EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

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thelivyjr
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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr » Mon Mar 09, 2020 1:40 p

IF this be your actual situation, compared to the situation to which you were called, as it were, by the voice of God and man, I cannot find it in my heart to congratulate you on the choice you have made or the success which has attended your endeavors.

I can as little recommend to any other nation a conduct grounded on such principles, and productive of such effects.


That I must leave to those who can see farther into your affairs than I am able to do, and who best know how far your actions are favorable to their designs.

The gentlemen of the Revolution Society, who were so early in their congratulations, appear to be strongly of opinion that there is some scheme of politics relative to this country in which your proceedings may, in some way, be useful.

For your Dr. Price, who seems to have speculated himself into no small degree of fervor upon this subject, addresses his auditory in the following very remarkable words: "I cannot conclude without recalling particularly to your recollection a consideration which I have more than once alluded to, and which probably your thoughts have been all along anticipating; a consideration with which my mind is impressed more than I can express."

"I mean the consideration of the favourableness of the present times to all exertions in the cause of liberty."

It is plain that the mind of this political preacher was at the time big with some extraordinary design; and it is very probable that the thoughts of his audience, who understood him better than I do, did all along run before him in his reflection and in the whole train of consequences to which it led.

Before I read that sermon, I really thought I had lived in a free country; and it was an error I cherished, because it gave me a greater liking to the country I lived in.

I was, indeed, aware that a jealous, ever-waking vigilance to guard the treasure of our liberty, not only from invasion, but from decay and corruption, was our best wisdom and our first duty.

However, I considered that treasure rather as a possession to be secured than as a prize to be contended for.


I did not discern how the present time came to be so very favorable to all exertions in the cause of freedom.

The present time differs from any other only by the circumstance of what is doing in France.

If the example of that nation is to have an influence on this, I can easily conceive why some of their proceedings which have an unpleasant aspect and are not quite reconcilable to humanity, generosity, good faith, and justice are palliated with so much milky good-nature toward the actors, and borne with so much heroic fortitude toward the sufferers.


It is certainly not prudent to discredit the authority of an example we mean to follow.

But allowing this, we are led to a very natural question: What is that cause of liberty, and what are those exertions in its favor to which the example of France is so singularly auspicious?

Is our monarchy to be annihilated, with all the laws, all the tribunals, and all the ancient corporations of the kingdom?

Is every landmark of the country to be done away in favor of a geometrical and arithmetical constitution?


Is the House of Lords to be voted useless?

Is episcopacy to be abolished?

Are the church lands to be sold to Jews and jobbers or given to bribe new-invented municipal republics into a participation in sacrilege?

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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr » Tue Mar 10, 2020 1:40 p

Are all the taxes to be voted grievances, and the revenue reduced to a patriotic contribution or patriotic presents?

Are silver shoebuckles to be substituted in the place of the land tax and the malt tax for the support of the naval strength of this kingdom?

Are all orders, ranks, and distinctions to be confounded, that out of universal anarchy, joined to national bankruptcy, three or four thousand democracies should be formed into eighty-three, and that they may all, by some sort of unknown attractive power, be organized into one?

For this great end, is the army to be seduced from its discipline and its fidelity, first, by every kind of debauchery and, then, by the terrible precedent of a donative in the increase of pay?


Are the curates to be seduced from their bishops by holding out to them the delusive hope of a dole out of the spoils of their own order?

Are the citizens of London to be drawn from their allegiance by feeding them at the expense of their fellow subjects?

Is a compulsory paper currency to be substituted in the place of the legal coin of this kingdom?

Is what remains of the plundered stock of public revenue to be employed in the wild project of maintaining two armies to watch over and to fight with each other?

If these are the ends and means of the Revolution Society, I admit that they are well assorted; and France may furnish them for both with precedents in point.

I see that your example is held out to shame us.

I know that we are supposed a dull, sluggish race, rendered passive by finding our situation tolerable, and prevented by a mediocrity of freedom from ever attaining to its full perfection.

