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Mr. Phillips speaks of seeing him, late in life, on board a Holyhead packet in a storre, absorbed in the Æneid, while every one around was deadly sick; and in the last journey he ever took, Horace and Virgil were still, as in early life, his traveling companions. He was also distinguished at college for his love of metaphysical inquiries and subtle disquisition. He showed great ingenuity in the discussion of subjects ; and his companions were so much struck with his dexterity and force on a certain occasion, that they declared, with one consent, that “the bar, and the bar alone, was the proper profession for the talents of which he had that day given such striking “He accepted the omen,” says
his " and never after repented of his decision."'!
Having completed his college course, and qualified himself for the degree of Mas ter of Arts, in 1773, he removed to London, and commenced the study of the law in the Middle Temple. Here he was supported in part by a wealthy friend, but his life in London was a hard one.” He spent his mornings, as he states, “in reading even to exhaustion,” and the rest of the day in the more congenial pursuits of litera ture, and especially in unremitted efforts to perfect himself as a speaker. His voice was bad, and his articulation so hasty and confused, that he went among his schoolfellows by the name of " stuttering Jack Curran.” His manner was awkward, his gesture constrained and meaningless, and his whole appearance calculated only to produce laughter, notwithstanding the evidence he gave of superior abilities. All these faults he overcame by severe and patient labor. Constantly on the watch against bad habits, he practiced daily before a glass, reciting passages from Shakspeare, Junius, and the best English orators. He frequented the debating societies, which then abounded in London; and though mortified at first by repeated failures, and ridiculed by one of his opponents as “ Orator Mum,” he surmounted every difficulty. " He turned his shrill and stumbling brogue," says one of his friends, “ into a flexible, sustained, and finely-modulated voice; his action became free and forcible, he acquired perfect readiness in thinking on his legs ;" he put down every opponent by the mingled force of his argument and wit, and was at last crowned with the universal applause of the society, and invited by the president to an entertainment in their behalf. Well might one of his biographers say, “ His oratorical training was as severe as any Greek ever underwent."
Mr. Curran married during his residence in London, with but little accession to his fortune, and, returning soon after to Ireland, commenced the practice of the law in Dublin, at the close of 1775. He soon rose into business, because he could not do without it; verifying the remark of Lord Eldon, that some barristers succeed by great talents, some by high connections, some by miracle, but the great majority by commencing without a shilling." Within four years, he gained an established reputation and a lucrative practice; and at this time, 1779, he united with Mr. Yel. verton, afterward Lord Avonmore, in forming a Society, called “The Monks of the Order of St. Patrick,” embracing a large part of the wit, literature, eloquence, and public virtue of the metropolis of Ireland. From the title familiarly given its members of the “Monks of the Screw,” it has been supposed by many to have been chiefly a drinking-club. So far was this from being the case, that, by an express regulation, every thing stronger than beer was excluded from the meeting. " It was a union,”
1 Mr. Curran's feelings toward Mr. Boyse, who sent him to College, were expressed in a story be once told at his own table. Thirty-five years after," said he, “returning one day from court, I found an old gentleman seated in my drawing-room, with his feet on each side of the marble chim. ney-piece, and an air of being perfectly at home. He turnod-it was my friend of the ball-alley! I could not help bursting into tears. • You are right, sir, you are right! The chimney-piece is yours, the pictures are yours, the house is yours: you gave me all-my friend, my father!' He went with me to Parliament, and I saw the tears glistening in his eyes when he saw his poor little Jackey rise to answer a Right Honorable. He is gone, sir. This is his wine-let us drink his health
says one acquainted with its proceedings, “ of strong minds, brought together like electric clouds by affinity, and flashing as they joined. They met, and shone, and warmed—they had great passions and generous accomplishments, and, like all that was then good in Ireland, they were heaving for want of freedom." Nearly thirty years after, when the angry politics of the day had thrown Lord Avonmore and his friend into hostile parties, so that they were no longer on speaking terms, Mr. Curran adverted to the meetings of this society in arguing a case before Lord Avonmore, as Chief Baron of the Exchequer, in a manner which was deeply interesting to those who witnessed it. After delicately alluding to his Lordship, as differing from the Chief Justice of England on a point of law, and as having "derived his ideas from the purest fountains of Athens and Rome,” Mr. Curran expressed his hope that such would be the decision of the court, embracing as it did members of the soļ iety referred to. “And this soothing hope,” said he, “I draw from the dearest and tenderest recollections of my life—from the remembrance of those Attic nights, and those refections of the gods, which we have spent with those admired, and respected, and beloved companions who have gone before us; over whose ashes the most precious tears of Ireland have been shed. [Here Lord Avonmore became so much affected chat he could not refrain from tears.] Yes, my good Lord, I see you do not forget them. I see their sacred forms passing in sad review before your memory. I see your pained and softened fancy recalling those happy meetings, where the innocent enjoyment of social mirth became expanded into the nobler warmth of social virtue, and the horizon of the board became enlarged into the horizon of man-where the swelling heart conceived and communicated the pure and generous purpose—where my slenderer and younger taper imbibed its borrowed light from the more matured and redundant fountain of yours. Yes, my Lord, we can remember those nights without any
