Reflections on the Revolution in France

Burke, Edmund
(1729-1797)
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Translator/Editor
E. J. Payne, ed.
First Pub. Date
1790
Publisher
Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc.
Pub. Date
1990
Comments
Compiled and with a foreword and notes by Francis Canavan. Vols. 1-3 originally published Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1874-1878. E. J. Payne, Ed. Foreword and notes by Francis Canavan.
Copyright
Portions of this edited edition are under copyright.
About this Book

The famous letter or pamphlet contained in this volume represents the workings of an extraordinary mind at an extraordinary crisis: and can therefore be compared with few things that have ever been spoken or written. Composed in a literary age, it scarcely belongs to literature; yet it is one of the greatest of literary masterpieces. It embodies nothing of history save fragments which have mostly lost their interest, yet no book in the world has more historical significance. It scorns and defies philosophy, but it discloses a compact and unique system of its own. It tramples on logic, yet carries home to the most logical reader a conviction that its ill-reasoning is substantially correct. No one would think of agreeing with it in the mass, yet there are parts to which every candid mind will assent. Its many true and wise sayings are mixed up with extravagant and barefaced sophistry: its argument, with every semblance of legal exactness, is disturbed by hasty gusts of anger, and broken by chasms which yawn in the face of the least observant reader. It is an intellectual puzzle, not too abstruse for solution: and hence few books are better adapted to stimulate the attention and judgment, and to generate the invaluable habit of mental vigilance. To discover its defects is easy enough. No book in the world yields itself an easier prey to hostile criticism: there are thousands of school-boys, "with liberal notions under their caps," to whom the greatest intellect of our nation since Milton, represented by the best known parts of the present work, might well seem little better than a fool. After a time, this impression disappears; eloquence and deep conviction have done their work, and the wisdom of a few pages, mostly dealing in generalities, is constructively extended to the whole. But the reader now vacillates again: and this perpetual alternation of judgment on the part of a reader not thoroughly in earnest constitutes a main part of that fascination which Burke universally exercises. It is like the fascination of jugglery: now you believe your eyes, now you distrust them: the brilliancy of the spectacle first dazzles, and then satisfies: and you care little for what lies behind. This is what the author intended: the critical faculty is disarmed, the imagination is enthralled.... [From the Introduction by E. J. Payne.]