Page images

not then been so frequent, nor so numerously attended as they have been since; they required two or three such abettors and advocates as himself, and he was amongst the most efficient in promoting this increase, and the increase of both their orators and audience. How differently must a speaker feel when addressing a jury from the bar, and a popular assembly from the platform ; when pleading in the court of justice, the cause of some individual whom, in his heart, he thinks or knows to be guilty, and maintaining in a public room the interests of a community to which he is inviolably attached, and its claims to liberties, which he deems unjustly withheld, ani which he is sworn by every means in his power to recover. The technic cality, etiquette, and restraint of the one sphere of action must be thraldom to which the acquisition of a fortune or a strong sense of duty can alone enable such a man to submit, while the glow and range, the latitude and liberty of the other, must raise him above himself, and make him wish for this exclusive occupation.

It has has been said of a distinguished barrister of this country, who sometimes exerts his eloquence in the public meetings of benevolent institutions, that whenever he does so, the orator wants releasing from his legal armour. We have heard the individual from the platform of Freemasons Hall, and have thought him too fearful that his gown and wig were still upon him. Even the present Lord Abinger, who when at the bar was the least stiff and formal of modern pleaders, was evidently too much so, for speaking with perfect freedom and acceptance, when but at the bar. In fact, there can be but few individuals of this profession capable on unofficial occasions of completely divesting themselves of professional restraint, either with regard to action or speech. Lord Brougham is perhaps as striking an instance as we have in England, and Mr. O'Connell is a still more perfect example in Ireland.

However disinterested may be a man's struggle in behalf of his country or any body of suffering men, his own situation generally suggests to him the existence of the injustice and its extent. The profits of his profession lay in the way of

Mr. O'Connell, but the gate to its honours was closed, and he had to see inferior men, his contemporaries or liis juniors acquiring before him the great object of the ambition of the lawyers. It is natural that whether he wished to enjoy these or not, he keenly felt the law, which made him a member of an inferior class of men, who dared not aspire to them, and thus all he felt and saw around him, prompted a man possessed of a disposition not easily swerved from its purpose, to engage early in the task of preparing to battle with the oppressive Protestant ascendency.

The Catholic barristers, with the junior O'Connell as their leader, now, for the first time, appeared on the sid th people. Up to this period, they were only known as pensioners, or the strings which the ministers held to move and direct the Catholic body. Fortunately, however, their efficiency diminished in direct ratio to their servility. From an early hour, the bar was crowded with these adventurers. They first entered, taking the oaths as recusants, or converted papists, then on the relaxation, they continued under a mongrel character, as a kind of half-bred between Papists and Protestants. The government first tried to entrap and to persecute them, but finding them too slippery, at last agreed to use them. O'Connell, however, was not a man to be used in this manner, he felt the degradation in which the law compelled him to move; he saw himself surrounded by a crowd of minor spirits, who appeared to bear the chains which were imposed upon them with slavish truckling, and who appeared so encased in apathy as to be unwilling to take a single step towards their emancipation from the thraldom, under which they were constrained to live. By degrees, however, a few noble souls appeared among them, whose habits of business, whose easy eloquence, whose vivid appeals to the passions of the multitude, their recklessness of Protestant censure; their broad, emphatic, and sometimes daring statement of wrongs and grievances indicated to the close observer, that a new epoch had commenced in Catholic affairs, and that the time could not be


long deferred, in which the whole people, down to the lowest citizen should be engaged as allies in the great cause. But with this too, it must be remembered they brought some alloy with the gold; the peculiar habits of their profession, the party cunning, the factious view, the intrigue, the artifice, and the deceit; a want of singleness and lostiness of purpose became conspicuous, and the noblest of causes was often degraded in consequence of the introduction of the ingredient by the most contemptible and miserable of means. But if we look to another side of the picture, and look upon the ostensible chiefs of the Catholic cause, under whose banners O'Connell first fought, and who afterwards supported him throughout his triumphant career, until the victory was won, we there find the names of certain noblemen inscribed, whom Catholic Ireland cherished as her most favourite sons, and who reckless of the thunder bolts which an intolerant government hurled against them manfully stood the shock of the storm, and like brave and undaunted pilots, stood unshaken and unmoved at the helm, until the vessel entrusted to their care was safely anchored in the harbour. It was by such men as Lord Fingal, Lord Gormanstown, Lord Trimbleston, Lord Ffrench with two or three of the Catholic baronetage, and particularly some extraordinary talented men of the Irish bar, that Mr. O'Connell saw himself surrounded in his first efforts to rescue his countrymen from the yoke by which they were oppressed. It was frons coming into collision with men, whose minds were of such a gigantic grasp, that his own character gradually unfolded itself in all its noble and unequalled excellencies, and who although they might be originally his leaders, were soon found to be his followers, bestowing upon him all their patronage and support, and bearing him throughi a sea of difficulties, in which the common character would have been swamped. Nor does it speak more loudly for the character of Mr. O'Connell than it does for the penetration of those noblemen and gentlemen, that they could discern in Mr. O'Connell all the requisites for the formation of that character which could almost take a de

