« PreviousContinue »
ter, which afterwards so peculiarly belonged to him. He instituted a comparison between the causes which led to the revolution of France, and the grievances by which his own country was oppressed, and although in their nature they were dissimilar, yet with the flame of patriotism burning within him, he saw that the means were within his grasp by which, gradually and peaceably, those grievances could be redressed, and the honour, the prosperity, and the political independence of his country established. He was then,
He was then, it is true, living in a country, in which, according to La Fayette, who was one of the chief promoters of the French Revolution, insurrection was one of the most sacred of all duties, which declaration was echoed by the revolution society of London, which on the 5th of December 1792 came to the determination that they felt an agreeable sensation in beholding that this right of insurrection had been successfully exercised in so large a country as that of France.
It was impossible at that time to be a resident in France, without being more or less involved in the vortex of revolutiorary warfare. There was scarcely a medium known in the opinions of men, nor was it scarcely possible to conceal what those opinions were. O'Connell saw the altars of his religion profaned and desecrated by a band of infuriated wretches, and a struggle arose within him, between a hatred of the causes which led to those excesses, and the means that were adopted for their extinction. With the principle firmly established in his mind, that the crown is held for the benefit of the people, he could aot look on as a passive spectator upon the momentous scenes which were passing around him, and not feel some bursts of a patriotic spirit, overcoming every barrier which prejudice or antiquated customs might have thrown in his way, and directing his mind to the consideration of the political condition in which his native country was then placed. Every day demonstrated to him more clearly that the then unnatural order of things could not exist long, and in the high enthusiasm of his spirit, he saw that the period was fast approaching, when his country was to be rescued from its present degraded and wretched condition. By degrees, the information crept through the portals of his cloistered residence, of the associations of his countrymen in the metropolis of France for the avowed purpose of emancipating their country from the galling and oppressive yoke of the English government. Of the full extent of the machinations of these men, he was fortunately not fully apprised, or otherwise impelled by the ardour of his patriotism, he might have found himself involved in those proceedings, which ultimately brought some of them to the scaffold. Perhaps at no period of European history, were the times so peculiarly calculated for the formation of a great political character, as that when O'Connell first entered upon the stage of active life, In England, ministers had by a long course of prodigality and wasteful expenditure, reduced this once happy country to the most abject misery and want, They had squandered away millions of money, and shed oceans of blood in prosecuting a most cruel and unjust warfare against the liberties of mankind, wherever the spirit of freedom had manifested itself. They had ever been prompt in the subjection of it, and in order to effect their diabolical purpose more effectually, they leagued with the other tyrants of Europe to annihilate liberty, and to persecute all, who bad the boldness to resist them. England, once the proud, the happy, and the free was held up to the execration of every enlightened state of Europe, and the odious acts of the British government were reprobated by every honest individual. The utility of kings became a questionable subject. O'Connell had seen one throne fall around him, and he had heard the storm growling at a distance, which threatened the subversion of another. Whatever his traducers may say to the contrary, O'Connell was always attached, even from his earliest years to royalty, but he was one of those, who expect something more from a monarch than those airy, unsubstantial pageants, feasts, balls, and exhibitions, fishing in Virginia waters, and hunting after Dutch pictures with copper saucepans in them, in the puerile admiration of which, they would fain be kings themselves, but are mere images and shadows. O'Connell had read in Plutarch, in his .ife of Themistocles, that when Demaratus desired of Artaxerxes that he might be permitted to go in procession through Sardis with a diadem on his head, one of the king's cousin's whispered in his ear, the “ diadem,” my good friend, “ does not carry brains with it to cover, nor would you be Jupiter, were you even to take hold of his thunder."
