ferguson travelled to both the continent and America much later. In essence, Scotland was a land still dominated by dour Calvinist bans on personal pleasures or displays, in which the wealth discernible in London or Paris was unimaginable. In the 1760s, there were only five or six collectors in the whole of Scotland of what, today, we would call works of art: that is, paintings, sculptures, antiquities and furniture.4 Apart from folk singing and dances, all music took place in private music societies, membership of which was limited to performers who were required to play regularly. Reflection on matters of taste was almost inevitably restricted to writings, and Hume took the term ‘literature’ to mean, primarily, history and philosophy, and only subordinately poetry and drama. By contrast, and as a land owner, Kames was keen to discuss both architecture and gardening, and Smith, Gregory and Gerard all tried to comment seriously on painting and music. Most of the Scottish disputants knew of Burke’s Enquiry, at least by means of the 1757 reviews, if not ownership.5 They were not primarily interested in the sublime,6 however, but in the topic of taste and the nature of human responses to, and judgements about, works of art, which Burke addressed only briefly in his prefatory ‘Introduction on taste’ in the second edition of 1759. None of them focused in any detail on Burke’s text. When in 1784 and 1785, after election as Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow, Burke visited Scotland for the first time, and met many of the leading lights including Adam Smith and Thomas Reid no one raised the earlier discussions.7 But Burke’s 2 3

4 5

6 7

Ulman (1990); Gregory (1765); Campbell (1776); Beattie (1776); Reid (1785); Ferguson (1767). In 1755 the population of Scotland, at almost one million, was roughly the same as that of London. Edinburgh was a walled, medieval, 150-acre town of 55,000 inhabitants, four times larger than any other Scottish town, and up to a month’s travelling distance by boat from London. See Pears (1988); Holloway (1989). The reviews appeared in: The London Chronicle, or Universal Evening Post, 1:556–58; 580–81; 595–96; 2: 26–27; 50–53; Critical Review: or Annals of Literature, 3:361–74; Monthly Review: or Literary Journal, 16:473–80. All subsequent references to Burke in this chapter are to Burke (1958). For Hume’s views on beauty and the sublime, mostly dating from 1739–42, see Jones (1982). See Lock (1998, 2006).

Did an Edinburgh Debate on Taste Delay Response to Burke?   193 Enquiry had appeared too late to influence Smith, Ramsay or Hume at that time, and although Gerard acknowledged it in 1759, he was mainly concerned to locate his views in the contexts of already established classical, French and English works. Kames was primarily interested in responding to Smith and Hume and, even if he is alluding to Burke, never names him in his own book of 1762. Like Burke, Gerard and Gregory were certainly interested in sensations, the latter exploring their role in music in ways which echoed lively discussion in France, but Reid had little interest in the topic and, at the time, seemed most concerned to combat Hume’s epistemology, which he seriously misunderstood, as Kant pointed out. Hugh Blair borrowed from Burke in his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, delivered from 1760 onwards – but not published until 1783 – and, because those lectures were used in university rhetoric courses, they indirectly disseminated the views of Smith and Hume in America. But sustained Scottish philosophical responses to Burke did not occur until thirty years after their appearance, with, for example, Archibald Alison’s Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (1790). The view that emerged from the late 1750s among the leading Scottish thinkers was this: objective judgements are possible in all realms of experience and enquiry. As social beings, anchored in our own contexts, we all have to learn what counts as objectivity in different realms of enquiry, but whether we bother to learn depends largely on how important we think the context is. Hume and many others held that we can learn to make justifiable judgements about what is good – in art, for example – but that such judgements very often do not match our transient and personal likes. Although ‘taste’ functioned as an undefined metaphor in so many contexts, the important point was that there can be no argument about tastes, understood literally, because these refer to purely sensory events. There can and should be argument, however, about misleadingly labelled judgements-of-taste, because such judgements are not, contrary to appearances, merely reports of those sensory events. There are four other important features of the Edinburgh view: 1. Objective judgements must rest upon an account of the causal relations between work and observer by reference to the mental response of the observer to the work. 2. Attention must be given to the diverse contexts in which works are made and encountered, and to the consequences of such diversity for both our causal reactions and our mental responses. 3. Empiricists must emphasize that general principles can be legitimately formed only from particular cases; Burke explicitly endorsed this same view. But since no two particulars are identical, the scope and value of any principle or generalization are always justifiably challengeable. 4. Any tendency to impute theories to artists, or anyone else, where none existed, must be resisted: one source of this trend, detected by several artists and musicians, was the tyranny of the written text, which was indefensibly proclaimed as the model and zenith of artistic achievement. Debate about judgements of taste had raged in England since Joseph Addison’s essays in the Spectator of 1712, and had been further fuelled by Alexander

194   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Pope’s Epistle to Burlington (1731). Ramsay reflects on the influence of the socio-economic climate on fashion, and argues for a sharp distinction between feeling and judgement. He holds that what we take to be standards in our judgements are merely the effects of our ‘early education, and so early, that no man is able to remember its first establishment in his mind’ (1755, 22). Although cultural conditioning is contingent, it is curiously re-enforced by another feature: something initially neutral, or even mildly disagreeable, can become agreeable simply through habit. So, if habit is the main explanation of both original and changing fashion, neither initial nor later judgements can be credited with recognizing inherent qualities – a remark that Sir William Chambers, who knew Ramsay well, repeated in his A Treatise on the Decorative Part of Civil Architecture (1759, 54), albeit ascribing it to Gerard. ‘Afteradmiration’, as Ramsay calls it, resulting from familiarity, is commonplace not only in cookery, dress and furniture, ‘but also in things that are at first extremely nauseous and disagreeable, such as tobacco, coffee and other drugs’ (25). Burke discussed many of these issues explicitly. For Ramsay, so-called ‘good taste in architecture’ can be explained similarly by reference to custom; for both architect and cook, the ‘rules are plainly no more than the analysis of certain things which custom rendered agreeable’ (33): The fashions in building, tho’ more durable than those in dress, are not the less fashions, and are equally subject to change. But … we must have recourse to history for the knowledge of those changes, which we can learn but very imperfectly from our own proper experience (36).

Ramsay agrees with Hume that preferences based on first appearances rarely pass the test of time: we are often seduced by superficialities and fail to perceive subtleties or complexities or compare the present case with other examples. Burke entirely agreed. Did the disputants think it mattered whether we settle discussions about taste? Their view was that the behaviour of others matters to us on some occasions more than others: it especially matters if the metaphor of ‘taste’ has disguised an essential distinction between ‘reaction’ and ‘response’, or feeling and judgement. We are often interested in our sensations, their intensity, their duration and their causes: but ‘responses’ are directed at or to something, and they therefore involve the mind. Hume holds that discussions of matters of taste require us to examine both the physical causes of pleasurable sensations, and the thoughts of both the maker and the spectator. That is because works of art are not accidents, but are made intentionally by fellow human beings, for certain purposes, in certain contexts, using their minds and their skills to the utmost – they here resemble any other human activity: sometimes we may need to examine many aspects of the context in order to establish the nature of an achievement. Thought, judgement and the engagement of the mind are necessarily involved in such enquiry, and questions of meaning necessarily arise, at least twice, in connection with both the process and the product: for the agent may mean something by doing what he does, and the result itself may carry meaning. And, of course, there can be no meaning without interpretation, nor any estimate of value: value and meaning are not sensory

Did an Edinburgh Debate on Taste Delay Response to Burke?   195 properties. On this last point Smith completely changed his mind in the decade after his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, delivered in the late 1740s but published only in 1761. He originally held that ‘the fine arts, matters of taste and imagination … require little labour’ (1983, 55), and he placed the onus exclusively on the artist to engage, inform, entertain and instruct. By 1759, and his Moral Sentiments, he acknowledged the importance of a spectator correctly identifying the context and intention of the artist, and of comparing them with his own context of response.8 Hume and his friends believed that the foundations of all practices lie in the acquisition of learned skills, practised, challenged and modified over time in the public arena of comparative judgements made by those qualified to judge. Not everyone is qualified to judge, and few candidates ever achieve the highest standards attainable in their chosen fields. But all of us have to learn what the standards are in any given field, and we are taught by experts: Burke’s ‘marble polisher’ (22). We are not qualified to judge by ourselves until we have proved ourselves over time by means of discriminating perception and rational discussion; only then are we entitled to modify the existing repertoire of judgements, and seek endorsement from our peers. Are there no occasions for someone to express ‘a purely personal opinion’ and ‘a mere matter of taste’? Certainly, but they are rarely of interest to anyone else: reports of likes, as Ramsay declared, are about private biographies inaccessible to others, discussions of merit are about public achievements. What were the larger contexts into which these views fitted, anchored as they were in explicit epistemological tenets which Burke overtly sought to side-step in his own claims about beauty and the sublime? Almost all writers in the eighteenth century were deeply anchored in the traditions of Ciceronian rhetoric, which emphasized attention to the different and changing contexts in which communication was to be attempted. This meant that two unavoidable questions arose on every single occasion: ‘What to tell?’ and ‘How to sell?’ Moreover, whether writers saw themselves as engaged in broadly public communication, or in a more specialized pedagogical enterprise, they accepted that human beings do not orchestrate their lives around disengaged thought. In other words, from Aristotle and Cicero to Hume, from Montaigne to Diderot, thought is to be undertaken in the service of action, not the other way round. This view fuelled anxiety about the passivity which seemed to be spreading throughout society. Being seduced by art was becoming one of the pleasurable anxieties affordable to the newly leisured bourgeois. That is why one question obsessed every non-practising spectator from the early 1700s onwards: the question ‘How should I behave?’ or, more explicitly, ‘What should I think?’ and ‘What should I say?’ Since the moral domain covered both thought and action, the behaviour of both artist and audience fell within it: producer, programme, process and product were all candidates for moral engagement and assessment. In the moral domain, human agency is central, and agency itself was accepted as a form of communication: whatever one did could convey something to somebody. Phrases such as ‘the 8

For Smith’s views, see Jones (1992).

196   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe language of gesture’ and ‘the language of dress’ were commonplace. But within the moral domain, however, the central challenge of casuistry would never go away: what are the relations between particular cases and general principles? Until the nineteenth century, however, only the middle and upper classes in great cities had opportunities for personal experience of such pleasures as public concerts, exhibitions and the new invention of museums; elsewhere, they could only be read about, and that factor itself distorted the nature of both response and discussion: texts dominated contexts, and talk was substituted for thought. Remarkably, several French writers predicted these dangers more than fifty years earlier: Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle (1688); Claude Perrault in his notes to his two editions of Vitruvius (1673/84) and his essay on architectural orders (1683); Abbé Dubos (1719); and their British acquaintances such as the third Earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper) and Addison, most of whom greatly admired Locke, and sensed trouble ahead. It is notable that few philosophers, painters or poets heralded as aesthetic such aspects of poorer people’s lives as the form, medium, colour, texture or arrangement of their clothes, utensils, living conditions or gardens: none of these could be readily conceived as ‘texts’ with ‘meaning’. Two major factors combined to distort developments: in order to assert their social superiority over mere doers, and to disguise the fact that their amateur skills could no longer match the professional expertise increasingly demanded and rewarded, the new chattering classes inevitably exaggerated the importance of talk. Practitioners themselves soon abandoned hopes of instructing their potential audiences in anything regarded as technical, and critics followed them, concentrating on the emotional effects on audiences. Even before he published his views on criticism and connoisseurship in his Two Discourses (1719), Jonathan Richardson had been trying to persuade people that looking at paintings was a learnable skill, but by the 1760s John Gregory’s resigned complaint was commonplace: if we ‘cannot teach people to think and to feel’ we can at least ‘teach them what to say’ (1765: 168), and a good way to retain their interest was to encourage them to talk about themselves: ‘Tell me what you feel about it’. Talk about responses to the arts was intended to re-direct attention back to the works themselves: but it did the opposite. Criticism and theory became autonomous, and critics were comfortably transformed from being dispensable intermediaries into indispensable oracles. At musical performances, audiences rarely knew the names of the composers. Since at least the time of Locke, British philosophers had insisted that learning is at the centre of our socialization as human beings. Only from other people can we learn about the practices, attitudes and beliefs transmitted from one generation to another – in brief, about our culture: that was always one goal of formal apprenticeships. Learning about communication, an anchor of society, requires recognition that there can be expression only when there is both content and skill: something to express and the command to achieve it; Gerard made just this point (1759, 175–76). Moreover, skill is a necessary condition of merit, and knowledge of the inherited traditions is necessary for any justifiable departure from them. Contrary to the propaganda trumpeted from the 1770s onwards, no one, not even artists, can afford to be ignorant of what fellow practitioners have done, because the works of rivals and ancestors provide

Did an Edinburgh Debate on Taste Delay Response to Burke?   197 the conditions of both understanding and merit. To apprehend anyone else’s achievement requires us to use our minds. In the presence of a possible human artefact, attempting to answer several questions helps us decide precisely what it is: who made it, for whom, how, when, why, where, of what? By providing us with perceptual co-ordinates, answers to such questions help us to place the thing in one or more contexts. But, as mentioned above, meaning and value cannot themselves be sensorily perceived: they require thought and interpretation. The concentrated attention demanded by complex human achievements is sometimes said to necessarily detach them from their contexts, just as absorption excludes distraction, but the judgements formulated on the basis of close attention are syntheses of many processes, and must not disregard the contexts in which the achievements are embedded. Salient features of the Edinburgh position are, perhaps over-concisely, embodied in Hume’s essay ‘Of the standard of taste’ (Jones 1982; 2009). A majority of his conclusions come from Dubos’s Réflexions Critiques of 1719, albeit he rejected the Abbé’s Cartesian assumptions. Ramsay had offered a sociological explanation of changes in taste, but Hume, Smith and Kames all aimed to ground that view by seeking explanations in human nature. They held that our sensory reactions to a work must be transformed into a mind-guided interaction: judgement about or response to a work calls for self-conscious attention and the fullest engagement of our intelligence. An approximation to the original context is a first condition of discerning what has been achieved; moreover, practice in sharpening our perception is necessary to identify the unique character of the object, and comparison to establish the categories it belongs to: these are the philosophical tasks of individuation and identity. Judgement of a work, Hume asserts, requires skills precisely parallel to those required for making it. Moreover, works must ‘have a sufficient unity to make them be comprehended’ (Hume 2000 [1748], sect. 3, p. 22). Whether such unity or structure is sometimes projected by the judge, or always displayed by the artist, he does not say, although in Dialogues concerning natural religion, also of 1757, he inclined to the former view. Although he stresses the need for intelligibility, Hume never discusses questions about the meaning of works of art, even though he was familiar with long-running battles over the interpretation of biblical and historical texts. Smith, after 1759, argues that our overriding concern in making critical judgements of art is with their meaning, although he fails to address the special characteristics of different mediums of art, apart from music. Thus, while he comes to appreciate expressive meaning in music and gesture, he is constantly drawn to the view that unless an art form can be regarded as a language or closely analogous to a language, it cannot have meaning. Hume’s overall position explains why he politely ignored Burke’s work: there was enough in common to do so, and a great deal of little relevance to the main topic. For Hume, in the broadest sense, works of art are pleasurable means of communication between human beings, and so the preconditions of effective communication apply to art as much as to other means. Those works which please us do so because of their particular properties; one task is to identify these causes in order to enable others to share in our enjoyment. Hogarth aside, notions of beauty and the sublime were associated more with people and nature than with works of art. Crucially, we cannot comprehend

198   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe a work of art merely by being in its presence, however. The mind must be actively involved. Just as inference beyond the present data is necessary for all factual reasoning, so interpretation is necessary to establish the meaning of what another person has done. Early in his Enquiry Burke asks who ‘would have been our surest guides’? He holds: artists have been too much occupied in the practice; the philosophers have done little, and what they have done, was mostly with a view to their own schemes and systems; and as for those called critics, they have generally sought the rule of the arts in the wrong place; they sought it among poems, pictures, engravings, statues and buildings. But art can never give the rules that make an art. (53–54)

It is true that few philosophers and critics writing on anything other than literature had either first-hand knowledge of any particular art form or medium, or the practical skills necessary for understanding the processes used in making them; and they often looked in the wrong places for the application and testing of ideas. Things did not improve over the decades. The travel writings of the musical historian Dr Charles Burney in the 1770s, for example, which are full of philosophical insights about taste and the various arts derived from his earlier studies, were ignored by his own contemporaries. And yet a century earlier, several painters and architects were proclaiming loudly that they had neither formulated any theories about their work nor sought to implement them: later, the Scottish thinkers, self-conscious about grounding their own reflections on empirical evidence, became increasingly hostile to the projection of theories by critics onto artists. Precisely what such theories were supposed to motivate, explain or illuminate invariably remained obscure. Hume held that a theory never motivated anyone: indeed, on his account of human nature and the inert character of reason, it could not. His deeper insight, however, was readily appropriated by his friend Smith: the search for intelligibility, which is itself an act of the understanding, inclines us to project on to events the influence of the understanding. We over-intellectualize our findings. In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, new opportunities for mere spectators – concert halls, museums and so on – required new modes of attention; audiences had to learn to listen, and learn to look. But to literary audiences, printed commentary about the non-verbal and the performing arts seemed more durable than the works themselves. The temporal character of wordless music lacked the fixity of painting or literature. Both Kant’s friend J.-G. Sulzer (1720–79), who translated Hume for him, and Charles Burney make this very point independently in 1776: To the reputation of a Theorist, indeed, longevity is insured by means of books, which become obsolete more slowly than musical compositions. Tradition only whispers, for a short time, the name and abilities of a mere Performer … whereas, a theory once committed to paper and established, lives, at least in libraries, as long as the language in which it was written. (Burney 1957 [1776–79]:1, 705.)9 9

Sulzer’s remarks occur in his articles ‘Architecture’, ‘Art’ and ‘Esquisse’ in the Supplément à L’Encyclopédie (1776–77).

Did an Edinburgh Debate on Taste Delay Response to Burke?   199 From at least the 1650s, it had been a central tenet of practising painters, architects and composers that appropriate responses to their works could justifiably not be detached from the general context in which they were made, and that critics who lacked first-hand know-how tended to substitute theory for practice, where no theory in fact existed. This often consisted in attributing pretentious intentions to the works, which then required clever deciphering by critics. Like Burke, Gregory deplored the failure of philosophers to cement ‘the natural union between philosophy and the fine arts, an union extremely necessary to their improvement’. He states: When Music, Dancing and Poetry, came to be considered as only subservient to pleasure, a higher degree of proficiency in them became necessary, and consequently a more severe application to each. This compleated their separation from one another, and occasioned their falling entirely into the hands of such Men as devoted their whole time to their cultivation. (1765, 107, 121)

Gregory held that when ‘music, dancing and poetry’ were encountered as constituent parts of much more complex events and processes, attention would neither typically nor justifiably be focused on them as isolable elements. Musical elements contribute in numerous ways to religious or other social ceremonies, along with many other elements such as food, dress and decoration. When any of these is singled out and becomes the sole focus of attention, audiences inevitably become aware of and demand higher standards of performance. Gregory holds that although ‘one end of music is to communicate pleasure’, ‘the far nobler and more important is to command the passions and move the heart’ (115). On occasion this required that ‘music should be subservient to the Poetry’. But Gregory lamented the fact that: Music, Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, have been left in the hands of ignorant artists unassisted by philosophy, or even an acquaintance with the works of great masters … It is the business of philosophy to analyse and ascertain the principles of every art where Taste is concerned; but this does not require a philosopher to be a master of the executive part of these arts or to be an inventor of them. (107)

This was a contentious point with which most of the Aberdeen group agreed – Gerard asserting that ‘they may judge, who cannot themselves perform’ (179) – but artists themselves entirely disagreed. Behind the Aberdeen view, of course, was a legacy of the ancient distinction between mere makers or doers, and thinkers. There is also allusion to Dubos’s advocacy of ‘the public’. Gregory believed that ‘the influence of Music over the Mind is perhaps greater than that of any of the Fine Arts’, but unfortunately discussion by ‘practical musicians themselves’ ‘has now become a Science scarcely understood by any but a few composers and performers’ (111–12). He thinks that when music ‘came to be considered as only subservient to pleasure, a higher degree of proficiency in them became necessary’ (121), accelerating professionalism: this in turn fosters public surrender to pretence, nowhere more obviously than among opera-goers in London, who understand not a

200   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe word of Italian, but ‘talk of it in raptures which their hearts never felt’ (130). Addison had canvassed such a view almost fifty years before in the context of Handel’s early operas in Italian. In addition to insisting on the important ends of commanding the passions, Gregory concedes that ‘distinct from the pleasure which the ear receives here from the Music, there is another which arises from the perception of the contrivance and ingenuity of the composer’ (148–49) the resulting enjoyment, however, is of ‘a more sober and sedate kind, which proves of longer duration’ (149). Gregory’s observation is crucial: from the 1740s onwards, the rapidly increasing non-performing public experienced and enjoyed music primarily as a circus act, and composers hastened to write music for virtuoso performances. Until then, music had most often been embedded in complex social processes, sometimes as background decoration, sometimes as foreground structure: encounters with music were primarily social, however singular the executant might be, and other activities would be going on (133). The social dimension crucially influenced what the composer wrote, how it was performed and how it was received. In this respect its roles resembled those played by painting, sculpture and architecture (or what alone counted as ‘architecture’, as distinct from mere building) in private or public, secular or religious contexts. Any of these works could function in different ways on different occasions, and be noticed and assessed accordingly. In the modern era almost everything surviving from, and encountered in, the mid eighteenth century by the authors and artists we are considering has been de-contextualized, albeit often re-contextualized in new ways. Throughout Europe, composers were admired as skilled craftsmen, able to produce on demand, and willing to satisfy both the connoisseur and amateur. Until at least the 1790s, the same kinds of melodies, harmonies and rhythms were used in all kinds of music, because the primary test for eighteenth-century music was its suitability, not originality. Composers were as concerned about immediate rhetorical impact as about harmonic experiment: the pragmatic need for entertainment embraced concern for the strengths and weaknesses of particular performers, and the tastes of known audiences. Composers composed because they needed to earn money, be of civic use, gain a reputation and secure a job – not primarily because they were inspired. There was little, if any, philosophical speculation. Charles Burney represents the un-Germanic view that theories are unnecessary obstacles which tend to perpetuate the assumption that music must be subservient to verbal texts; Stendhal later made a pertinent observation: ‘The German, who lives by theories, treats music as material for erudition’ (1956 [1824], 175n). Excellent performing techniques, of the kind Burney witnessed in Mannheim, for example, were in his view detachable from any theoretical commitments. If, as Gregory was inclined to do, thought had been given to opera, arguably the most complex of the performing arts, a number of other factors for consideration would have been recognized. Above all, the tyranny of the text in thought about the arts might have been weakened. Although Burke confessed that music ‘is an art in which I can say I have [not] any great skill’ (Enquiry, 123), he could have included opera in his reflections on sensations of

Did an Edinburgh Debate on Taste Delay Response to Burke?   201 sound and eloquence and conversation (part II, sects. xvii, xviii; part III, sects. xiv, xv, xxiv, xxv; part IV, sect. xi; part V, sects.v, vii). For fifty years up to the 1780s, opera was the most popular art form and the dominant musical form enjoyed by urban minorities in the major European cities, such as Naples, Rome, Venice, Dresden, Stuttgart, Vienna, Paris and London – but not in Scotland (Jones 2004). Some 10,000 operas were composed, although many were ‘the same ones’ under different names in different towns, sometimes with characters and voices reversed in order to use the resources available. They constituted the fabric of cultural experience for the educated elite. From the 1640s the musical forms of both opera seria and opera buffa had evolved quite quickly, away from the masques of the past, but often incorporating popular tunes. Apart from knowledgeable enthusiasts, however, like James Harris in London in the 1740s or Count Zinzendorf in Vienna in the 1780s,10 the majority of spectators only witnessed a work once: they cannot be said to have ‘known’ the works in ways we like to think appropriate today. Like the seasonal festival events from which they emerged, the opera season continued to be a complex social, political, cultural event; performances were enjoyed for exotic sets, enticing dresses, memorable tunes, dramatic stories, bravura singing and excitable audiences. There was, and still is, something for everyone. But every musical performance is ephemeral and vanishes with the night. How were they absorbed into mentalités? The question has much wider implications: all experience is evanescent, all acts of communication and thought. Can texts be adequate surrogates? For centuries, texts had been not only an anchorage for discussion, but they were often credited with special authority: plays were as often judged by their texts as by their performances, and paintings by the presumed texts they were taken to illustrate. The assumption insensibly evolved that discussions of texts might warrant a higher status than face-to-face encounters, and that if something could not be regarded as a text, discussion was futile. It is not surprising that, outside the special contexts of the guilds, sculptures and furniture, silver or leather work, jewellery, glass and mosaics were not considered as candidates for learned discussion, and only in self-consciously artificial contexts were architecture or music considered. Three principal reasons were cited for all this: first, the so-called crafts involved manual skills, not intellectual insight; second, existing, albeit unanalysed, notions of meaning and interpretation resisted application to works in these mediums, even when a stretched sense of ‘imitation’ or ‘representation’ was adopted; third, existing links between morality and ‘the fine arts’ seemed to disqualify works in all these other mediums from candidacy. By the 1750s, a debate had been raging for more than a century over whether music had to be attached to, or supported by, words if, in any way, it could be said to be intelligible or to have meaning– almost everyone assumed that the arts had meaning because they involved mimesis or representation.11 The debate echoed claims from at least the twelfth century that the 10 11

See Burrows and Dunhill (2002); Link (1998). Yet James Beattie insisted that ‘Music is not an imitative art’ (1776, 119–20).

202   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe representational or imitative character of painting might require verbal accompaniment to achieve its goals, and that if no narrative elements could be discerned, the work could probably be dismissed as merely decorative furniture. So, either music itself would have to be a language – which few then wanted to claim – or music could acquire meaning only when attached to a genuine language. A popular view emerged that music could enhance the force of linguistic meaning and vice-versa (Gregory 1765, 155). Adam Smith was still worrying about the possible meaninglessness of wordless music in the 1780s (Smith 1980 [1795]). Between 1702 and 1705 a debate occurred in France which resonated through Europe for another eighty years. François Raguenet argued that the superiority of Italian over French opera could be readily explained. More could be, and was, achieved in Italy because more was properly appreciated by informed audiences, surrounded as they were from infancy by music in which they participated in diverse ways.12 In France, by contrast, audiences are ‘mere spectators’ – that is, passive – and professional musicians never get beyond being ‘scholars’. Le Cerf de la Vieville, Seigneur de Freneuse, conceded that without attention there is no way of judging of things. One judges of them better by being accustomed to see others of their kind and even for having several times seen the things which are under discussion.13

He insisted that whilst the precepts which function in every craft have been formulated by the skilled masters of the relevant craft, on the basis of their experience, they have neither the authority nor certainty of law: mistakes occur. However, inward feeling is even less trustworthy as a criterion of merit, subject as it is to prejudice and false impressions. Freneuse’s solution is to define good taste as the correction of inner feeling: by reasoning from comparative judgements, one’s initial feelings are confirmed or challenged. The people – le public – consist of the multitude lacking special knowledge, reliant only on feeling as the warrant of their judgement; he agreed that the greater the unanimity of public response, the more faith can be placed in it. Versions of all these views, prominent in Dubos in 1719, remained common currency up into the 1780s, and emphasis on sustained acquaintance with works in any medium, preferably from an early age, became central in discussions of how to promote informed, reliable and justifiable judgement. When composers themselves, such as François Couperin and J. J. Quantz, were urged to set down their intentions, it became obvious that many terms prominent in discussion of music had changed meaning over the centuries, even in recent times: ‘harmony’, ‘melody’, ‘modulation’ and ‘symphony’, to name but a few. Views of musical notation and its interpretation had also changed, and continued to do so. Quantz wisely published his 1752 essay in both the lingua franca, French, and in German, which few outside

12 13

See Gregory (1765, 136, 147), acknowledging Brown (1763). Extracts from Raguenet (1702) and Freneuse (1704–05) in Strunk (1950, 473–88, 489–507); translations by Strunk.

Did an Edinburgh Debate on Taste Delay Response to Burke?   203 Germany knew. Echoing much older views, he insisted that ‘we should always pay particular attention to three points, namely, to the piece itself, to the performer, and to the listener’ (Strunk 1950, 581).14 Not everyone is equipped by knowledge, musical skill, or temperament to perform or to judge. Nevertheless, he insisted, in the now commonplace distinction, everyone has a right to say ‘It pleases me’, although not to say of a piece or performance that ‘It is worthless’ (Strunk, 582). He also insisted that wordless ‘instrumental music, quite as much as vocal music, should express certain passions, and transport the listener from one to another’, adding that a more enduring reward than sensory amusement was music which engages ‘musical understanding’: something ‘conducive to reflection’ by ‘the musical expert’, calling for reflection on precisely what, and how, something had been done (Strunk 1950, 583, 594). If writers could almost never predict in detail the contexts in which they would be read, nor do much about any diverse interpretations, composers confronted an even more challenging scenario: not only because they had to be aware of the multiple factors influencing the context of their performances, but also because every performance would be different. Even when they tried to make their intentions clear, they invariably found themselves hampered by the notational conventions of the time – endlessly debated ever since: what, indeed, could or should notation do? In these respects, musicians illustrated some of the basic tenets of classical rhetoric, and it was no accident that parallels between conversation and musical performance were commonplace by the seventeenth century, and throughout the eighteenth century. There was much discussion in the court of Frederick the Great at Sans Souci about the nature and limits of interpretation, with a majority favouring an author’s intentions as the criterion of authenticity. But how were these to be identified in the domain of music? In a musical ‘master-class’ today, pupils have to be qualified to attend; pupils demonstrate both capacities and understanding by performing the piece; the master may, at any point, stop a pupil and play or sing the passage himself. Crucially, pupils are expected (a) to detect differences between the two performances, and (b) to adjust their own in the light of what the master has shown, but not in imitation or replication of it. There is very little and often no verbal comment. There are obvious parallels with many other contexts in which someone is shown how to do something, from surgery to hedge cutting. What, then, are non-performers supposed to do, and what areas are they entitled and enabled to judge? Almost all the Scots philosophers at mid-century, except Hume, had some interest in music and, aside from such British favourites as Handel and Corelli, were familiar with works by Pergolesi, Astorga, Caldara and even Palestrina (Gregory 1765, 162; Johnson 1972). They were also familiar, as amateur performers themselves, with the practical writings of Geminiani, Brown and 14

For a fully annotated translation of Quantz’s German edition, and comparisons with the French edition, see Reilly (1966). It should be emphasized that only some 50 pages of the original 334 pages are devoted specifically to the flute. For a fully annotated translation of Couperin’s editions of 1716 and 1717, see Halford (1995).

