« PreviousContinue »
PRIVATE AND POLITICAL
DANIEL O'CONNELL Esq. M. P.
RARELY and at long intervals in time, men arise from the great mass of human beings, who gifted by nature with a surpassing share of mental and physical power, acquire as a necessary consequence of that power, a gigantic energy of mind, a proneness to action, and a determination of purpose, which bursting through the paralyzing fetters of prejudice and custom, impel them to become the leaders of their fellow-men, in tbose aspirations towards the Heaven of knowledge and freedom, which periodically stir the human race into action, flashing over the gloom of futurity the collected lightnings of the intellect of ages.
Such men are to the moral and political philosopher, what the bold and enterprising speculator is to the scientific discoverer, for not requiring the calmness nor abstraction of the originator of a theory or a principle, they possess those equally essential capabilities of adaption and action, which enable them to convert abstraction into intelligible and popular realities. But, from their being compelled inevitably to make head against the antagonist principles, which the obstinate adherence of ignorance to its undigested acquisitions make so deeply rooted, they of necessity become the objects of the malevolence and bigoted hatred, which are its inseparable companions; and were it not for that iron
1.- VOL. I.
ness of nerve and hardened callousness to external assailants, which their incessant conflict with these discordant elements gives birth to and strengthens, they would become certain martyrs to their restless desire to prove beneficial to their kind. Every invention of slander is put in requisition to effect that destruction by surreptitious means, which in straight forward combat would not be attained, and the unarmed breast of the manly warrior is exposed to all the vile contrivances of savage warfare—the brands and the poisoned arrows. Truth, against such assailants is an aid which will but little avail him, save as an antidote to the virulence of the venom.
Perhaps no one, of the many individuals, who have in every age been the agents of the unseen originators of human improvement, has suffered more from the temporary obloquy of falsehood, than the celebrated man, who forms the subject of this memoir. As wielding the moral, if not the actual force of the mass of the Irish people in their struggle of numbers against armed power and an unholy supremacy, he necessarily became an object of intense hatred to the dominant party, who employed every insinuation against the purity of his motives, which an abused ingenuity could devise, in order to prejudice the reflecting and respectable inhabitants of England against him. This was for a time practised with too much success, aided, as it unfortunately was, by the jealousies of religious dissensions practised by jesuitical journalists to aid the unhallowed object. But although a man in good health may be temporarily blinded by having dust thrown into his eyes, those incorruptible organs, thanks be to nature, have a glorious propensity to work it out at the corners, and accordingly the fabrications with which the enemies of O'Connell contrived for a long time to deceive and mislead the English people, have at last given place to a more clear-sighted view of his situation and objects. The English nation are now so disposed towards him, that the greatest service that a lover of truth, and a friend to rational liberty can do, is to give a fair and candid statement of the real facts of his career, and an outline from his own mouth of his general principles and views.
The career of Mr. O'Connell reads a significant lesson to all who advocate the cause of the people. A short time ago his very name was a bugbear, even to liberal and enlightened English gentlemen. The people be it spoken to their honour never felt that distrust and hatred of the Irish Agitator, which so long and so powerfully influenced the more exalted and instructed of our countrymen. The extent and intensity of this hatred can never be thoroughly estimated by any one, who has not mixed in the society of english politicians.* The obloquy, the odium which at a certain period followed Mr. O'Connell in his patriotic attempts to obtain for his countrymen their emancipation from all national restrictions, and procure for them the enjoyment of those political rights which belong to a British subject, but from which they were debarred by the particular religious creed to which they are attached, would have crushed any man not endowed with the steadfast courage and extraordinary talent which distinguish Mr. O'Connell from all other public men of the present day. He is actually the ruler of Ireland. His sway over six millions of his countrymen is undivided, and almost without limit, and yet so great were the intolerance and bigotry of a particular party, styling themselves, though falsely, the supporters of the church and state, that when he made his appearance amongst the soidisant representatives of the people, contempt, scorn, and hatred were in every possible shape and means exhibited towards him. To hear the private conversation and the suppressed exclamations of these persons, one would have been led to believe that a felon, that a man bringing the plague and pestilence with him, had found his way into the house, that some wretched being, tainted with every crime, and disgraced by every evil propensity had crept in amongst them, to contaminate by his presence the purity of their proceedings, and
• An anecdote related to us by a very distinguished soldier, marks very pointedly the feeling not long since prevalent respecting Mr. O'Connel!. He told us that on meeting an old acquaintance, whom he had not seen for some time, his friend said, Where do you come from? The answer was, I have just come from Mr. O'Connell. Did you shake hands with him ? was the next inquiry. Yes. With which hand ? With my right, Then shake my hand with your left.
