Letter To The Honourable Charles James Fox (8/10/1777)
From Prose Of Edmund Burke edited by Sir Philp Magnus (1948)

My dear Charles — I am, on many accounts, exceedingly pleased with your journey to Ireland. I do not think it was possible to dispose better of the interval between this and the meeting of Parliament. I told you as much, in the same general terms, by the post. My opinion of the infidelity of that conveyance hindered me from being particular. I now sit down with malice prepense to kill you with a very long letter, and must take my chance for some safe method of conveying the dose. Before I say anything to you of the place you are in, or the business of it, on which, by the way, a great deal might be said, I will turn myself to the concluding part of your letter from Chatsworth.

You are sensible that I do not differ from you in many things; and most certainly I do not dissent from the main of your doctrine concerning the heresy of depending upon contingencies. You must recollect how uniform my sentiments have been on that subject. I have ever wished a settled plan of our own, founded in the very essence of the American business, wholly unconnected with the events of the war, and framed in such a manner as to keep up our credit and maintain our system at home, in spite of anything which may happen abroad. I am now convinced, by a long and somewhat vexatious experience, that such a plan is absolutely impracticable. I think with you, that some faults in the constitution of those whom we must love and trust are among the causes of this impracticability; they are faults, too, that one can hardly wish them perfectly cured of, as I am afraid they are intimately connected with honest, disinterested intentions, plentiful fortunes, assured rank, and quiet homes. A great deal of activity and enterprise can scarcely ever be expected from such men, unless some horrible calamity is just over their heads, or unless they suffer some gross personal insults from power, the resentment of which may be as unquiet and stimulating a principle in their minds as ambition is in those of a different complexion. To say the truth, I cannot greatly blame them. We live at a time when men are not repaid in fame for what they sacrifice in interest or repose.

On the whole, when I consider of what discordant, and particularly of what fleeting materials the Opposition has been all along composed, and at the same time review what Lord Rockingham has done, with that and with his own shattered constitution, for these last twelve years, I confess I am rather surprised that he has done so much and persevered so long, than that he has felt now and then some cold fits, and that he grows somewhat languid and desponding at last. I know that he, and those who are much prevalent with him, though they are not thought so much devoted to popularity as others, do very much look to the people, and more than I think is wise in them, who do so little to guide and direct the public opinion. Without this they act, indeed; but they ad as it were from compulsion, and because it is impossible, in their situation, to avoid taking some part. All this it is impossible to change, and to no purpose to complain of.

As to that popular humour which is the medium we float in if I can discern anything at all of its present state, it is far worse than I have ever known or could ever imagine it. The faults of the people are not popular vices; at least, they are not such as grow out of what we used to take to be the English temper and character. The greatest number have a sort of an heavy lumpish acquiescence in government, without much respect or esteem for those that compose it. I really cannot avoid making some very unpleasant prognostics from this disposition of the people....

For my part, I do all I can to give ease to my mind in this strange position. I remember, some years ago, when I was pressing some points with great eagerness and anxiety, and complaining with great vexation to the Duke of Richmond of the little progress I make, he told me kindly, and I believe very truly, that, though he was far from thinking so himself, other people could not be persuaded I had not some latent private interest in pushing these matters, which I urged with an earnestness so extreme, and so much approaching to passion. He was certainly in the right. I am thoroughly resolved to give, both to myself and to my friends, less vexation on these subjects than hitherto I have done—much less, indeed.

If you should grow too earnest, you will be still more inexcusable than I was. Your having entered into affairs so much younger ought to make them too familiar to you to be the cause of much agitation, and you have much more before you for your work. Do not be in haste. Lay your foundations deep in public opinion. Though (as you are sensible) I have never given you the least hint of advice about joining yourself in a declared connection with our party, nor do I now, yet, as I love that party very well, and am clear that you are better able to serve them than any man I know, I wish that things should be so kept as to leave you mutually very open to one another in all changes and contingencies; and I wish this the rather, because, in order to be very great, as I am anxious that you should be (always presuming that you are disposed to make a good use of power), you will certainly want some better support than merely that of the Crown. For I much doubt, whether, with all your parts you are the man formed for acquiring real interior favour in this Court, or in any; I therefore wish you a firm ground in the country; and I do not know so firm and so sound a bottom to build on as our party— Well, I have done with this matter; and you think I ought to have finished it long ago....