other regret than that they can never more return; for,
But search of deep philosophy,
Wit, eloquence, and poesy,
allowed to this sketch will not permit any minute detail of Mr. Curran's labors at the bar in public life. Nor was there any thing in either which calls for an extended notice. He was a member of the Irish House of Commons from 1783 to 1797, and entered warmly into the cause of emancipation and reform ; but he was never distinguished as a parliamentary orator. His education was forensic; his feelirgs and habits fitted him pre-eminently to act on the minds of a jury, and for more than twenty years he had an unrivaled mastery over the Irish bar. His speeches at state trials arising out of the United Irish conspiracy, were the most splendid efforts of his genius. He condemned insurrection ; but he felt that the people had been goaded to madness by the oppression of the government, and for nearly six years he tasked every effort of his being to save the victims of misguided and unsuccessful resistance. He did it at the hazard of his life. As he drove to town at this period from his residence in a neighboring village, he was in daily expectation of being shot at. The court-room was crowded with troops during some of the trials, with a view, it was believed, of intimidating the jury or the advocates of the prisoners. “ What's that?" exclaimed Mr. Curran, as a clash of arms was heard from the soldiery at the close of one of his bold denunciations of the course
• Lord Avonmore, in whose breast political resentment was easily subdued by the same noblo tenderness of feeling which distinguished Charles J. Fox upon a more celebrated occasion, could aot withstand this appeal to his art. The moment the court rose, his Lordship sent for his friend and threw himself into his arms, declaring that unworthy artifices had been used to separate them and that they should never succeed in future.
pursued by the government. Some who stood near him seemed, from their locka and gestures, about to offer him personal violence, when he fixed his eye sternly upon them, and added, “You may assassinate, but you shall not intimidate me.'" “They were not mere clients for whom he pleaded," says his biographer, " they were friends for whose safety he would have coined his blood ; they were patriots who had striven by means which he thought desperate or unsuited to himse.f for the freedom of their country. He came in the spirit of love and mercy, inspired by genius and commissioned by Heaven to walk on the waters with these patriots, and ·lend them his hand when they were sinking. He pleaded for some who, nevertheless, were slaughtered ; but was his pleading therefore in vain? Did he not convert many a shaken conscience, sustain many a frightened soul ? Did he not keep the life of genius, if not of hope, in the country? Did he not help to terrify the govern. ment into the compromise which they so ill kept? He did all this, and more. His speeches will ever remain less as models of eloquence than as examples of patriotism and undying exhortations to justice and liberty.”
In 1803 there was another attempt at insurrection, which Mr. Curran regarded with very different emotions. It was that of Robert Emmett.
Whatever we may think of the motives or the genius of this extraordinary young man, there can be but one opinion of the enterprise in which he was engaged. It was, from the first, rash and hopeless. He was just from college, with no character throughout the country to give him authority as a leader, and no experience in the conduct of affairs; hasty in his judgments, obstinate to an extreme in his resolves, and fatally deceived by weak or false advisers. The moment he began to move, the ground sunk under him. " His attempt,” as remarked by a friend of his principles, “had not the dignity of even partial success, and did a vast injury to the country." To Mr. Curran it was peculiarly afflictive, because it commenced with the murder of his old friend, Lord Chief Justice Kilwarden, in the streets of Dublin. In addition to this, Emmett had won the affections of Sarah Curran without the knowledge of her father; a correspondence between them was found among his papers; and Mr. Curran was thus brought under the suspicions of the government, was compelled to undergo the interrogatories of the Privy Council, and had the pain of being laid under obligations to the generosity of the Attorney General, while his character was exposed to obloquy, and the cause he had espoused subjected to the basest imputations from his political opponents. It is not, therefore, surprising that he refused to defend Emmett-defense was, indeed, impossible
or even to see him. Nor, perhaps, is it surprising that his feelings continued to be so much wounded at Sarah's clandestine engagement and its results, as to make her home an unhappy one ; so that she left his house, married without love, and carried her broken heart to an early grave in a foreign land. To complete his wretchedness, Mr. Curran, through the villainy of a friend. was called to suffer the severest calamity which a husband can ever endure.
