« PreviousContinue »
forbiden to visit them; one man died ; another, Mr. Ogden, the subject of merriment, has survived only to protracted agony. I pass from the subject, it is too painful to dwell upon. What was the pretence for this temporary despotism ? A plot ! a plot! hatched by two apothecaries and a lame cobler; the tower was to be stormed, and the bank plundered, and London garrisoned by a buckram army; whose treasury was a cypher, whose camp equipage was a blanket, whose ammunition chest was an old stocking, and whose park of artillery consisted of the mortar, which most rebelliously had outlived the wreck of the apothecaries. Those people were arraigned upon the evidence of a villain, all leprous with crimes, whom the event proved to be the only convict; a wretch, who, when we saw the predestined victim, and looked at the high priest, filled the mind of Ireland with terrific recollections, recalling instinctively that reign of blood, when we too had our Castles and our Olivers ; when the bribed and perjured cannibal went forth inducing the crime, that he might betray the criminal ; when neither youth, nor age, nor sex, nor innocence, could conciliate or avert those coiners of human blood, those vampires of the grave, those monsters without a name, before whose path the freshness of humanity withered, in whose accursed minds, conscience was only a commercial instrument, and friendship, treachery; and gratitude, murder; who turned this land into one scene of hell, in which the
pangs vulsions of the sufferer only stimulated the ferocious exultation of their tormentors, who crept into the family of the nearest and the dearest, courting the board, and pledging the cup, and fondling the infant, even at the very moment when they were waylaying the unguarded confidence of the parent, to devote him to the scaffold, and to rise upon his tomb.
I am shocked to ask, did the late parliament shield the employment of these ferocious and commercial cannibals? If they did not, what was the meaning of the Indemnity Bill? What difference is there between the perpetrator of a deed, and the ministers, who instigate it, and the parliament, who protect it? I can see none, I see them chained together in one com
munity of infliction, and whether I touch the highest or the lowest link, the thrill of horror is the same in its communication.
Gentlemen! I say again, if these things continue, we may bid farewell for ever to our liberties. Of what use are all our visionary safeguards? Of what use is the responsibility of ministers, if it is to depend upon the will of a Parliament, whose majority is the creature of those ministers? What avail our so celebrated laws, if they are to be thus capriciously suspended? What is our constitution with its theoretic blessings, but a practical and splendid mockery, if its noblest ornaments are to be effaced at will, and its strength turned into an engine of oppression? Oh, it is worse than fatuity in us to deceive ourselves. The tower in which we trusted, turns out at last to be but a goodly vision, fair indeed to the eye, but as false as it is fair; falling to pieces at the wand of the minister, when the forlorn people approach it for protection.
Such are my reasons for the assertion which I have made; this inference may perhaps be doubted by many, who can never see any thing, even problematical, in the basest conduct “ of the powers that be,” their existence, however, at least, is undeniable."
It is impossible to describe the sensation which some parts of this speech excited; frequently was the applause so great, as to prevent the orator from proceeding for some minutes, and at the close of it, broke forth a shout of approbation, which made the welkin ring, but struck terror and dismay into the hearts of the opposite party. In this election, however, Mr. O'Connell obtained a clear insight into the foulness of the corruption which so peculiarly distinguished the Irish elections, proceeding chiefly from the facility of the great landholders, in making 40s. freeholders; and thus bringing up a crowd of votes to the poll, sufficient to overwhelm any number which the liberal and independent party could bring against them. The great and avowed aim of the Aristocratic party was to keep the representation of Ireland in their own hands; and as the Aristocratic party and the Protestant party were the same, it required very slight discriminating powers to perceive, that until the Catholics should be put in possesssion of equal civil rights with the Protestants, no rational expectation could be formed of permanent tranquillity to Ireland. The national character of the Irish, it is true, had lately undergone as great and visible changes as that of individuals, and every man, by looking into his own breast, and taking even the most hasty retrospect of his own opinions, must be conscious of the great alterations which are taking place in his mind, as the progress of years, and occurrence of unexpected circumstances shed new light upon his experience. It was the knowledge which Mr. O'Connell possessed of the national character of his countrymen, which enabled him to accomplish those great designs, which has rendered his name so famous in history, and though nothing is more real, or better understood than national character, yet after all, it is an abstract idea of no little complexity. The general and loose notions which prevail every where concerning the characters of nations, are for the most part founded in truth, because founded on the consent and experience of mankind. But though true at bottom, and though the consent and experience of the surest guides to whom we can trust, it often happens, that there is a considerable mixture of error and prejudice to be found mingled with the popular notions. So it is with individual character. If we could collect the general sense of society, we should find that, upon the whole, individual character is pretty accurately ascertained, and we should obtain nearly the pure and unadulterated truth, strained through so many coarse mediums.
