« PreviousContinue »
ject of scorn and open contempt. In France, Austria, Italy, Germany, in the United States, Canada, South America, the Colonies, and India, the most humiliating allusions were made. Even at an official dinner in Mexico, Mr. Ward, the British Consul, was taunted with the conduct of his country, and compelled to protest his individual condemnation of it, while he censured the introduction of the subject in such a place. The glorious characteristic of England-her freedom-was decried. There was not a country of the new or old world in which an Englishman durst talk of English liberty“ Look to the Irish Catholics," was the answer. Foreign despotisms exulted at the extinction of that quality which had raised us above the rest of the world; for, take away our liberty, and what are we? In commerce itself there is nothing dignified, abstractly considered. It is the science, the enterprise, the courageall the fruits of liberty—that shape the honourable character of the British merchant, and convert the trader into the civilizer and benefactor of mankind. As our wealth, so do our strength and glory arise from our freedom. What but the fine free spirit of the people has created our armies, before whose unconscious independence even the chivalry of France has gone down !- What constitutes the glory that, for a “thousand years,” has illumined the British flag, and kept it so long afloat over the ark of human liberty, and, consequently, of virtue and happiness—that, in the veins of every free state, at present existing, the blood of our example and spirit runs— that, by reflection from us, arose in the west a noble luniinary which, in its curn, has become the parent of glorious systems !
It having been decided, upon a most profound view of society, that opinion and passive resistance were to be the means of change, all was modelled in accordance with that principle. There was no contrariety in the end or the means--a system, the essence of which was publicity, was unanimously adopted; the proceedings were not only open, but made open; they were forced on men's notice, and courted attention in a diversity of ways; every thing secret, every thing anonymous, was repudiated :-it was driven forward, by letter, by pamphlets, by books, but above all by the the combined energies of the press and public meetings. The Morning Register was established-the first example of a regular reporting establishment in Ireland. Next came the Freeman's Journal ; at that period not so efficient as the former, but afterwards as powerful an advocate as popular liberty ever bad in this country. The Evening Post devoted its columns and excellent talents to the cause. We believe, too, some able documents were drawn up by its editor. The provincial press was filled with the debates of the Association. England, at length, began to be heated by the mighty conflagration, Either for approval, which was rare, or for haughty condemnation, the London journals quoted the speeches, commented on them, and, as they grew in importance, sent ther own reporters to Ireland. Thus, a thousand mirrors were held up to the Association. It was of no consequence whether the comments of the London journals were condemnatory or not: they produced attention ; and few came within the eddies who were able to extricate themselves. Men began by furious oppositions, and concluded their denunciations by becoming attached to the body; it was impossible to tear away the poisoned shirt—the nails and pins of prejudice were drawn out by the irresistible attraction of justice. The cause was so plain-the system opposed, in principle so monstrous--in practice, so full of cruelty and danger-that it only required exposure. In the bosoms of Orange families the seeds of the Association were sown; the young men, in the spring-tide of that honesty and generosity which belongs to youth, felt the finest strings of the heart vibrate unconsciously to the "sweet influences of liberty.” An internal revolution was effected: and, had not this been checked by the first suppression of the Association, in our opinion, the two great parties--if we may call one containing seven-eights of the kingdom-might have then been easily welded together.
The next great part of the system of general discussion, and mne that was attended ith considerable effect on he Association itself, was the meetings that were constantly holding through
the country—the provincial, the county, and the parish meetings. The subject was thus held firmly before the eyes of all; habits of co-operation were formed; and there were dispersed, by each of those occasions, hundreds of zealous preachers of the authority of the Association, If they were the medium of communicating the influence of that assembly to the people, on the other hand, they transmitted the influence of the people to the assembly. Though, in one view, no more than ramifications of the Association, flying camps from the capital, yet, in another, and that of great consequence, they possessed an independent function and organization, which secreted a noble spirit, and supplied the veins of the national Parliament. If the reader has looked at a thunder storm, he may observe, in the centre of the heavens, one enormous black shield: towards this, from all quarters of the sky, are stretching small jagged clouds, which serve as stepping-stones for the electric power.
