Edmund Burke 1729–97
Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, Burke came to London for a law career. He became an MP in 1765, and had a great reputation as an orator (speeches before and on the American war; on India; like Sheridan, he spoke in the impeachment of Warren Hastings). He supported liberal causes (Catholic emancipation; abolition of the slave trade) but criticised violent social change in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), his best-known political work. His literary interests appear in his friendships, as founder-member of Johnson’s Club, in his help of Crabbe, in his work for the Annual Register (which published poetry as well as records of events), and in his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). This major work of aesthetic theory explores the literary value of vastness, obscurity, terror; it extended the debate about Paradise Lost, and provided a critical background for the novelties of such works as Gray’s Odes and the Gothic novel. As opposed to the lofty, emotional sublime, the beautiful is seen as small and highly-finished.
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