Praise is the reflection of virtue, but it is as the glass or body, which giveth the reflection: if it be from the common people, it is commonly false and nought, and rather followeth vain persons than virtuous: for the common people understand not many excellent virtues: the lowest virtues draw praise from them, the middle virtues work in them astonishment or admiration; but of the highest virtues they have no sense or perceiving at all; but shows and species virtutibus similes [qualities resembling virtues] serve best with them.
I am not one of those who think that the people are never in the wrong. They have been so, frequently and outrageously, both in other countries and in this. But I do say, that in all disputes between them and their rulers, the presumption is at least upon a par in favour of the people. Experience may perhaps justify me in going further. When popular discontents have been very prevalent, it may well be affirmed and supported, that there has been generally something found amiss in the constitution, or in the conduct of government. The people have no interest in disorder. When they do wrong, it is their error, and not their crime. But with the governing part of the state it is far otherwise. They certainly may act ill by design, as well as by mistake.
Edmund Burke: Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, 1770.
Let me wish my young friend, at his entrance into life, to draw a useful lesson from the unprincipled behaviour of a corrupt and licentious people:that is, never to sacrifice his principles to the hope of obtaining their affections; to regard and wish them well, as a part of his fellow-creatures, whom his best instincts and his highest duties lead him to love and serve, but to put as little trust in them as in princes. For what inward resource has he, when turned out of courts or hissed out of town-halls, who has made their opinions the only standard of what is right, and their favour the sole means of his happiness?
As to the opinion of the people, which some think, in such cases, is to be implicitly obeyed,near two years tranquillity, which followed the act, and its instant imitation in Ireland, proved abundantly that the late horrible spirit was in a great measure the effect of insidious art, and perverse industry, and gross misrepresentation. But suppose that the dislike had been much more deliberate and much more general than I am persuaded it was,when we know that the opinions of even the greatest multitudes are the standard of rectitude, I shall think myself obliged to make those opinions the masters of my conscience. But if it may be doubted whether Omnipotence itself is competent to alter the essential constitution of right and wrong, sure I am that such things as they and I are possessed of no such power.
Edmund Burke: Speech at Bristol Previous to the Election, Sept. 6, 1780.
No man carries further than I do the policy of making government pleasing to the people. But the widest range of this politic complaisance is confined within the limits of justice. I would not only consult the interest of the people, but I would cheerfully gratify their humours. We are all a sort of children, that must be soothed and managed. I think I am not austere or formal in my nature. I would bear, I would even myself play my part in, any innocent buffooneries, to divert them. But I never will act the tyrant for their amusement. If they will mix malice in their sports, I shall never consent to throw them any living, sentient creature whatsoever, no, not so much as a kitling, to torment.
Edmund Burke: Speech at Bristol Previous to the Election, Sept. 6, 1780.
You would have had a protected, satisfied, laborious, and obedient people, taught to seek and to recognize the happiness that is to be found by virtue in all conditions,in which consists the true moral equality of mankind, and not in that monstrous fiction which, by inspiring false ideas and vain expectations into men destined to travel in the obscure walk of laborious life, serves only to aggravate and embitter that real inequality which it never can remove, and which the order of civil life establishes as much for the benefit of those whom it must leave in an humble state as those whom it is able to exalt to a condition more splendid, but not more happy. You had a smooth and easy career of felicity and glory laid open to you, beyond anything recorded in the history of the world; but you have shown that difficulty is good for man.
But where popular authority is absolute and unrestrained, the people have an infinitely greater, because a far better founded, confidence in their own power. They are themselves in a great measure their own instruments. They are nearer to their objects. Besides, they are less under responsibility to one of the greatest controlling powers on earth, the sense of fame and estimation. The share of infamy that is likely to fall to the lot of each individual in public acts is small indeed: the operation of opinion being in the inverse ratio to the number of those who abuse power. Their own approbation of their own acts has to them the appearance of a public judgment in their favour. A perfect democracy is therefore the most shameless thing in the world. As it is the most shameless, it is also the most fearless. No man apprehends in his person that he can be made subject to punishment.
It is humiliating for us who form the mass of mankind that the people furnish the most detestable examples of wickedness and phrenzy in the tyrannic abuse of power, and that persons of royal birth and place, who in their prosperity were patterns of gentleness, moderation, and benignity, in their adversity furnish the world with the most glorious examples of fortitude, and supply our annals with martyrs and heroes.
