Historic Speeches – Edmund Burke

In this historic speech, EDMUND BURKE speaks in support of Charles James Fox regarding the India Reform Bill.

EDMUND BURKE:  The natives scarcely know what it is to see the grey head of an Englishman. Young men (boys almost) govern there, without society, and without sympathy with the natives. They have no more social habits with the people, than if they still resided in England; nor, indeed, any species of intercourse but that which is necessary to making a sudden fortune, with a view to a remote settlement. Animated with all the avarice of age, and all the impetuosity of youth, they roll in one after another; wave after wave; and there is nothing before the eyes of the natives but an endless, hopeless prospect of new flights of birds of prey and passage, with appetites continually renewing for a food that is continually wasting…

And now, having done my duty to the bill, let me say a word to the author.  I should leave him to his own noble sentiments if the unworthy and illiberal language with which he has been treated, beyond all example of parliamentary liberty, did not make a few words necessary; not so much in justice to him as to my own feelings.  I must say, then, that it will be a distinction honourable to the age that the rescue of the greatest number of the human race that ever were so grievously oppressed, from the greatest tyranny that was ever exercised, has fallen to the lot of abilities and dispositions equal to the task; that it has fallen to one who has the enlargement to comprehend, the spirit to undertake, and the eloquence to support, so great a measure of hazardous benevolence.  his spirit is not owing to his ignorance of the state of men and things; he well knows what snares are spread about his path, from personal animosity, from court intrigues, and possibly from popular delusion.  But he has put to hazard his ease, his security, his interest, his power, even his darling popularity, for the benefit of a people whom he has never seen.  This is the road that all heroes have trod before him.  He is traduced and abused for his supposed motives.  He will remember that obloquy is a necessary ingredient in the composition of all true glory: he will remember that it was not only in the Roman customs, but it is in the nature and constitution of things, that calumny and abuse are essential parts of triumph.  These thoughts will support a mind which only exists for honour, under the burden of temporary reproach.  He is doing indeed a great good; such as rarely falls to the lot, and almost as rarely coincides with the desires, of any man.  Let him use his time.  Let him give the whole length of the reins to his benevolence.  He is now on a great eminence, where the eyes of mankind are turned to him.  He may live long, he may do much.  But here is the summit.  He never can exceed what he does this day…

I have spoken what I think, and what I feel, of the mover of this bill.  An honourable friend of mine, speaking of his merits, was charged with having made a studied panegyric; I don’t know what his was.  Mine, I am sure, is a studied panegyric; the fruit of much meditation; the result of the observation of near twenty years.  For my own part, I am happy that I have lived to see this day; I feel myself overpaid for the labours of eighteen years when, at this late period, I am able to take my share, by one humble vote, in destroying a tyranny that exists to the disgrace of this nation, and the destruction of so large a part of the human species.

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