Letter from Thomas Burke to Fielding Ould
Burke, Thomas, ca. 1747-1783
Volume 19, Pages 921-926
THOS. BURKE TO HIS UNCLE.
I have held a long struggle between Indignation and Natural affection. The latter has at length prevailed and in spite of everything I must confess myself full of Nature’s weak & effeminate feelings; a strong proof of it is my not being able to resist my Vehement Solicitude for the welfare of my relations in Ireland (and next to my father and mother chiefly you) notwithstanding.
I have wrote several letters and repeatedly some acct. of domestic Concern but I suppose I have had the misfortune to be thought a troublesome and insignificant Correspondt. best answered by Neglect. I cannot repine at this Fate when I consider it as common to all to whom Fortune has not been liberally Indulgent; but Sure in my example there have been Circumstances of a peculiarly Melancholly reflection, without a Crime nor prone to any Vice, almost free from the levity of Persons of Age, abandon’d, persecuted, denied even Justice, the common birthright of mankind; but I would not willingly trouble either your imagination or my own with those Excruciating Scenes, which I hope are forgotten by all Except one upon whom they have made so deep an impression as my Self, and quem Semper acerbum-Semper honoratum Sic dii voluisti habebo. My dear Uncle, after easing my breast in this manner I will venture to address you in the manner Nature points out to me and first let me entreat you to forgett the Boy of fifteen and consider much difference between him and the Man of twenty-two. I cannot without reluctance unbosom myself to one whom I so much reverence and regard, and yet I know not to whom I should more properly do it. In short Sir, tho’ here placed in a Situation much fitter to provoke envy than inspire pitty, having the First men of a Country my Friends and Intimates and much more, did not my modesty prevent my Expression; I am far from being happy, I want the bosom of
-------------------- page 922
my Friend and my Native Country, could I carry America to Ireland or bring Ireland hither I should be compleatly blest, but so tenderly am I attached to the one and so valuable and engaging are my Connexions here that I should with much reluctance enjoy either at the Expense of the other. You will no doubt wonder what should procure me the situation I have above hinted, for I dare say you know me none of the most forward or insinuating of Mankind. Indeed Sir, I should waive the satisfying your Curiosity in this point were I not writing at the distance of three thousand miles and to a Gentleman on whom above all others I would wish to be informed of everything concerning me; another plea I will make in excuse is that it must give you the pleasure always attending Surprise and Novelty, for what can be more unexpected to you than my being at the head of the Literati of America, Esteemed the pattern of Taste and Prince of Genius. I am sure the Surprise arising from the above relations must require your taking Breath ere you can read the Manner of my coming by such regard in points so unlikely; You must no doubt have heard of the American Stamp Act, the unanimous opinion of America was that it was illegal, inexpedient and Oppressive. Such was mine, as Such I confess I strenuously from my soul detested, exposed and opposed it, for I am and ever Shall be avowedly a passionate lover of Liberty, and Hater of Tyranny; the essentials of the former I take to being governed by Laws made with Constitutional consent of the community, ultimately Judged by that Community and enjoying and disposing of their Property only agreeable to Will, and the latter is undeniably anything Subversive of those Privileges; how far the Stamp Act was so sufficiently appears upon the very Face of it, and I shall say no more of it, having introduced it only to let you know how I became conspicuous. Then Sir, I commenced Politician and the Place where I reside having been more strenuous and Early in its oppositions was also the first to celebrate its repeal with Singular Festivity; on this occasion I wrote a prologue which I shewed to one of my Intimates; being notwithstanding fully determin’d to conceal the author as much as might be, and give the Honor if any resulted from it, to him whom I design’d to speak it before the opening the entertainment; but my hopes of remaining in obscurity were vain, and in very few hours it was not only in every Body’s
-------------------- page 923
hands but even in every mouth; every one of my Acquaintances were no less surprised than I believe you will be upon this relation, and those who had the Influences of Friendship over me prevail’d upon me to give a very reluctant Assent to its appearing in print. Indeed Sir, I was not vain enough to think that any production of mine much less that of a Single morning, which this was, could deserve such regard and the extravagant enconiums given it by my Friends I ascribed rather to their Affection than Judgment; but no sooner did it get abroad in print than universal Approbation re-echoed from every corner, the Author was look’d upon as a Prodigy of Genius. But ’tis Time to leave a subject which a man cannot write even decently upon, and which I declare is far from being pleasing to me, nor should I have gone thus far were not my Grand Maxim Magis Amicus Veritas.
I can with truth protest that I am not infected with the Credulous Folly of Vanity: I am displeased at being more conspicuous than is consistent with my humble fortune and Wishes. The esteem of my Associates I had already Acquired and the utmost of my Ambition always has been Secura Quies et Naquid fallere Vita.
