Page images

Such was the farewell letter of Lord Sidmouth, it gave the Irish people advice; of the actual redress of their grievances, it said not a word. It recommended that, which was impossible, a very appropriate recommendation from a monarch. It advised peace and union, but upon what manner those desirable events were to be brought about, not an intimation was given. The Sidmouths were in office, those antidotes to every thing that was enlightened or liberal; in vain was the eloquent tongue of O'Connell heard from Cape Clear to the northernmost point of the island, he even for a time forbore to tell his countrymen of their grievances—for once he relied on a royal promise. In despite of all past experience, the Catholic body were for a time deceived. They clung for months afterwards to the wretched delusion, they had listened to the voice of royalty, and they found it was only that of a baneful wizard luring them to their destruction. The eye of O'Connell was however upon them-he had it is true, offered the calumet of peace in the name of the Irish Catholics. It was most graciously received, but O'Connell was not perhaps courtier enough at the time to see that the “gracious reception" of royalty is but another word for contempt. In his person, he was promised the redress of all the grievances of his Catholic brethren and that promise, like the oil thrown upon the waves, for a time smoothened the fury of popular emotion, and the aurora of a brighter day shone upon the hitherto benighted people of Ireland. But still no change took place—the patriot king of England had returned to the palaces of his fathers, to his sycophants and his prostitutes; the men, who had coerced Ireland, who had ruled it with the iron rod of a Timos, were continued in office ; the same destructive and uncompromising measures were pursued by the same men, who as men were insignificant, who as politicians were impotent. Nothing wa: done to raise the Catholics; nothing was done to depress their enemies. The letter of the king, a mere state engine to hoodwink the people, was regarded as a mere idle proclamation to suit a temporary purpose. The Protestant laughed at the credulity of the Catholic, and with the habitual scorn in his brow, resumed his ancient ascendency; the Catholic ashamed and indignant at the deception, sunk at once into his former lethargy.

These disappointments, but much more the discord, which had been bequeathed by the veto quarrel, and the weakness which ensued on the secession of the aristocracy, kept the Catholics for some time longer altogether sunk in this miserable state of despondency. They felt they had been duped and debased, and the consciousness of their feebleness and degradation closely adhered to them. All meetings ceased, the very voice of complaint was scarcely heard; a universal torpor prevailed; every one seemed to have despaired of his country. It was then, if ever, since the formation of their committees that the Catholics had attained that perfect state of temperance and moderation, which has been so frequently recommended to them by friend and enemy. Nothing contributed to break it for two entire years; neither petition, nor remonstrance, nor speech, nor assembly of any note was beard of. The entire body seemed to have relapsed into their ancient sluggishness, and to have surrendered their cause to the arbitration of blind chance or the choice and convenience of their enemies. It was a wretched and successful policy. Nothing was demanded, and nothing was given, the gentry continued degraded, the people continued oppressed. It was made clear to the capacity of every man, that something more than mere passive submission to injury was requisite to work out the liberation of a country. It was made clear that nothing, but that prevailing cry, which goes up from members bound indissolubly together by the same invisible and invincible chain, the idem velle, the idem nolle, the idem sentire de republica, was alone capable of plucking down from the grasp of the ascendency, the rights of an oppressed people. But many days passed before the great work was attempted; it was a strange concurrence of circumstances; it was almost an accident, which suggested it.

The grand defect of all previous efforts had been the constant absence of every arrangement, which could embrace the people, the manner in which the committees had been con

stituted was indeed popular; the members, as we have seen, were directed to be chosen at meetings of the parishes, but this was a mere dead letter; in general, the choice was left to the gentry themselves. The people beyond their occasional attendance at an aggregate meeting, seemed to take little interest in Catholic affairs. Not indeed, that they did not fully feel the grievances which oppressed them, but that they attributed those grievances to an erroneous cause; they did not trace the waters of bitterness to their spring; they feebly attempted to dam out by local resistance the sweeping tides, and sent them only from their own lands, to the lands of their neighbours. The people were therefore in the first instance to be instructed in the true nature and the original causes of their wrong; this instruction was to be judiciously communicated, and the results brought to bear in mass against the common oppressions of the country. A plan, which could fully effect this, and at the same time even back the aristocracy, and reconcile them to the pretensions of their former antagonists, the middle classes of the community, had some chance of finally achieving the emancipation of Ireland. But to conceive such a plan, and still more to reduce it from theory to practice required a mind of very peculiar temperament. It required the ardour of youth and the sagacity of age, a nature which could delight in obstacle, which could draw strength from opposition, which could triumph over time and defy delay. It required a man who feared, if not respected by the aristocracy, applauded by the citizens, should be idolized by the people; a man who could touch with a spell most congenial to each, all those adverse and oftentimes conflicting notions. It required the audacious disdain of secondary considerations, the adventurous spirit of a fanatic; the intrepidity of a successful commander ; the deep insight into his materials and resources of an experienced general. It required a man, who co.Id view Irish interests through Ireland, who essentially Irish himself, knew where the national heart really lay, and could bend or drive it to every purpose; a man, the reflection of the men on whom be had to act; the representative of their feelings, the organ

of their desires, the speaker of their passions, and the reckless flatterer at times of their prejudices, with an eloquence, not of the schools only, but of the fields, not for one class, but for all; a man doing what he recommended, and completing in the tedious details of the committee, what he had impetuously and often imperiously carried in the debate. Such a man, happily for the freedom and safety of the country, existed. Such a man was Daniel O'Connell; he had the fortune to conceive, and the resolution to execute. The Catholic Association arose before him.

But the resurrection of this body, which called so soon together, as in the version of the prophets, the scattered bones of the former association; a body strong, portentous, powerful, with sway which might be turned with the same facility to blessings and to curses, was not so suddenly accomplished. The spirits were, indeed, called up from the vasty deep, but they did not 80 soon obey the bidding when they were so called.

Mr. O' Connell and Mr. Shiel met, by accident, in the year 1823, in the house of a common friend, among the mountains of Wicklow : and there it was resolved to make a brave attempt to rouse the feelings of the Roman Catholic people of Ireland. Accordingly, they prepared a circular address, which was sent to some of the most influential gentlemen of their body. The success of this attempt was, at first not very flattering: the call was answered by few. Out of those few, however, who did respond, was formed the Catholic Association. Rules and regulations were framed, of which the essential parts were that the Association was “formed to adopt all such legal and constitutional measures as may be most useful to obtain Catholic emancipation. That the Association is not a representative or deliberate body; and that it will not assume any representative or delegated authority or quality; and that such individuals as shall give in their names to the secretary, and pay an annual subscription of £1. 2s. 9d. be members." The following account of the first meeting of the Association, so formed, is taken from the Dublin Evening Post ; its insignificant length, and the little attention apparently paid to the

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »