Memoirs of Captain Rock, the celebrated Irish chieftain

Chapter XI.
1793–1796.

The Captain again alarmed by some symptoms of wisdom in the government.—his fears proved to be groundless.—Montaigne’s tailor.—Lord Fitzwilliam recalled.–Lord Camden appointed.—Concessions in 1793—rendered of little avail by the Orange Ascendancy—.Map of the Moon.-Corporation spirit.—Catholic Emancipation.—The Captain’s gratitude to his friends, Mr. Peel, Lord Eldon, &c. &c.

“As long as Millions shall kneel down
To ask of Thousands for their own,
While Thousands proudly turn away,
And to the Millions answer ‘Nay!”
So long the merry reign shall be
Of Captain Rock and his family'”

This important part of our family Prophecy (which cannot be too often before the eyes of the reader) seemed placed in some degree of jeopardy by the concessions to the Catholics in 1793; and, still more, by the hope of their complete emancipation, which, under the government of Lord Fitzwilliam, was awakened in all hearts—solely, it would seem, for the purpose of being wantonly extinguished again.

Notwithstanding my father’s repeated warnings to me, never to let my confidence in the Rock cause be shaken by any momentary appearances of justice and liberality in the Government, I confess myself to have been one among the many who were at this period deceived—and who thought that it was, at last, really the intention of our rulers to remove all the remaining fetters of the Catholics, and thus alienate to the Crown the allegiance of the great majority of my followers.

In the first place, I knew that if the peace and security of the country, were objects at all likely to weigh, in the minds of such statesmen, against their old love of misgovernment and their rooted passion for pains and penalties, there never was a moment when redress of grievances was more necessary—not only to satisfy the just claims of a great portion of the people, but to disperse the elements of a conspiracy then known to be forming, and professing to embrace in its circle all ranks and sects of Irishmen.

The Roman Catholics had, as yet, held off from this confederacy. The partial concessions of 1793, however ungraciously bestowed, had awakened a feeling of loyalty throughout that body—a feeling, born in gratitude, and kept alive by hope—which not even the seduction of those fair republican theories, then adopted with such enthusiasm by the Protestants and Presbyterians of the North, could weaken or disturb. The truth is, they had stood too long in the darkness of proscription, to bear at once so full an illumination of liberty, as their more daring and intelligent fellow countrymen would let in upon them; and preferred, gradually feeling their own way into light, to the risks which a bolder struggle would incur, and which they had been too long slaves to have the hardihood to encounter.

Judging by the ordinary rules of common sense (which is a test, however, never, to be applied to the administration of affairs in Ireland), it seemed to be a matter of the most vital importance to the State, to keep these humble aspirants for freedom still steady in the paths of loyalty-preventing them, by a prompt removal of their wrongs, from falling into the arms of those who were bidding high for their alliance, and to whose conspiracy their alliance was, indeed, an indispensable object, as alone furnishing that numerical and physical strength, without which their own plans of rebellion and revolution would have been mere dreams.

All these considerations appeared to me to make up such a strong case of self-interest on the side of justice, that—notwithstanding the old antipathy of our rulers to the latter quality,—I thought it possible that a selfish regard for peace and their own safety would prevail, and that they were, actually and truly, about to make lasting friends of the Catholics.

But in this I was mistaken. “I have an honest lad for my tailor” says Montaigne, “whom I never knew guilty of a single truth—no, not even when it would have been to his advantage;” and just so has it ever been with the Irish Government—they have shown themselves incapable of performing an act of justice, even when it was decidedly and obviously for their advantage.

