He was indifferent to luxury, and sought to make life, not commodious nor soft, but high and dignified in a refined way. He loved art, filled his house with statues and pictures, and extended a generous patronage to the painters. He was a collector of books, and, as Crabbe and less conspicuous men discovered, a helpful friend to their writers. Guests were ever welcome at his board; the opulence of his mind and the fervid copiousness of his talk naturally made the guests of such a man very numerous. Non invideo equidem, miror magis, was Johnson's good-natured remark, when he was taken over his friend's fine house and pleasant gardens. Johnson was of a very different type. There was something in this external dignity which went with Burke's imperious spirit, his spacious imagination, his turn for all things stately and imposing. We may say, if we please, that Johnson had the far truer and loftier dignity of the two; but we have to take such men as Burke with the defects that belong to their qualities. And there was no corruption in Burke's outlay. When the Pitt administration was formed in 1766, he might have had office, and Lord Rockingham wished him to accept it, but he honourably took his fate with the party.
He may have spent £3000 a year, where he would have been more prudent to spend only £2000. But nobody was wronged; his creditors were all paid in time, and his hands were at least clean of traffic in reversions, clerkships, tellerships and all the rest of the rich sinecures which it was thought no shame in those days for the aristocracy of the land and the robe to wrangle for, and gorge themselves upon, with the fierce voracity of famishing wolves. The most we can say is that Burke, like Pitt, was too deeply absorbed in beneficent service in the affairs of his country, to have for his own affairs the solicitude that would have been prudent.
In the midst of intense political preoccupations, Burke always found time to keep up his intimacy with the brilliant group of his earlier friends. He was one of the commanding figures at the club at the Turk's Head, with Reynolds and Garrick, Goldsmith and Johnson. The old sage who held that the first Whig was the Devil, was yet compelled to forgive Burke's politics for the sake of his magnificent gifts. "I would not talk to him of the Rockingham party," he used to say, "but I love his knowledge, his genius, his diffusion and affluence of conversation." And everybody knows Johnson's vivid account of him: "Burke, Sir, is such a man that if you met him for the first time in the street, where you were stopped by a drove of oxen, and you and he stepped aside to take shelter but for five minutes, he'd talk to you in such a manner that when you parted you would say, 'This is an extraordinary man.'" They all grieved that public business should draw to party what was meant for mankind. They deplored that the nice and difficult test of answering Berkeley had not been undertaken, as was once intended, by Burke, and sighed to think what an admirable display of subtlety and brilliance such a contention would have afforded them, had not politics "turned him from active philosophy aside." There was no jealousy in this.
They did not grudge Burke being the first man in the House of Commons, for they admitted that he would have been the first man anywhere.
With all his hatred for the book-man in politics, Burke owed much of his own distinction to that generous richness and breadth of judgment which had been ripened in him by literature and his practice in it. He showed that books are a better preparation for statesmanship than early training in the subordinate posts and among the permanent officials of a public department. There is no copiousness of literary reference in his work, such as over-abounded in the civil and ecclesiastical publicists of the 17th century. Nor can we truly say that there is much, though there is certainly some, of that tact which literature is alleged to confer on those who approach it in a just spirit and with the true gift. The influence of literature on Burke lay partly in the direction of emancipation from the mechanical formulae of practical politics; partly in the association which it engendered, in a powerful understanding like his, between politics and the moral forces of the world, and between political maxims and the old and great sentences of morals; partly in drawing him, even when resting his case on prudence and expediency, to appeal to the widest and highest sympathies; partly, and more than all, in opening his thoughts to the many conditions, possibilities and "varieties of untried being," in human character and situation, and so giving an incomparable flexibility to his methods of political approach.
This flexibility is not to be found in his manner of composition. That derives its immense power from other sources; from passion, intensity, imagination, size, truth, cogency of logical reason. Those who insist on charm, on winningness in style, on subtle harmonies and fine exquisiteness of suggestion, are disappointed in Burke: they even find him stiff and over-coloured. And there are blemishes of this kind. His banter is nearly always ungainly, his wit blunt, as Johnson said, and often unseasonable. As is usual with a man who has not true humour, Burke is also without true pathos. The thought of wrong or misery moved him less to pity for the victim than to anger against the cause. Again, there are some gratuitous and unredeemed vulgarities; some images that make us shudder. But only a literary fop can be detained by specks like these.
The varieties of Burke's literary or rhetorical method are very striking. It is almost incredible that the superb imaginative amplification of the description of Hyder Ali's descent upon the Carnatic should be from the same pen as the grave, simple, unadorned Address to the King (1777), where each sentence falls on the ear with the accent of some golden-tongued oracle of the wise gods. His stride is the stride of a giant, from the sentimental beauty of the picture of Marie Antoinette at Versailles, or the red horror of the tale of Debi Sing in Rungpore, to the learning, positiveness and cool judicial mastery of the Report on the Lords' Journals (1794), which Philip Francis, no mean judge, declared on the whole to be the "most eminent and extraordinary" of all his productions. But even in the coolest and driest of his pieces there is the mark of greatness, of grasp, of comprehension. In all its varieties Burke's style is noble, earnest, deep-flowing, because his sentiment was lofty and fervid, and went with sincerity and ardent disciplined travail of judgment.