light in obstacle, which could imbibe fresh strength from opposition, which could triumph over time, and defy delay. It may also be said that the characters of those men were such as are seldom to be found in the common paths of human life, and who at the time of Mr. O'Connell's public entrance into life, exhibited a constellation of talent seldom or perhaps never equalled in the most palmy days of our Parliamentary history. A sketch of the character of these celebrated men, may prove highly interesting, and it may be further said that the Irish bar, with Mr. O'Connell almost as the junior, was at this period the focus of the most extraordinary talents, which ever ardorned the legal courts of any country.

Lord Fingal may ba considered as the leader of the Catholic party, he had all the better peculiarities of his order, with qualities, which had borrowed from the trials through which they had passed, only a stronger tinge of virtuous and steady indignation at the wrongs, which still continued to oppress his country. From his placid lips, there never burst an unworthy complaint, he boasted and promised little, but it may be truly said, that what he promised, did he ever fail to perform. His countenance, full of benignity, was a fit expression of the interior man, he was mild and modest, but there were also in him the firmness and honour of a gentleman; the spirit and perseverance of a true patriot. ihrough all the after vicissitudes of the Ronan Catholic body, Lord Fingal never deserted its banners, he screened by his individual character, pure even from the breath of calumny, the errors and offences of an easily excited people; he often threw himself into the breach , and singly repelled by the might of his own consideration, the reproof and interference of the government. Conciliating to all, bearing all in patience ; sacrificing in nothing, and to none his principles, he fully succeeded in producing a spirit of unanimity until then unknown in the Catholic community, and left to his son an inhertance, the brightest, which a father can transmit to his children the praise of having successfully done his duty in difficult times to his country, and the glory of sitting down in the evening, full of years and honours under the shadow of that national happiness, to obtain which, he had cheerfully spent the morning and noon of his existence.

Lord Gormanstown possessed in some measure the calm mind, and adopted in the entire the moderate and winning policy of Lord Fingal. The temper and sobriety of both their characters placed in a still more striking and singular relief the bold and rudely-fashioned temperament of Lord Ffrench. There was nothing of the nobleman about this man, no grace, no soothing; no art; his mind and body were in strict unison, and adapted with a sort of marvellous felicity to each other. To look at his sallow and farouche countenance, lit with the gleamings of habitual sarcasm ; to hear the deep whining, and the exaggerated roughness of his western accent, to see the huge gaunt frame; the unpowdered hair, the long club cue, the loose and lumbering coat, the slouching step, and the studious and some what savage neglect of this extraordinary personage, was to hring over the imagination loose recollections of a French revolutionist, blended indeed with peculiarities essentially Irish, a composition, inexplicable and sometimes alarming, for which no type or interpretation was to be found in any other country. Every thing about him, mind and body was energy, and in that particular, the world could not produce at the time such another pair as Lord Ffrench and Mr. O'Connell. His action came coarse, and swinging and negligent, but always with a certain conviction of mastery on the table. If he could have combined some of the silkiness which distinguished Mr. O'Connell in some of his earliest forensic exhibitions, he would undoubtedly have been one of the most extraordinary men of his age. He thought vigorously and roughly; he spoke harshly; whatever was the topic, he cast through all, grave or lofty or indignant as it might be, fantastic fragments of Irish humour which left surprise and pain and emotion, strangely jumbled together in the mind, even of the most habitual of his hearers. The field in which circumstances had placed him, it was quite obvious was by no means that, which was the most fitted either for the man or his works. He was no orator, but he left you

« PreviousContinue »