Edmund Burke -- By: George Shepard
BSac 31:123 (July 1874) p. 507
I propose as the subject of this lecture Edmund Burke. I shall present so much of his history as will illustrate the growth of his power as an orator, and discuss the excellences and defects of his oratory, turning the whole, so far as may be, to present practical account.
Edmund Burke, the son of a respectable Irish barrister, was born in Dublin, January 1st, 1730, o.s. In early childhood his constitution was very delicate, and threatened to give way utterly under the influence of a passion for reading, which, even then, he indulged without restriction. In order to check the consumptive tendencies lurking in his system, he was sent to reside with his grandfather in a region remarkable for its wild and romantic beauty. The spot which fed the imagination of the author of “The Faerie Queen “also nourished that of the most splendid of orators. At the age of twelve Burke was placed under the care of Abraham Shackleton, a quaker of considerable talents and reputation, who conducted a classical school at Ballitore, about thirty miles from Dublin. Referring to this period in a debate in 1780, he says: “I have been educated as a Protestant of the Church of England, by a dissenter who was an honor to his sect, though that sect has ever been considered as one of the purest. Under his eye I read the Bible morning, noon, and night, and have ever since been “a happier and better man for such reading.” In 1743, at the age of thirteen, Burke became a member of Trinity College in Dublin University. Here he remained six years, acquiring no particular distinction, for, though he was not indolent, he would not study in the pre-
BSac 31:123 (July 1874) p. 508
scribed line any farther than was made necessary by the rules of the college. His delight was in desultory reading; reading just as inclination took him. Burke’s studies, at this period, were the classics, history, philosophy, general literature. A little later, he gave himself to logic and metaphysics. He seems to have been a diligent student of human nature, and took strongly to those works which laid open the springs of human motive and action. Bacon’s Essays he read again and again, with ever increasing admiration, pronouncing them “the greatest works of that great man.” Shakespeare, Addison, LeSage, Smollett, and Fielding, were decided favorites. Of Milton, for his splendor of diction, his boundless learning, and classic allusions, and for “the scriptural grandeur of his conceptions,” he never grew weary. Young’s Night Thoughts, characterized at once by an epigrammatic smartness and a sombre grandeur, he committed largely to memory. Some of the leading theological treatises, written during the last century, with so signal ...
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