Your leaders in France began by affecting to admire, almost to adore, the British constitution; but as they advanced, they came to look upon it with a sovereign contempt.


The friends of your National Assembly amongst us have full as mean an opinion of what was formerly thought the glory of their country.

The Revolution Society has discovered that the English nation is not free.

They are convinced that the inequality in our representation is a "defect in our constitution so gross and palpable as to make it excellent chiefly in form and theory".

That a representation in the legislature of a kingdom is not only the basis of all constitutional liberty in it, but of "all legitimate government; that without it a government is nothing but an usurpation"; — that "when the representation is partial, the kingdom possesses liberty only partially; and if extremely partial, it gives only a semblance; and if not only extremely partial, but corruptly chosen, it becomes a nuisance".

Dr. Price considers this inadequacy of representation as our fundamental grievance; and though, as to the corruption of this semblance of representation, he hopes it is not yet arrived to its full perfection of depravity, he fears that "nothing will be done towards gaining for us this essential blessing, until some great abuse of power again provokes our resentment, or some great calamity again alarms our fears, or perhaps till the acquisition of a pure and equal representation by other countries, whilst we are mocked with the shadow, kindles our shame."

To this he subjoins a note in these words.

"A representation chosen chiefly by the treasury, and a few thousands of the dregs of the people, who are generally paid for their votes".

You will smile here at the consistency of those democratists who, when they are not on their guard, treat the humbler part of the community with the greatest contempt, whilst, at the same time, they pretend to make them the depositories of all power.

It would require a long discourse to point out to you the many fallacies that lurk in the generality and equivocal nature of the terms "inadequate representation".

I shall only say here, in justice to that old-fashioned constitution under which we have long prospered, that our representation has been found perfectly adequate to all the purposes for which a representation of the people can be desired or devised.

I defy the enemies of our constitution to show the contrary.

To detail the particulars in which it is found so well to promote its ends would demand a treatise on our practical constitution.

I state here the doctrine of the Revolutionists only that you and others may see what an opinion these gentlemen entertain of the constitution of their country, and why they seem to think that some great abuse of power or some great calamity, as giving a chance for the blessing of a constitution according to their ideas, would be much palliated to their feelings; you see why they are so much enamored of your fair and equal representation, which being once obtained, the same effects might follow.

You see they consider our House of Commons as only "a semblance", "a form", "a theory", "a shadow", "a mockery", perhaps "a nuisance".

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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr » Wed Mar 11, 2020 1:40 p

These gentlemen value themselves on being systematic, and not without reason.

They must therefore look on this gross and palpable defect of representation, this fundamental grievance (so they call it) as a thing not only vicious in itself, but as rendering our whole government absolutely illegitimate, and not at all better than a downright usurpation.

Another revolution, to get rid of this illegitimate and usurped government, would of course be perfectly justifiable, if not absolutely necessary.

Indeed, their principle, if you observe it with any attention, goes much further than to an alteration in the election of the House of Commons; for, if popular representation, or choice, is necessary to the legitimacy of all government, the House of Lords is, at one stroke, bastardized and corrupted in blood.

That House is no representative of the people at all, even in "semblance or in form".

The case of the crown is altogether as bad.

In vain the crown may endeavor to screen itself against these gentlemen by the authority of the establishment made on the Revolution.

The Revolution which is resorted to for a title, on their system, wants a title itself.

The Revolution is built, according to their theory, upon a basis not more solid than our present formalities, as it was made by a House of Lords, not representing any one but themselves, and by a House of Commons exactly such as the present, that is, as they term it, by a mere "shadow and mockery" of representation.

Something they must destroy, or they seem to themselves to exist for no purpose.

One set is for destroying the civil power through the ecclesiastical; another, for demolishing the ecclesiastic through the civil.