In order, too, to render the disappointment more galling to the Catholics—to treat them according to the eagle’s mode of breaking the tortoise, and carry their hearts up high into the regions of hope, only that they might be dashed down more effectually afterwards—all the preliminaries of their Emancipation were gone through with the most imposing solemnity. The Duke of Portland had stipulated, on his coalescing with Mr. Pitt, for a complete change in the mode of governing Ireland*—which he pronounced (as he wellmight) to be “execrable,” and full of danger, not only to Ireland, but to the empire itself. Lord Fitzwilliam, the political friend of Mr. Grattan, Mr. Ponsonby, and all those who had exerted themselves most strenuously for the entire Emancipation of the Catholics, was the person selected to carry the meditated reforms into effect. The Beresford faction, which, for years, had made a job of all Ireland, was threatened with dismissal. Grattan—the Diomede of the Catholic cause, upon whose helm the unwearied light** of wisdom, ever shone—was seen in the van of the new. Administration. The Act of total Enfranchisement was already in progress—scarce a murmur. of dissatisfaction was heard abroad, and even the accustomed croak of the Corporation was weak and solitary—when, just at this moment of hope and triumph, while the great Drama of public pacification was proceeding happily to its close, the stage became suddenly darkened round the actors—the principal personage, Lord Fitzwilliam, was mysteriously spirited away from the scene,***and the curtain fell on the hopes of the Catholics, if we may believe Mr. Peel, for ever!

In recounting such instances of gross and wanton perfidy, it is impossible even for me to feel otherwise than deeply serious. “The man,” says Cicero, “who could laugh on such occasions, is no true citizen.”

It is needless to add what were the necessary consequences of this insulting mockery of a nation’s claims and hopes. The Catholics carried their despair and their numbers into the ranks of the United Irishmen****-Lords Camden and Castlereagh took the places of Lord Fitzwilliam and Mr. Grattan, and the system of whipping, burning, and free-quarters began.

*“When the Duke of Portland and his friends were to be enticed into a coalition with Mr. Pitt’s administration, it was necessary to hold out such lures as would make the coalition palatable. If the general management and superintendance of Ireland had not been offered to his Grace, that coalition could never have taken place.” Letter from Lord Fitzwilliam to Lord Carlisle.

**Homer.

***No liberal Lord Lieutenant has ever been suffered to remain long in Ireland. Sir Antony Bellingham was recalled, after the death of Henry 8th, “for not sufficiently oppressing the Irish.” Sir John Perrot, in the reign of Elizabeth, was removed for the same reason; and, of Lord Radnor, who was Lord Lieutenant in the time of Charles 2nd, Lord Orford says—“we are not told how he disappointed the King’s expectations, probably not by too much complaisance, nor why his administration, which Burnet calls “just was disliked. If it is true that he was a good governor, the presumption will be, that his rule was not disliked by those to whom but from whom he was sent.”

****The United Irishmen (according to the memoir drawn up by Emmet) “used the recal of Lord Fitzwilliam and the rejection of his measures, to cement together in political union the Catholic and Protestant masses.”

As the concessions of 1793 form the sum total of the liberty of the Catholics at present—notwithstanding the promises held out to them at the Union, and broken as magnanimously as every other promise-let us see whether the liberality of the “Thousands” to the “Millions,” at that period, was such as to alarm Captain Rock for the continuance of his “merry reign;”—always recollecting that those liberalities were brought forth in a moment of panic; and that most of them have been since so checked and stunted by their unnatural parents, as to resemble the curse-stricken progeny of the countess of Hainault–numerous, but abortive, and mere lusus natura of legislation.

In the first place, with respect to the Elective Franchise:—By conceding the power of electing, and withholding the right of representing, the Act of 1793 admitted all the worst part of the Catholic population into the Constitution, and kept the best out of it. Thus, as the Emperor Commodus was said to be mischievous even in his jests, the Legislature of Ireland has contrived to be pernicious even in its benefits. The fortyshilling freeholders are among the acknowledged curses of the country—being one of the chief causes of Common Leases, Joint Tenantcy, and all that endless subdivision of penury, which—to a degree almost to realize the “infinite parva” of the mathematicians—is carried on among us.

The Catholics themselves, more wise in their wants, suggested, in their application for relief in 1792, the expediency of fixing a higher rate of qualification for them than for Protestant electors. But the very same Parliament, that then rejected their whole petition with scorn, in the very next year precipitately granted, in this one mischievous respect, more than they asked for; and while they still excluded from the Senate the few Catholics that could serve the country, let in upon the hustings the whole mob they had themselves brutalized, to ruin it;-like that judicious emancipator, Don Quixote, when he liberated the galley slaves, and found it no easy matter to defend himself against them afterwards.

