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SUBSTANCE OF THE SPEECH,
DEBATE ON THE ARMY ESTIMATES,
IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS,
ON TUESDAY, THE 9TH DAY OF FEBRUARY, 1790; COMPREHENDING A DISCUSSION OF THE PRESENT SITUATION
OF AFFAIRS IN FRANCE.
MR. BURKE's speech on the report of the army estimated has not been correctly stated in some of the public papers. It is of consequence to him not to be misunderstood. The matter which incidentally came into discussion is of the most serious importance. It is thought that the heads and substance of the speech will answer the purpose sufficiently. If in making the abstract, through defect of memory, in the person who now gives it, any difference at all should be perceived from the speech as it was spoken, it will not, the editor imagines, be found in anything which may amount to a retraction of the opinions he then maintained, or to any softening in the expressions in which they were conveyed.
Mr. Burke spoke a considerable time in answer to various arguments which had been insisted upon by Mr. Grenville and Mr. Pitt, for keeping an increased peace establishment, and against an improper jealousy of the ministers, in whom a full confidence, subject to responsibility, ought to be placed on account of their knowledge of the real situation of affairs; the exact state of which it frequently happened that they could not disclose, without violating the constitutional and political secrecy, necessary to the well-being of their country.
Mr. Burke said in substance, That confidence might become a vice, and jealousy a virtue, according to circumstances. That confidence, of all public virtues, was the most dangerous, and jealousy in a House of Commons, of all
public vices, the most tolerable ; especially where the number and the charge of standing armies, in time of peace, was the question.
That in the annual mutiny bill, the annual army was declared to be for the purpose of preserving the balance of power in Europe. The propriety of its being larger or smaller depended, therefore, upon the true state of that balance. If the increase of peace establishments demanded of parliament agreed with the manifest appearance of the balance, confidence in ministers, as to the particulars, would be very proper. If the increase was not at all supported by any such appearance, he thought great jealousy might be, and ought to be, entertained on that subject.
That he did not find, on a review of all Europe, that, politically, we stood in the smallest degree of danger from any one state or kingdom it contained; nor that
other foreign powers than our own allies were likely to obtain a considerable preponderance in the scale.
That France had hitherto been our first object in all considerations concerning the balance of power.
The presence or absence of France totally varied every sort of speculation relative to that balance.
That France is, at this time, in a political light, to be considered as expunged out of the system of Europe. Whether she could ever appear in it again as a leading power, was not easy to determine: but at present he considered France as not politically existing; and most assuredly it would take up much time to restore her to her former active existence
Gallos quoque in bellis floruisse audivimus, might possibly be the language of the rising generation. He did not mean to deny that it was our duty to keep our eye on that nation, and to regulate our preparation by the symptoms of her recovery.
That it was to her strength, not to her form of government, that we were to attend; because republics, as well as monarchies, were susceptible of ambition, jealousy, and anger, the usual causes of war.
But if, while France continued in this swoon, we should go on increasing our expenses, we should certainly make ourselves less a match for her when it became our concern to arm.
It was said, that as she had speedily fallen, she might
speedily rise again. He doubted this. That the fall from an height was with an accelerated velocity ; but to lift a weight up to that height again was difficult, and opposed by the laws of physical and political gravitation.
In a political view, France was low indeed. She had lost everything, even to her name.
“ Jacet ingens littore truncus, Avolsumque humeris caput, et sine nomine corpus." He was astonished at it-he was alarmed at it-he trembled at the uncertainty of all human greatness.
Since the House had been prorogued in the summer much work was done in France. The French had shown themselves the ablest architects of ruin that had hitherto existed in the world. In that very short space of time they had completely pulled down to the ground their monarchy, their church, their nobility, their law, their revenue, their army, their navy, their commerce, their arts, and their manufactures. They had done their business for us as rivals, in a way in which twenty Ramillies or Blenheims could never have done it. 'Were we absolute conquerors, and France to lie prostrate at our feet, we should be ashamed to send a commission to settle their affairs, which could impose so hard a law
upon the French, and so destructive of all their consequence as a nation, as that they had imposed on themselves.