I make no doubt but your Curiosity is much inflamed to see this performance which produced such Miracles, it is too long or I would gratify you; however, I will venture to give you a passage or two heartily wishing that it may please you but entirely Indifferent whether it does the World or Not, for being no Candidate for Fame it will be no disappointment to me not to acquire any. The Passages I shall Quote shall be as short as Possible, the Argument is an Exhortation to Festivity on so Joyous an Occasion. Mention is made of Several Material Circumstances and Mr. Pitt is troduced in the following Manner:
Triumph America! Thy patriot voice
Has made the greatest of mankind rejoice,
Immortal Pitt, an ever glorious Name!
Far, far unequalled in the Rolls of Fame,
What Breast (for Virtue is by all approved And Freedom even by Asia’s slaves beloved)
What Breast but glows with Gratitude to Thee,
Boast of Mankind, great Prop of Liberty!
After this America is represented as paying great homage to her guardian raised by His hand and flourishing beneath his care, and
-------------------- page 924
even now recovering and smiling with fresh verdure under his Shade after which the Speaker burst into the following rapture:
Would ’twere in Pity to mankind decreed
That still a Pitt should to a Pitt succeed,
When Proud Oppression would Subvert the Laws,
That Still a Camden should defend the Cause;
Nor let’s forget the gallant Barnes’ Merrit.
His Tully’s Periods and his Cato’s Spirit,
His too an Honest, independent Heart,
Where Fear nor Fraud nor Avarice have part.
Sir William Meredith is afterwards respectfully mentioned and the rapture is resumed:
Proceed great Names! your mighty Influence Join
Your Country’s Arts and Policies refine,
Assist great Conway and Reform the State;
Bid peaceful Commerce reassume her Seat,
Bid British Navies whiten every Coast
And British Freedom every Country Boast.
I shall pass on now Sir, to give you the address to the ladies with which it concludes:
And you ye fair, on whom our hopes depend
Our future Fame and Empire to Extend,
Whose Fruitful Beds shall dauntless Myriads Yield
To Fight for Freedom in some Future Field
Resign each dear.
To-day let gladness beam in every face,
Soften each Smile and Brighten every Grace,
While the glad roof with lofty Notes resound,
With Grace Harmonious move the Mazy Round;
Make our Hearts feel the long forgotted Fire,
Wake into Flame each spark of soft Desire;
Too long Indignant Tumults and Alarms
Have made us heedless of your lovely Charms,
But now beneath the Downy Wings of Peace,
With Freedom blest, our care will be to please,
Each day the genial pleasure to improve
And add new Sweetness to Connubial Love.
-------------------- page 925
I am sensible nothing here will appear to you worthy of the regard I have mentioned. But the Subject was Popular and it Came from a plant the least promising of Such fruit. True it was not my First Essay, for I have lisp’d in Numbers but I took all possible care to conceal my propensity, having always dreaded the Idle Character of a Rhimer; but after this it were in vain to deny it and I have no hopes of emerging from Ink before my Emigration from America, for tho’ by my knowledge of Short Hand I have been able to conceal everything heretofore, yet I am not now Able to resist the Importunity of my Friends, for Such I will be bold to say I have. You are I suppose, desirous of knowing what studies chiefly engage me. Moral and Natural Philosophy are my favorites but chiefly the Latter on acct of its utility in the Study and practice of Physic, which I make entirely my business. I proceed on the Certain Method of Demonstration and Experiment, reject all Theory not reducible to proof; I have endeavoured to acquire an accurate knowledge of the Animal Mechanism and economy, the properties of Ailments and Medicine, Medicinal Phenomena, History of diseases and Medicinal Operations; I am no Stranger to the Newtonian Principles and their application in Medicine. In a word Sir, I am and shall be the Indefatigable in Observations and reading the best Authors I can procure, and am determined if I ever shall be happy Enough to see Europe again to Endeavour for a degree in some of the first Colleges. While I am writing this I cannot help lamenting that I cannot with any certainty promise myself an Answer, which if I should be favor’d with I would wish to contain an Account of every domestic occurrence of moment; it were endless to mention every person by name I should wish to be dear to, but a far more than ordinary regard is due me to Mrs. Kath. Ould, and I hope I am incapable of Ingratitude. She cannot wish me more affectionate to her than I am. I hope my Parents are well but I dread to mention them. Let me request you Sir, to make Mention of me to Mr. Shaw and his Lady and in a particular Manner to Miss Sidney. That amiable young lady has made herself doubly dear to me and I am certain she will be the last Person in Ireland or even the World whom I shall forget. If any of my Cozens remember me it must be your son William. I wish him to be a Good, Great and Happy Man. I am at length constrain’d to
-------------------- page 926
take leave of you. Indeed tho’ my Life is a Chearfull one I have not Spent an Hour so Agreeably Since my departure from Ireland as this where I have held Conversation, tho’ Imaginary, with you. I wish you long Life, Health and Prosperity and hope you will never have reason to doubt or Indignate my being your most dutifull and affectionate nephew and hum. Servt.,