Nor let it be forgotten, in our account of gratitude with the Government, that this grant of the Elective Franchise to the Catholics would soon have become a matter of necessity, even if panic had not extorted the concession then. Already had the great decrease of the Protestant population given warning that a day was not far distant, when, if Catholics were not admitted to this Franchise, the same cause, that now threatens to leave the Protestant Church without a Laity, would have left the Protestant Parliament without Electors. In vain had the Legislature tried, at different periods, to import Protestant electors from Germany, Geneva, &c.; and endeavoured even, as we have seen, to prevail upon Jews, to come and assist in making Representatives of the People of Ireland. These statesmanlike plans had all failed; and it would have been found necessary, even for the mere carrying on of the farce of Representation, to drive herds of Catholic serfs into the vote market at last.

The Freedom of Corporations is one of those rights, which the Statute of 1798 restored to the Catholics, but which the spirit of Orangeism frustrates and almost wholly nullifies. The astronomer Ricciolus, in his Map of the Moon, kindly marked out certain portions of land in that planet, as estates for some of his brother astronomers—and about as nominal and unreal as those Lunar properties, are most of the privileges acceded by the existing law to the Catholics.

With respect to the Freedom of Corporations,—the long exclusion of Catholics from the exercise of this right having, in general, deprived them of the two chief claims to it, Birth and Service, they have no other mode left of acquiring their freedom but by Special Grant—and this their Protestant masters take special care not to indulge them with. The few Catholic Freemen in the Guilds of Dublin (stated, in 1812, to be hot a hundred out of the 2,400 of which those Guilds consist) are excluded by the Corporation at large from the right of voting at elections of Members for the City—so that the Elective Franchise in such cases becomes a mere nullity, and the laws themselves are rendered useless by the Faction which thus sets itself above them.

The same evil principle of Orangeism and Intolerance pervades all the Corporate Townsin Ireland-which may be reckoned, if I recollect right, at 115 in number—and when to this general operation of the spirit of the law against its letter, weaddtheaetual enactments which exclude the Catholic from all Corporate Offices*—from any share whatever in those municipal privileges and immunities, which, unjust, partial, and exclusive as they are in their nature, become aggravated, in their very worst features, by being thus narrowed to a small favoured Sect—we may have some idea of the extent to which the Penal spirit spreads itself through Ireland, and how universally it “comes home to men’s business and bosoms,” in the most familiar, daily, and interesting concerns of their life.

*The number of Corporate Offices throughout Ireland, from which Catholics are excluded by the expresswords of the law, is calculated to be no less than 3,548; and to these, if we add the situations, immediately dependant on them, from which Catholics are by consequence equally excluded, it will make a total of near 5,000 Corporate Offices, to which this Penal interdict extends.

Imagine one of these towns, where a small Orange oligarchy, combining all the petty jealousies of the Corporation spirit with the arrogant prejudices of a dominant and long-privileged sect, engrosses to itself the sole management of all municipal affairs—the imposition of various tolls and duties, from which themselves are exempt—the monopoly of trades and arts by the system of legal apprenticeships—the appointment to the numerous lucrative situations, dependant upon the Corporate Offices—in short, all those branches of civic and parochial patronage, which go to make the consequence and influence of such small municipal governments.

What must be the lot of a Catholic farmer, merchant, or tradesman, under the vexatious control of this little knot of bigotted burgesses? Oppressed by partial levies—by excessive market tolls—by invidious preferences, which, while they obstruct Catholic industry, encourage and pamper up Protestant insolence—by all that grinding machinery of exaction and injustice, which has been laid open during the late inquiry into the abuses of the Corporation of Limerickis it wonderful that the victim should hate and curse a system, which thus meets him, at every turning of life, with its odious scowl of exclusion; which, like the branding-iron, inflicts at once both suffering and disgrace, and which insults him by the very confidence with which it presumes on his patience!—is it wonderful that Captain Rock should count upon a long and successful reign, among a people thus taught to feel that the law is only powerful to oppress; that the slightest infusion of justice or liberality into it paralyses its strength—and that, like Mithridates, from long habit, the only food upon which it thrives is poison.

