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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Rt. Hon. Edmund Burke

(1730 - 1797)

Edmund Burke, one of England’s greatest statesmen, was born in Carlow, Ireland, on January 1st, 1730. He was educated at Dublin, and took his bachelor’s degree in 1749. In 1753, having been unsuccessful in his application for the logic professorship at Glasgow, he went to London and entered at the Middle Temple. He early employed his pen in literature and his eloquence in politics. His first literary production of note was an essay on the Vindication of Natural Society, in imitation of Bolingbroke’s style. In 1757 he published his essay on the Sublime and Beautiful. In 1758 he and Dodswell commenced the Annual Register, which acquired great celebrity. He accompanied Gerard (or Single Speech) Hamilton to Ireland in 1761, and, by the interposition of that gentleman, obtained a pension of fifteen hundred dollars on the Irish Establishment. On his return he was introduced to the Marquis of Rockingham, who made him his secretary, and procured his election to a seat in the House of Commons. There he eloquently and efficiently pleaded the cause of the Americans. On the downfall of North’s administration he became pay-master general, and obtained a seat in the Council. His great speeches against Warren Hastings, when on trial before the House of Commons, were such as the British Legislature had never before heard. He retired from Parliament in 1794, on a pension of six thousand dollars. During his political career he wrote much, and his compositions rank among the purest of the British classics. He died on the 8th of July, 1797, in, the seventieth year of his age. Goldsmith, in his Retaliation, * wrote the following epitaph for Burke. It was written in 1776, when Burke was in the midst of his career.

"Here lies our good Edmund, whose genius was such, We scarcely can praise it or blame it too much; Who, born for the universe, narrow’d his mind, And to party gave up what was meant for mankind. Though fraught with all learning, yet straining his throat To persuade Tommy Townshend † to lend him a vote; Who, too deep for his hearers, still went on refining, And thought of convincing while they thought of dining. Though equal to all things, for all things unfit: Too nice for a statesman, too proud for a wit; For a patriot too cool; for a drudge, disobedient; And too fond of the right to pursue the expedient. In short, ’twas his fate, unemploy’d or in place, sir, To eat mutton cold and cut blocks with a razor."

* The history of this poem is a "curiosity of literature." Goldsmith had peculiarities which attracted attention, and it was proposed, at a club of literary men, of which he was a member, to write characters of him in the shape of epitaphs. Dean Barnard, Cumberland, Garrick, and others complied. Garrick wrote the following couplet:

"Here lies poor Goldsmith, for shortness call’d Noll; Who wrote like Apollo, and talk’d like poor poll."

Goldsmith felt called upon for retaliation, and at the next meeting produced the poem from which the following is an extract. It contained epitaphs for several of the club, and he paid off his friend Garrick with compound interest These lines occur in Garrick’s epitaph:

"Of praise a mere glutton, he swallow’d what came And the puff of a dunce he mistook it for fame, Till his relish grew callous, almost to disease; Who pepper’d the highest was surest to please."

But he generously added, "But let us be candid, and speak out our mind – If dunces applauded, he paid them in kind."


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