- Edmund Burke. Volume II: 1784-1797
With this sequel to the first volume, published in 1998, which covered Burkes's life up to the great defeat of his political allies in 1784, F. P. Lock brings to a conclusion the first full-scale biography of Burke since that of Carl B. Cone, called Burke and the Nature of Politics (University of Kentucky Press, 1957-64). Burke scholarship has changed greatly over the 40 years since Cone's work appeared. The publication of Burke's correspondence in ten volumes was completed in 1970. Eight out of nine projected volumes of a new edition of his Writings and Speeches have been issued. The range of interpretative studies of Burke has widened considerably beyond the established canon of what was long taken to have been the vehicles through which he made his contribution to political thought, his published works on British politics, the American and the French revolutions. New editions and new studies of the most canonical of all, the Reflections on the Revolution in France still appear regularly, but other parts of his oeuvre now attract much more attention than used to be the case. There is much interest in Burke's aesthetic theories as expounded in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Orgin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful; their influence on his later writings is frequently stressed. Burke's Irishness and his early associations with Irish catholics have been seen as a formative influence on his wider views. Burke's involvement with Ireland and India have become topics for colonial and post-colonial studies. The role of Burke's ideas on economics in his political ideology is keenly debated.
An attempt to bring together new material and new perspectives and to see Burke whole within the framework of a biography is thus timely and welcome. That the task should have been done with the skill and thoroughness that Professor Lock shows makes it doubly welcome. One of the outstanding qualities of both books is the strength of the documentary base on which they stand. The new editions of correspondence and works may have somewhat eased Lock's task, but he has sought high and low for additional letters by Burke and has extracted material relating to him from numerous manuscript collections. His knowledge of the relevant secondary material seems to be exhaustive. The huge range of Burke's involvements makes this in itself remarkable.
Burke was a practising politician, able and usually more than willing to speak with authority on almost any issue that came before the house of commons. He was a man [End Page 422] of letters with a vast command of literary references. He had strong views on the visual arts. He took himself seriously as a farmer. He had studied the law. As Lock puts it, 'Burke believed in giving his all to his every endeavour' (p. 548) and there were many endeavours in the period covered by this volume. Lock too gives his all to elucidating these endeavours. In the process, he has clearly become something of a polymath.
The book does full justice to the range of Burke's interests. There are, however, two great themes that dwarf everything else in it: these are India and the French revolution together with the European crisis that it provoked. Of these two, India has pride of place. To almost all previous Burke biographers, that would be a perverse ordering. The supreme importance of the French revolution, even allowing for a Eurocentric view of the world's history, seemed irrefutable, whereas, Burke's Indian interests, dominated by the Serbonian bog of the Hastings's trial, appeared to be of limited significance, even in the context of the history of the British empire. Western historiography has become of late a little somewhat less Eurocentric and there can be no doubt that Lock's sense of priorities was also Burke's. Burke meant what he said, when he wrote that 'the affairs of India . . . are those on which I value myself...