204   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Avison (all cited by Gregory) as well as Couperin, Quantz and Rousseau. Most had seen an opera, presumably in London and, moreover, acknowledged differences between the arts. Gerard stated that: Painting requires a mechanical skill, produced by exercise: music a knowledge of the power of sounds, derived from experience: poetry and eloquence an acquaintance with all the force of words and instituted signs, an advantage which can be obtained only by careful study. (1759, 176)

He adds that a critic ‘must … possess that accuracy of discernment, which enables a person to reflect upon his feeling with distinctness, and to explain them to others’; ‘taste … supplies the facts, for which we are to account; and the experiments, from which our conclusions are to be deduced’ (181). Gerard, Gregory and others approached the issues of criticism with the conceptual tools of the empirical sciences of their day, however much these remained discoloured by inherited metaphysics and epistemology. Ramsay contrasts the 1750s with the recent past when ‘philosophy, still a stranger to experiment, continued to be only a less absurd sort of metaphysics’. By promoting experimental philosophy, he observes, the Royal Society had slowly challenged authority with fact, and after the Glorious Revolution ‘metaphysics, now no longer necessary in support of opinions that were now no longer useful in the acquisition of power and riches, sunk by degrees into contempt’ (1755, 62, 66). Ramsay, in a view barely distinguishable from Burke’s, had excited interest in the 1755 Edinburgh Society prize by his provocative claim that whatever has a rule or standard to which it may be referred, and is capable of comparison, is not the object of taste, but of reason and judgment … the proper objects of taste, or feeling, are such as are relative to the person only who is actuated by them, who is the sole judge whether those feelings be agreeable, or otherwise; and being informed of this simple fact from himself, no farther consequence can be drawn from it; neither does it admit of any dispute. (1755, 9)

He adds that if the question concerns something’s use, one can establish that one thing is comparatively better than another, because specific contexts are presupposed. The ‘accidental conjunction’ of words and an ‘original impression’ – that is, the particular contexts in which we learned the vocabulary, and the examples – inclines us to ‘form’ ‘a general system of beauty’. The issue is an ‘entirely practical’ matter of historical fact. Regrettably, non-practising spectators are misled by the apparent agreement among painters and sculptors about beauty, because the inescapable historical fact is that painters, sculptors and composers, always need to please their patron. There are no universal tastes or standards of taste. But, Ramsay concedes, ‘it is the nature of all fashions … to take their rise from the sovereign will and pleasure of the rich and powerful’ (1755, 28, 32, 34). We must study history to detect slow changes in fashion and their causes, and the differences between times, places and cultures: only historical enquiry can answer many of the dilemmas fabricated by ‘abstract reasoning’, or fostered by tyrants: ‘canon law to defend the worldly pretensions of church-men, and metaphysics to promote and defend their spiritual

Did an Edinburgh Debate on Taste Delay Response to Burke?   205 absurdities’. There is ‘no foundation in fact’ for any special ‘sense’ of the kind postulated by Hutcheson, Shaftesbury and Plato which enables us to evaluate objects (1755, 43, 44, 48). Ramsay insists that: ‘betwixt musick and painting there is no likeness at all; and I am to suspect that musick passes for the sister of poetry, rather from their being often seen in company, than from any resemblance they bear to each other’ (54). Music is an art, in the Renaissance, Latin sense, ‘so far as geometry is concerned in it’: but as the mathematical part of musick is totally unknown to 999 in a thousand of those who set up for connoisseurs in musick, including the performers, we may venture to say that it is, with regard to them, no art at all. These virtuosos, therefore, have nothing but their own taste, that is, their own private liking, to set up for a standard, or, what is little more mathematical, the liking which those of their club, city, or nation have acquired by habit, that is, by the daily repetition of a certain strain of music. (55)

Ramsay suggests at least four senses in which the notion of ‘taste’ is often used: the faculty of distinguishing things simply and without comparison; that which pleases simply; that which pleases by particular habit; that which pleases by general habit, or fashion (59). Cicero was ceaselessly quoted for lamenting that only by texts (letters) could he converse with friends and family at a distance. Since time immemorial, it was agreed that human beings do and should explore, communicate and exchange their thoughts by means of conversation. Smith constantly adverts to this fact, allowing him to locate our moral lives in a theatre of common life (Jones 2012). Families instruct their children from infancy in how to converse; students are trained in schools; professors are immersed in tomes on the subject. This is where music and conversation come together (Gregory 1765, 124). The distinctive feature of musical performance – even singing – up to the late 1770s was improvisation: all the great composers were famous for their extempore playing, and most of the still extant manuscript scores, often inaccurately copied by scribes, indicate where a player was expected to improvise. Moreover, as Couperin had insisted, it was essential for a player to understand the differences between appropriate ornaments, such as mordants, slides, accents, appogiaturas, trills, turns, slurs and suspensions, along with the fingering and phrasing needed to execute them. C. P. E Bach’s suggestions were only one set among many, albeit arguably the best.15 The requirements include skill in playing, a mnemonic repertoire on which to draw, intense concentration on the immediate past and present in order to judge what might be appropriate, and further judgement on when to stop or revert to course: constraint, not showmanship, defined propriety. Constant adaptation to a context which the player is changing, and intense attention to oscillation


Extracts from Bach (1753) in Strunk (1950, 609–15). For a fully annotated translation see Mitchell (1949). Bach covers all the points that follow, in Chapters 3, 6 and 7 on ‘Performance’, ‘Accompaniment’ and ‘Improvisation’ respectively.

206   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe between what has been done, what is being done and what might come – all characterize both musical and conversational performance. The constantly improvisatory performance of properly educated conversationalists is not only tailored to the context, but coloured by vocabulary and all the features of body language including gesture and posture – as well as by pace, pitch, volume, tone and rhythm – all musical requirements. What might follow? Conversation requires participation by all present, albeit appropriate participation might occasionally be silence: could it be that response to a musical performance itself required a performance of some kind, not the report of a private sensory event, resulting from non-participatory passivity? Attempts to textually stabilize the perpetual motion of thought lead to distortion and deception: books could forestall thought, as well as promote it, as Ephraim Chambers warned in his Cyclopaedia: or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (1728). The particularities, dynamics and fluctuations of thought and feeling cannot be frozen in texts: abstract distillations might be made, which others would have to interpret. In conversation, however, neither closure nor victory are goals, and thus exploration and revision, repetition and clarification, withdrawal and reversal, doubt and conviction can all be conveyed; and all invite response by participation. Everyone knows that meanings operate only contextually, with the same words conveying different messages in different contexts. Conversation can provide models and means of understanding to which texts, at best, can only approximate. Burke’s Enquiry, and certainly his later speaking experiences, harmonize with many of these ideas. Such thoughts were often opposed as being sceptical, subversive of theologically underwritten morality and thus of stable government. Promotion of such ideas proved an uphill task and, as earlier noted, John Gregory could no longer hide his own frustration: The bulk of Mankind are incapable of thinking or judging for themselves on any subject. There are a few leading spirits and the rest must follow. This makes systems so universally agreeable. If they cannot teach people to think and to feel, they teach them what to say, which answers all the purposes of vanity. (1765, 68)

If, in contrast to purely sensory reaction, response is required, then minds must be engaged and, at the most general level, all art becomes open for use, whether the subsidiary categories are those of vanity, self-fulfilment, sensuous pleasure, politics, profit or status.


Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aestheticsin MedicoPhilosophical Circles and Art Criticism, 1757–1824 Aris Sarafianos

Burke’s ‘vitalist realism’ (Lyotard 1994, 50–76, esp. 62) has traditionally alienated historians of aesthetics, literature and art alike, and remains the most un-contextualized and misread aspect of his Philosophical Enquiry.1 By contrast, the early reception of Burke’s treatise reveals the opposite picture: in spite of differences, contemporaries were in agreement about the seriousness and originality of the challenges posed by Burke’s physical method. This paper explores the shifting terms in which Burke’s medical science of art-related affects was received in the first seventy years following his book’s publication. It will begin with the first wave of reviews in order to reveal the unease underlying its supposedly ‘favourable’ (Boulton 1958, xxxiii; Langford 2004) reception. I then focus on the conflicts generated by the reception of Burke’s sensory approach at the end of the eighteenth century, singling out cases that also contain useful information regarding the book’s public impact during this period. This survey enables an exploration of the historical conditions that led to the scholarly disregard mentioned above, and it also hints at the recent shifts in the humanities that have made possible the present revaluation of the issue. Critical analysis of the interpretations of Burke’s physical method exemplifies the way in which Reception Studies can unlock fundamental yet neglected facets of cultural production, while at the same time facilitating a closer examination of the ever-changing entanglements of the present. This is all the more so since Burke’s book was perhaps the first modern study to elevate the phenomenon of reception into a central preoccupation for discussions on art and taste.


Relevant examples abound; see Lock (1998, 93, 121), Weiskel (1976, 88), Eagleton (1989, 59, 62).

208   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Contexts and challenges Burke’s Enquiry famously shifted critical focus away from the artwork itself and its proper rules of composition towards the mechanics of the viewing experience (Lyotard 1994, 38–39, 40–41). The role of reception in the history of cultural products is certainly notable within scholarship today, yet we can identify an equally crucial point prior to this, one at which artworks became subject to a new type of criticism that sought to explore the relationship between artworks and their lived effects on viewers. Burke’s aim is to pit his treatise against the ‘formalism’ of criticism in the arts current at the time. As he pointed out, ‘artists’, ‘philosophers’ and ‘those called critics’ had all erred because they ‘generally sought the rule of the arts in the wrong place’, namely ‘among poems, pictures, engravings, statues and buildings’, neglecting the obvious fact that ‘art can never give the rules that make an art’ (Burke, 19). Burke countered this tradition with the conviction that ‘the true standard of art is in every man’s power’ and in his ‘sure experience’. He therefore amassed empirical observations about the reactions of viewers’ bodies and minds, including his own, cross-checking them against evidence from contemporary physiology of sensation. This marks a significant point in the pursuit of critical knowledge about the arts, but it was not an isolated incident in an otherwise low-key study. In fact, the treatise is a confrontational text that took pains to flesh out the author’s disagreement with the most respectable authorities of the day, including John Locke, Isaac Newton, Abbé Dubos, Joseph Addison, Francis Hutcheson, William Hogarth and others. But Burke’s radical argument with tradition rarely addressed a specific adversary by name. Such is the case with Burke’s most uncommon study of art-related affects as the direct product of primary sensory experience, explicitly excluding the participation of the higher faculties of the intellect or the understanding; or, again, his emphasis on the role of instinctual reactions in the operation of feelings; his ‘shocking’ uncoupling of beauty’s traditional ties with morality, rational judgement, proportion, fitness or sympathy (Bromwich 2014, 60–62, 65–71, 77–79); and his unembarrassed recasting of sympathy as a form of compulsive delight in the suffering of others. All of this proved as disturbing as his determination to break down established continuities and hierarchies between the beautiful and the sublime. Most of these provocative propositions are interwoven with Burke’s decision to import a variety of materials from sensationist philosophy and medicine. It has been rightly noted that the aesthetic discourse of the time – even in its overtly classical versions – can be broken down into a variety of discursive settings and ‘discourses from “outside”’ that openly involve the body (Richter 1992, 1–37, esp. 11 and 33). This is no doubt a significant development in that it disrupted the dominance of moral philosophy and other idealist trends in classical theories of beauty – echoes of which continued to reverberate even in David Hume’s or Immanuel Kant’s approaches to corporeal explanations of taste such as Burke’s (Kant 2000, 158–59; Hume 1757, 202–40).2 However 2

See Bromwich (2014, 77–79, 89–94),

Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aesthetics   209 much such an interdisciplinary reframing of the history of aesthetics permits a refreshing departure from the ongoing tendency to regard this history as an abstract and disembodied field of philosophical study, it should by no means lead to the conclusion that contemporary medicine could be perceived wholesale as a ‘counter-classical’ or ‘intrusively heterogeneous discourse’, or that its mere presence ‘entails violence’ or ‘shocking contact’ (Richter 1992, 31–33). By contrast, classical traditions of treating the human body are much in evidence in the history of eighteenth-century medicine and physiology, and Burke did not need to look further than the medical work of his close friend, Richard Brocklesby, for a British example in which the gentlemanly values of temperance and moderation were very ‘un-intrusively’ applied in the arts.3 In fact, it was the compass and intensity of Burke’s physical method that shocked contemporaries.4 His heterodox theory of pain and labour, assembled from various quarters of the contemporary medical fringe, was accurately conceived by Burke’s critics as a reaffirmation of physicality at its most ‘uncivil’: it showed the lengths to which Burke was determined to go in order to spell out his provocative endorsement of powerful sensations and extreme intensities of stimulation as key to the highest possible attainment in art-related phenomena. The exclusive way in which Burke tied the superiority of the sublime to an irregular physiology of physical pain and ‘violent contractions’ was further aggravated by the tie he forged between the tranquillity of classical beauty and states of corporeal enfeeblement. This amounted to an assault on the most precious component of the master culture of the time: politeness. As noted before, politeness acted as the modernized equivalent of gentlemanliness by which ‘the English elite reconstructed itself in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries’ (Klein [1995] 2013, 362). Politeness marked out an ‘oligarchical’ resource of social and behavioural norms associated with good manners and good breeding (Klein 1984–85, 186–90), and it developed special links with classical theories and practices of beauty, including such trademark qualities of it as ‘simplicity’, ‘ease’, ‘delicacy’, ‘grace’ and ‘elegance’ (Klein 1984–85, 206–07). In relegating beauty to an experience of secondary importance, relative to the superior claims of the sublime, Burke was thus questioning the grounds upon which sensitive social distinctions were built. It may, of course, be true that theories of beauty were caught, throughout this period, in an inevitable tangle with the spectre of pain, setting up an antinomy of pain and beauty that proved vital for their organization (Richter 1992, 38–48). However, it is also true that classical and polite discourse on art was designed to avoid direct confrontation with pain, instead inflecting its disturbing presence through various strategies of control and reduction (Richter 1992, 33). Burke’s decision to bring this


For firmly classical approaches to medicine and physiology, with special reference to the role of gentle forms of music, art or lifestyle in the restoration of health, see Sarafianos (2014). 4 For Burke’s employment of various medical discourses and their social and political connotations, see Sarafianos (2005; 2008).

210   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe well-hidden subplot of classical theory to the very forefront of a polite treatise on taste was unprecedented and unforeseeable. In all these senses, Burke’s Enquiry is an anti-canonical text which typifies the ‘tension’ that John Brewer has identified ‘between the effort to create a culture that was polite, moderate, reasonable, morally instructive, decorous, and restrained’ and ‘the palpable intrusion of impulses’, ‘Rabelaisian and commercial’ in nature. Such impulses aimed to contradict Shaftesbury’s moral vision for culture including the claim that ‘culture could and should be impartial, disinterested, dispassionate, and virtuous’ (Brewer [1995] 2013, 341). The Enquiry exemplified the challenge against each and every one of these ideals of the patrician elite (Brewer [1995] 2013, 348) in ways which could not have been countenanced by other equally important treatises of the time, such as David Hume’s or Alexander Gerard’s works on similar matters. In opposition to their works, Burke had a series of unconventional things to say about beauty and the nature of affects (Jones 1993, 260), most of them directly relating to the fact that ‘he was the first writer on aesthetics in English to take up the uncompromising sensationist viewpoint’ (Boulton 1958, xxxvi).5 And even if the risqué character of his work is much closer to the emerging trends of books by artists, such as the much-neglected Dialogue on Taste (1755) by Allan Ramsay or even Hogarth’s empirical Analysis of Beauty (1753), it still differs significantly from both by going further in the subversion of polite culture. If artist-writers had to worry about alienating patrician patrons or endangering their standing as liberal men of letters,6 Burke had no such concerns. In getting started in the cut-throat literary environment of metropolitan London, Burke knew he had to live by the market. Better still, he was aware of the advantages conferred upon those who could develop a readily recognizable profile: strategies of provocation could go a long way in turning this Irish outsider – the ‘runaway son from a father’, as Burke described himself – into a man of letters, whose priggish attitude or rather, in Walpole’s stinging words, his ‘authorism’ would still be noted years later (Bromwich 2014, 38). Much of the book’s brash and challenging character is related to its specific place within the emerging realm of mass print culture in which its author was seeking to make a career. Burke’s text, and its early reception, are indeed the complex products of the conflicts and aspirations of London’s Grub Street as it struggled to come to terms with the master narrative of politeness. Striking a balance between commercially necessary dosages of audacity and emulation, was a tricky business fraught with tensions. These tensions between aristocrats and bourgeoisie, patrician and middling sorts, metropolis and province, or polite and alternative cultures defined the formation of Burke’s text as well as its early reception, marking out, within the broader parameters of politeness, various antagonistic positions for use by men of upward mobility.


For a comparative evaluation of Burke’s and Hume’s positions on primary sensations, see Perinetti (2012, 283–304). 6 For Ramsay’s professional career, see Campbell (2014, 9–47) and Bonehill (2014, 91–109).

Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aesthetics   211 The press reception: The ‘perspicuous’ style of a ‘mistaken’ theory The authors of the first reviews of the Enquiry were themselves all ambitious literary upstarts, keen to carve out a career in the same precarious market of mass literature courted by Burke. They thus responded warmly to his ‘provocative method of presentation’ even as they were clearly alienated by Burke’s ‘system’ (Boulton 1958, xxiii). Booksellers also saw potential in his approach to master culture, and provided the kind of lifeline Burke was looking for: the Annual Register commission from Dodsley7 came immediately after he had published Burke’s Enquiry. The first reviewers grasped the originality of Burke’s method, highlighting its polemical intent to ‘contradict … the received notions’ (London Chronicle, 9–11 June, 556). On the one hand, sceptical reviewers were alienated by the author’s ‘very curious’ attempt to ‘set himself up for a system-maker’, and they pitted Burke’s presumed ‘love of novelty’ (Literary Magazine, 183) against the more sober pursuit of ‘truth’ (Monthly Review, 473). The Literary Magazine’s verdict that, in ‘endeavoring to advance what was never said before him, he will find it his lot to have said what will not be adopted after him’ (Literary Magazine, 183) expresses a genuine sense of irritation at Burke’s unorthodox suggestions. On the other hand, friendlier reviewers seem content that Burke ‘has rejected all systems’, and celebrated the empirical determination of the writer (Critical Review, 361). The London Chronicle, another of Dodsley’s ventures, obliged its publisher by welcoming the ‘surprising variety of lights’ through which his author has ‘given criticism a face which we never saw it wear before’ (London Chronicle, 14–16 July, 52). Reviewers agreed about the significance of the book’s purposeful introduction of physiological languages into the realm of criticism, approaching it, nonetheless, with a mixture of reserve and anxiety. The London Chronicle grasped the singularity of Part IV’s focus on ‘the physical cause of that connection which is found between certain qualities in bodies and certain emotions of the human mind’, and treated it accordingly as a ‘curious and abstruse’ section that ‘cost the author much thought’, whilst requiring readers to pay ‘a great deal of attention to enter fully into it’ (London Chronicle, 7–9 July, 26). More sceptical reviewers could not, however, hide their irritation. The Critical Review, for example, denounced Burke’s degrading approach to beauty not as a respectful ‘creature of the understanding’, but rather as ‘a merely sensible quality, acting mechanically on the human mind, by the intervention of the senses’ (Critical Review, 366, 367). In the same vein, Oliver Goldsmith in the Monthly Review rushed to reaffirm the rights of ‘Reason, not sensation’ in certain species of beauty, insisting that ‘a great part of our perceptions of beauty, arises not from any mechanical operation on the senses … but from a rational inference’ (476). 7

Robert Dodsley (1704–64), was the publisher and founder of the Annual Register. He appointed Burke as its first editor. His younger brother, James (1724–97) published Burke’s Reflections.

212   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Though disturbed, the Enquiry’s early reviewers were not yet equipped to articulate their dissatisfaction in a more incisive manner. They thus chose to express their reservations in a seemingly neutral way, raising a series of secondary objections which sought to deny the logical consistency of Burke’s physiology. This was, for example, Goldsmith’s approach when he criticized Burke’s conclusion that extreme darkness produces the feeling of the sublime by straining the fibres and muscles of the eye. Goldsmith countered that the sublime is ‘often caused by a relaxation of the muscles, as well as by a tension’, thus undermining one of Burke’s most central propositions: ‘the strict division of the sublime and beautiful on the basis of pain and pleasure’, and hence the exclusive dependence of the sublime on the infliction of bodily pain (Monthly Review, 480, my emphasis). In addition, re-associating the sublime with physical ‘states of rest’ meant that the notion could thus be reintegrated into the matrix of polite aesthetics, where beauty, grandeur and the sublime coexisted in undisturbed tranquillity. Further still, in their desire to restore the classical system of affects disturbed by Burke, reviewers opposed his view that beauty ‘acts by relaxing the solids of the whole system’ and ‘the respective sensories’, insisting instead that beautiful things may also ‘act by stimulation’ (Critical Review, 370) and ‘so often excite … tumults and transports’ (Critical Review, 369). This attempt to hijack the unconventional language of Burke’s physiology and turn it against itself produced the extraordinary argument that positive pleasure is ‘an exertion of the nerves to a tension that borders on pain’ (Critical Review, 369). Unsurprisingly, the Critical Review withdrew the argument as soon as it had formulated it: for the author of the piece, ‘stimulation’ actually meant nothing more substantial than a sort of ‘titillation’ of the senses, while Burke’s theory of maximal pain was soon to be dismissed by the same critic as an entirely meaningless phenomenon (369).8 The paradoxical turns of argument produced thereafter show the lengths to which reviewers were willing to go to prove the basic point: Burke ‘is mistaken in his theory’ (Critical Review, 369). Reflecting the same argument that beauty was not the sole result of relaxation, nor a product of that alone, critics sought to oppose Burke’s scheme by demonstrating the opposite point that ‘terror and pain are not the only sources of the sublime, nor sources of that alone’ (Wichelns 1922, 648). Opposite strategies could be equally useful as long as the rigour of Burke’s physical distinctions was put into question, and, with them, the counter-classical edge of his materialism.9 Polite criticism, nonetheless, did not completely reject the interference of bodily sensations. Rather, it sought to defend established hierarchies between civil and uncivil or regular and irregular sensations, upholding in the process certain combinations between them that were vital for the operation of the


As the critic put it, pain produces ‘an aching in the eyes, without having any other effect’. Critical Review, 369. 9 This was accurately grasped by John Forster, Goldsmith’s later biographer, who rightly saw Goldsmith’s physiological objections as a deliberate tool of opposition against Burke’s unmediated ‘materialism’ (Forster 1871, vol. 1, 107). Contrast with Wichelns’s interpretation (Wichelns 1922, 655).

Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aesthetics   213 polite sensorium. This is clear in the way in which reviewers focused their attention on Burke’s critique of Locke’s theory of pleasure and pain. Burke had indeed objected to Locke’s reductive treatment, criticizing his definition of pleasure as ‘the removal or lessening of a pain’, and that of pain as ‘the loss or diminishing of pleasure’. Burke suggested an alternative, which took his early reviewers by surprise. In the first place, he interjected into Locke’s model of regular continuity and mutual subordination between pain and pleasure a series of unsettling because irreducible distinctions: ‘positive pleasures’, which he associated with beauty, and ‘positive pains’, which he initially excluded from the aesthetic domain. Moreover, it was in the space opened by this conflict between pain and pleasure that Burke proceeded to insert a new species of ‘relative pleasure’, which he called ‘delight’ and which he associated with the removal of positive, i.e. physical pain (Burke, part I, sections 2 and 3). It is this mixed pleasure ‘which cannot exist without … a relation to pain’ that served as the keystone of Burke’s theory of the sublime (London Chronicle, 557). In introducing similar distinctions (Burke, part I, sections 2 and 3) Burke would naturally appear to splinter and complicate the comforting mediations established by Locke’s rational fantasy of a continuum between pain and pleasure that allowed an orderly transformation of one opposite into the other. This explains the fact that, although the early reception of the Enquiry may at times seem confusing or inconsistent, it is, nevertheless, held together by the same strong sense of common purpose: where Burke attempted to disconnect, his critics may be seen intent on reunifying; and where he made crucial divisions, they all reaffirmed existing symmetries. In other words, where the book posed a new sensory system, critics sought to eradicate the discord introduced by the distinctions upon which that new system was based. Arthur Murphy’s review in the Literary Magazine exemplifies the point.10 His review was governed by the demand that the Enquiry should ‘have allowed a sublime without terror’ or pain (Literary Magazine, 186). Although Burke ‘imagines that the sublime must be founded on pain’, the reviewer insisted, ‘we have seen instances … that it is also founded on pleasure’ (187). Contrary to Burke’s isolation of the term, Murphy’s view of the sublime was that it ‘belongs to no particular passion, but is greatly heightened by them all’. In other words, the sublime ‘is not built on any single passion’: ‘terror’ may be ‘a great addition’ to the range of emotions associated with the sublime, but, Murphy hastened to add, ‘in like manner … all the other passions’ that Burke had excluded are also sublime, not least love and compassion (185). Again, where Burke sought to sharpen and radicalize the notion of the sublime, his reviewers insisted on reconnecting the concept with conservative traditions of grandeur. In contrast to Burke’s sensory regimentation of the sublime, Murphy’s strategy of reintegrating it back into an extended realm of affects had a blatant normalizing aim, revealed further by the unequal way in which he treated the sublime vis-à-vis the beautiful. On the one hand, he emphasized his agreement with Burke’s analytical segregation of beauty: ‘the beautiful 10

The Irishman Arthur Murphy (1727–1805) was polymathic – a writer, dramatist, actor and sometime lawyer. Like Burke he was member of Johnson’s circle.

214   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe must depend on the softer affections of love and pleasure’ and not on ‘what is painful [which] can never be accounted to belong to beauty’ (188). But, on the other, he resisted Burke’s attempt to give his version of the sublime an equally independent, and hence rhetorically enhanced, existence. For Murphy, indeed, the sublime must ‘exist with Beauty, or partial ugliness, and may be heightened by all our passions as well as terror’ (188, my emphasis). This asymmetrical treatment of the beautiful and the sublime reflects chronic inequalities in polite criticism of the arts. Beauty is eligible for analytical distinction and autonomy as testament to the superior status of the order of affects it represents. By contrast, the excessive powers of Burke’s sublime had to be held in check: lumped together with an assortment of civilized emotions, it ought to be dissolved back into the homogeneous realm of sensory quiescence from which it had been so disturbingly removed by Burke. The critics’ reaction to the Enquiry, therefore, reinstated polite arrangements challenged by their aspiring colleague. The discrepancies between Burke’s ambitious work in a polite field – taste – and the upwardly mobile critics of his work, who sought to defend the aspects of politeness that he had questioned, confirm that politeness acted in this period as a means of coordinating diverse ‘socially mobile’ elements in the population, marking out different, even antagonistic, positions for ‘a variety of the middling sorts’ in the same matrix (Klein [1995] 2013, 366). Burke’s book incorporates the various frictions and resistances implicit in such processes of cultural coordination without, however, denying the prospect that polite readers and their cultivated ideals are also accommodated. This is precisely why critics insisted on the ‘pleasure’ with which Burke’s ‘perspicuous, elegant and harmonious style’ ought to be enjoyed – on the condition, however, that it is ‘detached from his system’ (Literary Magazine, 189). The fissure between, on the one hand, an author ‘mistaken in his fundamental principles’ and ‘deductions’, and, on the other, his ‘ingenious’ style and separate ‘remarks’ (Literary Magazine, 189) seemed to provide a convenient solution for press critics and author alike. The Enquiry’s main thrust, however, would soon attract much more cordial and creative responses from other professional sectors. Artist-anatomists, such as George Stubbs (Sarafianos 2010), and prominent medical men with a stake in the art world, such as the professor of anatomy in the newly instituted Royal Academy (RA), William Hunter, were better placed to see the creative possibilities of Burke’s redefinition of sublimity (Kemp 1975, 23, 41–42). Hunter’s lectures at the RA testified to the scientific rigour of Burke’s physiological aesthetics, providing also an idea of the kind of artistic and medical audiences among which Burke’s theory would for decades enjoy warm acceptance. In both cases, the Enquiry helped articulate an anti-academic stance against ‘elegance and beauty and grace and dignity in nature’, facilitating, at the same time, calls for a radical expansion of the visual field with scenes of ‘animation, spirit, fire, force and violence’ (Kemp 1975, 43–44). As Martin Kemp has observed, such sublime-generated attacks on the prevalent tranquillity of polite theories of beauty did not fail to alienate the establishment at the RA (Kemp 1992, 81–83, 85–87). Nevertheless, artists continued to readjust their visual practice in accordance with Burke’s suggestions, responding to an increasingly

Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aesthetics   215 voracious market for excitements, spectacles and sensations.11 By contrast, the higher sphere of criticism attended by ‘English philosophical writers’ was very slow to respond to the biomedical organization of the treatise (Boulton 1958, lxxxiii–lxxxiv). Indeed, the first systematic confrontation with the implications of Burke’s physical method would have to wait until the turbulent end of the century. The animal economy of the picturesque and Burke’s physical model The decisive role played by Burke’s analytical physiology of sensation in the formation of the concept of the picturesque has been little explored, despite the zest with which key figures in this debate endorsed Burke’s physiological perspective as the ‘foundation’ of their own (Price [1794] 1796, 110). Uvedale Price’s influential notion of the picturesque, in particular, would be unthinkable without Burke’s physical system. More importantly, Price’s landmark publication An Essay on the Picturesque (1794) contains vital clues about long-forgotten chapters in the Enquiry’s divided history of reception before Price’s publication, while also establishing between the author and Burke a sense of common purpose in the face of hostile criticism (Watkins and Cowell 2012, 146–48). Price was aware that objections to his argument about the need for a third aesthetic category, such as the picturesque, had a long history dating back to the reception of Burke’s attempt to ‘smuggle’ an independent notion of the sublime within the unified realm of classical aesthetics. For defenders of polite arrangements, he rightly anticipated, ‘such distinctions as Mr. Burke and myself have made’ would not be necessary and would have to be revoked in the name of established continuities: critics would thus reply that ‘the sublime, as well as the picturesque is included in the beautiful’, or, alternatively, that ‘the picturesque especially, is only a mode of beauty’ (Price, 1796 [1794], 237). For Price, the opposition of the country gentleman and landscape gardener, George Mason, was characteristic of this tendency (1796, 110). He had dismissed Burke’s predication of the sublime on pain and terror. The ‘higher’ opinion of ‘the majority of thinking and learned men’ (1796, 111), that is, the views of ‘polite’ men and connoisseurs, remained for years the chief agents of opposition to Burke’s anti-canonical science of sensations. Even Price, a country gentleman in his own right, was shocked by the social arrogance implicit in Mason’s stance; and he defended the ‘brilliancy’ of Burke, a young man ‘scarcely arrived at manhood’, against the posturing of his peers (1796, 112). Price’s defence also retrieves a much friendlier chapter of the Enquiry’s reception, which reveals, important paradoxes (1796, 123–24). Contrary to the antipathy generated by his sublime, Price noted that Burke’s notion of the beautiful enjoyed wide acceptance even by his critics: owing to its user-friendly 11

This trend is being analysed by a growing body of scholarship. See, for example, Bermingham (2007) and Holmes (2008),

216   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe conciseness, garden designers employed Burke’s writings on beauty as a readymade instruction manual (1796, 124–26). Price despaired at this spectacular misunderstanding of Burke’s intentions: ‘As the best things are often perverted to the worst purposes, so [Burke’s] admirable treatise has, perhaps, been one cause of the insipidity which has prevailed under the name of improvement’ (1796, 124). Obviously, Price had in mind ‘Capability’ Brown’s gardens, but there was a larger irony involved. Although, as Price explained, ‘the works of this great master [i.e. Burke] show us how unavoidably an attention to mere beauty, and flow of outline, will lead towards sameness and insipidity’ (1796, 79), superficial readers of his book mistook what he meant as a highly critical account of the beautiful for a list of prescriptions to attain aesthetic perfection. It was precisely around the crux of this paradox that Price built the physical rationale for his picturesque. He understood the need to modernize the regimes of beauty to which the elite continued to cling, and his picturesque was presented as a means of replenishing the dwindling energies of notions of beauty without, however, resorting to the excesses of the sublime. In this period of ‘affective revolution’ (Hunt and Jacob 2001), Price’s picturesque trod carefully: it was designed to ‘hold a station between beauty and sublimity’ (Price 1796, 82), calibrating the intensities of both extremes. But it also acted as an intermediary in a framework of oppositions which would not have existed without Burke’s contribution in the first place (1796, 82, 103). Furthermore, in determining the position of the picturesque within this polarity, Price made good use of Burke’s physiological repertoire of descending and ascending scales of nervous irritation (1796, 89). ‘Founded on ideas of pain and terror’, the sublime ‘operates … like them’, ‘by stretching the fibres beyond their natural tone’ (103, my emphasis). Beauty relies on the opposite physiological economy: it ‘acts by relaxing the fibres somewhat below their natural tone, and this is accompanied by an inward sense of melting and languor’ (1796, 104, my emphasis).12 The Enquiry’s imagery of fibre contractions helped Price specify the exact place of the picturesque on this physiological map adopted from Burke: ‘the effect of the picturesque’ is one that ‘neither relaxes, nor violently stretches the fibres, but by its active agency keeps them to their full tone; and thus, when mixed with either of the other characters, corrects the languor of beauty, or the horror of sublimity’ (1796, 105). Price introduced a third aesthetic notion, the picturesque, designed to re-energize polite approaches to beauty whilst restraining the undesirable impact of the sublime (1796, 106). In this important pursuit, Price would at times imitate Burke’s impatience with those pedantic press critics who quibbled over minor medical points: ‘Whether this account of the effects of sublimity and beauty be strictly philosophical, has, I believe, been questioned; but in any case, whether fibres are really stretched, or are relaxed’, Price insisted, his physiological repertoire was perfect in ‘present[ing] a lively image of the sensation’ produced by the sublime 12

The term ‘economy’ is used in an entirely neutral sense, denoting ‘management of resources’, and akin to the usage of the phrase ‘animal economy’ in eighteenthcentury medical circles, referred to earlier.

Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aesthetics   217 or the picturesque (1796, 104–05). His diatribe on irritation as the central axis of his aesthetic distinctions indicates his alignment with the vitalist tradition of medical thinking that Burke had adopted, but it also signals the compromising modifications to Burke’s notion of pain that he effected.13 Price was ‘aware’ that the medical term ‘irritation’ was ‘generally used in a bad sense; rather as a source of pain, than of pleasure’. Yet he was, by now, also convinced that a degree of sensory coarseness was necessary in modernizing existing models of criticism (1796, 140). His extensive use of ‘irritation’ – and not Burke’s ‘pain’ or ‘tension’ – to distinguish the ‘most active and lively pleasures’ of the picturesque from the weakness of those ‘mild and soft emotions that flow from beauty’ (1796, 146, 140–41, 144) answered this very call. However, Price’s intention was to lower and contain the destabilizing intensities embraced by Burke’s treatise. Despite the fact that Price’s physiology of the picturesque supplied a new version of stability to the body, critics remained unimpressed. Instead, they chose to focus on Price’s subversion of beauty’s cultural supremacy, as well as on his calls for a drastic amplification of sensory regimes. This critical stance is not inexplicable since, following Burke, Price chose to use specific medical vocabularies whose resonance was as forceful as the physiology he and Burke promoted: an amplified rhetoric accompanied the modern rise of amplified economies of sensations, adopted to explain matters of taste. The same amalgamation also signaled the full emergence of a calculable bio-political subject, whose living existence depended, among other factors, upon the micro-management of quantities and intensities of stimuli from the surrounding material world. This whole network of tightening connections, now occurring in the most precious field of polite taste and refined sensibility, marks a further advance of radical forms of materialism in this period. That is why, I suggest, Price’s and Burke’s physical approach was met with increasing criticism during this period. The term ‘unphilosophical’, used by Richard Payne Knight to attack Price’s or Burke’s sensationism, epitomizes the anti-materialist content of such criticisms. Even Burke had by this time become distrustful of followers like Price. At the time of his book’s publication, Price sent a complimentary copy to Burke, in which he made it explicit that he had modelled the book on Burke’s example (Watkins and Cowell 2012, 74). But Burke was, by that time, a different man:14 in his reply to Price, he described the essay as ‘a most pleasing, ingenious and instructive book’ (Corr., 7:547–48),15 but from Burke’s wider correspondence we also learn that, ‘like most system-mongers’, Price had pursued his ‘theories to a dangerous length’ (Watkins and Cowell 2012, 74). Price, for his part, was right to think that public criticism against his book (Watkins and Cowell 2012, 74–81, 146–48) was due to the fact that he did not show adequate obeisance to the ‘Spiritual part of our nature’, i.e. to ‘the exclusive influence attributed’ by mainstream critics to the mental power of 13

See Sarafianos (2005, 62–64). See Golinski (1992, 177–86). 15 To Uvedale Price [1 June 1794]. 14

218   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe ‘association’ (Watkins and Cowell 2012, 178–79). Knight indeed denounced Burke’s and Price’s ‘false philosophy’ because it mistook ‘ideas for things’ and ‘the effects of internal sympathies, for those of external circumstances’ (Watkins and Cowell 2012, 146). Price was much hurt by Knight’s attack (Watkins and Cowell 2012, 147), and was offended by the way Knight placed Burke’s book at the centre of his attack. Price resolved to confront the injustice.16 As he put it to their common friend, Charles Burney, by 1808 he was already ‘employed in defending, to the best of my abilities, your old friend Mr Burke, against a very violent, and in my opinion, a most unjust attack, of Mr Knight’s’.17 In 1810, Price was still embroiled in the same fight, ‘anxious’ to ensure that his ‘defence of such a man as Mr. Burke’ should ‘be as little unworthy of him, as it is in my power to make it’ (Price 1810, xviii–xix). Price’s sense of anxiety at the ‘violence’ of Knight’s attacks on Burke was justified given that the leading connoisseur had actually taken aim at the very foundations of Burke’s physical method. From ‘sensation’ to ‘sentiment’: Burke’s ‘materialism’ and Payne Knight’s ‘mind’ Richard Payne Knight’s Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste (1805) is a full-scale assault on sensationism and its leaders, most predominantly Burke and his disciples. The book is a manifesto for Knight’s intellectualist position on aesthetics, criticizing almost all current systems of aesthetic thinking, from Platonic idealism (Knight 1805, 38–41) and moral philosophy (1805, 336) to disembodied types of associationism, Hume’s scepticism or Kantian types of transcendentalism (1805, 33–40). It was Burke’s physical method, however, that attracted the author’s most persistent and vitriolic criticism: the fact that Knight placed the Enquiry at the centre of his comprehensive discussion regarding the methodology proper to such a sensitive and ‘philosophical’ matter as taste, indicates the extent of interest and authority that the book had come to command at that time. As Knight himself noted, it was indeed the Enquiry’s pernicious success among certain sectors that had alarmed the connoisseur into taking this action to ‘expose’ the book’s many ‘philosophical absurdities’ (1805, 29, 371). Of particular concern to Knight was not only the widening social reception of ‘the fatal effects of this seducing author’s theories on the taste of the public’; but also the rapid geographical dispersion of these theories ‘not only in England, but on the continent, particularly in Germany, where nonsense seems to have become the order of the day’ (1805, 391).18 In pursuing his criticism, Knight built on a familiar precedent, established, as already shown, by Burke’s early reviewers: first, he split ‘the deserved authority’ and the ‘great name’ of the author from his misguided text (1805, 16

See Price (1801; 1810). Quoted in Watkins and Cowell (2012, 148). 18 Knight was evidently taking shots against Herder’s and Goethe’s innovations. See Richter (1992, 90–130). 17

Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aesthetics   219 314, 370); second, ‘the brilliancy and animation’ of his writing ‘style’ from its pitifully ‘indistinct and unphilosophical’ contents (1805, 371); and lastly, the young writer from the wise statesman, who, ‘in his latter days’, as Knight disclosed, ‘laughed very candidly and good-humouredly at many of the philosophical absurdities, which will be here exposed’ (1805, 29, 374). The most extreme of Burke’s absurdities were his corporeal approach to taste, and especially his theory of pain and terror. Knight first questioned the scientific legitimacy behind Burke’s idea that extreme physical sensations are ‘capable of producing delight’, and took to task the ‘physical process’ espoused by the author. Feigning ignorance of the Enquiry’s innovative use of a broad spectrum of biomedical views, Knight scoffed at the effort Burke expended to ‘explain at length’ a theory which ‘no physiologist has been able to understand’ since (1805, 373). Prominent contemporaries, similarly sceptical about Burke’s ‘physiological mode of exposition’ (Kant 2001, 158) would directly give the lie to this allegation.19 Knight’s concern, however, was not to improve Burke’s employment of scientific method, but rather to disprove the validity of physiological science in aesthetic matters entirely. To this effect, he adopted two strategies, and proceeded, first, to deny the very existence of organic sensations – ‘the mere sensual pleasures of organic vision’ – as independent units of analysis (1805, 90–91), and, second, to empty them of any meaning or role in aesthetic matters. Concerning the independence of sensations, Knight suggested that Burke’s most eloquent achievement was surely unintended: ‘The example of this great author proves how difficult it is to keep the operations of the different faculties of the mind distinct from each other; so as to consider sensation singly and alone, unmixed with, and uninfluenced … by other … mental affections’ (1805, 89, also 21, 62). Instead of doctrines of ‘mere organic sensation’, Knight promoted a higher order of mixed aesthetic sentiments which were predominantly generated in the brain: though the impressions upon the external organs of sense are the primary causes of those sensations, which imprint the ideas of them upon the mind; yet the perception of those sensations, and consequently the pleasures and pains arising from them, as well as the ideas which they imprint, are in the brain. (1805, 36)

External ‘impressions’ by themselves are entirely bare phenomena. Perhaps they even lie outside the realm of perception entirely: without the brain, and the processes of perception and association located within it, impressions ‘produce only mechanical vibrations in the fibres, of which the sufferer is not conscious’ (1805, 36). Burke’s so-called primary sensations are thus no more than brute facts. And, inversely, ‘the sentiment of sublimity belongs to the affections of the mind, and not to organic sensation’ (1805, 47). Various mixed intellectual entities and integrative processes were reinstated in place of Burke’s


Indeed, Kant knew that Burke’s type of ‘physiological exposition’ had also been elaborated by ‘many acute men among us’ (2001, 158). As I explain in a subsequent section, the same point would later be repeated and further elaborated by Dugald Stewart.

220   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe rhetoric of sensation, thus, restoring the unity again of the affective circuit that his theory had disrupted (1805, 41–42, also 28, 90, 225, 330). Knight may have rightly protested against moral philosophers that ‘the powers of mental feeling are as much powers of the mind as those of thinking’ (1805, 336), but his scheme was designed to reaffirm a similarly refined and disembodying agenda; namely, the intellectual character of sensory and affective phenomena in opposition to their intensity and corporeal immediacy advocated by Burke’s physiology. Mild and vulgar economies of affect Knight understood that the way in which Burke defined the experience of the sublime was offensive to the social structure of politeness and its values. For Knight, the sublime was a state in which the mind was at its most ‘decisive and energetic’: this ‘mental energy’ was not the concomitant of violent excitement, as Burke had thought, but it could be excited both by ‘passive or active’ emotions; equally by ‘the mild and gentle, or the furious and impetuous passions and affections’ (1805, 328, 331). Repeating those strategies already rehearsed by Burke’s press critics, Knight proclaimed that all states, ‘whether they be of the tender or violent kind, are alike sublime’, on condition that they are ‘excited by just and appropriate expression of energetic passion’ (1805, 331). By replacing Burke’s corporeal notion of ‘tension’ with the mental equivalent of ‘energy’ – or rather, ‘just’ and ‘appropriate energy’ – Knight achieved his objective, that is, a dramatic reduction of the levels of physical intensity involved in Burke’s model of the sublime. ‘Nice’ or ‘mild sensibility’ (1805, 345) is Knight’s aesthetic ideal, and this is clearly a social ideal reflecting contemporary discussions about civil manners. ‘Nice sensibility’ is the primary source of ‘the delicate and modest reserve of behaviour’ that characterized the elite class to which Knight belonged (1805, 348). In this context, Burke’s re-evaluation of beauty and elegance as markers of lassitude and weakness was correctly received by Knight as an assault on the core of polite culture and its long association with low-intensity systems of beauty. Knight had no qualms about revealing the main issue at stake: ‘The yielding pliability of a mild and gentle temper’ cannot be considered as ‘a mental weakness, though often called so: for, to comply or yield with ease, dignity, and propriety, requires more energy of mind, than can be displayed in any stubbornness and obstinacy of resistance’ (1805, 349). As a result, it is belligerence that now appears to be the mark of ‘really weak characters’, and ‘like the restiveness of a mule’, it signifies ‘nothing more than sullen stupidity. Hence fools are almost always ill-tempered’, whereas ‘persons of very enlarged minds, and very vigorous understanding’, like Knight’s peers, ‘are, as generally, good-tempered and compliant’ (1805, 348–49, 350). Such are the ‘elegant’ terms with which Knight signalled his contempt for the increasingly visible presence of the ‘lower order’ of society, comprising what he elsewhere called, with unreduced disdain, the ‘base rabble’ (1805, 325). In Burke’s Enquiry, Knight discerned and attacked a new enemy, i.e. the

Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aesthetics   221 rising plebeian sector.20 He shared Burke’s bio-political approach to the evaluation of habits and behaviours, and, at the same time, brought into focus a series of related conflicts. From the same basis, Knight turned his criticism of Burke’s book into a weapon with which various specialist groups, seen as subversive to the ‘public’ sphere, could now be isolated and brought back to order. Physical repertoires and social divisions Knight promoted the view that the ‘strange and unphilosophical’ tenor of Burke’s physical argument about ‘pain and terror being the cause of the sublime’ was particularly resonant with specific social and professional groups of individuals (1805, 370–71). Among them, he singled out contemporary artists and especially painters. Although, in his circle of dilettanti and connoisseurs, Knight had ‘never met with any man of learning, by whom the philosophy of [the Enquiry] was not despised and ridiculed’ (1805, 371), the theory, he warned, triumphed ‘among artists, and other persons not much conversant with philosophical inquiries’ (1805, 370–71). Through this channel, Burke’s model had become responsible for ‘the practical bad taste, that has resulted from it’ (1805, 370–71). Revolted by fashionable trends of the so-called ‘Gothic’ or ‘Romantic imagination’, Knight ranked among Burke’s ‘followers’ all those ‘many painters’ who teem their ‘works … with all sorts of terrific and horrific monsters and hobgoblins’ (1805, 375).21 Knight’s linkage of Burke’s physical theory with ‘unphilosophical artists’ set against the superior judgement of polite men is far from accidental. He evidently used Burke’s theory to reinforce established lines of division between the higher rank of ‘elevated’ men of taste, or connoisseurs such as Knight himself, and the lower sector of the art world, namely ‘mere mechanics’ and uncultivated painters. Burke’s Enquiry offered Knight an ideal opportunity to intensify the war against artists waged by connoisseurs in this period, their status as the exclusive arbiters of taste being eroded by the liberal pretensions of a growingly confident artistic profession (Brewer 1997, 252–87, 288–321). But the use of the Enquiry in this conflict is important for another reason. Although this dispute was previously centred on whether artists possessed the intellect to make legitimate theoretical judgements about the arts, during the 1810s it began to concentrate on the core issue of Knight’s criticism against Burke’s Enquiry; i.e. on the superior role of the sciences of physiology and anatomy in judgements of taste. The split between connoisseurs hostile to science and radical artists who saw in the biomedical sciences an effective means for the social promotion of the art profession, assumed in this period historic proportions. It culminated in a public controversy over the anatomical



For the development of the counter-public sphere, see Gilmartin (1996). Knight certainly refers to the pictorial fashions set by Henry Fuseli’s and William Blake’s work. See Myrone (2006).

222   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe realism of the Elgin Marbles from which Knight’s reputation and perceptions on taste emerged fatally wounded (Haydon 1816, 162–64). Public perceptions of science were indeed at the core of Knight’s assault on Burke’s Enquiry. In this nervous period of anti-Jacobin feeling, Burke’s physiological ideas came to be viewed, like science, as a threat to the established social order. Knight’s connections are indeed telling: As the physical danger and pain are, according to this [Burke’s] system, the means of the sublime, and self-preservation its principle; all the sentiments excited by it must, of consequence, be merely corporeal, organic, or nervous sensations; as the author endeavors them to be; and so far, his system is consistent in itself, though not with its general principles: for it leads directly to materialism; from which no man was ever more averse. (Knight 1805, 372–73)

During these years of counter-revolutionary fervour, ‘materialism’ was a byword for subversion, and Knight clearly appreciated that Burke had taken pains to establish himself as the leader of the anti-materialist backlash against the unholy trinity of science, medicine and political radicalism (Golinski 1992, 150–69). However, as Knight well knew, Burke’s Enquiry was ‘consistent’ with the ‘thinking matter’ tradition of English materialism that fertilized radical Enlightenment (172). Burke’s later jeremiads against pneumatic experimentation with the stimulating effects of gases, in particular nitrous oxide, have become notorious (Golinski 1992, 177–86), but such experiments were, nonetheless, labelled as ‘sublime chemistry’ (171). This was for good reason: they not only shared with Burke’s Enquiry the same vocabulary of sublime emotions, the same ideals of nervous stimulation and the same pursuit of sensations more potent than ‘mere pleasure’, but they also threw into focus the material basis of human affects and their political importance for social reform (78–9, 159–65, 197–98).22 At the end of his life, Burke realized the undesirable implications of his earlier project.23 Based on the measures he took to confront them, historians of science have routinely treated Burke as the ultimate reactionary, overlooking in the process what contemporaries like Knight had to face on a regular basis: Burke’s double engagement in this debate owing to the materialist sympathies of his earlier work. The reception of the Enquiry at the end of the eighteenth century played a crucial role in complicating the responses of contemporaries to Burke’s prominent part in counter-revolutionary politics. A more detailed appreciation today of the tensions and instabilities that the Enquiry’s radical physiology and sensory materialism introduced into these late eighteenth-century disputes adds depth to current interpretations of Burke’s politics during this period. In consequence, Knight’s book provided the most methodical dissection of Burke’s medical materialism, placing it firmly within contemporary clashes


The same political, affective and materialist aspects of pneumatism have been more recently analysed in Jay (2009). 23 Bromwich gives a very convincing interpretation of this volte-face, and the fissures it created, in Burke’s life and work; see Bromwich (2014), 94–96.

Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aesthetics   223 over the public meanings and role of the sciences. Through the same route, Burke’s materialism came to feature as a threat to the very political foundations of the public domain, again, because of its fixation on pain. Knight’s attack on Burke’s aesthetic defence of extreme experiences of hunger or stinks is characteristic of the broader political stakes involved in this critique: No one found hunger or thirst to be a sublime sensation; or found his mind elevated or expanded by suffering them. On the contrary, they have been generally esteemed to be most debasing and humiliating to the pride of human nature; as they not only level the highest with the lowest – the prince with the beggar, and the philosopher with the idiot, but man with the brute. (1805, 89)

In this extract, the levelling tendencies of Burke’s theory of pain are laid bare. In the apparent elimination of conventional distinctions promoted by his physiology, elite critics discerned a combined threat of democratization and de-humanization. Equally de-humanizing was Burke’s radical redefinition of sympathy, which he used to counter the traditional association of the notion with compassion, pity and benevolence.24 Knight found Burke’s redefinition of physical sympathy revolting, and his revulsion highlights the Enquiry’s ‘primitive’, dark and ‘misanthropic’ facets (Bromwich 1997, 30, 33–34). Burke’s argument regarding the natural allure of violence was indeed unthinkable: ‘Men are not’, Knight protested, ‘so perversely constituted by nature, as ever to feel delight in beholding the sufferings of those, who never injured them’ (1805, 322, also 313). Moreover, Burke’s famous fascination with the superior sympathetic links existing between forces of delight and public executions regularly conjures up, in Knight’s account, either the spectre of sedition or scenes of revolutionary terror (Enquiry, 76–77). As Knight highlighted, this glamorization of violence inevitably prepared the way for ‘the actual tyranny of Robespierre’, turning ‘the lower order’ into ‘a base rabble of cowards and assassins’ ready to support ‘a foreign tyrant’: Bonaparte undoubtedly (1805, 342). In all these ways, Knight’s pugnacious reception of Burke’s book was in fact a far more sensitive response to the text’s most pioneering and politicized aspects than other, more sympathetic responses. And it brought into the open the Enquiry’s latent ‘transgressions’ with an efficiency far more revealing than much later or even present-day commentary. Evidently, the reception of the text in the aftermath of the Revolution played a vital role in drawing out some of its most heretical and distressing implications, which, at the time of the treatise’s composition, had still been unclear to most readers including the treatise’s own author.

24 See

Burke (1759, 75–79). For Burke’s ‘disturbing’ analysis of sympathy, see Bromwich (2014, 65–71).

224   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Sensation and common-sense The path opened up by Knight’s intellectualist project was completed by Dugald Stewart, a careful reader of both Knight’s and Burke’s books. There is a general consensus that Stewart’s work was an eclectic enterprise that offers ‘no new formulations’ (Townsend 2007, 285). Methodologically, however, his anti-materialist ‘philosophy of the mind’ constitutes a landmark in the broader shift that led to the establishment of nineteenth-century philosophy of aesthetics as an independent discipline. In this development, the distinction between the internal world of the mind and the external world of material objects proved pivotal. Although Stewart’s anti-sensationism ‘continues to say all of the right things about beauty and taste’ (Townsend 2007, 285), his ability to identify with accuracy the historical lineages of Burke’s physiological materialism is refreshing. Not only did Stewart relate Burke’s method with ‘that hypothetical physiology concerning the connection between mind and matter, which has become so fashionable of late years’ (Stewart 1810, 244–45), but, what is more, he clarified the negative charge of the term ‘hypothetical physiology’, linking it with the ‘absurdities’ of ‘French Materialists’ and their British brethren (1810, 127–28). This meant that, in contrast to Knight, Stewart recognized that Burke’s Enquiry ought to be positioned within a web of significant developments in British science and medicine. Among them Stewart ranked highly Priestley’s connections between ‘the power of thinking’ and ‘a certain organization of the brain’ (1810, 135); Hartley’s conviction that ‘ideas of sensation may be transmuted into ideas of reflection’ (1810, 129), and Erasmus Darwin’s ‘doctrine of the materiality of our ideas’ as products of fibre activity (1810, 138–39). In a footnote to his essay on the sublime, Stewart showed that he could even seize on the complex affinities between Burke’s sensory materialism and the rise of environmental science as exemplified in Montesquieu’s Esprit des Lois (1810, 245).25 Of course, Stewart’s aesthetics, and his response to Burke’s work in particular, which he alternately condemned and praised, was by no means consistent.26 On the one hand, Stewart praised the ‘distance’ between Burke’s empirical approach and ‘the vague and mysterious phraseology concerning Beauty in general, in which so many of [his] predecessors delighted’ (1810, 236) but, on the other, he refused to see similar attempts to frame the discussion in a medical vocabulary as anything better than the ‘speculations’ of ‘metaphysicians’ (1810, 244, 344; Hipple 1955, 83, 84). Such a tactic sought to strike at the core of Burke’s materialist rhetoric by showing that, instead of enabling the rigorous analysis of concrete data, the study of the body was a shaky and unreliable ground for the more serious or rational pursuits of philosophy – a point emphasized already by both Hume and Kant.27 Hence, Stewart could counter-propose that knowledge of 25

See Stewart (1810, 245); Sarafianos (2012, 69–90); Jankovic (2010). See Townsend (2007, 272–75, esp. 273) and Hipple (1955, 81–83). 27 For Hume’s and Kant’s stance on this question, see Bromwich (2014, 77–79 and 89–96). 26

Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aesthetics   225 mental ‘phenomena and of the laws which regulated them is to be obtained not by looking without, but by looking within’ – in the internal world of critical reflection, mental associations and the logical laws that govern them (Stewart 1810, 134). In this sense, therefore, Stewart did not exactly fail ‘to foresee the possibility of extended investigation of mind-brain relation’ (Townsend 2007, 285). Rather, as ‘the first worker at the superstructure of the “Philosophy of the Mind”’ (Hipple 1955, 77–78), he devised a system that was designed to shut down such a possibility. Even better, Stewart’s system allowed him to usher in the discipline of philosophy as a practical juste milieu between the excesses of materialism and those of associationism. His sceptical engagement with Burke’s materialism was a crucial part of this project. What is more, both his stance against Burke’s method, and his overall philosophy implied a certain kind of life with its own ideals of mild manners and moderate habits, which were directly opposed to Burke’s glamorization of extreme affective experiences: Stewart’s ‘abhorrence for violence’, his high regard for ‘refined pleasure’ and the ‘political quietism’ of his notion of professional philosophy were, as scholars have noted, closely intertwined with his ‘abstract work on the mind’ (Brown 2004). This discussion continued throughout the nineteenth century, and although overly intellectualized approaches to aesthetics prevailed in philosophy, embodied versions of aesthetics had much long-term influence in other disciplines (including psychology, art history and art criticism). In this context, writers continued to engage with various aspects of the Burkean model, not least its theory of nervous tension and its extreme orders of affect, as an effective resource against entrenched forms of academic practice in art. Charles Bell’s Essays on the Anatomy of Expression (1806) – his ‘tonic’ theory of pain, his advocacy of ‘convulsive’ expression and his demonstration of the capacity of pain to reveal and simultaneously revitalize the body in art and life alike – is a unique, polemical example of the Enquiry’s capacity to continue to generate materialist applications throughout the nineteenth century. Striking right at the heart of Stewart’s or Knight’s mental philosophies of art and aesthetics, Bell shrewdly built on Burke’s physiological scheme in order to reinforce its valuable role in the fight against all those ‘Philosophers, [who] in examining the properties of the mind, have too much overlooked the influence of the body – I mean the gross frame-work of the body’ (Bell 1824, 17).28 Contrary to contemporary assumptions, the line connecting Burke’s Enquiry and later resuscitations of physiology in nineteenth-century discourse was never broken.29 In fact, the book remained a formative presence in modernist art practices, theories and criticism at least until the first half of the twentieth century, when another, more serious, challenge made its appearance. 28

Bell’s neurological model conferred on the ‘frame of the body’ the superior status of ‘a complex organ’ of ‘intellectual operation’, reconfirming the ‘extensive influence of the corporeal on the intellectual part of man’ (Bell 1824, 17). 29 On the Burkean genealogy of Nietzsche’s physiology of art, see Moore (2002, 85–89).

226   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe CODA: The present The legacies of Burke’s physiological aesthetics were still appreciated when Samuel Holt Monk composed his landmark history of the sublime (Monk 1935, 84–100). Writing before World War II, Monk was far more relaxed about the physicality of Burke’s method than those historians who came after him. Indeed, he highlighted the ‘remarkable modernity’ of Burke’s physiological ‘thought’, and grasped the fact that ‘in seeking to observe the physiology of beauty and sublimity [and] in bringing the whole organism into the aesthetic experience’, Burke was at his ‘most original’ (1935, 96). Still further, Monk saw the links connecting Burke’s physical model to later developments including what he called ‘the materialistic implication of twentieth-century psychological investigation’ (1935, 96). In spite of Monk’s impressive ability to identify the importance of Burke’s physiology, however, he was totally unable to find the hard evidence to support it in eighteenth-century sources and publications – medical or allied (1935, 96–97). Resignation naturally followed: ‘About all that one can say is that Burke seems to have studied the physiology and psychology of his day’ (1935, 97). Curiously enough, this remark was misunderstood, by later scholars, to mean that no further comment was necessary: ‘The present writer’, as J. Boulton put it, ‘agrees with Professor Monk that Burke does not follow any contemporary physiologist with sufficient consistency to merit a lengthy analysis’ (Boulton 1958, lix, footnote 68). Worse still, in the ‘Introduction’ to the first annotated modern edition of the Enquiry, Boulton exemplified the prevalent style of interpretation applied to Burke’s physiology until very recently. Drawing on a long intellectualist tradition Boulton’s emphasis on Burke’s ‘inconsistencies’, ‘mistakes’, and ‘fallacies’, repeats an established contempt for the ‘absurdities’ and ‘pseudoscientific’ nature of the Enquiry’s physiology of sensation (Boulton 1958, xxxvi–vii, lxxii–iii, lxxvi).30 Several decades later, in 1997, Boulton and McLoughlin provided a lengthy assessment of the text’s interdisciplinary reach (McLoughlin and Boulton 1997, 21), but again, reflecting enduring disciplinary splits, their list only included those fields closest to the humanities. The same limitations recur in F. P. Lock’s, and Andrew Ashfield’s and Peter de Bolla’s references to the multidisciplinary nature of Burke’s study: again, no mention is made of the importance of disciplines like medicine or physiology, which, as shown in this essay, constituted, within the long history of the Enquiry’s reception, singularly strong, productive and lasting areas of interest (Ashfield and de Bolla 1996, 6–7, 128–30). How did such a significant aspect of the text’s early history come to be so spectacularly forgotten by recent historians of ideas, literature or art? There seems to have been a significant break with this tradition in the period after World War II, which is not unrelated to broader shifts in the humanities, and


Boulton was fascinated by the sheer originality and boldness of Burke’s sensationism, acknowledging, eventually, that ‘historically’, though not ‘intrinsically’, ‘it is of great interest’ (1958, lxxvi).

Edmund Burke’s Physiological Aesthetics   227 is probably worth its own separate history.31 An alternative way of examining this question, however, would be to tackle another one which lies closer to home: how or why is this realist tangle of biophysical aspects of taste becoming so obvious now? Or, to use Wolfgang Iser’s phraseology, what lies behind the current ‘entrenchment of the aesthetic’ that has allowed such scholarly lacunae to become evident (Iser 2004, 1–2)? In a short but incisive piece, Iser, one of the pioneers of Reception Studies, identifies the epistemological shift that has allowed this essay to define its subject. After a genealogy of aesthetics as ‘a philosophical discipline, ranking side by side with metaphysics and ethics’ (2004, 3), Iser gives a breath-taking account of the rise and role of the ‘bodily senses’ in current aesthetics. A central aspect of this shift relates to the fact that ‘cognition no longer holds sway when the appeal of the aesthetic spurs the human senses into action’ (2004, 11). In fact, the very ‘prominence’ of the aesthetic today is interwoven with the way in which the ‘bodily senses tend to get the upper hand over mental ones’, and, in a direct reversal of Stewart’s or Knight’s mental projects, the ‘body has inherited the all-encompassing significance of the mind’ (2004, 11–12). Evidently, such radical reorientations in aesthetic theory and practice modify drastically perceptions about the past. If Iser’s account of the historical beginnings of aesthetics as a discipline emphasized the dominant status of the mind, then this essay demonstrated that Burke’s text and the history of its reception open to view a distinctly different vista. They tell a story about the ‘prehistory’ of aesthetics as a discipline of powerful and raw sensations, which, notwithstanding their unease, Burke’s contemporaries acknowledged. More notably, if, for us, the body has now become ‘a central orientation for assessing and judging human experience’ and ‘the bodily senses seem to cover a much broader range than the mind’ (2004, 12),32 then, as the Enquiry’s reception has revealed, similar possibilities had fascinated generations of scholars – since at least the mid-eighteenth-century appearance of Burke’s book. The Enquiry thus remains at the forefront of battles concerning the sovereignty of the mind versus the senses, intellectualism versus materialism, even philosophy versus ‘criticism’. Still further, the book continues to highlight politically sensitive divisions between mild pleasures and powerful irritations, moderation and increasing levels of excitement; ultimately, between polite and gross economies of sensation. As this survey showed, the Enquiry became for decades an almost unavoidable point of reference in similar disputes. It is not so curious, therefore, that the text and its reception may be advantageously redeployed today both as a means for exploring further the tangled histories of these conflicts as well as their continuing importance for current developments in art practices and related forms of scholarship and criticism.



See Brain (2015). The tendency to view ‘aesthetic acts’ as ‘configurations of experience’ that create new ‘modes of sense perception’ and new ‘forms of political subjectivity’ is evident in current discussions in art criticism and philosophy-based aesthetics. See Foster (2013, 15) and Rancière (2013, x–xi).



Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right? Lioba Simon Schuhmacher

Considering the longstanding historical rivalry between Spain and Great Britain, it is evident that Anglophilia was peculiar to a fraction of Spanish writers, thinkers or politicians. Even nowadays, a stance of scorn can be perceived towards those who sympathized with the British, as was the case of the clergyman and poet José María Blanco White, who left for England after the French invasion of Spain in 1808, never to return.1 The eminent historian Alberto Gil Novales viewed Blanco White as ‘a character much admired in Spain for his alleged courage of spirit when expatriating himself and becoming an Anglican, as if the Spaniards had nothing better to do for their political and social progress than turning into Anglicans.’2 Generally speaking, until the French Revolution the Spanish aristocracy and intelligentsia tended to be Francophile. If they turned anti-French in the tumultuous decades which followed, it was out of patriotic concern and, especially among the conservatives, a desire to preserve the system of monarchy. In his Thoughts on French Affairs, Burke foresaw that the political reaction to the threat of the French Revolution in Spain would provide an insight into the country’s history: As to Spain, it is a nerveless country. It does not possess the use, it only suffers the abuse, of a nobility. For some time, and even before the settlement of the Bourbon 1

Blanco White was one of a large exodus of liberals at the beginning of the nineteenth century to various parts of Europe, especially London and Paris. A good deal of research on the Spanish exiles abroad is going forward. Their political and literary opinions were often considerably different from many of those cited in this chapter. 2 ‘Blanco White … un personaje muy admirado en España hoy por su supuesta valentía de espíritu al expatriarse y hacerse anglicano, como si no tuviesen los españoles cosa mejor que hacer, para su progreso político y social, que tornarse anglicanos’ (Gil Novales 1981, 63). Trans. into English of this and the other quotes in this chapter: Lioba Simon Schuhmacher.

230   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe dynasty, that body has been systematically lowered, and rendered incapable by exclusion, and for incapacity excluded from affairs … As to the clergy, they are the only thing in Spain that looks like an independent order, and they are kept in some respect by the Inquisition, the sole but unhappy resource of public tranquillity and order now remaining in Spain. … Its great object is to keep atheistic and republican doctrines from making their way in that kingdom. No French book upon any subject can enter there which does contain such matter … The several kingdoms which compose Spain, have, perhaps, some features which run through the whole; but they are in many particulars as different as nations who go by different names: the Catalans, for instance, and the Arragonians too, in a great measure have the spirit of the Miquelets, and much more of republicanism than of an attachment to royalty. They are more in the way of trade and intercourse with France; and, upon the least internal movement, will disclose and probably let loose a spirit that may throw the whole Spanish monarchy into convulsions. It is a melancholy reflection that the spirit of melioration which has been going on in that part of Europe, more or less during this century, and the various schemes very lately on foot for further advancement, are all put a stop to at once. … At present the only safety of Spain is the old national hatred of the French. How far that can be depended upon, if any great ferments should be excited, it is impossible to say. (Burke 1791, 231–33).

Indeed, fear of the French Revolution crossing the border put an immediate stop to schemes for amelioration. The century had opened with a dynastic crisis triggering the War of the Spanish Succession. In 1713, the treaty of Utrecht brought the first member of the House of Bourbons to the Spanish throne: Felipe V (d. 1746). He was followed by his eldest son with his first wife María Luisa de Saboya, Fernando VI (1746–59). From 1759 until 1788 his eldest son with his second wife Isabel de Farnesio, Carlos III, reigned: a period which came closest to what was to be called Enlightenment in the rest of Europe, notwithstanding the shadow projected by the Inquisition. The ancien régime was to be overturned by an incipient industrialization, attempts at agricultural reforms, the creation of Societies to promote progress,3 and the limitation of the power of the clergy through the confiscation of Church properties, among other means. As of 1788, a feeble Carlos IV, overwhelmed by the effects of the French Revolution and court intrigues, left the country’s affairs increasingly under the control of Manuel Godoy, an astute politician and lover of the queen, who managed to position him as prime minister.4 The Napoleonic invasion in 1808, with its army advancing on Madrid, caused the Spanish royal family to flee to France, while Napoleon’s brother Joseph was installed on the throne. Fierce resistance by the people, the first popular uprising in Europe against 3

Sociedades de Amigos del País, similar to Political Projectors or political reform societies. 4 The court painter Francisco de Goya brilliantly depicted the royals and their entourage, as well as times of turmoil such as the Madrid uprising against the French invaders. The historical novel Goya (1951) by the German-Jewish author Lion Feuchtwanger provides a compelling and reliable insight into that period.

Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right?   231 Napoleon, was brutally put down by the French, provoking a British response which resulted in the Peninsular War. During the war against the invaders, countrywide negotiations were under way to set up a Constitution and a Parliamentary government; a major role was played by the reforming party, the Liberales. In 1810, the Spanish Cortes fled from the renewed French invasion, establishing itself in Cádiz, where it produced a strikingly modern Constitution in 1812. The defeat of the French in 1814 culminated in the restoration of the Bourbons in the person of Fernando VII, who refused to accept the Constitution and imposed a reactionary regime. The 1820 uprising managed to hold the king as a hostage of the Cortes in Cádiz. Yet the ‘liberal triennium’ ended abruptly in April 1823 with the aid of an army from France which restored the monarch to his full powers.5 Thus terror reigned anew for another ‘ominous decade’ until the tyrant’s death in 1833, when civil war broke out between supporters of his three-year-old daughter, Isabel, on the one hand, and of his brother Carlos María Isidro on the other.6 The dynastic contest raged until 1843, when Isabel II became queen at the age of 13, and it continued in the background for decades.7 In spite of such turbulence, with one pronunciamiento succeeding another,8 Spain experienced a noteworthy modernization, especially due to the establishment of the railway network and other infrastructures and institutions. Yet a generalized corruption and an extremely poor system of education hampered further progress. After the outbreak of the 1868 ‘Glorious Revolution’, which deprived Queen Isabel II of her throne, forcing her into French exile, the First Spanish Republic was proclaimed on 11 February 1873. A new military pronunciamiento in late 1874 restored the monarchy, with Isabel’s son Alfonso XII proclaimed King of Spain, offering an end to forty years of royal feuding. He was succeeded in 1886 by his son Alfonso XIII. The decline of the Spanish empire paralleled events in Spain itself: an exception to the nineteenth century trend of colonial growth. The Napoleonic invasion, the ensuing years of intense warfare and the effective isolation of the colonies from their mother country had triggered the eruption of long-smouldering discontents in the Spanish overseas territories, one after the other of which became independent. Edmund Burke’s reception in Spain is closely linked to the availability of his writings. French was by and large the intermediary language from which translations of English and other European (e.g. German, Russian) writers and philosophers used to be made, or in which they were read. English texts, therefore, including Burke’s, were studied by nineteenth-century Spanish


This army was named the ‘Cent Mille Fils de Saint Louis’ (‘los cien mil hijos de San Luis’, in Spanish), and headed by the Bourbon Prince Louis (Louis-Antoine d’Artois), Duke of Angoulême, who, in 1830, became the ephemeral French King Louis XIX. 6 The period between 1823 and 1833 is known as the ‘década ominosa’ in Spain. 7 The three ‘Guerras carlistas’ (Carlist wars) were: 1833–40; 1846–49; 1872–76. 8 Pronunciamiento is a euphemistic term for military uprising.

232   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe thinkers and politicians through French eyes. Moreover, these translations frequently consisted of abridged or ‘adapted’ versions. Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful was translated into Spanish in 1807, fifty years after publication. But the first full Spanish version of his Reflections on the Revolution in France had to wait over a hundred and fifty years until 1954. More recently, several other of Burke’s works have been translated into Spanish. Under the title Revolución y descontento: selección de escritos políticos de Edmund Burke (Revolution and discontent: a selection of political writings by Edmund Burke), the following essays are now available: ‘Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents’ (1770); ‘Speech to the Electors of Bristol’ (1774); and An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791).9 Burke’s A Vindication of Natural Society (1756) appeared in Spanish in 2009. The first translation of the full text of Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) was carried out by Juan de la Dehesa, a professor of law at the University of Alcalá, in 1807.10 The next edition, sponsored by the Institute of Architects and Master Builders of the region of Murcia, appeared in 1985. A shorter Spanish version followed ten years later, with a preliminary study by the translator, Menene Gras Balaguer, and was reprinted twice (Burke 1995, 1997, 2005). Its reception in Spain had already been mentioned in the Historia de las Ideas Estéticas en España-III: Siglo XVIII (History of the aesthetic ideas in Spain-III: Eighteenth Century) by the eminent cultural historian Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo (1907).11 Of Dehesa’s Spanish version, he briefly comments that it is ‘faithfully and accurately translated from English’.12 Burke first appears in the introduction, in the context of the debate on the concept of ‘sublime’: 9

A lengthy text by Noelia Adánez González introduces the translation by Mari Luz García González and Luisa Juanatey Dorado; see Adánez González (2008). 10 See Burke (1807). Juan de la Dehesa (Avilés, 1779 – Madrid, 1839) studied law at the University of Oviedo and became a professor at the University of Alcalá. Dehesa also translated Jean Louis de Lolme’s work, The constitution of England; or, An account of the English government: in which it is compared, both with the republican form of government, and the other monarchies in England (Lolme 1812), from which several extracts and articles appeared in the Spanish press. Dehesa also produced a kind of handbook: Método práctico simplificado para aprender por si solo en poco tiempo el idioma inglés y traducirlo al español (An applied and simple method of learning English by oneself and translating it into Spanish) (De la Dehesa 1821). He was Minister of Grace and Justice for four months in 1835. 11 Menéndez’s work consisting of five volumes appeared between 1883 and 1891. Vol. III on the eighteenth century was first printed in 1890. A much revised edition followed in 1907, and counts as the authoritative version: Madrid: Imprenta de la viuda é hijos de M. Tello, Suc. de Rivadeneyra, Impresor de Cámara de S. M. C. de San Francisco. The quotes in this chapter are drawn from: Fundación Ignacio Larramendi: Biblioteca Virtual Menéndez Pelayo: menendezpelayo/i18n/micrositios/inicio.cmd [accessed 24.05.2015]. See bibliography for the digital version of the complete works of Menéndez Pelayo. 12 ‘trasladada del inglés con mucha fidelidad y acierto’ (Menéndez Pelayo 1907, III, 1:184).

Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right?   233 In Longinus (whoever he may be) criticism verges on religious vocation, and the enthusiasm for the ancient models is turned into a kind of poetic inspiration or rhetoric. But even admiring his book as a literary monument, it has to be admitted that he left the aesthetic issue of the sublime untouched, and that he hardly sensed it. And worst of all is that his example and authority, validated in the modern schools through a more elegant than faithful translation of Boileau, in times when the rhetorical skills of the Greeks were a secret to a few, contributed to muddle the ideas on that point, retarding and misleading science, as can be seen in Burke himself until the subtle criticism of Kant came to pervade the essence of what until then had been considered an enigma impossible to solve.13

Further on, Burke is mentioned over a dozen times and lengthily discussed, albeit in a rather unflattering way: his influence on Arteaga is depicted twice (1907, III: 1, 75–81), but it is the superiority of the latter over Burke that is asserted: Yet the book which beyond doubt emerges as dominating his [i.e. Arteaga’s] entire work, and which presents his oeuvre with the consistency of a constructed theory is Investigaciones filosóficas sobre la belleza ideal, considerada como objeto de todas las artes de imitación (Philosophical enquiries into the ideal beauty considered as an object of imitation by the arts), printed in Madrid, and in the Castilian language, in 1789. Without dispute it has to be taken as the most methodical, complete, and scientific of the purely aesthetic works of the eighteenth-century, and it can compete without disadvantage with any other of its time, not withstanding Burke, Sulzer, and Mendelssohn. The only exception is the Lacconte, which is a work of genius … with infinite horizons and perspectives, yet it cannot be considered a methodical Aesthetics, neither was this on the author’s mind.14


‘En Longino (quien quiera que él sea) la crítica parece vocación religiosa, y el entusiasmo por los antiguos modelos se convierte en una manera de inspiración poética u oratoria. Pero admirando su libro como monumento literario, hay que confesar que dejó intacta la cuestión estética de lo sublime, y que apenas llegó a vislumbrarla. Y fué [sic] lo peor que su ejemplo y autoridad, confirmada en las escuelas modernas por una traducción más elegante que fiel de Boileau, en tiempos en que el tecnicismo de los retóricos griegos era secreto de pocos, contribuyó a embrollar las ideas sobre este punto, y atrasó y extravió la ciencia, como es de ver en Burke mismo, hasta que la sutil crítica kantiana llegó a penetrar en la esencia de lo que hasta entonces se había tenido por indisoluble enigma’ (Menéndez Pelayo 1907, I, 3:109–10). 14 ‘Pero el libro que se levanta dominando el conjunto de todos sus trabajos [i.e. de Arteaga], y comunicándoles la unidad de una teoría fuertemente enlazada, es, sin duda, el de las Investigaciones filosóficas sobre la belleza ideal, considerada como objeto de todas las artes de imitación, impresas en Madrid, y en lengua castellana, en 1789, y que, sin contradicción, deben tenerse por el más metódico, completo y científico de los libros de estética pura del siglo XVIII, pudiendo hombrear sin desventaja con cualquier otro de su tiempo, aunque entren en cuenta Burke, Sulzer y Mendelssohn, con la excepción única del Lacconte, que es una obra de genio con todas las superioridades de tal, es decir, con horizontes y perspectivas infinitas, pero

234   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Esteban de Arteaga (Segovia, 1747 – Paris, 1799), a Jesuit scholar, musicologist and expert in aesthetics, studied in Bologna in the 1770s, after the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain in 1767, where he was in touch with leading Italian musicologists. In 1783, he published Le Rivoluzioni del Teatro Musicale Italiano (Revolutions in Italian musical theatre). Arteaga was attracted by the aesthetic theories of Locke and apparently also by those of Burke; the influence of the latter has been discussed by experts, and admitted by some. Nevertheless, Arteaga himself never mentions Burke explicitly, not even in his other important work, mentioned above, Investigaciones filosóficas sobre la belleza ideal considerada como objeto de las artes de imitación (Philosophical enquiries into the ideal beauty considered as an object of imitation by the arts) (1789), the title of which is strongly reminiscent of Burke’s Philosophic Enquiry. Yet in his article, ‘Lo bello y lo sublime en la estética de Esteban de Arteaga’ (The beautiful and sublime in the aesthetics of Esteban de Arteaga), Fernando Molina Castillo insists: Before searching for evidence in Le rivoluzioni, let us see the most direct and evident proof in The ideal beauty (chap. XI) where we come across a most evident testimonial presence of the topic of the sublime according to the Burkean model, in spite of Batllori, who follows Menéndez Pelayo, holding that ‘I don’t think that he was acquainted with the Irish Burke, since besides his never quoting him, when Arteaga reasons about the sublime … he does so with full independence from his Philosophic Enquiry [sic] …’15

If Arteaga read Burke’s treatise, it would have been in English or French, since he died on a diplomatic mission in Paris in 1799, several years before Dehesa’s translation into Spanish. In his work, La Estética inglesa del siglo XVIII (The English aesthetics of the eighteenth century), Francisco Mirabent (1927) makes over forty references to Burke, especially to the Enquiry, although he does not deal explicitly with its reception in Spain. As to the dissemination of Burke the politician’s views in the Iberian Peninsula, an eighty-eight page set of extracts from his Reflections on the Revolution in France and other writings had been published in a Portuguese translation in Rio de Janeiro as early as 1812 by the Viscount Da Silva Lisboa Cairu, and ten years later found its way to Lisbon in a second revised edition.16 Apparently parts of the text were also available in Mexico in 1826 in a ‘new

que no puede considerarse como una Estética metódica, ni el autor lo pretendía’ (Menéndez Pelayo 1907, III, 1:150–51). 15 ‘Antes de recorrer tales evidencias en Le Rivoluzioni, veamos la muestra más directa y explícita en La belleza ideal (cap. XI), donde encontramos una presencia testimonial clarísima de la tópica de lo sublime según el modelo burkeano, pese a que Batllori, siguiendo a Menéndez Pelayo, sostenga que ‘al irlandés Edmund Burke no creo lo conociese, pues fuera de no citarlo nunca, cuando pónese Arteaga a razonar sobre lo sublime …, lo hace con plena independencia de su Philosophical Enquiry …’’ (1999–2000, 244). 16 Within his Extractos das Obras Políticas e económicas do grande Edmund Burke; see Bibliography.

Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right?   235 version, corrected and thoroughly revised’ (although this could have been referring to a French translation).17 The Spanish National Library holds a fourteen-page manuscript summary, handwritten and unsigned, entitled ‘Extracto de una carta de Mister Burke a un miembro de la Asamblea Nacional de Francia’ (Extract of a letter by Mister Burke to a member of the French National Assembly), dated Beaconsfield 19 January 1791, in Spanish.18 Its exact dating is unclear, nor is there evidence of its circulation, let alone its publication around that time, due to the prohibition of any matter dealing with the revolution in France, as explained further on. Only recently (2015) has it been transcribed and published with a lengthy introduction and the facsimile. The first full published translation of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) took over a century and a half to appear in Spain.19 Carried out by Enrique Tierno Galván,20 with a fourteen-page prologue, it was published in 1954 by an institution specializing in political topics, and subsequently reprinted in 1978, in the wake of the newly emerging democracy in Spain. Vicente Herrero’s 1984 Spanish version, published in Mexico, deserves to be mentioned here, too. And in 1989, on the occasion of the bicentenary of the French Revolution, the translation by Esteban Pujals – a pioneering scholar in English philology – appeared. It includes an authoritative introductory study on, and a critical résumé of, the Reflections entitled ‘El pensamiento político de Edmund Burke’ (Edmund Burke’s political thought), first published as an article in 1954. In the three Spanish versions listed, the title of Burke’s work is (mis) translated, with the equivalent for ‘French Revolution’ employed instead of ‘Revolution in France’. Only Carlos Mellizo’s 2003 version, the most recent in Spanish at the time of writing, annotated and with an introduction, refers to it literally as ‘la revolución en Francia’. The most recent version of Burke’s Reflections available in Spain is a translation by Patxi Ezkiaga Lasa (2010) into Basque, one of the four officially recognized languages of the Spanish state. There are various reasons for the long absence of a Spanish version of the Reflections. In the first case, there was censorship. Given the desire to suppress debate, the importation and translation of printed matter dealing with revolutions, whether in favour or against them, had to be clandestine since these works were likely to have been blacklisted by the Inquisition. As such, Burke’s 17

‘Nueva edición corregida y revisada con esmero’, as referred to in Gil Novales (1981, 64). 18 The manuscript was acquired through Sotheby’s by the Spanish National Library in 1976. See Bibliography. 19 See Aguilar Piñal (2008) for an earlier, unpublished attempt. 20 Tierno Galván (Madrid, 1918 – Madrid, 1986) was a professor in Sociology and Constitutional Law, an essayist and a politician. A key member of the Spanish Socialists (PSOE), and a highly popular mayor of Madrid (1979–86), Tierno Galván began by writing his doctoral thesis under the supervision of the traditionalist scholar Francisco Elías de Tejada. Also remembered as the ‘old professor’, Tierno Galván was subject to censure under Franco’s regime and was forced into exile in the 1960s.

236   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe main work was first referred to by the ‘Santo Oficio’ (i.e. The Holy Office of the Inquisition) in Logroño in 1792, and eventually prohibited in 1805.21 Furthermore, the government of Manuel Godoy issued four royal decrees, the first of them on 7 June 1793, forbidding anyone ‘to insert any paper or book containing news, favourable or adverse, of the matters concerning the kingdom of France.’22 Nevertheless, the curiosity of the enlightened few found ways to get around this. For example, a diary entry by the statesman Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (Gijón, 1744 – Puerto de Vega, 1811) dating from 21 November 1795 reveals that he had lent Francisco de Paula Caveda y Tenreiro ‘the Burke’.23 In turn, as Jovellanos notes in a diary entry of 7 December 1795, he receives Caveda’s translation of Barruel’s Historia de la persecución del clero de Francia (History of the clergy during the French Revolution), which he promises to read.24 There is some controversy as to which ‘Burke’ Jovellanos was referring to. His library was certainly one of the best stocked in the country;25 he received English newspapers, and his correspondence with foreign politicians and diplomats, such as Lord Holland, constitute a vivid proof of his open-mindedness. Hence it is part of Spain’s tragic history that this key Enlightenment figure, Minister of Justice for eight months in 1797, was soon disgraced under Carlos IV’s Prime Minister, Godoy, and confined in a fortress in Mallorca for seven years.26 He was freed only after the upheavals of 1808, and in the ensuing years played an important role in the making of the liberal Constitution. He would not, however, live to enjoy its fruits as he died seeking refuge from a second invasion of his hometown, Gijón, by the French army in November 1811.27 In the introductory study to his above-mentioned 1989 translation of Burke’s Reflections, Esteban Pujals asserts: As we study the personality of Burke … inevitably and as a matter of fact a figure comes to mind which, up to a point, turns out to be his equivalent in Spain: this figure is Jovellanos … it simply has to be pointed out that, in general and in many instances his attitude is strikingly similar, and when reading Burke’s works one cannot be but reminded of many pages of Jovellanos. … Jovellanos’s piety, his liberal conservatism, his attitude towards the French Revolution, even his pre-Romantic literary tendencies, convert him into a


22 23 24 25



As mentioned in Llorens (1967, 133). ‘…de insertar un papel o libro noticias algunas favorables o adversas de las cosas pertenecientes al reino de Francia’. Madrid, Real Orden, 7 de junio de 1793. ‘se presta el Burke a Caveda y Tenreiro; el Smith a Pedrayes;’ (Jovellanos 1999, VII, Diario 2º, 485). ‘me envía la Historia de la persecución del clero de Francia, por el abate barruel [sic], que leeré,’ (Jovellanos 1999, VII, Diario 2º, 492). See e.g. Aguilar Piñal (2008) and Clement (1980). A succinct and authoritative biography is that of Caso González, written in 1980 and translated into English by M. J. Álvarez Faedo in 2011 on the bicentenary of Jovellanos’s death. Having boarded a vessel heading for Cádiz, Jovellanos fell ill and had to disembark in Puerto de Vega, where the vessel sought shelter in a storm. He died a few days later.

Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right?   237 character similar to that of Burke. They even converge in values such as sincerity and honesty. … in him we will see a man whose personality and attitude in Spain is the equivalent to that of Burke in England.28

Burke’s influence on Jovellanos, together with that of Adam Ferguson, is undisputed.29 While involved in the task of drafting the Spanish Constitution, Jovellanos revealed in a letter to Lord Holland: My endeavour is to set up, by means of our plan, a constitution modelled on the English and as much improved as could be, and to that end the manner of the organization of the Assembly has been devised.30

Jovellanos was truly visionary, as Francisco Carantoña asserts when recognizing the statesman’s ‘admiration of the British political system, shared by all moderate liberals, yet his position was never that of a conservative.’31 According to Ignacio Fernández Sarasola’s study El pensamiento político de Jovellanos (Jovellanos’ political thought) (2011), he seems to share Burke’s constitutional ideas, which gave priority to historical circumstance over abstract reason, in marked contrast to the French Revolutionaries. Moreover, Lord Holland quoted Burke, whom he admired, in his letters to Jovellanos, as well as in a proposal for a meeting of the Cortes, which he drafted together with John Allen for the Spaniard. However, Jovellanos’s convergence with Burke’s thought does not go beyond this: Burke is overtly more modern. The former would neither sense the importance of a cabinet system nor that of political parties, nor even that of the full (not merely normative) mechanism of the so called ‘English Constitution’. Thus, Fernández Sarasola concludes, Jovellanos


‘Al paso que se estudia la personalidad de Burke … surge inevitablemente por si sola la figura que, hasta cierto punto, resulta su equivalente en España: esta figura es Jovellanos … simplemente señalar que, de modo general, su actitud es en muchos casos singularmente semejante, y que a lo largo de la lectura de las obras de Burke es imposible no recordar frecuentemente muchas páginas de Jovellanos. … la religiosidad de Jovellanos, su conservadurismo liberal, su actitud frente a la Revolución francesa, e incluso su tendencia literaria prerromántica, hacen de él una personalidad parecida a la de Burke. Incluso coinciden en los valores humanos de sinceridad y honradez … veremos en él un hombre cuya personalidad y actitud es en España equivalente a la de Burke en Inglaterra’ (Burke 1989, 31–32). 29 See e.g. Varela (1988, 231): ‘El asturiano se opone, como lo había hecho Burke, a las tendencias democráticas que entendían la libertad como autodeterminación permanente’ [The Asturian opposes, as Burke had done, the democratic tendencies that understood liberty as a permanent self-determination]. 30 ‘Mi deseo era preparar por medio de nuestro plan una constitución modelada por la inglesa y mejorada en cuanto se pudiese, y a esto se dirigía la forma que ideamos para la organización de la asamblea’, letter to Lord Holland dated 5 December 1810, Muros de Galicia (Jovellanos 2008, V, Correspondencia 4ª, 423). 31 ‘su admiración por el sistema político británico, que compartirán todos los liberales moderados, pero sus posiciones no son nunca las de un conservador’ (Carantoña Álvarez 2010, 28).

238   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe was closer to Hume than to Burke. Jovellanos’s ascription to an ideological camp remains, however, a disputed matter. In a recent study, Silverio Sánchez Corredera recalls that Jovellanos had applauded the recently established constitution of the American Republic. Furthermore, and contrary to Burke, in the beginning he had supported the ideals of the French Revolution; then he had stepped back at the Jacobin bloodshed, notably around 1793, as had many other intellectuals of his time, and eventually he had welcomed the new French Republican constitution of 1795. Sánchez Corredera concludes: In any case, in an ideological sense, the place closest to Jovellanos is that of the incipient liberal left. And if we refer strictly to the network of effective ideas, it would have to be asserted that Jovellanos was a ‘proto-liberal’.32

According to Alberto Gil Novales, Burke’s influence on the origins of ‘reactionary thought’ has not been sufficiently assessed.33 Burke’s haltingly favourable reception in Spain seems to be at root a product of a counterrevolutionary fervour, even if it came in enlightened or liberal disguise. Nor did the rise of Burkism at the outset seem to be related to any direct experience of a revolutionary or violent confrontation, but rather to an ideological fear of progress. While Javier Herrero only mentions Burke incidentally in his work Los orígenes del pensamiento reaccionario español (The origins of Spanish reactionary thought) (1971), and other well-known historians completely ignore him, the British scholar Raymond Carr assures us that Burke was central to moderate ideology around 1836 and 1843, and in the second half of the nineteenth century, he was an influence on the politician and statesman Cánovas del Castillo (Carr 1966, 348). This is also stated by Bernard Looks.34 On the other hand, works dealing with the Spanish American colonies’ struggle for independence rarely mention Burke. Only occasionally, and in more recent studies, do we come across references to the impact he had on certain key figures: It must be admitted that a new conservative trend emerged which eventually incorporated Burke’s thought. The Venezuelan Andrés Bello was a firm defender thereof since he moved to Chile.35


‘En cualquier caso, el lugar ideológico más próximo a Jovellanos en principio es esa primera izquierda libe­ral. Y si somos estrictos con la red de conexiones de ideas efectivas, habría de afirmarse que Jovellanos es un protoliberal’ (Sánchez Corredera 2011, 775) 33 ‘pensamiento reaccionario’, Gil Novales (1981, 63). 34 E.g. ‘Cánovas, who was an admirer of the British philosopher Edmund Burke …’ (Looks 1977, 380). 35 ‘Cabría por último tener en cuenta la inserción de una corriente de signo conservador, donde se encuentra, cabalmente, la novedad producida como consecuencia de la inserción, mas tardíamente, del pensamiento de Burke, del que fue decidido partidario el venezolano Andrés Bello, a partir de su instalación en Chile’ (Batllori and Hernández Sánchez-Barba 1988, 832).

Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right?   239 Probably the first explicit and, at the same time, auspicious public reference to Burke is made by one of the Spanish supporters of the clergyman Barruel, Cardinal Pedro de Inguanzo y Rivero, in a series of letters first published between 1813 and 1814 under the title El dominio sagrado de la Iglesia en sus bienes temporales (The Church’s sacred domain over its worldly treasures). In these epistles, which were reprinted in the liberal triennium 1820–23, Inguanzo refers to the ‘famous letter of the most sensible and most eloquent Edmundo [sic] Burke, the English Protestant, who certainly may neither be accused of prejudice, nor of lack of enlightenment or skills in politics’.36 The author firmly opposes the confiscation of Church properties while attacking those liberal Spanish statesmen who had been promoting it. Furthermore, he praises Burke for criticizing the sacking of temples during the French Revolution, paraphrasing, rather than properly quoting, a very long assortment of his passages, in which the ownership of estates is discussed.37 At the end of this lengthy passage the author calls the attention to the sixth letter, where Burke is mentioned again: as well as in letter eight.38 The former reference to Burke by Cardinal Inguanzo is likewise recollected by Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo in his work Historia de los heterodoxos españoles (A history of the heterodox Spaniards), a beacon for generations of historians, written between 1880 and 1882. The following introductory and final comments mention Burke: [Inguanzo] found backing for this truth, as plain and indisputable, if expediency and wickedness would not insist in twisting it, in the eloquent words of the protestant Burke against the confiscation decreed by the French Assembly, and, against any kind of project to put the clergy on the State payroll as if it were just another body of French civil servants. These wonderful words by Burke make up the topic glossed by Inguanzo in his fifteen letters.39

Sometime earlier, in the turbulent year of 1820, an anonymous sixteen-page pamphlet circulated, entitled Alocución a los Padres de la Patria (Address to the fathers of the nation). It contained a warning to the country’s politicians and

36 ‘célebre

carta del muy juicioso tanto como elocuentísimo Edmundo Burke, protestante inglés a quien no se tachará tampoco de preocupación, ni de falta de ilustración, ni política’ (Inguanzo y Rivero (1820–23), vol. I, Prólogo (prologue) p. xlvii). He is clearly referring to the Reflections. 37 It seems that the source was a French translation rather than the original English. The quoting appears rather inaccurate as well; compare Inguanzo y Rivero (1820– 23), vol. I, Prólogo (prologue) pp. xlvii–liv with Burke (1968, 200; 203; 216). 38 Inguanzo y Rivero, vol. I, Prólogo (prologue) pp. xiv–xv. 39 ‘Corroboró esta verdad, tan sencilla e inconcusa si el interés y la maldad no se empeñasen en torcerla, con las elocuentes palabras del protestante Burke contra la desamortización decretada por la Asamblea francesa y, contra todo proyecto de asalariar al clero a tenor de cualquier otro cuerpo de funcionarios civiles.’/ ‘Estas maravillosas palabras de Burke son el tema que Inguanzo ha glosado en sus quince cartas’ (Menéndez Pelayo 1978, 3:474–75).

240   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe people not to follow the steps that led the French Convention to tyranny and anarchy. In it, Burke’s originality is placed in doubt: A numerous body will deem itself safe, and not always linked to the code of honour, since each individual believes himself to be entitled to load the hateful part of the adopted measures onto the rest, and thus, in the shadow of the crowd to which it belongs, avoid punishment. This reflection of the Englishman Burk [sic] in his book on the French Revolution, a reflection which has passed as original, was already uttered two centuries ago by one of our sixteenth-century politicians. ‘The crowd’, says Saavedra, ‘neither feigns nor forgives, nor does it show mercy. It is as spirited in the risky resolutions as in the just ones; for when fear, or guilt, is divided amongst many, each and every one thinks that neither danger is going to touch him nor infamy taint him.’40

As mentioned above, José María Blanco Crespo, later Joseph Blanco White (Seville, 1775–Liverpool, 1841),41 took exile in England in 1810, since he opposed both the French invasion and the absolutist monarchy. He adopted his second surname from his paternal Irish grandfather, and even renounced Catholicism to embrace Protestantism. Later in life he found a spiritual home in the Unitarian Community. His excellent English allowed him to write the sonnet Night and Death (1828), which made an impression on Coleridge, who described it as ‘the finest sonnet in the English language’, and found its way into several anthologies of English literature.42 From London, he ran the monthly periodical El Español (1810–14), which supported the struggle for the colonies’ independence and was widely read overseas. This was the final straw and established him as a pariah in his home country, to which he never returned. Through Blanco White’s endeavours, an indirect Burkean stance was conferred on the independence movements, as Martin Murphy acknowledges: Eloquent, acute, and prophetic, El Español exercised a seminal influence in Spanish America. Its articles were reprinted in Mexico, Lima, Caracas, and Buenos Aires,


‘Un cuerpo numeroso suele creerse impune, y no siempre ligado por la ley del honor, porque cada individuo piensa poder cargar sobre los otros lo odioso de la medida que se adoptó y evitar la pena a la sombra de la muchedumbre, de que hace parte. Esta reflexión del inglés Burk [sic] en su libro sobre la revolución francesa, reflexión que pasó por original, fue hecha dos siglos antes por uno de nuestros políticos del sigo 16. ‘La multitud’, dice Saavedra, ni disimula ni perdona, ni se compadece. Tan animosa es en las resoluciones arriscadas, como en las justas; porque repartido entre muchos el temor, o la culpa, juzga cada uno que ni le ha de tocar el peligro, ni manchar la infamia’ (Anon. 1820, 9). 41 The cultural historian Vicente Llorens (1954; 1971) and the author Juan Goytisolo (2010) have done much to raise awareness of this unusual character in Spain. 42 See: Eugenia Peroso Arronte, ‘Imaginative Romanticism and the Search for a Transcendental Art’, in: The Reception of S. T. Coleridge in Europe, eds Elinor Shaffer and Edoardo Zuccato (Continuum, 2007), pp. 167–96. Blanco White is discussed pp. 137–48, Coleridge’s letter of praise appears on p. 139, and the poem, ‘Night and Death’, on pp. 139–40.

Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right?   241 thereby contributing to the development of a common purpose, and it moved Bolívar’s political thought in a Burkean direction. (Murphy 2004)

Blanco White is probably best known for his work ‘Letters from Spain’ (1825), a set of delicate and colourful epistles in the style of the Lettres persanes, mixing fiction with ‘sketches of Spanish manners, customs and opinions’.43 Parallel to that, in the 1820s, Blanco White wrote a series of articles in Historical Miscellanea, describing English traditions and customs with admiration. Here, Burke appears occasionally, as in the ‘Noticia biográfica de Sir James Mackintosh’ (Biographical note on Sir James Mackintosh): In 1791 he published a reply to the famous work by Burke on the French Revolution. This reply caught the attention of the illustrious Fox, who offered him his friendship and conversation, as well as Burke himself, with the generosity known only in free countries, where everybody is used to discussions and debates on opinions; he became a friend of his young antagonist.44

When referring to the example of the British Glorious Revolution, Blanco White ends by quoting Burke: These venerable gentlemen knew that if there was to be a king, it was for him to hold the reins of the government, and as the eloquent Burke says: ‘Ill would our ancestors at the Revolution have deserved their fame for wisdom, if they had found no security for their freedom, but in rendering their government feeble in its operations and precarious in its tenure, – if they had been able to contrive no better remedy against arbitrary power than civil confusion.’45

Furthermore, the Argentinian scholar Óscar Calvelo suggests that Blanco White could be referring to Burke’s aesthetics when making use of the concepts ‘sublime’ and ‘terror’, which, he writes, may be inspired by ‘Hume, Burke, or Kant who [the latter two of whom] developed them in response to

43 Blanco

White (1825, v–vi): the work was published under the pseudonym ‘Leocadio Doblado’, although it was disclosed that ‘these letters are in effect the faithful memoirs of a Spanish clergyman … [who] left that beloved country [Spain] whose religious intolerance has embittered his life’. 44 ‘En 1791 publicó una respuesta a la obra famosa de Mr. Burke sobre la Revolución Francesa. Esta respuesta atrajo la atención del célebre Fox, quien lo convidó con su amistad y trato, y aún el mismo Burke, con la generosidad que se conoce sólo en los países libres, donde todo el mundo está acostumbrado a discusión, y debate de opiniones; se hizo amigo de su joven antagonista’ (Blanco White 1823, 269). 45 ‘Sabían estos varones venerables que si ha de haber un rey, es para que tenga en sus manos las riendas del gobierno, y como dice el elocuente Burke, “pocos títulos tendrían a su fama de sabiduría, si no hubiesen acertado a asegurar su libertad de otro modo que debilitando a su gobierno en sus operaciones, y haciéndolo precario en su posesión del mando”’ (Blanco White 1811, 34). Original English text in Burke (1968, 115).