France, by the mere circumstance of its vicinity, had been, and in degree always must be, an object of our vigilance, either with regard to her actual power, or to her influence and example. As to the former, he had spoken; as to the latter, (her example,) he should say a few words: for by this example our friendship and our intercourse with that nation had once been, and might again become, more dangerous to us than their worst hostility.
* Mr. Burke, probably, had in his mind the remainder of the passage, md was filled with some congenial apprehensions :
“ Hæc finis Priami fatorum ; hic exitus illum
In the last century, Louis the Fourteenth had established a greater and better disciplined military force than ever had been before seen in Europe, and with it a perfect despotism. Though that despotism was proudly arrayed in manners, gallantry, splendour, magnificence, and even covered over with the imposing robes of science, literature, and arts, it was, in government, nothing better than a painted and gilded tyranny ; in religion, a hard, stern intolerance, the fit companion and auxiliary to the despotic tyranny which prevailed in its government. The same character of despotism insinuated itself into every court of Europe—the same spirit of disproportioned magnificence—the same love of standing armies, above the ability of the people. In particular, our then sovereigns, King Charles and King James, fell in love with the government of their neighbour, so flattering to the pride of kings. A similarity of sentiments brought on connexions equally dangerous to the interests and liberties of their country. It were well that the infection had gone no further than the throne. The admiration of a government flourishing and successful, unchecked in its operations, and seeming therefore to compass its objects more speedily and effectually, gained something upon all ranks of people. The good patriots of that day, however, struggled against it. They sought nothing more anxiously than to break off all communication with France, and to beget a total alienation from its councils and its example; which, by the animosity prevalent between the abettors of their religious system and the assertors of ours, was in some degree effected.
This day the evil is totally changed in France : but there is an evil there. The disease is altered; but the vicinity of the two countries remains, and must remain ; and the natural mental habits of mankind are such, that the present distemper of France is far more likely to be contagious than the old one ; for it is not quite easy to spread a passion for servitude among the people; but in all evils of the opposite kind our natural inclinations are flattered. In the case of despotism there is the fædum crimen servitutis ; in the last the falsa species libertatis ; and accordingly, as the historian says, pronis auribus accipitur.
In the last age we were in danger of being entangled by the example of France in the net of a relentless despotisin.
It is not necessary to say anything upon that example. It exists no longer. Our present danger from the example of a people, whose character knows no medium, is, with regard to government, a danger from anarchy; a danger of being led, through an admiration of successful fraud and violence, to an imitation of the excesses of an irrational, unprincipled, proscribing, confiscating, plundering, ferocious, bloody, and tyrannical democracy. On the side of religion, the danger of their example is no longer from intolerance, but from atheism ; a foul, unnatural vice, foe to all the dignity and consolation of mankind; which seems in France, for a long time, to have been embodied into a faction, accredited, and almost avowed.
These are our present dangers from France; but, in his opinion, the very worst part of the example set, is in the late assumption of citizenship by the army, and the whole of the arrangement, or rather disarrangement, of their military.
He was sorry that his right honourable friend (Mr. Fox) had dropped even a word expressive of exultation on that circumstance; or that he seemed of opinion that the objection from standing armies was at all lessened by it. He attributed this opinion of Mr. Fox entirely to his known zeal for the best of all causes, Liberty. That it was with a pain inexpressible he was obliged to have even the shadow of a difference with his friend, whose authority would always be great with him, and with all thinking people — Quæ maxima semper censetur nobis, et erit quæ maxima semper. -His confidence in Mr. Fox was such, and so ample, as to be almost implicit. That he was not ashamed to avow that degree of docility. That when the choice is well made, it strengthens instead of oppressing our intellect. That he who calls in the aid of an equal understanding doubles his own. He who profits of a superior understanding raises his powers to a level with the height of the superior understanding he unites with. He had found the benefit of such a junction, and would not lightly depart from it. He wished almost, on all occasions, that his sentiments were understood to be conveyed in Mr. Fox's words; and he wished, as amongst the greatest benefits he could wish the country, an eminent share of power to that right honourable gentleman: because he knew, that, to his great and masterly understand.