1791 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edmund Burke

Simkin, "Mr. Burke to a Member of the National Assembly" Lloyd's Evening Post (30 May 1791) 511.



DEAR SIR,
Your kind Letter came safe to hand,
And with infinite pleasure I now understand
That the Letter I publish'd concerning your Nation,
With some few Exceptions, has your Approbation:
For such Approbation my Vanity raises
To a much higher pitch than unqualified praises.
The former encourages Writing; the latter
Is apt to mislead, and our Vanity flatter.

Some few of the Errors you thought fit to mention,
Are really such, and deserving Attention,
And one of the many which you have detected,
You'll find in the printed Edition corrected;
But as to the Cavils which some of your Sparks
Have made against some of my witty remarks,
With regard to your new Constitution's gradation,
They affect not the substance of my observation;
For if in the Ladder of Representation,
Of two or three rounds you should make augmentation,
Or diminish that number, no change will be found
By the adding or taking away of a round,
Parochial Tyranny being the Prop,
And Federal Anarchy being the Top.

I publish'd my Thoughts upon your Constitution,
To warn your own people against REVOLUTION,
And 'twas therefore I ridicul'd your execution.
I resolv'd on exposing the Architect's tricks,
Not those of the Mason's, or Layers of Bricks;
I could not spare time for an investigation
Of bungling Amendments and worse Alteration,
Which furnishes nothing, except this Conclusion,
That their promise is falsehood, and shameful delusion,
And productive of nothing but shame and confusion.
But indeed had I follow'd their manifold Changes,
I had made a Gazette full of serpentine ranges;
A Journal of marches from Error to Error
Though a Wilderness dark, striking horror and terror.

This maxim, indeed, I unchangeably hold—
'Tis wrong to impoverish Gentlemen old;
And to me it appears unaccountably strange,
That an Empire should into a Vestry change,
Or collection of Vestries, or that any Nation
Should be under Parochial Administration;
And I think that the project is not worth a farden,
To trust in a Constable or a Church-warden,
Who are gen'rally guided by Lawyers and Jews,
By prostitute women, from brothels and stews;
By apprentices saucy, by shop-boys and clerks,
Hair-dressers and fidlers, and hop-skipping sparks.
These vagabond fellows will outwit their betters,
Who are sober and dull, and know nothing of Letters.
This project, I tell you, must needs be productive
Of nothing but mischief, and very destructive,
Since few politicians, perhaps half a dozen,
Of sly, crafty villains, intending to cozen,
Invented the scheme; but were that not the case,
It is so low-minded, so mean, and so base,
So stupid, so wanting in wisdom and grace,
That I look on Amendment, or any corrective,
As likely to make it more grossly defective;
For it lies under this paradoxical curse—
The making it better is making it worse.

I know that some people are apt to suppose
That they who occasion'd the mis'ry and woes,
May be angry with what We ARISTOCRATS write,
And do something worse, out of vengeance and spite;
But such apprehensions would lay a restraint
Upon groaning and grunting, and making complaint.

I do not at present advise a recourse
(So weak as you are) to the using of force;
Because I am certain you would not prevail,
And shame always falls upon Traitors who fail:
But though for resistance this is not the season,
We can suffer no less if we hazard my reason;
My reason can suffer no damage or shame,
And all other matters will still be the same.
Its detection to publish at home and abroad,
Is an antidote sure 'gainst the poison of fraud.
That the fraud will be swallow'd, may well be expected,
More greedily even, as being detected.
But as neither our principles nor dispositions,
And perhaps not the talents of us politicians,
Will permit us to raise a thick mist of confusion,
Or encourage deception with greater delusion,
With the use of our Reason we must be content,
And e'en take the chance what may be the event.
Whose reason-proof fellows will not be the worse,
Or better, supposing we bless them or curse;
For I very well know at the time they began,
They had settled their wicked, detestable plan:
These butterflies now spread their wings in the sun,
Which were mere caterpillars when first they begun;
The very same animals now make a rout,
Which were formerly reptiles, and crawling about.