242   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe the former’s considerations on the aesthetic pleasure produced by the literary genre of tragedy.’46 Burke may also have had an influence on the Leyendas Españolas (Spanish legends) by José Joaquín de Mora (Cádiz, 1783 – Madrid, 1864). Mora was a journalist, poet and politician, exiled after the 1823 overthrow of the constitutional government. He went first to London, then Buenos Aires and finally Chile, where he became the main author of the nation’s 1828 Constitution. In his Leyendas Españolas, which contain allusions to British policies, Burke’s work is quoted explicitly in a footnote of a tale in verse: ‘Zafadola’, based on an ancient chronicle by King Alfonso VII, touching upon the topics of freedom, honour and constitution: Call it freedom or whatever, He who praises or vituperates it, is mistaken If he ignores to whom it is applied and in which case …

The footnote reads: Edmundo [sic] Burke in his famous ‘Reflections on the French Revolution’ [sic] says: ‘But I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to anything which relates to human actions and human concerns on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances … give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect … Can I now congratulate [a nation] upon its freedom? Is it because liberty in the abstract may be classed amongst the blessings of mankind, that I am seriously to felicitate a madman who has escaped from the protecting restraint and wholesome darkness of his cell on his restoration to the enjoyment of light and liberty? Am I to congratulate a highwayman and murderer who has broke prison upon the recovery of his natural rights?’47


‘El concepto de sublime como lo terrorífico juzgado estéticamente pudo ser tomado por Blanco White tanto de Hume como de Burke o Kant, quienes lo desarrollaron a partir de las consideraciones del primero de ellos acerca del placer estético que produce el género literario tragedia’ (Calvelo 2000, 117). 47 ‘Llámese libertad o como quiera Se engaña quien la elojia [sic] o vitupera i ignora a quien se aplica y en qué caso …’ Footnote: ‘Edmundo [sic] Burke en sus célebres: ‘Reflexiones sobre la Revolución Francesa’ dice: ‘No puedo decidirme a elojiar [sic] ni censurar nada relativo a los sentimientos y negocios humanos, cuando se me presenta el asunto en toda su desnudez, despojado de toda relación, y considerado meramente como una abstracción metafísica. Las circunstancias son las que dan a todo principio político su colorido peculiar y sus efectos característicos. Cuando se me dice que un pueblo ha recobrado su libertad ¿qué motivo tengo para congratularlo? ¿Será porque la libertad, considerada de un modo abstracto, entra en el número de los beneficios que nos dispensa la Providencia? Entonces felicitaré al loco que rompe sus saludables prisiones, y al asesino que se escapa de la cárcel, ya que uno y otro no hacen más que recobrar sus derechos naturales’ (Mora 1840, 154–55; 464).

Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right?   243 When comparing Mora’s with Burke’s original text, it becomes clear that it is slightly abridged and ‘modelled’ to the author’s purpose. This lets us infer that he did not use an English original. José Joaquín de Mora also undertook translations of parts of the work of Bentham, a political antagonist of Burke, such as his Four Letters to the Spanish People in which this utterly unflattering passage on Burke appears: You must, all of you, have heard of Burke, Edmund Burke, the most illustrious of writers among the Whigs. Each of these men published, at different times, his pamphlet on the subject of finance—each of them, such is the depravity of the ruling few, feared not to speak of this as an acknowledged principle. I, for my part, have, at different times, published two Defences of Economy: one against that George Rose, another against that Edmund Burke; for, long before the Tory pamphlet was written or thought of, Burke, adding treachery and imposture to rapacity, had constituted himself an advocate for economy, for the very purpose of betraying it.48

As it turns out, Burke’s ideas served both the liberals’ and the conservatives’ cause in Spain. On the one hand, Tomás Jesús Quintero quotes him striking his American (and thus indeed more liberal) chord in the thirty-two-page pamphlet, Impugnación al número primero del periódico titulado ‘El Censor’ hecha por la Sociedad Patriótica de Amantes del Orden Constitucional (Impugnment of the first issue of the periodical ‘El Censor’, on behalf of the Patriotic Society of Supporters of the Constitutional Order) (1820, 19–20). The fact that Burke’s name is spelt as ‘Edmundo Bourke’ suggests that Quintero read him in French. Moreover, in the wake of the liberal fervour of the Constitutional Triennium (1820–1823), in his ‘Carta del ciudadano Antonio Alcalá Galiano al director de la sociedad patriótica instalada en Cádiz …’ (Letter from the citizen Antonio Alcalá Galiano to the President of the Patriotic Society of Cádiz …), the author includes ‘among the most distinguished Englishmen, a Chatam [sic], a Burke and a Fox’, whom he himself wishes to excel in their ‘love of freedom’,49 yet with a gesture towards the Anglo-American cause. On the other hand, Burke’s counter-revolutionary stance appears most distinctly in the Cádiz newspaper La Constitución y las Leyes (The constitution and the laws), run by Félix José 48

‘la fama de Burke os es conocida, de Edmundo Burke, el más ilustre escritor del partido contrario. Cada uno de estos hombres publicó en diferentes épocas un folleto sobre hacienda, y cada uno (tal es la depravación de los poderosos) habló de aquel principio como una regla invariable. Yo por mi parte he publicado dos defensas de la economía, una contra Rose, y otra contra Burke, pero éste, añadiendo la traición y engaño al espíritu de rapiña, mucho tiempo antes que se publicase el folleto del partido contrario, se había constituido en defensor de la Economía, con el único objeto de desacreditarla’ (Bentham 1820, 19). Consejos que dirige a las Cortes y al Pueblo Español Jeremías Bentham – traducidos del inglés por José Joaquín de Mora, (1820), Madrid: por Repullés, twenty-two-page Spanish version offered to the Ateneo of Madrid, with a foreword by the translator José Joaquín de Mora, of Jeremy Bentham’s Four Letters to the Spanish People (1820). Burke is referred to on pp. 10–11. 49 ‘los ingleses más distinguidos, un Chatam [sic], un Burke y un Fox … tan claros varones’, ‘ardiente amor por la libertad’ (Alcalá Galiano 1820, 1–3).

244   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Reinoso (Seville, 1772 – Madrid, 1841), an ‘afrancesado’, or defender of French ideals, who was forced to cross the Pyrenees after the invaders’ defeat. Upon his return he became active for the liberal cause, although leaning to their more conservative side (thus he was to be safe from prosecution upon the restoration of Fernando VII in 1823), and was nicknamed the ‘obispo francés’ (French bishop). In August 1822, Reinoso’s newspaper published the text ‘Ideas de Edm. Burke sobre las revoluciones’ (Ideas of Edm. Burke on revolutions), with a brief description of the English Revolution of 1688, the French Revolution of 1789, and the Polish Revolution of 1791. It was followed by a commentary praising the ‘sublime and true traits’ with which Burke depicted the revolutionary issues. Yet Reinoso wrongly accuses Burke of not making mention of ‘the disastrous events in his country in the year 1649’, and of neglecting to draw a parallel between the first English revolution and the French, or between the two ‘monsters’ Cromwell and Robespierre, ‘equally ferocious, hypocritical and malign’.50 According to Gil Novales (1981, 73), this comparison seems to be based on Antoine Fantin-Desodoards’s Histoire Philosophique de la Revolution Française (1796).51 The gist of Reinoso’s appeal is that the lessons learnt from the violent outbreaks in both England (1649) and France (1789) should serve as a severe warning to Spain. A month later, in September 1822, another text supposedly by Burke appeared in Reinoso’s periodical, under the title ‘Opinión de un escritor célebre acerca de Rousseau’ (A famous writer’s opinion on Rousseau).52 However, the authorship was concealed, which aroused speculations. In an attempt to justify this omission, the editor comments a few weeks later: The illustrious Edmund Burke does not need our praise … his very name suffices and constitutes his best defence. Profound politician, renowned moralist, graced with knowledge and virtue, he is respected in England as an ornament to his fatherland, and his works go from hand to hand with uncommon applause.53 50

‘rasgos tan sublimes como ciertos’, ‘los funestos acontecimientos de su país en el año 1649’, ‘monstruos … Cromwell y Robespierre’, ‘igualmente feroces, hipócritas y malvados’ (Reinoso 1822a, 388–95). Reinoso either overlooked the following passage in the first part of Burke’s Reflections, or it did not figure in his translation: ‘That sermon is in a strain which I believe has not been heard in this kingdom, in any of the pulpits which are tolerated or encouraged in it, since the year 1648, – when a predecessor of Dr. Price, the Reverend Hugh Peters, made the vault of the king’s own chapel at St. James’s ring with the honour and privilege of the Saints, who, with the high praises of God in their mouths, and a two-edged sword in their hands, were to execute judgment on the heathen, and punishments upon the people; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron’ (see Burke 1968). 51 Fantin-Desodoards draws a parallel between Cromwell on the one hand and Robespierre and Marat on the other, and firmly opposes the idea of equality or ‘levelling’. 52 See Anon. (1822). It is noteworthy that Burke’s text is taken (and translated into Spanish) from the French Declaration des Droits. 53 ‘El célebre Edmund Burke no necesita nuestros elogios para su desagravio: bástele

Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right?   245 Altogether, the Spanish current against Rousseau matched Burke’s hostility towards him. Nevertheless, although Burke was welcome as an authoritative source, being an enemy of Rousseau was not enough to imply one was a genuine follower of Burke, as Gil Novales states: The early flow of the Spanish reaction will soon incorporate many other currents together with that of Burke and Barruel, producing a wealth of information more emotional than rational. In those circumstances the very name of Burke, having become redundant as an allegation, is probably being forgotten in Spain. … However, it is also possible to relate this oblivion, this lack of interest, to the absence of a Spanish edition [of his works].54

It is indeed puzzling that such a work as Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France should not have appeared in a full Spanish translation until the middle of the twentieth century. Yet, a few decades ago it was discovered that as early as 1793 a certain Agustín de los Arcos had made the first attempt at a translation of Burke’s Reflections from French into Spanish. However, it was never printed.55 Nor have Burke’s speeches and essays been published in Spain, until recently when three of them have appeared (Adánez González 2008), as mentioned earlier. In her introduction, Noelia Adánez González suggests an explanation:

su nombre para su mejor apología. Político profundo, moralista insigne, adornado de conocimientos y de virtudes, es respetado en Inglaterra como ornamento de su patria, y sus obras corren en manos de todos con aplauso poco común’ (Reinoso 1822b). This is an editorial reply of 15 November 1822 to the reactions to ‘Opinión de un escritor célebre acerca de Rousseau’ (22 September 1822) in Reinoso’s Cádiz newspaper La Constitución y las Leyes (The constitution and the laws), 59 (15 November), pp. 652–53. 54 ‘En el tempranísimo anchuroso cauce de la reacción española, junto a Burke y Barruel se integran otras muchas corrientes, llegando a constituirse una masa de información más emotiva que racional. En estas circunstancias el nombre mismo de Burke, ya innecesario como alegato, acaso en España se va olvidando … pero también es posible pensar en ese olvido, esa falta de interés, que la ausencia de edición española vendría a confirmar’ (Gil Novales 1981, 75). 55 The story, referred to by Gil Novales (1981, 75), which he learnt from Lucienne Domergue, is worth telling: there is a dossier (Leg. 3.234 de Estado) in the Spanish National Historical Archive (Archivo Histórico Nacional) containing eight documents from 1793, which include Agustín de los Arcos’s offer to undertake a translation of Burke’s Reflections from French into Spanish, even though he was aware of the order not to mention the French Revolution. Prime Minister Godoy let him proceed. Upon completing the translation in July 1793, the translator asked for a reference to obtain a canonry at the Cathedral of Zamora; he obtained it, yet the printing of the translation was left for ‘a better occasion’. A few months later, the new canon was chased out of his home by the chief magistrate who thought he was entitled to dwell there. What is more, he looked at all de los Arcos’s papers, evidently coming across the manuscript translation of the Reflections. Without delay, the magistrate reported this to the authorities, yet the canon was freed from the magistrate’s zest by an order from the Palace dated 1 January 1794.

246   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe … his having been considered a tory … and a reactionary for most of the time, in continental Europe. The insistence on the latter categorization in fact reveals what is possibly the ultimate cause of this, in principle, inexplicable inhibition in the dissemination of the writings of Edmund Burke in Spanish.56

Nonetheless, several other nineteenth-century scholars and politicians had attempted translating Burke or were somehow influenced by his thoughts, aesthetic or political.57 One of these was Félix Amat de Palau y Pont (Sabadell, 1750 – Palmira, 1824), a priest and Professor of Theology in Barcelona. A co-founder of the local branch of the Sociedad Económica, one of the liberal societies which strove to enhance progress in Spain, he produced an extract of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France in 1790. Intended for a specific audience, it seems to have circulated relatively freely, yet was never properly published, as mentioned in the biography his nephew wrote in 1835: The year 1790 arrived, in which the Revolution caused great havoc in France, and threatened our kingdom. Sr. Amát, with the aid of his brother D. Antonio, who was in perfect command of the English language, produced an extract or a compendium of the work, then recently published by the judicious Edmund Burke, entitled: Reflections on the French Revolution [sic]. Further, some copies of this compendium were made in Barcelona and Tarragona; some got to Madrid, where they ended up circulating in a printed version, without giving the name of the translator or the printer, or the place or year. Sr. Amát never deemed it necessary to comply with the request of numerous friends to publish them. He used to reply that they needed much retouching.58

Amat became the Archbishop of Palmira in 1803, and in 1806 King Carlos IV’s confessor. He welcomed the arrival of Napoleon in Spain in 1808, and in 1812 was a member of the committee that presented Napoleon’s brother, the


‘… se le haya considerado un tory … y un reaccionario, la mayor parte del tiempo, en Europa continental. La insistencia en esta última categorización revela de hecho cual puede ser la causa última de esta en principio inexplicable inhibición en la divulgación en castellano de los escritos políticos de Edmund Burke’ (Adánez González 2008, 14). 57 The main source of information contained in the following passages is Gil Novales (2011), complemented by others as specified. 58 ‘Llegó el año 1790 en que ya la revolución hacía grandes estragos en Francia, y amenazaba á nuestro reino. El Sr. Amát, ayudado de su hermano D. Antonio que poseía con perfección la lengua inglesa, hizo un extracto ó compendio de la obra, que entonces acababa de publicar el juicioso inglés Edmundo Burke, titulada: Reflexiones sobre la revolución francesa. Sacáronse luego en Barcelona y Tarragona varias copias de dicho compendio; pasaron algunas á Madrid, en donde corrió después impreso sin nombre de traductor, ni de imprenta, lugar y año. El Sr. Amát nunca juzgó deber condescender á las instancias que le hicieron muchos amigos para que le publicase. Solía responder que necesitaba retocarse mucho’ (Torres Amat 1835, 57).

Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right?   247 imposed King José I,59 with a Memoria, [Memorandum] concerning Spanish opinion of the Inquisition.60 Consequently, he had to abandon Madrid after the French defeat in 1814, and retired to Catalonia. Another Spanish intellectual to bear the imprint of Burke is Graciliano Afonso y Naranjo (La Orotava, 1775 – Las Palmas, 1861), a Philosophy professor from the Canary Islands. During the 1808 riots he proved a patriot and anti-French, yet in 1815 the Inquisition accused him of encouraging his students to read the Encyclopédie, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau’s Emile and Contrat social, Montesquieu and others. Strongly committed to the liberals, he had to flee the country in 1823 when absolutist royal power was restored and was condemned to death while in exile. His American years were fruitful in terms of his production of pre-Romantic poetry, some of which had a political stance. Upon his return following Fernando VII’s death, Afonso devoted himself to translations of classical and English writers, among them Burke. Afonso’s biographer points out the influence that Burke’s aesthetic ideas had on him: ‘The names of Milton, Burke and Macpherson complete the list of the literary sources of this poet-cleric’, specifying in a footnote: ‘In 1850 Burke (Enquiries into the origin of taste) [sic], was a thinker much read by don Graciliano and the Spanish Romantics’.61 Further on, it is stated: A philosophy – deism – incited those boisterous sentimentalists with texts by Pope, Bolingbroke, Shaftesbury, advocates of the natural religion. The Spanish writers, needing this new philosophic orientation, achieved their aims thanks to French translators or interpreters; and poets capable of reading texts in their original language are very rare. Graciliano Afonso, translator of Pope and of Burke, did not need French texts to enhance his sentimentalism; the very English masters inspired him.62

The remarkable evolution of the statesman Francisco de Paula Martínez de la Rosa (Granada, 1787 – Madrid, 1862) provides a perfect example of the shift from youthful revolutionary to stern monarchist in later life, which was undoubtedly partly indebted to a reading of Edmund Burke. From a liberal family, he studied Law and became a professor in Moral Philosophy. 59

The so-called ‘Puppet king’, also nicknamed ‘Pepe botella’ (‘the bottle-Joe’) due to his fondness for drink. 60 The Memoria is most probably by Llorente (1812). 61 ‘Los nombres de Milton, Burke y Macpherson completan las fuentes literarias de este poeta clérigo’ (Armas Ayala 1963, 304); ‘Burke (Investigaciones filosóficas sobre el origen del gusto), en 1850, fue un preceptista muy leído por don Graciliano y por los románticos españolistas’ (n. 14). 62 ‘Una filosofía – el deísmo – incitaba a estos ruidosos sentimentales con textos de Pope, de Bolingbroke, de Shaftesbury, defensores de la religión natural. Los escritores españoles, necesitados de esta nueva orientación filosófica, satisfacían sus aspiraciones gracias a los traductores o a los intérpretes franceses, y son muy raros los poetas capaces de leer los textos en su lengua original. Graciliano Afonso, traductor de Pope y de Burke, no necesitó de textos franceses para fortalecer su sentimentalismo; los mismos maestros ingleses fueron sus inspiradores’ (Armas Ayala 1963, 324).

248   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Fond of Condillac, he began by writing verse, and founded the newspaper Diario de Granada. A radical nationalist during the events of 1808, he was assigned diplomatic missions in Gibraltar and London. His patriotic poem ‘Zaragoza’ was published in London in 1811, and in 1812 he produced the essay ‘Incompatibilidad de la libertad española con el restablecimiento de la Inquisición’ (The incompatibility of Spanish freedom with the re-establishment of the Inquisition), which was prohibited by the Inquisition in 1815. In 1813, Martínez de la Rosa was elected deputy to the constitutionalist Cortes. Upon the restoration of the absolutist monarchy he was accused of treason and sentenced to a ten-year term on the Canary Islands, where he studied the writings of Edmund Burke and Jeremy Bentham. In 1820, the restoration of the constitutionalist government prompted his release. Yet after years in prison, he no longer sought inspiration in the French Revolution, but in Bentham and Burke instead. He was thus held to be too moderate, and even ridiculed by public opinion.63 When indicted in 1823 for sympathizing with the French, Martínez de la Rosa opted for exile. Under the regency of Isabel II, he returned to active politics and, while keen to justify himself, he was blamed for his ‘filosofía claudicante’ (philosophy of surrender). He became a deputy and, after the Restoration, a member of the Academy of History, twice Minister of State, and ambassador in Paris and Rome. Altogether, his shift from radicalism to conservatism, influenced by Burke and his own experiences of the tumultuous times through which he lived, is noteworthy. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the realist writer Benito Pérez Galdós (Las Palmas, 1843 – Madrid, 1920) began his famous Episodios Nacionales (National episodes), a cycle of forty-six novels written between 1872 and 1912, covering most of the troubled nineteenth century, and beginning with the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This cycle is deemed one of the most important sources for an understanding of the struggles of the nation. Burke is mentioned tangentially, as a Spanish traveller boasts: When I was in England… – continued the old Malespina –, as you already know, the English Government called for me to improve the country’s artillery … Every day I had lunch with Pitt, with Burke, with Lord North, and with General Cornwallis and other important characters, who called me the witty Spaniard.64

The Spanish statesman and historian Antonio Cánovas del Castillo (Málaga, 1828 – Mondragón, 1897) is renowned for his conservative policies while holding a number of posts, among them Minister of State twice, and Prime Minister six times.65 In 1874, in the wake of the 1868 ‘Glorious Revolution’, 63

He was nicknamed ‘Doña Rosita la pastelera’, i.e. belittled as ‘Mrs. Rosie, the pastry cook’. 64 ‘Cuando estuve en Inglaterra… – continuó el viejo Malespina –, ya sabe usted que el Gobierno inglés me mandó llamar para perfeccionar la Artillería de aquel país…; Todos los días comía con Pitt, con Burke, con Lord North, con el general Cornwallis y otros personajes importantes que me llamaban el chistoso español’ (Pérez Galdós 1995, 53). 65 At thirty-two, he became a member of the Academy of History following the

Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right?   249 he led the conservative minority in the Cortes, opposing freedom of religion and universal suffrage. After the ephemeral First Spanish Republic (1873–74), Cánovas became the key figure in the restoration of the monarchy in the person of Isabel II’s son Alfonso XII (on whose education at the Military Academy at Sandhurst he had a major influence), authoring a conservative constitution in 1876. He also brought an end to the last Carlist threat to Bourbon power by merging a group of dissident deputies with his own party.66 His repressive policies fostered nationalist movements in both the Basque provinces and Catalonia, and laid the foundation for labour unrest well into the twentieth century. Moreover, his colonial policies proved a disaster, resulting in the loss of Spain’s possessions in the Pacific (the Philippines) and eventually Cuba (1898). Cánovas would not live to witness the latter outcome since he died in 1897 at the hands of an anarchist. Striking as it may seem that such a reactionary character should have resorted to the moderate Edmund Burke, in a famous speech on the ‘constitutions and political circumstances of four states different from our race [sic] i.e.: Switzerland, the Anglo-American United States, France and, if only tangentially, England,’67 Cánovas declared his intention to ‘attempt an inquiry into the practical modes of the monarchic-liberal sovereignties’ exertion of [power], taking as the example the Constitution of England.’68 He mentions Burke in this speech, vowing: Those who did not read the Reflections on the Revolution in France, in the summer of 1790, written by the highly eloquent Burke, ignore the most convincing and severe words ever launched against any political system or any revolution, and this while the French one was yet in its rosiest dawn … At that point England denied, with the most obvious reason, all kind of kinship with the new Revolutionaries, and even the Whigs, in their majority breaking with Fox’s sentimental liberalism, declared in that very year 1793, through Lord Granville [sic], that ‘to defeat the French Revolutionaries at whatever cost and to the last degree is the greatest of duties’.69

publication of his Historia de la decadencia de España desde el advenimiento de Felipe III al trono hasta la muerte de Carlos II (1854) (History of the decline of Spain). 66 The third and final of the ‘Guerras carlistas’ (Carlist wars) was from 1872 to 1876. 67 ‘se refiera tan solo a las Constituciones y a las circunstancias políticas de cuatro Estados que no son de nuestra raza… a saber: Suiza, los Estados Unidos anglonorteamericanos, Francia, y, aunque de paso, Inglaterra’ (Cánovas del Castillo 1889, 10–11). 68 ‘a ser mi intento inquirir los modos prácticos de ejercer las soberanías monárquicoliberales, tomando por dechado entonces la Constitución de Inglaterra’ (Cánovas del Castillo 1889, 12). 69 ‘Quien no haya leído las Consideraciones sobre la Revolución francesa, en el verano de 1790 escritas por el elocuentísimo Burke, desconoce las más convencidas y severas palabras que contra ningún sistema político ni contra revolución alguna se hayan lanzado jamás, y eso que la de Francia estaba en sus más sonrosados albores. …… Entonces Inglaterra negó con razón más clara todo género de parentesco con los revolucionarios nuevos, y rompiendo los mismos whigs, en su mayoría, con el liberalismo sentimental de Fox, declararon en el propio año de 1793, por órgano

250   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe In the first part of the twentieth century, a liberal thinker, José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955), stands out. Strongly influenced by German philosophy, though not easily categorized, he produced his essays España invertebrada (Invertebrate Spain) and La rebelión de las masas (The revolt of the masses) in 1917, the second of which placed him on the international stage. Andrew Dobson points out similarities between Ortega and Burke: Ortega expresses the belief that what is important to the present is the foundation provided by the past and that attempts at wholesale destruction of the past will result in distortion of the present. At one point he mentions the ‘conservative sociologist’ (generically speaking) [who] would say that even if institutions do not perform perfectly all the time, they may still have to play a part in the political system – their very existence indicates that they have a part to play. Ortega agrees: ‘It seems that nature’s plan is organised in such a way that we need a certain amount of rigidity and firmness to survive’ (OC10, 390). When contemplating reform, the foundations provided by the past should not be perfunctorily cast aside for it is they that provide the ‘rigidity and firmness’ on which to base the present. Edmund Burke, widely recognised as the ‘father of English conservatism’ provides a classic statement of the claims of the past upon the present: The very idea of the fabrication of a new government, is enough to fill us with disgust and horror. We wished at the period of the Revolution, and do now wish, to derive all we possess as an inheritance from our forefathers. Upon that body and stock of inheritance we have taken care not to inoculate any cyon alien to the nature of the original plant. All the reformations we have hitherto made, have proceeded upon the principle of reference to antiquity; and I hope, nay, I am persuaded, that all those which possibly may be made hereafter will be carefully formed upon analogical precedent, authority, and example. (Burke 1790, 117) The fear of ‘fabrication’, the favouring of ‘inheritance’ and the organic language are all typical of anti-utopian statements and they are all to be found lurking in Ortega’s political thought. The parallels between Burke and Ortega are highly instructive in that the various aspects of Burke’s thought which find an echo in Ortega point to an enduring conservatism in the latter’s position (Dobson 1989, 73).

Years of political instability were to follow, with a second Republic proclaimed in 1931, and the struggle between the ‘two Spains’ culminating in the 1936–39 Civil War. During the four ensuing decades, General Franco’s regime cast a shadow over the country; only timid attempts at the expression of enlightened thought were made and these were generally crushed. The first full translation of Burke’s Reflections by Tierno Galván, mentioned above, took place in this period. With the arrival of democracy and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in the figure of King Juan Carlos I, and with the turn of the twenty-first

de Lord Granville, que ‘el combatir a todo trance y hasta el último extremo a la Francia revolucionaria “era el más grande de los deberes”’ (Cánovas del Castillo 1889, 42–43).

Burke’s Political and Aesthetic Ideas in Spain: A View from the Right?   251 century, a certain rebirth of interest in the works of Edmund Burke can be discerned, as stated above. Furthermore, several scholarly works on him have been published in Spain and Latin America, including an extensive biography by Demetrio Castro Alfín (2006) Burke: circunstancia política y pensamiento (Burke: political circumstance and thought). Finally, since January 2006, a Burke Foundation has been established in the country’s capital ‘with the aim of becoming an institution of reference on the Spanish cultural scene, with a mission to explore and disseminate the traditional principles of Western political thought, and thus contribute to making society freer, fairer and more virtuous’.70


‘La Fundación BURKE nace en enero de 2006 con el propósito de convertirse en una institución de referencia en el panorama cultural español, con la misión de profundizar y difundir los principios tradicionales del pensamiento político occidental, y de este modo contribuir a una sociedad más libre, justa y virtuosa’ (Fundación Burke, 2008).



The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy: Translations as Thresholds of Interpretation Daniele Niedda

A discussion of the Italian reception of eighteenth-century English-language authors cannot ignore the question of the use and spread of English itself in Italy. Arturo Graf ’s early assessment of the ‘Anglomania’ of the Italian eighteenth century as a consequence or form of ‘Gallomania’ (Graf 1911, 13) still appears convincing. The Italian infatuation for everything English followed the spread of French, which acted as a mediator between English and Italian languages and cultures for a long time. The case of the Italian reception of Edmund Burke’s aesthetic ideas is no exception to this rule.1 A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (hereafter Enquiry)2 was translated into Italian for the first time in 1804 by two different writers, forty and fifty years respectively after the French (1764) and German (1773) translations had been published. It would nevertheless be wrong to consider that year as the beginning of the spread of Burke’s aesthetic thought in Italy. As the translator of the 1804 Macerata edition, Carlo Ercolani, states, the work was most certainly known and discussed in Italian intellectual circles before its translation: The work … has no need of praise. It possesses an exceedingly singular merit and reputation not only in England but in Italy as well, among those who savour it in the original language, so that it is truly a wonder that as far as I know it has as yet not been translated.3 1

On the fortunes of Burke’s political thought in Italy see Zapperi (1965) and Lenci (2002); on the fortunes of his aesthetic thought in Italy and more broadly, see Candia (1975). 2 All references are to Burke (1958). 3 ‘L’Opera … non abbisogna di elogj. Essa possiede un merito e una riputazione singolarissima non solo in Inghilterra, ma in Italia eziandio, presso coloro, i quali la gustano nel suo originale, che fa meraviglia come finora, per quanto io sappia, non sia mai stata tradotta’ (Ercolani 1804, v). All translations are mine unless otherwise indicated (see bibliography).

254   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe The admirers of the Enquiry in the original version Ercolani refers to, however, must have been a small elite indeed. The personal story of the Macerata translator is emblematic in this regard. An intellectual from a midsize town which boasted a university, a well-established Academy (the Catenati) and a fairly dynamic cultural life, Ercolani was forced to move to Florence in 1793 to learn English. In addition to Giuseppe Baretti (who knew Burke personally) and Ugo Foscolo,4 Ippolito Pindemonte and Antonio Canova were among the rarae aves who were able to savour Burke’s work in the original: they could read English although they did not venture to write – let alone speak – the language. The same can be said of Melchiorre Cesarotti, the famous translator of Ossian, who preferred to use French in his letters to his British correspondents (Cesarotti 1800–13, vols 35–40; Mattioda 2004). Another famous case is connected with Milan: while the city was one of the most important centres for the spread of British empiricism in Italy, the Milanese Alessandro Verri felt the need to hire a translator when he travelled in England. Given such premises it is not easy to establish a likely date for the beginnings of the ‘singular reputation’ referred to by Ercolani. The search for the presence of the Enquiry in Italian periodicals during the long forty year period between the 1757 edition and the first Italian translations of 1804 brought no results. It seems that the work simply went unnoticed, even though some illustrious scholars are certain this was not the case. For example, Preti (1945, 10, 17) and Bigi (1960, 1089), following Schlaser (1872, 1: 327–28), assume a direct influence of Burke on Giuseppe Spalletti, who was even described by Preti as the Italian Burke. A Vatican librarian by profession, Spalletti was the author of Saggio sopra la bellezza (1765) [Essay on Beauty] in which the role played by amor proprio (amour propre or self-regard) in the creation of beauty has been thought to have been inspired by Burke. Guido Morpurgo-Tagliabue (2002, 109) doubts that the Enquiry went unnoticed among Italian Enlightenment thinkers and, on the basis of this conviction, presumes it had a direct influence on the original developments of Pietro Verri’s sensism, which can be found in particular in Discorso sull’indole del piacere e del dolore (1773–1781) [A Discourse on the Nature of Pleasure and Pain].5 Elsewhere, the same author (MorpurgoTagliabue 1980, 183) perceives a sadistic note of Burkean origin in A Silvia, an ode written in 1761 by Giuseppe Parini, a poet active in Milan, where the influence of Condillac’s sensism was very strong, as was the case in the rest of Northern Italy. The first reference to the Enquiry in an Italian work occurs much later than the 1760s, and is found in Dissertazione intorno al sublime [A Dissertation on the Sublime] by Girolamo Prandi, published in 1793. This, as stated in its introduction, is a work of a pedagogical nature, conceived and written for the education of the children of the archduke Ferdinand of Austria and the archduchess Maria Beatrice d’Este by Prandi, while he was preparing the 4

Foscolo’s only reference to the Enquiry is of a polemical nature and is to be found in Dissertation on an Ancient Hymn to the Graces (1822). 5 This supposition is not confirmed in recent studies on Verri (Capra 2002; Francioni 1999, 2004).

The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy   255 translation of Lezioni di belle lettere by ‘ signor Blair’ with the same intent. That work was hugely popular in Italy at the end of the 1700s and seems to have been the determining factor in diffusing throughout Italian culture the most destabilizing of Burke’s aesthetic ideas: his concept of the sublime. The Author of Filosofica ricerca intorno l’origine delle nostre idee sul sublime, e sul bello (from which Mr. Blair drew various clever and original thoughts regarding this matter) proposes a theory of his own. That is he wants terror to be the only source of the Sublime, and for no other object to have such a nature, except that which gives rise to notions of travail, and peril.6

Beginning with Prandi, the most important writers on aesthetics in Italy during the 1800s simply repeat Hugh Blair’s criticism of Burke’s idea of the sublime. Benedetto Croce (1909/1922, 353) does not even consider these writers to be true philosophers, but simply tellers of philosophical anecdotes. Among those that he mentions as his unworthy predecessors there is not one who takes the part of Burke on the sensitive question of the sublime. Marquis Luigi Malaspina di Sannazzaro simply ignores Burke in his works (Malaspina 1791; 1796), whereas the simple disagreements voiced by Ermes Visconti (1979), Gratiliano Bonacci (1837, 50) and Giambattista Talia (1827–28, 1:195–96) turn into scathing censure by Leopoldo Cicognara (1808, 151–87), Melchiorre Delfico (1818, 91, 127) and Niccolò Tommaseo (1857, 15–30). Ideological prejudices nurtured against the author of the Reflections on the Revolution in France play a fundamental part in many, if not all, of these assessments.7 Now, the fact that Prandi referred to the Enquiry in 1793 does not exclude the possibility that the reception of Burke’s aesthetic ideas might have occurred a few decades earlier. In addition to the narrow local byways, many ideas travelled through the country along at least two wider ‘foreign’ routes: the French and the German route. The former is certainly the principal one due to the diffusion of French-language periodicals throughout the various Italian states in the second half of the 1700s. From Rome to Turin, Milan, Florence, Modena, Naples and Palermo, Italian intellectuals had the Journal Britannique at their disposal, and could thus read the lengthy review of the first edition of the Enquiry which was published in the May–August issue in 1757. And


‘L’Autore della Filosofica ricerca intorno l’origine delle nostre idee sul sublime, e sul bello (da cui trasse il sig. Blair varj ingegnosi ed originali pensieri relativi al presente argomento) propone una sua teoria. Vuol cioè, che il terrore sia l’unica fonte del Sublime, e che niuno oggetto abbia tal carattere, tranne quello che genera nozioni di travaglio, e di pericolo’ (Prandi 1793, xxvi). 7 If Burke’s aesthetic theory was at least discussed by the so-called minor philosophers, it should be noted that those whom Croce (1909/22, 354) credits with the ‘revival of philosophical speculation’ in Italy, namely Pasquale Galluppi (1770–1846), Antonio Rosmini (1797–1855) and Vincenzo Gioberti (1801–52), do not even cite Burke in their writings. According to Croce, the ‘true’ Italian philosophical minds of the nineteenth century concerned themselves only incidentally with aesthetics, thus leaving him an empty expanse of territory to colonize.