They are aware that the worst consequences might happen to the public in accomplishing this double ruin of church and state, but they are so heated with their theories that they give more than hints that this ruin, with all the mischiefs that must lead to it and attend it, and which to themselves appear quite certain, would not be unacceptable to them or very remote from their wishes.

A man amongst them of great authority and certainly of great talents, speaking of a supposed alliance between church and state, says, "perhaps we must wait for the fall of the civil powers before this most unnatural alliance be broken."

"Calamitous no doubt will that time be."

"But what convulsion in the political world ought to be a subject of lamentation if it be attended with so desirable an effect?"


You see with what a steady eye these gentlemen are prepared to view the greatest calamities which can befall their country.

IT is no wonder, therefore, that with these ideas of everything in their constitution and government at home, either in church or state, as illegitimate and usurped, or at best as a vain mockery, they look abroad with an eager and passionate enthusiasm.

Whilst they are possessed by these notions, it is vain to talk to them of the practice of their ancestors, the fundamental laws of their country, the fixed form of a constitution whose merits are confirmed by the solid test of long experience and an increasing public strength and national prosperity.

They despise experience as the wisdom of unlettered men; and as for the rest, they have wrought underground a mine that will blow up, at one grand explosion, all examples of antiquity, all precedents, charters, and acts of parliament.


They have "the rights of men".

Against these there can be no prescription, against these no agreement is binding; these admit no temperament and no compromise; anything withheld from their full demand is so much of fraud and injustice.

Against these their rights of men let no government look for security in the length of its continuance, or in the justice and lenity of its administration.

The objections of these speculatists, if its forms do not quadrate with their theories, are as valid against such an old and beneficent government as against the most violent tyranny or the greenest usurpation.

They are always at issue with governments, not on a question of abuse, but a question of competency and a question of title.

I have nothing to say to the clumsy subtilty of their political metaphysics.

Let them be their amusement in the schools.

"Illa se jactet in aula Aeolus, et clauso ventorum carcere regnet".

But let them not break prison to burst like a Levanter to sweep the earth with their hurricane and to break up the fountains of the great deep to overwhelm us.

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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr » Thu Mar 12, 2020 1:40 p

Far am I from denying in theory, full as far is my heart from withholding in practice (if I were of power to give or to withhold) the real rights of men.

In denying their false claims of right, I do not mean to injure those which are real, and are such as their pretended rights would totally destroy.

If civil society be made for the advantage of man, all the advantages for which it is made become his right.


It is an institution of beneficence; and law itself is only beneficence acting by a rule.

Men have a right to live by that rule; they have a right to do justice, as between their fellows, whether their fellows are in public function or in ordinary occupation.

They have a right to the fruits of their industry and to the means of making their industry fruitful.

They have a right to the acquisitions of their parents, to the nourishment and improvement of their offspring, to instruction in life, and to consolation in death.

Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself; and he has a right to a fair portion of all which society, with all its combinations of skill and force, can do in his favor.

In this partnership all men have equal rights, but not to equal things.

He that has but five shillings in the partnership has as good a right to it as he that has five hundred pounds has to his larger proportion.

But he has not a right to an equal dividend in the product of the joint stock; and as to the share of power, authority, and direction which each individual ought to have in the management of the state, that I must deny to be amongst the direct original rights of man in civil society; for I have in my contemplation the civil social man, and no other.


It is a thing to be settled by convention.

If civil society be the offspring of convention, that convention must be its law.

That convention must limit and modify all the descriptions of constitution which are formed under it.

Every sort of legislative, judicial, or executory power are its creatures.

They can have no being in any other state of things; and how can any man claim under the conventions of civil society rights which do not so much as suppose its existence — rights which are absolutely repugnant to it?

One of the first motives to civil society, and which becomes one of its fundamental rules, is that no man should be judge in his own cause.

By this each person has at once divested himself of the first fundamental right of uncovenanted man, that is, to judge for himself and to assert his own cause.

He abdicates all right to be his own governor.

He inclusively, in a great measure, abandons the right of self-defense, the first law of nature.

