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He was a man to be
feared rather But he was a
institutions he assailed. than loved-to be admired rather than trusted. MAN, for a' that." He never croaked or canted-never whined or repined—was proud, self-willed, self-reliant—knew his strength, and asked no favors and showed no quarter. His idiosyncrasies, his egotism, his self-dependence, rendered it next to impossible for anybody to work with him even to attain a common end. He was the victim of prejudice, conceit, passion, and seemed not to advocate a cause so much from love of it, as from hatred of its opposite. He bent his great energies to tear down existing institutions, whilst he lent but feeble aid in building up others in their place. He hated all that was above him in birth and station, and his appeals usually being to the prejudices and passions of the class from which he sprang, he wielded a vast influence over the common people of England. They were proud of his attainments, because they regarded him as one of themselves, who had risen, by his own strength, to a commanding position among the leaders of public opinion, and they witnessed with pride his ability to grapple with and hurl to the earth, the titled champions of the privileged orders. Thus, more than any other writer, he was, for thirty years, looked up to as the representative, the oracle, of the "base born" of his countrymen. It contributed not a little to his influence with the ground tier of British society, that he was a practical farmer, in a moderate way-the great sale of his writings affording him the means of gratifying his cultivated tastes for agricultural pursuits. Taking it for granted that established systems, opinions, and institutions, were necessarily wrong, he attacked everything that was old, and everybody that was popular. He avowed that he attacked Dr. Rush's system of medical practice, because it originated with a republican-he called Washington "a notorious rebel and traitor"-nicknamed Franklin "Old Lightning-rod"-denounced Lafayette as a citizen-miscreant”—and abused Jefferson because he was a popular democrat. But this was in
the days of his toryism. However, when a radical, he showered ridicule on Shakspeare, Milton, and Scott, because all the literati praised them, and eulogized O'Connell, because all Englishmen anathematized him.
But, the objects of his assaults were not always so undeserving of it, nor so ill assorted. He exposed the land monopoly of England, and vindicated the rights and dignity of labor-he laid bare the rapacity of the Established Church, and maintained the rights of Catholics and dissenters-he denounced the game laws, the corn laws, and the penal code-he advocated the abolition of the House of Lords, and the bestowment of universal suffrage upon the people. It was impossible for a man of such giant powers and rooted prejudices, who had received the iron of persecution so often in his own person, and who was always in the thickest of the fray, to speak calmly or with measured words. Consequently, his writings abound in malevolent epithets, unmitigated vituperation, and coarse ridicule of men and measures. So do they abound in right good sense, cogent reasonings, elevated appeals to justice and humanity, interspersed with racy humor, graphic descriptions, happy illustrations, and lively anecdotes. The basis of his style was the old Saxon tongue, and it was as idiomatic and lucid as that of Franklin or Paley. He wrote on numerous subjects besides politics; and, in addition to the eighty-eight volumes of the Register, and the twelve of his Peter Porcupine, he put to press nearly fifty volumes. He was kind to his family, hospitable to the poor, and had a great deal of sunshine in his soul. He will be gratefully remembered by enfranchised Englishmen, when milder and meaner men, who affected to look down upon him with contempt, are forgotten, or are recollected only to be despised.
I close this notice of the great English peasant, by quoting the closing stanza of a beautiful tribute to his memory, by Ebenezer Elliott, the author of "Corn Law Rhymes."
"Dead Oak, thou liv'st. Thy smitten hands.
Speak with strange tongues in many lands,
Sir FRANCIS BURDETT has been mentioned as a friend of Parliamentary Reform. Few Englishmen did more for the cause than this bold advocate of liberal principles. Few titled Reformers have suffered more for opinion's sake than he. It was his good or bad fortune to be frequently caught in the net of legal prosecution. In 1809, Sir Francis then being a member of Parliament, a Mr. John Gale Jones, whose name would never have got beyond his shop had it not become associated with that of Burdett, published a handbill animadverting, in terms of clumsy abuse, upon some proceedings of the House of Commons; whereupon, that body of honorables committed him to Newgate. Sir Francis brought forward a motion for his liberation, based on the ground that the House had no right to imprison him for such an offense. Being defeated, he published an address to his constituents, in which he applied some contemptuous epithets to this contemptible proceeding. A furious debate sprang up, which terminated in a resolution to commit Burdett to the Tower. The Sergeant-at-Arms went to his house with the warrant of committal, but Sir Francis refused to accompany him to his new abode. The next day he repeated his visit; but by this time the populace had assembled in great numbers around the dwelling of the Baronet, and drove away the officer. Early the following morning, he broke into his apartments, seized Burdett, put him into a carriage, and bore him to the Tower, accompanied by several regiments of dragoons, where he remained in close confinement till the end of the session. The day of his release, all London was out of doors, and he was welcomed home with shoutings, flags, and salutes of cannon. In 1819, Sir Francis having continued to fight the good fight during the intervening ten years, a great reform meeting was held at Manchester, in the open air. All
was orderly till a regiment of cavalry rode in upon the multitude, and, with drawn swords, cut down men, women, and children, leaving many dead and wounded on the field. Sir Francis published a manly letter to the electors of Westminster, (he being the representative of that great constituency,) commenting in eloquent terms on this infamous transaction. He was indicted for a seditious libel; and after contesting the prosecution, inch by inch, through all the courts-not so much. for his own sake as for that of the great cause with which he was identified—he was fined £2,000 and imprisoned three months. To read the case, as reported in the English law. books, will make the cheek of a republican lawyer tingle with indignation. These, and some other like occurrences in his life, have led candid observers to regard Sir Francis Burdett as something of a demagogue. He had a spice of that element in his composition. He was a bold, straight-forward man, who told plain truths in a plain way, whether addressing letters to his constituents, or speeches to the Commons House of Parliament. He often stood alone among his colleagues, cheered by the conviction that, though no member voted with him, he was supported by the voices of hundreds of thousands of the people. He was a great reader, a sound thinker, an able debater, and always exerted a controlling influence over the more radical portions of the House. His frequent letters to his constituents were dignified and pungent, cost him a good deal of persecution and money, and were worth all they cost. In 1818, he was chosen, with his friend Romilly, to represent the important borough of Westminster, after one of the bitterest contests modern England has known. He retained the seat through many years. In all the onsets upon corruption and prerogative, down to the era of the Reform bill, he was with the head of the liberal column, and stood where the blows fell thickest and heaviest, the idol of the people, the target of the crown. He was a Wilkes, without sq large a measure of cowardice, meanness, turbulence, or rottenness of character and principle.
One regrets to be compelled to record of such a man, that in his old age he grew timid and conservative. After the passage of the Reform bill, he ceased to act with the radicals, and on the occasion of the attempt to deprive the Irish Church of a portion of its temporalities, he went wholly over to the Tories, since which he has sunk into comparative obscurity. Some years ago, in reply to a speech of Lord John Russell, he spoke of "the cant of reform!" Lord John electrified the House when he retorted with cutting emphasis, that "there was such a thing as the re-cant of reform!"