256   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe if they happened to miss that, they might still notice the announcement concerning the Enquiry that appeared in the ‘Nouvelles littéraires’ rubric in the May 1758 edition of the Journal des Sçavans, which was much more widely distributed than the Journal Britannique. A review of the French translation of the Enquiry by Des François was available in the Journal des Sçavans in May 1767 although the Italian reader would have already learned of its existence from the review which appeared in the Gazette littéraire de l’Europe (30 May 1765). This periodical was not only read throughout Italy, but it even gave rise to works in response to its articles, as illustrated by the cases of Bernardo Galiani, the brother of the more famous Ferdinando (D’Angelo 1992, 8–9), and Giambattista Piranesi (1765), a figure whose affinity with Burke has been detected by a substantial number of scholars (see Barilli 1983). The German route is not less important, even though its impact was felt later. It will suffice to note here that the complete works of Moses Mendelssohn (1800), containing his observations on Burke, were translated into Italian by Francesco Pizzetti, a professor of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Parma, just a few years before the Enquiry. In addition to Mendelssohn, Lessing, Sulzer, Winckelmann and the most important German philosophers were also read and pondered at that time by a figure much better known than Pizzetti, with whom he also corresponded: Father Francesco Soave (1743– 1806), a Somascan priest from Lugano. Soave was an extraordinary cultural mediator in Italy, not only of the German sphere but also, and above all, of the English.8 His critical editions of John Locke (1775) and Hugh Blair (1801–2) were particularly famous. It was he who beat Prandi and Ercolani to the punch by publishing the translations of Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in 1801, and it was through his work of mediation that the German reception of the Enquiry entered Italian cultural circles. A further vehicle of diffusion was the British community residing and/or travelling in Italy. For example, Burke corresponded directly with Sir William Hamilton, who served as a diplomat in Naples from 1764 to 1800. In the Neapolitan area, Vincenzo Cuoco found Burke a fundamental source of inspiration. But perhaps even more important than Hamilton was the presence of the Irish painter James Barry: Barry was in Italy from 1766 to 1771 thanks to the interest and generosity of Burke, and claimed to know the Enquiry off by heart. Their letters indicate that Burke had sources of information in Rome, probably in the entourage of Cardinal Albani. Despite the supremacy of anti-Burkean figures such as Winckelmann and Mengs, and the absence of any mention in the two most important periodicals in the field, the Giornale delle belle arti [Journal of the Fine Arts] and Memorie per le Belle Arti [Memories for the Fine Arts], it seems unlikely that Roman fine art circles did not know of Burke’s work before 1804. For all these reasons, to state that Burke was uninfluential with regard to the aesthetic theories emerging in Italy between 8

On the influence of the German philosophical tradition on Soave, see Franzini (1995b, 149–56), Corzuol (2007) and Tancini (2010, 214–17). Soave’s importance and originality as an educator are also vouched for by such different Italian writers as Foscolo and Alessandro Manzoni, who had him as a teacher.

The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy   257 the mid-1760s and the early 1790s, as does D’Angelo (1992, 42–43), contradicting Preti (1945) and Bigi (1960), appears just as hazardous as affirming the opposite. Annus Mirabilis 1804: The Central Italian edition There are five Italian translations of Burke’s Enquiry. The most recent is of special interest: published in 1985 and revised in 1998, it reached its tenth edition in 2012, and is now canonical in Italy. The very title of this translation, Inchiesta sul Bello e il Sublime, signals a clear departure from the more traditional and literal Ricerca filosofica sull’origine delle nostre idee del sublime e del bello to which the other four translations adhere with minimal variations. These four translations form two pairs: one pair from the nineteenth century and the other from the twentieth century. Both nineteenth-century translations appeared in 1804 and were unabridged. The twentieth-century translations also appeared in more or less the same year: an abridged version was published in 1944 and an unabridged version in 1945. Both pairs thus belong to periods of transition: the complete upheaval of the old regime brought about by the Napoleonic wars in the first case, and the end of World War II in the second. The authors of the two 1804 translations belonged to opposite cultural worlds and shared only a vague passion for foreign languages. The literary cleric Carlo Ercolani, a humanist well versed in the classics and a talented violoncellist, was a man of unusual abilities in the decadent Papal province; by contrast the Veronese count Gian Giuseppe Marogna, a passionate enthusiast of science and economics, was a noble from the advanced Lombard-Venetian region. In the same period but from different perspectives, they decided that the time had finally come to undertake the task of translating a work for the benefit of society, as Marogna states in his ‘Prefazione del Traduttore’ (Marogna 1804, vi). Both intended their work to benefit communities beyond their own, or rather, what remained of them following the French invasion. For the first time in centuries, the undefined entity that Ercolani called Italy, and which Metternich dismissed as a geographical expression, was starting to take on its present form and thus felt the need to provide itself with a vernacular translation of one of the most innovative works of eighteenth-century pre-Kantian aesthetics, which already existed in all other major European languages. Thus the Italian version of the Enquiry had a twofold nature although it appeared in the early nineteenth century; it contained many features characteristic of the preceding century, and it seems apt to categorize it as a product of the ‘long eighteenth century’. In the first place, the 1804 translations clearly precede the famous polemic between Classicists and Romantics which raged after the publication of the Italian version of Madame de Staël’s De l’esprit des traductions in the January 1816 issue of the journal Biblioteca Italiana [Italian Library], conventionally to be the official birth date of Italian Romanticism. Secondly, the translations were the works of eclectic intellectuals who managed to unite extremely different interests. Of the three twentieth-century translations, only the abridged version was edited by its translator. The fact that the functions of the translator and the writer of the preface are distinct in the texts closer to us

258   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe in time is highly significant as it reveals a specialization of knowledge barely noticeable in the early 1800s. Yet whether it is the product of the translator or not, the paratextual apparatus of the Enquiry is of great importance from a hermeneutic point of view, especially the introductory texts. Whether they are announced as a ‘Preface’, a ‘Warning’, an ‘Introduction’ or a ‘Presentation’, the texts which have the function of introducing Burke’s work to Italian readers define its meaning and orientate its interpretation. Let us consider the edition published in central Italy, a copy of which was owned by Giacomo Leopardi, the great poet of L’Infinito. The solitary hill and the hedge so dear to the young Romantic from Recanati were just around twenty kilometres from Macerata and thus it was natural for the Ercolani edition to find a place on the shelves of the substantial library of Leopardi’s father, Count Monaldo. Compared with the Milanese edition, the Ercolani version bears the name of the translator in the frontispiece. It is in his ‘Avvertimento del traduttore a chi legge’ that Ercolani underlines the fact that politics and philosophy were the distinguishing marks of Edmund Burke both at home and abroad. Burke is presented to the Italian public as one the most illustrious orators of the eighteenth century, famous for his speech to the people of Bristol, who jibbed at electing him as their representative, and for the famous trial of Warren Hastings. No mention is made of Burke’s speeches and writings against the French Revolution, which, unlike the Enquiry, had promptly been translated into Italian. On the one hand, the omission can be explained as expedient: at the time of publication, the city of Macerata had been removed from Papal rule, and was the capital of the Department of Musone in the Italian Republic, and in Napoleon Bonaparte’s Kingdom of Italy in 1805. On the other hand, a more personal explanation can be offered. The French Revolution and invasion had so upset the tranquil environment of this provincial priest that he experienced a nervous breakdown. In order to recover, Ercolani withdrew to the family villa in the countryside and found comfort in his beloved books – above all foreign ones. The work of translation was therapeutic: during his convalescence, Ercolani prepared a verse translation of L’homme des champs, ou les Géorgiques françaises by Jacques Delille which was published in Venice in 1805. He only published one other work by an English author, the verse translation of Thomas Parnell’s biblical Songs (Macerata, 1812), but among the twenty-two manuscript volumes left to the library of his city were many refined translations, mostly in verse, from even more famous authors like Milton, Pope and Byron. Among Ercolani’s manuscripts there is a translation of Hugh Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres; Ercolani was about to publish his translation when an abridged version of the same work appeared, translated by Francesco Soave. Ercolani complains about this in the final note to his ‘Warning’ to the Enquiry: he identifies his ideal readers as men of letters and artists, who would find the text very rewarding ‘after the recent publication of the only too wellknown translation from the English of the incomparable work by Dr. Blair’.9 9

‘… dopo essere ultimamente uscita alla luce la troppo nota traduzione dall’Inglese dell’Opera incomparabile del D. Blair’ (Ercolani 1804, vii).

The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy   259 The phrase ‘only too well-known’, referring to the rival translation, sounds ironic: his own, one reads in the note, would have been more complete and thus better. Ercolani also hints at its possible publication in the future. Clearly, the connection between the Enquiry and Blair’s Lectures was automatic at this point. It is less clear whether Ercolani had learned that in the case of his translation of Burke he would also be outdone in the timing, but that on this occasion he nevertheless decided not to withdraw. It may be that with regard to Blair’s confutation in the third Lecture of the aspect of terror in Burke’s idea of the sublime, Ercolani himself tends more towards the moderate vision of the former than the radical solution of the latter. The use of the adjective ‘incomparable’ would thus also relativize Burke’s work, which would become a sort of younger son on whom the translator pours his love to compensate for the loss of his favourite. For Ercolani’s stance is by no means one of total support for Burke’s theory: The matter is of itself intricate and obscure. It concerns inner feelings, of which each person is his own judge. I have thus abstained from adding … any observation contradicting the Author, leaving the field open to each person to object and feel as he wishes.10

Nevertheless, it is intelligent of Ercolani to avoid falling into the neo-classical trap. He tells his readers they ought not to wonder that Burke locates beauty within some sensory qualities of the body, completely different from proportion or other conventional principles, given that the subject of his research is relative beauty. Burke’s merit as a philosopher was thus seen to lie in the way he lifted the veil which covered the first principles of our pleasurable sensations. His theory of the sublime and beautiful was ingenious and profound, and accounted for their properties, characteristics, ends and causes. Ercolani’s translation proves by far the more readable version when compared to Marogna’s. It will suffice to read any passage of the Enquiry in parallel to realize the difference between the two works. Count Marogna was an amateur translator, while Ercolani was a master of the art of translation into Italian from three languages: Latin, English and French. While it would be difficult to define him as a poet, Ercolani nevertheless translates into Italian verse with great skill. His choice of key words and expressions are more apt than Marogna’s, and often anticipates the renditions of subsequent translations (see Appendix for Italian variations). But ultimately, the fluidity of his prose constitutes his greatest merit. Let us take the example of the opening to the Enquiry, pt.V: iii.


‘Il soggetto è per se stesso intricato e oscuro. Trattasi di sentimenti interni, di cui ognuno è libero giudice. Mi sono perciò astenuto di aggiungere … osservazione alcuna contraddittoria a quelle dell’Autore, lasciando il campo aperto a ciascuno di obiettare e di sentire a suo modo’ (vi–vii).

260   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Burke: Mr. Locke has somewhere observed, with his usual sagacity, that most general words, those belonging to virtue and vice, good and evil especially, are taught before the particular modes of action to which they belong are presented to the mind; and with them, the love of the one, and the abhorrence of the other; for the minds of children are so ductile, that a nurse, or any person about a child, by seeming pleased or displeased with anything, or even any word, may give the disposition of the child a similar turn. (Burke, 1958, 165)

Ercolani: Locke con la sua solita sagacità ha osservato che le parole generali, quelle specialmente che appartengono alla virtù e al vizio, al bene e al male, vengono insegnate prima di presentare allo spirito i particolari modi d’agire, ai quali le suddette parole appartengono, e con esse viene ispirato l’amore dell’uno e l’aborrimento dell’altro. Imperciocché gli animi de’ fanciulli sono così flessibili che una nutrice, o un educatore col mostrare di compiacersi o di disgustarsi di una cosa, o anche di una parola, può dare alla disposizione del fanciullo un simil tenore. (Burke, 1804a, 203)

Marogna: Osserva in qualche luogo Mr. Locke colla solita sua sagacità, molte parole generali, spezialmente quelle appartenenti alla virtù, al vizio, al bene, al male venire insegnate prima, che i modi particolari dell’azione, cui spettano, sieno presentati alla mente, ed insieme l’amore dell’uno e l’abborrimento dell’altro; poiché le menti de’ fanciulli sono sì duttili, che una nutrice, e chiunque sta loro attorno, il far mostra, che una cosa od anche una parola lor piaccia, o di-spiaccia basta a condurre il fanciullo in egual disposizione. (Burke, 1804b, 172)

Ercolani’s hypotaxis flows more smoothly than that of Marogna: from the beginning, the rhythm of Marogna’s sentence trips over the implicit objective infinitive ‘venire insegnate’, referring to ‘parole generali’, which functions as the object of a verb (‘osserva’), normally followed in Italian by a noun (‘osservare qualcuno o qualcosa’) or a verb phrase like ‘osservare qualcuno fare qualcosa’. It is quite unusual to say that ‘qualcuno osserva qualcosa venire fatta da qualcun altro’. In such cases it would be preferable to render the implicit infinite with a verb in the finite mode: ‘qualcuno osserva che qualcosa viene fatta da qualcun altro’. This is precisely the solution adopted by Ercolani, who in fact has ‘Locke’ = subject; ‘ha osservato’ = predicate; ‘che le parole generali vengono insegnate’ = explicit object proposition, with the verb ‘insegnare’ in the present passive indicative. Something similar occurs with the phrase ‘by seeming pleased or displeased’, which breaks up the cause-effect clause ‘so ductile that …’, referring to the ‘minds of children’, but at the same time binds the second phrase together thanks to the word ‘similar’, which refers to the attitude of adults. Marogna’s ‘il far mostra’ is left hanging and completely disconnected from the subject with which it agrees only vaguely since it is in the infinitive mode, whereas Ercolani’s ‘col mostrare di compiacersi’ is immediately clear.

The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy   261 Annus Mirabilis 1804: The North Italian edition Nevertheless, the passage analysed above does reveal a singular merit in Marogna’s translation compared to Ercolani’s clearly more fluid one. This concerns the translator’s lay status, which emerges in the translation of the word ‘mind’ as ‘mente’. The abbot Ercolani almost always prefers to translate ‘mind’ as ‘spirito’, ‘animo’ or similar expressions; he keeps to the original, but adds a spiritual nuance which is entirely lacking in Marogna’s version. In the ‘Prefazione’, Marogna makes a point of being literal, well aware that he runs the risk of appearing eccentric in the use of certain expressions traced to the original in order not to weaken thought that he felt was naturally metaphorical. The distinctive feature of his work lies, however, in the significance with which he endows Burke’s research as an important scientific undertaking. Burke’s merit lies in having broken away from the analytic method followed by his predecessors in order to define precisely the beautiful and the sublime. Commendably, Burke takes the way of synthesis. Marogna laments the lack of an overall view of artists, writers and philosophers in their treatment of the sublime and the beautiful. Burke alone attempted to direct the ideas of the beautiful and the sublime back to their unique principles. Indeed, Marogna makes an analogy between the method adopted by Burke and the research carried out by chemists; in both cases, the unexpected is accepted and capable of generating new discoveries. Marogna does not take an explicit stand on whether Burke’s Enquiry is successful, but at least two negative opinions weigh heavily on him. One is the usual comment made about Burke’s sublime by Blair. The other comes from an acquaintance of Marogna, the renowned neo-classical theorist Count Francesco Leopoldo Cicognara from Ferrara. It should be noted that Count Marogna’s name appears neither in the frontispiece nor at the end of his ‘Translator’s Preface’, nor in any other place in his translation. In fact, the information relating to his identity as the translator of the Enquiry is to be found in Cicognara’s third Ragionamento on the beautiful: in making the first of his many objections to the Enquiry, Cicognara refers to ‘Sig. Marogna, his [Burke’s] most diligent translator, and my gentle and respectable friend’.11 By 1804, Cicognara was a well-known political personality in the Napoleonic government in Italy. His most important work, Del bello: ragionamenti (1808) [Reflections on Beauty], despite being published after Burke’s Ricerca, had long been in the making, and we can be sure that Burke’s aesthetics were a subject of discussion with his friend Marogna long before the Italian translation of Burke was published. Even his most sympathetic commentators have to admit that the Jacobin Cicognara made political use of the aesthetic dispute. His defence of the principles of imitation, ideal beauty, proportion and harmony in the name of artistic production proves quite unconvincing from the theoretical point of view, as was well understood by two scholars with very different mind-sets such as Benedetto Croce (1909/22, 353) and Mario Praz 11

‘… diligentissimo suo traduttore, e mio tenero e rispettabile amico’ (Cicognara 1808, 97).

262   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe (2003, 136). Cicognara’s argument sounds like a tiresome repetition of ideas derived from Winckelmann, Goethe, Dubos, Batteux and other philosophers whom he cites but does not fully understand. Systematically conceived in opposition to Burke’s ‘reactionary’ aesthetics, Cicognara’s work can sound more like ideology in parts than art criticism. Marogna was right, therefore, when he warned his readers that the objections of Cicognara and other like-minded critics by no means undermined the foundations of Burke’s theory, as they limited themselves to questioning certain of his principles by producing counter-examples. Borrowing language from the logicians, the translator defined such confutations as simple instances, and claimed that Burke would have demolished them easily had he had occasion to do so, as he had done so in the past. In responding to Cicognara’s objections, Marogna avoids the slippery ground of politics with the modesty of one who, not being an expert in the field, uses the ‘neutral’ tool of good reasoning, and recommends the same to those critics desiring to dismiss hastily the author he had translated. Nevertheless, the other work for which Marogna is well known, Sul governo delle arti (1792) [On the Government or Management of Guilds], echoes Burke’s thoughts on political economy. As soon as it was published, Marogna’s translation was hailed by the philosopher Vincenzo Cuoco (1804) as an expression of moderate liberal thought. Having fled the Bourbon repression of 1799, the Neapolitan critic found refuge in Milan, where on 14 September 1804, in the pages of the Giornale italiano [Italian Journal], he praised the pithiness of Marogna’s language which was precise and Italian, avoiding the affected style of academic writing, and was the greatest merit of his work. While he maintained reservations about the terrifying nature of the sublime and the question of linguistic antirepresentationalism, Cuoco admired the capacity of Burke’s work to engage the reader in sustained thought: ‘full of fine observations, new and clever views, even though it [the book] may not persuade you, [it] instructs you, because whether you wish to believe it or contradict it, it always obliges you to reason’.12 In short, Italy had found a new classic to place alongside Aristotle, Cicero, Condillac, du Marsais, Beccaria and Sulzer; a manual worthy to be put into the hands of Italian youth instead of the stale boarding-school handbooks of rhetoric. The impact of the first Italian translations of the Enquiry was extraordinary. In what is considered to be the manifesto of Italian Romanticism, the Lettera semiseria di Grisostomo al suo figliuolo (1816) [Half-serious Letter from Grisostomo to His Son] by Giovanni Berchet, Burke features as one of the writers to whom the new poets of Italy must turn for inspiration. Using the pseudonym of Grisostomo, Berchet recommends ‘quitting the books of Blair, Villa and their


‘… pieno di osservazioni fini, di vedute nuove ed ingegnose [il libro] anche se non vi persuade v’istruisce, perché, o che vogliate credergli o che vogliate contraddirgli, vi obbliga sempre a ragionare’ (Cuoco 1804, unpaginated). Several scholars have identified interesting Burkean influences in Cuoco’s important work on the Neapolitan revolution (Saggio storico sulla rivoluzione napoletana del 1799, [Historical Essay on the Neapolitan Revolution of 1799] 1801).

The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy   263 friends’ and in their place opening those of Vico, Burke, Lessing, Bouterweck, Schiller, Beccaria, Madame de Staël, Schlegel and, not least, the Platone in Italia [Plato in Italy] by Burke’s reviewer, Vincenzo Cuoco.13 When read with ‘true avidity’, Burke and Lessing in particular promise ‘glimpses’ worthy of Saint Augustine’s Città di Dio (City of God).14 1944: The neo-idealist edition Once the Romantic era had come to an end, the greatest exponent of Italian neo-idealism took exception to the status conferred on Burke by Cuoco and Berchet. Benedetto Croce’s treatment of English authors in Estetica [1902] is uncompromising. These ‘scribblers on Aesthetic or rather on things in general which sometimes accidentally include aesthetic facts’ did not deserve to be called philosophers. Hogarth and Burke vied with the French Batteux to see who could ‘string together a more insubstantial mass of contradictions’. Burke in particular ‘wavers between the principle of imitation and other heterogeneous or imaginary principles in his book’. If it was absolutely necessary to call it a classic, the Enquiry was of the type that arrives at no conclusion (Croce 1909/1922, 258–60). More than thirty years later, this judgement had barely been mitigated. Croce (1934) did acknowledge, however, that Burke had established the fact that aesthetic pleasure was disinterested. He also acknowledged that Burke’s influence on Kant was significant; whatever was ‘not critically developed or empirically juxtaposed’ (Croce 1934, 247) in the third Critique was the responsibility of none other than Burke. The person who took on the task of rescuing Burke and the entire philosophical tradition of British empiricism from the ‘philosophical barbarism’ to which official Italian culture had relegated it was the rather eccentric philosopher, and the friend and correspondent of W. B. Yeats, Mario Manlio Rossi.15 It is to him that we owe a milestone in the history of Italian philosophy: L’estetica dell’empirismo inglese (1944) [The Aesthetics of English Empiricism]. Conceived in two volumes, the work opens with a long and well-structured ‘Introduzione’ (1: 3–99) followed by an anthology of texts with introductory and explanatory notes. Rossi translates the Enquiry’s introduction on taste almost entirely, and he includes the titles of all sections of the five parts, translating only what he considers indispensable for an overall understanding. The result is an abridged


‘Questa è la precipua cagione per la quale ho determinato che tu smetta i libri del Blair, del Villa e de’ loro consorti … Allora avrai da me danaro per comperartene altri, come a dire del Vico, del Burke, del Lessing, del Bouterweck, del Beccaria, di Madama de Staël, dello Schlegel e d’altri che fin qui hanno pensate e scritte cose appartenenti alla Estetica: né il Platone in Italia del Consigliere Cuoco sarà l’ultimo dei doni ch’io ti farò’ (Berchet 1863, 213). 14 ‘… leggo con vera avidità le cose del Burke e del Lessing, come se fossero squarci della Città di Dio del mio sant’Agostino’ (Berchet 1863, 230). 15 On Mario Manlio Rossi, see Rossi, L (1990), Torrini (2008), Mecacci and Quaranta (2009) and Fantaccini (2009).

264   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe version of the Enquiry of almost a hundred pages (2: 599–697). It is to be recommended because it is both the first twentieth-century translation and because it is the only Italian translation to be carried out by a philosopher. This is not the only merit of Rossi’s endeavour, however. Paolo D’Angelo (2007, 275) maintains that Rossi distances himself from Croce’s canon even while following his methodology. In fact, Rossi chooses Giovanni Gentile as his main point of reference for theory within the neo-idealist current. Against Croce, he cites the arguments of Filosofia dell’arte (1931) [The Philosophy of Art], the only systematic work by Gentile to be dedicated to aesthetics. This move is not to be underestimated; nor can the difference between Croce and Gentile be reduced to a mere dispute over terminology (that is, whether a branch of philosophy ought to be called aesthetics or philosophy of art). Indeed, it is in light of this opposition that it is possible to understand the full significance of Rossi’s work, which aims to fill a historiographical void within neo-idealism. That is to say, it attempts to restore value to a denigrated tradition of thought and to acknowledge its fundamental historical role as a true matrix of modern aesthetics. Despite this, Rossi continues to write the word ‘aesthetics’ with a lower case a when it collocates with empiricism. Moreover, he paradoxically undermines the book he is writing when he says that, according to the rigour of logic, that particular aesthetic philosophy does not exist. Indeed, from the teleological standpoint in which the neo-idealist is placed, the phenomenon is interesting only to the extent that it is preparatory to the ‘true’ philosophical aesthetics which follows. However, contrary to Croce, Rossi is interested in salvaging one aspect which he considers essential to British philosophical speculation: the understanding of the problem of aesthetics as a problem of things. Rossi agrees with the empiricists when they argue that aesthetics cannot be disassociated from phenomena, and thus directly attacks Croce’s concept of intuition-expression. ‘For the philosopher of art’, claims Rossi, ‘“the visible world does exist”. Or rather, only the visible world exists’.16 If it is not possible to retranslate – to lead philosophical theory back into the artistic phenomenon – then it is not possible to speak of true artistic doctrine. By constantly claiming their right to existence, things serve as a healthy warning for the philosopher of the spirit, and it is not by chance that Rossi expresses the need to bring theory back to the phenomenon thereby limiting idealist philosophy keeping one’s feet firmly on the ground. According to Rossi, the incontestable proof of the importance of British philosophical speculation in the aesthetic field is the fact that all those with something new to say on the question have had to begin by considering it. Despite all their shortcomings (method, approach, atomism, hedonism etc.), the English before others had freed themselves from the double servitude to humanistic aesthetics (classic or classicist) on the one hand, and art and literary criticism on the other. Within this context, the place of honour is


‘Per il filosofo dell’arte “il mondo visibile esiste”. Anzi, esiste solo il mondo visibile’ (Rossi 1944, 1:7).

The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy   265 reserved for Burke. His is the ‘aesthetics typical of empiricism’;17 the only one to reveal a mentality that is expounded systematically in the effort to reduce the categories which have emerged almost incidentally in the preceding analytical phase. The exemplifications relate to the reduction of Addison’s triad – beautiful, new or uncommon and great – into the beautiful/ sublime opposition, and the systemization of Addison’s various ‘Pleasures of the Imagination’ into the binomial pleasure/delight relation, the latter term renamed by Rossi as ‘piacere di ripercussione’ (pleasure of repercussion) due to its derivation from pain. It is precisely the question of pleasure which proves to be both Burke’s agony and his ecstasy. His desire to avoid associationism led him almost unconsciously to base every form of collateral pleasure on sympathy and thereby pave the way for the aesthetics of Einfühlung. Yet it is precisely delight which is the ‘punto di turbamento’ (troubling point) in Burke’s theoretical construction; here, he is not courageous enough. Although the sublime is antithetical to the pleasure of beauty, he does not take this argument to the logical conclusion of deriving it from pain and fear. The residual hedonism which, in Rossi’s eyes, still plagues Burke’s system is the legacy of the empirical tradition supremely incarnated by Hume. On the one hand, it is dissatisfaction with Hume’s relativistic solution to the problem of taste that drives Burke’s aesthetic thought, and means he immediately makes the instance of universality an issue; on the other, the persistence of the hedonistic element in the sublime prevents him from soaring freely towards modern aesthetics. Hume is the ghost that haunts Burke’s research and makes him a threshold figure, straddling the old and new. The final note struck by Rossi emphasizes the heuristic value of Burke’s investigation. Strictly following the canons of scientific research allows him to make the real discovery of empiricist aesthetics: that is, to go beyond the principle of mimesis. This was the natural result of an aesthetics genuinely inspired by the principles of modern science and thus intolerant of any recourse to metaphysics in order to explain beauty. Rossi understands better than many contemporary critics how referring to a general and remote principle of transcendence (providence) proves to be a pleonastic rhetorical expedient, and totally useless for deciding specific cases. The beautiful might be beautiful because God ordained all things, but the means for producing such pleasure must be natural, or rather physiological, and thus possible to explain rationally. From the standpoint of translation, Rossi’s version proves to be readeroriented rather than text-oriented. Semantically exact, he does however strip the text of parts he does not consider essential for an overall understanding, which are often the parts which would have proved most problematic for the translator. Let us look at this sample passage by way of example: Il sig. Locke con la sua abituale sagacia ha osservato in qualche luogo che quasi tutte le parole generali, specialmente quelle che si riferiscono al vizio e alla virtù, al bene


‘L’estetica tipica dell’empirismo’ is the title of the paragraph dedicated to Burke (Rossi 1944, 1:74–80).

266   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe ed al male, vengono insegnate prima che si siano presentati alla mente gli speciali modi d’agire ai quali si riferiscono, e con esse, viene insegnato amore per l’uno e aborrimento per l’altro, perché la mente dei fanciulli è così duttile che una balia, o un’altra delle persone che si occupano dei fanciulli può imprimere al carattere del fanciullo un’impronta di tal fatta. (2:686–87)

Compared to the nineteenth-century translations, what leaps out is the absence of the principal difficulty which exists in the original English: the phrase ‘by seeming pleased or displeased with anything, or even any word’, which Rossi simply skips. The vocabulary is updated to mid twentieth-century Italian. An example of this is the decision to translate ‘nurse’ as ‘balia’ (nanny) rather than ‘nutrice’ (wet nurse) and render ‘the disposition of the child’ as the ‘carattere del fanciullo’, in place of the ‘disposizione del fanciullo’ employed by Ercolani and Marogna. Rossi’s sentence breaks are similar to those of Ercolani, but the former does not interrupt Burke’s long sentence at ‘altro’ while the latter chooses to do so in order to enhance readability and comprehension. 1945: The anti-idealist edition That L’estetica dell’empirismo inglese was an epoch-making work is affirmed by one of the most important philosophers who fought in the front line against Italian neo-idealism, Luciano Anceschi, who acknowledges that Rossi was a pioneer. His judgement is all the more significant when it is considered that Anceschi had good reason to advance similar claims for himself. Some ten years before Rossi’s book, in fact, he had published a work that was equally important, Autonomia ed eteronomia dell’arte (1936) [The Autonomy and the Heteronomy of Art], which in questioning the neo-idealist dogma of the purity of aesthetics took its cue precisely from the field of English philosophy. The impact of the book on Italian culture was exceptional, as Pier Paolo Pasolini (1956) testifies when he states that Anceschi’s first work was much more influential for his generation than Croce’s Aesthetics. The first author cited by Anceschi in his book is none other than Edmund Burke, spearheading a tradition of thought which demonstrated that the autonomy of art was not a discovery of recent aesthetics. Many years after that work, Anceschi (1972, 16–25) was not only paying a debt of recognition to Rossi, but he went so far as to consider his subsequent studies on empiricism as a kind of compensation for a promise not kept: he had been asked by his mentor, Antonio Banfi, to write a review of Rossi’s book when it first appeared for the journal Studi filosofici [Philosophical Studies], but had not managed to do so; the space allowed for the review was insufficient to deal with the set of questions raised by Rossi which deserved more in-depth treatment. Having paid homage to Rossi for focusing attention on a field that was little studied in Italy, Anceschi did not, however, neglect to underline an error in his method. Rossi had denied the existence of empiricist aesthetics because he sought something in his authors which was not to be found. He had read them as an anticipation of a climax rather than within their context, and excluded from his studies the field of poetics, to which Anceschi accorded full legitimacy as a form of theoretical

The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy   267 reflection on art. Ultimately, Rossi had written a very useful work, but one which was outdated. The need to dispel the staleness of Italian philosophy was, after all, the distinguishing feature of the Milanese milieu in which Anceschi had been trained. It was in this context that the new unabridged translation of the Enquiry, introduced by Adelchi Baratono, took shape and saw publication in 1945. Ricerca filosofica sull’origine delle nostre idee del sublime e del bello is the seventh volume in the ‘Estetica’ series published by Alessandro Minuziano and directed by Banfi who, in 1936, had diagnosed the affliction of Italian philosophy as ‘the melancholic ailment of provincials in the 1800s … anaemia’.18 In 1947, Banfi himself published Vita dell’arte [The Life of Art] in the same series, an overall appraisal of his long-standing reflection on aesthetic themes. Both by disposition and education, Banfi made a point of keeping in touch with the main currents of European thought, and opened the series to the work of another non-conformist philosopher: Adelchi Baratono. Banfi’s ‘critical rationalism’ and Baratono’s ‘sensist occasionalism’ – to use the textbook expressions – are two rare cases of serious philosophical thought in Italy on aesthetic questions which were completely extraneous to the framework of neo-idealism. Along with the other volume in the series edited by Baratono, Henri Focillon’s Vie des formes, the new Italian edition of the Enquiry symbolically celebrated the encounter between the two main anti-idealist currents of Italian aesthetic philosophy in the first half of the twentieth century. Baratono’s originality lies in his close reading of Kant. As early as 1927, with Il pensiero come attività estetica [Thought as an Aesthetic Activity], Baratono had focused on the connection between the gnoseological problem and the aesthetic problem and considered the first and third Critiques as texts to be read in parallel, but his interpretation is quite different from those of Gentile or Mario Manlio Rossi. For Baratono, the central paragraphs of the ‘Introduction’ to the third Critique are fundamental with respect to the first section, the ‘Analytic of Aesthetic Judgement’. Kantian aesthetics are understood only as the resolution of a more general gnoseological problem: the problem of cognitive determinative judgements. It is not sufficient to bring the multifarious reality with which these judgements are concerned back to the transcendental laws of the intellect, namely, the categories of space and time, as Kant does in the Critique of Pure Reason. In order to be organized, the multiplicity of these particular judgements must answer to a formal finality which is entirely aesthetic: the only guarantee that nature in its infinite variety will agree with our need for rational order lies in the sense of satisfaction which always accompanies the sensible accord between experience and knowledge. The most important consequence of this interpretation is that the aesthetic nature of the judgement does not create a new value, but rather dwells within the judgement of knowledge itself. This overturns the paradigm, thus requiring a revision of the difference between determinative and reflective judgements. 18

‘L’estetica italiana è malata del male melanconico dei provinciali dell’800. È malata di anemia’ (Banfi 1988, 340).

