Letters On A Regicide Peace "Never Did Nature Say One Thing And Wisdom Say Another"

Edmund Burke

"Never Did Nature Say One Thing And Wisdom Say Another"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Edmund Burke was consistently a believer in stable government; he was opposed to radicals, as he was opposed to theorists. He believed that the British government was good government because it had evolved slowly through centuries. It is no cause for wonder then that he was opposed to the events of the French Revolution; indeed, he was horrified by them. He detested the theoreticians who toppled the throne, killed the French monarch, and set up a government which was grounded in tyranny. Such a government could never find Burke's favor, and when there were proposals of peace with the French Directory, in 1796, Burke opposed them adamantly. Seeing his country's representatives mistreated by the French officials again and again, Burke thought that they should call for a war against France. Burke is amazed and disheartened by their attitude. It is, he says, like having the British lion amused "in the chase of mice and rats." To declare war in ringing tones, not to continue a dishonorable peace, is what Burke feels is the right reaction "under the smart of patience exhausted and abused." He goes on to elaborate why this course is right:

. . . Such a conduct, as the facts stated in the Declaration gave room to expect, is that which true wisdom would have dictated under the impression of those genuine feelings. Never was there a jar or discord between genuine sentiment and sound policy. Never, no never, did Nature say one thing and Wisdom say another. Nor are sentiments of elevation in themselves turgid and unnatural. Nature is never more truly herself than in her grandest forms. The Apollo of Belvedere . . . is as much in nature as any figure from the pencil of Rembrandt, or any clown in the rustic revels of Teniers. Indeed, it is when a great nation is in great difficulties, that minds must exalt themselves to the occasion, or all is lost. Strong passion under the direction of a feeble reason feeds a low fever, which serves only to destroy the body that entertains it. . . .