The study of history formed no secondary part of the education of Mi. O'Connell, and by the aid of the knowledge acquired in that study, he was enable to trace the rise and fall of emperors, and particularly the paramount influence which the moral character of the sovereign has upon the people, whom he governs. With every disposition to allow a monarch, full latitude in some particular branches of his government, there were others, over which, it behoved the people to keep a perpetual control, a relaxation of which had been the cause of the anarchy and rebellion by which he was surrounded. The despotism and the bigoted prejudices of a king, had exposed the fairest portion of Europe to rapine, murder, sacrilege, and every species of moral excess; and this was a picture which O'Connell could not be made to consider as one that ought to be the representative of a king. In his opinion a true king is like a statue personifying power, glory, and virtue, standing on a pyramid.* His smiles confer honour; his familiarities, pleasure; his protection, power; and his generusity, wealth, influence, and rank. And yet, Seleurus declared, that no man who knew the weight of a sceptre, before he attempted to raise it, would stoop two inches to pick it up. Montaigne, however, in the insolence of philosophy, presumed to assert, that there was little more trouble in governing a kingdom, than in ruling a house, and it must be confessed that in most houses, as in most kingdoms, there is trouble enough.
The station of a monarch abounds in honours, trusts, lux
* We daily behold the statue of the son of a king perched on a pyramid, which personisies neither power, glory, nor virtue, but their reverse, vice, im. morality, licentiousness and debauchery. How deeply steeped in stupidity and folly most a people be who can allow such a monument to disfigure their country,
eries, and duties, but monarchs themselves acquire melancholy experiences of human infirmity. What an abject conception, too, are they fated to have of human nature. Their duty consists in encouraging virtue, learning and knowledge; advancing happiness and causing the human mind to expand and aspire. But, sensible of their duties, their practice is often that of compulsion, from the obstacles, perpetually thrown in their way; the baseness of the instruments they seem often constrained to employ; the ignorance of facts, which to them only are secrets ; the deceits, daily practised upon their judgments, and the libels and calumnies, which every moment are vented against them, by titled as well as untitled ignorance, insolence, misconception and malevolence.
Reveraque metus hominum, curæque sequaces,
With the knowledge that it was the fashion, not only with the political, but the personal enemies of Mr. O'Connell, at almost every period of his life, to represent him as inimical to royalty, and inclining greatly to republicanism, we have thus entered into an exposition of his opinions on that most prominent of all political questions, at the same time that it is pleasing to rescue his character from one of those groundless assertions, which political animosity has been so industriously employed in circulating to his prejudice.
His foreign education being completed, Mr. O'Connell returned to his native country, but as he had selected the profession of a lawyer for his future advancement in life, he was under the necessity of undergoing the formality so inconvenient to Irishmen of studying that profession in England, and therefore it was at the Middle Temple in London, where he betook himself to the investigation of the jejune intricacies of the crafty science of the law. As a Roman Catholic, he found many ob
stacles thrown in his way, which the overbearing protestant ascendency had in the plenitude of its intoleration craftily and subtilely devised, to exclude the members of the church of Rome from any participation in an enjoyment of those rights and privileges, to which as British subjects they were entitled. Mr. O'Connell however, to use the phraseology of the gentlemen of the bar, kept his terms, or in other words, he daily presented himself at the dinner table, during the continuation of the law terms, which is, also called eating your mutton, of which according to the rules of the enlightened body of lawyers, a certain number of legs must be swallowed, before the student is considered a fit and proper person to be called to the bar.* Having gone through the requisite exercises and examinations, Mr. O'Connell was in the Easter term of 1798 admitted to the Irish bar.
The time of his admission was singularly auspicious. The bar in Ireland had just been opened to the Catholic pleaders, and although they were promised at the opening, no higher than the minor honours of the profession, it was impossible for a mind of Mr. O'Connell's ardour and resolution, to be persuaded that by the time he was qualified to rise, the opportunities of rising would not present itself before him. This hope was for a time disappointed, but he had many gratifying considerations to support him under the disappointment. It was not in the nature of Mr. O'Connell to despair of anything upon which his heart is set as an undoubted right, and on which he could employ his hand with freedom to make good. He anticipated the desired opening, that the courts of Irish law, as well as the government and the Church, would be goaded by efforts like his own to mature, and perfect tolerance. But while this consummation tarried, he had the suffrage of others, as well as the perfect consciousness of his own mind; that he stood al
* The ridiculous ceremony which is practised at the Hall of the Honourable Society of Grays Inn, on the admission of a member, can only be compared to the farce which is enacted by the Koights of St. John of Jerusalem, who inTest the newly created knight with the right to all their vast estates in Europe and Asia, provided he can find out whereabouts they are situated.