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The Glory Of English Prose|
12. Edmund Burke
by Coleridge, Stephen
|My Dear Antony,
Edmund Burke was born in 1730, and therefore was twenty-one
years younger than Dr. Johnson, and he survived him thirteen years.
He was a great prose writer, and although some of his speeches in
Parliament that have come down to us possess every quality of solid
argument and lofty eloquence, there must have been something
lacking in his delivery and voice, for he so frequently failed to
rivet the attention of the House, and so often addressed a steadily
dwindling audience, that the wits christened him "the dinner
All men of letters, however, acknowledge Burke as a true master
of a very great style.
We see in him the first signs of a breaking away from the
universal restraint of the older writers, and of the surging up of
His splendid tribute to Marie Antoinette and his panegyric of
the lost age of chivalry are familiar to all students of English
"It is now (1791) sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the
Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely
never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more
delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and
cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in glittering
like the morning star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Oh!
what a revolution! and what a heart must I have, to contemplate
without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream
when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic,
distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry
the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little
did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen
upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour
and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped
from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with
insult. But the age of chivalry has gone. That of sophisters,
economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe
is extinguished for ever.
This is a splendid and world-famous passage well worth
committing to memory.
"Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to sex
and rank, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that
subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude
itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of
life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment
and heroic enterprise is gone!
"It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of
honour, which felt a stain like a wound; which inspired courage
while it mitigated ferocity; which ennobled whatever it touched,
and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its
Your loving old