If long practice, indeed, in the art of governing wrongly, must necessarily produce an incapacity of governing otherwise, our rulers have, at least, this excuse for the continuance of their injustice. “Allez, monsieur”-says a personage in the Malade Imaginaire, to an apothecary, whose practice had only lain in the lowest ministry of his profession—“on voit bien que vous n’avez pas été accoutumé de parler a des visages;” and, in like manner, the inveterate Faction, that rules us, has so long communed only with the baser parts of legislation, that they can hardly be expected to know the face of Justice, even when they see it.

To return to the Act of 1793–Catholics were by this statute made eligible to serve on Grand and Petty Juries:* but, that as little utility as possible might be extracted from the privilege, the office of Sheriff, from which the appointment of the Juries flows, is still kept exclusively in the hands of the Protestants-thus leaving the Catholic’s chance of ever appearing on those tribunals, at the mercy of the same “disinheriting countenance,” which frowns him out of his rights wherever it encounters him, Accordingly, there are some Counties where no Roman Catholic has ever been on a jury, when a person of his own religion was to be tried**—and it was mentioned by an Irish member of high authority, during the last session, that he had heard a leading gentleman of a County, “thank God, that, for the space of 100 years, no Catholic had ever sat on the trial, either of Protestant or Catholic, in that jurisdiction.”

*They were already eligible—but under a restrictive Statute, enacted in 1708, the mere letter of which was repealed in 1793, while its spirit was still left in full force.

**Wakefield says, in speaking of Tipperary———“there are some large estates belonging to Catholics, and during the Duke of Bedford’s administration, seven gentlemen of that persuasion were always called on the Grand Jury; but, when I was there in 1808 and 1809, not one was called, the nomination of Sheriff being entirely an office of party.” Of another County he says, “During the Duke of Bedford’s administration, three or four Catholics were on the Grand Jury. In 1808 and 1809 none were called; but I understood, that at the Spring Assizes of 1811, the Sheriff was favourably disposed towards them.”

It was, indeed, avowed, during the late inquiry into the conduct of the Sheriff of Dublin, that though, upon some unimportant occasions, Catholics are allowed to serve on the Grand Jury, yet, that, wherever their own rights are concerned, or their money to be disposed of, they are without ceremony excluded.

At the mysteries of the Bona Dea in ancient Rome, no male creature was allowed to be present; and it seems that the mysteries of Jobbing—the “nullis sacra retecta” of Peculation,—are to be kept equally sacred from the profane eyes of Catholics. To what an extent these select Protestant Grand Juries used to carry their high and peculiar privilege of fleecing the public, is well known to the Legislature, which has, at last, interfered to check their enormities— and how interested they were in turning religion to account, by excluding all heterodox sharers of the spoil, may be judged from a fact, lately stated by Lord Bathurst, that, at a time when the revenue of Ireland amounted altogether to but four millions, one million of that sum passed, unaccounted for, through the hands of Grand Juries.

When Pericles told Alcibiades that he was considering how he should be able to make up. his accounts for the public assembly, “rather,” said Alcibiades, “consider how you may avoid giving any accounts at all.” If Alcibiades had served all his life, upon Irish Grand Juries and at lrish Public Boards, he could not have utterêd a more golden sentence on the subject of Jobbing than this.

Permission to enter into the Profession of the Law was another of the privileges accorded in 1793: and, as an opening of fame and emolument to the Catholic—as an opportunity, too, of showing that Nature, at least, is no sectarian, and that talents may be possessed without the intervention of a test oath—the concession has been attended with no inconsiderable advantage to him.

But here, as every where else, he is stopped in the propylaeum of the temple. He may raise his voice to ask for justice to his fellow slaves, but from the inner shrine, where it is dispensed, he is utterly excluded. He can neither be Judge, Attorney-general, King’scounsel, Master in Chancery, Recorder, nor any one of a long list of near 200 offices, from all of which the express letter of the Statutes excludes him. In addition to these, there are various other legal situations-such as Commissioners of Bankrupts, Assistant Barristers, &c. between which and him, though the lawshave left them open,* the Ascendancy throws up its blank barrier—separating him from all the honours and rewards of his profession, and marking him among the condemned of the land, even in the very seat and asylum of justice. The consequence is, that the people, against whom the law is arrayed, cannot discover, in looking through its official ranks, one single individual of their own faith, upon whom they can count for a community of feeling, or for a chance of impartiality between them and their accusers.**

*It has been calculated by Mr. Scully, that the number of Law Offices from which the Catholic is excluded, both by express enactments, and the consequent operation of these enactments, amounts altogether to about 1,500.