Men cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together.

That he may obtain justice, he gives up his right of determining what it is in points the most essential to him.

That he may secure some liberty, he makes a surrender in trust of the whole of it.

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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr » Fri Mar 13, 2020 1:40 p

Government is not made in virtue of natural rights, which may and do exist in total independence of it, and exist in much greater clearness and in a much greater degree of abstract perfection; but their abstract perfection is their practical defect.

By having a right to everything they want everything.

Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants.


Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom.

Among these wants is to be reckoned the want, out of civil society, of a sufficient restraint upon their passions.

Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body, as well as in the individuals, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection.


This can only be done by a power out of themselves, and not, in the exercise of its function, subject to that will and to those passions which it is its office to bridle and subdue.

In this sense the restraints on men, as well as their liberties, are to be reckoned among their rights.

But as the liberties and the restrictions vary with times and circumstances and admit to infinite modifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them upon that principle.

The moment you abate anything from the full rights of men, each to govern himself, and suffer any artificial, positive limitation upon those rights, from that moment the whole organization of government becomes a consideration of convenience.

This it is which makes the constitution of a state and the due distribution of its powers a matter of the most delicate and complicated skill.

It requires a deep knowledge of human nature and human necessities, and of the things which facilitate or obstruct the various ends which are to be pursued by the mechanism of civil institutions.

The state is to have recruits to its strength, and remedies to its distempers.

What is the use of discussing a man's abstract right to food or medicine?

The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them.

In that deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician rather than the professor of metaphysics.


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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr » Sat Mar 14, 2020 1:40 p

The science of constructing a commonwealth, or renovating it, or reforming it, is, like every other experimental science, not to be taught a priori.

Nor is it a short experience that can instruct us in that practical science, because the real effects of moral causes are not always immediate; but that which in the first instance is prejudicial may be excellent in its remoter operation, and its excellence may arise even from the ill effects it produces in the beginning.


The reverse also happens: and very plausible schemes, with very pleasing commencements, have often shameful and lamentable conclusions.

In states there are often some obscure and almost latent causes, things which appear at first view of little moment, on which a very great part of its prosperity or adversity may most essentially depend.

The science of government being therefore so practical in itself and intended for such practical purposes — a matter which requires experience, and even more experience than any person can gain in his whole life, however sagacious and observing he may be — it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society, or on building it up again without having models and patterns of approved utility before his eyes.

These metaphysic rights entering into common life, like rays of light which pierce into a dense medium, are by the laws of nature refracted from their straight line.

Indeed, in the gross and complicated mass of human passions and concerns the primitive rights of men undergo such a variety of refractions and reflections that it becomes absurd to talk of them as if they continued in the simplicity of their original direction.

The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity; and, therefore, no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man's nature or to the quality of his affairs.

When I hear the simplicity of contrivance aimed at and boasted of in any new political constitutions, I am at no loss to decide that the artificers are grossly ignorant of their trade or totally negligent of their duty.

The simple governments are fundamentally defective, to say no worse of them.

If you were to contemplate society in but one point of view, all these simple modes of polity are infinitely captivating.

In effect each would answer its single end much more perfectly than the more complex is able to attain all its complex purposes.

But it is better that the whole should be imperfectly and anomalously answered than that, while some parts are provided for with great exactness, others might be totally neglected or perhaps materially injured by the over-care of a favorite member.

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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr » Sun Mar 15, 2020 1:40 p

The pretended rights of these theorists are all extremes; and in proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false.

The rights of men are in a sort of middle, incapable of definition, but not impossible to be discerned.


The rights of men in governments are their advantages; and these are often in balances between differences of good, in compromises sometimes between good and evil, and sometimes between evil and evil.

Political reason is a computing principle: adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, morally and not metaphysically or mathematically, true moral denominations.

By these theorists the right of the people is almost always sophistically confounded with their power.