268   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe The influence of Kant’s innovative interpretation on the new generations of Italian philosophers is generally considered quite limited (D’Angelo 2007, 141–47). However, due consideration has not been given to the fact that the Italian edition of the Enquiry edited by Baratono was the canonical text in Italy until the mid-1980s, and that the principal aspects of Baratono’s thought in the introduction can be traced to those found in his major work, Il mondo sensibile (1934) [Sensible World]. In this sense, it would not be far-fetched to suppose that one of the most important interpretations of the Enquiry in Italy up to the present day (Emilio Garroni 1992) is at least in part indebted to Baratono’s reading, not to mention Garroni’s own studies on Kant. The beginning of Baratono’s introduction (1945, 7–8) illustrates that in Italy philosophy and politics are never separate fields. Baratono immediately does away with the peculiar idea that Burke is not a child of the Enlightenment. Far from being a reactionary, Burke fully participates in the attempt to found the highest of human values on factual knowledge of our needs and feelings rather than on faith, authority, revelation or any other non-demonstrable and a priori principle. For Baratono, Burke represents English liberalism: no less traditionalistic than the Tories and essentially aristocratic when facing the excesses of the Terror. Nevertheless, this is not the most important sphere for Baratono. During Italy’s post-war period of material and cultural reconstruction, the Burke worth reading is the author of the Enquiry. Baratono’s aim is to reclaim the work following its devaluation by the idealist criticism which had condemned Burke for seeking the beautiful and the sublime, and aesthetic pleasure and pain, in the sensible form of things rather than in the spirituality of intuition gushing forth only from the creative imagination. In fact, the beautiful is also intuitive for Burke, but in terms of the immediate relation of subject and object: in terms of the apprehension (‘apprensione’) of the object according to its presence, or sensible form. And here the similarities between Burke and Baratono are truly remarkable: in Mondo sensibile, Baratono declares that the beautiful is neither in the subject nor in the object but in the encounter of both, in the Kantian sense of their accord in sensibility. For this reason, he can but appreciate the effort Burke makes to demonstrate that ‘beauty can be objectively defined as the “positive” quality of objects, as a value (because it is appreciated subjectively with feeling) “existing” (present) in the forms that act upon the soul by means of the senses’.19 Garroni takes a similar line, but is far more cautious on this point. When he comments on the opening to the fourth part of the Enquiry, he observes keenly that the so-called positive qualities are to be interpreted as ‘conditions in certain cases (perhaps) necessary, and usually only facilitating, of beauty’.20 The fifty-year interval between the two interpretations is all too evident.


‘… la bellezza sia oggettivamente definibile come qualità “positiva” degli oggetti, ovvero come un valore (perché apprezzato subiettivamente col sentimento) “esistente” (presente) nelle forme che agiscono su l’animo per mezzo dei sensi’ (27). 20 ‘qualità positive quali condizioni in certi casi (forse) necessarie, e di solito solo facilitanti, della bellezza’ (Garroni 1992, 162; author’s emphasis).

The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy   269 Garroni has absorbed Croce and Gentile; in his reading of Burke he applies not only Kant but Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations as well. While Baratono perceives a basic agreement between Burke and Hume on the question of taste, based on a methodological criterion, Garroni emphasizes the difference between the two. In his view, an aprioristic instance prevails in Burke when, in the introduction on taste, he claims to believe in the human capacity to distinguish ‘to the very last’ (Enquiry, 14) between natural and acquired inclinations. The judgement of taste thus reveals the general character of the human way of experiencing things in the sense that Garroni gives to Wittgenstein’s durchschauen, the looking-through phenomena, which is not directed at phenomena as such but at the possibility of the phenomena (§ 90). With regard to the problem of the sublime, while Garroni tends to minimize the differences between Burke and Kant, Baratono – who, as we shall see, anticipates an aspect of Giuseppe Sertoli’s interpretation – maintains that the two philosophers ‘belong to two different circles of ideas, which intersect only for one segment, but are oriented in opposite directions’.21 Kant holds that the pleasure of the sublime depends on reason gaining the upper hand, managing to dominate horror and translate fear into contemplation. In Burke’s view, on the contrary, it is precisely the painful content which transforms a sensible quality or form, which would otherwise be aesthetically ugly, into the sublime. For Baratono, Burke owes his modernity and originality to the great discovery of the sublime. His theory of art is more profound than the many others which have been attempted. In short, art is the artifice which gives form to moral content: it actuates the spirit in form. When it has to deal with the ugly in nature – pain, terror, death and all the stimuli which are in themselves ugly and ‘riluttanti’ (Baratono 1945, 36) (averse) to form – art nevertheless imposes a formal structure which is pleasing in itself and makes the ugly beautiful and transforms pain into pleasure. It is in this way that the sublime best unveils the paradoxical function of art, which bends the ugly into form. The clearest demonstration of Burke’s theory of art is the antirepresentationalist theory of verbal language which is developed in the last part, but which, according to Baratono, has been completely overlooked by aestheticians and glottologists. Unfortunately, Baratono deals with this in a hurried manner; his comments are somewhat obscure and lack the necessary examples. It is not clear how the poetic word, however brief and unpleasant, manages to produce the beauty of the pain and love it expresses. The fact is that Baratono is here more aphoristic than argumentative. The translation itself is the effort of two translators identified only by their initials: E. C. and R. B. The most likely hypothesis is that they were two of Banfi’s pupils, as was the case with many volumes in the series, or scholars who moved within the Milanese philosopher’s circle.22 A comparative analysis 21

‘il sublime burkiano e quello kantiano appartengono a due cerchi d’idee diversi, che s’intersecano soltanto per un segmento, ma sono oppostamente orientati’ (Baratono 1945, 32). 22 An attempt can be made to decipher at least one set of the initials: E. C. may refer to Electra Cannata who edited (and translated, along with L. Pola) another work

270   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe of the key words (see Appendix) indicates the most significant variations with respect to the preceding Italian translations in the rendering of the following terms: ‘grief ’ (pt.I: v), ‘self-preservation’ (pt.I: vi), ‘distresses’ (pt.1: xiv), ‘fitness’ (pt.3: vii), ‘delight’ (pt.4: vi), ‘variation’ (pt.4: xxiii) and ‘general words’ (pt.5: iii). To translate ‘grief ’ with ‘angoscia’ is extremely questionable because of its Freudian connotations in Italian. Within the context described by Burke, Marogna’s choice proves most apt (‘cordoglio’ expresses the pain of mourning in Italian, which goes well with the ‘totally lost’ object to which Burke refers (Enquiry, 37), but the word sounds a little old-fashioned nowadays). ‘Afflizione’ (Miglietta) renders the feeling of loss that is connected with ‘grief ’ well, but ‘tristezza’ (Ercolani) and ‘dispiacere’ (Rossi) seem too general in meaning. Unfortunately, the most updated edition trips up miserably over the translation of ‘self-preservation’. The term ‘autopreservazione’ is an awkward Anglicism, like present-day duplicates such as ‘ho realizzato’ (for ‘I realized’). It comes as no surprise, then, that the translator is implicitly rejected by Sertoli himself, who often prefers to speak of ‘autoconservazione’ in his critical essays (Sertoli 1986, 67–70). The anonymous translators of the Baratono edition choose to be more innovative than the preceding translators who all opted for ‘propria conservazione’ (in Rossi’s case even ‘propria’ is omitted), as they prefer the more literal ‘preservazione di se stessi’. Rendering ‘distresses’ with ‘disgrazie’, as do the anonymous translators, is an improvement over ‘calamità’ (Marogna), ‘infortunj’ (Ercolani) and ‘dolori’ (Rossi). In the case of ‘fitness’, which leads Rossi (1944, 2:647) to explain in a footnote his decision to translate the word with ‘idoneità a uno scopo’ (new in comparison with the ‘attitudine’ and ‘proprietà’ used in the 1800s), E. C. and R. B. favour the improbable ‘convenienza’, unoriginally adopted by Miglietta. Without doubt, the term presents a difficulty for translation, especially considering its inevitable association with the Kantian concept of finality. Yet in current Italian, the word ‘convenienza’ tends to make one think more of bargain shopping than philosophical issues. On the other hand, it is courageous of the anonymous translators to translate a very complex term like ‘delight’ with ‘godimento’, in comparison with the more coherent and literal strategy adopted by the others in using ‘diletto’. However, on a closer consideration of the immediate context (Enquiry, pt.IV: vi), the word does not in fact seem out of place. One would expect to find it in Rossi, given his criticism of Burke’s reluctance to bring the argument on pleasure and pain to its logical conclusion, and it may be that the two anonymous translators had this in mind when they decided to push the text further than its author could. Miglietta is not so daring; he retreats to the more neutral ‘diletto’ in an edition that was nevertheless opened by Sertoli with a clear reference to Freud (see the next section). In Italian, the word ‘godimento’ has obvious sexual connotations. The need for a new translation of ‘variation’ in two sections in the Enquiry (pt.III: xv and pt.IV: xxiii) is questionable, since the Italian ‘varietà’ adopted for the second renders the English ‘variety’ quite well. Finally, ‘generiche’, when referring to words, from English in the same series two years later: Vision and Design by Roger Fry. Unfortunately I have not been able to give a name to R. B.

The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy   271 may seem more reader-orientated but fails to allude to the Italian translation of Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Book III: ch.iii) which established the use of the expression ‘termini generali’. It ought to be said here that the 1945 translation was not always inferior to Miglietta new translation (1985). In addition to the examples seen above, the following excerpt, taken from section 5.3 of the Enquiry, should serve the purpose: Burke There are many, who love virtue, and who detest vice, and this not from hypocrisy or affectation, who notwithstanding very frequently act ill and wickedly in particulars without the least remorse; because these particular occasions never came into view, when the passions on the side of virtue were so warmly affected by certain words heated originally by the breath of others. (Burke 1958, 165–66)

E. C.-R. B. Vi sono molti che amano la virtù e detestano il vizio non per ipocrisia o affettazione, che tuttavia in casi particolari molto spesso agiscono male e da persone malvage, senza alcun rimorso, perché queste particolari occasioni non arrivano mai ad essere messe in vista, quando le passioni dal lato della virtù siano così fortemente colpite da certe parole infiammate originalmente con l’alito di altre. (Burke 1945, 284)

Miglietta Vi sono molti che amano la virtù e detestano il vizio non per ipocrisia o affettazione, e che tuttavia in casi particolari assai spesso agiscono male e da persone malvage, senza alcun rimorso, perché queste particolari occasioni non si presentarono mai alla vista, quando le passioni inerenti alla virtù furono in loro fortemente colpite da certe parole infiammate pronunciate nel calore di altre occasioni. (Burke 1985, 169)

The explanation for the short circuit that occurs between culture and nature, ‘notions’ and ‘actions’, is quite clear in the original, but much less so in the translations. The ‘others’ to whom Burke refers at the end of the passage are people, not words (‘parole’) (E. C.-R. B.) nor occasions (‘occasioni’) (Miglietta). It follows that E. C. and R. B. connect ‘alito’ (breath) to words, while Miglietta decides to translate ‘breath’ in the phrase ‘pronunciate nel calore’, completely losing ‘originally’ which is subsumed in ‘altre occasioni’. In comparison, Ercolani’s 1804 translation is a model of clarity, still valid for the contemporary Italian reader: Vi sono molti che amano la virtù e che detestano il vizio non per ipocrisia o affettazione, e ciò nonostante spessissimo agiscono male nelle particolari occorrenze senza il minimo rimorso; perché queste particolari occorrenze non si presentarono mai, quando le passioni riguardanti la virtù si risvegliarono in essi sì ardentemente per via di certe parole riscaldate in origine dal fiato altrui. (Burke 1804a, 203–04)

The sad conclusion to this comparative study of Italian translations of the Enquiry is that no serious critical edition exists of a work that is – to say the

272   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe least – important not only for the history of aesthetics but for Western philosophical thought as a whole. Surely the time has come to provide Italian readers with a fully annotated critical edition of Burke’s Enquiry as a parallel text. 1985: The post-modernist edition In order for the scorci (views) and orizzonti (horizons) glimpsed by Burke to truly open up for Italian aesthetics – a hope expressed by Baratono in his conclusion in 1945 – more than fifteen years had to pass. Two names are particularly important here: Lia Formigari and Guido Morpurgo-Tagliabue. Although they belonged to different philosophical schools (Rome and Milan) as well as different generations of post-idealist philosophers, Formigari and MorpurgoTagliabue were independently working on the topic of taste at the same time. Formigari’s earliest interest in Burke dates back to L’estetica del gusto nel Settecento inglese (1962) [The Aesthetics of Taste in Eighteenth-Century England], in which she focuses on the work of Shaftesbury, who functions as a benchmark for later thinkers. Burke is discussed with particular reference to the sublime and the subjectivization of taste. Gauging the distance which separates Burke’s concept of the sublime from the metaphysical totality presupposed by Shaftesbury, Formigari (1962, 175–87) emphasizes the Lockean derivation of negative concepts (the infinite, emptiness etc.) which are sources of sublime emotions for Burke. Nonetheless, Formigari sees in Shaftesbury’s emphasis on the moral aspect of the aesthetic object, signs of the eventual overthrow of an entirely subjective account of the judgement of taste, as achieved by Burke’s in his theory of the sublime. In her brief final observations on the question of semantic indeterminacy, Formigari perceives a still greater revelation of the subversive power of the inverse relationship between clarity and aesthetic efficacy discovered by Burke. More recently, Burke has featured in Formigari’s history of linguistic theories (Formigari 2001), where she considers his aesthetic work alongside the English-language proto-pragmatists (Berkeley, Hume and Reid), thus defined for having succeeded in converting Locke’s representational semantics of ideas into a semantics of use. Burke finds himself in the company of the great Italian Illuminist Cesare Beccaria on the basis of an extraordinary affinity perceived by Formigari regarding linguistic anti-representationalism. The Milanese anti-idealist influence is clearly felt in Morpurgo-Tagliabue’s early theoretical work (Il concetto dello stile, 1951 [The Concept of Style] ), where he posits Baratono’s idea of the sensibility or corporeity of the figure against Croce’s concept of intuition and Banfi’s acknowledgement of the poetics of artists against Croce’s devaluation of technique. This allows him to develop his own concept of style defined as a union of the two levels at which the artwork exists: the levels of form and content. But it is his later work which is of interest for our purposes. Indeed, Morpurgo-Tagliabue’s studies on the concept of taste, published in various academic journals in 1962, are some of his finest writings,23 in particular his essay on Burke (Morpurgo-Tagliabue 23

Only the essay on Hume was published in 1970.

The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy   273 1962e). Morpurgo-Tagliabue comes to conclusions which are similar to those of Garroni thirty years earlier, but without the theoretical assistance of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, which were not as yet available in Italian.24 Placing Kant’s ‘Dialectic of Aesthetic Judgement’ alongside Burke’s Enquiry (1.19), both philosophers (Garroni 1992, 155–56, 195ff. and Morpurgo-Tagliabue 2002, 192ff.) see, pro Burke and contra Hume, the judgement of taste as something which characterizes the general human way of experiencing. Over and above this essay, however, it was the rediscovery of Demetrius in a book published in 1980, and the role which Morpurgo-Tagliabue assigned to Burke therein, which came to influence Giuseppe Sertoli, the English Studies scholar to whom we owe the ‘Presentazione’ of the most recent Italian edition of the Enquiry. This edition is itself emblematic of the blurring of pre-established boundaries between literature, philosophy and criticism which marked the last phase of Italian aesthetics after structuralism (D’Angelo 2007, 257). The Sertoli-Miglietta edition has had a strong impact on Italian culture, as is demonstrated by the almost unanimous adoption of the title devised by the editor and translator amongst the academic community. It is remarkable that no part of its paratextual apparatus, which includes Sertoli’s ‘Presentazione’ and Miglietta’s notes, sheds light on the choice of such a title.25 Apart from the reservations on the translation that are expressed above, the critical analysis in the ‘Presentazione’ merits consideration, and all the more so since Sertoli has re-confirmed its interpretative scheme on various occasions, and in some cases quite recently (2000, 2002a, 2002b, 2003, 2008). The word ‘scheme’ is not used here in a casual way. One of the merits of Sertoli’s work is its ability to systematize a matter as complex as the sublime. His ‘Presentazione’ is in fact focused on the concept of the sublime to the detriment of the introduction on taste and the last part on verbal language. This focus is immediately apparent since the work is divided into two thematic blocks entitled ‘Pathos e natura: il sublime prima di Burke’ (Sertoli 1985, 9–21) and ‘Burke: Thanatos ed Eros’ (21–33). In the first section, the cultural context within which Burke’s thought matured is reconstructed; in the second, his post-modern relevance is discovered and exalted. Here, Morpurgo-Tagliabue’s role as an exegete of Demetrius is central for Sertoli. Morpurgo-Tagliabue (1980) perceives in Burke’s sublime a re-assumption of Demetrius’s δεινός (forceful), and in the success of the Enquiry a veritable vindication of περì έρμηνείας (On Style) over περì υ῞ψους (On the Sublime). In fact, according to


Garroni’s greater familiarity with the third Critique can be perceived clearly in the discussion on Burke. 25 I like to think that Inchiesta is an undeclared dedication to Morpurgo-Tagliabue by way of its allusion to the work which made him internationally known, L’esthétique contemporaine. Une enquête (1960). In a more appropriate homage elsewhere, Sertoli has argued that the merit and relevance of Morpurgo-Tagliabue lies in the way he identified a path for contemporary aesthetics which moved beyond Romanticism, post-romanticism and idealism, and returned to the eighteenth century (Sertoli 2003, 18–19).

274   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Morpurgo-Tagliabue, Burke’s greatness consists in the way he brings together two ideas of Demetrius and Longinus in his concept of the sublime. Precisely because of this, Burke becomes the servant of neither – or rather, an author and not a simple erudite (Morpurgo-Tagliabue 1980, 170ff). In this cohabitation, Burke’s novelty lies in the sadomasochistic hue with which he tinges the pleasure in suffering which he derives from the meaning of φοβερός (terrifying) within Demetrius’s δεινός. In the same way, Sertoli develops, in an anti-Kantian sense, what in Morpurgo-Tagliabue is only an allusion to Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Above all, he develops the suggestion of turning Parts I and IV of the Enquiry against the theory of the sublime in the third Critique. Morpurgo-Tagliabue exalted Burke’s role as the necessary antecedent to Kant’s reflection on the sublime: as the philosophical stimulus which permitted Kant to go far beyond Longinus and lift himself (according to the literal meaning of the German equivalent to ‘sublime’, i.e. das Erhabene) out of the fright that overcomes man in the space of self-awareness. For Sertoli, this dynamic amounts to an effective recovery of the subjectivity which is weakened by the human (all too human) tendency towards the dissolution of the Ego discovered by Burke. While Kant brings Addison’s journey to its humanistic conclusion, Burke begins the parable of the post-modern sublime which survives until Lyotard, touching Hegel, Schopenhauer and Freud along the way. Ultimately, Burke has meaning for Sertoli if – and only if – he is found after Kant in the themes most close to us, such as Eros, Death and the eclipse of the Ego (Sertoli 1985, 33). Two criticisms of Sertoli’s interpretation concern his underestimation of the role of travel literature in the development of the main categories of eighteenth-century aesthetics, and his ahistoricity. Sertoli (1985, 23) states that Addison ignored the terrifying aspect of the sublime in nature, yet his Remarks on Several Parts of Italy, and number 418 of the Spectator, demonstrate the opposite. Objections to the excessive stress laid by Sertoli on death and the loss of the subject came from Franco Restaino, an expert in British and American philosophical thought. Although important, Restaino (1987) complains, these themes are not present to such an extent, and with such a deconstructive effect as to make Burke’s thought appear as contemporary as Sertoli’s interpretation suggests. Measured with the yardstick of philosophical historiography, Sertoli’s interpretation appears to be a misreading, but within the context of postmodernism in which it is placed, it should be considered a happy misreading. It ought not to be forgotten, however, that in Italy the divide perceived in the studies of the Enquiry lies between literary critics and philosophers.26


The contributions of literary critics may in their turn be subdivided into works by scholars in Italian, German and English Studies. In addition to Costa (1968, 1978; 1994) and Mattioli (1984/1988; 1988), who were only marginally interested in Burke (like Raimondi 1985), Barilli (1986) and Gaetano (2002) dealt with the sublime in Leopardi, noting analogies with Burke’s theory. Yet while the former believed the Italian poet to be an unknowing follower of Burke, the latter, who made a study of the library of Count Monaldo, is more certain of Burke’s influence. Di Benedetto (2003) categorically excludes the possible influence of

The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy   275 Over the past three decades, studies of the mind in the cognitive sciences have given a new lease of life to the parts of the Enquiry neglected by Sertoli. The new vision of an embodied human mind interacting dynamically with the external environment, as well as the re-evaluation of the emotions in the formation of consciousness, have given new meaning to Burke’s words on the affective matrix of language. I have recently applied Garroni’s and Formigari’s studies to suggestions from cognitive linguistics in order to focus attention on Burke’s anti-representationalist theory (Niedda 2003). Revisited today, in light of the latest evidence furnished by neuroscience which seems to confirm the anticipatory property of feeling in the formation of meaning, Burke’s linguistic thought appears to be protected from the reductionist syndrome wittily re-christened by Raymond Tallis as ‘neuromania’ (Tallis 2011). This is due precisely to the social function of the emotions in the regulation of the semantic processes acknowledged by Burke (Niedda 2013).

Burke on Vittorio Alfieri, which was found instead by Lenci (1999, 42–51; 2002) with regard to political theory. Among noteworthy work in German Studies is the essay by Giuliano Baioni (1996, 3–26), who contrasts Burke’s sublime with Goethe’s ‘mefistofelico’. Works within English Studies are more numerous: in addition to Sertoli, noteworthy examples are Capone (1976), Colaiacomo (1984), Fortunati (1986), Franci (1987), Bacigalupo (1990) and Niedda (2003). With regard to studies by scholars of philosophy, ignoring the old problem of the distinction between philosophy and the history of philosophy, a possible subdivision in Italian Studies could follow the classic divide between analytical and continental philosophy (see D’Agostini 1997, which refers to Cooper 1994): Formigari (2001), Restaino (1987, 1991) and Santucci (1983) would be among the former, and Garroni (1992), Franzini (1995a, 1995b), Rella (1997) and D’Angelo (1997) among the latter.

276   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe APPENDIX The Enquiry’s keywords and phrases: Italian variations Burke (1757–59)

Ercolani (1804)

pain dolore removal cessazione self-preservation propria conservazione grief tristezza distresses of infortunj degli others altri obscurity oscurità

building colour considered as productive of the Sublime

Marogna (1804)

Rossi (1944)

pena rimozione propria conservazione cordoglio altrui calamità

pena dolore eliminazione cessazione conservazione preservazione di se stessi dispiacere angoscia dolori altrui disgrazie degli altri oscurità oscurità

dolore scomparsa autopreservazione

edifici il colore come produttore di sublimità

costruzione il colore considerato come causa del sublime

costruzioni il colore considerato come causa del sublime

intensità dei suoni subitaneità suoni e luci intermittenti odori l’amaro il fetore il sentire idoneità a uno scopo [an explanatory footnote added] fino a che punto l’idea di bellezza possa applicarsi alle qualità della mente la vera causa della bellezza



subitaneità intermittenza

subitaneità intermittenza

odorato cose amare odori cattivi sensibilità convenienza

odorato l’amaro il maleodorante sensibilità convenienza

fin dove l’idea di bellezza possa essere applicata alle qualità della mente

fin dove l’idea di bellezza possa essere applicata alle qualità della mente

la causa reale della bellezza

la causa reale della bellezza

oscurità / tenebre (the last in opposition to ‘clearness’) fabbriche del colore considerato qual motivo del sublime


edifici il colore considerato come atto a produrre il sublime strepito

suddenness intermitting

il repentino subitezza l’intermittente interruzione

smell bitters stenches feeling (pain) fitness

odore gli amari i fetenti tatto proprietà (o sia l’attitudine)

odore amarezza puzzo tatto attitudine

how far the idea of beauty may be applied to the qualities of the mind

come l’idea della bellezza possa applicarsi alle qualità dell’animo

fino a qual segno l’idea della bellezza possa applicarsi alle qualità della mente vera cagione della bellezza

the real cause of la cagione beauty reale della bellezza


E. C.-R. B. (1945)

Miglietta (1985)

afflizione disgrazie altrui oscurità

The Reception of Burke’s Aesthetic Ideas in Italy   277 Burke (1757–59)

Ercolani (1804)


morbidezza (o liscezza liscezza) delicatezza dilicatezza venustà speziosità

delicacy speciousness (fine) feeling (beauty) sounds (beauty)

tatto suoni

taste and smell

il sapore, e l’odore of the efficient la causa cause of the efficiente del sublime and sublime e del beautiful bello fear timore how the come si sublime is produca il produced sublime pain … cause of dolore … delight causa del diletto finer organs gli organi più delicati visual objects oggetti visuali darkness (considered by Locke) blackness the effects of blackness moderated sweetness relaxing variation raising ideas of things

general words words may affect without raising images


nero effetti del nero moderato dolcezza rilasciante variazione risvegliare l’idee delle cose

Marogna (1804)

Rossi (1944)

E. C.-R. B. (1945)

Miglietta (1985)




delicatezza speciosità (squisito e specioso) tatto bellezza tattile udito il bello nei suoni gusto, e gusto e odorato odorato della cagione causa efficiente del efficiente del sublime e del sublime e del bello bello timore paura come si crei il come si sublime produce il sublime dolore … dolore … cagione del causa di diletto diletto gli organi più organi più fini raffinati obbietti oggetti visivi visuali tenebre oscurità

delicatezza vistosità (elegante e vistoso) tatto suoni

delicatezza vistosità (magnifico e vistoso) tatto suoni

il gusto e l’odorato la causa efficiente del sublime e del bello

il gusto e l’odorato la causa efficiente del sublime e del bello

paura come si determina il sublime dolore … causa di godimento

paura come si produce il sublime

organi più delicati oggetti

organi più delicati



nerezza effetti della nerezza moderati dolcezza rilassante variazione suscitare idee delle cose

nero effetti attenuati del nero

nero effetti attenuati del nero

dolcezza rilassante varietà suscitare le idee delle cose

dolcezza rilassante

parole generiche le parole possono colpire senza suscitare immagini

parole generiche le parole possono colpire senza suscitare immagini

color nero attenuazione degli effetti del color nero il dolce rilassa

variazione (l’effetto della poesia non è dovuto all’) evocazione delle cose parole generali parole generali parole generali le parole le parole le parole possono fare possono possono fare impressione commuovere effetto senza senza senza suscitare risvegliare le risvegliare immagini immagini immagini

dolore … causa di diletto

oggetti visivi

varietà suscitare le idee delle cose

278   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Burke (1757–59)

Ercolani (1804)

Marogna (1804)

Rossi (1944)

E. C.-R. B. (1945)

Miglietta (1985)

poetry not strictly an imitative art

la poesia rigorosamente non è arte imitatrice

la poesia non è arte strettamente imitativa

la poesia non è strettamente un’arte imitativa

la poesia non è strettamente un’arte imitativa

how words influence the passions

come le parole influiscono sulle passioni

la poesia rigorosamente parlando non è arte imitativa come le parole operino sulle passioni

come le come le parole parole influiscono sulle influiscono sui passioni sentimenti

come le parole influiscono sulle passioni


The Reception of the Enquiry in the German-Language Area in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century: August Gottlieb Meißner and Johann Gottfried Herder Tomáš Hlobil

1 The reception of Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful in the German-language area has been discussed in scholarly literature for almost 200 years.1 If we were to generalize from the results of the research conducted so far, the reception of Burke’s Enquiry in the German-language area in the second half of the eighteenth century would emerge as a discontinuous process with four distinct peaks. The first peak represents Lessing’s and Mendelssohn’s treatment of the Enquiry in the late 1750s and early 1760s; the second, lasting from the middle of the 1760s to the beginning of the 1770s, refers mainly to Herder’s interest in Burke’s aesthetics; the third is the critical reception of Burke in Kant’s Kritik der Urteilskraft (Critique of Judgment, 1790); and the fourth marks the polemical position expressed in German post-Kantian philosophy, particularly in its idealist branch. This last phase crosses over into the first half of the nineteenth century. Although research to date has been important in helping to shed light on the dissemination of Burke’s Enquiry in the German-language area, a comprehensive treatment of this reception as a process distinguished not only by changes over time but also by regional variations remains lacking. Based 1

This chapter was written with the generous support of the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic (grant no. P409/11/2083). The author thanks Derek Paton who has translated the whole text including the quotations.   See Wendt (1819); Braune (1917, 4–15); Boulton (1958, cxx–cxxvii); Strube (1980, 24–26; 1998a); Kuehn (2001).

280   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe on the lectures on aesthetics given by August Gottlieb Meißner (1753–1807) at Prague University in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,2 the first part of this chapter seeks to illuminate the regional aspect alongside that of time.3 The first phase of the reception of the Enquiry (and here one can safely omit Burke’s name, for clearly none of the decisive actors knew the author of this anonymously published treatise) relates to the English original and took place in Leipzig and Berlin immediately after its publication in London in 1757. The roles of the two German cities during this phase of reception differed considerably. Although Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–81) first informed his friends Moses Mendelssohn (1729–86) and Friedrich Nicolai (1733–1811) of the existence of the Enquiry in letters sent from Leipzig in 1757,4 and although it was in Leipzig that a key text of the first phase of its reception – Mendelssohn’s review – was published, this Saxon town cannot reasonably be described as more than a mere mediator. The fact that the journal in which Mendelssohn’s long review appeared in 1758, Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und der freyen Künste (Library of the schöne Wissenschaften and the Liberal Arts), was published in Leipzig by Johann Gottfried Dyck (1750– 1815) was largely a coincidence (Mendelssohn 1977, 216–36). After Nicolai failed to find a publisher in Berlin who would support his project for a new German review journal for fine arts and belles-lettres, Lessing, who was residing in Leipzig at the time, convinced Dyck. Until the fifth volume (1759), the journal was in fact mostly edited in Berlin by Nicolai and Mendelssohn and, moreover, the most important contributions were written there. The great intellectual ferment that the Enquiry awakened in Lessing and Mendelssohn culminated in works by the Jewish scholar relating directly to Burke or expressing his own theory of feelings (Mendelssohn 1932, 237–67), and also in Lessing’s continuously postponed and ultimately unfulfilled intention to translate the Enquiry (Lessing 1997, 448–52). This first phase of reception, which ends in the early 1760s,5 was intellectually a matter of Berlin primarily, not Leipzig.6 The second phase of interest in the Enquiry was principally in the northern maritime centres of German culture, particularly Königsberg, Riga, Hamburg 2 3


5 6

On Meißner, see Kraus (1888); Fürst (1894); Hock (1899); Foltin (1977); Jannidis (1994); Košenina (2003). Emphasis on local particularity does not exclude the existence of mutual relations between the individual centres, such as those between the Riga publisher Hartknoch and the Leipzig authors Weiße and Garve. An earlier version of this part of my chapter appeared in the Estetika Journal. Lessing remarked on Burke’s Enquiry for the first time in a letter to Nicolai dated 2 November 1757. Lessing’s, Mendelssohn’s and Nicolai’s discussions concerning Burke have been summarized by Fritz Bamberger (1932) and Eva Engel (1977, lxxiii–lxxv). In 1768 Lessing stated that he had not yet completely given up on the translation (Lessing 1997, 1045). Lessing sojourned in Berlin from May 1758 to 7 November 1760 (Engel 1977, lxxiv).