**“In this country (says Mr. Grattan) there are two codes of laws, one for the Protestant sect, another for the Catholic. The Legislature has a common interest with the one, and against the other. The Protestant beggar, therefore, has an advantage over the Catholic proprietor.”

Notwithstanding all this, it is often gravely asserted, that the question of Emancipation regards only the upper ranks of the Catholics, and that to the lower orders it is an object of but little importance or concern* Go, you, who, entertain this sagacious opinion-go ask the poor Catholic, who sees himself excluded from the Westry, where a few Protestants vote away his wretched means of subsistence, to provide for the building and repairs of their own church—where, though forbidden to have a voice in the election of a Church-warden, he may be capriciously compelled to act as Church-warden himself**—-ask the farmer, who is cited to the Bishop’s court by a Reverend tithe-owner, and finds another Reverend tithe-owner on the bench to decide between them***—ask the Catholic of the North, who, surrounded by armed Orangemen, is left wholly at their mercy by that Penal law, which forbids him to use arms for his self-defence;**** who, if found with weapons, may be transported, if found without them, may be murdered—ask the Catholic inhabitants of towns and cities, whom the spirit of Corporation Ascendancy haunts through all the details of life; who are sacrificed at every step to the immunities of others, and kept, as game, for a few privileged persons to tormentask any and all of these, why they are thus persecuted, and, when they answer you with that proverb, which sorrow has engraven on their very hearts, “there is no law in Ireland for a Catholic,”—if you still think Emancipation unnecessary, go, vote with Mr. Peel—appeal to God and the Constitution with Lord Eldontalk guard-room politics with the Duke of Wellington-rave of Jesuits with Sir Thomas Lethbridge—write mad pamphlets with Sir Harcourt Lees-drink deep to the Glorious Memory with Sir Abraham Bradley King*****-in short, do every thing that is most absurd, frantic, and mischievous—Captain Rock will take you to his bosom as a true and devoted friend, and enrol you along with the illustrious personages just mentioned, as one of the best and most useful consolidators of his power.

*Even the acute Author of “the Past and Present State of Ireland,” asserts that, “expedient as Catholic Emancipation may be, it is only expedient.”

**Thus reversing to the poor man the hardship of his betters, who may elect, but cannot represent.

The danger of this little system of parochial tyranny is evident. Where the office of Church-warden is attended with profit or patronage, the Protestants keep it to themselves; but where it brings only trouble or expense, the burthen maybe thrown upon the Catholic.

***“Is it likely that a Clergyman, who must naturally feel a bias to the interests of the Clergy, as opposed to those of the laity, should be an impartial Judge? Again, is it likely that a Tithe-owner, who holds Tithes in the very Diocese, should be a disinerested judge? And lastly, is it likely, that an humble Ecclesiastie depending altogether for preferment in the Church, on the absolute will of his Bishop, who might (as he well knows) be prejudiced against him by the Clergy, were he to venture to check their exactions, should be an independent judge?”Report of the Committee of the parish of Blackrath.

****“Protestant servants and tenants (says Mr.Wakefield) are arrogant, and consider themselves a superior order of men; which, in some degree, arises from their being allowed the use of arms—a privilege denied to the Catholics. This exclusion, as it points out to them their own weakness, draws them, like animals in a storm, closer together.”

During the reign of the Penal Code, Mr. O’Connor tells us, the “Roman Catholic gentlemen evaded prosecution by registering their arms in the name of their Protestant servants, whom the law recognized as freemen, though it stamped their masters as slaves. Thus the Catholic gentry contrived means of defence against midnight assassination, and of redress against upstart insolence.”—See, in Scully’s Penal Laws, a statement of the extent to which this: infringement on the Rights of Self-Defence still exists.

*****I have not done justice here to one-half of the “Dii Majores” of Orangeism; and must therefore, to supply the deficiences, refer to a list of “Loyal Public Characters,” given in a book called “the Williamite,” as the standing Toasts of all Orange Lodges. Mr. Peel, who has naturally a spirit “ touch’d to finer purposes,” will there see with what luminaries his No-Popery politics constellate him.

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