to wrest from them every claim, which in their iniatuation, they supposed they possessed to the regard and confidence of the country. When he rose to speak of the wrongs of his countrymen, shouts of derision, laughs cf utter contempt, noisy interruptions, vulgar abuse, and violent threats and denunciations attended all he said. He has lived, and short indeed has been the time, to see himself the first man in that assembly; to see his authority looked up to and respected, and to see the ministry of the day actually depending for their existence upon his countenance and support. The very Whigs, who raved at and insulted him, now court and applaud him; in place of the laugh and the contemptuous shout, respectful attention and enthusiastic plaudits wait upon bis words. In Ireland and by the force of Ireland, he has long been, what the French call une puissance, a power by himself. To enlarge and strengthen this already formidable influence, the sanction and approbation of the multitudes of England and Scotland are gradually being added to the almost idolatrous worship of the Irish. No man in our days ever wielded such a power, no man, be it in justice said, ever so well deserved to wield it.
What is the secret of this extraordinary success? In what consists the charm by which Mr. O'Connell wins his way into the hearts of men ? Others have equalled him in ability, many have surpassed him in acquirements, some few, very few, indeed, have been able to cope with him in debate, how then does it happen, that no one has yet arrived at the same unbounded influence ?
The secret, and let it be well remembered is, that Mr. O Connell has never deceived his countrymen. Through times of dismay and discord, in good report and bad report, in the time of trial and the hour of trouble, the people have ever found him their steadfast advocate. He has faults, the faults of his countrymen, the faults of a rhetorician, but the people forget them in the recollection, that amidst all his mistakes, his wild and inconsistent statements, to them he has ever been true. He has kept one end always in view, the redress of his country's wrongs. He has allowed no private feelings, interest, or predilections to interfere with that end. He has sacrificed every thing to the attainment of that one great object. He has become the friend of those he has denounced; he has united himself with those, who have scorned and bitterly insulted him; he has forgotten his private wrongs, when the public good required it; he has put by old enmity, he has thrown aside strong and long-nurtured prejudices, he has given up long-cherished opinions, and long-favoured projects, every thing, in short, has been made to yield to the one great leading purpose of his life, the redressing of the grievances of Ireland. Well may he exclaim, “I am the advocate of my country.” So he is, and being so, he hesitates not in its cause to assume the character of the advocate and forgets all things, but the success of his client. This is the key to all his conduct, it will account for his discrepancies, his exaggerations, his misstatements. He is an advocate, Ireland's advocate, and pleads her cause, as if she were his client.
Such devotion to his country's cause, necessarily won him the hearts of his countrymen. In aid of this devotion, he brought an eloquence unrivalled at the present time and almost, if not quite, equalling that of the great masters of antiquity. Simple, plain, business-like, exquisitely natural, vehement, even as a man is vehement in his own cause, and in private life. Nothing appears studied or premeditated, nothing appears done for oratoric effect, and nothing is sacrificed to disolay. His knowledge, however, is not equal to his style and manner , in many things he has yet to acquire the very elements of political science; but he always by a sort of happy intuition seizes the real question in debate; with one blow he beats down the opposing fallacy, and with almost preternatural facility builds up his arguments upon its ruins. This wonderful power has conquered the opposition of the House of Commons. His opponents listen, in spite of themselves; in trembling they acknowledge his superiority, and curse their stars for having given them such an enemy.
These qualities have made Mr. O'Connell the idol of his countrymen. Whether the same mode of employing his abilities