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4 - Burke And Paine: Contrasts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2011

Pamela Clemit
Affiliation:
University of Durham
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Summary

The confrontation between Burke and Paine in the 1790s has been called ‘probably the greatest joust in the lists of political philosophy that Great Britain ever witnessed’. This comment by a modern political historian echoes Burke's metaphor of chivalric combat, memorably applied in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) to prospective defenders of the French royal family but then used in an ironic sense by his antagonists to characterize Burke's own crusade against the forces of revolution in Britain. Those forces took many shapes, especially in Burke's increasingly paranoiac imagination, but his most dangerous and influential adversary was undoubtedly Paine, and the quarrel between them was seen by contemporary observers, as it is today, as a paradigm of the whole Revolution controversy. Not only did Burke and Paine stake out the two fundamental alternatives in any revolutionary situation – to support radical change or to oppose it – but they did so in terms that transformed the nature of political discourse, altering its language and forms. Within months of the publication of Paine's reply to the Reflections, the two parts of Rights of Man (1791, 1792), pamphlets were appearing with titles like Paine and Burke Contrasted, or An Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain (1792), wording indicative both of the self-consciousness of the Revolution debate (it was, in part, a polemic on polemic itself) and of the extent to which the war of ideas had become personalized. Reading Burke and Paine, and choosing between them, was a defining experience of the 1790s, and the Burke–Paine binary helped to shape the dualistic mindset of literary Romanticism as it did the broader political culture of post-1789 Britain.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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  • Burke And Paine: Contrasts
  • Edited by Pamela Clemit, University of Durham
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to British Literature of the French Revolution in the 1790s
  • Online publication: 28 July 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521516075.004
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  • Burke And Paine: Contrasts
  • Edited by Pamela Clemit, University of Durham
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to British Literature of the French Revolution in the 1790s
  • Online publication: 28 July 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521516075.004
Available formats
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To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Burke And Paine: Contrasts
  • Edited by Pamela Clemit, University of Durham
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to British Literature of the French Revolution in the 1790s
  • Online publication: 28 July 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521516075.004
Available formats
×