"Ambition Can Creep As Well As Soar"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: As Burke's life approached its end so did the life of the French Revolution. In Paris horror succeeded horror, culminating in the execution of the king and queen; the Army moved in, and under the command of Napoleon, protected what was of permanent value in the increasing shambles of the disintegrating Revolution. To the astonishment of many, France, wracked by violent internal conflicts and collapsing credit, was able to break up the European coalition arrayed against her. In England a movement was afoot to make peace with the Revolutionary government, and peace talks were actually opened at one point. Burke, ever a firm and stanch enemy of the French Revolution, was equally firmly opposed to this peace movement. In a series of four open letters he argued his case for France as a menace to all of Europe. In this third letter Burke insisted that France had at one time contemplated an invasion of England and that the peace terms offered to England by the Directory were positively humiliating; he derided and cast suspicion on those who encouraged peace as an apology for England's military actions against France:

There is one thing in this business which appears to be wholly unaccountable, . . . I cannot help asking, Why all this pains to clear the British nation of ambition, perfidy, and the insatiate thirst of war? At what period of time was it that our country has deserved that load of infamy of which nothing but preternatural humiliation in language and conduct can serve to clear us? If we have deserved this kind of evil fame from anything we have done in a state of prosperity, I am sure that it is not an abject conduct in adversity that can clear our reputation. Well is it known that ambition can creep as well as soar. The pride of no person in a flourishing condition is more justly to be dreaded than that of him who is mean and cringing under a doubtful and unprosperous fortune. . . .