Burke, Edmund

12 January 1729 - 9 July 1797

The Irish writer and political philosopher Edmund Burke is these days best known as the author of Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) [578K], a landmark conservative defense of tradition, monarchy, and authority. But it's an earlier work that earns him a place in the Gothic tradition. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, particularly its discussion of sublimity, is a founding document of Gothic aesthetics which had a huge impact on the "classical" Gothic and on all the genres which developed from it. The Enquiry (and the extensive aesthetic debate it engendered) helped provide a vocabulary — psychological as well as aesthetic and rhetorical — for writers interested in extending the late eighteenth-century's burgeoning interest in emotion and human psychology. By foregrounding the role and power of aesthetic concepts — and their psychological mechanisms and impact — such as the sublime and the picturesque, Burke's work influenced, directly or indirectly, writers such as Charlotte Smith and Ann Radcliffe, whose influence on the Gothic was immense. A full comprehension of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Gothicism requires some understanding of Burke's important essay and its influence.

  Edmund Burke
Burke deathmask
Laurence Hutton Collection of Life and Death Masks
Princeton U Library
Biographical note
[BBC History]
Biographical essay
[David Williams, U Sheffield, Literary Encyclopedia]
Biographical note
Biographical note
[The History Guide]
Edmund Burke this link opens a new window
Brief biographical and political overview. [J. H. Smeenge, From Revolution to Reconstruction .HTML Project]
Brief overview
[Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th edition, 2001; Bartleby.com]
Biographical note
Emphasizes Burke's political philosophy. [BluePete]
Brief biographical note a LitGothic etext
[John W. Cousins, A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910]
[National Portrait Gallery, London]

A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful
First published in 1757; a slightly expanded 2nd edition was issued in 1759, and is typically the edition most cited today.
- complete text [Bartleby]
- selections from the 1759 (2nd) edition [Michael Gamer, UPenn]
- selections [The Gothic Experience, Lilia Melani, CUNY - Brooklyn College]
-- see also Edmund Burke's On the Sublime
Brief discussion of Burke's theorizing of the sublime. [Victorian Web, Brown]
-- Edmund Burke on the Sublime
Series of brief extracts illustrating Burke's theory of the sublime. [W. W. Norton]
-- for more on the sublime, see The Sublime page here at LitGothic.
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"Edmund Burke."