The body of the community, whenever it can come to act, can meet with no effectual resistance; but till power and right are the same, the whole body of them has no right inconsistent with virtue, and the first of all virtues, prudence.

Men have no right to what is not reasonable and to what is not for their benefit; for though a pleasant writer said, liceat perire poetis, when one of them, in cold blood, is said to have leaped into the flames of a volcanic revolution, ardentem frigidus Aetnam insiluit, I consider such a frolic rather as an unjustifiable poetic license than as one of the franchises of Parnassus; and whether he was a poet, or divine, or politician that chose to exercise this kind of right, I think that more wise, because more charitable, thoughts would urge me rather to save the man than to preserve his brazen slippers as the monuments of his folly.

The kind of anniversary sermons to which a great part of what I write refers, if men are not shamed out of their present course in commemorating the fact, will cheat many out of the principles, and deprive them of the benefits, of the revolution they commemorate.

I confess to you, Sir, I never liked this continual talk of resistance and revolution, or the practice of making the extreme medicine of the constitution its daily bread.

It renders the habit of society dangerously valetudinary; it is taking periodical doses of mercury sublimate and swallowing down repeated provocatives of cantharides to our love of liberty.

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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr » Mon Mar 16, 2020 1:40 p

This distemper of remedy, grown habitual, relaxes and wears out, by a vulgar and prostituted use, the spring of that spirit which is to be exerted on great occasions.

It was in the most patient period of Roman servitude that themes of tyrannicide made the ordinary exercise of boys at school — cum perimit saevos classis numerosa tyrannos.

In the ordinary state of things, it produces in a country like ours the worst effects, even on the cause of that liberty which it abuses with the dissoluteness of an extravagant speculation.

Almost all the high-bred republicans of my time have, after a short space, become the most decided, thorough-paced courtiers; they soon left the business of a tedious, moderate, but practical resistance to those of us whom, in the pride and intoxication of their theories, they have slighted as not much better than Tories.


Hypocrisy, of course, delights in the most sublime speculations, for, never intending to go beyond speculation, it costs nothing to have it magnificent.

But even in cases where rather levity than fraud was to be suspected in these ranting speculations, the issue has been much the same.

These professors, finding their extreme principles not applicable to cases which call only for a qualified or, as I may say, civil and legal resistance, in such cases employ no resistance at all.

It is with them a war or a revolution, or it is nothing.

Finding their schemes of politics not adapted to the state of the world in which they live, they often come to think lightly of all public principle, and are ready, on their part, to abandon for a very trivial interest what they find of very trivial value.


Some, indeed, are of more steady and persevering natures, but these are eager politicians out of parliament who have little to tempt them to abandon their favorite projects.

They have some change in the church or state, or both, constantly in their view.

When that is the case, they are always bad citizens and perfectly unsure connections.


For, considering their speculative designs as of infinite value, and the actual arrangement of the state as of no estimation, they are at best indifferent about it.

They see no merit in the good, and no fault in the vicious, management of public affairs; they rather rejoice in the latter, as more propitious to revolution.

They see no merit or demerit in any man, or any action, or any political principle any further than as they may forward or retard their design of change; they therefore take up, one day, the most violent and stretched prerogative, and another time the wildest democratic ideas of freedom, and pass from one to the other without any sort of regard to cause, to person, or to party.


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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr » Wed Mar 18, 2020 1:40 p

IN FRANCE, you are now in the crisis of a revolution and in the transit from one form of government to another — you cannot see that character of men exactly in the same situation in which we see it in this country.

With us it is militant; with you it is triumphant; and you know how it can act when its power is commensurate to its will.

I would not be supposed to confine those observations to any description of men or to comprehend all men of any description within them — No! far from it.

I am as incapable of that injustice as I am of keeping terms with those who profess principles of extremities and who, under the name of religion, teach little else than wild and dangerous politics.

The worst of these politics of revolution is this: they temper and harden the breast in order to prepare it for the desperate strokes which are sometimes used in extreme occasions.