The Reception of the Enquiry in the German-Language Area   281 and Copenhagen. Such interest was sparked by Johann Georg Hamann’s review of Kant’s early, pre-critical writing Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen (Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime, 1764), published in the Königsbergsche Gelehrte und Politische Zeitungen (Königsberg Scholarly and Political News) on April 30, 1764 (Hamann 1952, 289–92). It was thus thanks to Hamann (1730–88),7 who owned an original copy of the Enquiry (Hamann 1953, 77)8 without knowing who the author was and who summarized Burke’s theory in his review,9 that a professor of philosophy at Königsberg in East Prussia, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804),10 and his pupil Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) became acquainted with Burke’s views on the sublime and the beautiful. Northern German interest in the Enquiry, the author of which was identified only thanks to the French translation of 1765,11 lasted longer, continuing for more than twenty-five years, with two clear peaks. The cause of both peaks was interest in the Enquiry in the late 1760s and early 1770s, evidence of which is found in both the published and unpublished works of several scholars: the review of the Enquiry written by the Copenhagen-based Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg (1737– 1823), published in the Hamburgische Neue Zeitungen (The New Hamburg News) on 13 February 1769 (Gerstenberg, 1904, 156–61); Herder’s excerpts from this review (Herder 1892, 108–10); Herder’s unpublished ‘Viertes Wäldchen’ (The Fourth Grove) on which he worked between 1769 and 1772 (Herder 1993, 349–50); and, lastly, his correspondence with Hamann, Kant, Johann Friedrich Hartknoch (1740–89) and Christian Heinrich Boie (1744–1806) between 1768 and 1772.12 One of the main themes of the 7

8 9




Although North German authors had an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the Enquiry even before Hamann’s review thanks to Mendelssohn, there is no direct evidence that this occurred. See Giordanetti (1999) and Herder (1993, 349; 1998, 864). See Herder’s letter of 1768 to Hamann (Herder 1977a, 113–17). For English works in Hamann’s library, see Fabian (1994, 32, 53–54, 67); Imendörffer (1938). It was only in a letter of 22 November 1768 that Herder, who had worked with the French translation (1765) which first stated the author’s name, told Hamann that the Enquiry was Burke’s work. The first English edition to bear Burke’s name was published in 1796. In the meantime, some had assumed the author to be David Hume; others, Henry Home, Lord Kames. See Mendelssohn (1977, 467); Herder (1846a, 420); Hamann (1956, 432); Unger (1925, 671); Herder (2001, 73). Contrary to the views of earlier editors and commentators who claimed that Kant knew Burke’s Enquiry before writing his early treatise on the sublime and the beautiful thanks to Mendelssohn’s review (Boulton 1958, cxxi; Kuehn 2001, vii), the present view (Giordanetti 1999) is that he became acquainted with it only after reading Hamann’s review: only in the manuscript notes to the Beobachtungen is there a clear effort on the part of Kant to take Burke’s positions into consideration (Kant 1991). See also Braune (1917, 13); Engel (1977, lxxxi); Herder (1998, 1224). Recherches philosophiques sur l’origine des idées que nous avons du Beau & du Sublime, précédées d’une dissertation sur le gout, Traduites de l’Anglois de M. Burke, Par l’Abbé Des François (1765), 2 vols, London [i.e. Paris?]: et se vend à Paris, chez Hochereau 1765. Herder knew the French translation (Herder 1977a, 115, 119–120). See Herder (1977a, 115, 119–20, 147; 1977b, 146; 1988, 75, 148, 151).

282   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe North German essays was a repeated call for the translation of Burke’s Enquiry because, the authors argued, it was not yet sufficiently known to the German public. Herder even took concrete steps in this direction when he urged the Riga theologian Johann Jakob Harder (1734–75) to translate the Enquiry. He himself intended to add commentary and notes to the translation. The whole project was ultimately abandoned in 1769 when the Riga publisher Hartknoch asked the Leipzig editor of the journal Neue Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und der freyen Künste (New Library of the schöne Wissenschaften and the Liberal Arts), Christian Felix Weiße (1726–1804), to find a suitable translator for Burke’s book (Herder, 1846b, 140n. 41). This ended up being Christian Garve (1742–98) whose translation was published anonymously by Hartknoch in Riga in 1773, constituting the first peak of North German interest in Burke’s Enquiry.13 The second peak is linked to Kant’s Critique of Judgment.14 The fact that Kant defined the distinctiveness of his own transcendental conception of aesthetic judgement against the backdrop of Burke’s views must be understood as the logical extension of the previous development of Burke’s reception in northern centres of German culture in which not only Hamann but also Herder criticized Kant’s early discussion of aesthetics with the help of Burke’s sensualist arguments. Unlike the Riga translation, which represents the peak of interest in Burke’s Enquiry in ‘material’ terms (it was simply the text, without scholarly commentary or footnotes), Kant’s inclusion of Burke in the Critique of Judgment as a typical example of the empirical theory of the sublime and the beautiful – which he himself had rejected – forms its apex in intellectual terms. Both peaks, however, are interconnected because only Garve’s translation allowed Kant to become acquainted with the full scope of Burke’s views and to quote them in the first place.15 The intense reception of the Critique of Judgment in German aesthetics from about 1800 onwards meant that the polemic with the British author became part of idealist interpretations for the next few decades (Strube 1980, 24–26). At the same time, Burke’s views, as is clear from Herder’s Kalligone (1800), continued to be used even by Kant’s opponents, and particularly in the controversy surrounding his attempt to exclude the sensuous dimension of aesthetic judgement (Herder 1998, 863–64).16 An upshot of this development was that concern with Burke’s Enquiry no longer developed chiefly in narrowly defined 13

In addition to the letters of 22 November 1768 to Hamann, and the letter of late February 1772 to Hartknoch, see the letter of 25 September 1770 from Johann Jakob Harder to the Halle professor Christian Adolf Klotz (1738–71) for more concerning Herder’s plans for Burke’s Enquiry (Hagen 1773, 56–59). 14 Burke’s rejection of a theory of the beautiful based on unity in diversity is echoed in other North German authors; see Tetens (1777, 206). 15 See the Burke quotation in Garve’s translation in Kant, Kritik der Urtheilskraft, §29 (Kant 1913, 277–78). The importance of the Enquiry in the 1780s and 1790s was increased not only by the German translation but also by the fact that it soon began to be mentioned regularly in textbooks and encyclopaedias on aesthetics. See Eschenburg (1783, 22); Eberhard (1790, 53). 16 There will be further discussion of this later in the chapter.

The Reception of the Enquiry in the German-Language Area   283 regions but spread wherever philosophical idealism in aesthetics was cultivated or became a matter of contention.17 As a consequence, the reception or, more precisely, the dissemination of Burke’s Enquiry in the German-language area entered a new phase, crossing over into the first half of the nineteenth century.18 Outlining the three centres,19 and the three corresponding phases, of the German reception of Burke’s Enquiry in the second half of the eighteenth century – the spread from Berlin and north Germany to the wider German cultural sphere – begs the question of which centre should be connected with Meißner’s remarks on Burke’s ideas as expressed in his Prague lectures on aesthetics. Meißner, one of the most popular German writers of his day, was appointed Ordinarius of Aesthetics and Classical Literature at Prague University by the Habsburg Emperor Joseph II in 1785. He was the first Protestant to be employed at the Faculty of Philosophy since the Thirty Years’ War, and left Prague for Fulda at the end of 1804 after two decades of service. In his regular annual lectures on aesthetics, as is evident from notes made by students who attended them,20 Meißner repeatedly included excerpts from the Enquiry and praised it. He commented on Burke in passages on taste (Jungmann 1794, 3:4), the beautiful (Jungmann 1794, 5:11–23), and the sublime (Jungmann 1794, 4:30). Meiβner weakened Burke’s thesis qualifying the sublime with terror and fear. In keeping with the German non-Kantian aesthetic tradition, he qualified the coming of the terror sublime (das Schrecklich-Erhabene) with awareness of one’s own security, indeed, he even pointed to cases that do not inspire terror, but do arouse the sublime (for example, in the Bible, ‘Let there be light: and there was light’; Genesis 1.3). The longest passage on the Enquiry is in the explanation of the ‘feeling of the beautiful’ (Empfindung des Schönen). Here, replicating the plan of Part III of the Enquiry, Meißner first presents Burke’s reservations about three traditional theories identifying beauty with proportion, fitness and perfection. In this connection, he concentrates – in accordance with the overall character of the lectures – on the fact that the criticized theories do not sufficiently consider the bond between beauty and feelings. Using Burke’s ideas, Meißner stressed two passions: the passion directed at the reproduction of the species (he himself most often talks about Geschlechtsempfindung) and the passion for self-preservation (Selbsterhaltung). Meißner presented the first passion as the source of the beautiful, and the second as the source of the


For example, Herder in Weimar and Schiller in Jena were both concerned with Burke’s Enquiry. 18 See Strube (1998a). 19 Interest in Burke’s essay was not confined to these three centres. See Merck (1776) and La Roche (1997, 128). 20 Meißner himself never published his lectures on aesthetics. The most complete extant notes from his lectures were made in 1794/1795 by the student Josef Jungmann (1773–1847), later one of the most important scholars of the Czech National Revival; see Jungmann (1794). For more on the manuscript, see Hlobil (2012).

284   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe sublime. Beautiful objects engender love in us whereas the sublime evokes admiration. (Burke, however, connected the sublime with terror and pain.) He repeated Burke’s enumeration of the properties evoking the beautiful, and included among them ‘smallness’, ‘smoothness’, ‘gradual variation’ and ‘delicacy’. He summarized Burke’s views on virtue. Those virtues in which tender feelings (sanfte Empfindungen) related to the sex drive hold sway are also beautiful. Similarly, in his definition of kinds of beauty in relation to the individual senses, he advocated Burke’s views based on previous conclusions. It is no surprise therefore that Meißner appreciated Burke above all other British aestheticians. Jungmann made a note that Burke, according to Meiβner, had ‘come the furthest’ (kam am weitesten) in inquiring into the beautiful, though even he had not completely exhausted this key concept of aesthetics. Although Meißner for the most part only paraphrased Burke’s views on the sublime and the beautiful, his lectures are important because they supplement what we already know about the dissemination of Burke’s Enquiry in the German-language area in the last third of the eighteenth century. Meißner’s remarks shift the focus of investigation from the Protestant north of Germany, the exclusive concern of previous research, to the Roman Catholic south, and specifically to Prague, the capital of Bohemia, then part of the Habsburg monarchy. In trying to determine who awakened Meißner’s interest in the Enquiry and his knowledge of it, a consideration of the regional dynamics of Burke’s reception history becomes crucial. Meißner, after all, was a student at Leipzig from 1774 to 1776, that is to say, immediately after Garve’s translation had been published in 1773. This makes it necessary to question whether, in the late 1760s and early 1770s, Leipzig too was not an important centre for the mediation and dissemination of Burke’s aesthetics. In the second half of the eighteenth century Leipzig was of course the centre of the German book trade and an important centre of higher learning. The local publishing houses played a decisive role in the dissemination of British literature, both scholarly literature and belles-lettres,21 as did the Faculty of Philosophy at Leipzig with its continued interest in literature written in English, including essays on aesthetics.22 The dissemination of British culture was also considerably furthered by the most important Leipzig journal on the arts, Neue Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und der freyen Künste, edited by Christian Felix Weiße as of 1765;23 this series became the German bastion of sensualist aesthetics, acquainting its German readers with British ideas.24


See Fabian (1994, 20–21); Price and Price (1955); Inbar (1980); Spieckermann (1992). 22 On the teaching of English language and literature and other fields of culture at universities in the German-language area, including Leipzig, see Schröder (1969). 23 The original Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und der freyen Künste was published between 1757 and 1765 and then in 1767; its successor, the Neue Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und der freyen Künste, was published between 1765 and 1806. 24 See Klingenberg (2001); Rek (2001); Fabian (1994, 44–45); Wilkie (1953; 1955–56); Peitsch (1992).

The Reception of the Enquiry in the German-Language Area   285 Little is known, however, about the actual circumstances surrounding the translation of Burke’s Enquiry. The only source of information concerning the work of translating is in the correspondence between Hartknoch and Herder.25 Garve was a professor of philosophy at Leipzig (a position he held from 1768 to 1772) when the publisher Hartknoch invited him to undertake the translation, through Weiße. Garve was researching English literature intensively, particularly between 1767 and 1778 (Van Dusen 1970),26 and a consequence of his interest was a number of translations, including works concerned with aesthetics and other areas of philosophy (Viviani 1974). Before completing Burke’s Enquiry, Garve helped to revise a translation of Home’s Elements of Criticism, originally done by Johann Nikolaus Meinhard (1727–67); this revision was carried out in collaboration with his Leipzig friend Johann Jakob Engel (1741–1802).27 In Garve’s published correspondence with the Leipzig cleric Georg Joachim Zollikofer (1730–88) (Garve 1999a) and Christian Felix Weiße (Garve 1999b), conducted between 1772 and 1774, there is surprisingly no mention at all of his work on the anonymously published translation. Considering the work-related nature of his exchange with the Leipzig editor Weiße, in which Garve repeatedly asks him to find more translation work for him and negotiates the editing of the translations, fees, numbers of copies and their distribution, one would be justified in taking the silence to mean that the whole translation process, including the editing, must have been completed before he left Leipzig for Breslau in Silesia in October 1772. The letters also make apparent how much Garve, now in Breslau, missed the intellectual climate of Leipzig, especially the meetings with such friends as the professor of medicine and philosophy Ernst Platner (1744–1818) and also Weiße, Zollikofer and Engel. The fact that Engel almost never wrote to Garve was a frequent source of complaint, which Garve gave vent to in letters to other friends (Garve 1999a, 46–47, 126–27, 139). Garve’s close ties with Engel, and the probable completion of the translation of the Enquiry while still in Leipzig, are important evidence that Engel was likely to have acquainted himself thoroughly with the contents of Burke’s essay once Garve had translated it. Considering their close contact and previous collaborative revision of Home’s Elements, it is difficult to imagine that Garve and Engel would not have discussed Burke at all. The role of Leipzig in the dissemination of Burke’s Enquiry was not limited solely to Garve’s translation. It was in Weiße’s Neue Bibliothek that the longest, most detailed review of the translation appeared in 1774 (Anon. 1774b). In it, the anonymous author first regrets that he had been unaware of the large excerpt of Burke’s Enquiry published in Mendelssohn’s 1758 review, which


See, in particular, E. G. Herder (1846b, 140); Herder (1977b, 146); Düntzer and Herder (1861, 26, 39–40). For information concerning Hartknoch’s letters, I am indebted to Dr Günter Arnold. 26 See also Oz-Salzberger (1995, 192); Pottle (1953, 123). 27 See Home (1772). We learn of Engel’s and Garve’s revision from the later edition by Georg Schaz (1790, xiii).

286   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe appeared in the third volume of the previous issue of Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und der freyen Künste. If he had known of this earlier review, he claims, he would never have agreed to write his own. The strictly informative nature of Mendelssohn’s contribution compelled the reviewer to rewrite the text, considerably shortening the excerpt and focusing on the changes that Burke had made in later editions, particularly in the introduction dealing with the question of taste. It was precisely this last matter that the reviewer took issue with. Nor was he satisfied with Burke’s absolute separation of the sublime and the beautiful; Burke’s idea that the sublime was ultimately based on terror seemed particularly untenable to him because encounters with supreme kinds of the sublime elevate the human soul rather than bring it down. In his conclusion, the reviewer divulges the name of the translator, Garve, and expresses regret that, owing to health problems, the former Leipzig professor had been unable to add notes to his outstanding translation, as had originally been intended. The attention that the Leipzig Neue Bibliothek pays to Garve’s translation of the Enquiry stands in contrast to the other review journals of the day. Reviews of Burke in German translation were on the whole scarce. One, signed ‘h’, possibly referring to Heinrich Philipp Conrad Henke,28 appeared in Gottlob Benedict von Schirach’s (1743–1804) Magazin der deutschen Critik (A Magazine of German criticism), published in Halle (H 1773). Another, by an anonymous reviewer, appeared in the Jenaische Zeitungen von Gelehrten Sachen (Jena News about Learned Matters) on 29 April 1774 (Anon. 1774a) and was subsequently republished in the Erlangische gelehrte Anmerkungen und Nachrichten (Erlangen Scholarly Commentary and News) on 9 July (Anon. 1774d). A third review appeared in the Russische Bibliothek, zur Kenntnis des gegenwärtigen Zustandes der Literatur in Rußland (Russian Library, for Knowledge of the Current State of Literature in Russia), edited by Hartwich Ludwig Christian Bacmeister (1730–1806) in Riga (Anon. 1774c). In this regard, the role of Berlin is particularly revealing: whereas in the late 1750s and early 1760s it was Mendelssohn, Lessing and Nicolai, all figures connected with Berlin, who repeatedly dealt with Burke’s Enquiry, now only marginal attention was paid to Garve’s translation in the Prussian capital. This becomes most evident when one considers the amount of space devoted to it in the most prestigious Berlin review journal: Nicolai’s Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek (Universal German library). Garve’s translation was not even noted in its regular issues. Only in the summarizing supplement of 1777 was the translation ever mentioned: namely by a certain Müller, a contributor from Cassel who signed his piece ‘Rz’.29 It is typical of this brief sort of mention that the author pays more attention to Burke’s current political activities and speeches about American independence

28 See

Systematischer Index zu deutschsprachigen Rezensionszeitschriften des 18. Jahrhunderts ( I am indebted to Thomas Habel for bringing this to my attention. 29 For the names behind the initials of the reviewers in the journal Allgemeine Deutsche Bibliothek, see Parthey (1973).

The Reception of the Enquiry in the German-Language Area   287 than to a discussion of aesthetics, for which he reserved only two sentences.30 He expresses his conviction ‘that the thoughts of such a good orator must be of interest to everyone. This, apropos fine translation therefore needs no further recommendation’ (Rz 1777).31 If we take all these elements into consideration – Garve’s translation, its subsequent review in the Neue Bibliothek and the general Anglophilia in Leipzig – we can confidently call this Saxon town one of the main Germanlanguage centres disseminating knowledge of Burke’s Enquiry, especially in the first half of the 1770s. If we accept that it was the decisive intermediary in the diffusion of the Enquiry into southern German Roman Catholic areas (Prague in particular, as is shown by Meißner’s example) Leipzig becomes all the more important in the dissemination of Burke’s aesthetics. No documentary information is available about how Meißner became acquainted with the Enquiry; it is quite likely, however, that as an enthusiastic student of belles-lettres and fine arts in Leipzig he obtained a copy of Garve’s translation, which had been published just before his arrival in Leipzig in 1774.32 In addition, his interest in Burke’s book could have been piqued by his Leipzig patron, the anthropologist Ernst Platner (Fürst 1894, 5, 39) whose university lectures on aesthetics mention Garve’s German translation. Indeed, Platner makes particular reference to Burke’s ‘Introduction on Taste’ and also takes issue with his theory of the sublime.33 Meißner came into close contact with another friend of Garve’s: Weiße. In his autobiography, Weiße later calls Meißner one of the core contributors to the Neue Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und der freyen Künste (Weiße and Frisch 1806, 82).34 Moreover, Meißner’s closest friend in Leipzig was Johann Jakob Engel, who had helped Garve to translate Home’s Elements of Criticism and was probably also familiar with the translation of the Enquiry. It was, as Rudolf Fürst points out, his conversations with this later popular Enlightenment thinker which inspired


The brevity with which the Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek dealt with the German translation of Burke’s Enquiry cannot be justified even by Nicolai’s stated intention when starting up his journal: ‘Schriften von minderer Wichtigkeit, und Uebersetzungen wird man nur kürzlich anzeigen, doch mit Beyfügung eines kurzen Urtheils, über den Werth derselben.’ [Works of lesser importance and translations will only be briefly annotated with, however, the addition of a short judgement about the worth of the actual work] (Nicolai 1765, i). 31 Rz (1777): ‘daβ eines so groβen Redners Gedanken über eine solche Materie jedermann interessiren müssen. Diese übrigens gute Uebersetzung bedarf also keiner weitern Empfehlung.’ 32 Meißner probably never met Garve personally because he arrived in Leipzig only after Garve’s departure for Breslau. 33 Anon. (1777–78, on Burke 100, 141–42). Platner emphasized the importance of Burke’s Enquiry for Kant and Mendelssohn. I thank Professor Alexander Košenina (Leibniz Universität, Hannover) for lending me a copy of the manuscript. 34 This collaboration is supposed to have peaked while Meißner was a student (1773–76). Fürst cast doubt on Meißner’s role in Weiße’s Neue Bibliothek. Based on the claim by Jakob Minor, he suggested that Meißner only contributed to the periodical during his sojourn in Leipzig (Fürst 1894, 7–8, 322; Minor 1880, 312).

288   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe Meißner to study literature and art, which in turn led to his literary career (Fürst 1894, 7).35 It seems more than likely that Burke’s name would have come up in discussions amongst these men. Meißner’s friends and acquaintances in Leipzig seem to have been behind his lasting interest in Burke’s Enquiry, which was later projected in his Prague lectures.36 Even though Meißner discussed Burke’s views on aesthetics without great originality, the fact that he introduced them to his students in Prague in some detail is nonetheless significant. Prague University was noticeably less liberal and less open to alien ideas than German universities in the Protestant regions and countries to the north. Indeed, to include Burke’s ideas in a lecture was daring, since it was at variance with a decree by Joseph II which ordered the teaching of aesthetics at all universities in the Habsburg monarchy to be done solely on the basis of the textbook by Johann Joachim Eschenburg (1743–1820): Entwurf einer Theorie und Literatur der schönen Wissenschaften. Zur Grundlage bey Vorlesungen (An Outline of the Theory of and Literature on the schöne Wissenschaften: A Basis for Lectures, 1783). Although Burke’s Enquiry is listed in the bibliographies of this textbook (Eschenburg 1783, 22, 25, 29), it is disregarded elsewhere.37 Meißner eventually had to come to terms with the negative attitude towards Burke as an author writing about the French Revolution: the topic was unacceptable in any form in Austria and meant that the censor at Vienna designated his works undesirable.38 The fact that Meißner included British authors,39 particularly Burke, in his Prague lectures on aesthetics despite the decree of the court at Vienna, and even after the outbreak of the French Revolution, testifies to his extraordinarily strong interest in Burke’s Enquiry. It was the anthropological-psychological orientation of Meißner’s aesthetics, adopted during his studies at Leipzig, which inspired in him a lasting interest in British aesthetics. It was this interest which distinguished his lectures from those of his predecessor, Carl Heinrich Seibt (1735–1806), who based his on French thinkers like Charles Batteux (1713–80) and Charles Rollin (1661–1741). Meißner’s leaning towards Burke was so striking and lasting that in 1805 even his pupil and eventual successor to the Chair of Aesthetics at Prague, Joseph Georg Meinert (1773–1844), felt the need to present his own conception of the beautiful in contrast to Burke’s


Meißner and Engel remained in close contact even after Engel left Leipzig for Berlin in 1776; see Košenina and Sangmeister (2002). 36 Indeed Meißner’s interest in British culture increased so much during his Leipzig sojourn that he himself began to translate from the English, as is demonstrated by his adaptation of Hume’s History of England: Geschichte Englands, nach Hume von A. G. Meißner (1777 and 1780), 2 vols, Leipzig: Dyk. 37 For the influence that Joseph II’s reforms had on aesthetics at Prague University and for the way Meißner used Eschenburg’s textbook in his lectures, see Hlobil (2012). 38 See Braune (1917, 5–6). 39 Meißner’s Prague lectures discussed not only Burke but also Young, Blair, Gerard, Hogarth, Shaftesbury, Hurd, Ossian and, in particular, Home. See Hlobil (2006).

The Reception of the Enquiry in the German-Language Area   289 theory – by then nearly fifty years old – as part of his application to succeed Meißner.40 2 Having outlined the early dissemination, translation and reviews of the Enquiry in the German-language area, it is now time to consider the reception of the ideas it contains. The extensive literature covering the German approach to the Enquiry tends to concentrate on individual responses while disregarding the wider German reception over long periods. Two short works by Werner Strube are almost the only exceptions (Strube 1980; 1998a).41 In the introduction to a 1980 German translation of the Enquiry, Strube (1980, 24–26) points out that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German aestheticians (Lessing, Herder, Vischer, Zimmermann and Carrière) praised the individual observations contained in the Enquiry, yet rejected its overall system. Moreover, most of them (for example, Herder) rejected Burke’s thorough separation of the beautiful and the sublime because they upheld the traditional conviction that the sublime was a supreme kind of beauty. Kant is a notable exception but, unlike Burke, he transferred the dichotomy of beauty and the sublime to a completely new context in the Critique of Judgment (1790), where he accounted for it transcendentally rather than empirically. Later idealists, such as Schelling and Solger, tried to reconcile the beautiful and the sublime but, according to Strube, nineteenth-century German aestheticians ended up treating the Enquiry not only as ‘a classic text of empiricist-sensualist aesthetics, but also as a classic case of a bit of Anglo-Saxon philosophy rudely condemned by speculative German metaphysics’ (Strube 1980, 26).42 In the introduction,


For Meinert’s own conception of the beautiful, in contrast to Burke’s, see Lemberg (1932, 95n. 74). 41 Other works offering an overview of the German reception of the Enquiry are also concise but, unlike Strube’s attempts, limited to the early reception by Mendelssohn, Lessing, Herder and Kant; see Braune (1917, 6–15); Boulton (1958, cxx–cxxvii); Kuehn (2001). 42 ‘So ist Burkes Ästhetik nicht nur ein klassischer Text der empiristisch-sensualistischen Ästhetik, sondern auch ein klassischer Fall eines von Seiten der spekulativen deutschen Metaphysik rüde gerügten Stückes angelsächsischer Philosophie’ (Strube 1980, 26). Later, Strube (1998a) extends the reception to the twentieth century and identifies three phases. The first includes the eighteenth-century German response, typical of which was the adoption by Mendelssohn and Lessing of some of Burke’s particular observations alongside the rejection of his system as a whole. Strube again called Kant’s attitude exceptional as it pushed for a division of the beautiful and the sublime which was carried out transcendentally, not empirically. The second phase comprises the responses of German idealist aestheticians (for example, A. W. Schlegel and Vischer) who rejected not only Burke’s system but also his individual observations. According to the idealists, Burke had confused the merely pretty (niedlich) with the beautiful, and narrowed the concept of the sublime to the sublime that inspires terror, without acknowledging the sublime

290   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe and also some twenty years later in ‘Edmund Burke’, his entry for a dictionary of aesthetics and philosophy of art, Strube gave the same general description of the German reaction to Burke’s essay. ‘In its empiricist-sensualist precision and in its dichotomous structure,’ he states, ‘Burke’s aesthetics is superbly suited to serve later German aestheticians as a contrasting backdrop to their own aesthetic theories’ (Strube 1998a, 156).43 Strube’s description of the German treatment of the Enquiry as a ‘contrasting backdrop’ is fitting. However, the absence of a sufficient number of relevant sources and complex interpretations (a consequence of the format of the publications in which Strube’s discussions featured) suggests that one should exercise caution and wonder whether Strube has not oversimplified the German reception. Using Johann Gottfried Herder as an example,44 the following part of this chapter will tackle this matter. Herder returned to the Enquiry continuously for more than thirty years. The earliest mentions appear in letters and excerpts from the late 1760s. From the perspective of the reception of Burke’s ideas, the most important of his letters is the one he addressed to Kant in November 1768. In it, he confesses to regarding Kant and Burke as two original thinkers who have taken different paths in their search for an answer to the problem of beauty and the sublime, although their opinions ultimately intersect (Herder 1977a, 22). Undertaking a comparison of Kant and Burke was not, however, Herder’s idea. The impulse for that was provided by Johann Georg Hamann, a colleague who shared similar ideas to him, and used the Enquiry to criticize the aesthetic views of the early, pre-Critique Kant. In his review of Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen (1764), Hamann attacks Kant using two of Burke’s conclusions: one, the conviction that feelings of beauty and the

that elevates and expands the soul. Strube includes in the third phase the attitude of the empiricist-psychological aestheticians of the late nineteenth century and the phenomenologically oriented aestheticians of the early twentieth century. These aestheticians, namely Fechner and Volkelt, criticized Burke’s inability to capture the diversity of aesthetic qualities. 43 ‘In ihrer empiristisch-sensualistischen Prägnanz und ihrer dichotomischen Struktur ist Burkes Ästhetik hervorragend geeignet, späteren Ästhetikern als Kontrastfolie für deren eigene ästhetische Theorie zu dienen’ (Strube1998a, 156). See also Strube (1980, 24–25): ‘Die Wirkung von Burkes Ӓsthetik ist nicht so sehr die des “Einflusses” als vielmehr die der Stimulation: An Burke entzünden sich viele [deutsche] Ӓsthetiker; und sie ziehen seine Ӓsthetik heran, um vor ihr als einer Kontrastfolie die eigene Position klarer zu konturieren. Gerade in ihrer Einfachheit und Prӓgnanz bietet sich Burkes Ӓsthetik für Kontrastierungen an.’ [The effect of Burke’s aesthetics is more an impetus than an influence: many German aestheticians have been inspired by Burke; they draw on his aesthetics as a contrasting backdrop against which to show the contours of their own positions all the more clearly. It is in its simplicity and precision that Burke’s aesthetics offers itself for contrast.] 44 Strube bases himself on ‘Viertes Wäldchen’, in which Herder notes with regard to Burke: ‘ich lasse ihm alles, was System ist’ [I shall let him keep him everything that is a system] (Strube 1980, 25).

The Reception of the Enquiry in the German-Language Area   291 sublime cannot be separated from the properties of objects (Kant understood them primarily subjectively) (Kant 1979, 19); the other, the conviction that these feelings rest on a physiological basis, that is, on different reactions of nerves and different physical manifestations. (Kant had not yet paid attention to this area in the Beobachtungen, although he would in the Critique of Judgment) (Hamann 1952, 289–92).45 This has been aptly noted by Piero Giordanetti: ‘It is not Hamann’s aim to draw Kant’s attention to some source, but rather to juxtapose Kant’s conclusions on beauty and the sublime with Burke’s conclusions and to present those as an addition to Kant’s analysis, which neglected the area of physical senses.’46 It is symptomatic that Herder did not hesitate to call Hamann’s review a ‘model of a criticism that is as gentle as it is penetrating’.47 In the late 1760s, Herder wrote out excerpts in German of selected parts of the English original of the Enquiry. To these he added his own concise commentary in which, rather than criticize Burke’s conclusions, he expands their horizons by adding his own questions, thereby bringing them closer to a strikingly broad conception of his own aesthetics (Ehrhardt and Arnold 2004, 131). In addition to the excerpts, in 1769 Herder discussed Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg’s review of the Enquiry, which was published in the Hamburgische Neue Zeitung (Herder 1892, 108–10). In sum, it is fair to say that reading the Enquiry was at that time part of Herder’s profound interest in European sensualist and empiricist philosophy (Ehrhardt 2007, 415–16). In this respect, Burke’s essay made Herder even more convinced about the sensorial physiological basis of aesthetics, and also formed the background for his more precise understanding of the nature of Kant’s aesthetic views and, indirectly, his own. Herder’s partiality for the ideas expressed in the Enquiry come even more to the fore in his works from the 1770s. He first devoted himself to the Enquiry in ‘Viertes Wäldchen’ (written between 1769 and 1772; published posthumously in 1846),48 in the section about hearing (Herder 1878, 101–09, 2: § 6–8). He refers to Burke’s theory linking the feeling of beauty and the sublime to the relaxing (erschlaffen) and tensing (anstrengen) of the nerves when he considers how human nerves work on encountering a pleasant tone. He recalls the importance of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and particularly Moses Mendelssohn for the early dissemination of the Enquiry in Germany. And he summarizes the main German reservations about the Enquiry: doubts about the correctness of linking feelings of the sublime with the self-preservation instinct and the feeling of beauty with the social instinct as well as the qualitates

45 The

review was originally published in Königsbergsche Gelehrte und Politische Zeitungen on 30 April 1764. 46 ‘Hamanns Ziel ist es nicht, auf eine Quelle Kant aufmerksam zu machen, sondern die Kantischen Ausführungen zum Thema des Schönen und Erhabenen mit denjenigen Burkes zu konfrontieren, und die letzeren als Ergӓnzung der die Region der körperlichen Empfindung vernachlӓssigenden Analyse Kants vorzulegen’ (Giordanetti 1999, 300). 47 ‘Muster einer eben so schonenden als tiefsehenden Kritik’ (Herder 1880, 230–31). 48 See Parret (2012).

292   The Reception of Edmund Burke in Europe occultas of Burke’s concepts and his questionable philosophical system. Despite these shortcomings, Herder still believes that the Enquiry makes a fundamental contribution, given the key discoveries (Entdeckungen) it draws from experience, which generally concern feeling (Gefühl). Following an impassioned metaphorical celebration of the principle of the relaxing and tensing of the nerves, Herder can only bitterly regret that Burke was unable to transfer his general discovery to more specific applications, that is, to describe more subtle feelings in detail, particularly thos