Edmund Burke: To the Comte dArtois (Charles X.), Nov. 6, 1793.
As to those whom they suffer to die a natural death, they do not permit them to enjoy the last consolations of mankind, or those rights of sepulture which indicate hope, and which mere Nature has taught to mankind, in all countries, to soothe the afflictions and to cover the infirmity of mortal condition. They disgrace men in the entry into life, they vitiate and enslave them through the whole course of it, and they deprive them of all comfort at the conclusion of their dishonoured and depraved existence.
The only popularity worth aspiring after is a peaceful popularitythe popularity of the heartthe popularity that is won in the bosom of families and at the side of death-beds. There is another, a high and a far-sounding popularity, which is indeed a most worthless article, felt by all who have it most to be greatly more oppressive than gratifying,a popularity of stare, and pressure, and animal heat, and a whole tribe of other annoyances which it brings around the person of its unfortunate victim,a popularity which rifles home of its sweets, and by elevating a man above his fellows places him in a region of desolation, where the intimacies of human fellowship are unfelt, and where he stands a conspicuous mark for the shafts of malice, and envy, and detraction,a popularity which, with its head among storms, and its feet on the treacherous quicksands, has nothing to lull the agonies of its tottering existence but the hosannahs of a drivelling generation.
The mob, like the ocean, is very seldom agitated without some cause superior and exterior to itself; but (to continue the simile) both are capable of doing the greatest mischief after the cause which first set them in motion has ceased to act.
From the total abolition of the popular power may be dated the ruin of Rome: for had the reducing hereof to its ancient condition, as proposed by Agrippa, been accepted instead of Mæcenass model, that state might have continued unto this day.
The history of Monmouth would alone suffice to refute the imputation of inconstancy which is so frequently thrown on the common people. The common people are sometimes inconstant; for they are human beings. But that they are inconstant as compared with the educated classes, with aristocracies, or with princes, may be confidently denied. It would be easy to name demagogues whose popularity has remained undiminished while sovereigns and parliaments have withdrawn their confidence from a long succession of statesmen . The charge which may with justice be brought against the common people is, not that they are inconstant, but that they almost invariably choose their favourite so ill that their constancy is a vice and not a virtue.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: History of England, ch. v.
I wish popularity; but it is that popularity which follows, not that which is run after; it is that popularity which, sooner or later, never fails to do justice to the pursuit of noble ends by noble means. I will not do that which my conscience tells me is wrong upon this occasion, to gain the huzzas of thousands, or the daily praise of all the papers which come from the press: I will not avoid doing what I think is right, though it should draw on me the whole artillery of libels; all that falsehood and malice can invent or the credulity of a deluded populace can swallow.
Lord Chief-Justice Mansfield: On the Outlawry of John Wilkes, June 8, 1768: Lord Campbells Chief Justices, ii. 463: Life of Lord Mansfield. See also Lord Broughams Statesmen, i. 121.
It has been imputed to me by the noble Earl [Chatham] on my left hand that I, too, am running the race of popularity. If the noble Earl means by popularity the applause bestowed by after-ages on good and virtuous actions, I have long been struggling in that race,to what purpose all-trying time can alone determine: but if he means that mushroom popularity which is raised without merit and lost without crime, he is much mistaken. I defy the noble Earl to point out a single action in my life where the popularity of the times ever had the smallest influence upon my determination. I thank God I have a more permanent and steady rule for my conduct,the dictates of my own breast. Those who have foregone that pleasing adviser, and given up their minds to the slavery of every popular impulse, I sincerely pity: I pity them still more if vanity leads them to mistake the shouts of a mob for the trumpet of Fame. Experience might inform them that many who have been saluted with the huzzas of a crowd one day have received its execrations the next; and many who, by the fools of their own times, have been held up as spotless patriots, have, nevertheless, appeared on the historians page, when truth has triumphed over delusion, the assassins of liberty. Why, then, can the noble Earl think I am ambitious of present popularity,that echo of flattery and counterfeit of renown?
Lord Chief-Justice Mansfield: In the House of Lords, May 9, 1770: 16 Parl. Hist., 974978: Lord Campbells Chief Justices, ii. 475.
In their [a body of commons] results we have sometimes found the same spirit of cruelty and revenge, of malice and pride, the same blindness and obstinacy and unsteadiness, the same ungovernable rage and anger, the same injustice, sophistry, and fraud, that ever lodged in the breast of any individual.