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cumulated a stock of learning of great variety. His memory was extensive; his judgment early ripe. He would find in his own mind in reasoning and communing with himself such a fund of entertainment that he seemed not at all to regret his hours of solitude. Yet he was affable, free, communicative, as ready to teach as to learn. He made the reading of the classics his diversion rather than his business. He was particularly delighted with history and poetry, and while at school performed several exercises in the latter with a manly grace.”
What Burke gained at Trinity College, Dublin, from the time he entered in 1743 until he took the bachelor's degree in 1748 is uncertain. If we accept literally his own description of his studies, his work was spasmodic —we will not, as some have done, term unsystematic a method in which he gave himself ardently to one subject at a time. The account of his studies written in 1746 and 1747 to Richard Shackleton will bear repeating: "I spend three hours almost every day in the public library, where there is a fine collection of books—the best way in the world of killing thought. As for other studies, I am deep in metaphysics and poetry. I have read some history. I am endeavouring to get a little into the accounts of this, our own poor country.” In a later letter he writes more in detail: "You ask me if I read? I deferred answering this question, till I could say I did; which I can almost do, for this day I shook off idleness and begun to buckle to. I wish I could have said this to you, with truth, a month ago. It would have been of great advantage to me. My time was otherwise employed. Poetry, Sir, nothing but poetry could go down with me; though I have read more than wrote. So you see
gone in the poetical madness, which I can hardly master, as indeed, all my studies have rather proceeded from sallies of passion, than from the
preference of sound reason; and like the nature of all other natural appetites, have been very violent for a season, and very soon cooled, and quite absorbed in the succeeding. I have often thought it a humorous consideration to observe, and sum up, all the madness of this kind I have fallen into, this two years past.
First I was greatly taken with natural philosophy; which, while I should have given my mind to logic, employed me incessantly. This I call my furor matematicus. But this worked off, as soon as I began to read it in the college; as men, by repletion, cast off their stomachs all they have eaten. Then I turned back to logic and metaphysics. Here I remained a good while, and with much pleasure, and this is my furor logicus; a disease very common in the days of ignorance, and very uncommon in these enlightened times. Next succeeded the furor historicus, which also had its day, but is now no more; being entirely absorbed in the furor poeticus, which (as skillful physicians assure me), is as difficultly cured as a disease very nearly akin to it; namely, the itch.” These statements and the strong evidence that after a public examination in the classics he was elected a scholar in 1746 cannot be satisfactorily disposed of by concluding that Burke's studies in college were “desultory and excursive,” and that his college course, like that of many
other men of genius, was for the most part a wild and aimless ramble extra curriculum. These remarks about his studies are more or less jocular and tinged with his usual modesty and self-depreciation, yet we may note in them depth and breadth of study, intensity of application, and periods of quiet reflection and assimilation. There are good reasons for believing that Burke laid much of the foundation for his future greatness while in Trinity.
In 1747 he enrolled in the Middle Temple and went to London in 1750 to keep the customary laws terms.
the next nine years of his life we know little. They were probably for the most part silent
preparation, in which, though he took his Master's degree in 1751, he devoted himself contrary to his father's wishes less and less to law and more and more to the study of literature. He aspired to rank in the field of letters, and wisely read more than he wrote.
Though poor health made impossible at this time the severe labor in which he indulged in later years, yet if the truth were known, these years of obscurity would probably prove to be years of intense application and profound study. When his anonymous Vindication of Natural Society appeared in 1756, a satirical imitation of the work of Bolingbroke, the literary world readily believed it to be a posthumous work of that noted stylist of his day. Burke had taken the first and for him the most important step toward literary fame, the mastery of style. With subject-matter, we may be assured, he was richly provided. Fame was within his grasp. Encouraged by his first success, he published during the same year another work on which he long had been engaged; perhaps, as tradition would have it, he had written at the age of nineteen. A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful was an imposing piece of work in its day, and an ambitious on
for a mere youth to attempt; but on account of the infancy of the science which it treats, was bound to become obsolete. Burke established by his first work his fame as a stylist, by his second his fame as a thinker. Aside from his anonymous and miscellaneous work in the Annual Register in 1759, excellent of its kind, his other early and purely literary ventures, pretentious though they were in design, yet more or less fragmentary in form, may be passed over in silence. After 1769 Bu mad his literary labors wholly and most successfully the accom
plished handmaid of politics. Both literature and politics have been enriched by the alliance.
Before Burke turned with his art to the realms of State, there was yet to be fought a decisive battle in his life. In 1759 he met William Gerard Hamilton, better known as "Single Speech," a name acquired from a brilliant effort which he made in Parliament in 1755, and in which for the only time in his life he spoke, unusually well. When Hamilton went to Ireland in 1761 as secretary to Lord Halifax, Lord Lieutenant to Ireland, Burke, whom Horace Walpole had already pronounced "a sensible man,” accompanied him in a somewhat vague capacity as congenial companion in his studies, able to supply his employer alike with ideas and elegant language in which to clothe them. For this indefinite but valuable labor Burke received very little, until Hamilton in 1763 was instrumental, though only in a slight degree as Burke believed, in obtaining a pension of £300 from the Irish Treasury for his faithful and able assistant. Hamilton now confident in his rôle of benefactor insisted that Burke should bind himself to his services to the exclusion of every other interest, and should do so for life. But Burke, eager to continue and increase his literary reputation, by which he had thus far profited most, insisted on being left free “for some short time at convenient intervals, to do something to cultivate and keep alive the same reputation." Hamilton ignorantly and selfishly persisted in his demands, little comprehending what he asked and from whom. In a spirited letter which deserves a place beside Johnson's celebrated epistle to Chesterfield, Burke declared his independence, shortly after threw up his pension, and broke off all relations with Hamilton, whom he termed an “infamous scoundrel.” “I deserved,” he wrote, “to be considered in another manner than as one of Mr. H.'s cattle, or as a
piece of his household stuff. Six of the best years of my life he took from every pursuit of literary reputation, or of improvement of my fortune. .. In all this time, you may easily conceive how much I felt at seeing myself left behind by almost all my contemporaries.” A month or two later Lord Rockingham, in entering upon his mininstry, appointed Burke his private secretary. By this step and by magnanimous, generous conduct from the beginning he obtained what Hamilton by his littleness and meanness had lost, the whole-hearted, loyal, and invaluable support for life of one who lived to write on the tomb of his noble benefactor a glowing tribute.
On December 26, 1765, Burke became a member of the House of Commons, and served his country most loyally in that capacity until his retirement in 1794. These years belong to history and can best be measured by the great causes to which he gave himself unsparingly. America, Ireland, France, and India occupied his attention at intervals, and the British Empire constantly during those years of faithful service.
A thorough understanding of Burke's character is quite essential to a clear and adequate comprehension of his labors and attitude in the great causes in which he took part. The works of the man were but a reflection of his character and training.
The failure of his opponents and enemies to understand his sterling integrity led but too frequently to false charges and unbecoming accusations.
The weight of evidence indicates that for the most part Burke was of a serious turn of mind, even in childhood, ambitious and determined to make the most of his opportunities, seldom engaging in the pranks and indiscretions of youth. Years later when he was displaying his remarkable powers in the House of Commons, his brother Richard remarked to a friend, “I have been