The public judge from the whole tenour of life, and a whole series of actions; they are impartial observers, and standing afar off, are less likely to form erroneous judgments, than those who by their near approach to the object, may be affected by its influence; and as they are themselves composed, be drawn within its circle, or repelled from its orbit, and their admiration or aversion may be the
result, as well of their own characters as of those which are the subject of their observation.
It may be a small thing, if an individual suffer from prejudices or mistake, time will do him justice, or will find a grave for the calumny as well as for its object. There is a term for the individual and for his sufferings, but a nation lives always, and its wrongs are perpetuated from age to age.
The value of a good character seems generally well understood in private life, and though it be thought that the rich and powerful are more independent of it, yet even in their case, it is felt to be of inestimable value. - The good name of a nation is not less worthy of care, and he is a paltry politician who would sacrifice it for a sma!), or indeed for any consideration.
Mr. O'Connell felt the truth of the above remarks, and he boldly acted up to the spirit of them. Although the shafts of calumny began to be shot at him from every quarter, the mens conscia recti was, however, in him. In the consciousness of the justice of the cause, he looked disdainfully from his strong hold, and defied the assaults of his puny antagonists. The character of his native country was in his hands, and he determined to support it, even though himself might be the victim. The foundation of his action was however the intimate knowledge which he possessed of the national character. and although the good and evil that is in character, is in a great degree the result of circumstances, over which Providence alone has controul, yet there is a national genius which predominates over all, like the hereditary peculiarities of some families, distinguished for taste or talent, for probity or folly. Mr. O'Connell was in himself at this time, an epitome of the Irish character particularly as he exhibited himself in the character of an orator, for it must be admitted that the popular writers and orators of any nation furnish a good exemplification of its character ; they are the embodied spirit of the nation, and are the voice of the people uttering the deep and sublime things shut up in the bosom of the populace.
Nations, sometimes, for a long period lose their power of utterance, and they suffer and are deeply afflicted under the dread privation, for they delight in the faculty of speech, and of holding converse with the world. Providence cannot bestow a greater blessing upon the nation, than to give it a multitude of tongues, to speak its thoughts and feelings. It is revived by the melody of its own voice, the echoes of its favorite strain speak upon every hill, and fill every valley with pleasure. The people are roused, as if one man, by the conscious community of feeling; they are enlightened by their own musings, as they ponder upon the things they themselves have uttered, and led by the mysterious faculty of speech, they find their way to greatness and prosperity.
If then we would know the genius of a people, we must attend to what they have said, and how they have spoken, and in this respect, perhaps, there is not a country which can vie with Ireland in the number and excellence of her orators. When Ireland revived, after a short breathing from the state of wretchedness and exhaustion in which her civil wars had left her, and had shaken off in her first rousings, a portion of the penal and disabling laws, which oppressed her, the spirit of the nation found utterance, and spoke with the mouths of Burke and Grattan, and Curran and Swift, in later times of O'Connell, Sheil, Plunkett and O'Gorman. Ireland has abounded with orators, good and bad; but her first race were giants; of this mighty race Burke might be considered the first, and Mr. O'Connell the last. Between these two, stood many a glorious name, resplendent with important public services. It is not ours, however, to call forth the spirits of the mighty dead, the two we have named will serve to illustrate the genius of their country. The brilliancy, the splendid magnificence of Burke, the grandeur and variety of his dazzling imagery, the rushing torrent of his thoughts, flowing and spreading into a boundless amplitude of illustration. His flight was as with the eye and the wings of the eagle of his own hills, and the plumage of the bird of paradise.