The remaining events of his life can be briefly told. On the accession of the Whigs to power, under Lord Grenville, in 1806, he was appointed Master of the Rolls. But the bench was not his place. He was but poorly fitted for its duties ; and, though he discharged them with a moderate degree of ability, it was always with reluctance. To assuage the melancholy which now preyed upon him, he carried his former habits of conviviality to a still greater extent. He surrounded himself with gay companions, especially at his dinner-table ; "and when roused," says one of his biographers, “he used to run over jokes of every kind, good, bad, and indifferent. No epigram too delicate, no mimicry too broad, no pun too little, and no metaphor too bold for him. He wanted to be happy, and to make others so, and rattled away for mere enjoyment. These afternoon dinner sittings were seldom pro
• See Washington Irving's story of the Broken Heart, in his Sketch Book
longed very late ; but they made up in vehemence what they wanted in duration." But his health failed him, and in 1814 he resigned the Mastership of the Rolls. He now traveled, spending most of his time in England, but occasionally visiting Paris and other places on the Continent. In the spring of 1817, while dining with his friend, Thomas Moore, he had a slight attack of paralysis. His physician ordered him at once to the south of Europe ; and, to arrange his affairs, he went over to Ireland for the last time. He returned to London, and was attacked with apoplexy, of which he died, after lingering a few days, on the 14th of October, 1817.
Mr. Curran was short of stature, with a swarthy complexion, and “an eye that glowed like a live coal.” His countenance was singularly expressive; and, as he stood before a jury, he not only read their hearts with a searching glance, but he gave them back his own, in all the fluctuations of his feelings, from laughter to tears. His gesture was bold and impassioned ; his articulation was uncommonly distinct and deliberate ; the modulations of his voice were varied in a high degree, and perfectly suited to the widest range of his eloquence.
His power lay in the variety and strength of his emotions. He delighted a jury by his wit; he turned the court-room into a scene of the broadest farce by his humor, mimicry, or fun; he made it "a place of tears," by a tenderness and pathos which subdued every heart; he poured out his invective like a stream of lava, and inflamed the minds of his countrymen almost to madness by the recital of their wrongs. His rich and powerful imagination furnished the materials for these appeals, and his in. stinctive knowledge of the heart taught him how to use them with unfailing success. He relied greatly for effect on his power of painting to the eye; and the actual condition of the country for months during the insurrection, and after it, furnished terrific pictures for his pencil. Speaking of the ignorance which prevailed in England as to the treatment of the Irish, he said, “If you wished to convey to the mind of an English matron the horrors of that period, when, in defiance of the remonstrances of the ever-to-be-lamented Abercromby, our poor people were surrendered to the brutality of the soldiery by the authority of the state, you would vainly attempt to give her a general picture of lust, and rapine, and murder, and conflagration. By endeavoring to comprehend every thing, you would convey nothing. When the father of poetry wishes to portray the movements of contending armies and an embattled field, he exemplifies, he does not describe. So should your story to her keep clear of generalities. You should take a cottage, and place the affrighted mother with her orphan daughters at the door, the paleness of death in her face, and more than its agonies in her heart—her aching heart, her anxious ear struggling through the mist of closing day to catch the approaches of desolation and dishonor. The ruffian gang arrives—the feast of plunder begins—the cup of madness kindles in its circulationthe wandering glances of the ravisher become concentrated upon the shrinking and devoted victim. You need not dilate-you need not expatiate ; the unpolluted ma tron to whom you tell the story of horror beseeches you not to proceed ; she presses her child to her heart—she drowns it in her tears—her fancy catches more than an angel's tongue could describe ; at a single view she takes in the whole miserable succession of force, of profanation, of despair, of death. So it is in the question before us."