But as these occasions may never arrive, the mind receives a gratuitous taint; and the moral sentiments suffer not a little when no political purpose is served by the depravation.

This sort of people are so taken up with their theories about the rights of man that they have totally forgotten his nature.

Without opening one new avenue to the understanding, they have succeeded in stopping up those that lead to the heart.

They have perverted in themselves, and in those that attend to them, all the well-placed sympathies of the human breast.

This famous sermon of the Old Jewry breathes nothing but this spirit through all the political part.

Plots, massacres, assassinations seem to some people a trivial price for obtaining a revolution.

Cheap, bloodless reformation, a guiltless liberty appear flat and vapid to their taste.

There must be a great change of scene; there must be a magnificent stage effect; there must be a grand spectacle to rouse the imagination grown torpid with the lazy enjoyment of sixty years' security and the still unanimating repose of public prosperity.


The preacher found them all in the French Revolution.

This inspires a juvenile warmth through his whole frame.

His enthusiasm kindles as he advances; and when he arrives at his peroration it is in a full blaze.

Then viewing, from the Pisgah of his pulpit, the free, moral, happy, flourishing and glorious state of France as in a bird's-eye landscape of a promised land, he breaks out into the following rapture:

What an eventful period is this!

I am thankful that I have lived to it; I could almost say, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.

I have lived to see a diffusion of knowledge, which has undermined superstition and error.

I have lived to see the rights of men better understood than ever; and nations panting for liberty which seemed to have lost the idea of it.

I have lived to see thirty millions of people, indignant and resolute, spurning at slavery, and demanding liberty with an irresistible voice.

Their king led in triumph and an arbitrary monarch surrendering himself to his subjects.

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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr » Sun Mar 22, 2020 1:40 p

Before I proceed further, I have to remark that Dr. Price seems rather to overvalue the great acquisitions of light which he has obtained and diffused in this age.

The last century appears to me to have been quite as much enlightened.

It had, though in a different place, a triumph as memorable as that of Dr. Price; and some of the great preachers of that period partook of it as eagerly as he has done in the triumph of France.

On the trial of the Rev. Hugh Peters for high treason, it was deposed that, when King Charles was brought to London for his trial, the Apostle of Liberty in that day conducted the triumph.

"I saw", says the witness, "his Majesty in the coach with six horses, and Peters riding before the king, triumphing".

Dr. Price, when he talks as if he had made a discovery, only follows a precedent, for after the commencement of the king's trial this precursor, the same Dr. Peters, concluding a long prayer at the Royal Chapel at Whitehall (he had very triumphantly chosen his place), said, "I have prayed and preached these twenty years; and now I may say with old Simeon, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation".

Peters had not the fruits of his prayer, for he neither departed so soon as he wished, nor in peace.

He became (what I heartily hope none of his followers may be in this country) himself a sacrifice to the triumph which he led as pontiff.

They dealt at the Restoration, perhaps, too hardly with this poor good man.

But we owe it to his memory and his sufferings that he had as much illumination and as much zeal, and had as effectually undermined all the superstition and error which might impede the great business he was engaged in, as any who follow and repeat after him in this age, which would assume to itself an exclusive title to the knowledge of the rights of men and all the glorious consequences of that knowledge.

After this sally of the preacher of the Old Jewry, which differs only in place and time, but agrees perfectly with the spirit and letter of the rapture of 1648, the Revolution Society, the fabricators of governments, the heroic band of cashierers of monarchs, electors of sovereigns, and leaders of kings in triumph, strutting with a proud consciousness of the diffusion of knowledge of which every member had obtained so large a share in the donative, were in haste to make a generous diffusion of the knowledge they had thus gratuitously received.

To make this bountiful communication, they adjourned from the church in the Old Jewry to the London Tavern, where the same Dr. Price, in whom the fumes of his oracular tripod were not entirely evaporated, moved and carried the resolution or address of congratulation transmitted by Lord Stanhope to the National Assembly of France.

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