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THE RIGHT HONORABLE
EDMUND BURKE was the second son of a respectable attorney at Dublin, and his mother came of the ancient family of the Nagles. He was born on the 1st of January, (old style,) in the year 1730; and when very young, was sent to the school of Balytore, in the north of Ireland, then kept by Abraham Shackleton, a member of the Society of Friends, or, as they are commonly called, Quakers. Shackleton was a classical scholar of considerable eminence, and a man of enlarged mind, who devoted himself to the improvement of his pupils with indefatigable application and conscientious integrity. His seminary was the nursery of many great characters, who have figured conspicuously at the bar, in the church,
and the senate. Here BURKE laid in a solid foundation of learning; and, besides Greek and Latin, his exercises in which gave him a decided superiority over all his contemporaneous students, he applied to the reading of the finest English authors both in prose and verse. Of his early habits or favorite pursuits at this period of his life, however we know but little; for those writers who have professed to give the most ample and exact memoir of this great man, were totally ignorant of his private history, and even unacquainted with his person; whence their accounts of his youthful occupations may safely be passed over as the fictions of conjectural biography. Yet it is certain that the attainments of BURKE, while at the school of Balytore, were extensive and valuable; and it is equally honorable to him and his preceptor, that through life they mutually respected each other, which was manifested by the correspondence carried on between the son and successor of Abraham Shackleton and the illustrious pupil of his venerable father.
Before EDMUND BURKE left this school, his elder brother died; which event, is said to have occasioned his removal to Trinity College, Dublin; but this is a mistake, for he was now of an age to be transplanted thither, and as his original destination was the law, the change that had occurred made no alteration in the views of his father. At college he had Goldsmith for one of his cotemporaries, who has been frequently heard to declare that BURKE gave no extraordinary promise of superior talents while at the university. But veracity was unfortunately not among the leading virtues of Goldsmith; and it is well known, that whenever literary reputation came in the way of that ingenious, but eccentric, man, envy always got the better of good nature. Goldsmith could not endure the praises bestowed upon another for talents which he fancied no one possessed in a higher degree than himself. All his intimates were sensible of this failing, but as it was a weakness without malevolence, his harmless vanity only excited their mirth, and no one ever thought it worth his while to resent his petulance. The observation of Goldsmith, therefore, respecting the academical honors of his friend, is in itself undeserving of notice; but since it has been brought forward, truth requires that it should be repelled; and this is easily done, for the late Dr. Thomas Leland, a much better judge of learning than Goldsmith, never mentioned the name of EDMUND BURKE without a fond recurrence to the brilliant emanations of his opening genius, witnessed inter sylvas academi, when he was himself a fellow and tätor of Trinity College.
A little before he left the university, BURKE gave a happy display of his talent for imitative composition, in a series of essays, written so closely in the manner of Charles Lucas, a political apothecary of Dublin, that while they imposed upon the admirers of that noisy patriot, they at the same time turned the principles of their idol into ridicule, by exposing the consequences which necessarily flowed from them. This Lucas was a turbulent demagogue, who affected the character of a reformer, and so far succeeded, as first to become an object of prosecution, which made him popular; then he procured a doctor's degree from a Scotch university; next got himself chosen an alderman of Dublin ; after which he obtained a seat in the Irish House of Commons, and then sunk again into his original obscurity and contempt.
Victory over such an opponent as this could hardly be productive of glory, and therefore it is not to be wondered that these early effusions of BURKE's versatile powers should long since have been consigned to oblivion : neither perhaps is it to be regretted, that hitherto none of the hunters of literary relics should have succeeded in bringing them to light. It is deserving of remark, however, that the only controversies in which BURKE has been known to have ergaged, had for their object the
detection of sophistry, and the prevention of anarchy.
He was now in his twentieth year, and from this period to his settlement in England, a chasm occurs in his history which we have not the means of filling up satisfactorily. Some of his biographers assert, that he came to London direct from college, while others assert, that he went first to Glasgow, where he offered himself as a candidate for the professorship of logic in that university, being induced so to do by seeing a placard affixed to the gate of the old college, inviting a competition for the vacant chair, although the successor was already privately, chosen. BURKE, it seems, if we are to believe the tale, was ignorant of this esoteric method of determining an academical appointment, and therefore tendered his services, in the mere confidence of his qualifications for the place, without making any inquiry as to forms, or exerting what interest he could make among the electors. That under such circumstances he was unsuccessful need not to be wondered at; and it would have been surprising indeed, if the event had proved otherwise, considering the youth of the candidate, and his being a total stranger to the university. But though we have not the means of refuting the story, entirely, by direct proof, the improbability of it may easily be shown; for in the year 1751,