The faults of Mr. Curran arose from the same source as his excellences. They lay chiefly on the side of excess; intense expressions, strained imagery, overwrought passion, and descriptions carried out into too great minuteness of circumstance. But he spoke for the people ; the power he sought was over the Irish mind; and, in such a case, the cautious logic and the Attic taste of Erskine, just so far as they existed, would only have weakened the effect. There are but few parts of our country where Curran would be a safe model for the bar; but our mass meetings will be swayed most powerfully by an eloquence conceived ir the spirit of the great Irish Orator
SPEECH OF XR. CURRAN IN BEHALF OF ARCHIBALD HAMILTON ROWAN WHEN INDICTED FOR THE PUI
LICATION OF A SEDITIOUS LIBEL, DELIVERED JANUARY 23, 1794.
INTRODUCTION. MR. Rowan was a gentleman of wealth and respectability in Dublin, who acted as secretary of the Society of United Irishmen for that city. Associations under this name were now taking the place of the Irish Volunteers, who ten years before had so powerful an influence on the politics of Ireland. Their original object was to promote Catholic emancipation and a reform in Parliament. The society to which Mr. Rowan belonged was one of the earliest, and the views of its members, as stated by the son and biographer of Curran, "did not extend beyond a constitutional reform." It should not be confounded with the subsequent associations which, under the same title, aimed at a revolution.
In 1792, the government issued a proclamation against seditious associations, which was no doubt directed against the United Irishmen. The chairman of the Dublin Society, Dr. Drennan, drew up a reply addressed to the Volunteers of Ireland, and Mr. Rowan signed it as secretary. Its language was vehement and unguarded. “Citizen soldiers, to arms! Take up the shield of freedom and the pledge of peace -peace, the motive and end of your virtuous institution. War, an occasional daty, should never be your occupation; every man should become a soldier in defense of his rights." The best construction that could be put on such language, was that Ireland was again to be converted into a camp, as in 1780, for the sake of showing England that her rights and interests must not be trifled with. The construction put upon it by the government was that of a summons to prepare for insurrection, and it is not improbable that the feelings of Drennan would have led him to such a result. But Mr. Rowan, as stated by Charles Phillips, had no such intentions. “He was a man of the kindest nature, with a touch of the romantic Never was there a man less capable of crime, or more likely to commit an indiscretion. He never thought of bimself, but if he saw toward another even the semblance of oppression, at all cost and at all hazard he stood forth to redress or to resist it. He was no mere political adventurer; he was a man of large possessions; the interests of Ireland and his own were identified.” He signed this address, but be dev. er gave it circulation; the man who did distribute it, and who greatly resembled Mr. Rowan, was named Willis, and was never indicted.
Drennan and Rowan were brought before the Court of King's Bench for a seditious libel, not by a presentment of the grand jury, but by an information of the Attorney General. The former was acquitted on a mere point of form; the trial of the latter gave rise to this speech In justice to Mr. Curran, one thing should be remembered in perusing it. Mr. Rowan had given directions that his counsel should aim not so much to obtain his acquittal as to defend his principles. This accounts for the want of that close argument on the exact point at issue, which has been the chief objection to this speech. Its true title would be, A Vindication of Mr. Rowan's motives, of the Irish Volunteers, of a Free Press, and of Catholic Emancipation.
SPEECH, &c. GENTLEMEN OF THE JURY,—When I consider | most respectod families of our country-himsell Causes of em. the period at which this prosecution is the only individual of that family—I may almost in enteringnon brought forward ; when I behold the say of that country, who can look to that pessi. tho defense. extraordinary safeguard of armed sol ble fate with unconcern ? Feeling, as I do, all diers, resorted to, no doubt, for the preservation these impressions, it is in the honest simplicity of peace and order; when I catch, as I can not of my heart I speak, when I say that I never rose but do, the throb of public anxiety, which beats in a court of justice with so much embarrassmen from one end to the other of this hall; when I as upon this occasion. reflect on what may be the fate of a man of the If, gentlemen, I could entertain a hope of find. most beloved personal character, of one of the ing refuge for the disconcertion of my Otly ressure
mind in the perfect composure of yours; and justice of 1 For an account of this corps, see note 5 to Mr. if I could suppose that those awful vi. the jury
. Burke's speech previous to the Bristol election, page cissitudes of human events, which have beer 296, and the Memoir of Mr. Grattan, page 383.
* Alluding to a guard of soldiers which was brought stated or alluded to, could leave your judgments into court just at the opening of the trial. Mr. Cur- undisturbed and your hearts at ease, I know ! ran, in allading to this fact, very naturally shaped should form a most erroneous opinion of your his exordium into a beautiful resemblance to that of character. I entertain no such chimerical hopes; Cicero, in his oration for Milo.
I form no such unworthy opinions ; I expect noi