The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography of Edmund Burke

Conor Cruise O'Brien. The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography of Edmund Burke (University of Chicago Press, 1992).


Can this book properly be described as a biography? It is certainly nor a conventional biography, but it is a complete biography, extending from the circumstances – key Burkean word – of the subject’s birth in Ireland to those of his death in Beaconsfield, and taking in, in between, all the main events and circumstances of his education career and compositions. His personal life, apart from politics, was uneventful, his family relations happy, until the untimely death of the only one of his children who lived to maturity, Richard, three years before his own death. The centre of Edmund Burke’s interests was political, and any biography of him has to be mainly political. The present one proceeds along the paths determined by its four themes, but it necessarily takes in, at every stage, the relation of his activities and utterances, concerning each theme, to their precise contexts in the British parliamentary politics of which he is part. British domestic politics are seen, how· ever, always in their wider context of the momentous unrolling of international politics in the age of the American and French Revolutions. The idea is that British domestic politics must not be lost to view, but neither must Edmund Burke be lost to view, among the detai ls of British domestic politics.