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Sunday, 1 September 2013

Edmund Burke

The Irish statesman, political theorist and philosopher Edmund Burke was born on January 12, 1729 in Dublin, Ireland, to a prosperous solicitor father (Richard; d. 1761) of the Church of Ireland.

Burke was raised in his father's faith and remained throughout his life a practicing Anglican.

He received his early education at a Quaker school in Ballitore, County Kildare, some 30 miles from Dublin, and remained in correspondence with his schoolmate Mary Leadbeater, the daughter of the school's owner, throughout his life.

In 1744, Burke went to Trinity College, Dublin and, in 1747, set up a debating society, "Edmund Burke's Club", which, in 1770, merged with the college's Historical Club to form the College Historical Society, now the oldest undergraduate society in the world.

Burke's father wished him to study for the law, and with this object he went to London in 1750. He entered the Middle Temple, but soon gave up legal study to travel in Continental Europe. After giving up law, he attempted to earn a livelihood through writing.

Edmund Burke

In 1756 Burke stayed at Circus House in Bath, the house of his Catholic physician, Dr Christopher Nugent. Here he met the doctor's daughter, Jane Mary Nugent (1734 -1812)

Burke married Jane on March 12, 1757. Their son Richard, who became a barrister was born on February 9, 1758. Another son, Christopher, died in infancy. Burke also helped raise a ward, Edmund Nagle (later Admiral Sir Edmund Nagle), the son of a cousin orphaned in 1763.

In December 1765, Burke entered the British Parliament as a member of the House of Commons for Wendover, a pocket borough in the control of Lord Fermanagh, later 2nd Earl Verney, a close political ally of Rockingham.

After Burke's maiden speech, William Pitt the Elder said Burke had "spoken in such a manner as to stop the mouths of all Europe" and that the Commons should congratulate itself on acquiring such a member.

In 1769, Burke purchased Gregories – a 600-acre estate near Beaconsfield – for £20,000. He had to borrow most of the money and although it included saleable assets such as art works by Titian, Gregories was a heavy financial burden in the following decades and Burke was never able to pay in full for the estate.

The Gregories estate, purchased by Burke in 1768

Burke was a member of the the circle of leading intellectuals and artists in London with Samuel Johnson as its central luminary, also including David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, and Joshua Reynolds. Although Johnson admired Burke's brilliance, he found him a dishonest politician.

Burke opposed the government's attempts to coerce the American colonists, outlining his beliefs in Thoughts on the Present Discontents (1770).

In 1774, Burke was elected member for Bristol, at the time "England's second city" and a large constituency with a genuine electoral contest. However his support for unpopular causes, notably free trade with Ireland and Catholic Emancipation, led to Burke losing his seat in 1780. For the remainder of his parliamentary career, Burke sat for Malton, another pocket borough controlled by the Marquess of Rockingham.

In 1780, during the Gordon Riots, Burke became a target and his home was placed under armed guard by the military.

Burke was a vehement opponent of the French Revolution, which he denounced in Reflections on the Revolution in France, The book, which was published on November 1, 1790, was read all over Europe.

In 1794 Edmund Burke resigned his seat in parliament for Malton, North Yorkshire over the failure to convict Warren Hastings in a parliamentary impeachment. His son, Richard, was elected in succession to his father, but fell ill soon afterwards, and died in South Kensington at the early age of thirty-six. Edmund Burke and his wife suffered grief on a huge scale. The Dictionary of National Biography article describes the grief of the parents as "almost uncontrollable", and his father considered himself ‘marked by the hand of God’

Burke died in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, on July 9, 1797 and was buried there alongside his son and brother. His wife survived him by nearly fifteen years.

Burke's basic political credo – that liberty is only possible within the strict framework of law and order – ensured that since the 20th century, he has generally been viewed as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.

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