A similar relation those various meetings bore to the Association. The leaders joined in the former, gave them unity, comprehension, and effect : but, in turn, they brought away fresh accessions of vigour. The Association rose with redoubled strength after each contest with its parent. Increased energies, and a bolder spirit, were evident in its subsequent sittings - greater enlargement of view, and a nobler policy. The tables of the law has been received, and its face shown after witnessing the presence of the people. The assemblies in the provinces were the ganglions of the body politic, to accumulate the nervous influence: but their function did not stop there, it reacted on its source, and returned unabated supplies of vitality to the organ that originally gave them life.
Of course, however, the association was that to which all men looked : there the great outlines of policy were laid down, and the great displays of oratory made. We are sure we shall be pardoned if we touch very briefly on the characters of the principal actors upon that great stage — O'Connell, Lord Killeen, Mr. Shiel, and Mr. Wyse.
Mr. Shiel had been a vetoist, and a preacher of moderation.
In this cause, he maintained a “gentle passage of arms" with Mr. O'Connell, in those listed fields which open so invitingly to political champions between the margins of a newspaper. It has been said he complained of some hard krocks from the rugged hand of his adversary; but there is no doubt that, in a short time, he saw reason to question the propriety of the course he had recommended. It began to dawn on him, that, while the giant continued passive, the flocks of vultures that covered him would scarcely quit their prey; and, having arrived at the conclusion, that, to put an end to oppression, the most direct and rational mode is not precisely to exhibit all the outward signs of contentment—nay, stranger still, of gratitude -he chose his part, and flung himself into the ranks of his country. Second only to Mr. O'Connell in effect, the services he rendered were immense. The justice of the cause was so strong, that it required only examination to prevail; and this he compelled by the brilliance of his various talents; the novelty, beauty, and bitterness of his oratory; and, perhaps, in no light degree, by the splendid vices of his phraseology. He bound a radiance about the brows of the Association, which struck terror into the enemy. With singular variety of powers as a speaker and writer--wit, reading, ridicule, pathos, eloqience-it was equally difficult to anticipate the point of his attack, and to withstand its vivacity. He covered his adversaries and their cause with a garment of scorn; he held them up to the general derision; he enshrined them in contempt ; and his sarcasm, sharp enough, was rendered still more piercing by the diamond points that encrusted it. The speech against Archdeacon Trench is a stream of passion, indignation and bitterness, covered with beautiful lightnings of fancy. Notwithstanding the disparity of the subjects, it may be studied with the phillippic pronounced, four or five years since, in the House of Commons, by Henry Brougham, against Lord Eldon; which, unless our recollections deceive us extremely, is one of the most masterly on the rolls of invective.
But Mr. Shiel's mind was not restricted to those modes alone The census and the simultaneous meetings are due to
him-both wise, and one a daring measure He delivered admirable expositions of general policy. In colours, glaring indeed, but through which the hand of a master was evident, he traced the evils of the country. Standing on the grave of the memorable '98, he addressed solemn warning to government; he evoked the shades of men who perished in that fatal year; and by the powers of this spell, compelled them to point out the gigantic spectres of the future. In his style there was much to provoke one habituated to the austere spirit of antiquity—the muse of his eloquence might have worn a chaster and more matronly drapery-there might have been less of affectation and egotism; but in his eloquence there were the light and power of genius. Who would not forgive the gaudiness and theatrical glare of Murat's dress, to the gallantry which won, even from the cossacks, cries of admiration ?
It was in one of the fourteen-day's meetings, that Mr. Wyse the eloquent historian of the Association, made his first appearance and impression. He had spent much of his life on the Continent, and was comparatively unknown; but his very first speech, by the comprehension of its views, the felicity of its allusions, drawn from actual observation, set off as they were by a certain antique structure of style, raised him at once to eminence. His parliamentary life has scarcely justified the expectations of his friends. The fervid feeling that cleared, , and warmed the current of his eloquence has cooled, he has groped more through details than enforced principles; and, particularly, has been haunted by a fear of dictation, which is unaccountable in a man of such talents and experience. To shrink into comparative inactivity was not the best proof of independence. But we hope that he will yet recover himself, and do his country good service.
Lord Killeen came, recommended by heriditary claims to the affections of the Irish people. His father had been distinguished as the opposite in conduct and feeling to the bulk of the Catholic aristocracy, whether English or Irish-a fact which necessarily implies in him an exemption from much that degrades human nature. Ile could produce, however, a